The tenderness of the wolves

 

The Australian Cinémathèque begins a two-part retrospective of works by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. His films were provocative during his lifetime, and his stories continue to resonate with contemporary audiences.

I’d like to be for cinema what Shakespeare was for theatre, Marx for politics and Freud for psychology: someone after whom nothing is as it used to be.1

During his short and self-destructive life (he died of a drug overdose at 37), Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945–82) worked at a frenzied pace and fashioned a practice that was both mercurial and brutally honest. Between 1966 and 1982, he directed an astonishing 39 films (including six television movies and series) and four video productions. He directed 24 stage plays, four radio plays, and worked as an actor, dramatist, cameraman, composer, designer, editor, producer and theatre manager. He famously claimed, ‘I don’t throw bombs; I make films’, and cherished his position as one of the most polarising and influential figures of New German Cinema.2

Production still from Fassbinder 2015 / Director: Annekatrin Hendel / Image courtesy: It-Works GMBH

Fassbinder

Fassbinder has been described as many things: prodigious to the point of folly; a homosexual who loved men and women equally; an unashamed exhibitionist; a tyrant in the workplace; and a radical, no matter your political persuasion. Born to a middle-class family in Bavaria, Fassbinder was quick to denounce the propriety of then-West German society, which he felt impeded his personal freedoms. He began his career with Munich’s Action-Theater ensemble, amid the disillusionment that followed the failed protests of May 1968, and there he wrote and directed a series of plays that he would later adapt for the screen. Without a formal university education, Fassbinder worked tirelessly to prove himself and to create works that would expose the foolishness and hypocrisy he saw in human relationships. He reasoned:

I detest the idea . . . that the love between two persons can lead to salvation. All my life I have fought against this oppressive type of relationship. Instead, I believe in searching for a kind of love that somehow involves all of mankind . . .3

Production still from Liebe ist kälter als der Tod (Love is Colder than Death) 1969 / Image courtesy: Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation

Love is Colder than Death

Production still from Angst essen Seele auf (Fear Eats the Soul) 1973 / Image courtesy: Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation

Fear Eats the Soul

Fassbinder favoured an aesthetic eclecticism that allowed him to experiment with contradictory genres, styles and cultural references — from social melodramas and comedies to science fiction and thrillers, psychological dramas and austere literary adaptations. His early films drew inspiration from the gangster films of the French New Wave and the methodologies of Bertolt Brecht and Antonin Artaud. During the 1970s, he was heavily influenced by the technicolour melodramas of Hollywood director Douglas Sirk. They imbued the mise en scène of his later works with lurid colours, artifice and plenty of histrionics, yet his use of melodrama was never for the sake of sarcasm: ‘I don’t believe that melodramatic feelings are laughable — they should be taken absolutely seriously’.4

For Fassbinder, there were no taboo subjects in cinema, just taboo means of representing them and his films often deal with challenging subjects, including the terrorism of the Baader- Meinhof group and the politics of postwar Germany; the alienated experiences of women and homosexuals; as well as the plight of migrants, interracial couples and the socially downtrodden. The key trajectory through these stories is the interplay of cruelty, exploitation and victimhood, where distinctions between the oppressed and the oppressors are not clear or simple. For Fassbinder, the reworking and remaking of this thematic was the very basis of his practice:

Every decent director has only one subject, and finally only makes the same film over and over again. My subject is the exploitability of feelings, whoever might be the one exploiting them. It never ends. It’s a permanent theme. Whether the state exploits patriotism, or whether in a couple relationship, one partner destroys the other.5

Production still from Berlin Alexanderplatz 1980 / Image courtesy: Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation

Berlin Alexanderplatz

Alfred Döblin’s celebrated Weimar Republic novel Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929) was a major influence for Fassbinder, which he later adapted into a cult television series. He argued that reading the text as an adolescent had enabled him to avoid becoming ‘completely and utterly sick, dishonest and desperate’ like other Germans.6 Further literary adaptions include Vladimir Nabokov’s Despair (1934), about a man who undertakes the perfect crime — his own murder; Theodor Fontane’s realist novel Effi Briest (1894), about a woman trapped by marriage and social conventions; and Jean Genet’s Querelle of Brest (1947), which evoked an erotic underworld of sailors and hustlers. In these texts, Fassbinder found exiles, outcasts and strangers — characters that inhabited a world filled with prejudice and injustice. Never one to be overly sentimental, Fassbinder allowed these characters to be openly troubled as a way of confronting audiences with their fears — a fear of others and a fear of the self.

