Michael Almereyda first emerged as a prominent name with his very contemporary vampire film Nadja (1994), which found a counterpart with his updating of Hamlet (2000). After that, Almereyda spent several years making non-fiction films – though his most recent work marks a return to fictional narrative – on a fascinating array of topics: Sam Shepherd, New Orleans, William Eggleston. The culmination of this spate of documentaries is the celebrated Paradise (2009), his most recent feature film. Currently teaching film at Harvard’s Visual and Environmental Studies program, Almereyda will join us for the local premiere of Paradise and for his pick to accompany it: Helen Levitt’s In the Street (1948).
Directed by Michael Almereyda
US 2009, digital video, color, 82 min
Paradise has been compared to a notebook, a diary and a sketchbook. It is a collection of discrete moments, unscripted and unstaged, shot digitally over several years, none lasting longer than four minutes. There is no voiceover or onscreen text to link or explain the fragments. These moments have little in common other than that they are all instants of beauty or happiness. While there is footage from nine different countries, the final section is centered on the US. There is little direct reference to 9/11 and the wars that followed, but those events – as Almeryeda puts it – “cast a shadow over the film.” If there is perhaps the faintest strain of melancholy in the film, it is because the film can’t help but point out that, unlike Paradise, these moments don’t last.
Directed by Helen Levitt
US 1948, 16mm, b/w, silent, 12 min
Photographer Helen Levitt and writer James Agee (accompanied by Janice Loeb) shot footage of street life in East Harlem and edited it into this celebrated short. Devoid of any recorded sound or voiceover narration, the film gathers a panoply of moments from life in urban public spaces: sidewalks, stoops, storefronts.