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September 7 – November 30, 2015

Furious and Furiouser

“For me, Hollywood no longer exists. It’s past history.”

That was Sam Peckinpah’s announcement to a journalist in 1974. As it happens, he was referring specifically to the shooting of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, then underway in Mexico, with an all-Mexican crew: far, far away from studio execs and craft unions alike. But an introduction needs a metaphor, and that’s the one we’re going to use. Peckinpah’s movies were pure Furious Cinema. Emotionally violent even before the bullets start flying. Renegade. Fading heroes who lash out in a violent spasm at the system that has crushed them.

The 1970s is paradoxically considered the artistic acme of Hollywood cinema and also the decade in which Hollywood was blown to pieces with a train car full of dynamite. For roughly a decade (until they died in a hail of slow-motion gunfire? May have lost control of the metaphor here), filmmakers worldwide seized control of the means of production, and the so-called mainstream, and created an utterly unique body of utterly maverick cinema. Looking for a common mission statement from these multinational anarchists is, frankly, a sucker’s game. What they shared was this: they knew what a “proper genre film” was supposed to be, and they knew that they weren’t gonna go down like that; if they went down, they were gonna go down fighting.

But what do these films—from France, Italy, Yugoslavia, Japan, the USSR, and from both Highest and Lowest Hollywood itself—actually have in common with one another? Not much. Just that they are all fucking amazing; they were all unapologetically iconoclastic; they were made in the same ten-year resistant parenthesis of human history, the only one in recent memory; and they were all too furious to let the future fuck them before they fucked it first.– Athina Rachel Tsangari, Radcliffe-Harvard Film Study Center Fellow/David & Roberta Logie Fellow and Guest HFA Programmer

Film descriptions by A.S. Hamrah, film critic, n+1

Monday September 7 at 7pm

Blue Collar

Directed by Paul Schrader. With Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto
US 1978, 35mm, color, 114 min

“Turn it off? Are you kiddin' baby? Took me three years to pay for that muthafucka. We gonna watch everything they show on it. All the shit they show. Even the snow when the muthafucka go off, I'm gonna sit here and watch that.”

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 in 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.

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Monday September 21 at 7pm

Saturday Night Fever

Directed by John Badham. With John Travolta, Karen Lynn Gorney, Barry Miller
US 1977, 35mm, color, 118 min

“No, Tony. You can’t fuck the future. The future fucks you.”

With electric energy, drive and humor, John Travolta’s star-making performance, as Bay Ridge, Brooklyn’s disco prince, Tony Manero, recalls great American actors of 1930s cinema. He’s Paul Muni and James Cagney reincarnated, with something all his own. Saturday Night Fever, remembered for its hit Bee Gees songs, has in common with Warner Brothers movies of the 1930s a strong, realistic evocation of urban working-class life, setting its protagonist adrift once he realizes he can’t achieve his dreams in the confines of the neighborhood where he was born.

Badham’s film is crass and ballsy, with no time for sentiment in its celebration of minor victories. Travolta’s family is shown as mean, small-minded, and as unconcerned with his future as he is concerned with his hair. In one scene at the 2001 Odyssey nightclub, a young Fran Drescher proves she can hold her own with Travolta on the dance floor just by standing there chewing gum. Print courtesy of Paramount

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Monday September 28 at 7pm

The Ascent (Voskhozhdeniye)

Directed by Larisa Shepitko. With Boris Plotnikov, Vladimir Gostyukhin, Anatoli Solonitsyn
Soviet Union 1977, 35mm, b/w, 111 min. Russian and German with English subtitles

“There are things more important than one’s own hide.”

This action-filled and poetic war movie, set in Nazi-occupied Belarus in the bleak winter of 1942, switches gears twice. The Ascent follows two anti-Nazi partisans through a snowy landscape into a prison camp, analyzing how one of them, a man of action, is manipulated and dismantled, while his weaker-seeming comrade comes to understand his one remaining role: martyr. Tarkovsky’s favorite actor, Anatoli Solonitsyn, plays the cynical torturer whose job it is to break their will.

Larisa Shepitko, a student of Dovzhenko’s, died in a car accident while scouting locations for her next film. Elem Klimov, her husband, completed that film, Farewell (1983), made a documentary about Shepitko, and then directed Come and See (1985), the definitive Soviet film on the brutality of the Great Patriotic War and perhaps the most horrifying war movie ever made. Based on his own experiences as a child in Belarus under the Nazis, it was also made under the spell of Sheptiko’s Ascent.

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Monday October 5 at 7pm

The Devil, Probably
(Le diable probablement)

Directed by Robert Bresson. With Antoine Monnier, Tina Irissari, Henri de Maublanc
France 1977, 35mm, color, 95 min. French with English subtitles

“Who is it that is making a mockery of humanity?”

The environment is doubly poisoned in Bresson’s The Devil, Probably. First there is the environment we all share, of contaminated rivers, deforestation and endangered fauna. Then there is the poisoned atmosphere of Paris, where young upper-class intellectuals and street bohemians “want to know everything and end up doing nothing.” These urban fauna, bent on self-destruction in a world of auto-destruction, move through the city dazed and uncertain, idling with sex, drugs and books, staring at each other blankly as the world around them accelerates into stupidity. 

