Memory And Illumination The Films of Marc Karlin – 30 OCT, King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center, NYU

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Marc Karlin (1943-1999) is widely regarded as Britain’s most important but least known director of the last half century. His far-reaching essay films deal with working-class and feminist politics, international leftism, historical amnesia and the struggle for collective memory, about the difficulty but also the necessity of political idealism in a darkening world.

Chris Marker hailed him as a key filmmaker, and his work has inspired or been saluted by moving-image artists and historians such as Sally Potter, Sheila Rowbotham, John Akomfrah, Luke Fowler and The Otolith Group. Yet, in large part because his passionate, ideas-rich, formally adventurous films were made for television, until recently they were lost to history.

Memory And Illumination: The Films of Marc Karlin, the first US retrospective of his work, offers a broad survey of what the latest issue of Film Comment calls “the most daring docu-essays the public at large has yet to appreciate”. They include explorations of the emergent women’s liberation movement he made as part of his early membership of the Berwick Street Film Collective, his chronicles of the 1980s aftermath of the Nicaraguan Revolution, and his enduringly resonant meditations on post-1989 politics.

SCHEDULE:

FRIDAY 30 OCTOBER 2015
King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center, 53 Washington Square South

6:30pm: NICARAGUA: VOYAGES (1985)
Voyages is composed of stills by renowned Magnum photographer Susan Meiselas taken in 1978 and 1979 during the overthrow of the fifty-year dictatorship of the Somoza family. Written in the form of a letter from Meiselas to Karlin, it is a ruminative and often profound exploration of the ethics of witnessing, the responsibilities of war photography and the politics of the still image.

8pm: SCENES FOR A REVOLUTION (1991)
A film about aftermaths and reckonings. Revisiting material for his earlier four-part series (1985), Karlin returns to Nicaragua to examine the history of the Sandinista government, consider its achievements, and assess the prospects for democracy following its defeat in the general election of 1990. (Sponsored by King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center)

SATURDAY 31 OCTOBER 2015
Room 674, 721 Broadway (at Waverley Place)

12pm: THE SERPENT (dir. Marc Karlin, 1997), 40 min
The Serpent, loosely based on Milton’s Paradise Lost, is a blackly funny drama-documentary about media magnate and fanatical scourge of the Left Rupert Murdoch. A mild-mannered architect dreams of destroying this Dark Prince, but is assailed by his Voice of Reason which reminds him of the complicity of the liberal establishment in allowing Murdoch to dominate public discourse.

2pm: BETWEEN TIMES (dir. Marc Karlin, 1993), 50 min
Room 674, 721 Broadway (at Waverley Place)
A strikingly resonant work, not least in the wake of the recent re-election of the Conservative party in Britain, this is a probing and sometimes agonised essay – partially framed as a debate between socialism and postmodernism – about the paralysis of the Left and the need to locate new energies, spaces and forms of being that speak to emergent realities.

3:30pm: THE OUTRAGE (dir. Marc Karlin, 1995), 50 min
Room 674, 721 Broadway (at Waverley Place)
Echoes abound of Mike Dibb and John Berger’s Ways of Seeing (1972) in this hugely compelling film about Cy Twombly, about art, about television itself. According to director Steve Sprung it’s a film not about “the art of the marketplace, but the art that most of us leave behind somewhere in childhood, in the process of being socialized into the so-called world. The art which still yearns within us.”

5-6:30pm: Roundtable – TBA

7:30pm: FOR MEMORY (dir. Marc Karlin, 1986), 104 min
Room 674, 721 Broadway (at Waverley Place)
Beginning with a powerful interview with members of the British Army Film Unit who recall the images they recorded after the liberation of Belsen concentration camp, and conceived as an antidote to the wildly successful TV series Holocaust, For Memory is a multi-layered exploration – pensive and haunted – of cultural amnesia in the era of late capitalism that features historian E.P. Thompson, anti-fascist activist Charlie Goodman and Alzheimers patients.

SUNDAY 1 NOVEMBER 2015
Room 674, 721 Broadway (at Waverley Place)

2pm: NIGHTCLEANERS (dir. Berwick Street Film Collective, 1975)
Made over three years by the Berwick Street Film Collective (Karlin, Mary Kelly, James Scott, Humphrey Trevelyan), Nightcleaners is a landmark documentary that follows the efforts of the women’s movement to unionize female night workers in London. It eschewed social realism and agit prop in favour of a ghostly, ambient and sonically complex fragmentage that elicited both hostile and ecstatic responses. Screen journal declared it the most “important political film to have been made in this country”, while Jump Cut claimed it was “redefining the struggle for revolutionary cinema”. (Sponsored by Gender and Sexuality Studies)

3:45pm: 36 TO 77 (dir. Berwick Street Film Collective, 1978)
Room 674, 721 Broadway (at Waverley Place)
Very rarely screened since its original release, this film was originally conceived as Nightcleaners Part 2. A portrait of Grenada-born Myrtle Wardally (b.1936), a leader of the Cleaners’ Action Group Strike in 1972, it features her discussing the partial success of that campaign and also her childhood in the Caribbean. It’s also an experiment – as probing as it is rapturous – in the politics of film form, and a fascinating deconstruction of the idea of Myrtle as a “symbol of struggle, the nightcleaners, working women, immigrants, mothers, blacks”.

MORE ON KARLIN:

Look Again

Holly Aylett, Marc Karlin: Look Again (2015) http://liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk/products/60519

https://spiritofmarckarlin.com/

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Presented by the Colloquium for Unpopular Culture with the support of the Department of Cinema Studies, New York University

https://memoryandillumination.wordpress.com

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QUERIES: ss162@nyu.edu

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