Close Up

18 February 2023: Close-Up on Danny Lyon Programme 1


Programme 1

Dear Mark
Danny Lyon, 1981, 15 min

"In the tone and tenor of a loving note folded over and slipped beneath a door, Dear Mark shows celebrated sculptor and Lyon's close friend Mark di Suvero, in footage shot in 1965 Stony Point, New York and 1975 Chalon-sur-Sao╠éne, France, at work (and play) on his sculptures: climbing on, standing before, swinging from, surveying, assessing, outlining, cutting, welding, hammering... Much of the film plays through a multiple exposure, one view close up on the shirtless, bearded sculptor, the other tracing the beams of his imposing steel combinations, a third expanding to reveal the imposing structures in their full scale. Not entirely playful, the film touches on questions of immigration and national identity (di Suvero himself was born in Shanghai to Italian parents and emigrated to California at the outbreak of World War II) through the soundtrack, which incorporates samples of a crackling Gene-Autry-cowboys-versus-illegal-immigrants radio play." – Harvard Film Archive

Soc. Sci. 127
Danny Lyon, 1969, 21 min

"It is with the same tousled logic that occupies the tenuous edges of the film itself that Danny Lyon describes Soc. Sci. 127, his first motion picture, as a comedy. A less careful spectator might be quick to label Bill Sanders, the Houston tattoo artist at the centre of this brief, ecstatic portrait, as more tragic clown than comic hero, but a sustained inspection rewards us with a startling community between cameraman and performer. Shot entirely within the confines of Sanders' cramped, boudoir-like studio, the film is a study in the intimacy of performance and of image-making: Polaroid collages of past clients, many of them nude women alone or in pairs, cover the walls; a woman seeking a consultation undresses proudly for Sanders and camera; Sanders himself drinks, smokes, and snatches at a matted worldview stitched together from haphazard opinions on everything from the telling etymology of "fellatio" to his own motivations for making a documentary film. Fluid elisions between sequences of colour and monochrome, connected only by the continuity of space, foreground the sense of depth of these rooms, and the tendency of stories to entangle, the film presenting itself as a collection of the loose ends of much longer narrative strands buried in the backgrounds of the photographs or languishing on the cutting-room floor. And throughout this patchwork wellspring of intimacy, performance, delusion and discovery, Lyon manages to decentralize both subject and self: Sanders' lonely drunk qua artist-philosopher and his own burdensome cinéma vérité auteur mantle, flattening the normal power relation on a bedrock of humility, a kind of utopian stage where the two men can coexist in a resonant, if not always straightforward, creative harmony." – Harvard Film Archive

El Otro Lado
Danny Lyon, 1978, 60 min

"In the mountains of New Mexico, Lyon befriended Eddie Marquez Rivera, an undocumented Mexican house builder who travelled frequently between Mexico and the United States. Over the course of several border crossings in Rivera's company, Lyon discovered the subjects of his subsequent work, including the migrant fruit pickers who appear in El Otro Lado. The title refers to a Mexican designation for the US, where Don Bernabe Garay and his sons travel annually with their neighbours from an agrarian 'ejido' 1,300 miles south of the border to pick oranges and lemons in the orchards of Arizona. The heart of the film lies, as in all Lyon's best work, in his camera's panoramic sensitivity to the beauty of the land and the men working it, the hard, elemental realities of the work itself, and the wider set of historical meanings leavened by the intense specificity of extended, unsubtitled human observation narrated by humour, stories, card-playing and song. Beset by the camera's insistence on them as men to be seen and celebrated instead of as labour to be exploited, the Garays and their friends vacillate between awkward self- consciousness and disarming self-realization as they alternately trudge or skip, like anyone else, off to work, at times merging with-and then suddenly erupting again from-brilliant periwinkle and salmon skies." – Harvard Film Archive

Screening as part of our Close-Up on Danny Lyon programme