Fassbinder maintained an intense working relationship with a recurring cast of actors and technicians, which often spilt over into dysfunctional and intimate relations off set. As actor Harry Baer recalls, ‘It was totally insane. We didn’t need any speed in those days. All we needed was a dose of Fassbinder’.7 He was accused of treating those around him as marionettes, and his combative personality and directorial style caused him to be estranged from some of his principal collaborators. Yet this group formed something of a surrogate family, and it is this working process that fed Fassbinder’s relentless drive and output. His films bear a signature style and continuity through the work of cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, production designer Kurt Rabb, editor Juliane Lorenz, musician Peer Raben, and the luminous presence of stars, like Hanna Schygulla and Irm Hermann, who appear throughout Fassbinder’s filmography.

Production still from Die bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant (The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant) 1972 / Image courtesy: Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

Production still from Welt am Draht (World on a Wire) 1973 / Image courtesy: Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation

World on a Wire

Along with greater access to his work through film restorations, there is currently a resurgence of interest in Fassbinder’s seminal theatre works and film retrospectives. His oeuvre has inspired generations of contemporary artists, including Ming Wong, Runa Islam, Rikrit Tiravanija, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, and filmmakers such as Pedro Almodóvar, Todd Haynes and Christoph Schlingensief.

While Fassbinder never lived to see German society change after the country’s reunification in 1990, the social conditions he railed against persist today. As a conservative political establishment sweeps across Western Europe, it’s unsurprising that his works are being reconsidered and championed by new audiences.

Endnotes
1 This quote is widely attributed to Fassbinder.
2 Fassbinder’s proclamation on the film poster for Die Dritte Generation (The Third Generation) 1979. The ‘New German Cinema’ was a pledge by filmmakers during the late 1960s and 70s to create challenging works for postwar Germany. Alongside Fassbinder, this disparate group included directors such as Margarethe von Trotta, Volker Schlöndorff, Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog, Alexander Kluge and Hans-Jürgen Syberberg.
3 Fassbinder discussing George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) in Robert Katz and Peter Berling’s Love is Colder than Death: The Life and Times of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Jonathan Cape, London, 1987, p.166.
4 Fassbinder, cited in Wallace Steadman Watson, Understanding Rainer Werner Fassbinder: Film as Private and Public Art, University of South Carolina Press, 1996, p.107.
5 Fassbinder, cited in Thomas Elsaesser, Fassbinder’s Germany: History, Identity, Subject, Amsterdam University Press, Holland, 1996, p.352.
6 Fassbinder cited in Wallace Steadman Watson, p.234.
7 Harry Baer, cited in Michael Koresky, ‘Early Fassbinder’, Eclipse Series 39: Early Fassbinder, The Criterion Collection, 2013.

Curious to know WHAT ELSE IS screening at the australian Cinémathèque?

José Da Silva is Curatorial Manager, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA
Feature image: Production still from Die bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant (The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant) 1972

Michel Chion brings his cinema for the ear to GOMA

 

This month, QAGOMA welcomes French composer, filmmaker and theorist Michel Chion to Brisbane for two special live events on Friday 25 and Saturday 26 August. Chion is the world’s foremost thinker on sound in cinema.

Michel Chion’s first visit to Australia is an historic and unlikely-to-be repeated occasion.

In the 1970s Chion was a member of the Groupe de Recherches Musicales, the influential collective dedicated to furthering the art of musique concrète through experiments in audio-visual communication, audible phenomena and music in general. During this time he composed his most famous work, Requiem, a noisy and surreal deconstruction of the funeral mass.

Michel Chion’s Requiem 1973 cover art
Michel Chion’s Requiem 1973 cover art
Composer and filmmaker Michel Chion, 1975
Composer and filmmaker Michel Chion, 1975

Since the 1980’s, Chion has written extensively on the relationship of sound and image in the cinema, publishing in 1990 what many consider the definitive guide to the subject, L’audio-vision: Son et image au cinema (1990). In this momentous book, Chion advances a whole new lexicon for describing audio-visual concepts, via the works of directors Jacques Tati, Alfred Hitchcock, Jean-Luc Godard, David Lynch and others.

