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September 4 – October 31, 2015

A Matter of Life and Death, or, The Filmmaker's Nightmare

Some years ago, I started thinking about joining the small and relatively under-sung genre of behind-the-scenes films. This may have come about through reflection on my own practice as a filmmaker, questioning certain ideas about the urge to create worlds and the obsessiveness that can cause disregard of other aspects of life when, as a filmmaker, you feel, as Herzog once said, that “my films are my life.” I feel no differently: they consume my time, and my whole life revolves around thinking about them, travelling to make them, editing for months in dark rooms, working on soundtracks, and then travelling to show my films. It makes sense to me that, at some point, I would want to directly make a film about this construction.

For my film The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers, I wanted to move among different realms of reality—storytelling, songs, observation of a film being made, fiction—so that, in the end, the viewer is uncertain about where the fiction begins and ends. The films in this series fall generally into two camps: one, the observational documentary; the other, a fictional recreation of a film set or filmmaker. What ties them all together is that they each show the darker side of filmmaking and its repercussions. I’m interested in the question of why filmmakers want to expose the dark side of filmmaking. There is something perversely compelling about seeing someone who is a mirror version of yourself being taken down a road of obsession and disaster, finding what at the end?

The documentaries in this series show actual film productions that are falling apart at the seams, as in Hearts of Darkness and Demon Lover Diary. Like the latter, the eerily beautiful Cuadecuc, vampir shows the making of a low-budget horror film, but keeps the nightmare to a general sense of unexplained unease.

Troubled film production also comes in the form of fiction in The State of Things, The Last Movie and The Stunt Man, with extremely varied results. Arrebato looks into the supernatural side of filmmaking, while Peeping Tom, a tale of madness and murder behind the camera, is a classic of psychological horror. Sunset Boulevard and Mulholland Drive focus attention on actors struggling to hold their minds together as their dreams fall apart. And maybe this is what the season comes down to—hopeful, silvery dreams crumbling into a nightmare abyss. – Ben Rivers, Guest Programmer and Radcliffe/Film Study Center Fellow, Harvard

Film descriptions by Liz Coffey, Brittany Gravely, Haden Guest, David Pendleton and Jeremy Rossen.


Friday September 4 at 7pm

The Day of the Locust 

Directed by John Schlesinger. With Donald Sutherland, Karen Black, William Atherton
US 1975, 35mm, color, 144 min

Nathanael West drew upon his time as a Hollywood screenwriter in the 1930s to pen his classic novel, which John Schlesinger translates to the silver screen, wielding a more generous amount of degeneration and deformity. Depicted through Conrad Hall’s deceptively glamorous lens, the vivid menagerie of Hollywood’s depressed rejects parade through an equally variegated array of paroxysms, made all the more harrowing by the effects of the Depression. Schlesinger packs the picture with complex performances, including Donald Sutherland’s frighteningly repressed Midwesterner, Homer Simpson; Karen Black’s Faye, vapid, talentless and forever lost in the hall of mirrors; and Burgess Meredith as her father whose vaudeville act has disintegrated into door-to-door sales. Creating and then destroying empty dreams and repressed desires, Schlesinger’s Hollywood gives birth to a grotesque, artificial spectacle imploding and feeding upon itself to horrifically apocalyptic ends.

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Sunday September 6 at 7pm

A Star is Born

Directed by George Cukor. With Judy Garland, James Mason, Jack Carson
US 1954, color, 35mm, 154 min

High in the Hollywood firmament, a cruel cosmology dictates that one star’s rise is another one’s fall. In Cukor’s late studio masterpiece A Star is Born, Judy Garland’s quivering, ruby-lipped Esther is zealously raised as an icon of Hollywood chutzpah, while her bourbon-soaked mentor, has-been thespian Norman Maine (James Mason), slurs his lines and tumbles from the stage, schadenfreude grist for the gossip mill. Gothic shadows haunt the edges of Cukor's Cinemascope cautionary tale, which lurches with mesmerizing intensity from dazzling and, at times, self-consciously baroque song-and-dance numbers to dark meditations on the Stygian death drive fueling the fragile lives and loves of Hollywood's beautiful and damned. Screening here is a rare, original IB Technicolor release print of the 154-minute version, unblemished by the later, Frankenstein-esque “restoration,” which awkwardly added extra scenes using publicity stills in place of the missing original footage.

