March 30, 2012  |  Artists, Collection & Exhibitions, Film
Cindy Sherman on the Films in Carte Blanche: Cindy Sherman

In conjunction with MoMA’s current Cindy Sherman retrospective (on view through June 11), the artist selected films that have informed her artistic practice for a special </i>Carte Blanche: Cindy Sherman</a> film series (which runs April 2–10 in MoMA’s theaters). Below are Cindy Sherman’s comments on the films, as told to Lucy Gallun.</small> </p>

Office Killer. 1997. USA. Directed by Cindy Sherman. Courtesy Strand Releasing

I saw a lot of film while I was in college. I went to school in Buffalo, where there was a great experimental film and video department at University at Buffalo called Media Study. I wasn’t in that program, but I knew or met many of the filmmakers who taught there, or who visited and showed their work. For a while I also worked for the experimental filmmaker Paul Sharits, filling in the dots for the sketches for his flicker films.

When I moved to New York City in the late 1970s, everyone was going to the Bleecker Street Cinema, the Thalia, or other now-defunct theaters to watch old films. I felt like we were feeding on them. There were series of Japanese films, kung-fu action pics, Russian silent films, the French New Wave…. It was also right around this time (the mid-to-late 1970s) that horror films as we know them really started. They had titles and reputations that kept me away; I was scared without knowing a thing about them.

The Fearless Vampire Killers, or: Pardon Me, but Your Teeth Are in My Neck. 1967. Great Britain. Directed by Roman Polanski

Scary movies. Strange characters. Fierce women. Odd behavior. Obscured stories. Innovative filmmaking. I think are the characteristics that tie together all the films that are my favorites, all the films that inspire me. They inspire me to create characters, tell stories without words, playing attraction off repulsion, letting the viewer discover the story (or making it hard for them). Someday I intend to make another film, and these will all inform whatever I make. I almost think that in a way I’m too aware now, that for innovative filmmaking one has to be young, adventurous, perhaps naïve, and willing to risk everything, to take chances. I know I will take another chance, and when I do you’ll probably find references to all these films:

Harlan County USA
The story of the powerful and dedicated women who stood behind striking coal miners. Impressively inspiring characters. And hairdos.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
This groundbreaking horror film brought in the concept of the young heroine who saves herself, outwitting the evil inbred cannibals, who were, in my youthful vision, hilarious. What makes this film just a thing of beauty is the set-up of the utterly creepy family, the camera work intensifying the horror as comatose Grandpa is given the hammer to bash in the heroine’s skull. The perfect horror film, combining terror, humor, great visuals and a female heroine.

The Host
A modern old-fashioned monster movie with a terrific lead actor. Great story, great script, and a great monster.

John Waters turned me onto this hard-to-describe film about a nymphomaniac lost in the woods of rural Argentina, channeling Russ Meyers (the American filmmaker known for campy “sexploitation” films, like 1965’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!).

Meshes of the Afternoon. 1943. USA. Directed by Maya Deren, Alexander Hammid

Funky Forest: The First Contact
At times this film is like some bizarre kids’ TV show. There are a couple slow moments but it’s worth it—things get jaw-droppingly weird.

Inland Empire
David Lynch’s experiment with a digital camera. He began by playing around, improvising scenes with Laura Dern, and gradually turned it into a film.

Double Feature!
Meshes of the Afternoon
Classic experimental film from one of the rare female filmmakers. No dialogue; images strung together for the viewer to decipher.
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
A woman repeats her mundane daily life in real-time and instead of it being boring, it’s fascinating to watch as she gradually comes apart. When I first went to see this film, I remember thinking, “I’ll just walk out of the theater when I’m bored,” but I was enthralled.

A frumpy businessman, tired of his wife and his life, undergoes a miraculous transformation and turns into a bohemian painter (and suddenly looks like Rock Hudson). Simply incredible!

Naked Kiss
A classic Sam Fuller tale of an ex-prostitute trying to reform and marry the perfect guy who will forgive her past. Until we find out why.

Shadows. 1959. USA. Written and directed by John Cassavetes

Revolutionary style, story, and cinematography, and a vintage New York City backdrop (including MoMA’s Sculpture Garden).

Funny Games
Michael Haneke’s truly evil tale of pointless violence. Even with all the violence off-screen, it’s horrifically disturbing.

La Jetée
As a kid watching TV in the basement, I happened upon a movie told entirely through still images, except for one brief moment of motion. I didn’t remember the name of it, only the fact that I was entranced by the story told through these still images. I don’t think I understood or grasped the narrative, but years later when I saw it in college, I recognized the film—it was La Jetée, a futuristic tale of time travel that inspired the Terminator series.
(Double Feature with Inland Empire!)

The Fearless Vampire Killers, or: Pardon Me, but Your Teeth Are in My Neck
Roman Polanski and the gorgeous Sharon Tate in Transylvanian camp. Great theatrical entertainment.

Desperate Living
Classic John Waters, starring Liz Renay. Doesn’t get any better.

Carte Blanche: Cindy Sherman closes on April 10 with a Curator’s Choice program consisting of Sherman’s own 1997 film Office Killer and her 1975 short Doll Clothes, introduced by Eva Respini, Associate Curator, Department of Photography.

For screening times and locations, visit the Carte Blanche: Cindy Sherman page.