Chion will present two events at the Gallery: a free performance lecture ‘The Voice in Cinema, or The Acousmêtre and Me’ and a ticketed concert ‘The Audio Spectator’ that will see the Australian Cinémathèque transformed into a performance in the round.

Michel Chion
Michel Chion

The Voice in Cinema, or the Acousmêtre and Me

6.00pm Friday 25 August 2017 | Free

Join us for the free performance lecture tracing a history of the ‘acousmêtre’ – Chion’s term for the mysterious off-screen voice in cinema, through his own oeuvre and the works of Robert Bresson, Fritz Lang, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, Spike Jonze and more. Chion’s notes are available for the lecture.

Michel Chion: The Audio-Spectator

2.00pm Saturday 26 August 2017 | Ticketed

This epic two-and-a-half-hour concert in two parts for ten surround-speakers features Chion’s classic composition Requiem 1973 alongside new audio-visual composition Third Symphony 2016 and the world premiere of musique concrète piece The Scream 2017. Chion’s notes are available for the concert.

BUY TICKETS (CONCERT)

Curious to know WHAT ELSE IS on at the Cinémathèque?

Presented in partnership with Liquid Architecture and with the generous support of Institut français.

Straight couples are crazy!

 

BLOG-Possession 1

Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession 1981 is a difficult film to classify – part high-octane martial drama, suspenseful political allegory and disturbing psychological horror. Adored by fans and critics alike, it is receiving renewed attention following its long overdue restoration and Żuławski’s untimely death earlier this year. Here are three reasons why Possession still packs a punch:

1 | Straight couples are crazy! Inspired by his own messy divorce from actress Małgorzata Braunek, Possession transforms the idea of a marriage on the rocks into a conjugal meat grinder. Anna (Isabelle Adjani) and Mark (Sam Neill) are a couple overcome by rage and jealously, adultery and murder. The collapse of their relationship is visceral and supernatural – the stuff of absolute shock.

2 | Isabelle Adjani gives one of cinema’s most fearless performances and won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival for it. Her scene in the Berlin U-Bahn station is a near-wordless expression of anguish that you will never forget. Film critic Justine A Smith once noted that ‘a man who has never seen Żuławski’s Possession does not truly understand what it is to be a woman.’

3 | Italian special effects maestro Carlo Rambaldi was responsible for the incredible phallic monster at the heart of Żuławski’s descent into madness. His work in Possession followed his award-winning creations for Ridley Scott’s Alien 1979.

Possession 1981 R18+
Director/Script: Andrzej Żuławski
35MM (Uncut Restoration) | English Subtitles
8.45pm Friday 10 June | 2Hrs 4Min | Buy Tickets

BLOG-Possession - Poster

In Character | 28 May – 28 August 2016
Buy Tickets
Tickets on sale through qtix (booking fees apply)
or at the GOMA Box Office from one hour prior to film screenings.

‘In Character’ is a cinema project developed in response to the exhibition ‘Cindy Sherman’. It brings together a cast of actresses and characters who challenge our expectations for the behaviour, desire and physicality of women onscreen. Check out this week’s selection of films at GOMA’s Australian Cinémathèque.

BLOG-Serial Mom

Serial Mom 1994 M
Director/Script: John Waters
35MM
6pm Wednesday 8 June | 1Hr 35Min | Buy Tickets

John Waters puts a twist on the everyday mediocrity of suburban life in this hilarious satire. Kathleen Turner is Beverly Sutphin, the seemingly perfect homemaker who will stop at nothing to rid the neighbourhood of anyone failing to live up to her moral code.

blog-Pink Flamingos

Pink Flamingos 1972 R18+
Director: John Waters
16MM transferred to 35MM
7.45pm Wednesday 8 June | 1Hr 47Min | Buy Tickets

Filmmaker John Waters exploded into infamy with this darkly comic classic, in which cross-dresser Divine stars as Babs Johnson, a criminal in hiding from the FBI in a trailer outside of Baltimore, Maryland. Accompanying Babs are her mother (Edith Massey), a woman who is obsessed with eggs; her son Crackers (Danny Mills); and Cotton (Mary Vivian Pierce), Babs’s “travelling companion” and Crackers’ co-conspirator in unwholesome play.

