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From the HFA Vaults
Uncensored: Selections from the Grove Press Collection

Grove Press, which the legendary Barney Rosset founded in 1951, was noteworthy for publishing such classics as D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. It is perhaps less known that Grove Press supported and distributed a diverse selection of independently made films—works, including such banned films as I Am Curious (Yellow) and Titicut Follies, that challenged the political, sexual, and cultural mores of American society in their times. This program represents a rare opportunity to rediscover some of the most notable and notorious works from the Grove Press Collection, all currently in the collection of the Harvard Film Archive, and to revisit a group of works that speak to the turbulent zeitgeist of 1960s America in the throes of a sexual and political “revolution.”

To reflect the spirit of the times in which these films were made, program notes are drawn largely from original entries in the Grove Press Film Catalog. The Archive wishes to thank M.M. Serra of the Film-Makers’ Cooperative and Barney Rosset for their assistance in organizing this series. Please note that, due to explicit content, admission to some screenings will be limited to persons 18 years of age or older.


Publisher Barney Rosset in Person
February 7 (Friday) 7 pm

Science Friction

Directed by Stan Vanderbeek
US 1959, 16mm, color, 10 min.

One of the most innovative figures in experimental film, Vanderbeek specialized in combining radical formal techniques and progressive politics. In this non-verbal political satire, he reflects on mass society, conformism, and the era’s infatuation with rockets.

Film

Directed by Alan Schneider
US 1965, 35mm, b/w, 22 min.
With Buster Keaton

Samuel Beckett wrote the script for this one-character drama without dialogue featuring Buster Keaton. Alan Schneider, the film’s director, staged all of Beckett’s plays in the United States. He also directed four of Edward Albee’s plays, winning the coveted “Tony” award for his work on Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Boris Kaufman (who won an Oscar for On the Waterfront) was the director of photography.

Chafed Elbows

Directed by Robert Downey
US 1966, 16mm, b/w and color, 63 min.
With George Morgan, Elsie Downey

Walter Dinsmore’s annual January breakdown begins shortly after he has a hysterectomy and delivers $1,800 in $10 bills—the result of swallowing a nickel when he was a child. Psychoanalysis proves futile since our hero sees nothing wrong with being passionately in love with his mother. All ends happily, however, with Walter marrying his mother, moving to the suburbs, and supporting the two on welfare. The film is characterized by its irreverent, anti-establishment humor; its audacity and wit are balanced by ingenious editing and technical polish. Anyone interested in the quality of contemporary life—and film—will be stimulated by this hilarious satire of neuroses, nuttiness, art, music, police brutality, pornography, racism, TV commercials, and filmmaking itself.

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February 7 (Friday) 9:30 pm

Psychomontage

Directed by Eberhard and Phyllis Kronhausen
US 1962, 16mm, b/w, 10 min.

The Kronhausens, a Paris-based team of psychotherapists, produced a series of books as well as several films to present the findings of their exploration of human sexuality. Their Psychomontage offers a provocative and funny look at the erotic in everyday life.

Freedom to Love

Directed by Eberhard and Phyllis Kronhausen
West Germany 1969, 35mm, color, 90 min.
With Eberhard and Phyllis Kronhausen, Hugh Hefner, Kenneth Tynan
German with English subtitles

A film about the irrationality of common sexual prejudices and traditional sex laws, Freedom to Love advances the point of view that sexual freedom is not inimical to the interests of society. The film suggests, in fact, that official and unofficial suppression of sexuality and the resultant sexual frustrations are actually a contributing factor in social ills, such as juvenile delinquency, crime, family breakdown, and divorce. Freedom to Love makes a strong and impassioned plea for a more open-minded and tolerant attitude toward sex and ultimately for greater personal happiness and a healthier society.

No one under 18 will be admitted to this screening.

