Inspired by The Bicycle Thief
, New York filmmaker Lionel Rogosin set out to make a neo-realist drama on the city's skid row, and his 1957 film is a priceless time capsule, though its images of addiction and despair have barely aged. A young down-and-outer (Ray Salyer, as himself) arrives on the Bowery looking for day labor after working all summer on the railroads; he hopes to stay sober and pull himself out of poverty, but he's come to the wrong neighborhood, an endless vista of staggering, homeless drunks. Rogosin traces the man's interaction with another lush (Gorman Hendricks, who died of alcoholism right after the shoot) and shows how addiction marks the parameters of their friendship. But their story is almost secondary to Rogosin's striking black-and-white photography of the Bowery's drab streets and bleak, haggard faces. The movie was nominated for an Oscar as best documentary despite its scripted scenes; by 2008, when it was named to the National Film Registry, any genre distinctions had long since paled beside the movie's harsh truth.
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Lionel Rogosin's On the Bowery exposed life on skid row, but the filmmakers had their own problems with booze