January 10, 2014

Free to Love: Introduction and Week One

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After many months of research, planning, preparing and anticipation, the exhibition Free to Love: The Cinema of the Sexual Revolution is finally upon us! The series, which runs from January 10th through February 15th, presents an in-depth look at the social, political and cultural change in attitudes towards sex and sexuality that took place worldwide during the 1960s and 1970s, and in doing so reflects on how attitudes may have changed (or stayed the same) today. It is one of the most ambitious projects put together by International House Philadelphia in recent years and has been made possible by a grant from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage through the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative.  


Free to Love: The Cinema of the Sexual Revolution will feature over sixty short and feature films that cut across genres from Hollywood comedies to video art serials, from saucy animation to clinical documentaries and everything in between. As always, we’ve worked hard to ensure that films are shown in the best copy possible, securing the majority of film prints in 35mm and 16mm, as well as a few high definition digital restorations and some archival sources for rare titles. Some very special guests will appear to discuss the films in the series, including filmmakers Radley Metzger and Barbara Hammer as well as film critic J. Hoberman. In addition, a 128-page catalog containing essays, photos, a full checklist of films and a DVD featuring short films shown in the series will be published and available for purchase during the exhibition.


The first week of programming kicks off this weekend with eight films shown in four programs:

On Friday, January 10th, the series kicks off at 7PM with Vilgot Sjöman’s notorious I Am Curious—Yellow, the controversial Swedish film that was seized by United States customs on entry into the country. The 1967 film was found not obscene by the United States Court of Appeals and opened in around the country in 1969. But instead of sunny, Swedish titillation (which Americans audiences were familiar with from previous imports such as Bergman’s Summer with Monika, which was re-edited for the drive-in circuit as Monika, the Story of a Bad Girl), mostly-frustrated filmgoers discovered a film full of heady sociocultural critique, not the least of which was the notion that sexual politics can be as complicated and frustrating as the politics that govern states and people. Sjöman breaks the fourth wall, appearing himself as a character in the film, a device he later stated was an homage to (and extension of method from) Fellini’s classic of film autobiography, 8 ½. In an interview with John Lehr for Criterion, Sjöman says: “I really wanted to portray Sweden in the late sixties in my film. I wanted to puzzle a foreign audience with it, saying, at once, that it is both very active and open, and still you find a lot of sex difficulties.” I Am Curious—Yellow will be presented in a 35mm print from the Swedish Film Institute. Preceding the film is Austrian artist VALIE EXPORT’s documentation of her 1968 performance Touch Cinema, a radical gesture with which the artist invited her audience to see with their hands. Preceding the screening will be a reception at 6PM with drinks and light refreshments.


Saturday, January 11th will see Free to Love roll along, starting with a screening at 5PM of Pink Narcissus. A wonderfully lo-fi erotic oddity, the film was a staple on the Manhattan gay porn circuit in the early 1970s, originally credited as written, directed, edited and photographed by “Anonymous”. “Anonymous” turned out to be James Bidgood, who created the film on 8mm in his Manhattan loft. The shabby Orientalism of the film’s costuming and sets are reminiscent of the aesthetics of kindred spirits Kenneth Anger, Ron Rice and Jack Smith, and the film certainly walks a fine line between the aesthetics of underground and X-films. Actor Bobby Kendall sulks his way through a series of candy-colored erotic fantasies throughout the very loose-plotted mood film. Pink Narcissus will be presented in 35mm and preceded by two similarly-adventurous 16mm short films (Jabbok, 1967 and Oblivion, 1969) by Tom Chomont, both restored by The UCLA Film and Television Archive/Outfest. This screening will be introduced by Gary M. Kramer who previewed Free to Love for Cinedelphia


Based on a true story In the Realm of the Senses (Saturday at 7PM) is the most notorious of Japanese master auteur Nagisa Oshima’s 25 feature films. After creating a number of boundary-pushing films for the Shochiku and Art Theatre Guild production companies, Oshima took his most extreme film yet to France and producer Anatole Dauman. As head of Argos Films and producer of legendary films by Alain Resnais, Chris Marker, Jacques Rivette, Walerian Borowczyk and Jean-Luc Godard, Dauman was in a position to help Oshima realize the story of former prostitute and maid Sada Abe, a woman notorious for a sadomasochistic relationship that ended in tragedy. Abe’s story was national news in 1936 and forty years later Oshima’s adaptation, which explored the power dynamics of Abe’s relationship with her lover Kichizo Ishida, was just as controversial. The film was banned and cut in many different countries over the decades since its release. Luckily the 35mm print we are presenting is fully uncut (unlike some things onscreen) and will be shown just four days prior to the one-year anniversary of Oshima’s death.


Rounding out Saturday’s screenings at 10PM we will be presenting the most iconic X-rated film in American history: Deep Throat. Still controversial to this day, Deep Throat is credited for kicking off the “porno chic” movement associated with blockbuster films of the era like Beyond the Green Door, The Opening of Misty Beethoven and Boys in the Sand (screening as part of Free to Love on February 1). A cultural phenomenon like no other in film history, Deep Throat was a low-budget hit and brought in millions at the box office, despite being produced for only $50,000. Preceding the film will be Confessions by one of the kings of trash cinema, Curt McDowell. The film shows McDowell “com[ing] out of the closet to his parents in extreme and increasingly hilarious detail.” Karl McCool, Assistant Director of Dirty Looks NYC, will introduce the screening, in particular shedding some light on McDowell, who remains an under-hailed figure whose works no doubt influenced John Waters and collaborator George Kuchar (who appears in Confessions as well).


Next week, highlights include Carolee Schneemann’s hand-collaged sex diary film Fuses (part of the shorts program, Thursday, January 16th), exploitation film historian Eric Schaefer introducing a very rare 35mm screening of Phyllis and Eberhard Kronhausen’s 1969 mondo sex doc Freedom to Love (Friday, January 17th), and the 1971 underground classic The Telephone Book with introduction by producer Merv Bloch (Saturday, January 18th). The full schedule and tickets for Free to Love can be found here

-Herb Shellenberger