New York, NY (June 21, 2017) – The Film Society of Lincoln Center presents Talking Pictures: The Cinema of Yvonne Rainer (July 21-27), a comprehensive retrospective of the celebrated dancer/choreographer’s film work—the first in New York in over a decade.
When she completed her first feature in 1972, Yvonne Rainer, a founding member of the avant-garde Judson Dance Theater, was already established as a key choreographer of her generation; her contributions to filmmaking would prove just as radical. Rainer’s cinema signaled new possibilities for film language, retooling narrative generally and melodrama specifically with a disjunctive audiovisual syntax, restless political intelligence, deft appropriation, and deadpan wit. Here questions of form raise, rather than diminish, the emotional stakes. “I remember that movie,” reads an intertitle from Lives of Performers, echoed across Rainer’s filmography: “It’s about all these small betrayals, isn’t it?”
Complementing the lineup, as context and counterpoint, are works that feature Rainer as subject or actor, as well as those that influenced her and selections from her fellow travelers in the burgeoning feminist film movement of the 1970s. Rainer will appear in person for the centerpiece of the series, an in-depth conversation about her film career with writer Lynne Tillman. Additional guests Charles Atlas, Paul Chan, Douglas Crimp, and Sarah Schulman will introduce select screenings.
Organized by Thomas Beard.
Special thanks to the British Film Institute and The Museum of Modern Art.
Tickets go on sale July 6 and are $14; $11 for students and seniors (62+); and $9 for Film Society members. See more and save with the 3+ film discount package or $125 Yvonne Rainer All Access Pass. Special pricing applies to the “In Conversation” event. Learn more at filmlinc.org.
FILMS & DESCRIPTIONS
All films are directed by Yvonne Rainer and screen digitally at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center (144 W. 65th St.) unless otherwise noted.
Friday, July 21
Lives of Performers (1972, 16mm, 90m)
Lives of Performers begins, fittingly, with a rehearsal. Cinematographer Babette Mangolte’s roving camera arcs across the bodies of dancers as they commit a pattern of movement to memory, and this image—of a work in the process of becoming—serves as an emblem of sorts for Rainer’s film, which stages a familiar story of infatuation and uncertain feeling in an unorthodox fashion. As a love triangle between a man and two women plays out as a series of tableaux against an austere backdrop, the particulars of its development are revealed largely through off-camera line readings and fragments of on-screen text. Pulling the viewer in and pushing them out with equal force, Lives of Performers is a beguiling example of anti-illusionism, coolly revealing the mechanics of melodrama while illustrating the power and potential of its appeal to sentiment. Print courtesy The Museum of Modern Art.
Introduced by art historian Douglas Crimp
Paul Swan (Andy Warhol, 1965, 16mm, 66m)
Andy Warhol’s filmmaking was an important influence on Yvonne Rainer’s, and his 1965 film Paul Swan is reminiscent of Lives of Performers because of their shared engagement with silent-era aesthetics. In Rainer’s film, for instance, the choreography of Valda Setterfield’s solo is inspired by Alla Nazimova’s Dance of the Seven Veils in Salome, whereas Warhol brings a pre-talkie iconography into the present by way of his eponymous star. Swan—once dubbed Nijinsky’s successor as well as “the most beautiful man in the world”—was already in his eighties during the production of the film, and the aging performer gamely proceeds, scantily clad, through dances he conceived many decades prior. “Warhol’s interest in Paul Swan,” Callie Angell once remarked, “seems to have been based on the observation that, in his unswerving dedication to his increasingly anachronistic art form, Swan had become the living embodiment of camp.” Print courtesy The Museum of Modern Art.
