The exhibition's movies
Portrait of Jason, Shirley Clarke, 1966, Courtesy of Les films du Camélia
Dave Heath's work will be exhibited in light of three cult movies, ufos of this American cinema period between "Direct Cinema" and alternative practices, three variations on the theme of solitude.
Salesman by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Mitchell Zwerin (1968)
Leading figures in documentary experimentation in North America during the 1960s, the Maysles brothers, Albert (1926-2015) and David (1931–1987), advocated a form of cinema based on observation, building directly on reality. Shot in six weeks in the winter of 1966/1967, Salesman depicts modern American society corrupted by mercantilism. From Boston to Chicago and Florida, the two filmmakers set off with a group of four door-to-door salesmen appointed by the Mid-America Bible Company of Chicago to convince their customers to buy the bestseller of all time, the Bible. Equipped with a lightweight 16 mm camera and a portable sound recording system, they are the discreet witnesses of a disturbing collision between faith and merchandise (The Father Business). With their personal life paths, their singular talents, and their skills as inveterate liars, these salesmen embody a new type of missionary, pathetic yet cathartic. Endorsing the principles initiated by Truman Capote in his novel In Cold Blood (1966) in which the ordinary is stripped of the artifices of fiction, this portrait of a disenchanted America shares with Dave Heath’s photography the poetry of the unsaid and the desire to come to grips with the difficulties of the human condition.
ALBERT (1926 -2015) et DAVID MAYSLES (1931-1987)
Alongside Richard Leacock and Donn Alan Pennebaker, the Maysles brothers were pioneers of American direct cinema. They made their name at the end of the 1960s with three films: Salesman (1969), Gimme Shelter (1970) on the Rolling Stones’ US tour, and Grey Gardens (1975) following two of Jackie Kennedy’s relatives. The two brothers produced 30 films together, one as cameraman, the other as sound engineer. With no added commentary or interviews, their mission was to capture the real and record ‘’the daily drama of ordinary people,” without preconceptions. Trained as a psychologist before devoting himself to cinema, Albert Maysles sold toothbrushes and encyclopedias door-to-door to earn a living. “Selling is a game,” he once said, “the American dream’s in this game, too. Every peddler is a potential Lindberg. He’s not crossing the Atlantic, he’s crossing the threshold into people’s homes.”
Portrait of Jason by Shirley Clarke (1966)
The work of Shirley Clarke (1919-1997), pioneer of the “New American Cinema” and co-founder with Jonas Mekas of the Film-Makers’ Cooperative in New York, lies at the interface between documentary and experimental cinema. In her apartment in the mythic Chelsea Hotel on the night of December 3, 1966, the filmmaker and a pared-down crew used 16 mm film to record Jason Holliday, the filmmaker’s black, gay, prostitute friend, a charismatic actor without a career, carrying out an autobiographical monologue. Portrait of Jason is composed in a manner reminiscent of Warhol, with long, unedited shots put together simply, one after the other. The voices of the crew that can be heard off-camera have been deliberately retained on the soundtrack. The film, entirely made behind closed doors, at the crossroads of cinema and stage art, is centered around the protagonist’s extraordinary performance, who, alone in front of the camera, interprets the character he has invented for himself. Like the anonymous people photographed by Dave Heath during the same period and with its subtle and somber depiction of a marginal figure, this portrait paints a picture of America in the 1960s, haunted by racism, the aftermath of McCarthyism, and the Vietnam War.
SHIRLEY CLARKE (1919-1997)
A major figure of American experimental film, Shirley Clarke left behind a body of work in close contact with the social reality of its time. A trained dancer, she founded the Filmmaker’s Cooperative with Jonas Mekas, experimenting with film for the first time in 1953 in a series of shorts inspired by Maya Deren’s choreography for the camera. The Connection (1962), Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel With the World (1963), and Portrait of Jason (1967), her masterpiece, would bring her international recognition as a filmmaker, with directors such as John Cassavetes and Ingmar Bergman citing her as an inspiration. She was among the rare women artists of her period, a white director who turned her camera toward black society. She embodies
the figure of the independent artist and activist, crossing the boundaries between fiction and reality, race and class, through the invention of form.
The Savage Eye by Ben Maddow, Sidney Meyers and Joseph Strick (1960)
Filmed in the late 1950s, in the labyrinthine maze of Los Angeles, the Babylon of modern times, The Savage Eye takes an unflinching look at America in the midst of an existential crisis. It took four years for the three documentary filmmakers Ben Maddow, Sidney Meyers, and Joseph Strick, along with their crew, to finalize this cinematographic, poetic portrait of a city and an era. In this fascinating, stressful environment, captured on the surface of contrasted black and white film, a lonely woman, Judith McGuire (played by the actress Barbara Baxley), tries to find meaning in a life that somehow eludes her. As she falls into a profound loneliness that she struggles to overcome during illusory wanderings, the voice of a poet takes on the role of a redeeming conscience calling out to her. Borrowing its tonality from neo-realist cinema, the crepuscular photography of The Savage Eye amplifies the psychological nature of this chronicle with its Freudian accents. By alternating documentary and fictional registers, this two-voice inner dialogue, accompanied by a mesmerizing soundtrack composed by Leonard Rosenman, subtly calls to mind the verses of a poem by William Butler Yeats, A Dialogue of Self and Soul (1933), to which Dave Heath also refers when evoking his self-absorbed, silent figures.
The Savage Eye (1960) is collectively signed.
JOSEPH STRICK (1923-2010) screenwriter, director, and producer. Joseph Strick served as cameraman in the US Army during the Second World War. Following the war, he managed to make films outside the studio system, adapting James Joyce’s Ulysses (1967), Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer (1970) and Jean Genet’s The Balcony (1963). In 1971, in the middle of the Vietnam War, he won an Oscar for Best Documentary (Short Subject) for Interviews with My Lai Veterans, in which abuses committed in Vietnam, war crimes and misconduct by ordinary young men, were displayed for the first time. The film helped consolidate the anti-war effort.
BEN MADDOW (1909-1992) : A screenwriter on John Huston’s Asphalt Jungle, Maddow also participated, uncredited, on Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954), working under the table or with a pseudonym during the McCarthy era. Close to movements on the far-left, he shot many documentaries of protest. This understanding of the fabric of the real world served him in writing The Savage Eye with Joseph Strick.
SIDNEY MEYERS (1906-1969) : Editor and director Sidney Meyers made The Quiet One (1948), written by James Agee and Helen Levitt. His editing in The Savage Eye gives it the urban musicality of a jazz film, with pulsing, sometimes dissonant rhythms.
— Jonathan Pouthier, Centre Pompidou