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Saturday September 12 at 7pm

Sunset Boulevard

Directed by Billy Wilder. With Gloria Swanson, William Holden, Erich von Stroheim
US 1950, 35mm, b/w, 110 min

An iconic exposé of the dark dementia lurking just beneath Hollywood’s silver screen, Sunset Boulevard is an endless hall of ironic mirrors, obscuring the lines between onscreen and offscreen, fiction and fantasy. Gloria Swanson portrays Norma Desmond, the aging silent movie star afflicted with famously bizarre delusions. Erich von Stroheim, who once directed Swanson in Queen Kelly, here plays—in a not-so-distant depiction of his actual descent—Max von Mayerling, a once-esteemed silent film director who is now the butler of the actress he used to direct. His dour, empathetic von Mayerling labors at preserving Norma Desmond’s dream that she is still a much-loved, sought-after star while coolly observing her psychological entrapment of young Joe Gillis (William Holden), a hack writer who stumbles unwittingly into her macabre lair and a disorienting, decadent dream world that is not so far removed from the cruel beauty of Hollywood’s studio system. Print courtesy of Swank Films

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Saturday September 12 at 9:30pm

Peeping Tom

Directed by Michael Powell. With Karlheinz Böhm, Anna Massey, Moira Shearer
UK 1960, 35mm, color, 101 min

Michael Powell, well known and beloved in the UK for his Technicolor masterpieces Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes and Tales of Hoffman (all of which he co-directed with Emeric Pressburger), effectively ended his promising career with 1960’s Peeping Tom.  Although also a Technicolor delight, the storyline of Peeping Tom disgusted the British press and proved to be so controversial that the film was re-edited to the point of nonsense for its US release in 1962, leaving Powell’s reputation in ruins.  Not until 1979, through the efforts of cinephile Martin Scorsese, was the American movie-going public able to see the film in its entirety.

A beautiful and unsettling psychological horror film, Peeping Tom follows an unassuming young man who works as a focus puller in a movie studio.  Shooting his own 16mm film at home, he records death and horror for his own perverse enjoyment. Voyeurism, sexual perversion, and extreme violence move the plot, and the act of watching implicates the film’s audience, which perhaps explains the dramatic reaction by the press in 1960 (several months before the release of the far tamer Psycho). Full of satisfyingly accurate details of both professional and amateur filmmaking, the film includes Powell himself, playing the role of the antihero's father. Print courtesy of Rialto Pictures

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Saturday September 19 at 7pm

Mulholland Drive

Directed by David Lynch. With Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux
US 2001, 35mm, color, 147 min

Like Billy Wilder’s film named after another iconic Hollywood street, Mulholland Drive tells a sordid tale of the industry of illusion and its boulevards of broken dreams—but for Lynch, these dreams fold into dreams within dreams within dreams. Originally intended as a pilot for a television series, Lynch’s möbius riddle was rejected by TV executives. In restructuring it for the silver screen, Lynch crafted one of his finest masterworks. When the perky, wholesome Betty Elms lands in Hollywood for what could be her big break, she meets “Rita,” an ostensible femme fatale who is rendered identity-less because of amnesia from a car accident. Lynch’s (and Hollywood’s) dazzling dream factory sets to work with mysterious objects, startling visions, amusing detours and revelatory alterations in acting styles and character identities. The noir cracks open and gives way to a multi-toned, terrifyingly beautiful hallucination that is as much a complex reflection on Hollywood as it is an endlessly transforming psychological puzzle. Cinematic archetypes—including all versions of the female presented or rejected by Hollywood—double, reflect and regenerate into uncanny metaphors in Lynch’s subconscious minefield where the fluid layers of identity, nostalgia, desire, deception and projection could be in the minds of the characters, the audience, or a complete fabrication by dark, unknown forces behind the scenes … or well beyond. Print courtesy of Universal.

Preceded by

I, an Actress

Directed by George Kuchar. With Barbara Lapsley, George Kuchar
US 1977, 16mm, b/w, 10 min

 

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Saturday October 3 at 9pm

The Stunt Man

Directed by Richard Rush. With Peter O’Toole, Steve Railsback, Barbara Hershey
US 1980, 35mm, color, 131 min

This suspenseful tale of a manipulative director at work is also a darkly comic look at the daemonic power that cinema grants to filmmakers. In The Stunt Man, actors and crew alike find themselves in thrall to, and enthralled by, a director who may be God—or Lucifer—given his ability to create a world in which he seems to have power over life and death. (“Lucifer,” after all, means “bringer of light.”) Willing to risk anything for his art, he sets up a faked car crash that may turn fatal. This little-seen American independent film was championed by Pauline Kael and has since acquired a cult of admirers. It also features one of Peter O’Toole’s greatest performances as the director.

