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January 30 - February 1

The Style of Loneliness – A Paul Schrader Retrospective

A defining figure of the “New Hollywood” that flourished in the 1970s, Paul Schrader (b. 1946), unlike contemporaries such as Francis Ford Coppola or Martin Scorsese, began not as a student of filmmaking but as an aspiring film historian and critic. Like the key French New Wave directors – and American filmmakers such as Peter Bogdanovich – Schrader began as a writer about film, using the publication of his master's thesis, the highly respected Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer (1972), as the calling card to his parallel and equally successful careers as a screenwriter and, eventually, director. His script for the hit The Yakuza (1974), co-written with his brother, made Schrader a highly sought-after writer whose popularity was furthered by his second and still most famous screenplay, Taxi Driver (1975), the first of four he would write for Scorsese.

While continuing to write prolifically, Schrader quickly established himself as a talented director and bold visual stylist with his hard-hitting debut feature Blue Collar (1977). Over the subsequent three decades, he has made a string of highly original films that, echoing the Dreyer and Bresson examined in Transcendental Style, reject the humanist cinema of empowered protagonists to focus instead on heroes at the mercy of larger, often unseen – or even unknown – forces. Locked in a constant struggle, the lonely figures at the heart of Schrader’s films can at best achieve only pyrrhic and ironic victories. Even when dealing with the iconic figures of recent history –Yukio Mishima, Patty Hearst – Schrader's films achieve a depth of character rare in American cinema, shaped by an unflinching psychological realism that studies the deep fissures in the often elaborate masks behind which his protagonists hide.

To celebrate the re-release of Schrader's searing epic of an untamed ego in an anxious age, Mishima: A Life in Four Parts (screening in a glorious new print), we are honored to welcome Paul Schrader to the Harvard Film Archive for a weekend long retrospective and a discussion of his life in film.

Special thanks: Tom and Verena Conley, Romance Languages and Literatures, Harvard;Andrew Wonder, Schrader Productions. Support provided by the Academy Foundation of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Special Event Tickets $10
Friday January 30 at 7pm

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters

Directed by Paul Schrader, Appearing in Person
With Ken Ogata, Masayuki Shionoya, Hiroshi Mikami
US 1985, color and b/w, 120 min. Japanese with English subtitles

Schrader’s mesmerizing vision of famed Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima is a dramatic extension of the titular American Gigolo’s transformation into an elusive object of desire, with Mishimasimilarly re-fashioning himself, embellishing his image with militaristic, reactionary politics and a group of devoted followers. Set to a driving Philip Glass score, Schrader’s unconventional biopic interweaves Mishima’s life and work, centering on the events leading to the author’s attempted coup and 1970 suicide and structured by lush adaptations of three Mishima novels, poetic interludes that mark a furthest extreme in Schrader’s use of stylized mise-en-scène.

audio from evening Listen to this evening's introduction, discussion and Q&A.

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Special Event Tickets $10
Saturday January 31 at 7pm

Light Sleeper

Directed by Paul Schrader, Appearing in Person
With Willem Dafoe, Susan Sarandon, Dana Delany
US 1991, 35mm, color, 103 min.

Schrader has spoken of Light Sleeper as the final panel in a triptych of films about male loners which also includes Taxi Driver and American Gigolo. Featuring one of Schrader's tautest and most effective screenplays, Light Sleeper tells the story of a New York City drug runner grappling with a midlife crisis and framed for a drug-related murder. Schrader's return to the mean streets of Manhattan is notably melancholic, suffused with an aura of regret and longing that adds nuance to all of its characters. Willem Dafoe offers a poignant and powerful rendering of the dealer’s moving struggle to reassemble his life and reconnect with a lost love.

Blue Collar

Directed by Paul Schrader, Appearing in Person
With Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto
US 1978, 35mm, color, 114 min.
Print from Universal Pictures

Schrader's rarely screened directorial debut thrust him to the front ranks of the New Hollywood as one of the most politically astute and precocious of the young Turks who seized the studio reins. Centered on a trio of frustrated auto factory workers who rob their union office in an act of desperate rebellion, Blue Collar is structured on the type of genre-derived narrative – here, that of the caper film – that recurs throughout Schrader's films. Blue Collar is, however, far more interested in place than its cops and robbers story, focusing on the rich details of a working class community and the type of alienation that unites its inhabitants in a constant and ultimately futile struggle.

 Listen to this evening's introduction, discussion and Q&A.

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Sunday February 1 at 3pm

American Gigolo

Directed by Paul Schrader.
With Richard Gere, Lauren Hutton, Hector Elizondo
US 1980, 35mm, color, 117 min.
Print from Paramount Pictures

Schrader captures the shift in American cinema from the experimentation of the 1970s to the quietism of the 1980s in this play of surfaces and depths centered on a Los Angeles gigolo accused of a murder he may or may not have committed. A rich evocation of late 70s Los Angeles – the Armani clothes, the Giorgio Moroder score, a subdued pastel palette – American Gigolo is also the work of Schrader’s closest to Bresson, a director revered by Schrader and one of the subjects of his fascinating book Transcendental Style in Film. Richard Gere stars – in a career defining role – as the titular hero who, for all his activity and self-fashioning, remains a passive figure through whom we glimpse both the void of existence and, ultimately, the possibility of transcendence.

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Sunday February 1 at 7pm

Patty Hearst

Directed by Paul Schrader.
With Natasha Richardson, William Forsythe, Ving Rhames
US/UK 1988, 35mm, color, 108 min.
Print from the Harvard Film Archive Collection

While the heroes of American Gigolo and Mishima, like Travis Bickle before them, strive to create selves to present to the world, Schrader’s Patty Hearst is emblematic of the other kind of Schrader protagonist: one whose identity is completely formed by events beyond her control. Schrader’s chronicle of the nineteen year-old Hearst’s kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974 and her subsequent seventeen months with the extremist group depicts Hearst as an Alice in Wonderland pushed through the looking glass of 1970s political extremism. The film presents her odyssey as a tour of an underground in which ideology has given way to posturing and playacting, albeit with deadly results. Schrader himself has suggested that Patty Hearst’s box office failure may have stemmed from its discomfiting revelation of the shocking ease with which the self can be totally destroyed and reconstituted.

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Sunday February 1 at 9:15pm


Directed by Paul Schrader.
George C. Scott, Peter Boyle, Season Hubley
US 1979, 35mm, color, 108 min.
Print from Sony Pictures

A few years after drawing on The Searchers (1956) as inspiration for Taxi Driver, Schrader returns to the basic outlines of John Ford’s classic for this unflinching examination of sexual liberation and its discontents. George C. Scott is riveting as a Midwestern businessman simmering with rage against the world when his daughter runs away to California to become a porn performer. His journey after her takes him to Los Angeles and San Francisco, and into the seediest circles of the sex trade, exposing him to a series of shocks to his conservatism. Offering no middle ground between the father’s uptight rectitude and the human degradation of the West Coast sex industry, Hardcore can be read as an expression of the conflict Schrader experienced between his own Calvinist upbringing and the hedonism of 1970s Hollywood. 

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