BLOG-Crimes of Passion 1

Crimes of Passion 1984 R18+
Director: Ken Russell
35MM transferred to DCP
6.30pm Friday 10 June | 1Hr 52Min | Buy Tickets

By day, Joanna crane (Kathleen Turner) is a prim workaholic fashion designer. At night she becomes China Blue, a kinky hooker on the streets of Los Angeles. But when she finds herself being followed by a private investigator (John Laughlin) and stalked by a fanatical preacher (a truly over-the-top performance by Anthony Perkins), Joanna’s double life threatens to explode. In the world ruled by mad passion and holy obsession, can one woman survive the most dangerous emotion of all?

BLOG-mommie_dearest_2

Mommie Dearest 1981 M
Director: Frank Perry
35MM transferred to DCP
1pm Saturday 11 June | 2Hrs 9Min | Buy Tickets

Outrageous and controversial, this is the story of legendary movie star Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway) as she struggles for her career and battles the inner demons of her private life. This torment was manifested in her relationships with her adopted children, Christina and Christopher. The public Crawford was a strong-willed, glamorous object of admiration, but Mommie Dearest reveals the private Crawford, the woman desperate to be a mother trying to survive in a devastating industry that swallows careers thoughtlessly.

BLOG-Carrie

Carrie 1976 R18+
Director: Brian De Palma
35MM
3.30PM Saturday 11 June | 1Hr 38Mins | Buy Tickets

Carrie (Sissy Spacek) is a gawky, unloved teenager whose awakening sexuality is at odds with her puritanical mother’s fanatical teachings. Physically abused at home and shunned at school, an unexpected Prom invitation seems to be Carrie’s first chance at happiness. But when the Prom night ends in a vicious practical joke, Carrie’s despair manifests itself in a fiery telekinetic revenge. Brian De Palma’s breakthrough psycho-sexual horror yarn is adapted from a Stephen King novel.

blog-Grey Gardens

Grey Gardens 1975 PG
Directors: Ellen Hovde, Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Muffie Meyer
35MM transferred to DCP
1pm Sunday 5 June | 1 Hr 34 Min | Buy Tickets

Grey Gardens is the name of a neglected, sprawling estate gone to seed. The crumbling mansion was home to Edith Bouvier Beale, often referred to as “Big Edie,” and her daughter, “Little Edie.” The East Hampton, Long Island, home became the centre of quite a scandal when it was revealed in 1973 that the reclusive aunt and cousin to Jackie O were living in a state of poverty and filth. That’s the background to this 1976 film portrait by cinéma vérité pioneers Albert and David Maysles, but it’s only incidental to the fascinating story they discover inside the estate walls.

ABUSE OF WEAKNESS

Abus de faiblesse (Abuse of Weakness) 2013 15+
Director/Script: Catherine Breillat
DCP | English Subtitles
1PM Sunday 12 June | 1Hr 24Min | Buy Tickets

Inspired by director Catherine Breillat’s true life experiences, Abuse of Weakness is an exploration of power and sex. Isabelle Huppert stars as Maud, a strong willed filmmaker who suffers a stroke. Bedridden, but determined to pursue her latest film project, she sees Vilko (Kool Shen), a con man who swindles celebrities, on a TV talk show. Interested in him for her new film, the two meet and Maud soon finds herself falling for Vilko’s manipulative charm as their parasitic relationship hurdles out of control.

‘Cindy Sherman’ | Until 3 October 2016 | Ticketed
Buy Tickets
Buy the Publication
Further Information

Cindy Sherman Up Late | Ticketed
5.30pm – 10.00pm | Fridays 17 & 24 Juny; 1 July; 9, 16, 23, 30 September
Buy Tickets

Sundays with Cindy
3 July | 28 August | 25 September

GOMA Talks Cindy Sherman | Free
6.30pm Thursday 21 and 28 July
Join us for discussions on contemporary feminism.

‘In Character’ | Until 28 August 2016
Buy Tickets

Tickets on sale through qtix (booking fees apply)
or at the GOMA Box Office from one hour prior to film screenings.

