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Distant lands seem next-door

Times Staff Writer

The new year brings Satyajit Ray’s great Apu trilogy to the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theater while the Hollywood Entertainment Museum will present a retrospective of the films of Sergei Paradjanov. Both presentations will feature documentaries that will serve as fine introductions to these two major directors.

Priyanka Kumar’s “The Song of the Little Road” (Friday at 7:30 p.m.) is an appreciation of Ray and his work as well as a report on how endangered his films have become and the struggle to restore and preserve them.

Ray (1926-92) was a tall, handsome Bengali from an aristocratic but impoverished family. He was a warm, friendly man, an intellectual with a poetic sensibility who spoke English with an elegant British accent. He received inspiration and encouragement to become a filmmaker from Jean Renoir, with whom he struck up a friendship when the great French director came to India to film Rumer Godden’s “The River” in 1950.

By 1955, Ray was able to make his own directorial debut with “Pather Panchali,” the first installment in the Apu trilogy, which follows a boy in rural India through his manhood to his marriage and move to the city.

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The lyricism, compassion and insight into his sweeping yet intimate epic trilogy, running 5 1/2 hours in its entirety, established Ray as one of the world’s great filmmakers.

Ray’s films, little known in his own country, were made cheaply, and he could not afford to ensure their proper care and storage. While film preservationists Michael Pogorzelski and David Shepard outline the daunting task that confronted them in attempting to save Ray’s legacy, producer Ismael Merchant, film critic Peter Rainer, director Martin Scorsese and others offer appraisals of the man and his work.

Scorsese cites Ray as a key inspiration; after seeing “Pather Panchali” he realized that he could make movies about his own Little Italy neighborhood.

Intoxicating spirit

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Whereas “The Song of the Little Road” is workmanlike, Mikhail Vardanov’s superb “Paradjanov: The Last Spring” captures the intoxicating, passionate spirit of the iconoclastic Armenian director’s surreal spiritual odyssey-fantasies, with their folkloric, iconic tableaux, rituals and processions.

Complex and challenging, they earned Paradjanov (1924-90) the love and admiration of his people and the hatred of the Soviets, who imprisoned him on trumped-up charges at the height of his powers, from 1974 to the end of 1977. He returned to directing, but his health began to fail. Confined to a wheelchair, he struggled to complete his memory film, “The Confession,” and, unknowingly, Vardanov filmed the director on what would be his last day of work before his death three months later.

Vardanov’s use of clips from Paradjanov’s films; of shots of interiors of his 19th century home with its fanciful collages, murals and decor; of glimpses of the bearded, burly director on his deathbed; of Paradjanov’s letters to Vardanov from prison and the art he created behind bars -- all these are exquisitely interleaved to evoke the very soul and boundless imagination of the filmmaker-poet-artist, who remarks that despite all the hardships he succeeded in “expressing myself entirely.”

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Screenings

Satyajit Ray and his work

Friday, 7:30 p.m.:

“The Song of the Little Road,” followed by “Pather Panchali”

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Saturday, 6 p.m.:

“Aparajito,” followed by “The Song of the Little Road”

Sunday, 5 p.m.:

“The World of Apu,” followed by “The Song of the Little Road”

Where: Egyptian Theater, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood.

Info: (323) 466-FILM

Sergei Paradjanov and his work

Saturday, 2 p.m.:

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“Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors”

Sunday, 2 p.m.:

“Color of Pomegranates,” followed by “Paradjanov: The Last Spring”

Note: Series continues Saturdays and Sundays through Feb. 1.

Where: Hollywood Entertainment Museum, 7021 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

Info: (323) 465-7900


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