Will You Dance With Me? (1984)
Directed by Derek Jarman
Time is deeply, movingly sunk in Will You Dance With Me?, some early experimental footage Jarman shot for for a film by Ron Peck, over 30 years ago. Snaring early-80s hairdos, dance moves, and smudgey barlight, slowed down to spirited, half-haunting will-o’-the-wisps by his Olympus VHS camcorder, Jarman prowls, queries, and dances across Benjy’s, a gay club in the Mile End district of East London. All those intervening years have also aged the film, leaving a patina of questions and after-the-fact concerns.
In one, small way, Will You Dance With Me? is a what-might-have-been: what pioneering queer filmmaker Peck’s Empire State, a gangster neo-noir, was planned to be, but wasn’t. (Neutered by funders, that film showed up in theaters three years later.) Or, like the other footage that was taken that same night, Will You Dance With Me? could have also been lost and never rediscovered (and reevaluated) decades later. Instead, it’s a happy, transcendent surprise: an ephemeral night of ebullient seek-and-find that has become its own film.
Drawn by the prospect of being in Peck’s film, a diverse bunch of regulars and some newcomers, straight and queer, white, black and brown, filed into Benjy’s: an older, solitary man, somewhat sad-looking despite his smiles and spins; the handsome, if slow-to-warm young man Jarman asks to dance; a breakdancing crew. Jarman flits between the bar and the dance floor, watching them chat and whirl, before eventually, joyously joining in. It’s a moment of escape and culmination, Jarman’s rhythm (as well as Jarman the man) finding the moment. Will You Dance With Me? is transfixing and insightful; unedited, screened as it was found, the film is a vision of Jarman’s eye for the moment—his bounding, rhythmic immediacy—as well as a siren song for dance. A peculiar experience is to view the film in the afternoon and head out in the full day. The life Jarman captured at Benjy’s is hard to shake, and it’s easy to want to head for nearest party and continue its dream—or at least put off thinking of all that has since been lost, Jarman included. Jeremy Polacek (World theatrical premiere August 5-11 at the Metrograph, showtimes daily, as the centerpiece of “Dim All the Lights: Disco and the Movies”)
Elevator to the Gallows (1957)
Directed by Louis Malle
Sure, the Miles Davis score might be the most cited element when it comes to Elevator to the Gallows placing in some sort of proto-Nouvelle Vague French cinema canon, but while the sad trumpet that travels alongside its main characters is genuinely one of the best scores of all time, it’s just one of the many virtues of this masterpiece. It’s the literal avant-garde (the first wave), a film that came out of the tradition of the American film noir, but was absolutely French, as far as could be from what the Cahiers crowd were describing as cinèma de papa. In many ways it influenced both Breathless and Hiroshima mon amour, but it’s also both and neither at the same time. The film starts contemplative and almost Bressonian, as a man kills his boss using precise movements and careful planning, then it turns into a Hitchcock-style scenario when the assassin gets trapped in an elevator… but the film becomes its own thing, picking up stray plot strands and taking an aimless tone that’s only enhanced by the music and the parallel editing that makes the viewer something akin to a god, watching events without a fixed point of view, wallowing in the sadness and apparent foolishness and clumsiness of the characters. Especially moving are the scenes in which the wife of the killed man wanders the streets, looking for the man who can’t get out of the elevator, her lover, the one she planned the crime with. Her bloodshot eyes and mute demeanor give a powerful romantic thrust you’d think wouldn’t be present in a film springing from such a cruel and cold inciting event. Jaime Grijalba (August 3-11 at Film Forum; showtimes daily)
July ’71 in San Francisco, Living at Beach Street, Working at Canyon Cinema, Swimming in the Valley of the Moon (1971)
Directed by Peter Hutton
Hutton was born in 1944 and passed away this June. In between, he traveled the globe, with an interest in filming both the sea and the sky. He photographed landscapes in and around Berlin, Budapest, Ethiopia’s salt flats, northern Iceland, Lodz, New York, San Francisco, and his native Detroit while insisting that amazing films are always unfolding around us, wherever we happen to be. His results were silent, fixed-frame 16mm short-to-medium-length films, more often than not unfolding entirely in vivid black-and-white. He studied painting and sculpture before turning to cinema, trained himself as a photographer, taught for many years at Bard College, and remained known to friends as “Sailor” for the decade he’d spent working manual labor on ships, about which he’d often playfully tell stories peppered with self-interjections of “Oh, jeeze.” He considered his films to be “sketchbooks”—unpolished, atemporal gatherings of scenes and episodes he liked—and himself not as a filmmaker, but as someone dabbling with film as a means for self-expression. He was, and remained until the end of his life, a person of colossal modesty.
A Hutton film takes the camera-eye as protagonist on a journey around a particular place. The Museum of Art and Design’s screening of four Hutton films opens with an early half-hour-long journey through the rural area enveloping Canyon Cinema, the California-based filmmakers’ co-op whose shelves he built and which now distributes his films. This record of a summer spent as much as possible outdoors treats us to myriad delightful sights including glistening water with plants and frogs upon it, running geese, an enormous caterpillar crawling on a branch, cliffs, water, shadows of boats and bicycles, laundry swaying in the wind, and eternally blooming clouds. For among the few times in Hutton’s films, people are also featured, such as the folks baking bread, the nude woman on the ground doing yoga, the bearded man playfully striving to kiss the small bird on his shoulder, and the floppy-haired youth somersaulting before the camera that he has opted to leave at rest. None of the film’s beings are identified by name—they simply all are, cheerfully and collectively, and together they form their place in the world. Aaron Cutler (August 4, 7pm at the Museum of Arts and Design, as part of a Hutton tribute program followed by a Q&A with curator Michael Renov)
Directed by Jean Rollin
Although perhaps not the most adroit practitioner of the art of blending the norms of exploitative erotica and Euro-arthouse, Rollin is certainly the most obvious, wearing his intentions on his lurid sleeve. His voyeurism manifests itself in Fascination through an embodied camera (more reminiscent of Żuławski and German than Bava) that lends his blocking an unsettling quality, relaying the feeling that the predatory Victorian lady-vampires(?) are exactly as mysterious as they present themselves. The uneven melding of violence and sensuous, borderline-softcore sexuality yields some interesting, if dubious psychology. Nonetheless, Fascination is one of the more successful genre attempts at inducing a sexually horrific dream state, never fully belonging to its historical setting, but never fully giving itself over to fantasy either; it exists in the interstices, where ravaging mysteries are allowed to unfold. Eric Barroso (August 5, 6, midnight at the Nitehawk)
Graduate First (1978)
Directed by Maurice Pialat
In northern France, high school near-graduates yearn to get out of their small town but lack the skills or visionary impulse to break from the inertia of rural gravity. The opposite of a fond coming-of-age reminiscence, Graduate First is comparatively gentle in relation to Pialat’s larger work, which is to say there’s less screaming and abrasion than usual by an exponential factor. When conflict inevitably emerges, it’s almost cheering: no matter how stultifying the circumstances, life will find a way, as long as “life” means “howling shouting matches.” The subject is torpor, the result is unexpected vitality. Vadim Rizov (August 7, 5pm; August 9, 4pm at MoMA’s Gaumont series)