The Private Show

Intimate Movies on the Big Screen

Curated by Josh Guilford

“The Private Show,” designed and printed by Colleen Doyle and Buck Hastings

“The Private Show,” designed and printed by Colleen Doyle and Buck Hastings

In today’s technologized world, it isn’t exactly novel to say that our daily lives have become the stuff of movies.  Thanks to those newfangled video phones and web cams, previously private activities have been laid open for the world to see, exhibited and distributed to strange new publics through so many interwebular “youtubes.”  But is this situation liberating or terrifying?  Are we witnessing the democratization of images, or the spread of a global surveillance society?  Frankly, we here at Magic Lantern aren’t really sure!  That’s why we’re going back to one of the moments when this whole thing started – the Sixties, handheld cameras, personal films – to ask how in the world we got here.  Drawing together works from the postwar American avant-garde that explore issues of privacy, domesticity, and sexuality – from genres like the diary film and the notebook, to experimental home movies and “erotic” films – this program asks: What happens when our most intimate spaces, experiences, and imaginations enter the terrain of movie-magic? How does the medium of film complicate notions of privacy and interiority, or function in the production of new cultures of intimacy, secrecy, and inaccessibility?  And what can this ranging exploration of a “personal” film practice or “private cinema” tell us about the issues facing contemporary media cultures?  You’re invited – so join us – no password required!


“Centuries of June,” Stan Brakhage and Joseph Cornell, 1955-196?, 16mm, b/w, 10 min
In a moment of “torment,” Joseph Cornell enlisted Brakhage to preserve the environs of a soon-to-be-demolished home in Flushing, NY – the city where Cornell spent most of his life.  What developed was an ethereal portrait of a house built to haunt your memory.

“Little Stabs at Happiness,” Ken Jacobs, 1959-1963, 16mm, color, sound, 15 min
Featuring the delirious acting of Jack Smith, “Little Stabs” is a film more interested in perverting the home than preserving it.  Jacobs and Smith offer a beautifully deranged take on “playing house” – the doll has cigarette burns, the costumes are made of cellophane, the tea party is on a street corner.  Mistakes were left “as is,” giving the image-track a sense of immediacy even as Jacobs’s voiceover becomes more reflective.  “Whimsy was our achievement…” -KJ

“Cassis,” Jonas Mekas, 1966, 16mm, color, sound, 4.5 min
An early entry in Mekas’s film diaries, which – according to David E. James – functioned for Mekas (a Lithuanian artist displaced by WWII) as “negative home movies, movies that begin from the fact of the absence of home,” and seek to regain some sense of habitation in and through film.  Shot in the South of France, “Cassis” was made “from just before the sunrise until just after the sunset, all day long, frame by frame, a frame or two every second or every few minutes.” -JM

“Notebook,” Marie Menken, 1940-1962, 16mm, color & b/w, 10 min
A collection of short notebook films never intended for public screening, which Menken thought “too tiny” for comment.  Somewhere between poems and sketches, Menken’s films are playful, imperfect, and unpretentious, proving the proverb: good things, small packages.  As P. Adams Sitney once wrote, “[Notebook] is a masterpiece of filmic fragments, only shown once, but wow!”

“Private Life of a Cat,” Alexander Hammid and Maya Deren, 1945, 16mm, b/w, 22 min
Originally rejected by the New York State Censors as “obscene,” Hammid and Deren’s film follows the domestic activities of their housecats: snuggling, breaking in a nice cardboard box, and – yes – giving birth to a litter of kittens.  Whether cinephile, cat lover, or vet student, this film offers something for everyone.

“Leisure,” George Kuchar, 1966, 16mm, b/w, sound, 9.5 min
Begun during “the great blackout of 1965” in NYC – which was rumored to be responsible for a baby boom nine months later – this short materialized when Kuchar’s friends came over to watch some of his father’s porno.  “My dad was a truck driver and would occasionally bring in dirty pictures that the men circulated… and since we had an 8mm projector, he asked if he could borrow the projector.  I said ‘Yeah Dad, sure, but I want to see the picture after you’re finished.’” -G.K.

“Christmas on Earth,” Barbara Rubin, 1963, 16mm, b/w, 29.15 min
Described by Candy O’Brien as “A study in genital differentiation and psychic tumult,” Rubin’s take on the “erotic” art film – made when she was only 18 – doesn’t try to express the true nature of sexuality, but to bury it under layers of noise.  Two reels are projected simultaneously, one superimposed on the other, with a live rock & roll soundtrack and some color gels thrown in for good measure.  Messy and confusing, “Christmas” challenges the stability of normative divisions between art and porn, gay and straight, public and private. “As the film goes, image after image, the most private territories of the body are laid open for us. The first shock changes into silence then is transposed into amazement.  We have seldom seen such down-to-body beauty…” –Jonas Mekas