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.
New Cinema cofounder Becky Johnston recently described this little-seen feature 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 a fractured narrative weaving three men’s fervent recollections of an unnamed, departed woman. Joining these is an exploration into the female figure, embodied by Maripol, which recalls the critical theory called upon by some in the post-punk set. She is a universal object of desire, evoked by the men’s voiceover and in silent flashback sequences in which the camera moves almost obsessively to her rhythm. Displaying a remarkable emotive range, Maripol conjures a different relationship with each man without intoning a word. Johnston crafts the lost woman as a universal object of desire but not as a speaking subject, evoking ideas of seduction, fantasy, and violence within the structure of the film. The male characters are all “types” pushed to the extreme: Eric Mitchell’s brooding detective, the bon vivant character René Ricard created in the mold of Truman Capote, and a fragile narcissist embodied by John Lurie. Imbued with the undeniable pathos of John and Evan Lurie’s No Wave/jazz Strangers in the Night, Sleepless Nights resonates as a key moment in the cinema being created collectively Downtown. Video courtesy of Maripol.