Inside the Quad

C Mason Wells talks Goldie Hawn, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Immigrant Songs and more.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

The Last Emperor composers David Byrne and Ryuichi Sakamoto had a Forbidden Colors conversation at the Quad
The Last Emperor composers David Byrne and Ryuichi Sakamoto had a Forbidden Colors conversation at the Quad Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

At the Quad Cinema - Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise; Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell To Earth; Mitchell Leisen's Hold Back The Dawn; Elia Kazan's America, America; Werner Herzog's Stroszek; Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In America, Slava Tsukerman's Liquid Sky with Anne Carlisle become Immigrant Songs. Retrospectives for Goldie Hawn, Frank Perry & Eleanor Perry, Bertrand Tavernier and Ryuichi Sakamoto; a Rainer Werner Fassbinder Lola First Encounter with Sandra Bernhard, Jean-Luc Godard's King Lear and a drop of Nathan Silver's Thirst Street come up in my conversation with Director of Programming C Mason Wells.

Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor at China: Through The Looking Glass
Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor at China: Through The Looking Glass Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

The Grandmaster director Wong Kar Wai chose a clip from Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor (Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Byrne, Cong Su won Best Original Score Oscar) which was projected onto a wall during Andrew Bolton's Costume Institute exhibition China: Through The Looking Glass at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The film won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Anne-Katrin Titze: I don't have to ask very much why you have a program called Immigrant Songs.

C Mason Wells: We are doing monthly calendars, we think about it in monthly chunks. In May we had a Goldie Hawn retrospective, we had a Ryuichi Sakamoto retrospective, we did Larry Cohen's New York films and the Immigrant program. So that to me is a great scope of what I want to do at the Quad.

It's a retrospective of a Hollywood actress who is a comedienne who isn't taken as seriously as she should be, a Japanese composer who worked on a very broad spectrum of art films, a genre filmmaker and giving a particular angle into seeing how he makes his funny fascinating B-movies, and then Immigrant Songs, which is political in its nature.

But it's also a conceptual series [Immigrant Songs] and expansive in its scope. In terms of movies that explicitly deal with the idea of immigration like America, America. But then you have things that are more allegorical takes on it, like Superman [screens with Charlie Chaplin's The Immigrant] or Liquid Sky.

Bertrand Tavernier retrospective and his Journey Through French Cinema coming in June
Bertrand Tavernier retrospective and his Journey Through French Cinema coming in June Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: It's you and Gavin Smith doing the programming?

CMW: Yeah. We are doing all the repertory programming and we kind of advise on the first run programming as well.

AKT: Bertrand Tavernier's Journey Through French Cinema is coming up?

CMW: June 23 it opens. And then we have a retrospective of his films that starts a few days prior to that and will go concurrently with the documentary. So people can not just see his take on French cinema history but how his films kind of intertwine and talk to that history. There hasn't been a Tavernier retrospective in New York in 25 years or so.

AKT: It's about time.

CMW: He's worked in a lot of different genres so he's someone who's not easy to categorise or pin down. I think he's a really great filmmaker who doesn't get the level of respect that he deserves.

AKT: Agreed.

CMW: He has a lot of fascinating movies that deserve to be seen. It'll be nice to be able to put them all together over the course of ten days.

AKT: In his Journey Through French Cinema, especially about the composers, I learned so much.

C Mason Wells at the Quad Cinema video wall
C Mason Wells at the Quad Cinema video wall Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

CMW: I love retrospectives of other people who work on films. It's really nice. When we did the Sakamoto retrospective he came for multiple in-person appearances and talked in great depth about what it's like to actually compose music for films. We have a documentary opening next month that is about scoring films, different composers and their process.

AKT: It's good when you allow people to make connections. You have the cinema of Frank & Eleanor Perry coming up. The fact that Mommie Dearest and The Swimmer come from the same place!

CMW: Yeah, a lot of his films are not often revived. You have the five or so collaborations that Frank & Eleanor Perry made together and then you have Frank's post-marriage career of the movies he made by himself. All of them are interesting but you can see a clear shift between the movies he made with his then wife and what he made afterwards.

AKT: Another person - I thought about it because I recently interviewed him - who hasn't had a retrospective is Claude Lelouch.

CMW: Yes. Claude Lelouch has not had a retrospective in New York in a long time. I think there was a restoration of A Man And A Woman that played at BAM. He is another figure. There's so many. I'm kind of attracted to filmmakers that time had forgotten or set aside or their reputation isn't quite what it was. Which is why we did the Lina Wertmüller retrospective to open.

Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise screens this weekend in Immigrant Songs
Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise screens this weekend in Immigrant Songs Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: There is also a series on the past of the Quad - Quadrophilia.

CMW: It's not limitless, but there are literally thousands of movies that have played at the Quad over its history, so there's a large pool to pull from. It's nice to show something like King Lear, which we brought back a few weeks ago. That was a film that opened at the Quad in the late Eighties.

AKT: The Godard King Lear?

CMW: Yes. That was a big moment. For a lot of people in New York that was the only way to see that film. On the opening day of the theatre we played The Gang's All Here, the Busby Berkeley movie, which was the first repertory movie to play at the Quad in 1972 when it opened. And the print was from the reissue at that time - it might have even been the exact same print that played at the Quad.

AKT: Your own Thirst Street I saw in Tribeca. The clip that the character of Gina is watching, is that Royal Wedding?

CMW: It is Royal Wedding. Very good, very good, yeah. We had to cut out Fred Astaire's face so we didn't get sued.

Quad Cinema in New York City
Quad Cinema in New York City Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: You still see Jane Powell.

CMW: Yep.

AKT: One thing I noticed that connected directly your two incarnations. In First Encounters, someone presented Fassbinder's Lola and actually while watching Thirst Street, I thought of the light in that film. I thought Sean Price Williams was doing Lola lighting?

CMW: Yes, it was very deliberate. That one still of her, that one frame of her on the bed - more than anything else of Lola, that one image kind of informed a lot of the lighting scheme of the movie [Thirst Street]. That was an absolute deliberate reference. In terms of story and structure, Fassbinder was very important for that film. But other Fassbinder films, like the TV work more so. Something like Martha. We had Sandra Bernhard here and Lola was one of the films she hadn't seen.

Read what C Mason Wells had to say on First Encounters at the Quad.

Nathan Silver's Thirst Street, co-written with C Mason Wells, has been acquired by Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Desperate Characters: The Cinema of Frank & Eleanor Perry runs from June 2 through June 6.

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