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October 8 – October 29

It's My Life We're Talking About! The Films of Danny Lyon

Danny Lyon (b. 1942) is better known as a photographer, an associate of the Magnum Photos cooperative and official cameraman for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the civil rights movement. Last year, expansive solo shows at the De Young Museum and the Whitney finally reinserted his name into the art world, but Lyon has been at work making images continuously since the 1960s, spending 1969 living and working with Robert Frank in New York City. Since then, he has been traveling the world to join and document communities and movements of people from Chinese coal miners to Occupy protestors. Arguably as important, though less widely known, are his sixteen non-fiction films, humble and intensely personal works overswept by a sense of the depth and durability of the human spirit as observed during long moments that accrue and become years, in a practice constituting more than a style, but rather a whole system of ethics, a verité approach not to the cinematic act alone but to human beings themselves and the stories they tell, whether with their words or with the way they stand, the way they look into the camera. Much of the work included in this program is concerned with the status of illegal immigrants and other marginalized peoples, and it is with the consequences of adopting an official policy of hate and insecurity about identity and otherness in mind that the Harvard Film Archive is honored to welcome Danny Lyon in person on two nights to present and discuss this selection of beautiful and urgent cinema.
Will VanKoughnett

Presented in partnership with the Film Study Center, Harvard.

Film descriptions by Will VanKoughnett and Haden Guest. Photos courtesy dektol.wordpress.com and Gavin Brown Enterprises.

All of the films of Danny Lyon are available on DVD and in September via Vimeo stream at his website.


Sunday October 8 at 7pm

Dear Mark

Directed by Danny Lyon
US/France 1981, digital video, color & b/w,
15 min

In the tone and tenor of a loving note folded over and slipped beneath a door, Dear Mark shows celebrated sculptor and Lyon’s close friend Mark di Suvero, in footage shot in 1965 Stony Point, New York and 1975 Chalon-sur-Saône, France, at work (and play) on his sculptures: climbing on, standing before, swinging from, surveying, assessing, outlining, cutting, welding, hammering... Much of the film plays through a multiple exposure, one view close up on the shirtless, bearded sculptor, the other tracing the beams of his imposing steel combinations, a third expanding to reveal the imposing structures in their full scale. Not entirely playful, the film touches on questions of immigration and national identity (di Suvero himself was born in Shanghai to Italian parents and emigrated to California at the outbreak of World War II) through the soundtrack, which incorporates samples of a crackling Gene-Autry-cowboys-versus-illegal-immigrants radio play.

 

El Otro Lado (The Other Side)

Directed by Danny Lyon
US/Mexico 1978, digital video, color, 60 min. Spanish with English subtitles

In the mountains of New Mexico, Lyon befriended Eddie Marquez Rivera, an undocumented Mexican house builder who traveled frequently between Mexico and the United States. Over the course of several border crossings in Rivera’s company, Lyon discovered the subjects of his subsequent work, including the migrant fruit pickers who appear in El Otro Lado. The title refers to a Mexican designation for the US, where Don Bernabe Garay and his sons travel annually with their neighbors from an agrarian “ejido” 1,300 miles south of the border to pick oranges and lemons in the orchards of Arizona. The heart of the film lies, as in all Lyon’s best work, in his camera’s panoramic sensitivity to the beauty of the land and the men working it, the hard, elemental realities of the work itself, and the wider set of historical meanings leavened by the intense specificity of extended, unsubtitled human observation narrated by humor, stories, card-playing and song. Beset by the camera’s insistence on them as men to be seen and celebrated instead of as labor to be exploited, the Garays and their friends vacillate between awkward self-consciousness and disarming self-realization as they alternately trudge or skip, like anyone else, off to work, at times merging with—and then suddenly erupting again from–brilliant periwinkle and salmon skies.

