'On the Bowery' Documentary Film Returns for Weeklong Run at Film Forum

By Patrick Hedlund | November 19, 2010 12:16pm | Updated on November 19, 2010 1:54pm

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

LOWER EAST SIDE — A film casting a lens on the Bowery's grittier days — when an elevated train rumbled overhead and indigent drunks populated the street — returns by popular demand for a weeklong run at the Film Forum starting Friday.

"On the Bowery," Lionel Rogosin's Oscar-nominated 1956 documentary, follows a drifting railroad worker as he navigates the saloons and flophouses.

The movie had a successful extended showing at the Film Forum in September, proving such a hit that the theater decided to bring it back for a second run.

"I think the surprise is that this is a 53-year-old movie about Bowery bums that don't exist anymore, and people want to see it," said Rob Hollander, of the Lower East Side History Project, who will present Saturday evening's showing.

"It's partly because they know what's happening on the Bowery, and they're looking for something authentic. You don't get authentic in Hollywood."

Rogosin's black-and-white film employs the neo-realist style, featuring characters in both real-life and scripted scenarios. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, and took top honors at the Venice Film Festival and from the British Film Academy.

Famed director Martin Scorsese called the movie "a milestone of American cinema," and independent film pioneer John Cassavetes deemed Rogosin "probably the greatest documentary filmmaker of all time."

For New Yorkers, there remains a nostalgia and romanticism associated with the city's bygone days, likely one of the reasons moviegoers have packed the theater for "On the Bowery," noted Suzanne Wasserman a filmmaker and director of the Gotham Center for New York City History at the CUNY Graduate Center.

"I think it's interesting that when it came out, it was panned by the U.S. press because it was such a bleak, seedy portrayal of American life," said Wasserman, who will introduce Friday night's screening.

"People sort of long for a New York that's gone, but what's wonderful about this film is it doesn't portray the Bowery in a sentimental way. It's very, very stark."

"On the Bowery" runs from Nov. 19-25 at Film Forum, 209 W. Houston St.