A Zoom Salon of The Rules of the Game (1939) 110 min | Mechanics' Institute

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A Zoom Salon of The Rules of the Game (1939) 110 min
July 2020 - French Classics

CinemaLit Curator Matthew Kennedy

CinemaLit Popcorn Pop-Up Salon: July -- French Classics

Hello Film Lovers,

Welcome back to CinemaLit! We have missed our Friday night gatherings. Laura, Pam, and I are excited to launch this new format for CinemaLit as we Shelter at Home. We will be viewing films on Kanopy and gathering online for a Popcorn Pop-Up Salon!

All you will need is either a Mechanics' Institute library card, or a San Francisco Public Library card, which will give you access to Kanopy and its treasure trove of movies. Make a reservation as usual via Eventbrite and watch the film on Kanopy at your leisure. You will receive a link to the Friday night CinemaLit salon on Zoom two days in advance. On the night of the salon click the Zoom link and join us.

If you do not receive a Zoom Link by the day of the event, contact Pam Troy at rsvp@milibrary.org.


Mechanics’ Institute members can now sign up for FREE access to Kanopy, a wonderful film streaming service. To sign up:

1. Click on  THIS LINK.

2. Click on the large orange login button that reads, “Log in to milibrary.”

3. Enter the 14-digit bar code from your MI Library card

4. Set up your account following Kanopy’s instructions, including your email and a password.

5. Kanopy will send verification to your email address.

You’ll be able to choose from a wonderful selection of films, including classics, pre-code, foreign films, and documentaries, including the films we’ve scheduled this month for CinemaLit.

If you are not a Mechanics’ Institute member, consider membership and click  HERE  to join online:

Or, you can check with your public library to see if they are Kanopy members. If so, you may use your public library card to set up a Kanopy account.


 Grab your popcorn and hankies and join us on Friday nights in June! 

 Matthew Kennedy, curator and host

CinemaLit Film Series

July 2020: French Classics

A Very Brief Survey of French Cinema to 1962

Bastille Day is July 14, and we're using that as a reason to celebrate classic French cinema this month. We've scheduled four films (in bold type below), one from each decade from the 1930s to the 1960s. This is hardly a complete survey of French film classics, but it's a beginning.

The contributions of France to world cinema are incalculable, beginning with the Lumière Brothers first screening of "moving" pictures projected through light at a theater in Paris in 1895. In the early twentieth century, French film production grew and thrived until World War I effectively destroyed the industry. Visionary directors such as Abel Gance (Napoleon), Jacques Feyder (Faces of Children), Germaine Dulac (The Seashell and the Clergyman) and Marcel Pagnol (the Marseilles Trilogy) brought French cinema back to glory in the 1920s and 1930s. Arguably the most influential and acclaimed director of the period is Jean Renoir, whose Grand Illusion (1937) and The Rules of the Game (1939) stun with their astute observations of the human psyche.

The industry again suffered during World War II, but amidst post-war austerity came The Children of Paradise and Jean Cocteau's enduring avant-garde fantasy The Beauty and the Beast (1946). By the 1950s, French filmmaking had grown a bit staid. Jacques Tati, Robert Bresson, Jacques Becker, and a handful of others were making outstanding films, but the industry needed fresh air. In the late 1950s, a group of renegade directors sought to upend conventions by enlivening their films with a bracing realism, outdoor locations, and personal stories. The French New Wave (Nouvelle Vague) shook the movie world to its roots, influencing filmmakers and audience tastes ever since. Its leading directors include François Truffaut (The 400 Blows, 1959) and Agnès Varda (Cléo from 5 to 7, 1962).

Hope you'll join us for great cinéma française in July!

The Rules of the Game (1939)

"The awful thing about life is thie: Everybody has their reasons."

Jean Renoir, son of Impressionist painter Auguste Renoir, sought to make "nothing avant-garde but a good little orthodox film" with The Rules of the Game (La Régle du Jeu). He far exceeded his ambitions; his magnificent ensemble creation can be what you want it to be. It's a slamming-door rollicking farce set at a country estate. It's a study of class divisions, of masters and servants remembering then forgetting their preordained places in society. It's a serio-comic statement on the exploitation of human feelings and the capriciousness of love. It's a savage critique of the French ruling class on the eve of World War II. It's a commentary on heroism and cowardice, hunters and prey, wealth and poverty, spouses and lovers, dominance and submission.

The film was initially booed for its unflattering portrayals of French aristocracy. "At every session I attended I could feel the unanimous disapproval of the audience," wrote Renoir, who also appears in the prominent role of Octave. "I tried to save the film by shortening it, and to start with I cut the scenes in which I myself played too large a part, as though I were ashamed, after this rebuff, of showing myself on the screen. But it was useless." Audiences stayed away and critics were no more generous. It was eventually banned in Nazi-occupied France. When Allied planes bombed the warehouse that stored the negative, The Rules of the Game was assumed lost. But footage was recovered and restored in the 1950s, with only one original scene missing.

Lucky for us. Its reputation rising ever loftier over the years, The Rules of the Game now occupies a safe place among the most esteemed films ever made.


Curated by Matthew Kennedy

Matthew Kennedy, CinemaLit’s curator, has written biographies of Marie Dressler, Joan Blondell, and Edmund Goulding. His book Roadshow! The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s, was the basis of a film series on Turner Classic Movies. 

I don't have a favorite film,” Matthew says. "I find that my relationships to films, actors, genres, and directors change as I change over the years. Some don't hold up. Some look more profound, as though I've caught up with their artistry. I feel that way about Garbo, Cary Grant, director John Cassavetes, and others."

Classic films have historical context, something only time can provide,” Matt observes. “They become these great cultural artifacts, so revealing of tastes, attitudes, and assumptions.”

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CinemaLit Films

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