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Directors in Focus - Declarations of Independence: Films by Michael Almereyda

In a moving assessment of the work of the late British independent Derek Jarman, writer-director Michael Almereyda speaks admiringly of the director’s fearlessness in making films that were “intrinsically uneven, unclassifiable, imperfect.” Despite significant differences that separate their bodies of work—generational, geographic, political—this characterization could apply equally to the ambitious, eccentric, and highly personal films that have emanated over the past decade and a half from the pen and lens of Almereyda. His work as a screenwriter has led to associations with some of the edgier artists at work in contemporary cinema, including David Lynch, Tim Burton, and Wim Wenders.

His directorial efforts have alternated between low-budget genre assignments (like those Roger Corman gave to Demme, Coppola, Scorsese, and many others whose careers were launched in this milieu) and his own no-budget films. Despite the disparate nature of these projects—a vampire movie, a heartland satire, a mummy film, an East Village comedy—there is an insistent interest in the paranormal and the fantastic, complemented by a signature predilection for incorporating small-format imagery (especially the degraded videographic output of the toy Pixelvision camera). While his focus on the nature of human subjectivity and his uses of unorthodox visual techniques hark back to the experimental cinema of the 1960s, his media-savvy imagery, quirky dialogue, and obsessed characters—all evident in his brilliant new media-laden adaptation of Hamlet—firmly situate Almereyda and his “intrinsically uneven, unclassifiable, imperfect” oeuvre in the forefront of contemporary cinema.

Special thanks to Andrew Fierberg and Double A Films for their invaluable assistance and to Michael Almereyda, Miramax Films, and Tri-Mark Pictures.


May 2 (Tuesday) at 7 pm (correction)
Special Event—all seats $10
Director Michael Almereyda and Actor Ethan Hawke in Person

Hamlet

Directed by Michael Almereyda
US 2000, 35mm, color, 111 min.
With Ethan Hawke, Kyle MacLachlan, Bill Murray

In his newest work, a resounding hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Almereyda resituates Shakespeare’s most famous play amidst the corporate, high-tech, digitalized world of contemporary Manhattan. The Bard’s original text is intact and delivered with emotional conviction in psychologically rich performances by a phenomenal cast. But the classic story of family conflict, thwarted love, and confrontation with death is opened out to embrace spectacular images and rhythms of modern metropolitan life, which come to seem a natural home to this archetypal tale.

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May 3 (Wednesday) 9 pm

The Rocking Horse Winner

Directed by Michael Almereyda
US 1997, 16mm, b/w, 23 min.
With Jesse Forrestal, Paula Malcomson, Eric Stoltz

The toy Pixelvision video camera with which The Rocking Horse Winner was shot evocatively renders the fragile emotional and physical world of D. H. Lawrence’s short story about a precocious child who has a gift for picking winning ponies at the track. “The camera provides a heightened way of seeing,” Almereyda has stated. “I knew going in that certain repeated frantic actions—the kid riding the horse,  the uncle concocting martinis, horses pounding the track—would register impressively in pixel.” The resulting work is a moody study of American mores.

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May 3 (Wednesday) 9 pm

Another Girl, Another Planet

Directed by Michael Almereyda
US 1992, 16mm, b/w, 56 min.
With Elina Löwensohn, Mary Ward, Nic Ratner

The gritty reality and strange beauty of this East Village story, also shot in Pixelvision, charts the contrasting romantic fortunes of two men who live on different floors in the same loft complex, a womanizer and his sage friend. While Almereyda sweetly jabs at the men’s romantic posturings, he pays tribute to the wit and impulsiveness of the spirited female characters. The film’s singular visual style, together with its superb use of popular music (Slim Harpo, Nick Cave, the Gypsy Kings, among others) earned it kudos from the National Society of Film Critics, the San Francisco International Film Festival, and the USA Film Festival.


May 4 (Thursday) 7 pm
May 9 (Tuesday) 7 pm

Nadja (Director's Cut)

Directed by Michael Almereyda
US 1994, 35mm, b/w, 92 min.
With Elina Löwensohn, Martin Donovan, Peter Fonda

Hailed by the Washington Post as a “brilliant fantasia on the Dracula legend,” Almereyda’s vampire story is set in the hip netherworld of contemporary lower Manhattan. Elina Löwensohn (of Hal Hartley’s Amateur) vamps in the role of Dracula’a world-weary daughter, who seeks a new life and new relationships as she spreads death (shades of the AIDS epidemic) throughout the East Village club scene. Shot in luxuriant black and white and punctuated with abstract videographic segments that enhance the overall hallucinatory timbre, the film is both a genre send-up and a serious romantic exploration of contemporary longing, risk-taking, and desperation.

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May 4 (Thursday) 9 pm

The Eternal

Directed by Michael Almereyda
US 1998, 35mm, color, 90 min
With Alison Elliott, Jared Harris, Christopher Walken

A gothic film that reprises Nadja’s eerie predilection for the undead, The Eternal relates the story of an American couple who journey with their young son to Ireland and encounter a strange relative (Walken) who keeps a two-thousand-year-old corpse in the cellar. As in Kubrick’s The Shining, the child seems more attuned to what is going on than the adults, who are easily baffled by a shape-shifting Druid witch who is transformed into a body-double for the alcoholic wife. Lyrical underwater photography and strong performances (especially Elliott in a dual role) highlight this unusual production.

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May 8 (Monday) 9:15 pm

Twister

Directed by Michael Almereyda
US 1989, 35mm, color, 90 min
With Harry Dean Stanton, Crispin Glover, Suzy Amis

This impressive first feature brought Almereyda immediate critical acclaim. Based on Mary Robison’s 1981 novel Oh!, the film is set in the bored and boozed-up world of a dysfunctional Kansas family. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Maureen Cleveland and her brother Howdy, together with their dad Eugene, the soda-pop and miniature-golf king, survive a tornado—although they manage to elude the transformative power of this natural disaster. Almereyda’s inventive visual style and the actors’ brilliantly wacky performances produce a wonderfully surreal atmosphere for this story of everyday craziness in the American heartland.

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