Shot on a 16mm Bolex between 1957 and 1960 but not completed for another 60 years, Manfred Kirchheimer’s Free Time travels to a lost New York. In the 92-year-old filmmaker’s latest feature, he offers a counter-portrait of his adopted metropolis, refraining from representing New York’s infamous hustle-and-bustle in favor of depicting its residents’ idle pastimes—children playing stickball, mothers smoking on stoops, and men strolling beneath skyscrapers’ shade.
Already renowned for his early city symphony Stations of the Elevated, an elegant study of subway graffiti during the ‘70s, Kirchheimer builds upon his previous engagement with New York’s moving parts by embracing a breezier approach to filmmaking. Free Time is arabesque in design, patching visual rhymes together in step with its jazz score. In cutting from a water hose’s spray to a fire on an abandoned lot which is then replaced by the sight of a leaking fire hydrant spritzing a group of rambunctious kids, Kirchheimer proves his ability to make poetry out of otherwise ordinary observations.
“You have to understand: I’m 90 years old! I have an editing suite in my apartment. I have a large apartment. I couldn’t care less about trends. Fuck it! I get freer and freer!” MANFRED KIRCHHEIMER
About halfway through Free Time, its soundtrack is interrupted by the sound of the subway. The cue feels organic, echoing the way in which certain jazz themes themselves emerged from a relationship with the city’s public transportation. This is but one example of Kirchheimer’s keen ability to identify how art hides in plain sight throughout New York, something he repeatedly calls attention to in Free Time. Doing so, Kirchheimer presents New York as a city where beauty hides in every recess, waiting for people to fall captive to its allure, be inspired to immortalize it as art, or simply admire it idly.
Manfred Kirchheimer was born in Saarbrücken, Germany, in 1931. Fearing the rise of fascism, Kirchheimer’s Jewish parents moved to New York five years later. There, they settled in Washington Heights, where they joined a community of exiles that earned the neighborhood the nickname “Frankfurt-on-the-Hudson.” After a chance encounter with Hans Richter, then Head of Film at The City College of New York, Kirchheimer abandoned his studies in chemistry and decided to become a filmmaker. His films include the documentary about New York skyscrapers Tall: The American Skyscraper and Louis Sullivan; a comprehensive visual history of printmaking titled Art Is… The Permanent Revolution; and Canners, a gentle portrait of New York gleaners.
In August, we’re taking a more relaxed pace; our films will screen for two weeks.
Text written by Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer. Film courtesy of Cinema Conservancy.