‘In Character’ is a cinema project developed in response to the exhibition Cindy Sherman. It brings together a cast of actresses and characters who challenge our expectations for the behaviour, desire and physicality of women onscreen.

The project is accompanied by a series of free programs and events
In Character: Video Montages | Free
In Character: Absolutely Fabulous | Free
In Character: Variety Hour | Free

 

Peeping is Believing

 

BLOG-Crimes of Passion 2

Savaged by the critics when it was first released, Ken Russell’s Crimes of Passion 1984 is a film that deserves to be rediscovered. Here are three reasons why this cult favourite deserves a rethink:

1 | Ken Russell didn’t believe in the virtue in being understated. Crimes of Passion is a downright silly vision of American society and sexual mores. Kathleen Turner plays a successful sportswear designer who acts out her sublimated desires by moonlighting as the prostitute China Blue. Hiding in the shadows with his bag of tricks is the deranged Reverend Peter Shayne (Anthony Perkins) who obsesses over her ‘evils of the flesh’. As Russell suggested at the time: ‘This is not the age of manners. This is the age of kicking people in the crotch.’

2 | The two central performances are a revelation. Kathleen Turner appears fearless and uninhibited in every scene. Anthony Perkins is so wacky he makes his role as Norman Bates in Psycho seem well adjusted. Barry Sandler’s screenplay gives Turner a dazzlingly array of foul-mouthed quips. When one sleazy client asks her: ‘How low can you get?’ she simply replies ‘As low as you can afford’.

3 | Peeping is Believing. The film has received a stunning new 2K digital restoration by Arrow Films, reinstating all the scenes censored from the original release. This is the director’s cut in all its neon-tinted glory!

Crimes of Passion 1984 R18+
Director: Ken Russell
35MM transferred to DCP
6.30pm Friday 10 June | 1hr 52min | Buy Tickets

BLOG-Crimes of Passion - Poster

In Character | 28 May – 28 August 2016
Buy Tickets
Tickets on sale through qtix (booking fees apply)
or at the GOMA Box Office from one hour prior to film screenings.

‘In Character’ is a cinema project developed in response to the exhibition ‘Cindy Sherman’. It brings together a cast of actresses and characters who challenge our expectations for the behaviour, desire and physicality of women onscreen. Check out this week’s selection of films at GOMA’s Australian Cinémathèque.

BLOG-Serial Mom

Serial Mom 1994 M
Director/Script: John Waters
35MM
6pm Wednesday 8 June | 1hr 35min | Buy Tickets

John Waters puts a twist on the everyday mediocrity of suburban life in this hilarious satire. Kathleen Turner is Beverly Sutphin, the seemingly perfect homemaker who will stop at nothing to rid the neighbourhood of anyone failing to live up to her moral code.

blog-Pink Flamingos

Pink Flamingos 1972 R18+
Director: John Waters
16MM transferred to 35MM
7.45pm Wednesday 8 June | 1hr 47min | Buy Tickets

Filmmaker John Waters exploded into infamy with this darkly comic classic, in which cross-dresser Divine stars as Babs Johnson, a criminal in hiding from the FBI in a trailer outside of Baltimore, Maryland. Accompanying Babs are her mother (Edith Massey), a woman who is obsessed with eggs; her son Crackers (Danny Mills); and Cotton (Mary Vivian Pierce), Babs’s “travelling companion” and Crackers’ co-conspirator in unwholesome play.

BLOG-Possession 2

Possession 1981 R18+
Director/Script: Andrzej Żuławski
35MM (Uncut Restoration) | English Subtitles
8.45pm Friday 10 June | 2hrs 4min | Buy Tickets

With their marriage in pieces Anna (Isabelle Adjani) and Mark’s (Sam Neil) tense relationship has become a psychotic descent into screaming matches and violence. The unhinged Anna visits her monstrous lover in a deserted Berlin apartment and will stop at nothing to protect it. A horror film like no other, Possession is an intense, shocking experience that was banned in the UK. At Cannes Film Festival however the film was nominated for the Palme d’Or and Isabelle Adjani won Best Actress for her mesmerising performance.

