Looking Back: Josh Yates Guest Curated Series
Mar 1, 2016 by Pedro Lopez DeVictoria on The Nickelodeon Blog
“All of these movies cast some sort of indefinable spell that I hope I never fully understand.”
These words outlined Josh Yates’ guiding philosophy for the guest-curated series he hosted here at the Nickelodeon between November 2015 and June 2016. Bringing to us a technically disparate yet spiritually coherent series of films, denoting certain markers in his self-definition, Yates presents five films you would never expect to see on the same page. Each screening was not followed by a talkback, but, rather, an invitation out to the local watering hole, The Whig, for conversation and a free beer–which, considering the films and the man himself, is a much more suitable environment. All in all, this series was an ode to the pure range of films an art house cinema can offer its community, and the strange, open-ended conversations they can inspire.
• Gummo – 11/18
painting by dogotron
Yates began his series with a definitive act: screening Harmony Korine’s legendarily mood-infused exploration of impoverished mid-western absurdity. The film that blew Werner Herzog away and forever recontextualized the insouciance of a bunny hat, Gummo follows a cast of characters ripe off the tree of nihilism as they navigate the cultural wasteland of Xenia, Ohio. Yates admits to watching this film once a month, as it’s “a reminder of all the possibilities” that film presents.
“Harmony Korine is a master who uses his mastery to subvert form, or try to reinvent form, as opposed to being a master just to do what everyone else is already doing. Every time I rewatch it, I notice something new, or am always re-inspired.”
• Space Jam – 12/9
Yates’ follow-up to Gummo was so thematically different, it might as well have been on the moon. Space Jam, the cartoon-basketball-scifi mashup that no one knew they wanted, utilized a peculiar moment of prosperity and blitheness in America to be something entirely unique–never before seen, never to be seen again. Of course, it was a film marketed towards children. However, according to Yates, there were elements of it that subverted this straight-laced presentation:
“I can go so far back into childhood when I watch Space Jam because I 100% watched it almost every night, VHS, to where I had it memorized. And also it’s just fun to watch. It’s a great example of how films change over time. I think there’s a weird slave undertone in that film, as an adult: this entrapment of this black male to go save these other people, you know? It becomes complicated pretty quick because it also takes place at this time in Michael Jordan’s life when he was going through the death of his father, and those are things that I didn’t understand as a kid, but as an adult, I’m like, “Huh, hmm.”
• Buffalo ’66 – 1/13
Buffalo ’66 is a film unique in its creation. Vincent Gallo, director, writer, and star of the film, is a notorious personality, with a reputation that precedes him, and not always favorably. However, Buffalo ’66–his debut film–was critically acclaimed, and a complete blindside to the film industry. Following the exploits of a obscenely vain man hoping to deceive his parents by bringing to dinner a young woman posing as a significant other. Important note: he had to kidnap her for the arrangement to take place. As you can imagine, their relationship is complex, and the film thrives on the energy that is created between Gallo and Christina Ricci, who plays the partially willing victim of the protagonist’s plot.
“Buffalo ’66 is seeing a person make a film how they think it should be made who isn’t necessarily a filmmaker. He does a little of everything, but he’s a model first, and then a musician and everything later. His character in that movie is very easy to hate, but you’re so drawn to it, maybe because you hate it so much.”
• Werckmeister Harmonies – 2/10
Bela Tarr’s pensive masterwork, Werckmeister Harmonies, is a curveball in Yates’ lineup. This slow-burning and deliberate film details the descent of a fictional town into madness. Consisting of a few long takes, this is certainly a world apart from the frenetic and loopy Space Jam or the loose and impressionistic Gummo. Yates sees this film as delightfully elusive, and its sense of mystery is not a source of frustration for him, but rather a source of magnetism.
“I’m a huge fan of slow cinema, and cinema that I think is smarter than me, and that film definitely qualifies, and it’s one of the films that sort of moves me in a way I don’t understand yet, and to me that’s pretty exciting. The Revelator, which is this 1960 film by this guy, Philippe Garrel, it’s an hour long and there’s no sound, it’s all visual. That’s another one I’ve watched a lot. I watch it, become enthralled by it, moved by it, but I really don’t understand it. And that’s, I think, amazing. I think I’ll understand it one day, maybe, or have an idea, if I don’t understand it. That’s where Werckmeister Harmonies falls for me.”
• American Movie – 3/2
A delightful, charming, and painfully relatable documentary that simultaneously serves as a story of blind American optimism and an ode to the endeavor of film, American Movie is the pop song that ends Josh Yates’ long experimental-rock concert. Following an ambitious small-town filmmaker, the film contains the comedic scenarios that inevitably befall an amateur filmmaker attempting to make something as ambitious and deft as a serious horror film. However, it treats these moments with equal parts fun-poking and reverence, as, at the end of the day, who isn’t rooting for these perfect underdogs?
“American Movie is such a redeeming choice. I’ve never met someone who doesn’t like that movie… I’ve watched it where I thought it was hilarious, and I’ve watched it where I was much more sad. Again, things changing over time, it’s very interesting.”
Josh Yates attended each of these screenings and provided the audience with an intro, contextualizing his choice in choosing the film. However, his choice to not have a talkback was telling–never needing to be the center of attention, he would simply allow the films to speak for themselves. As the credits roll, the audience begins having their own guided conversations, micro-talkbacks, and carry these personal ruminations out into the night–an empowering gift to the audience, typical desires of a true filmmaker.