We celebrate Mark Rappaport in this week's edition of Virtual Cinémathèque. Melbourne Cinémathèque's co-curator Adrian Danks provides an overview as well as notes on each essay.
For this week at the Virtual Cinémathèque we celebrate another North American filmmaker whose work explores the byways, tangents and deep grooves of film history. Mark Rappaport (1942– ) has been making movies since the mid-1960s. After a string of playful experimental fiction features in the 1970s and 1980s, he came to critical prominence with a series of what he calls “fictitious autobiographies” examining the films and haunted legacies of actors such as Rock Hudson, Jean Seberg and John Garfield. Using their films as key evidence and point of departure, Rappaport’s often playful, political and critically nuanced video essays opened up an approach to film history that was distinctly scholarly, curiously personal, slightly off-centre and deeply exploratory. Guided by the powers of montage and the assumed voices of each film’s subject, as well as a large dose of ironic humour, Rappaport’s bold work moved beyond documentary, biography and found footage and towards a truly hybrid filmic practice that was much closer to Godard than The Celluloid Closet (1995).
This program draws on recent video works by Rappaport included in a retrospective organised by the Filmmuseum München in mid-2020 – we thank them for making these films available (but only until September 9). These playful video essays examine a wide range of subjects but often coalesce around the legacy of classical Hollywood cinema. They take in a series of actors whose careers never quite caught alight (Debra Paget, Anna Sten), were cut short (Conrad Veidt), were defined by one indelible moment or film (Anita Ekberg), were adversely affected by the currents of history (Marcel Dalio), or that were pretty much over by the age of 11 (Chris Olsen). But they also take in such subjects as the sexuality and drawings of Sergei Eisenstein (in a much more palatable and genuinely humorous fashion than Peter Greenaway ever imagined), the vanity tables provocatively arranged across the movies of Douglas Sirk, the speculative filmic relationship between James Mason, Danielle Darrieux and Max Ophuls, and the spatio-temporal proximity of Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad, Kubrick’s Paths of Glory and the Dachau Concentration Camp. But the brilliance of Rappaport’s films is often found in their profoundly associational and speculative nature. Throughout many of these works the director’s attention is drawn to an extraordinary array of secondary figures, historical details, parenthetical asides and critical re-evaluations. Regarded by many as the “father of the modern video essay” (Matt Zoller Seitz), Rappaport’s work brings together the powers of montage, the insights of film historiography, the passion of cinephilia, and the idiosyncrasies of personal taste and history. Please join us in celebrating the recent work of one of America’s truly singular and most profoundly independent filmmakers.
– Adrian Danks, co-curator at the Melbourne Cinémathèque
Please feel free to join in the conversation using the #acmivirtualcteq hashtag this Wednesday 2 September or at another time that suits you.
Keep safe and all the best,
The Melbourne Cinémathèque committee & ACMI