New Cinema cofounder (and Hollywood screenwriter) Becky Johnston recently described her little-seen featurette Sleepless Nights as “an East Village reinvention of the Otto Preminger movie Laura” that plays “fast and loose with the noir detective genre.” Mystery and melodrama play off of each other in three men’s fervent recollections of a departed woman, embodied by Maripol in silent flashbacks during which the camera moves almost obsessively to her rhythm. The male characters are all “types” pushed to the extreme: Eric Mitchell’s brooding detective; the bon vivant René Ricard, created in the mold of Truman Capote; and a fragile narcissist embodied by John Lurie. Together, the cast of Downtown luminaries evokes ideas of seduction, fantasy, and violence, all imbued with the undeniable pathos of John and Evan Lurie’s No Wave/jazz Strangers in the Night.
The evening's second rarity is the 30-minute Bikers or Vanity in Leather—created around the same time as Mitchell’s Vinyl-inspired Kidnapped and exploring similar long takes and stark lighting—which was shot on black-and-white Portapak video. This hetero take on Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising is a loose study in style and fetish staged in Swiss painter (and Hell's Angel) Olivier Mosset's downtown loft. With minimal dialogue, scenes of ritualized grooming and interactions among the coterie of Francophone scenesters— alternately hinting at an erotic or violent outcome—make up an effective reflection on loft performance, rockabilly subculture (soon to be exploited in Kathryn Bigelow's feature debut The Loveless), and stylized post-Anger aesthetics.
Sleepless Nights. 1979. USA. Directed by Becky Johnston. Written by Johnston and Gary Indiana. Produced by Johnson and Maripol. Cinematography by Michael Oblowitz. Music by John and Evan Lurie. With René Ricard, John Lurie, Eric Mitchell, Maripol. Digital video from Super8mm. 49 min.
Bikers or Vanity in Leather. 1978. USA. A performance film composed by Eric Mitchell, Maripol. Cinematography by James Nares. Staging by Mitchell. Styling by Maripol. With Edwige Belmore, Maripol, Mitchell, Olivier Mosset, JP Roland Levy. Video. 30 min.