Ever since L’avventura was booed at its Cannes premiere in 1960, Michelangelo Antonioni (1912–2007) has been renowned as one of the most challenging and divisive auteurs in the history of European cinema.
Emerging as a highly regarded figure of the 1960s avant-garde, Antonioni was one of the first postwar Italian filmmakers (alongside Federico Fellini) to challenge the formal limitations of neo-realism. Like so many other directors of his period, Antonioni branched out into completely new territory, forging a uniquely personal, radical and profoundly modernist approach to filmmaking, at once highly affected, deeply contemplative and boldly expressive yet full of ambiguity, play and digression. Antonioni remains one of the most revered, evoked and imitated figures of art cinema and one of the key influences – alongside Dreyer and Tarkovsky – on what is now (not unproblematically) termed “slow cinema” and the style of great contemporary filmmakers such as Tsai Ming-liang, Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Pedro Costa.
Antonioni’s cinema is most commonly noted as conveying a palpable and psychological sense of time and space, particularly through his use of the long take, and his exquisite, lingering and existentially charged framings of characters against starkly imposing urban, industrial and natural landscapes. Less remarked upon is Antonioni’s recurrent concern with the figure of heterosexual lovers: intense, often emotionally subdued relationships between men and women beset by an overwhelming sense of passion, tension, mystery, uncertainty and unease.
This season of local and imported 35mm prints focuses on a series of films which bring this latter aspect of his filmmaking into clear focus, providing us with a brilliant panorama of the ever-shifting attitudes and poses of passion and longing in the director’s work.
Presented by the Italian Institute of Culture.
Lauded by the American Film Institute as “one of American film’s modern masters”, Paul Thomas Anderson (1970–) staked his claim amongst contemporary cinema’s most agitating and exciting auteurs with his Academy Award-nominated indie drama, Boogie Nights.
Raised a Roman Catholic, Anderson’s body of work, comprised of disparate but fascinatingly interconnecting characters and profoundly networked narratives, continues to examine the dysfunction of families and relationships, isolation, regret, and the role of destiny and chance. After initially making movies on a Betamax video camera at age 12, he had written and directed his first film, a 32-minute mockumentary inspired by an article on porn star John Holmes, by the time he was 17. The Dirk Diggler Story, which would later serve as the inspiration and “blueprint” for Boogie Nights, came from his provocation that pornography “could” and “should” be a genre of legitimate filmmaking. Walking out on his formal film education, calling its canonical curriculum boring, like “homework or a chore”, Anderson watched films, listened to audio commentaries and wrote his own screenplays, garnering technical experience through piecemeal work as a production assistant on television movies, music videos and game shows in Los Angeles and New York.
This season charts Anderson’s rise as one of the greatest American directors to emerge over the last 25 years, and attests to both his profound immersion in the cinema of such significant mentors and influences as Robert Altman (for whom he acted as “stand-by director”), Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme and the singularity of his own vision of the messy intersections of modern life.
7:00PM – ANGER RISING
Kenneth Anger (1947–1972) 85 mins R
A selection of essential films from the “Magick Lantern Cycle” by the foremost magus of the American underground. Anger (1927–) emphatically announced his arrival with his first extant film, Fireworks (1947), a homoerotic work that escaped obscenity charges in California and impressed Jean Cocteau. Shot in France, Rabbit’s Moon (1950/1972) introduces Anger’s signature subversion of the pop soundtrack. Occult symbolism, cinema as fetish, biker subculture, visual appropriation and montage as magick combine to reach an apotheosis in Scorpio Rising (1964) M, the death drive of which is countered by the rebirth themes of Lucifer Rising (1972), which features a soundtrack by Manson Family acolyte and convicted murderer Bobby Beausoleil.
All films screened are 35mm restored prints courtesy of the UCLA Film and Television Archive; restoration funding provided by The Film Foundation.
‘Lucifer Rising’ by James M Magrini.