BLOG-mommie_dearest_2
Mommie Dearest
1981 M
Director: Frank Perry
35MM transferred to DCP
1pm Saturday 11 June | 2hrs 9min | Buy Tickets

Outrageous and controversial, this is the story of legendary movie star Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway) as she struggles for her career and battles the inner demons of her private life. This torment was manifested in her relationships with her adopted children, Christina and Christopher. The public Crawford was a strong-willed, glamorous object of admiration, but Mommie Dearest reveals the private Crawford, the woman desperate to be a mother trying to survive in a devastating industry that swallows careers thoughtlessly.

BLOG-Carrie

Carrie 1976 R18+
Director: Brian De Palma
35MM
3.30pm Saturday 11 June | 1hr 38mins | Buy Tickets

Carrie (Sissy Spacek) is a gawky, unloved teenager whose awakening sexuality is at odds with her puritanical mother’s fanatical teachings. Physically abused at home and shunned at school, an unexpected Prom invitation seems to be Carrie’s first chance at happiness. But when the Prom night ends in a vicious practical joke, Carrie’s despair manifests itself in a fiery telekinetic revenge. Brian De Palma’s breakthrough psycho-sexual horror yarn is adapted from a Stephen King novel.

blog-Grey Gardens

Grey Gardens 1975 PG
Directors: Ellen Hovde, Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Muffie Meyer
35MM transferred to DCP
1pm Sunday 5 June | 1hr 34min | Buy Tickets

Grey Gardens is the name of a neglected, sprawling estate gone to seed. The crumbling mansion was home to Edith Bouvier Beale, often referred to as “Big Edie,” and her daughter, “Little Edie.” The East Hampton, Long Island, home became the centre of quite a scandal when it was revealed in 1973 that the reclusive aunt and cousin to Jackie O were living in a state of poverty and filth. That’s the background to this 1976 film portrait by cinéma vérité pioneers Albert and David Maysles, but it’s only incidental to the fascinating story they discover inside the estate walls.

ABUSE OF WEAKNESS

Abus de faiblesse (Abuse of Weakness) 2013 15+
Director/Script: Catherine Breillat
DCP | English Subtitles
1pm Sunday 12 June | 1rr 24min | Buy Tickets

Inspired by director Catherine Breillat’s true life experiences, Abuse of Weakness is an exploration of power and sex. Isabelle Huppert stars as Maud, a strong willed filmmaker who suffers a stroke. Bedridden, but determined to pursue her latest film project, she sees Vilko (Kool Shen), a con man who swindles celebrities, on a TV talk show. Interested in him for her new film, the two meet and Maud soon finds herself falling for Vilko’s manipulative charm as their parasitic relationship hurdles out of control.

‘Cindy Sherman’ | Until 3 October 2016 | Ticketed
Buy Tickets
Buy the Publication
Further Information

Cindy Sherman Up Late | Ticketed
5.30pm – 10.00pm | Fridays 17 & 24 Juny; 1 July; 9, 16, 23, 30 September
Buy Tickets

Sundays with Cindy
3 July | 28 August | 25 September

GOMA Talks Cindy Sherman | Free
6.30pm Thursday 21 and 28 July

Join us for discussions on contemporary feminism.

‘In Character’ | Until 28 August 2016
Buy Tickets

Tickets on sale through qtix (booking fees apply) or at the GOMA Box Office from one hour prior to film screenings.

‘In Character’ is a cinema project developed in response to the exhibition Cindy Sherman. It brings together a cast of actresses and characters who challenge our expectations for the behaviour, desire and physicality of women onscreen.

The project is accompanied by a series of free programs and events
In Character: Video Montages | Free
In Character: Absolutely Fabulous | Free
In Character: Variety Hour | Free

In Character: Women in cinema who refuse to play by the rules

 
blog-Jeanne Dielman
Production still from Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles 1975 / Director: Chantal Akerman / Image courtesy: British Film Institute

‘In Character’ is a major cinema project, developed in response to the works featured in the QAGOMA exhibition ‘Cindy Sherman’. It’s a project about those women in cinema who refuse to play by the rules, writes José Da Silva.

For the past six months I’ve been watching, re-watching and deliberating on almost 200 works, revisiting those figures that rebel against their social strictures and play with our expectations for the behaviour, desire and physicality of women onscreen. Uniting these films is the transcendence of their leading performances, given by some of cinema’s most fearless actresses. These singular performances enable the characters to move beyond the conventions of genre cinema to become unforgettable portrayals of women in art and daily life.

