underloved cultural bone-marrow-enrichment group Doc Films just dropped what is possibly my favorite conceptual series in 8+ years of semi-attentiveness: Impossible Adaptations.
Monday, March 31 – 7:00
David Cronenberg, 1991 – 115 min.
David Cronenberg, the world’s greatest living director, adapts William S. Burroughs. The novel’s disconnected, cut-up structure, its incongruous, wildly offensive, and tonally divergent routines, and its hallucinatory and flamboyantly pansexual imagery make straightforward filming impossible. Instead, what he delivered is a bizarre hybrid of Burroughs’ novel, his biography, and Cronenberg’s cavalcades of meat and fluid: a film as trapped between two competing sensibilities (Cronenberg’s and Burroughs’) as Hitchcock and Selznick’s Rebecca. Come for the William Tell routine; stay for the Mugwump jism. 35mm.
Monday, April 7 – 7:00
Joseph Strick, 1967 – 140 min.
Common consensus is that Joyce’s great novel is the very definition of the impossible adaptation: mammoth in scope, endlessly allusive in structure, and microscopic in its attention to detail both physical and psychological. It must have taken self-confidence bordering on hubris for award-winning documentarian Joseph Strick to set himself the task – and perhaps he even succeeds. Brilliant or demented, his dedication and vision are everywhere in evidence. Whether a grand experience of cinematic transformation or an instance of mid-brow kitsch, it’s unforgettable. 35mm.
Introduced by Assistant Professor Liesl Olson.
Monday, April 14 – 7:00
Raoul Ruiz, 1999, 158 min.
Reviewing this rendering of Proust’s multi-part novel that adapts almost exclusively from the concluding section, Jonathan Rosenbaum described Time Regained as ‘inviting the spectator who knows Proust to engage in a dialogue with it and the unitiated spectator to get lost in the swirling patterns of an enchanting and highly entertaining trailer.’ Ruiz uses his mastery of cinematic techniques to flatten the linear time of film into a tremendous and moving moment of infinite possibility and relationship, one in which all that can be connected is shown, magically, to already be so. In French with English Subtitles 35mm.
Monday, April 21 – 7:00
James Fotopoulos, 2001, 74 min.
A rendering of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, Christabel presents itself as a kind of internal travelogue, following the titular character in her relationship with another woman. Fotopoulos wrote, ‘One of the reasons I like that poem is that it’s so interior – it’s like a barrage of imagery close to the type of fragmentation that I try to do in my movies,’ and said, ‘One way most adaptations fail is they focus on one aspect of something. But it’s impossible to focus on one aspect of anything. You have to head in, and take on all the aspects. 35mm.
Monday, April 28 – 7:00
Home, Sweet Home
D. W. Griffith, 1914 – 70 min.
One of Griffith’s experiments in constructing feature-length films, Home, Sweet Home uses John Howard Payne’s popular song as its structuring device, telling multiple thematically connected stories. The framing tale tells Payne’s own story, covering his life as an unhappy but brilliant playwright, composer, and world traveler. Intercut with this are three dramatizations of his song, each exploring a different facet of its redemptive power. Featuring nearly every member of Griffith’s lead actors, including Mae Marsh, Blanche Sweet, Courtnay Foote, Donald Crisp, Dorothy Gish, and Lillian Gish as an angel. 16mm.
Monday, May 5 – 7:00
Mourning Becomes Electra
Dudley Nicholas, 1947 – 112 min.
Master screenwriter Nichols (Stagecoach, The Informer, Bringing Up Baby) adapted and directed Eugene O’Neill’s epic, itself a transposition of Greek mythology into the American Civil War. In transforming the six-hour behemoth to film, Nichols constructs a quiet masterpiece of exacting composition, of precision staging, of piercing, interrogatory camerawork. The degree of radical fidelity to his source that Nichols embraces, while at the same time cutting more than half of the script away, brought his film scorn from highbrow critics in 1947, but it is the reason that today the film demands reevaluation. 35mm.
Monday, May 12 – 7:00
Under the Volcano
John Huston, 1984 – 112 min.
Malcolm Lowry’s towering achievement of a novel follows the final day of Geoffrey Firmin, a hopeless alcoholic who recently left his job as a diplomat in Quauhnahuac, Mexico, and whose marriage exploded when his wife and brother had an affair. John Huston’s film, part of the masterful end-game of his career, brings clinical, painfully distinct imagery in place of Lowry’s gothic mental meanderings. Forcefully evacuated of interiority, Huston’s characters move as tragic automata programmed for disaster, literalizing the metaphorical use Lowry had for setting his narrative on the Day of the Dead. 35mm.
Monday, May 19 – 7:00
Bruce Baillie, 1967-70 – 56 & 16 min.
Baillie described this as a ‘horse opera in four reels,’ adding that it is ‘a kind of interior documentary’ formulated as a rendering of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. A record of Baillie’s near-death from hepatitis and its aftermath, filmed over the course of three full years, in the course of which the viewer metaphorically enters into the underworld, is transformed, and finally released back into the world through the power of light itself. 16mm.
Following the feature, six short reels of film shot for, but unused in, Quick Billy will be shown
Monday, May 26 – 7:00
Passages from Finnegan’s Wake
Marry Ellen Bute, 1965-67 – 97 min.
A half-forgotten, half-legendary pioneer in American abstract and animated filmmaking, Mary Ellen Bute, late in her career as an artist, created this adaptation of James Joyce, her only feature. In the transformation from Joyce’s polyglot prose to the necessarily concrete imagery of actors and sets, Passages discovers a truly oneiric film style, a weirdly post-New Wave rediscovery of Surrealism, and in her panoply of allusion – 1950s dance crazes, atomic weaponry, ICBMs, and television all make appearances – she finds a cinematic approximation of the novel’s nearly impenetrable vertically compressed structure. 16mm.
Monday, June 2 – 7:00
Wisconsin Death Trip
James Marsh, 1999 – 76 min.
Michael Lesy’s experimental, fanciful, and beautiful 1973 book is a collection of newspaper articles and photographs from Black River Falls, Wisconsin, written and shot in the 1890s. It’s a chronicle of disease, tragedy, madness, murder, arson, and horror. Adapting less the brief stories excavated from newspapers, director Marsh focuses instead on the astounding photographs. Above all, Marsh’s film is a frightening and sobering challenge to the stability and value of the American Dream, of Western expansion, of the peaceable and tranquil influence of civilization. Ian Holm narrates.35mm.
Ian Holm! Wisconsin Death Trip! GIT THEM HOES! I dunno about the two whole servings of unfilmable Joyce. Anybody got any better ideas for unfilmable things that somehow got filmed
Goonies by Zora Neale Hurston