‘Scorpio Rising’ by Jeremy Carr.
8:40PM – POISON
Todd Haynes (1991) 85 mins R
One of the most powerful American debut features of the 1990s, Haynes’ transgressive portmanteau film – part science fiction, part horror movie, part gay prison movie – became a crusade for conservatives outraged at public funding for “gay porn”. Drawing blistering battle lines in the era of queer theory and AIDS activism, this reimagining of Genet is as radical as the texts that inspired it.
Un chant d’amour
Jean Genet (1950) 26 mins R
Genet’s exquisite examination of homoerotic desire was subject to decades of controversy after its release. Genet himself regretted the film, embarrassed by its crudity, yet it remains one of the most influential queer short films in cinema history.
“I believe that you must be madly in love with cinema to create films. You also need a huge cinematic baggage.”
– Jean-Pierre Melville
Jean-Pierre Melville (1917–1973) made a total of 13 features during his 25-year career. His elegantly cool gangster films such as Le samouraï and Un flic are a major influence on post-1960s crime cinema (including a large chunk of the work of Quentin Tarantino, Michael Mann, Johnny To and John Woo), while such early works as Le silence de la mer and Bob le flambeur qualify as direct antecedents to the French nouvelle vague (he even appeared in Godard’s Á bout de souffle expressing his ambition “to become immortal and then die”).
His “sensibility” can be traced through such formative influences as existentialism, surrealism, classical American cinema, poetic realism, Herman Melville (from whom he took his name), and his murky wartime experience as a Resistance fighter. Nevertheless, his valediction of such highly classical directors as William Wyler, John Huston, Robert Wise and Charles Chaplin points toward an unflinching or aspirational classicism forged in his own style and expressed in his films’ attention to detail, deployment of iconographic objects and often restricted emotional, tonal and aesthetic palette. At heart though, Melville’s films are movingly paradoxical; romantic in effect, his movies are defined by a pragmatic, austere, rigorous and highly stylised approach to subject and genre.
This season covers all aspects of Melville’s career, including the first of his exemplary series of personal films about the wartime occupation of France (Le silence de la mer), rarely seen works of the 1950s that illustrate his range (Quand tu liras cette lettre and the largely New York-shot Deux hommes dans Manhattan), and several of his key crime films of the 1960s and ’70s that define his reputation (capped by the summation of his oeuvre, Un flic).
One of America’s most authoritative film critics, and now a senior curator at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Dave Kehr comes to the Melbourne Cinémathèque to introduce two of MoMA’s most intriguing new restorations, a pair of Hollywood creations from the first years of the talkies. Presented in collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art (New York).
7:00PM – THE IRON MASK
Allan Dwan (1929) 95 mins
Dwan’s prolific oeuvre of over 400 films made over 50 years parallels the rise and decline of the Hollywood studio system. This Dumas adaptation, released two years after The Jazz Singer, stands on the epochal cusp of the sound era. The king of swashbucklers, Douglas Fairbanks plays D’Artagnan (as he had in 1921’s The Three Musketeers) in this lavish production, originally released as a part Vitaphone talkie. It represented the first time Fairbanks spoke on screen and the last time he would work with Dwan, with whom he made 10 films. It represents a final highpoint for Fairbanks whose career plummeted with the advent of sound.
New restoration courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art (New York).
9:00PM – WILD GIRL
Raoul Walsh (1932) 78 mins
Largely filmed amongst the giant redwoods of California’s Sequoia National Park, Walsh’s exuberant and fond parody of the early silent Western is an often-vertiginous adaptation of a 1907 play, Salomy Jane, about a frontier tomboy (Joan Bennett) who falls for the ubiquitous stranger (Charles Farrell) who arrives in town. Following on from his widescreen epic The Big Trail, made in 1930, Walsh populates the frame with a remarkable depth of staging, action and character in one of his major works of the early 1930s.
New restoration courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art (New York).