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Archive for March, 2012

If . . . . (1968)

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

Click here to see a gorgeous clip from Lindsay Anderson’s remarkable film If …

Somehow, I have managed to get this far in my blog without a tip of the hat to Lindsay Anderson’s brilliant film If . . . . (1968)– which I first saw on 42nd Street at 2AM on a double bill with Inadmissible Evidence with a group of filmmaker friends, including a young Warren Sonbert. Despite the lateness of the hour, the film knocked me out then, and knocks me out still, as one of the few really gay-positive films of the era, and a real harbinger of the shape of things to come. It’s a truly liberating film, full of the promise of change and hope, and one of the masterpieces of British cinema. David Ehrenstein has a brilliant essay on it, which you can read by clicking here, and he’s the one who reminded me that I’d been remiss in not mentioning it thus far; although it certainly owes a debt to Jean Vigo’s Zéro de conduite, it’s a film that inescapably belongs to the 1960s, to a time when everything was new, and possible.

As David writes in his essay, “There’s nothing quite like a work of art that captures the zeitgeist right at its moment of maximum impact. And more than any other film of its time, If…. nails the sixties. As anyone who lived through that tumultuous era can tell you, it was a decade rife with cinematic expressions of free-spirited utopianism, restless iconoclasm, and woozy, drug-fueled reverie.

But while works as diverse as Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Blow-Up (1966), Easy Rider (1969), La Chinoise (1967), and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) embody the sixties look and feel, none of them sport the emotional and intellectual intensity of Anderson’s darkly comic drama. It has no references to current events. No drugs (though the boys do drink vodka). And instead of a pop-music score, the African Missa Luba is heard playing on the Victrola. Anderson’s interest might best be described as classical rather than topical. If…., that is, concerns youthful yearnings to revolt that are simultaneously of its time and eternal.

When the central hero of If…. (less played than virtually embodied by [Malcolm] McDowell) says that violence and revolution are the only pure acts,’ he’s being extravagant in a way typical of a youth of his class and education. He also says, ‘When do we live? That’s what I want to know’—words that almost any impatient-to-live youth, regardless of class or education, would say. For If…. takes place in that protean moment when childhood steps aside as the adult to be is formed. And it’s the formation of that future adult that is the film’s central subject.”

If you haven’t seen it, do so at once.

Bob Heide on Andy Warhol

Monday, March 5th, 2012

John Gilman (left) and Bob Heide (right) in Greenwich Village recently, with a George Segal sculpture.

I’ve known Bob Heide and John Gilman since the late 1960s, when Bob was most active as a playwright, and was on the scene at Warhol’s Factory on East 47th Street, known as “the silver Factory,” where Warhol churned out a torrent of paintings, films and sculptures, which have now become some of the most influential work created in the second half of the 20th century.

Bob and I still keep in touch on a regular basis, and I was thrilled when I heard that Bob would be giving a lecture at The New School, in New York, talking about his work with Warhol and his entourage during the artist’s most creative period. Now, The New School has posted the entire lecture online, and so I’m pleased to be able to bring it to you — it’s the authentic testimony of someone who was there. This lecture took place on a very cold night in Manhattan, on January 31, 2012. Despite the weather, the auditorium was, as you will see, filled to capacity.

As the New School’s website notes, “Andy Warhol’s fame grew during his years in New York City, and his unique persona and career were shaped in large part by his association with the downtown arts scene in and around Greenwich Village. Playwright Robert Heide, who wrote some of Warhol’s screenplays, and Thomas Kiedrowski, the author of Andy Warhol’s New York City, discuss Warhol’s involvement with Greenwich Village and its artistic and literary denizens before, during, and after his rise to fame in the art world.” It’s a fascinating look into Warhol’s creative process, by someone who really was on the scene during the era, making Bob’s oral history of the period absolutely invaluable.

A party at the Silver Factory in the mid 1960s.

Click here, or on the image above, to see Bob’s entire lecture, some 77 minutes long.

The Hunger Games

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Click here, or on the image above, to see the trailer for The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games, based on the novel by Suzanne Collins, and one of the most anticipated films of early 2012, will open on March 23rd.

Lionsgate just received a PG13 rating for the film from the MPAA, which is surprising, given the film’s bloodthirsty premise; a group of adolescents are forced to fight to death each year until only one survives, all for the spectatorial pleasure of a massive viewing audience. The plot owes an obvious debt to Battle Royale, both the 1998 novel by Kōshun Takami, as well as the extremely well-received 2000 film by Kinji Fukasaku, though Collins says she’d never heard of either the novel or the film before she handed in her manuscript; but it also has clear thematic links to William Golding’s novel Lord of The Flies (filmed superbly in 1963 by Peter Brook, and indifferently by Harry Hook in 1990), as well as Shirley Jackson’s groundbreaking 1948 short story The Lottery, first published in 1948 in The New Yorker, and subsequently filmed at least three times in 1969, 1996 and 2007.

There’s also obvious connections to the Roman gladiatorial games, and the whole “future Dystopian society” angle has been a staple of films and novels for decades, from Metropolis to Blade Runner to Death Race 2000, with numerous stops in-between. And of course there’s always the inescapable influence of George Orwell’s 1984 — the template for nearly all visions of future society in collapse — in the completely downbeat, hypersurveillant nature of both the novel, and one would presume, the film. The director is Gary Ross, whose previous films include Pleasantville.

As Lionsgate summarizes the film in their press release, “every year in the ruins of what was once North America, the evil Capitol of the nation of Panem forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games. A twisted punishment for a past uprising and an ongoing government intimidation tactic, The Hunger Games are a nationally televised event in which ‘Tributes’ must fight with one another until one survivor remains.” The cast is first rate: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Wes Bentley, Toby Jones, Alexander Ludwig, Isabelle Fuhrman, Amandla Stenberg, Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland. Whether or not the film will live up to its grim potential remains, however, to be seen.

This is one of the oldest, and saddest, plot lines of all; kill or be killed, the survival of the fittest, trust no one, and look out for number one. It’s a cruel, brutal film for an era of dead dreams – sad, but all too true.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu. Visit him at his website wheelerwinstondixon.com.

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