Film at Lincoln Center presents “Angels and Puppets: The Stage on Screen with Annie Baker,” a series of 17 films handpicked by acclaimed playwright Annie Baker that engage with theater as a cinematic theme, in anticipation of the release of Baker’s directorial debut, Janet Planet, on June 21.

The series will be presented at FLC from June 14 through June 20, with many films shown on 35mm and Baker in-person for select introductions and Q&As, including a sneak preview of Janet Planet on June 20. Opening Night of the series will feature Louis Malle’s iconic collaboration with André Gregory and Wallace Shawn, My Dinner with André (1981) and Vanya on 42nd Street (1994), both presented on 35mm. Baker will also engage in a discussion with Shawn about each film’s perspective on theater as an art form and its translation to the big screen.

Organized by Florence Almozini, Madeline Whittle, and Annie Baker.

Artist’s Statement: Annie Baker

“The terrible habit of theatre.” I was working at St. Mark’s Bookshop (RIP) at age 21 when I first discovered Robert Bresson’s Notes on the Cinematographer, in a pocket sized edition that we sold at the front desk. I was a young playwright and Bresson-lover and I was shocked and thrilled by how much Bresson seemed to hate an art form I loved (the truth was, I hated it 90 percent of the time). Over the next few years I came to understand the subtleties of his anti-theatrical argument and in my own way tried to embody them in the theatre I wrote and made. The book was for me, in the end, about understanding the limitations and possibilities of the form you’re working in, and trying your hardest not to lie to yourself. “Everything to be called into question.” “Don’t run after poetry.” “Your film must take off. Bombast and the picturesque hinder it from taking off.” Later I discovered the bombastic, picturesque spectacle of Powell and Pressburger’s The Tales of Hoffmann, a beginning to end hallucinatory recreation of Offenbach’s opera that is all theatre and all cinema, totally rigorous, completely bonkers, and so joyful it made me cry. And then of course there’s the symbiotic relationship between Broadway musicals and Technicolor movie musicals, and how with so many of them I couldn’t tell you if it started as a stage musical and then became a movie musical and then a stage musical adaptation of the movie musical or the other way around. And why does Gene Kelly tap dancing in tiny shorts on a theatre set on a movie set on a soundstage feel like the epitome of truth in both mediums? Bazin called theatre “film’s evil genius” in his essay “In Defense of Adaptation” and that feels right to me, like somehow theatre is the degenerate puppeteer responsible for the best and worst of 20th century cinema. When it comes to recent theatre history, nothing is more satisfying than Louis Malle’s My Dinner with André, a movie that feels like a play but could only be a movie about two legendary theatre makers discussing the agonies and ecstasies of living as an artist in New York City, in which 30 minutes of screen time is spent discussing the Polish theatre director Jerzy Grotowski (look closely in my film Janet Planet and you’ll see a postcard of him hanging on the wall). Other filmmakers in this series, from Bergman to Cassavetes to Ozu, show the characters actually putting on a play inside the movie, and the struggle to make something live and the experience of being in an audience is captured with irony and a lot of love for theatre’s rough edges. There are only two filmed pieces of actual live theatre: the Wooster Group’s archival recording of the seminal performance piece Rumstick Road and The Meadows Green, DeeDee Halleck and George Griffin’s immersive documentary that makes you feel after 20 minutes like you just spent three days outside in Vermont with Bread and Puppet Theater in 1974. And then there’s D.A. Pennebaker’s great documentary about the cast recording of Company, which captures the exquisite pain of having to do something over and over again in a windowless room full of tired people, and that, two decades after reading Bresson, is still my favorite thing about making theatre.

The Library of Congress; Matt Hoffman and Indie Collect; Clay Hapaz, Ken Kobland, and the Wooster Group.