Bresson’s oblique framing of these adolescents, refugees from a Garrel or Rohmer film, emphasizes their disconnection from each other and from a world they can’t change. The film opens with its ending, telegraphing the sullen protagonist’s quest for spiritual meaning in a cemetery. “In the future,” wrote Fassbinder, “this film will be more important than all the rubbish which is now considered important but which never really goes deep enough.”

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Monday October 12 at 7pm

The Conversation

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. With Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield
US 1974, 35mm, color, 113 min

“I would be perfectly happy to have all my personal things burn up in a fire. Because I don’t have anything personal.”

The post-revolutionary paranoia of the early 1970s suffuses The Conversation. Even so, Coppola depoliticizes this thriller, removing action, character and history by going over the same tape again and again, in an aural, Watergate-era version of Blowup. Gene Hackman, as a professional wire tapper, plays a self-consciously anonymous man at the top of a clandestine profession in which no moment between human beings cannot be recorded. He becomes unglued once he takes an interest in the story beyond its audio quality.

Made between The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II (1974), Coppola’s Palme d’Or-winning Conversation applies the eeriness and quiet of San Francisco to the murk of the corporate thriller. The doomed quality of the talented cast of character actors deepens the atmosphere of mistrust and conspiracy that’s on display in this hesitant masterpiece of Murchian sound design.

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Monday October 19 at 7pm

WR: Mysteries of the Organism (W.R. – Misteriji organizma)

Directed by Dusan Makavejev. With Milena Dravić, Jagoda Kaloper, Ivica Vidović
Yugoslavia/West Germany 1971, 35mm, color & b/w, 84 min. Serbo-Croatian, English, Russian and German with English subtitles

“Between socialism and physical love there can be no conflict!”

An experimental documentary even by the experimental-documentary standards of 1971 and also a parody of socialist-realist Eastern Bloc filmmaking, Makavejev’s WR uses the imprisoned psychologist Wilhelm Reich’s theory of orgasmic liberation to deconstruct both capitalist and communist militarism, which Makavejev exposes as sexual oppression.

In addition to extraordinary interviews with sex psychologists and residents of Rangeley, Maine, who recall Reich’s time at his Institute there, Makavejev, unseen and unheard, also interviews the Warhol transgender superstar Jackie Curtis and masturbation painter Betty Dodson. We learn how plaster-caster Nancy Godfrey made her penises and witness the Fugs’ Tuli Kupferberg stalking Midtown Manhattan with a fake machine gun in a way that would probably get him killed today. It ends violently back in Yugoslavia, after Dravić, a Serbo-Croatian Goldie Hawn, is hijacked in her quest for sexual freedom by her attraction to Stalinist entertainment. Print courtesy of Janus Films

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Monday October 26 at 7pm

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma)

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini. With Aldo Valletti, Hélène Surgère, Paolo Bonacelli
Italy and France 1975, 35mm, color, 116 min. Italian, French and German with English subtitles

“My sister knew a gentleman, an official in a bureau, a little pig-like man . . .”

Pasolini’s much-banned, notoriously disgusting, sexually violent and scatological X-rated film opens, in the credits, with an “essential bibliography” citing not the Marquis de Sade novel on which the film is based, but the works of French cultural theorists and commentators on Sade, including Roland Barthes, Maurice Blanchot, Simone de Beauvoir and Pierre Klossowski. From there, Pasolini takes us to an “antechamber of hell” in the winter of 1944, where teenage boys and girls, some of them anti-Nazi partisans, are tortured and killed for the sexual delectation of a few aristocrats sheltered in a castle after the fall of Mussolini. There, aging prostitutes recite erotic stories as the men brutalize, rape and murder their captives.

Filmed mostly in long shot, this series of anti-erotic and anti-fascist tableaux analyzes the sickness and excess of power as it gives way to a series of nauseating fetishes—shit-eating, anality, bridal gowns. Its question is timely: what would it be like if the men who commissioned torture performed it themselves? Print courtesy of Park Circus

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Monday November 2 at 7pm

Valerie and her Week of Wonders (Valeria a týden divu)

Directed by Jaromil Jires. With Jaroslava Schallerová, Helena Anýzová, Jirí Prýmek
Czechoslovakia 1970, 35mm, color, 73 min. Czech with English subtitles

“Are you playing with your earring, child?”

Valerie’s screenwriter and production designer, Ester Krumbachová, secret auteur of the Czechoslovak New Wave, must be given equal credit with director Jaromil Jires for this lush, decadent fairytale. A colorful (mostly purple) extravaganza set in the 18th century (or is it the 19th?) amid festivities in a small village filled with witches and vampires, this was the national film movement’s last gasp after the Soviet crackdown in 1968.