Saturday, July 22
Rainer’s Early Shorts:
Hand Movie (1966, 5m)
Volleyball (Foot Film) (1967, 10m)
Rhode Island Red (1968, 10m)
Trio Film (1968, 13m)
Line (1969, 10m)
This program brings together Rainer’s first forays into filmmaking, each of which grapples with one of the central aesthetic concerns of her early work: how to use the performer as a medium rather than a persona. Hand Movie enacts a small-scale composition where the fingers become the dancers; Volleyball (Foot Film), in turn, records an intimate pas de deux between a set of legs, shot from the knees down, and the rolling, leatherbound object of the title. Rhode Island Red, filmed in a crowded chicken coop, proceeds as a kind of mass choreography, while Becky Arnold and Steve Paxton are joined by an oversized balloon to complete the threesome in Trio Film. Finally, Line is a clever experiment in scale that, as art historian Carrie Lambert-Beatty has argued, complicated the received parameters of minimalism and inaugurated Rainer’s artistic engagement with feminism.
Trio A (1978, 11m)
Rainer Variations (Charles Atlas, 2002, 42m)
First performed as part of The Mind Is a Muscle, Part 1 at Judson Church in 1966, Trio A is one of Rainer’s most iconic dance works. It has been presented in a range of different contexts, but this version—produced in 1978 by Sally Banes, five years after Rainer had given up dance for filmmaking—is now perhaps the most widely seen, and it’s paired here with an inspired and idiosyncratic study by Charles Atlas. “For me,” Atlas explains, “Rainer Variations is a hybrid: a weave of impressionistic portrait, found footage construction, and video sampler. Aside from formal issues, Yvonne Rainer’s knotty process of thinking, her unique brand of humor, and her engaging presence are the things that were foremost in my mind as I worked on the tape.”
Introduced by Charles Atlas
Film About a Woman Who… (1974, 16mm, 105m)
Rainer once asked, “Can the presentation of sexual conflict in film or the experience of love and jealousy be revitalized through a studied placement or dislocation of clichés borrowed from soap opera or melodrama?” Her second feature—in which a tempestuous affair is related via a combination of intertitles, captions, voiceover, still images, and even a few sonatas—provides an unforgettable answer in the affirmative, its mode of address, like its revolving cast, in a constant state of flux. Expanding upon the strategies found in Lives of Performers, it’s a film of provocative incongruities, cryptic compositions, and terrific derangements of established tropes. Print courtesy The Museum of Modern Art.
Madame X: An Absolute Ruler (Ulrike Ottinger, 1977, 141m)
Ulrike Ottinger was one of the most visually adventurous filmmakers of the German New Wave, and this little-seen lesbian pirate movie was her debut feature. A motley crew of women, among them a rollerskating Yvonne Rainer, join the tyrannical Madame X aboard her ship Orlando in this welcome and singular genre riff. Languorously paced and elaborately stylized—the costumes designed by Tabea Blumenschein are especially outlandish—the film is ultimately less a swashbuckler than a parable of freedom and failure; beneath its opulent surfaces lies a feminist conflict of the psyche. “The journey,” Ottinger has suggested, “is not a journey outward into adventure but a journey into the interior.”
Sunday, July 23
At Land (Maya Deren, 1944, 16mm, 15m)
Kristina Talking Pictures (1976, 16mm, 90m)
A woman washes upon the shore in Maya Deren’s groundbreaking At Land, beginning an oneiric episode in which every cut holds the promise of some new, enigmatic discontinuity—characters suddenly appear and shapeshift, doppelgängers proliferate; doors open onto seaside cliffs, a dinner party becomes a thicket. Like Deren’s piece, Rainer’s Kristina Talking Pictures is, as the filmmaker puts it, “a narrative film inasmuch as it contains a series of events that can be synthesized into a story if one is disposed to do so.” In this case, the film revolves around a female lion tamer coming to America from Budapest. But through its design, Rainer continues, “of shifting correlations between word and image, persona and performer, enactment and illustration, explanation and ambiguity, KTP circles in a narrowing spiral toward its primary concerns: the uncertain relation of public act to personal fate, the ever-present possibility for disparity between public-directed conscience and private will.” Print of Kristina Talking Pictures courtesy The Museum of Modern Art.
