Programmed by Theodore Zelmo
This series consists of films that feature the desert not only as a setting, but also as a reflection of the characters' desolate psychologies. As an asocial environment, the desert confronts individuals with their authentic selves, and forces them to come to grips with who they are. Embracing the awful truth of their identities alone in the wilderness, the protagonists of desert films become murderers, mystics, and maniacs. Join us as we wander over wind-scored dunes, through chapped arroyos, towards the horror and mystery of the mind! Highlights include Hiroshi Teshigahara's Woman in the Dunes, Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo, and Saul Bass's Phase IV.
(Emir Kusturica, 1993) · Remember when Johnny Depp used to actually choose interesting roles? In this magical humdinger of a picture, he plays Axel Blackmer, an aimless NY fish-tagger who heads west to take over the family car dealership and meets a bunch of eccentrics, including a wealthy widow (Faye Dunaway) with whom he strikes up an odd and painful relationship. Kusturica's singular masterpiece explores the dream-swept mystery of the desert in strokes both quirky and spiritual.
runtime: 142m format: 35mm
(Jonathan Mostow, 1997) · Charged with adrenaline and motor oil, Breakdown sends a familiar formula careening into strange new territory. Like the heroes of The 39 Steps or North By Northwest, everyman Jeff Taylor (Kurt Russell) finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy when his car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Dislodged from his quotidian life in the cruel and scorching Mojave, Jeff suddenly becomes a feral hero, a violent wild-man capable of anything.
runtime: 95m format: 35mm
(Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1964) · When an amateur entomologist misses the bus home after an expedition, some villagers from the nearby town lure him into a pit. They imprison him there and force him to dig holes alongside a mysterious woman who becomes his lover. A sisyphean allegory ensues in this film whose true villain isn't the town government, but the sand itself, a simultaneously graceful and suffocating oppressor.
runtime: 123m format: 35mm
(Ted Kotcheff, 1971) · Ennui-stricken school teacher John Grant (Gary Bond) finds himself stranded in a small town on the edge of the Outback. A creepy local doctor (Donald Pleasance) takes John under his wing, integrating him into the town's barbaric culture. Free from responsibility, he tailspins into drunken debauchery and kangaroo hunting. A reckless vacation becomes an unending nightmare as the desert works its awful magic, alienating him from the townspeople and eventually from himself.
runtime: 108m format: 35mm
(Monte Hellman, 1967) · In this cryptic mirage of a western, a mysterious young woman (Millie Perkins) pays weary ex-bounty hunter Willet Gashade (Warren Oates) to take her through the desert to the town of Kingsley. They saddle up and head out, but Gashade notices a leering man in black (Jack Nicholson) following them from a distance. For Monte Hellman, the desert is a place where nothing is what it seems and where death encroaches slowly at a steady pace.
runtime: 82m format: DCP
(Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1970) · The Mole, a lawless vagabond, roams the Mexican desert accompanied only by his young son, whispering cryptic aphorisms and slaughtering people with his Colt 45. The Mole's on a quest to become the greatest gun master by killing four notorious bandits, guided by a woman in black. When she inexplicably betrays him, he falls into a deep trance. El Topo constitutes the apotheosis of the Acid Western, roiling with spaghetti-western bloodlust and hippie mysticism.
runtime: 125m format: 35mm
(Ida Lupino, 1953) · On their way to go fishing, two men pick up a hitchhiker, who just so happens to be homicidal maniac. He forces them to drive him to the gulf of California, informing the men that he'll kill them as soon as they arrive. With this dessicated skeleton of a plot, the trio descends deep into the heart of the desert, a primal playground for sadism and agony, in Ida Lupino's sweat-soaked, dust-ridden saga of the biter and the bitten. Print courtesy of the Library of Congress.
runtime: 71m format: 35mm
(Saul Bass, 1974) · For the first and last time in his career, legendary graphic designer Saul Bass leans back in the director's chair and dresses the desert for cosmic horrors that shock a team of scientists sent to investigate a series of megalithic towers built by ants. Bass plunges the viewer into a psychedelic wasteland overhung by blood-red sunsets and bleary with chemical clouds. Followed by Bass's restored original ending. Print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive.
runtime: 84m format: 35mm
(Trent Harris, 1991) · In perhaps the greatest buddy flick of all time, Crispin Glover plays Rubin Farr, a reclusive weirdo who spends his days playing with squeaky toys and dancing to Mahler. Enter Ed Tuttle (Howard Hesseman), a failing salesman who shows up on Rubin's doorstep pitching a self-help seminar. Rubin agrees to join only if Ed can drive him to bury his cat. They wind up lost and delirious in the desert, which, though barren and hostile, proves to be fertile ground for friendship.
runtime: 82m format: 35mm