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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

See these Stunning Films for Free at SFMOMA, Courtesy of Cindy Sherman

Posted By on Tue, Jul 31, 2012 at 6:30 AM

The Cindy Sherman exhibit at SFMOMA has been getting plenty of well-deserved buzz from media outlets including but not limited to SF Weekly itself, and of course there are those banners that you can't miss if you travel for more than half a mile in any direction in San Francisco. And it is a great show which you should totally go see, but there's a bit more to it than just her still photographs: Sherman is also curating a series of (mostly) moving pictures in SFMOMA's 278-seater Phyillis Wattis Theater, and all of the films are projected from delicious celluloid.

Upcoming films which I heartily recommend include John Cassavetes' 1959 Shadows (which pretty much invented the independent film), and Tobe Hooper's 1974 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (which isn't nearly as gory as you might have heard, and also even scarier than you might expect). But if you're free around noon on Tuesday, August 7, you can catch the truly hidden gems of the series: A double feature of two of the most influential and beautiful experimental films ever made, the 1962 La Jetée by Chris Marker -- who died this past Sunday at the age of 91 -- and the 1943 Meshes of the Afternoon by Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid. The combined running time of the two films is less than 45 minutes, so you can even get back to work before your lunch break is over! (Please, no food or drink is allowed in the Phyllis Wattis Theater.)

Told entirely through still frames, give or take a few moving ones at a crucial moment, the 28-minute La Jetée tells the story of a man sent back through time from a post-apocalyptic Paris in hopes of finding a way to rebuild the war-ravaged society, but his obsession with a memory of a certain spiral-haired woman on a certain jetty -- a memory that allows him to travel through time in the first place -- may be his undoing. (Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys was a feature-length remake.)

Meshes of the Afternoon doesn't have a narrative as such, but instead is rather like stepping into a dream. It's full of symbolism, and even if that kind of thing isn't your bag, it's also mesmerizing in its own right, with moments of unexpected beauty and terror -- just, as I say, like a dream. And at 14-minutes long, it doesn't overstay its welcome.

SFMOMA will be showing a 16mm print, and I'm not sure if it'll include the Teijo Ito score added to the film in 1959, or if it'll be silent.  Either way, you're still not going to get an opportunity to see a homemade experimental film from 1943 projected on the big screen anytime soon, let alone one as stunning as Meshes of the Afternoon.

It was just the first of five experimental films she made in the 1940s (the 1940s, folks!), the rest of which she did without Hammid, and all that was before she started traveling to Haiti and became fascinated with voodoo, eventually writing Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, edited by Joseph Campbell. What I'm trying to say is that she was an amazing person, and if you've never heard of her, the documentary In the Mirror of Maya Deren is a great place to start.

Oh, and since it's on the first Tuesday of the month, the La Jetée / Meshes of the Afternoon double feature is free -- not just the screening, but entry into the whole museum. So, no excuses! I'll see you there, and thanks to Cindy Sherman for making it happen.

UPDATE: Christine Choi from SFMOMA informs me that they will indeed be screening a silent print, which is cool.  The version with the score is available on Mystic Fire Video's Maya Deren: Experimental Films DVD, but that's no reason to miss seeing the silent version on film.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: Change of plans! SFMOMA is going to show the 1959 sound version after all.  You should still check out the DVD at some point, though.


Sherilyn Connelly is a San Francisco-based writer. She also curates and hosts Bad Movie Night at The Dark Room, every Sunday at 8pm.

Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF (follow Sherilyn Connelly on Twitter at @sherilyn) and like us on Facebook.

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