For more than a decade, John Ewing, the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque director, strived to show his holy grail of classic films. Now, this year, he’s finally been granted the rights to it. And no, it’s not Monty Python.
A rarely seen Finnish print of Porgy and Bess, the 1959 film based on the famous George Gershwin opera of the same name, screens at the art-house theater Oct. 8. A movie-programmer’s dream, the flick has never been issued on DVD, hasn’t been on TV in 40 years and was last screened in New York City in 2007.
“Rarely are we the only place in the country showing something,” says Ewing. “This is totally a coup.”
Blocked from reissue by the Gershwin estate, the film only remains on three reels worldwide. New York film professor and author Foster Hirsch, who was the last to screen it, helped Ewing get the estate’s permission to show it here. It also didn’t hurt that the film’s star, Dorothy Dandridge, is originally a Clevelander and the cinematheque is celebrating its 30th anniversary, Ewing adds.
Despite the film’s status, Ewing has never seen it. “I’m just kind of curious,” he says. “If I hadn’t seen it, I would be kicking myself.”