The tale of a 13-year-old girl’s sexual awakening against a Freudianized Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz or Brothers Grimm backdrop, except more evil—more like one of Angela Carter’s feminist reworkings—Valerie sets up a series of magical battles for its tween protagonist’s future happiness, which is linked to her erotic longing. Valerie is excessively creepy and painfully beautiful, a unique work stocked with pearls, wine and green apples, its scenes often glimpsed through keyholes. Easy to see how it confused bureaucrats, the film escaped censure. It could not be made in any country today.

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Monday November 9 at 7pm

Martin

Directed by George A. Romero. With John Amplas, Lincoln Maazel, Christine Forrest
US 1978, 35mm, color & b/w, 95 min

“It’s been a long time for me. A long time full of crazy people.”

Set in Braddock, Pennsylvania, a poverty-stricken mill town where most of the steel plants have been shuttered, Romero’s revisionist vampire movie works as a semi-documentary on the place where the edges of suburbia meet the ghetto. Half Eastern-European, half African-American, half closed-down, Braddock becomes in Martin a graveyard setting for fake vampirism, confused adolescent sexuality and generational conflict, the latter being one of the main themes of 70s cinema.

Martin claims to be an 84-year-old Romanian but looks like an average, pimply American teenager. His uncle, who runs a Braddock butcher shop and is pathologically attached to Old World superstitions, moves Martin into his house to keep him out of trouble and gives him a job delivering meat. Once in daily contact with suburban housewives, Martin’s self-image begins to crumble even as his bloodlust remains. Print courtesy Academy Film Archive

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$12 Special Event Tickets
Nobuhiko Obayashi in person
Monday November 16 at 7pm

House (Hausu)

Directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi. With Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Kumiko Ohba
Japan 1977, 35mm, color, 88 min. Japanese with English subtitles

“I hope you don’t think I’m strange.”

House was a conscious attempt by Toho studios, the home of Godzilla and Mothra, to make a crazy horror movie. The hope was that a certain kind of randomness might appeal to a new generation of moviegoers bored with the Toho kaiju (“monster”) movies that had become too childish. They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.   

Filmed using every trick in the pre-digital book, House looks like it takes place in a series of candy-colored dollhouses or, perhaps, the commercials for them. Animations, superimpositions, rainbows, artificial sunsets, faked home movies, see-through floors and reverse action compete with a metronome-timed theme song in a spooky mansion where schoolgirls on vacation are attacked by items that may or may not represent the domestic futures they are supposed to desire. The girls, typed and named according to personality (Gorgeous, Sweet, Kung Fu), die in ways geared toward their characters in this cartoonishly sadistic Pee-wee’s Playhouse.

House is also part of the series Almost Like a Horror Film. The Cinema of Nobuhiko Obayashi from November 15 – 16.

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Monday November 23 at 7pm

Greaser's Palace

Directed by Robert Downey Sr. With Allan Arbus, Albert Henderson, Luana Anders
US 1972, 35mm, color, 91 min

“If you feel, you heal.”

Less frenetic than Downey’s bizarre attack on the New York advertising world, Putney Swope (1969), the laconic peyote western Greaser’s Palace is even weirder. A Christ parable that peters out, the film is set in a one-building town in the New Mexico desert controlled by a man named Seaweedhead Greaser (Henderson). Neither exactly deconstructionist or revisionist in its approach to genre, the film is a hippie send-up akin to Blazing Saddles (1974), but without the punch lines.

With the look and feel of something taking place in a commune, maybe it’s closer to an Ishmael Reed novel: as wild and inclusive as Reed’s fiction, it makes room for Indian maidens, Mexican midgets and cross-dressing old coots. Jabs at patriarchy American-style are scatological and trippy; Seaweedhead is constipated, and he can only learn to let go through his confrontation with the mystical hipster Jesse (Arbus), a zoot-suited Jesus, surrealistically out of place in the Old West, who walks on water and dances to boogie-woogie.

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Claudia Weill in person
Monday November 30 at 7pm

Girlfriends

Directed by Claudia Weill. With Melanie Mayron, Jane Anderson, Anita Skinner
US 1978, digital video, color, 86 min

“I’m gonna be old before I get to do what I want, and then I’ll have forgotten what it was.”

Melanie Mayron’s performance in Girlfriends as Susan, a young woman living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and pursuing a career as a photographer, arrived on the screenright before cookie-cutter casting decimated the ranks of individualistic, nonconformist American actresses of the 1970s. Claudia Weill’s discursive film about a young woman negotiating her independence from roommates and boyfriends is poised on the border between the gritty, grimy New York films of the 1970s and the pop indies of the 1980s, and Mayron is worlds away from the bland female leads who came to populate Hollywood rom-coms.

Girlfriends, which came out the same year as Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman, explores the same terrain of pre-gentrified Manhattan as that film did–Soho art galleries, apartment dinner parties, meetings in offices. But Girlfriends is more raw, its emotions closer to the surface. The stakes feel higher—yet, thanks to Mayron, the film feels lighter. Bob Balaban and Christopher Guest, subordinated to the female leads, round out the cast.

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