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$12 Special Event Tickets
Ben Rivers in person
Friday October 9 at 7pm

The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers

Directed by Ben Rivers. With Oliver Laxe
UK 2015, 35mm, color, 98 min. Arabic, Spanish and French with English subtitles

Ben Rivers’ latest feature is a diptych film that brings together, but does not necessarily join, its two halves—the first a lyrical documentary of a Moroccan film shoot and the second a dark, minimal adaptation of Paul Bowles' nightmare fable A Distant Episode. Galician director Oliver Laxe becomes the bridge between the film’s two worlds when he wanders, in seeming exasperation, away from his production and into the dangerous, unmeasured desert. Although Rivers avowed fascination with Paul Bowles inspired his first foray into pure fiction, his film remains firmly rooted in the daydreaming realism for which he is best known, exploring as much the slow mysteries of place as the iconic cultural specificities and mythos of the desert. Print courtesy of Jacqui Davies Limited.

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Saturday October 10 at 9:15pm

Rapture (Arrebato)

Directed by Iván Zulueta. With Eusebio Poncela, Cecilia Roth, Will More
Spain 1979, 35mm, color, 105 min. Spanish with English subtitles

Despite his short filmography, Ivan Zulueta was a central figure in the Spanish cinema of the late 20th century. His taste for pop art, avant-garde film and underground culture heavily influenced the filmmakers of the “movida madrileña” (especially the young Pedro Almodóvar) following Franco’s death in 1975. Zulueta’s own early work was mostly in music films (modeled after Richard Lester’s work with the Beatles) and Super 8 experiments—the same kind of experiments conducted by Rapture’s protagonist, a director collaborating on a project with a horror filmmaker and an actress. As the project engulfs the ménage à trois, Rapture bridges the gap between Peeping Tom and Videodrome, positing cinema as a kind of drug and filmmaking as a kind of addiction and submission to cinema. Print courtesy of North Carolina School of the Arts Moving Image Archives.

Preceded by

The Black Tower

Directed by John Smith
UK 1985-87, 16mm, color, 24 min

Print courtesy of Canyon Cinema.

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Friday October 16 at 7pm

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse

Directed by Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper and Eleanor Coppola. With Francis Ford Coppola, Eleanor Coppola, Dennis Hopper
US 1971, 35mm, color, 96 min

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse documents the sensational events that unfolded during the making of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Featuring several hours of Eleanor Coppola’s documentary footage of the Philippines production—complete with secret audio recordings she made of her husband—the film details the director’s self-financed creation, teetering on the brink of complete collapse. Amid intense flooding, battles with the Filipino government over helicopters, Martin Sheen’s heart attack, rampant drug use among both cast and crew, and Marlon Brando’s prima donna antics, Coppola likens the experience of filming to his own personal Vietnam. The covert recordings reveal the director’s serious self-doubt and fear of failure in cahoots with a maniacal ego driving him to continue on at any cost—even bankruptcy—to bring Joseph Conrad’s legendary novel to the big screen for the first time. Both Apocalypse Now and Hearts of Darkness ultimately succeed in spite of themselves as triumphs of single-minded vision and will, ultimately illustrating the heart of Conrad’s novel from both the war’s front and behind the scenes.

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Friday October 23 at 9pm

Confessions Among Actresses (Kokuhakuteki joyûron)

Directed by Yoshishige Yoshida. With Mariko Okada, Ruriko Asaoka, Ineko Arima
Japan 1971, digital video, color, 124 min.  Japanese with English subtitles

In the wake of his “anti-melodramas” of the 1960s, Kiju Yoshida here applies his radical vision to a Bergmanesque art film, casting three important Japanese actresses in this exploration of the links among performance, trauma and cinema. Yoshida designs a dizzying vertigo out of the shifting realities created by using actresses famous for playing modern, liberated characters to play three women who have been damaged by the men around them, and who are, in turn, gathered to make a film that will test them. As flashbacks alternate with moments of confession and confrontation, Yoshida contrasts classical framing and editing with his typical angular, New-Wave style, complete with jump cuts, zooms and eccentric framing that often confines the action to a small part of the frame surrounded by negative space.

