Close Up

7 January - 20 December 2023: Essential Cinema

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Blue Velvet

David Lynch, 1986, 120 min

"After the failure of the epic sci-fi Dune that nearly ended Lynch’s career, he resolved to make a personal film, and ultimately settled on what would become his undisputed masterpiece of the 1980s, Blue Velvet. After finding a severed human ear in a field, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) discovers, beneath his idyllic suburban hometown, a sinister underworld inhabited by damaged mystery lady Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) and her sadistic captor, Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper). The intense color palette, lush Old Hollywood orchestral score, and anachronistic flourishes inch Blue Velvet just past the realm of realism into a space without signposts that gets more disorienting the longer you stay in it. Upon its release, Blue Velvet became an instant cult film and, as more people saw it, a lightning rod for polarized reactions." – Film Society of Lincoln Centre


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Mirror
Andrei Tarkovsky, 1974, 102 min

"For the first time," he resolved, "I would use the means of cinema to talk of all that was most precious to me, and do so directly, without playing any kind of tricks." Tarkovsky needed twenty rough cuts before arriving at the film’s intricately interflowing system of flashbacks and archival footage, often interpreted as unfolding in a dying artist’s final rays of consciousness. While Mirror, like all Tarkovsky’s films, pays homage to painting, music, and poetry, it also makes plain that the Russian director understood Mnemosyne to be the mother of the muses. Being a poet, he sought not only to retrieve the past but to reveal its essence – and in so doing to redeem an inherently flawed present. "The story not of the filmmaker’s life," observes Tarkovsky scholar Robert Bird, "but of his visual imagination." – Harvard Film Archive


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Stalker
Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979, 163 min

"A perverse replay of Solaris’s cosmic voyage, a remake of Rublev in a secular world of postapocalyptic misery, a premonition of Chernobyl and Soviet disintegration." – J. Hoberman

"Arguably Tarkovsky’s purest articulation of the film as spiritual quest, Stalker develops a radically different attitude to time than the jigsaw of his previous film, Mirror. “I wanted it to be as if the whole film had been made in a single shot,” Tarkovsky wrote. In the event, Stalker is comprised of 142 – each chiseled with the greatest precision. The basic outline of the plot derives from Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s novel Roadside Picnic: ascetic Stalker leads Writer and Professor, both figures of intellectual disenchantment, from a barren wasteland into the lush post-industrial environs of The Zone, a mysterious and forbidden territory believed to actualize desires. Tarkovsky identified with each of the characters but was especially drawn to Stalker as “the best part of myself, and also the part that is the least real.”" – Harvard Film Archive


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The Exiles
Kent MacKenzie, 1961, 70 min 

The Exiles chronicles one night in the lives of young Native American men and women living in the Bunker Hill district of Los Angeles. Based entirely on interviews with the participants and their friends, the film follows a group of exiles – transplants from Southwest reservations – as they flirt, drink, party, fight and dance. With its vivid, high-contrast black and white photography and creative soundtrack, Kent Mackenzie’s gritty depiction of this marginalized Los Angeles community draws comparisons to John Cassavetes, Charles Burnett and Vittorio De Sica.


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Eros + Massacre
Kiju Yoshida, 1969, 215 min

“One of the great late works of the Japanese New Wave, Yoshida’s enduring masterpiece offers an epic and extraordinary vision of unconventional desire as a potent yet ultimately untenable mode of political resistance. Confronting a dark moment in modern Japanese history, Eros + Massacre chronicles the final days of prominent feminist Noe Ito – beautifully portrayed by Mariko Okada – and her lover, the firebrand anarchist Sakae Osugu, leading up to their brutal assassination in 1923 by the military authorities. Yoshida brilliantly interweaves his lush evocation of the doomed revolutionaries’ intellectual and amorous adventures – and the intense love triangle that blossomed between Ito, Osugu and a spirited young woman journalist – with a moving portrait of the aimless love of two restless student radicals in 1960s Tokyo. Eros + Massacre’s increasingly fluid passage from tragic past to urgent present suggests how political rebellion is pulled by a deeper, almost mythic pattern forged by the imagination and desire shared by two generations of revolutionaries.” – Harvard Film Archive


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Heroic Purgatory
Kiju Yoshida, 1970, 110 min

Heroic Purgatory is the [director's] world-beater, a more condensed and intense dose of Yoshida-ness, in which a student gaggle of would-be terrorists angst about their communal non-action, a strange runaway teen infiltrates the lives of a middle-class couple, and characters keep taking off wigs, revealing that they’re someone else. Every vertiginous shot is an idea, and Yoshida musters the dislocation living in an arthouse science fiction film, when in fact it’s just life at the end of the Sixties.” – Michael Atkinson


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Coup d’état
Kiju Yoshida, 1973, 110 min

“The extended engagement with the intellectual and cultural roots of modern Japanese politics explored by Yoshida in Eros + Massacre [culminated in] Coup d'état, his remarkable portrait of Ikki Kita, a controversial militarist who led the notorious February 26, 1836 coup later fetishized by Yukio Mishima. Yoshida's first non-widescreen feature, Coup d'état brilliantly exploits the smaller format with stunning, sharply modernist cinematography and mise-en-scène that favors unusual, off-kilter compositions and works to heighten the claustrophobia of Kia's increasing paranoia and delusion. Coup d'état also features an incredible score by noted avant-garde composer and frequent Yoshida collaborator Ichiyanagi Sei.” – Harvard Film Archive