Harrington plays a young man desperately seeking out the fleeting image of a female companion, and though he never quite catches her, he discovers much more through the surreal explorations of his own sexuality. Made a year before Kenneth Anger’s Fireworks, the films contain some similarities in their treatment of homoerotic themes, though Fragment is more restrained and subtle.
Curtis Harrington, widely regarded as one of the important avant-garde directors of the 1940’s, as well as an early influential figure in what would come to be known as ‘New Queer Cinema,’ was born in Los Angeles in 1926. He began making films as a teenager, often deeply surreal, intuitive, and owing much to the writings of Edgar Allan Poe. After graduating from UCLA with a degree in film studies, his unique career trajectory led him from the academic circles of cinematic criticism (he wrote a publication on the films of Josef von Sternberg); to the Hollywood assistant desk of writer/producer Jerry Wald; to the elite group of independent filmmakers associated with Kenneth Anger (the two remained life-long friends and colleagues); to the famed film factory of cult icon Roger Corman; then on to his own stint in the world of genre movie-making with Night Tide and Games; and most unpredictable of all, to finding commercial success in television. This publication, a joint effort between Flicker Alley and Drag City featuring restorations carried out by the Academy Film Archive on a single-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo, comprised of six short films by the late experimental filmmaker, as well as bonus interview footage and rarely-seen early works.
Once upon a time, the U.S. of A. had our own Jean Cocteau in the making, but he was too early for the 1960s window that let his spiritual kin (Kenneth Anger) and progeny (Andy Warhol) in, and we consigned him to a downward trajectory of increasingly camp-value-laden features until he finally had to make his living directing scattered episodes of addictive-crap TV like Dynasty. But a little treasure trove of Curtis Harrington’s dreamlike, lush, sexually ambiguous, and death-obsessed short films remains, the newly restored versions of which have now been carefully compiled for this new Blu-ray release, and they are a revelation. In the five shorts that he made between 1946 and 1955, Harrington, using more imagination and inspiration than material resources, used the magical medium of cinema to inscribe his wordless visions of the ineffable exaltations and horrors of sex and death, longing, and perpetually mutable identity onto celluloid in a way more famously associated with Luis Bunuel or David Lynch; in some ways, in the chronological aesthetic lineage of cinema, he’s the long-missing link between the two. But it’s much better late than never to have the chance to get lost in Harrington’s transfixing, seductive miniature dreamscapes; The Curtis Harrington Collection is the most gratifying resurrection of an undeservedly obscured film artist to be bestowed upon us in quite some time, and is sure to secure the ascension of these lost, strange, highly accomplished labors of love to their rightful place — right up alongside the best of Maya Deren and Stan Brakhage — in the pantheon of American avant-garde/experimental cinema. Highly Recommended.
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