Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, Meet Marlon Brando (1965)
An evening of films and videos about refusing to play along
Friday, February 20, 2015
Atlanta Contemporary Art Center
curated by Andy Ditzler
Kid Auto Races at Venice (Henry Lehrman, 1914, 7 min)
I, An Actress (George Kuchar, 1977, 8 min)
Adebar (Peter Kubelka, 1957, 2 min)
Harry Smith interviewed by P. Adams Sitney, June 3, 1977 audio courtesy WNYC Radio
Mirror Animations (Harry Smith, ca. 1957/1979, 11 min)
Sly Stone on the Dick Cavett Show (1971, 15 min) courtesy Daphne Productions
Schwechater (Peter Kubelka, 1958, 1 min)
Unedited: Yul Brynner Interviews Trevor Howard, Rita Hayworth, Sylvia Sorrente and Angie Dickinson (excerpts) (1965) courtesy the Austrian Film Museum
Meet Marlon Brando (Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, 1965, 29 min)
Interview, audition, acting lesson, advertisements, publicity: all of these media rituals have their established procedures. They assure that the film industry, film scholarship, and polite society run smoothly.
The films in this show are of people who in one way or another refuse to play along. These are not stars performing calculatedly outrageous stunts to publicize a project, or the familiar public meltdowns of celebrities. Nor are they simply actions that subvert norms of society or art. Faced with everyday situations that are nonetheless intolerable to their own sense of integrity, the figures in this show resort to becoming trickster characters, upending business as usual, often at personal cost. They offer a disruptive counter-performance – frustrating, sometimes humorously, sometimes annoyingly, our attempts to pin things down. In so doing they teach a deeper lesson and inconvenience everyone.
Charlie Chaplin’s first public act in his Tramp guise was to crash a children’s event for the purposes of filming his new character in front of an unwitting audience. The resulting film, Kid Auto Races at Venice, features Chaplin performing in front of a real camera (thus intervening into the real-life event) and a fake camera inside the frame (thus performing a fictional intervention into a fictional film – which sometimes, nonetheless, also becomes the film we are watching). The film becomes a strange hybrid of documentary, fiction, and street performance, with each informing the other. Time, however, has pranked Chaplin as well – for these now one-hundred-one year-old images of the spectators and the auto race, far from being a backdrop, have become just as interesting to watch as the Tramp himself.
In I, An Actress – one of the funniest and smartest films ever made about acting and directing – George Kuchar cannot stop himself from interjecting his own overheated line readings into what is supposed to be his student’s audition. Kuchar’s script for the audition (another film within a film) is a typically masterful appropriation of Hollywood melodramatic usages for his own utterly personal uses. As in all Kuchar’s nonfiction films, we see him simultaneously juggle onscreen the roles of director, performer, and salient being, along with the attendant psychic strain, and his performance in all roles is flawless.
Peter Kubelka’s two short films are now considered masterpieces of the avant-garde but were utter disasters for their original purpose as advertisements for nightclubs and beer. Kubelka often shows these short films several times in a row, to facilitate understanding their dense construction – indeed, the films are rented on the reel in configurations of two or even five repetitions. In this way they interface with the repetition of advertisements on radio and television; and their interspersal among our selections tonight inevitably restore something of their original commissioned use.
Genius filmmaker, painter, archivist, anthropologist – and many other things – Harry Smith gave an hour-long, "spontaneous" interview to film scholar P. Adams Sitney, broadcast in 1977 on the Arts Forum show on WNYC, New York. Smith was a notoriously irascible interview subject, and as is evident here, was often reluctant to explain his films. Sitney had been interviewing Smith and attending his shows for many years prior to this encounter, and this longevity may explain some of the irreverent rapport between the two men. Tonight’s ten-minute audio excerpt of this encounter reveals that, however difficult Smith’s interviews seem on the page, there is a good deal of humor present. Along with this interview, we will screen Smith’s characteristically engaging and hermetic Mirror Animations, created in the 1950s, as an example of the type of film about which people wanted to ask Smith so many questions.
Sly Stone’s 1971 appearance on the Dick Cavett show remains a remarkable, subtle statement on race, fame, and the media. When this interview is discussed, it is usually in terms of Sly’s apparent intoxication. But whatever Sly’s state, drugs are ancillary to the real drama (and comedy) here, which turn on Sly’s deep awareness of his position as a black American negotiating the divide between entertainment structures and artistic vision, and his lucid, sometimes charming, sometimes aggressive attempts to demonstrate his struggle between the two.
The Austrian Film Museum’s recent restoration of unedited publicity interview footage features Yul Brynner gamely questioning his co-stars in Poppies Are Also Flowers, an Ian Fleming-penned spy film about the heroin trade. Shown in its unedited form (including with Brynner’s queries delivered to the camera, meant to be edited into an interview format but here left as mysteriously unanswered questions), the footage reveals many subtexts of the Hollywood interview and prepares us for tonight’s final selection: Meet Marlon Brando, the 1965 documentary by Direct Cinema pioneers Albert and David Maysles. Obliged to attend a press reception for his latest Hollywood film Morituri, Brando single-mindedly uses the event to undermine his Hollywood product and the press machine assembled to publicize it. Ironically, this relentless attempt to dodge being defined by the Hollywood machine results in an indelible screen performance.
Program notes 2015 Andy Ditzler
Thanks to John Klacsmann and Anthology Film Archives, M. M. Serra and Josh Guilford at Film-Makers’ Cooperative, Josh Morrison and Flicker Alley, Greg Zinman, and Rachel Reese.
Sly Stone may also be seen on the DVD set Dick Cavett: Rock Icons.
Fall-Apart Things is a Film Love event. The Film Love series provides access to great but rarely seen films, especially important works unavailable on consumer video. Programs are curated and introduced by Andy Ditzler, and feature lively discussion. Through public screenings and events, Film Love preserves the communal viewing experience, provides space for the discussion of film as art, and explores alternative forms of moving image projection and viewing. Film Love was voted Best Film Series in Atlanta by the critics of Creative Loafing in 2006, and was featured in Atlanta Magazine's Best of Atlanta 2009.