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February 8 (Saturday) 7 pm

I Am Curious (Yellow)

Directed by Vilgot Sjöman
Sweden 1967, 35mm, b/w, 116 min.
With Lena Nyman, Börje Ahlstedt
Swedish with English subtitles

A record-breaking sensation at the box office, I Am Curious (Yellow) had to win a highly publicized legal battle before it could be shown to American audiences. It aroused interest and discussion because of its direct portrayal of the attitudes and problems — social, sexual, and political — of contemporary youth. Norman Mailer wrote at the time that it was “one of the most important pictures I have ever seen in my life. . . . I felt I had encountered a major work. . . . I think it is a profoundly moral movie.”

No one under 18 will be admitted to this screening.

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February 8 (Saturday) 9:30 pm

I Am Curious (Blue)

Directed by Vilgot Sjöman
Sweden 1968, 35mm, b/w, 110 min.
With Lena Nyman, Börje Ahlstedt
Swedish with English subtitles

The companion film to its controversial predecessor, I Am Curious (Blue) is described in the Grove Press Catalog as being even more powerful and unrelentingly frank in its portrayal of contemporary culture. Equally erotic, equally political, (Blue) is nevertheless an entirely different work. In Film Quarterly, Clyde B. Smith wrote, “(Yellow) is about class structure, nonviolence, and value systems. (Blue) is about relations between people, religion, the prison system, and sex.”

No one under 18 will be admitted to this screening.

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February 9 (Sunday) 7 pm

Titicut Follies

Directed by Frederick Wiseman
US 1967, 16mm, b/w, 85 min.

“By order of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Titicut Follies may be shown only to legislators, judges, lawyers, sociologists, social workers, doctors, psychiatrists, students in these or related fields, and organizations dealing with the social problems of custodial care and mental infirmity.” On the basis of this ruling, Wiseman’s first documentary film went unseen in Massachusetts for two and a half decades because of the horrors it chronicled in an institution for the criminally insane and the threats the state felt it posed. Titicut Follies initiated a string of Wiseman documentaries that have continued to examine the institutions that form the fabric of America.

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February 9 (Sunday) 9 pm

The Queen

Directed by Frank Simon
US 1968, 35mm, b/w, 68 min.

A sensitive and often moving documentary about real people, The Queen introduced a public unfamiliar with the lives of female impersonators to the men who compete each year for the Miss All-American beauty contest. Fair-skinned and heavy-bearded, homely masculine-looking and beautiful feminine-looking, the men prepare in their hotel rooms as they discuss their homosexuality with disarming humor. On the night of the pageant, in New York’s Town Hall, the judges (Andy Warhol, Terry Southern, Edie Sedgwick, Larry Rivers, and others) evaluate the bathing-suit competition and announce Miss All-American of 1967. Carefully edited and well photographed, The Queen made a serious contribution to an explosive subject.

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February 10 (Monday) 7 pm

Duet for Cannibals

Directed by Susan Sontag
Sweden 1969, 35mm, b/w, 105 min.
With Adrian Asti, Lars Ekborg, Gosta Ekman
Swedish with English subtitles

Susan Sontag had already achieved wide recognition as a novelist, essayist, and critic of contemporary culture when she directed her first film, a psychological comedy-drama about the strange influence an exiled German radical political leader and his wife exercise over a young Swedish couple that comes under their sway. Relations between the two couples evolve into a strange mÈnage a quatre when the younger woman becomes deeply involved in the bizarre and erotic games played by the older couple. Vincent Canby hailed this “visually spare, cerebral comedy” as an “amazingly mature and controlled movie.”

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February 10 (Monday) 9 pm

Passages from Finnegan’s Wake

Directed by Mary Ellen Bute
US 1965, 35mm, b/w, 97 min.
With Martin J. Kelly, Jane Reilly, Peter Haskell

Mary Ellen Bute, a true poet of cinema, created a joyously Joycean, fascinating, and imaginative film, a mixture of the aural—for Joyce’s words are not only spoken but seen in subtitles—and the visual. A delight to critics, Joyceans, and lovers of film, Passages from Finnegan’s Wake suggested a new orientation for students of Joyce as well as for cineastes. Time magazine wrote that “its dream sequences . . . featuring reverse footage, collages and montages . . . frequently are as challenging and witty as Joyce’s prose.” 

