Montage to MTV and Film/Media History

Wednesday, January 19 at 7pm


Jean Luc-Godard (France 1983) 85 min. With Maruschka Detmers, Jacques Bonnaffé, Myriem Roussel. French with English subtitles.

While many argue that Godard’s later films pale in comparison to his seminal work from the 1960s, First Name: Carmen belies this myth. All the classic Godard trademarks are here: fatalism, romantic scorn, socialist rhetoric, visual symbolism, tortured narcissism (with Godard himself playing Carmen’s lecherous filmmaker uncle), and a healthy dose of Americanisms. Loosely based on the source of Bizet’s opera, this Carmen has its heroine rob a bank in order to fund a film she wants to make. Weaving Beethoven’s late quartets with the cacophony of Parisian traffic and high tragedy with comic farce, Carmen becomes at once a parody of the director’s own work from the 1960s and a prototype for a new cinema for its own time (Harvard Film Archive notes).


Wednesday, Feb 2 at 7pm


Sergei Eisenstein (U.S.S.R 1928) 95 min. DCP. With Vasily Nikandrov, N. Popov, Boris Livanov.

Commissioned by the Communist Party to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the October Revolution, October recalls events in St. Petersburg from February-November 1917. Thereafter the film had a troubled political history – it was disappeared from cinemas after its premiere on March 14, 1928. Fortunately, October survived: the purest example of what Eisenstein termed intellectual montage – a work whose force and provocative meaning are generated via cinema, in the mind of the viewer. Presented in the recent Munich Film Museum reconstruction, with the rediscovered and once controversial original score by groundbreaking composer Edmund Meisel.


Wednesday, Feb 9 at 7pm


Abigail Child (U.S. 1981-89) 16MM.

A seven-part series celebrated as “one of the most assured and important projects to have emerged over the last decade. Constructing from and subverting a wide galaxy of source materials, these films are archeological digs into the very stuff, the conceptions, we are born into. Child decomposes the materials and gestures that would compose us. The films are charged with a startling and playful musicality and poetic and rigorous compression. Each image and sound cuts deep and works over time containing hidden and unhidden detonations working against the manufactured ambush that images have in store. Agile dances through treacherous debris, they negotiate an obstacle course of polar anatomies zig-zagging with corkscrew twists and nuclear splits — a gambol against the hazards.


Detournments, deviations, disruptions, allures. Can aggression be sumptuous? These films are volatile and they have bite. Here the subliminal cannot caress, it comes out with its hands up, the smile wiped from its face. The accelerated velocity of these films doesn’t create an alternate camouflage. At this speed viewer passivity is unsafe and active viewing is a necessary pleasure. We are provoked to get up to speed, to be resourceful, dance, break step. These films put a spin on things. Shift the coordinates. The peripheries relocate to the core drawn by the centrifugal force of the editing. Posing a threat to threatening poses these frictions erupt with new clarity.” – Mark McElhatten, Museum of the Moving Image (1990)


Wednesday, Feb 23 at 7pm


Vincente Minnelli. (U.S. 1955) 124 min. With Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Charles Boyer.

Vincente Minnelli directed many popular and respected Hollywood musicals, and he also made a suite of compassionate melodramas. This star-packed ensemble piece, based on William Gibson’s popular novel, is about life inside a high-class psychiatric clinic. Featuring Charles Boyer and Richard Widmark as rival doctors battling for control over a posh private hospital, the film interweaves a surplus of subplots that explore the neuroses bubbling to the surface of prosperous postwar America, with loneliness, marital discontent and existential emptiness lurking beneath the surface. Minnelli’s first film to combine color and CinemaScope is, typically, a triumph of mise-en-scène. In The Cobweb, visual style conveys—far better than verbose dialogue—the hothouse ambience of a cloistered little world rife with conflict. It is no exaggeration to say that these subplots come together in a crisis over the design of a pair of new drapes for the clinic, the perfect expression of one of the strengths of Minnelli’s filmmaking, the use of décor to express character and emotion. (From Harvard Film Archive program notes.)


Wednesday, March 2 at 7pm


Sergei Eisenstein (USSR 1938) 112 min. 35MM. With Nikolai Cherkasov, Nikolai Okhlopkov, Andrei Abrikosov. Russian with English subtitles.

Eisenstein drew on history, Russian folk narratives, and the techniques of Walt Disney to create this broadly painted epic of Russian resilience. This story of Teutonic knights vanquished by Prince Alexander Nevsky’s tactical brilliance resonated deeply with a Soviet Union concerned with the rise of Nazi Germany. Widely imitated—most notably by Laurence Olivier’s Battle of Agincourt re-creation for Henry V—the Battle on the Ice scene remains one of the most famous audio-visual experiments in film history, perfectly blending action with the rousing score of Sergei Prokofiev.


Wednesday, March 9 at 7pm

WUTHERING HEIGHTS (Abismos de pasión)

Luis Buñuel (Mexico 1954) 91 min. 35MM. With Irasema Dilián, Jorge Mistral. Spanish with English subtitles.

Buñuel’s feverish adaptation of Emily Brontë’s classic novel of l’amour fou is a Surrealist’s delight: torrid gothic atmosphere, with barren Mexican landscapes imparting a funereal sense of doom, all building up to the deliriously unforgettable climax. The New York Times praised: “Of all of the Mexican films that Luis Buñuel made…[Wuthering Heights is] probably the work that’s most full of riches” (BAMcinematek notes). 


Wednesday, March 23 at 7pm


Sergei Eisenstein (USSR 1944 & 1958) 103 min. & 88 min. 35MM. With Nikolai Cherkasov, Ludmila Tselikovskaya, Mikhail Zharov. Russian with English subtitles.

Navigating the deadly waters of Stalinist politics, Eisenstein was able to film two parts of his planned trilogy about the troubled sixteenth-century tsar who united Russia. Visually stunning and powerfully acted, Ivan the Terrible charts the rise to power and descent into terror of this veritable dictator. Though pleased with the first installment, Stalin detected the portrait in the second film, with its summary executions and secret police, and promptly banned it.


Wednesday, April 6 at 7pm


Jia Zhangke (China 2004) 143 min. With Zhao Tao, Cheng Taishen, Jing Jue. Cantonese with English subtitles.

An at once intimate and expansive exploration of globalization from visionary director Jia Zhangke, The World takes place in the eponymous theme park on the outskirts of Beijing, where iconic monuments from the Eiffel Tower to the Taj Mahal are reproduced for tourists. It’s there that the park’s employees—including a dancer (Tao) and a security guard (Taishen)—drift together and are pulled apart in a cycle of connection and alienation that speaks eloquently to the effects of China’s rapid modernization.


Wednesday, April 27 at 7pm


Hans-Jürgen Syberberg (France/Germany 1982) 244 min. 35MM. With Armin Jordan, Robert Lloyd, Martin Sperr. German with English subtitles.

Syberberg’s celebrated version of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal was made on the one hundredth anniversary of the opera’s first performance at Bayreuth in 1882 and is staged around the looming presence of a huge replica of Wagner’s death mask. Armin Jordan’s acclaimed interpretation of Wagner’s incomparable music unfolds against a startlingly effective and constantly changing backdrop of images and tableaux vivants, while Syberberg’s camera concentrates on the expressive faces of his actors, revealing staggering performances, especially from Edith Clever as Kundry, who many agree has given the definitive interpretation, hair-raising in its intensity.