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Lonesome (free)

  • Chazen Museum of Art 750 University Avenue Madison, WI, 53706 United States (map)

This 1928 film takes some risks with classic New York City love-story tropes. Info


A hybrid silent film released at the dawn of the talkie era, director Paul Fejos' 1928 dramedy Lonesome is a frantic love story set against a physically distressing 1920's New York. Mary, a phone operator, and Jim, a factory worker, find themselves anxious and confused during a hectic and heteronormative Independence Day weekend, as their fellow "working stiffs" pair off. Both find confrontations with solitude unacceptable. They try magazines, and records, but mass media is somehow devoid of the meaningful connections with other human bodies they obviously crave. As the camera whisks seamlessly between their lives, both decide to celebrate alone on Coney Island, where they have a meet-cute in a mirror, eventually convincing each other they are rich.

It's almost always nice to watch heroes who don't already own or eventually attain infinite money. In fact, you actually see Jim run out of coin to pay for further amusements on their impromptu date, and it's ok. You also get a rare scene—a grown man crying in black and white—after the pair are separated on a rollercoaster that starts on fire (is there a better metaphor for life in the city?). It becomes like a horror movie when the police ruin everything and the lovers lose each other further in a rainstorm.The few talking parts of Lonesome are often cast aside as afterthoughts, but, like every other aspect of the film's production, they were at least used as thoughtful experiments, as pivotal developments in their relationship use voice. Their sincere decelerations of affection are awkwardly enunciated, but that's not so far off from most people's reality. While Fejos eventually left Universal Picture's strict production system, which insisted on the talkie segments, and, I suspect, the impossibly optimistic ending, Lonesome stands as an impressive version of the love-in-the-city storyline that's still being pumped out today. —Reid Kurkerewicz