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February 11 (Tuesday) 7 pm

The Man Who Lies (L’homme qui ment)

Directed by Alain Robbe-Grillet
France/Czechoslovakia 1968, 35mm, b/w, 95 min.
With Jean-Louis Trintignant, Sylvie Breal
French with English subtitles

Jean-Louis Trintignant received the Best Actor award at the Berlin Film Festival for his performance in The Man Who Lies, a highly influential film in its time and the third directorial effort by French “new” novelist Robbe-Grillet. In this filmic jigsaw puzzle that enlists the spectator’s imagination in assembling the fragments the author-director supplies, a stranger who claims to be a member of the wartime underground, but who may have been a fascist, arrives in a town. He constantly re-invents his identity in order to gain entrance—and acceptance—into a household of three beautiful women whose son, brother, and lover have perhaps never returned from the war. †

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February 11 (Tuesday) 9 pm

Getting His Goat (aka On the Beach) 

US 1922, 16mm, b/w, silent, 7 min.

In this historical curiosity from the 1920s, a young man looking for a good time with three bathing beauties gets his comeuppance with the help of a four-legged friend. This anonymously directed silent stag film offers a curious blend of slapstick sight gags and erotic spectacle, a genre more pervasive in early cinema than is generally known.

Danish Blue

Directed by Gabriel Axel
Denmark 1970, 35mm, b/w, 72 min.
Danish with English subtitles

In Denmark, where censorship restrictions had been lifted from all erotic literature and films in the previous year, the free circulation of sexual expression created a veritable social revolution. Danish Blue explores what happens in a country when the barriers come down and frankly erotic books and films are produced and circulated with an object no more profound than to please and delight. With wit and charm, director Axel examines the causes that give rise to the phenomenon of pornography and the motives of its purveyors—all illustrated with daring excerpts from examples offered to the Danish public.

No one under 18 will be admitted to this screening.

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February 12 (Wednesday) 7 pm

Vladimir and Rosa

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard and the Dziga-Vertov Group
France 1971, 16mm, color, 106 min.
With Juliet Berto, Anne Wiazenski
French with English subtitles

Godard’s lively meditation on the Chicago 7 conspiracy trial, women’s liberation, and the Black Power movement is a brilliant pastiche of fiction filmmaking, political analysis, and street theater—what Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic described as “flashes of the Marx Brothers and Brecht.” Godard himself appears in the film to expound on the challenges of translating revolutionary political theory into revolutionary cinema.

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February 12 (Wednesday) 9 pm

Godard in America

Directed by Ralph Thanhauser
US 1970, 16mm, b/w, 40 min.

During April 1970, Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin, a comrade from the Dziga-Vertov Group, toured major American universities screening See You at Mao in order to raise money to finish a film on the Palestinian Al Fatah movement (a project that was never completed). This penetrating document of that tour reveals the enormous appeal of these French filmmakers to a new generation of politically engaged young Americans.

See You at Mao (British Sounds)

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard and the Dziga-Vertov Group
France 1969, 16mm, color, 54 min.

Jean-Luc Godard’s startling, uncompromising attempt at a revolutionary cinema marked a new stage in the aesthetic evolution of modern cinema’s most radical experimenter. Believing that the narrative film—even when modified as in his own Breathless or Masculine-Feminine—was outdated and bourgeois, Godard loosened a propagandistic audio-visual barrage on the senses that combines Maoism, the Beatles, multiple sound tracks, minimal cinema ‡ la Warhol, nudity (accompanied by a women’s liberation statement), and excerpts from Nixon, Pompidou, and the Communist Manifesto, all ending with a blood-spattered hand painfully reaching for a red flag.

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