THE AMERICAN NEW WAVE
- The American New Wave
Lecturer: Bruce Jenkins
From January 24 through May 6, we offer a series of fourteen programs entitled The American New Wave, with weekly Tuesday lecture/discussions by Bruce Jenkins, professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and author/editor of books on Gordon Matta-Clark, Hollis Frampton, and Bruce Conner. The series is presented in cooperation with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism. Additional screenings of the films on Friday or Saturday do not include Prof. Jenkins’s lecture. Admission to all American New Wave programs is $5 for Film Center members; usual admission prices apply for non-members.
The late 1950s and early 1960s witnessed a veritable tsunami of “new wave” cinemas, beginning with the French and quickly followed by the British, Czech, Polish, and Japanese. A parallel American New Wave, sometimes dubbed “the New York School” or “Off-Hollywood,” emerged during this period. It was led by a heterogeneous mix of artists and filmmakers ranging from the actor-director John Cassavetes to more avant-garde figures like the photographer Robert Frank and the dancer Shirley Clarke. While less heralded than these other international film movements, this generation laid the groundwork for the emergence of both the “New Hollywood” of the 1970s and the American independent feature movement in the 1980s.
- Previously in The American New Wave
- ON THE BOWERY
- 1957, Lionel Rogosin, USA, 65 min.
- With Gorman Hendricks, Ray Salyer
“A milestone in American cinema...a rare achievement.”
Nominated for an Oscar in 1958, ON THE BOWERY is an eerie quasi-documentary treatment of three days in the life of a man living on the streets of Manhattan’s quintessential skid row. All participants play lightly fictionalized versions of themselves, as Ray, a careworn but youthful alcoholic, falls in with geezer raconteur Gorman and his band of alkies for a one-way trip into oblivion. Director Rogosin creates an astonishing and unforgettable time capsule of the Bowery’s dives, flophouses, and missions, where life for the out-of-luck bottoms out. 35mm.
IN THE STREET
1948, James Agee, Helen Levitt, and Janice Loeb,
USA, 16 min.
An evocative portrait of Spanish Harlem. 16mm. (BS)
- 1959, John Cassavetes, USA, 81 min.
- With Lelia Goldoni, Tony Ray
“It's conceivable that Cassavetes made greater films, but this is the one I cherish the most...Rarely has so much warmth, delicacy, and raw feeling emerged so naturally and beautifully from performances in an American film.”
—Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
No other film heralded the emergence of a “New American Cinema” as did Cassavetes’s first feature, shot in 16mm on a budget of $15,000. Largely improvised by its nonprofessional cast, SHADOWS is the story of a young black woman (Goldoni) who passes for white, not by design, but because the matter of race is irrelevant to her, until her white lover (Ray) meets her two darker-skinned brothers (Hugh Hurd, Ben Carruthers). With a famous score by jazz great Charles Mingus, SHADOWS is a landmark of American cinema. 35mm restored print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Preservation funded by The Film Foundation and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. (BS)
- HALLELUJAH THE HILLS
- 1963, Adolfas Mekas, USA, 82 min.
- With Marty Greenbaum, Peter H. Beard
“A be-bopped beatnik riff on Mack Sennett madness, updated for the anything-goes youth counterculture.”
—Ed Halter, Village Voice
“A highpoint from the 'innocent' years of American underground cinema, and something of an enduring delight for real film buffs.”
—Tony Rayns, Time Out London
Mekas’s hard-to-see classic bridges the realms of the French New Wave, American avant-garde cinema, and anarchic comedy. Spurned, after a seven-year courtship, by the same woman (who is, however, played by two different actresses), two rivals/buddies repair to the Vermont woods to reminisce about their lost love. But the real love story here is for the movies, erupting in a barrage of parodies and homages of film techniques, styles, and makers, from Griffith to Godard, and Keaton to Kurosawa. 35mm archival print courtesy of Anthology Film Archives. (MR)
- NOTHING BUT A MAN
- 1964, Michael Roemer, USA, 92 min.
- With Ivan Dixon, Abbey Lincoln
“Even better than I remembered it; the basic drama remains strong, but what's also surprising is how well the more subtle moments hold up, and how gifted the actors are.”
—Roger Ebert, Chicago-Sun Times
“Devastatingly powerful...one of the most sensitive films about black life ever made in this country.”
