Film series

Curated by Berta Sichel

"My films have always been conceived to be somewhat disconcerting."

If Yvonne Rainer defines her films as "disconcerting" (both in the sense of surprising and confusing), then watching her films would be the best way to find out what type of views are aroused in spectators by her complex explorations of dance and film and of the private and the political.

Born into a family of anarchists in San Francisco in 1934, Rainer moved to New York in the 1950s to study acting. Shortly after arriving she began modern dance classes taught by Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Judith Dunn and Viola Farbe. In 1961 her work Three Satie Spoon premiered in the Living Theater; it was her first piece as both choreographer and protagonist.

In 1972 she stopped acting to begin shooting films. Nevertheless, dance has always maintained a central role in all of her work, including her written texts, which, according to Peggy Phelan, are like "rhetorical performances". Her work has as many cinematographic reference points as choreographic ones, which can be appreciated by her handling of the projection of her theatre work and in her scholarly use of cinematographic allusions in her films. Another inspiring source for her work comes from the minimalist movement that came about in the United States during the 1970s. In a well-known article on Rainer, Patricia Levin wrote: "Minimalism resituated the spectator and reintroduced the meaning of space and time in the form of a presence while ruling out distancing devices". It is true that Rainer used a minimalist aesthetic, especially in her first films, where she conceived of the body as something "neutral". In Lives of Performers (1972), her first feature film which more clearly shows her move from dance to film, this minimalist aspect is perfectly visible.

Rainer is one of the key historical figures in the New York avant-garde scene due to her texts as well as her praxis. Lives of Performers (l972), Film About a Woman Who… (1974), Kristina Talking Pictures (l976), Journey from Berlin/l971 (l980) and The Man Who Envied Women (l985) are considered even more demanding from an intellectual point of view than independent cinema. Although they present an apparently narrative structure, they are formally complex. Her films analyse all facets of daily life and focus on women’s lives. The change from dance to film allowed her to explore the emotional realm through the most extravagant and popular genre: melodrama. By the mid-1990s she had already produced twelve films, some of which were silent short films for multimedia performances, which are included in this selection.

Also included are works like Privilege (1991) and MURDER and murder (1996), where the director examines the fundamental spaces in the daily life of women. Having won awards at the Berlin Film Festival in 1997 and at the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in 1999, MURDER… is Rainer’s first film after coming out as a lesbian in 1991. Given that a large part of her work deals with women, the body and identity, Rainer was considered by many film theorists as "the model of a feminist filmmaker" even before the artist identified herself with aspects from this movement.

Her work is undoubtedly complex and difficult to classify, yet it is also true that it is aesthetically pleasing—even if that may not correspond to the bourgeoisie idea of pleasing.

Thanks to: Yvonne Rainer, Video Data Bank and Zeitgeist Films NY


Screenings begin at 7.30 pm.

February 20
Five Easy Pieces (1966-1969), b/w, silent
A compilation of her first short films. Includes: Hand Movie, 5', 1966; Volleyball (Foot Film), 10', 1967; Rhode Island Red,10', 1968; Trio Film,13', 1968; Line, 10', 1969.

Trio A, 1978, 10'30'', b/w, silent
One of the characteristics of this dance piece is its continuity without modulation and its demands regarding perspective. Direct contact with the audience is always avoided through the independent movement of the head or by closing the eyes or simply lowering the gaze.

After Many a Summer Dies the Swan: Hybrid, 2002, 31'
Yvonne Rainer combines the choreography made for Mikhail Baryshnikov's White Oak Dance Project (2000) with texts by Oscar Kokoschka, Adolf Loos, Arnold Schoenberg and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Together with diverse configurations of movement, the dance contains the last words spoken by both famous and unknown figures at the time of their deaths. The idea to integrate this filmed material with the material from Vienna came about partly because of the title, which elegantly and ironically evokes the passing of time and the end of a lifestyle, specifically that of the aristocracy.

February 27
Lives of Performers, 1972, 90'
Shortly after the premiere of this film, Rainer wrote on her need to more specifically take on emotions as her main reason for moving from dance to film. A rudimentary and revealing examination of romantic alliances, the films analyses the dilemma of a man incapable of choosing between two women, and who makes both of them suffer through the process. It originally formed part of a dance piece choreographed by Rainer herself.

March 5
Film About a Woman Who…, 1974, 105'
One of her most emblematic films: a reflection on ambivalence that plays with clichés and the conventions of soap operas, it is based on the story of a woman whose sexual dissatisfaction hides an enormous rage. Once again in black and white, and made in collaboration with the photographer Babette Mangolte, this film goes beyond Rainer's initial ideas on performance, narrative and sexual relationships, clearly establishing her feminist position.

March 12
Kristina Talking Pictures, 1976, 90'
Through the story of a lion tamer from Budapest who travels to New York to become a choreographer, Rainer analyses the contradictions between public and private figures, inspired by real people such as Martha Graham, Virginia Woolf and Jean-Luc Godard.

March 26
Journeys from Berlin/1971, 1980, 125'
Rainer uses an extensive therapy session in which an American woman speaks with a series of psychiatrists. The evocations of daily experiences of power and repression stem from an exploration of the ramifications of terrorism.

April 2
The Man Who Envied Women, 1985, 125'
Based on a family theme (the splitting up of a marriage), Rainer constructs an honest, elegant and perversely funny story of a satisfied womaniser, Jack Deller, the man "who almost knew too much about women".

April 9
Privilege, 1991, 103'
Yvonne Rainer's sixth feature film is a genuinely subversive piece on menopause. Using a practically invisible theme in film, Rainer has created a masterful and daring piece on sexual identity and economic inequalities depending on race, gender and class.

April 16
MURDER and murder, 1996, 113'
MURDER and murder is a mature love story between Mildred, a life-long lesbian, and Doris, who has fallen in love with a woman for the first time. It is a fearless reflection on lesbian sexuality, breast cancer and how women mature in a culture that praises youth and heterosexual romance.

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