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Monday, February 5, 2018

Introducing Beyond the Canon

BAM’s senior programmer of cinema Ashley Clark talks about the impulse behind this new, monthly repertory event. Screenings take place at BAM Rose Cinemas, 30 Lafayette Avenue.

Chantal Akerman on the set of Golden Eighties

Starting in February, BAMcinématek invites audiences on a journey beyond the canon. Through a new monthly program, we investigate and challenge how traditional histories of cinema—best-of lists, awards, academic recognition, films deemed worthy of “serious” discussion—have tended to skew toward lionizing the contribution of the white male auteur while overshadowing other groups.

Beyond the Canon will feature two films back-to-back, in an old-school double-bill format. The second film to screen will be an established, well-known classic, more than likely directed by a white male. It will be preceded by a stylistically or thematically linked film that is directed by a filmmaker from an oft-marginalized group: women, people of color, queer people, and the intersections thereof. 

It is worth making one point clearly. There is no slight intended on these canonical titles—they are great films crafted by eminently skilled filmmakers, and they have unquestionably been formative in our film education: that’s why the series is not called “Destroy the Canon”! Rather, a key aim of this program is to place the films in dialogue with each other, spark ideas and discussion, highlight some overlooked gems of world cinema, and provoke thought about how a future, more equitable canon might look. 

First up, on Saturday, February 10 at 5pm, we present one of the great musicals: Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen’s majestic, wickedly funny Singin’ in the Rain (1952), which needs no further elaboration here (except, perhaps, to say that in traditional auteurist histories of cinema, the crucial contribution of its female co-writer, Betty Comden, is often overlooked). Before it, we will screen Chantal Akerman’s exuberant, under-seen musical Golden Eighties (1986)—about the romantic ups and downs of young women working in an ultra-stylized soundstage shopping mall—which plays like a classic MGM confection filtered through Akerman’s avant-garde formalism. The film’s catchy New Wave songs (with lyrics by the director herself), quirky choreography, and candy-colored visual palette are among the giddy delights which rapidly accrue. When its pastel sun sets, you might find yourself wondering why Golden Eighties is not spoken of in the same hallowed terms as the film which follows it.

Scene from Golden Eighties

Akerman, the subject of a BAMcinématek retrospective in April 2016, is well known in cinephile circles for her hypnotic, understated, 201-minute feminist classic Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, which The New Yorker critic Richard Brody has described as “one of the most original and audacious films in the history of cinema.” Remarkably, it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1975, one month before Akerman turned 25. Yet Akerman—who tragically passed away of a reported suicide at the age of 65 in 2015—never received the recognition or respect in her lifetime that her intense, ranging, and remarkable cinema deserved. She is, then, a fitting subject for the inaugural edition of Beyond the Canon.

We are also keen to connect this ongoing program to wider discussions around film culture: for example, the importance of a multiplicity of voices in criticism. So, for each edition of Beyond the Canon, we’ll be commissioning a brand-new essay drawn from a diverse pool of the sharpest working cultural critics. March’s edition of Beyond the Canon (Mar 10, 7pm)—a bracing dystopian duo of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s heady 2005 Cameroonian fantasy Les Saignantes—will be accompanied by an essay from Violet Lucca (Digital Producer, Film Comment). For April’s edition (Apr 21, 6:30pm), The Ringer’s staff writer K. Austin Collins will compare and contrast two masterful noirs infused with insightful racial commentary: Orson Welles’ established classic Touch of Evil (1958), and Carl Franklin’s criminally underrated One False Move (1992).

There are plenty more intriguing pairings lined up for the rest of the year, and we cannot wait to share them with audiences. 

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