‘In Character’ brings together 65 works across its three-month program, from noir to comedy, horror, exploitation, documentary and melodrama. The program is divided into four intersecting threads, each populated by ideas and personas inspired by Sherman’s photography. Like Sherman’s Hollywood headshots, society portraits, fashion socialites and clowns, the figures depicted throughout ‘In Character’ are exaggerated expressions of identity. Some confront us with complex characterisations of gender and sexuality; others are camp expressions of female archetypes. While many of the films have the appeal of being guilty pleasures, others offer courageous depictions of female autonomy, sexuality and filial responsibility.

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Production still from Sunset Boulevard 1950 / Director: Billy Wilder / Image courtesy: Paramount Pictures

Hollywood Babylon takes it names from the 1959 book by filmmaker Kenneth Anger. Like Anger’s salacious book, this program revels in stories of fame and infamy. It features images of struggling actresses and fading stars; overbearing celebrity mums and female rivalry on and off stage; obsessions with age, glamour and masquerade; and the allure of notoriety. The scope is unashamedly wide and features Bette Davis in All About Eve 1950, Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard 1950, Divine in Pink Flamingos 1972, Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest 1981, Julie Andrews in Victor/ Victoria 1982, Madonna in Dangerous Game 1993, Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls 1995 and Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive 2001.

blog-Pink Flamingos
Production still from Pink Flamingos 1972 / Director: John Waters / Image courtesy: Roadshow Films

The Lady of the House features narratives set within the domestic sphere. It includes films about the eccentric lives lived in cloistered mansions and apartments; the power dynamics between maids and their employers; and experiences of psychological and physical captivity. We also find women caught up in the mundanity of courtship, domesticity and homemakers under the influence of their environment. Again, the selection is diverse: it includes Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar 1954, Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion 1965, Edie Bouvier Beale and her mother Little Edie in Grey Gardens 1975, Kathy Bates in Misery 1990, and Julianne Moore in Safe 1995.

Dangerous Relations considers the depiction of difficult and unconventional relationships between parents and their children and wives and husbands; stories of jealously and infidelity, obsessive friendships and affairs; intergenerational love; and vampiric and otherworldly seductresses. This group of films reverberates with psychosexual pressure, evoked in performances by Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 1966, Isabelle Adjani in Possession 1981, Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct 1992, Isabelle Huppert in The Piano Teacher 2001, and Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin 2013.

blog-Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
Production still from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 1966 / Director: Mike Nichols / Image courtesy: Park Circus

Women in Revolt focuses on women who are badly behaved and those who embark on a newfound sense of personal freedom by rejecting social expectations. We witness provocative displays of gender in the Pre-Code cinema of the 1930s and exploitation cinema of the 1960s and 80s; the rejection of patriarchy and maternal responsibilities; stories of vengeance and revenge and situation where office politics, infidelity and bullying have murderous consequences. This program includes Mae West in I’m No Angel 1933, Sissy Spacek in Carrie 1976, Kathleen Turner in Crimes of Passion 1984, Lili Taylor in I Shot Andy Warhol 1996 and Penélope Cruz in Volver 2006.

While celebrating the performances of the actresses that embody these incredible characters onscreen, the program also acknowledges some of the uncompromising women behind the camera. Works by an acclaimed quartet of French filmmakers (Chantal Akerman, Catherine Breillat, Claire Denis and Agnès Varda) are presented alongside a newer generation and lesser known group of female directors (including Jennifer Kent, Lucrecia Martel and Bette Gordon). Cindy Sherman’s own directorial effort, Office Killer 1997, emphasises the close links between her studio practice and its many references to Hollywood and genre cinema. Tracey Moffatt and Gary Hillberg’s video montages also feature in the program, extending their interests into contemporary art. Moffatt’s videos survey the enduring dramatic modes and genres of Hollywood cinema, re-editing and juxtaposing film sequences to create ironic commentary on the roles of clichés of mothers, servants and ideas of love, lust and revenge played out in cinema.