—Hal Hinson, The Washington Post
This pioneer American indie by writer-director Michael Roemer (THE PLOT AGAINST HARRY) and writer-cinematographer Robert M. Young (THE BALLAD OF GREGORIO CORTEZ) still ranks as one of the most authentic film portraits of black Southern life. A rebellious Alabama railroad worker (Dixon) struggles against the everyday humiliations of Southern racism and against the class prejudices of his own culture when he falls in love with a middle-class schoolteacher (Lincoln). Far ahead of its time in 1964, NOTHING BUT A MAN was rereleased in 1993 and 2012 (in a beautifully restored new print), both times to universal acclaim. An Artists Public Domain release of a Cinedigm/New Video film. Restored by the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation. 35mm. (MR)
- SCORPIO RISING
- 1963, Kenneth Anger, USA, 29 min.
1963, Jack Smith, USA, 43 min.
Two legendary succès de scandale from the golden age of American avant-garde cinema: Anger’s luridly beautiful, brilliantly edited SCORPIO RISING embellishes a Brooklyn motorcycle gang with layers of occultism, homoeroticism, religious imagery, Hollywood icons, and a groundbreaking pop soundtrack. Smith’s often-busted FLAMING CREATURES depicts an East Village rooftop bacchanalia in which orgiasts of various sexualities enact a series of richly textured erotic-comic tableaux inspired by the Hollywood exoticism of Josef von Sternberg and Maria Montez. Both in 16mm. (MR)
- SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS
- 1965, Mike Kuchar, USA, 43 min.
HOLD ME WHILE I’M NAKED
1966, George Kuchar, USA, 15 min.
Bronx-born twin brothers George and Mike Kuchar invigorated the avant-garde with their deconstructive, cheerfully complicit riffs on cheesy Hollywood and exploitation-film formulas. Mike Kuchar’s imaginatively tacky sci-fi epic SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS, set a million years in the future, a robot slave rebels against his decadent human masters in order to be united with his robot beloved. Preceded by HOLD ME WHILE I’M NAKED, in which a nerdy filmmaker (George Kuchar) experiences artistic and sexual frustration when his busty star (homegrown sexpot Donna Kerness) refuses to do another nude scene. Both in 16mm. (MR)
- TARZAN AND JANE REGAINED...
- SORT OF
- 1964, Andy Warhol, USA, 80 min.
Atypical and rarely screened, Warhol’s first narrative feature is less rigorous, more playful than his later features. In a rare excursion beyond Warhol’s New York base, this home-movie-ish lark features underground icon Taylor Mead (in a literally and figuratively cheeky performance) as an unlikely Tarzan, wandering around Los Angeles in search of his Jane, played by buxom-and-ready-to-show-it avant-garde filmmaker Naomi Levine. Dennis Hopper, Claes Oldenburg, and Brooke Hayward also pop up. The film is considered Warhol’s commentary on Hollywood, then in the doldrums, but, as Warhol said, “This made Hollywood more exciting to me, the idea that it was so vacant.” 16mm. (MR)
- PORTRAIT OF JASON
- 1967, Shirley Clarke, USA, 105 min.
“**** Fascinating… a cornerstone of LGBT filmmaking.”--J.R. Jones, Chicago Reader
“Says more about race, class, and sexuality than just about any movie before or since.”-- Melissa Anderson, Village Voice
Clarke’s legendary, long-unavailable cinéma-vérité classic was recently unveiled in a beautiful new restoration to unanimous rave reviews. The subject of the film is Jason Holliday--black gay hustler, houseboy, and aspiring cabaret entertainer. A cousin to Warhol’s garrulous, exhibitionist superstars, Jason takes us through a mesmerizing, hilarious, and harrowing all-night session in which he camps, vamps, bares his soul, and puts on a series of masks (including wildly uneven impersonations of black and gay icons from Mae West to Miles Davis). Ingmar Bergman called JASON "the most extraordinary film I've seen in my life," and Jason provides all the depth and drama that we’d expect from a fictional character out of Bergman or Tennessee Williams. 35mm. (MR)
- 1970, Robert Kramer, USA, 130 min.
“A searing, unnerving history lesson, it's an American counterpart to some of Jacques Rivette's conspiracy pictures, a desperate message found in a bottle.”
—Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
Guerrilla filmmaking in every sense, Kramer’s independent/underground, cinéma-vérité/science-fiction boundary-crosser used a budget of only $12,000 to produce an ambitious imagining of America in the throes of armed insurrection. The story is set in a vaguely defined future (which, à la Godard’s ALPHVILLE, looks just like the present) in which an unpopular U.S. war in Mexico provokes a left-wing uprising. Concerned with the nuts-and-bolts of revolutionary action and the debilitating effects of infighting among radical groups, ICE is in many ways the fictional equivalent of Chris Marker’s A GRIN WITHOUT A CAT. 16mm. (MR)
- MR. FREEDOM
- 1969, William Klein, France, 95 min.
- With John Abbey, Delphine Seyrig
“Spirited and hilarious...this feisty
political cartoon remains a singular
expression of 60s irreverence.”
–Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
This French production is included in our “American New Wave” series, because, as Jonathan Rosenbaum noted, it is “conceivably the most anti-American movie ever made, but only an American (albeit an expatriate living in France) could have made it.” Celebrated photographer Klein’s high-Pop political satire centers on an all-American superhero (Abbey) who is sent to France to prevent a communist takeover. The cast includes Donald Pleasance as the master mind Dr. Freedom, Serge Gainsbourg, Philippe
Noiret, Yves Montand, and Sami Frey as Christ Man. In English and French with English subtitles. 35mm print courtesy of the Walker Art Center and William Klein. (MR)
- FILM ABOUT A WOMAN WHO...
- 1974, Yvonne Rainer, USA, 105 min.
“One of the truly seminal films of our decade.”–B. Ruby Rich
One of the most important modernist dancers and choreographers of the 1960s, Rainer turned to filmmaking in the 1970s to accommodate what she called “my burgeoning feminist consciousness,” and she sees her films’ treatment of space and motion as an extension of her dance work. FILM ABOUT WOMAN WHO... shifts among multiple perspectives and media (slides, stills, film, printed text, voiceover, dance) to create a prismatic and contradictory narrative about two couples in which undercurrents of female victimization, desire, and anger are played off a heritage of melodrama, soap opera, vintage erotica, and, in a particularly provocative reference, Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. 16mm. (MR)
- PASSING THROUGH
- 1977, Larry Clark, USA, 111 min.
- With Nathaniel Taylor, Clarence Muse
“Original and thoughtful, this is a very special first feature,
with a feeling for the music that's boldly translated into film style.”
–Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
A key member of the “L.A. Rebellion” group that also included Charles Burnett and Bill Woodberry, Clark made this remarkable first feature for his UCLA master’s thesis. Considered one of the best films about jazz ever made (with a superb score of classic and current jazz), PASSING THROUGH describes the political awakening of a just-out-of-jail musician (Taylor) who, with the help of his mentor Pops (veteran character actor Muse), learns to connect his music to both its African American roots and the current political struggle. 16mm preservation print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive and Larry Clark. (MR)
- CHAN IS MISSING
- 1982, Wayne Wang, USA, 80 min.
- With Woody Moy, Marc Hayashi
“A small, whimsical treasure of a movie...In sharing its characters with us,
it opens up a part of America”
–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
A sleeper hit made for peanuts by a then-unknown 33-year-old, Hong Kong-born filmmaker, CHAN IS MISSING is the founding film of Asian American independent cinema. The story follows a Chinese American cabbie (Moy) and his wisecracking nephew (Hayashi) across San Francisco’s Chinatown in search of a friend who has disappeared with their savings. Shot in an artfully ragged and carefree style, richly embroidered with jokes, riddles and cross-cultural puns (“Fry Me to the Moon”), Wang’s debut is a sophisticated and far-reaching statement on ethnic assimilation. 35mm archival print courtesy of University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (special thanks to Mona Nagai) and Wayne Wang. (MR)
- 1983, Bette Gordon, USA, 97 min.
- With Sandy McLeod, Richard Davidson
"A veritable time capsule of post-punk downtown coolness."
–Michael Atkinson, IFC.com
A pioneering post-feminist indie, VARIETY is a product of the burgeoning New York downtown movement of the 1980s. With a screenplay by punk-lit luminary Kathy Acker, it tells the story of Christine (McLeod), a recent NYC arrival who takes a job as ticket-seller at a porn theater and becomes drawn to its sleazy milieu. Reversing gender norms, Christine voyeuristically follows a patron with crime connections, and she begins consuming and even producing pornography (the latter in the form of erotic monologues delivered to her nervous boyfriend). The music is by Lounge Lizards leader John Lurie, and the hip cast includes Nan Goldin, Will Patton, Luis Guzmán, Cookie Mueller, and Spalding Gray. 35mm. (MR)