High and Low: From Pulp to Poetry


High Art Films Made from Pop Art Sources
Curated by Donald Brackett


5:45 pm - Doors
6:30 pm - High and Low with Intro by Donald Brackett
9:20 pm - The Killing

Superior cinematic poetry is conjured out of lowly pulp dreams in this eclectic program of masterful films, which celebrates the ironic fact that many movies considered by most audiences to be high art were adapted from what they would also consider humble pop-art source material. Sometimes, the very greatest works of cinema, the medium’s most extraordinary visual poetry, originated as actual, disreputable pulp fiction of considerable grit.

The curious love affair between highbrow and lowbrow chronicles a radical transformation: how mostly American pulp literature sources were enhanced dramatically, elevated to a new stylistic standard, and aimed at an entirely different cultural audience by European and Asian filmmakers (and by some of their British and American peers) with a shameless and limitless love for their original seamy Yankee realism.

Perhaps the most famous of these media mutations was François Truffaut’s ingenious re-interpretation of David Goodis’s tough 1956 novel Down There as Shoot the Piano Player, his 1960 masterpiece starring Charles Aznavour. But not to be outdone by his Euro peers, Japanese master Akira Kurosawa was able to magically mutate Ed McBain’s 1959 grimy pulp novel King’s Ransom into his own mercurial and visionary High and Low, released to great acclaim in 1963.

As those examples suggest, in many cases this transformation was a two-fold act of alchemy, and these gifted directors and screenwriters were doing double duty as translators, first from literary to film form, and then from another language into their own tongues. In other cases, it was strictly a new stylistic translation: from trashy to triumphant. In all cases here, the artistic results of this blind date between bad and good taste were culturally stunning, and they remain mesmerizing to this day. — Donald Brackett

Donald Brackett is a Vancouver-based culture critic who writes about art, music, and films. He is the author of several books on the dynamics of creative collaboration and, most recently, Long Slow Train, a book on the late soul singer Sharon Jones, released by Backbeat Books in 2018. He curated two previous film exhibitions for The Cinematheque: Strange Magic: The Films of Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, presented in 2013, and Painting with Film: The Cinema of Stillness, presented in 2015. He is currently at work on a book about singer Tina Turner.


Click for film notes + showtimes

Current Showings

Louis Malle's stylish first feature is a gripping Gallic noir adapted from a suspense novel by French writer Noël Calef.
Hitchcock’s dreamlike chef d’oeuvre, adapted from a crime novel by French writing duo Boileau-Narcejac, is the current reigning “best film of all time.”

Recent Showings

Akira Kurosawa’s morally complex noir thriller — "the masterpiece of his modern-day movies" — adapts a novel by American crime writer Ed McBain.
Stanley Kubrick’s assured third feature — the legendary director’s breakthrough work — is one of the classic hard-boiled caper films.
Réne Clément directs this intoxicating cocktail of Mediterranean hedonism and noir suspense, adapted from a Patricia Highsmith’s novel.
Wim Wenders’s audacious adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley’s Game is, in our humble opinion, one of the great films of the 1970s.
Truffaut’s delightful, ironic second feature pays fond to tribute to Hollywood B-movies and is a central work of French New Wave cinema.
John Boorman’s fabulous, fractured 1967 thriller is a key link between vintage Hollywood film noir and the paranoid conspiracy films of the 1970s.
Henri-Georges Clouzot’s sordid, morbid chiller is one of cinema’s most heart-stopping works — and a decided influence on Hitchcock’s Psycho.
A “Goya-like vision of an infected universe,” Orson Welles’s spectacularly seedy 1958 noir is one of the great director’s major masterpieces.