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February 3 - 5, 2006

Out of the Blue and Into the Black: Pop Epitaphs

In his famed suicide note, Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain quoted the defiant cry of Neil Young's "Hey, Hey, My My (Into the Black)" writing "it's better to burn out than to fade away." This program presents a series of nonfiction and docudrama films which challenge the romantic notion of dying young. These films examine the complicated lives of pop and rock stars who each left a unique and indelible imprint on their fans and loved ones before their untimely deaths. Some achieved fame and fortune and some were just on the verge, but as these portraits reveal, they each offered much more than a dramatic curtain call.


February 3 (Friday) 7 pm

Last Days

Directed by Gus Van Sant
US, 2005, color, 97 min.
With Michael Pitt, Lukas Haas, Asia Argento

Last Days follows a Kurt Cobain-like character (Michael Pitt) -his name is Blake, but his long blond hair and grunge clothing are clearly inspired by Cobain -during the week before his death by suicide. The film has little dialogue and minimal character interaction, relying instead on innovative use of camera movement and sound design, as well as a remarkable physical performance by the nearly silent Pitt, to create an atmosphere that emphasizes mood over the chronology of specific events leading up to Blake's death.

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February 3 (Friday) 9 pm

Sid and Nancy

Directed by Alex Cox
US, 1986, color, 112 min.
With Gary Oldman, Chloe Webb, Andrew Schofield

Sid and Nancy is the story of the real-life self-destructive love affair between punk Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman) of the Sex Pistols and American groupie Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb) during the 1970s. Though the couple descends into a disturbing hell of drugs and death, including Spungen's murder at New York's Chelsea Hotel and Vicious's subsequent heroin overdose, the film remains touchingly romantic due to the remarkably authentic and emotional performances by Oldman and Webb. The film is also notable for being the first screen appearance by Courtney Love.

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February 4 (Saturday) 7 pm

Mike Brant: Let Me Love You

Directed by Erez Laufer
France/Israel/Switzerland, 2003, color, 101 min.
French with English subtitles

Mike Brant was born Moshe Brant in 1947 to a Holocaust survivor and a resistance fighter in a displaced person's camp in Cyprus. The family relocated to Israel shortly thereafter, and as a teenager Brant began singing in nightclubs and cabarets. Brant was discovered by French star Sylvie Vartan, and he moved to Paris where he soon became an international pop star and teen heartthrob. The pressures of fame eventually became too much for Brant, and he committed suicide at the age of twenty-eight. This film includes interviews with those close to Brant, and features archival footage of Brant in private and public moments.

This screening is co-presented with the Israeli Consulate of Boston, French Cultural Services, and the Boston Jewish Film Festival.

A Skin Too Few: The Days of Nick Drake

Directed by Jeroen Berkvens
Netherlands, 2000, color, 48 min.

When British folk singer/songwriter Nick Drake died of a drug overdose in 1974 at the age of 26, he left behind only three albums of songs and no performance or interview film footage. Despite the paucity of archival material, director Jeroen Berkvens is able to create a unique portrait of the enigmatic Drake through interviews with friends and family, footage of the hauntingly beautiful English landscapes that inspired Drake, a reconstruction of Drake's bedroom created using old photographs, and, of course, a soundtrack made up of Drake's beautiful and melancholy songs.

Lucky Three

Directed by Jem Cohen
Italy/US, 1997, Color, 11 min.
With Ricki Lake, Divine, Debbie Harry

Lucky Three features acclaimed indie folk-punk singer/songwriter Elliot Smith performing three songs -"Between the Bars," "Thirteen," and "Angeles" -alone with his acoustic guitar in a small rehearsal room in Portland, Oregon. The performance segments are interspersed with footage of Smith walking around in Portland. This beautiful and intimate portrait is especially touching given that Smith committed suicide in 2003 at the age of thirty-four.

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February 5 (Sunday) 7 pm

The Nomi Song

Directed by Andrew Horn
Germany, 2004, B&W and color, 98 min.
English and German with English subtitles

Klaus Nomi was a classically trained counter-tenor opera singer in his native Germany, but in New York City in late 1970s/early 1980s he combined New Wave pop songs with arias and a sci-fi "alien" persona to launch an extraordinary career as an underground performance artist. Nomi was one of the first celebrities to succumb to AIDS when he died of complications from the disease in 1983. The Nomi Song combines interviews, performance footage, movie clips, and home movies to create a lively, humorous, and poignant portrait of a truly original performer.

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February 5 (Sunday) 9 pm

Benjamin Smoke

Directed by Jem Cohen and Peter Sillen
US, 2000, B&W and color, 72 min.
With Benjamin Dickerson, Tim Campion, Brian Halloran

Benjamin Smoke is an acclaimed, intelligent, and intimate portrait of the lead singer of the Cabbagetown, Atlanta underground punk-blues group Smoke. The film is made up of candid interviews with friends and colleagues (including punk-goddess Patti Smith, who was a huge inspiration to Smoke), snippets of rehearsal and concert footage, and long discussions with Smoke himself, who was a drag queen/singer/songwriter/musician/poet with an affinity for cigarettes and alcohol. Smoke died of complications from AIDS shortly after filming ended in 1999, and Benjamin Smoke is an honest and loving depiction of the end of Smoke's life.

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Harvard Film Archive • Carpenter Center • 24 Quincy Street • Cambridge MA 02138 • 617-495-4700