Friday, March 11, 2016

Penelope Spheeris. Restorations by the Academy Film Archive (curated by Mark Toscano)

Penelope Spheeris. Restorations by the Academy Film Archive (curated by Mark Toscano).
Tampere Film Festival (TFF)
Curated, introduced, and program notes written by Mark Toscano.
Prints: 16 mm
11+12 March 2016, Plevna 6

Penelope Spheeris | United States 1968 | Experimental | 8 min
    Mark Toscano: "Synthesis is director Penelope Spheeris’ first film, made in 8mm Kodachrome while she was a student at UCLA. In a seemingly near-future control room devoid of people, various readouts and calculations suggest that humankind is not altogether compatible with the grand scheme of the universe."
    AA: An early instance of cyber cinema, a vision of the computer age and the techno world, one of the pioneering visualizations of a world dominated by information technology, made in the same year when 2001: A Space Odyssey was released. This is a voyage of exploration inside a computer. The computer prints out sentences such as "synthesis impossible". The fight of man against machine is not lost. There is an alarm signal. A contemporary Nordic phenomenon is the work of Erkki Kurenniemi, including Spindrift (1966, by Jan Bark and Erkki Kurenniemi). Musique concrète.

Penelope Spheeris | United States 1969 | Experimental | 6 min
    Mark Toscano: "Made in an environment and at a time when frequent and gratuitous images of nude women permeated the work of her male counterparts, director Penelope Spheeris produced this intimate and sensual observation of a woman bathing. The appearance of Spheeris’ credit at the beginning of the film seems to ask the question: how does voyeurism change when we know the voyeur is actually a voyeuse?"
    AA:  A movie of simple observation on the perennial favourite subject of art: a beautiful naked woman taking a bath. It seems that a woman can achieve this even more sensually than a man. Pure joy.

 Penelope Spheeris | United States 1969 | Experimental | 4 min
    Mark Toscano: "Never completely finished during its original production, this snarky comic piece was rediscovered in director Penelope Spheeris’ vaults in 2010 and preserved “as is.” The titular substance plays a key role in determining an outmoded man’s role in a changing society."
    AA: A middle-aged white male dressed in a white shirt and tie has slipped on a piece of shit and lies paralyzed in the gutter. A mini story about the lack of empathy. The score: soul music. I was thinking for a moment about Alfred Hitchcock's Breakdown, with Joseph Cotten as the paralyzed victim.

The National Rehabilitation Center
Penelope Spheeris | United States 1969 | Experimental | 12 min
    Mark Toscano: "Two years before Peter Watkins’ Punishment Park (1971), director Penelope Spheeris takes the McCarran Act to its inevitable next step and shows us—via an early use of mockumentary—what the U.S. might be like if potential subversives were simply locked up en masse before they had a chance to subvert anything."
    AA: A mockumentary about U.S. black insurgents, dissident forces, the Japanese, and probable saboteurs being locked up in concentration camps. 

I Don't Know
Penelope Spheeris | United States 1970 | Experimental | 20 min
    Mark Toscano: "A truly major work, I Don’t Know (1970) observes the relationship between a lesbian and a transgender man who prefers to identify somewhere in between male and female, in an expression of personal ambiguity suggested by the film’s title. This nonfiction film—an unusual, partly staged work of semi-verité—is the first of director Spheeris’ films to fully embrace what would become her characteristic documentary style: probing, intimate, uncompromising and deeply meaningful."
    AA:  A brave early queer documentary featuring a man with breasts and a Lesbian woman living together. Intimate, revealing, humoristic. The score: a French chanson, and a song that sounds like Neil Young.

Hats Off to Hollywood
Penelope Spheeris | United States 1972 | Experimental | 22 min
    Mark Toscano: "Picking up the story first presented in I Don’t Know (1970), Hats Off to Hollywood (1972) brazenly and brilliantly mixes documentary reality with fully staged recreations/reimaginings of episodes in the lives of Jimmy/Jennifer and Dana, a loving, bickering couple who challenge the notion of homonormativity. Drugs, poverty, disease, bigotry and prostitution all figure into this disarmingly candid and often hilarious film, a remarkable work that is the apotheosis of director Spheeris’ early work, and a luminous signpost leading directly to The Decline of Western Civilization (1979-1997)."
    AA: Observations of a scene of outsiders with affinities with Flaming Creatures (Jack Smith) and Andy Warhol, in continuation to I Don't Know. Spheeris has a talent of observation of the Hollywood queer scene. The twin bath is a motif that keeps reappearing. Taboo-breaking footage and talk about syphilis and prostitution. Music: "Dream a Little Dream of Me", "Bright Lights, Big City" (Jimmy Reed), slide guitar blues, soul, and fine music that I cannot identify.

No Use Walkin' When You Can Stroll
Penelope Spheeris | United States 1998 | Experimental | 11 min
    Mark Toscano: "One-time carny, bartender, and married 9 times, director Penelope Spheeris’ mother was an uncommon woman. In this sweet, funny, and moving video portrait, Spheeris gives us a vivid glimpse into the richness of her mother’s life and character."
    AA:  Shot on video, the look is that of a television screen. The story of Penelope Spheeris' mother is amazing. Let's hope that she will turn it into a feature film.

An essential contribution to our appreciation of Penelope Spheeris, best known for the Decline of Western Civilization series and Wayne's World. The prints and the colours of all films were good, as was the projection.

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