A man with a suitcase walks into a bar and orders a beer, but he soon finds out that it's hard to get off the Bowery, "the saddest and the maddest street in the world." In his first film, Lionel Rogosin documented the Bowery in all its seedy hopelessness: from the gin mills, the flophouses, the mission, the sidewalk where workers gathered for a day's labor, and the intersection where there was a buyer for just about anything, to the men who swilled rotgut, played dominos, and slept under chickenwire and cardboard boxes, all in the shadow of the Third Avenue El. In 1956, Rogosin, Richard Bagley, and Mark Sufrin brought actor Ray Salyer to the Bowery to improvise scenes with its denizens, most prominent among whom was Gorman Hendricks, an aging scene-stealer who died shortly after filming was completed. The men talked about their present and their past, their weathered faces belying a dignity and intelligence rarely granted to the down and out, as they provided a window into a subculture with its own rules. The resulting film, which emulates both Italian neorealism in its use of nonprofessional actors and the staged reality of Jacob Riis and Robert Flaherty, was nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Documentary, excoriated by The New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther, and strongly influenced the young John Cassavetes, who called Rogosin "probably the greatest documentary filmmaker of all time." On the Bowery is an arresting document of a lost era before million-dollar lofts and $12 saketinis, when the Bowery truly was the boulevard of broken dreams.
Lionel Rogosin (1924-2000) was a filmmaker and cinematographer best known for using non-professional actors in naturalistic settings and tellilng true-to-life stories that were firmly grounded in local hardscrabble realities. After On the Bowery (1957), the New York native went to South Africa to make a documentary about apartheid, then decided instead to turn his reactions into a dramatic feature. Rogosin was unable to find a theater to exhibit Come Back, Africa (1960), which had its world premiere restoration at TFF 2005, so he opened a Greenwich Village arthouse. The Bleecker Street Cinema was one of New York's top repertory cinemas for more than two decades. Other acclaimed works of Rogosin include the riveting, anti-war documentary Good Times, Wonderful Times (1968).