Hank Willis Thomas: Different Image

The subversive appropriations of commercial imagery in Hank Willis Thomas’s Unbranded series, on view in the Block’s main gallery, serve as a launching pad for this series, which looks at the ways filmmakers have used cinema to explore—and to dismantle—socially-imposed images and identities of race, class, gender, and sexuality. The title of the series comes from Alile Sharon Larkin’s singular, under-seen 1982 film A Different Image, in which a young Black woman confronts sexual objectification in both her environment and in her relationships with friends and coworkers. Images create structures of oppression in films as diverse as Todd Haynes’ Safe (1995) and John Carpenter’s They Live (1988), but what these films share above all is the pursuit of visual strategies for creating a disobedient, self-determined image.

Safe

Friday, April 13, 2018 7:00 PM FREE
(Todd Haynes, 1995, UK/USA, 35mm, 119 min.)

Something is amiss beneath the immaculate and suffocating surfaces of Todd Haynes’ celebrated parable, which has been read in many ways: as a postmodern melodrama, an allegory for the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, and an ecological cautionary tale. But the ambiguity of its premise—an upper-middle class housewife (Julianne Moore) radically transforms her life after suffering from an undiagnosable “environmental illness”—also makes Safe a timeless reflection of the struggle of women to define their own self-image in the face of a toxic, oppressive, mediated society.

Chameleon Street

Thursday, April 19, 2018 7:00 PM FREE
(Wendell B. Harris Jr., 1990, USA, DCP, 94 min.)

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 1990 Sundance Film Festival but then falling into near obscurity, Wendell B. Harris’s Chameleon Street is now considered a classic of 1980s African-American independent filmmaking. Harris wrote, directed, and starred in the film, which is based on a real-life con-man imposter, who successfully passed himself off as reporters, doctors, lawyers, and more. The film touches very directly on themes of race, class, and economics—it’s a work of biting social critique—but Harris also doesn’t lose sight of the absurdity and humor of the material. Badly distributed when it was finally released in 1991, Chameleon Street has been undergoing a re-evaluation over the last decade. As Ashley Clark wrote in Sight and Sound magazine, “Chameleon Street exists as a gloriously strange one-off that deserves to be appreciated by a new generation.”

They Live

Thursday, May 31, 2018 7:00 PM FREE
(John Carpenter, 1988, USA, 35mm, 94 min.)

The political and social critique of genre master John Carpenter's science fiction/horror film They Live was timely when it came out and has become even more prescient in the intervening two decades. The film follows a drifter (Roddy Piper) who finds a stash of glasses that reveal the world as it actually is—one ruled by a race of aliens who maintain control through ubiquitous subliminal messages commanding obeisance, consumption, and conformity. Since its release, the film has become a cult favorite and a pop-culture reference point for many artists, including Hank Willis Thomas. It has also garnered more high-brow appreciation: philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Žižek features it prominently in his film The Pervert's Guide to Ideology and novelist and essayist Jonathan Lethem has written a book about the film. In the tradition of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and Night of the Living Dead (1968), They Live demonstrates that sometimes the most politically subversive films are aimed at the id rather than the intellect.

Different Image/Perfect Image?

Friday, June 1, 2018 7:00 PM FREE

A Different Image (Alile Sharon Larkin, 1982, USA, 16mm, 52 min.)

Perfect Image? (Maureen Blackwood, 1988, UK, digital, 30 min.)

Different Image/Perfect Image? brings together two films that depict the ways cultures project standards of beauty and identity onto Black women, while also exploring how photography and cinema can articulate a different image of Black female empowerment. Alile Sharon Larkin’s intimate and nuanced narrative A Different Image emerged from the groundswell of Black independent filmmaking that was the L.A. Rebellion movement of the 70s and 80s. Maureen Blackwood’s playfully postmodern Perfect Image?, meanwhile, finds the director breaking out of the London-based Sankofa Film and Video Collective to explores similar themes within Black diasporic communities in the United Kingdom.

In person: Jacqueline Stewart, professor in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies at The University of Chicago, will introduce the screening.

A Different Image will be screening from a restored print courtesy of UCLA Film and Television Archive