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Adventures in Surrealism


November 5 (Monday) 7 pm
November 6 (Tuesday) 9 pm

Maya Deren Program
Meshes of the Afternoon

Directed by Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid
US 1943, 16mm, b/w, 14 min.

Dancer, ethnographer, philosopher, and “visual poet” Maya Deren began making films in the early 1940s (with her cameraman husband, Alexander Hammid). In these striking psychodramas Deren often places herself in the frame, navigating a path through anxiety-laden Freudian environs, dreamscapes of the seemingly unphotographable. In her first and most famous work, Meshes of the Afternoon, a woman (Deren) dreams within dreams about suicide, about a phallic attack by her mate (Hammid), and about inanimate objects that assume threatening aspects. This seminal work gave birth to the American avant-garde film movement of the postwar era.

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screens with Meshes of the Afternoon (see above)

Witch's Cradle

Directed by Maya Deren
US 1944, 16mm, b/w, silent, 12 min.
With Marcel Duchamp, Pajarito Matta

This unfinished film, shot at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery (the prime exhibitor of Surrealist works in New York), was inspired by both the architecture of the space itself and the art works it contained. Deren used her camera to delineate the magic of what she called these “cabalistic symbols of the twentieth century.” 

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screens with Meshes of the Afternoon and Witch's Cradle (see above)

At Land

Directed by Maya Deren
US 1944, 16mm, b/w, 15 min.
With Maya Deren, John Cage, Alexander Hammid

This experiment in time and space features Deren as an alienated figure, unable to integrate with the social milieu that surrounds her. 


screens with Meshes of the Afternoon and Witch's Cradle and At Land (see above)

The Private Life of a Cat

Directed by Alexander Hammid
US 1944, 16mm, b/w, silent, 22 min.

This charming depiction of the romantic encounter between a male and female cat who decide to take up housekeeping together was made by Deren’s second husband, Alexander Hammid.

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screens with Meshes of the Afternoon and Witch's Cradle and At Land and The Private Life of a Cat (see above)

Ritual in Transfigured Time

Directed by Maya Deren
US 1945–46, 16mm, b/w, silent, 15 min.
With Maya Deren, Anais Nin, Rita Christiani

Deren’s exploration of female sexuality and the human psyche is given form through figures inspired by Greek mythology. This elaborate “choreography for the camera” transforms everyday movements into dancelike passages, with the help of slow-motion effects.

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November 12 (Monday) 7 pm
November 13 (Tuesday) 9:45 pm

Rose Hobart

Directed by Joseph Cornell
US 1937, 16mm, color, 19 min.

Joseph Cornell’s collage aesthetic was expressed not only in his famous box assemblages but also in his occasional work in film. (A collector of all things, he also maintained a cache of 16mm films.) As an homage to Rose Hobart, a popular screen queen of B-films in the 1930s, Cornell radically altered her 1931 jungle-picture East of Borneo, interspersing fragments of a scientific documentary and turning it into a surrealist experience that caused Dali to exclaim, “He stole my dreams!”

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screens with Rose Hobart (see above)

Dreams That Money Can Buy

Directed by Hans Richter, Max Ernst, Man Ray, Fernand Léger, Marcel Duchamp, Alexander Calder
US 1947, 16mm, color, 80 min. 

In this omnibus work, the first feature-length Surrealist film made in America, a poor young poet sells dreams—each one a mini-movie realized by a noted painter or sculptor whom the émigré Dada artist and filmmaker Hans Richter invited to participate. The delightful segments are enhanced by original musical compositions by such composers as Paul Bowles, John Cage, Duke Ellington, and Darius Milhaud.

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November 19 (Monday) 7 pm
November 20 (Tuesday) 9 pm

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Directed by Luis Buñuel
France 1972, 35mm, color, 105 min.
With Fernando Rey, Delphine Seyrig, Stéphane Audran
French with English subtitles

Reworking the central device of The Exterminating Angel, in which the proprieties of bourgeois culture are thoroughly disabused over the course of a dinner party that never ends, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie became Buñuel’s most successful film, bringing him into international prominence during the final years of his career. Less aggressive in its tone and less radical in its form than many of his previous works, the film is an ironic comedy of manners about a group of European elites who fail to obtain bodily nourishment from their pursuits and are perhaps, in the end, “too sexy” for their food.

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November 26 (Monday) 7 pm
November 27 (Tuesday) 9 pm

8x8

Directed by Hans Richter
US 1955–58, 16mm, color, 70 min.
With Marcel Duchamp, Alexander Calder, Paul Bowles

Like his earlier Dreams that Money Can Buy, Richter’s 8 x 8 engaged the talents of an array of artists with whom he had associated over the years, including Jean Arp, Jean Cocteau, Yves Tanguy, and Richard Huelsenbeck. The title refers to the 8 x 8 arrangement of squares on a chessboard and the film’s equivalent segmentation into a “Chess Sonata in 8 Movements.” It is a tribute to the game Richter loved: “a game of chance and accident, kings and pawns, retreats and successes—in short, the thousand and one combinations of life.”

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December 10 (Monday) 7 pm
December 11 (Tuesday) 9:30 pm

Blood of a Poet (Le sang d'un poete)

Directed by Jean Cocteau
France 1930, 35mm, b/w, 58 min.
With Lee Miller, Pauline Carton, Odette Talazac
French with English subtitles

In his first foray into film, artist and poet Jean Cocteau created this vivid and highly personal portrait of “the poet’s inner self,” filled with signature images of beauty, suffering, and renewal. While composed in four distinct episodes, the action of the film ostensibly takes place in the brief moment between the collapse of a chimney and its hitting the ground. 

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screens with Blood of a Poet (see above) 

Toby Dammit

Directed by Federico Fellini
Italy/France 1967, 35mm, color, 41 min.
With Terence Stamp, Slavo Randone, Antonio Pietrosi

The final episode in a compendium of Edgar Allen Poe stories entitled Histoires extraordinaires (Spirits of the Dead), Fellini’s Toby Dammit loosely adapts Poe’s macabre tale and transforms it into the story of a burnt-out British actor who arrives in Rome to star in the first Catholic western. 

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December 17 (Monday) 7 pm
December 18 (Tuesday) 7 pm

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T

Directed by Roy Rowland
US 1953, 35mm, color, 88 min.
With Hans Conried, Tommy Rettig, Peter Lind Hayes 

Dr. Seuss wrote and Stanley Kramer produced what can only be referred to as the most surreal children’s fantasy film ever conceived. Bart Collins’s overbearing, prissy, and vaguely foreign piano teacher forces his 500 pupils to play his dreary piano exercises on a continuous keyboard located in his monstrous palace, while Bart’s mother is hypnotized and locked in a gilded cage. Dreamlike and imaginative, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T can be read as both an aesthetic form of delirium and as a fascinating expression of cold-war hysteria in America.

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