Friday, February 24, 2012

The Wooster Group At-Large, At AFA

Joan Jonas, Irving Pichel (with producer George Pal), and Paul Verhoeven have all adapted the work of science fiction novelist Robert A. Heinlein. However, one has to wonder what the SFWA Grand Master, Navy veteran, and god father of libertarianism would have made of Jonas’s highly experimental Double Lunar Dogs, inspired by his novella Universe. Traditional sf audiences might find themselves out to sea as well when it screens as part of the "At-Large" sidebar to Anthology Film Archives’ Wooster Group retrospective, featuring group members cast in outside productions.

Universe was one of the earliest incarnations of the “generation ship” motif, in which the presumably last vestige of humanity has come of age on a great spaceship, forgetting their origins on the long dead Earth. Jonas and Spalding Gray are two such interstellar travelers in Lunar, who try to impose some order onto the jumbled surviving images of Earth.

There is a lot of distortion and technical gamesmanship going on in Lunar that looks rather cheesy by contemporary standards. In fact, subsequent interviews suggest Jonas somewhat regrets her over reliance on these tricks, in retrospect. Ironically though, it makes it a real time capsule of early 1980’s video production technology. While experimental cinema connoisseurs will be able to relate to it in the context of Jonas’s full oeuvre, sci-fi fans will find it more interesting as a footnote than as a viewing experience in and of itself.

The Wooster sidebar collects a number of films across the narrative spectrum, including features helmed by Raúl Ruiz and Kathryn Bigelow. Somehow, Bruce & Norman Yonemoto’s Made in Hollywood manages to be both totally narrative driven and self-consciously post-modern. Riffing on the Wizard of Oz, it tells a Hollywood ingénue discovery fable, in blank-and-white and color, while including ostensive behind-the-scenes interviews with the cast.

Also interspersed with grocery store commercials, Hollywood recalls the vibe of watching a classic movie timer-recorded on an old VHS tape. It also boasts quite a well known cast, including Patricia Arquette, convincingly dumb as the innocent protagonist, as well as Michael Lerner, who actually gives a great performance as the last of the old school moguls.

The Wooster Group retrospective and particularly the At-Large sidebar represent the sort of programming only the Anthology Film Archives is bold enough to tackle on a regular basis. Indeed, several selections, like Made in Hollywood, are quite intriguing films well worth discovering. The At-Large sidebar starts today (2/24) and runs through March 1st, with Lunar screening as part of a short film double bill this afternoon and Hollywood screening this coming Monday (2/27).