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$12 Special Event Tickets
Danny Lyon in Person

Saturday October 21 at 7pm

Soc. Sci. 127

Directed by Danny Lyon
US 1969, digital video, color & b/w, 21 min

It is with the same tousled logic that occupies the tenuous edges of the film itself that Danny Lyon describes Soc. Sci. 127, his first motion picture, as a comedy. A less careful spectator might be quick to label Bill Sanders, the Houston tattoo artist at the center of this brief, ecstatic portrait, as more tragic clown than comic hero, but a sustained inspection rewards us with a startling community between cameraman and performer. Shot entirely within the confines of Sanders’ cramped, boudoir-like studio, the film is a study in the intimacy of performance and of image-making: Polaroid collages of past clients, many of them nude women alone or in pairs, cover the walls; a woman seeking a consultation undresses proudly for Sanders and camera; Sanders himself drinks, smokes, and snatches at a matted worldview stitched together from haphazard opinions on everything from the telling etymology of “fellatio” to his own motivations for making a documentary film. Fluid elisions between sequences of color and monochrome, connected only by the continuity of space, foreground the sense of depth of these rooms, and the tendency of stories to entangle, the film presenting itself as a collection of the loose ends of much longer narrative strands buried in the backgrounds of the photographs or languishing on the cutting-room floor. And throughout this patchwork wellspring of intimacy, performance, delusion and discovery, Lyon manages to decentralize both subject and self: Sanders’ lonely drunk qua artist-philosopher and his own burdensome cinema verité auteur mantle, flattening the normal power relation on a bedrock of humility, a kind of utopian stage where the two men can coexist in a resonant, if not always straightforward, creative harmony.

 

Little Boy

Directed by Danny Lyon
US 1977, digital video, color, 54 min

The Little Boy bomb dropped on the people of Hiroshima was designed and tested in New Mexico, not far from Bernalillo, a depressed, ramshackle town north of Albuquerque where Danny Lyon constructed an adobe house for his family in the early 1970s. A protracted interview airing a man’s wildest hopes and concerns about nuclear energy, played out in double exposure with scenes of the nearby National Atomic Museum––where a pair of tourists takes snapshots by a model warhead, a crew of airmen attends to a taxiing bomber, an American flag ripples, and a lanky, shock-blonde boy eats a bright red apple––form the core of a film with the same name; but its flesh takes the form of another little boy, Willie Jaramillo, a friend of Lyon’s who previously appeared in his 1971 film Llanito. At age eighteen, he has just been released from prison for a series of minor offenses. As Lyon pounds his beat around town, asking friends and neighbors about Willie or about themselves, the film jumps back in time to scenes from Willie’s childhood, now idyllic next to his current troubles, and the history of one man’s life emerges as a fact of greater significance than the atom bomb itself.

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$12 Special Event Tickets
Danny Lyon in Person

Sunday October 22 at 7pm

Willie

Directed by Danny Lyon
US 1985, 16mm, color & b/w, 82 min

Lyon’s third film shot in Bernalillo, New Mexico and the final film with Willie Jaramillo. More explicitly concerned with the fate of his friend here than in either Little Boy or Llanito, Lyon enters the prisons and precincts where Willie or his childhood friends have served time, observing and interviewing him, his brothers, his fellow inmates, wardens, and anyone else in his circle of acquaintance, as if there might be a clue somewhere to the trouble that seems to endlessly and ruthlessly seek Willie out and take a hold of his fate.

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Sunday October 29 at 7pm

Los niños abandonados

Directed by Danny Lyon
Colombia 1975, 16mm, color, 63 min

In 1974 Danny Lyon traveled to Colombia and made an unblinking yet lyrical film dedicated to the surging population of homeless children living on the streets, abandoned by family and ignored by Church and State alike. Guided by his deft photographer’s eye, Lyon captures the stark paradoxes of an adult society that sidesteps the forgotten children who embody precisely that poverty and desolation that the adults deny and fear most. Brutally thrust into an uncaring world and prematurely aged into a stunted adulthood, los niños abandonados are refugees of the shattered myth and lie of the State as a nurturing family.

 

Llanito

Directed by Danny Lyon
US 1971, digital video, b/w, 54 min

Llanito is the first of Lyon’s trio of films shot in and around Bernalillo, New Mexico, and it is also the screen debut of Willie Jaramillo. The twelve-year-old boy acts as a guiding force for Lyon and his audience, reading out the names on gravestones and relating the stories of the people buried there. He is the focal point of a group of mostly young men with whom Lyon would remain friends and continue to document for the next several decades. The film meanders through the town and among its inhabitants, passing between groups of people at times with the keen instinct of a desert eagle and at others in a drunken stupor, stumbling from one scene into the next with the visceral and irrational inevitability of a gravitational pull.

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