1995, ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS : SEASON 3
Production still from Absolutely Fabulous 1992 / Director: Bob Spiers / Image courtesy: BBC

‘In Character’ also includes a group of special free events and screenings of the work of television comedians and writers. ‘In Character: Variety Hour’ will be something of a curatorial experiment, featuring contributions from Gallery curators and local comedians, and will include informal discussions, YouTube clips, live jokes, drag performances and the screening of selected episodes. ‘Variety Hour’ will focus on a wide range of women in comedy and television, including favourites Julia Davis (Nighty Night 2004–05), Roseanne Barr (Roseanne 1988–97), Abbi Jacobsen and Ilana Glazer (Broad City 2014–ongoing). Jennifer Saunders’s celebrated sitcom Absolutely Fabulous 1992–2012 is also profiled during the first three nights of Cindy Sherman Up Late. We screen six episodes of the show, which follows self-indulgent PR maven and fashionista Edina Monsoon (Saunders) and her best friend, magazine fashion director Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley), in their endless quest to remain relevant.

blog-Mommy
Production still from Mommy 2014 / Director: Xavier Dolan / Image courtesy: Sharmill Films

Beyond the Fire: Twin Peaks and a girl without a secret

 

blog-Laura Palmer

There are so many clues and feelings in the world that it makes a mystery . . . and there are many avenues in life where we’re given little indications that the mystery can one day be solved. We get little proofs — not the big proof — but little proofs that keep us searching. – David Lynch

 

Today, 8 April marks the 25th anniversary of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s television series Twin Peaks 1990–91. This ground-breaking vision of small town America revelled in a beauty and horror that lay beneath the surface of the everyday. It was part melodrama and murder mystery, and its success and longevity is a salient marker of our collective fascination with mysteries. As Lynch puts it, “Human beings are like detectives. We sense a mystery and we want to know what’s going on.”

blog-twin-peaks-dwarf

That gum you like is going to come back in style!

As part of ‘David Lynch: Between Two Worlds‘, the Gallery is celebrating the anniversary of Twin Peaks with a number of events, starting with a free screening of the Lynch’s pilot episode Northwest Passage this Friday 10 April. Next week there are two sold out concerts by US band Xiu Xiu reinterpreting the music of Twin Peaks composed by Angelo Badalamenti and Lynch, a Twin Peaks Trivia Night hosted by Man vs Bear Trivia and screenings of Lynch’s terrifying prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

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It is happening again!

‘Between Two Worlds’ also includes a gallery-based presentation of the Log Lady Introductions, written and directed by Lynch to accompany syndication of the series in 1993. One of the show’s more enigmatic figures, the Log Lady communicated with a place ‘beyond the fire’ through her log and is presented in the Gallery in a setting reminiscent of the interior of The Black Lodge, a location in Twin Peaks described as a ‘place between two worlds’, where characters meet their shadow-selves.

In the penultimate episode Laura Palmer tells Agent Cooper who is trapped in The Black Lodge, ‘I’ll see you again in 25 Years’ – a promise that has swelled with fans since the announcement that Lynch, Frost and the Showtime network would revisit the town with a 9-episode third series to be directed by Lynch. A new novel by Frost called ‘The Secret Lives of Twin Peaks’ (2015) was also announced with the promise that it would reveal what happened to the show’s characters in the intervening years.

But like the song goes: who knows where or when?

During Lynch’s visit to Brisbane for the opening of ‘Between Two Worlds’ he intimated that while he was still very much in love with the world of Twin Peaks, negotiations with the network were proving difficult and contracts were yet to be signed. Lynch’s reservation and clear frustration with the process drew speculation internationally that the new series might never eventuate. Those fears were fuelled by Lynch’s recent announcement on Twitter that he was leaving the production, lamenting that he wished things could have worked out differently.

Fans and actors have since begun the campaign to save the production with Lynch and Frost at the helm. The message is simple: No Lynch, No Peaks. In Sheryl Lee’s video message she described the endgame as “Twin Peaks without David Lynch is like a girl without a secret”. It’s a reminder of the commitment of fans worldwide who previously campaigned for 20 years for the release of deleted scenes from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me that surfaced with the 2014 release of The Missing Pieces.

‘David Lynch: Between Two Worlds’ is at the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane until 7 June 2015. A range of ticket packages and a complete retrospective of Lynch’s films, videos and works for television are presented as part of the exhibition in the Gallery’s Australian Cinémathèque.