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From a Williamsburg Storefront to a Midtown Museum: Spectacle Theater at MAD

by Jeremy Polacek on August 1, 2014

Spectacle’s storefront (photo courtesy C. Spencer Yeh)

Spectacle’s storefront (photo courtesy C. Spencer Yeh)

Spectacle excels at making the most of whatever its members put their eclectic, seemingly tireless minds to. Seven days a week the volunteer-made, volunteer-run, 30-seat screening space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, hustles out a menagerie of films — rare, radical, forgotten, misbegotten, offbeat, and controversial — which they charge $5 to see. Members make posters and trailers when movies lack them (as they often do). Films are also explored more dramatically and experimentally: cut-up, collaged, screened with live elements (see “The Shining Backwards and Forwards and Inwards and Outwards in High Definition Anaglyph 3D”). Since 2010, the collective has been carrying on this radical engagement with cinema, continually puncturing the barriers between high and low, between “cinema,” “artworld,” and “experimental film,” between filmmakers and film screeners. The effect is a seeming contradiction: a reverent anarchic space. Spectacle is carving out a utopian middle, cozying into the space between audiences and film.

And now (through August 28) they’re taking their act uptown, joining NYC Makers: The MAD Biennial at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), where they’re screening 12 programs — one half incredibly rare 35mm prints, the other “re-made/remodeled” works.

Most titles will probably not be familiar — German filmmaker Roland Klick’s Deadlock has been all but forgotten for the past 40 years, not so much written out of German film history as never written into it in the first place. August 1s screening of the mangy Spaghetti (spätzle?) Western will mark the first and perhaps last time the film is screened in New York in 35mm. It’s that rare and obscure; Klick ultimately quit and withdrew from filmmaking. (Incidentally, director Alejandro Jodorowsky liked Deadlock, calling it “fantastic—a bizarre, glowing film,” whereas fellow West German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder despised it.) Experimental German rock band Can contributes the score, adding a layer of thumping musical strangeness. Film purists take notice. And for those expecting a rediscovered masterpiece: lower your expectations. The film’s minimalist, spare approach to visuals unfortunately spreads to its narrative, and the story moves with an accumulating drag.

Other titles that Spectacle will be screening at MAD include Sally Potter’s staggeringly eclectic The Gold Diggers (called “a post-modernist musical” by film scholar Ian Christie), rarely seen in 35mm even at the time of its release; the 1952 Finnish horror film White Reindeer, a sometimes stodgy but surprisingly lyrical fairy tale carried along by astonishing visuals of snow-swept Lapland; the elliptical, often funny, and omnipresently strange El Dependientean Argentine film from 1969 that MAD’s description justifiably compares to David Lynch’s Eraserheadtwo works from the Zanzibar Group, a radical avant-garde collective of filmmakers and actors that lasted only two years, as the members plunged into the chaos and freedom of the times that so fueled their work and vision — and this despite being “financed by Sylvina Boissonnas, a left-wing oil heiress who asked no questions and granted total creative freedom.”

Balancing out these intriguingly obscure offerings is Spectacle’s productive interest in remixed and remade film. Preceding Deadlock last night was I Hate Myself and I Want to Die, a YouTube-sourced documentary about Nirvana that culls bits and fragments to produce an almost authorless yet sincere tribute to the late ’90s band. “Spectacle Live Scores: Zachary Cale and MIL KDU DES” pairs musicians with Spectacle-connected editors, who’ll make custom edits inspired by the sound. The dialogue-free “Strong-Thing” plumbs the blurred life and fiction of pre-gubernatorial Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It’s a unique, if sometimes uneven, and so far successful mix. First week audiences at MAD easily eclipsed what Spectacle’s “bodega theater” can handle (in other words, more than 30 people). But fame isn’t getting to their heads. Spectacle is still screening seven days a week in Williamsburg, its house programming appropriately overlapping with its showing at the MAD Biennial.

Spectacle at MAD runs through August 28 as part of NYC Makers: The MAD Biennial at the Museum of Arts and Design (2 Columbus Circle, Columbus Circle, Manhattan).

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