Introduced by artist Paul Chan
Riddles of the Sphinx (Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen, 1977, 90m)
One of the most widely read film essays ever written, Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” is best remembered for its critique of the male gaze, but it was also a call to action, enjoining readers to experience “the thrill that comes from leaving the past behind without rejecting it, transcending outworn or oppressive forms, or daring to break with normal pleasurable expectations in order to conceive a new language of desire.” Riddles of the Sphinx, a classic of feminist cinema, offers precisely this, and recalls the work of Rainer in the way its theoretical inquiry shades brilliantly into filmmaking practice. Divided into 13 sections, and employing a distinctive formal vocabulary of 360-degree pans as well as an elliptical electronic score by Soft Machine’s Mike Ratledge, the film is an experimental treatise on motherhood in relation to the myth of Oedipus and the Sphinx.
Journeys from Berlin/1971 (1980, 125m)
In Journeys from Berlin/1971, Rainer weaves together street scenes; fragments from a teenage diary; a couple (Amy Taubin and Vito Acconci, heard entirely offscreen) discussing the issue of revolutionary violence while cooking dinner; and an extraordinary monologue by film theorist Annette Michelson, who assumes the role of an analysand, recounting her erotic history and related ruminations to a therapist played by a man, a woman, and a nine year old. What results is a potent, digressive essay, achieved through radical juxtaposition, on insurrectionary struggle and the convolutions of inner life. “Let’s begin somewhere,” the opening crawl text announces: “In 1950 a draft for a political criminal law in the Federal Republic of Germany contained the following sentence: ‘The danger to the community comes from organized people.’”
Sigmund Freud’s Dora (Anthony McCall, Claire Pajaczkowska, Andrew Tyndall, and Jane Weinstock, 1979, 40m)
Thriller (Sally Potter, 1979, 40m)
The currents of psychoanalysis and feminism were pulling the experimental cinema of the 1970s in a new direction, away from the primarily formal preoccupations of structural film and toward narrative and emotion, yielding films like Journeys from Berlin/1971, Dora, and Thriller, which scholar Noël Carroll labeled the New Talkies. The latter two works reconceive the stories of women originally told by men: Potter’s tenebrous early film envisions La Bohème’s Mimi investigating the scenario of her own death in Puccini’s opera, while the collectively produced Dora reads and adapts the drama of Freud’s famous case study as a way to examine the politics at play in the very process of representation.
Monday, July 24
A Conversation with Yvonne Rainer and Lynne Tillman
Novelist and critic Lynne Tillman (Haunted Houses, American Genius) will join Rainer in a far-reaching discussion of her work as a filmmaker.
Tuesday, July 25
The Man Who Envied Women (1985, 16mm, 125m)
The Man Who Envied Women wryly chronicles the aftermath of a breakup between a philandering professor, played by two different actors, and his artist wife, voiced by choreographer Trisha Brown, who serves as the largely unseen narrator. Yet the work’s concerns radiate far beyond the couple, expanding to include film history and on-the-ground politics alike—punctuating the piece are a variety of cinematic quotations, from Hollis Frampton to Barbara Stanwyck, as well as documentary footage of spirited exchanges about American imperialism in Latin America and the housing crisis in New York. Explored throughout, Rainer wrote, “are the contrasts and outright contradictions that pervade many areas of this man’s life,” like his theoretical commitment to feminism relative to the fact of his womanizing. Print courtesy The Museum of Modern Art.
The Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir, 1939, 35mm, 106m)
Asked in an interview about her ideal spectator, Rainer quipped: “He has time to kill after a doctor’s appointment and wanders into the moviehouse to see Rules of the Game. He stays to see Journeys from Berlin/1971. He is bowled over. His phone number is…” For this retrospective, we encourage the reverse, wandering over to Lincoln Center to see The Man Who Envied Women, and sticking around to rediscover the Renoir. In this masterful satire of class relations and bourgeois complacency, a married couple are joined by both the husband’s mistress and the wife’s admirer at a weekend hunting party in the countryside; intrigues begin to mount, and the game is afoot. Rules is a particular favorite of Rainer’s, whose work has likewise brought a complex moral imagination to bear upon tales of romantic entanglement.
Wednesday, July 26
Privilege (1990, 16mm, 103m)
Rainer’s Privilege imagines the making of another film: a documentary about menopause directed by a character named Yvonne Washington. She’s interviewing her old friend Jenny about her change of life, a subject little discussed and therefore frequently misunderstood (humorously demonstrated through the periodic inclusion of vintage educational reels on the matter). Soon their conversation deepens into a “hot flashback,” where Jenny describes an experience from her first years in New York, and the two gradually begin to untangle the knots of gender, race, and power in which the remembered scene is bound up. Though a departure for Rainer, containing more of a plot than her previous work, Privilege still evinces a richly experimental spirit by way of its hybrid design, a dizzying collage of fiction and autobiography. Print courtesy The Museum of Modern Art.
Introduced by author and playwright Sarah Schulman
Naked Spaces—Living Is Round (Trinh T. Minh-ha, 1985, 16mm, 135m)
Discussing the problems of representation that arose around the making of Privilege, Rainer once drew a comparison to the positions of Trinh T. Minh-ha, an artist familiar with the thorny terrain of filming cultures other than one’s own. Trinh’s influential critiques of ethnographic traditions are manifested not only in her writings but also in the very shape of her movies, which eschew the authoritative design of many anthropological studies in favor of nonlinear structures and disjunctive sound-image correspondence. One her most stunning achievements, Naked Spaces is a poetic consideration of vernacular architecture and daily life in Senegal, Mauritania, Togo, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Benin. Trinh has written that in the film “three modes of narration-exposition are explored through three women’s voices. Each voice speaks for a different cultural heritage, a different linguistic logic, and a different way of realizing information. The relationship between words and images is, as intended, an uncomfortable one.” Print courtesy The Museum of Modern Art.
Thursday, July 27
MURDER and murder (1996, 16mm, 113m)
Doris is a part-time art teacher in her early sixties whose love life recently took a surprise sapphic turn. She’s about to move in with her first girlfriend, Mildred, a waspy, well-to-do academic ten years her junior, and the vicissitudes of their relationship are mused upon by a teenage Mildred and Doris’s mother, who playfully haunt the film as invisible onlookers. Rainer, looking snazzily butch in a tux, provides running commentary of her own as the director-emcee of this darkly comic meditation on aging, breast cancer, and lesbian romance. MURDER and murder, a movie by turns slapstick and sobering, would be Rainer’s last feature.
(nostalgia) (Hollis Frampton, 16mm, 1971, 36m)
After Many a Summer Dies the Swan: Hybrid (2002, 31m)
For this more recent video work, Rainer pairs writings by Viennese luminaries Oscar Kokoschka, Adolf Loos, Arnold Schoenberg, and Ludwig Wittgenstein with footage from a performance she choreographed for Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project in 2000. “Beyond the resonance of the title,” Rainer has noted, “the 21st-century dance footage (itself containing 40-year-old instances of my 20th-century choreography) can be read multifariously—and paradoxically—as both the beneficiary of a cultural and economic elite and as an extension of an avant-garde tradition that revels in attacking that elite and its illusions of order and permanency.” The collapsing and displacement of time are also crucial to Hollis Frampton’s seminal (nostalgia), in which photographs from the artist’s younger days are systematically set upon a hot plate and melted away. Each picture is accompanied by a narration of its origins, but the soundtrack and image are slightly staggered, leaving the audience in a perpetual state, as befits the title, of recollection.
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