Precarious Living: Rediscoveries in American Independent Film

Screen/Society Film Series:

September 20-November 15, 2018
Rubenstein Arts Center, Duke University
Curated by Jason Sudak and Hank Okazaki

Observing this year’s run of celebrated film restorations, a trend emerges: portraits of precarious lives on the social and economic margins of 70's and 80's America are back for our consideration. Roughly tracing the decline of the "working class" as a cultural and a political force, these three brand new restorations (and one underseen classic) offer an affective glimpse into the origins of our own historical moment, where New Deal and post-60's optimism for unified coalitions of class, race, and gender have crumbled like so many factories.

Cars and heavy metals weren’t the only industries in decline: Hollywood, too, was experiencing a crisis, and independent film productions became the new normal both inside and outside of the Hollywood system. The films in Precarious Living: Rediscoveries in American Independent Film exemplify the independent turn in cinema that gave unflinching, complex voice to marginal subjects, making their re-emergence from the footnotes of film history as timely as ever.

Sponsored by the Program in the Arts of the Moving Image (AMI).

wandaThursday, Sep 20 @ 7pm
(Barbara Loden, 1970, 88 min, USA, DCP)

Barbara Loden pulls off a remarkable writer-director-star turn in the newly restored Wanda, a film about a directionless young mother in Pennsylvania coal country who wanders away from her young family and finds herself alone, drifting between dingy bars and motels, and callously treated by a series of men. An influential, rarely seen masterpiece of American cinema.





blue collar stillThursday, Sep 27 @ 7pm
Blue Collar

(Paul Schrader, 1978, 114 min, USA, 35mm)

Three Detroit autoworkers – Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, and Yaphet Kotto – are so alienated by their jobs that they decide to rip off the safe inside their own union office. What begins as an entertaining genre exercise takes a searing turn into the dark heart of 70s labor politics. Richard Pryor gives his finest dramatic performance.



personal problems stillThursday, Nov 8 @ 7pm
Personal Problems
(Bill Gunn, 1980, 165 min, USA, DCP)

An incisive and entertaining epic focused on the everyday lives of a black working-class couple and their friends and family in NYC. Ishmael Reed, the project’s originator, called this bold collaboration between a coterie of major 80’s artists “an experimental soap opera;” here restored from the camera originals and given proper release for the first time.





bless their heartsThursday, Nov 15 @ 7pm
Bless Their Little Hearts
(Billy Woodberry, 1984, 80 min, USA, DCP)

Unemployed, depressed and running out of options for supporting his family, Charlie Banks (Nate Hardman) is just barely eking out a living in Watts at the dawn of Reagan’s 80s. Full of humor and devoid of the least pity for its characters, Bless Their Little Hearts is a striking portrait of working poverty, and a classic of 80s independent cinema.





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Screen/Society screenings are free and open to the public.

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