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Saturday October 24 at 8:30pm

The Last Movie

Directed by Dennis Hopper. With Dennis Hopper, Stella Garcia, Julie Adams
US 1971, 35mm, color, 108 min. English and Spanish with English subtitles

Made the same year as Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show, The Last Movie was only possible after the grand success of Dennis Hopper’s low-budget countercultural phenomenon Easy Rider. Given the green light to set up in a remote village in Peru, the anarchic production helmed by one of Hollywood’s loosest cannons ultimately achieved its infamy for reveling in psychedelic, decadent danger more wild and wanton than the Old West that Sam Fuller recreates in Hopper’s film. With the lines between document and fantasy blurring behind and on screen, Hopper plays a stuntman who stays behind after a film wraps in Peru. Sometimes looking for love or gold, he watches the native villagers as they incorporate the rituals and iconography of both cinema and the West into their lives, using real bullets. In taking Hollywood’s money and fleeing into the heart of darkness, Hopper also earnestly points an inverted mirror toward his own benefactors, who had to witness their investment beautifully implode into a fragmented, feverish, funny nightmare—including startlingly disruptive cuts, character personality changes and nonlinearity within nonlinearity—that ultimately out-counters the counterculture. Print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive

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Friday October 30 at 7pm

Beware of a Holy Whore (Warnung vor einer heiligen Nutte)

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. With Eddie Constantine, Lou Castel, Marquard Bohm
Germany 1970, 35mm, color, 104 min. German with English subtitles

The cast and crew of an international co-production find themselves stranded at a seaside Spanish resort awaiting the arrival of their director and their salaries. They while away the time drinking at the hotel bar and engaging in various couplings and uncouplings. These souls in Purgatory treat each other with the kind of cruelty one might expect from a Fassbinder film, and things only worsen with the arrival of the filmmaker, a tyrannical wunderkind. Although the violence here is not as visceral as in other films in this series, Fassbinder seems to be arguing that sometimes the soul can be killed while the body still lives. Print courtesy of Janus Films

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Friday October 30 at 9pm

The State of Things
(Der Stand der Dinge)

Directed by Wim Wenders. With Patrick Bauchau, Samuel Fuller, Isabelle Weingarten
US/West Germany/Portugal 1982, DCP, b/w, 121 min. English and French with English subtitles

Fresh from the tangled dramas of two temporarily halted film productions—including his collaboration with Coppola—Wenders used the cinematic quagmires as fodder for a film about filmmaking. Patrick Bauchau, a Wenders-like German arthouse director, is in the midst of making a black-and-white existential science-fiction feature called The Survivors in Portugal when his funding from a US studio is suddenly cut. The lull in production allows the cast and crew—which features Viva, Robert Kramer and Samuel Fuller—to ponder their relationships to the film and indulge in philosophical rambles and wandering detours, biding their time as needs, both creative and practical, float to the surface. Austerely zooming in and out of narrative focus, with an eye on both Hollywood noir and European arthouse, The State of Things meditatively and wryly captures little truths of cinema’s strange dimension. As Fuller’s cinematographer states, “Life is in color, but black and white is more realistic.” DCP courtesy of Janus Films

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Saturday October 31 at 7pm

Body Double

Directed by Brian De Palma. With Craig Wasson, Melanie Griffith, Gregg Henry
US 1984, 35mm, color, 114 min

Reworking motifs from both Rear Window and Vertigo, Brian DePalma updates Hitchcock’s examination of voyeurism and the dark intertwinings of love, eroticism and violence. De Palma brings these obsessions into the present day with this tale of death, deceit and the beginnings of a love affair between a struggling actor and a struggling porn star. The tacky milieu of B-movie production in early 1980s Los Angeles comes to seem like the decadent but harmless reflection of a bloody world of jealousy, abuse and murder, just as Body Double slyly suggests that voyeurism is the innocent counterpart to more violent urges.

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Saturday October 31 at 9pm

Cuadecuc, vampir

Directed by Pere Portabella. With Christopher Lee, Herbert Lom, Soledad Miranda
Spain 1971, digital video, b/w, 70 min

Like Zulueta, Pere Portabella is a major figure of Spanish cinema whose contributions have taken place at irregular intervals and in a variety of roles, including as the director of a number of films from the 1960s and 1970s that blend experimental filmmaking with documentary and fiction. Filmed on the set of Jess Franco’s Count Dracula, Portabella’s Cuadecuc, vampir mixes making-of footage with an investigation of the figure of the vampire. Both playful and deadly serious, with high-contrast black-and-white cinematography and an electronic soundtrack, the film asks us to consider the undead as a stand-in for both Generalissimo Franco, the bloodthirsty avatar of a fascism that won’t die, and cinema, the art that reanimates the dead.

Preceded by

A Distant Episode

Directed by Ben Rivers
UK 2015, 16mm, b/w, 19 min

Print courtesy of the filmmaker

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