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"Sleepwalking: The Films of Sara Driver"

The series opens today at Anthology Film Archives in New York and runs through April 1.
The DailyYou Are Not I

You Are Not I

"Showcasing a free-form approach to narrative that you'll wish wasn't all but extinct in American independent cinema," writes Benjamin Mercer in the L, "Sara Driver's long-unavailable (and too small) body of work constitutes a minor revelation. In her 1981 debut, You Are Not I — recently rediscovered and refurbished, providing the impetus for Anthology's retrospective — Driver laid the groundwork for her eerily dissonant overlay of enchantment, terror, and tedium: Adapting a Paul Bowles story with longtime collaborator (and partner) Jim Jarmusch, who also shot the film on black-and-white 16mm, You Are Not I is an outer-boundary study in the mind's capacity to project its disturbance." Suzanne Fletcher plays Ethel, "who has somehow escaped from a nearby mental hospital in the flaming aftermath of a several-car pileup. She travels through a derelict zone to her sister's house, where the 'inconvenient' Ethel winds up in an unnervingly clenched domestic showdown." Last fall, Alt Screen posted a roundup and video from an interview with Driver.

For the Voice, Nick Pinkerton has "met Driver at a café on the Bowery, geographically near but economically and psychologically far from the depopulated downtown where Burroughs, Driver, and her collaborators on You Are Not I lived — the photographer Nan Goldin and the author Luc Sante play small roles; the soundtrack is by Phil Kline, a noteworthy avant-garde musician… Still very much the classics student preoccupied with myths, Driver is today working with French producers on 'an omnibus film of metamorphosis tales from all over the world,' which will have her directing alongside Emir Kusturica, Michel Gondry, Alfonso Cuarón, and Persepolis's Marjane Satrapi." Besides Driver's films, Anthology's series also features "a mirroring program, curated by the filmmaker, of formative influences. In evidence is Driver's particular fondness for drive-in and pulp material — we spent a good quarter-hour discussing favorite grave-robbing movies — and her selections include Jack Hill's Spider Baby and Jacques Tourneur's Cat People. Driver praises Cat People producer Val Lewton as a proto-independent, 'using his limitations as strengths.' She should know: Graveyard shifts editing You Are Not I from 2 to 8 in the morning at the Film Center Building in Hell's Kitchen provided Driver with the mood of nocturnal unease and material for her next film, 1986's Sleepwalk, in which Fletcher stars as a downtown copy-shop employee (as was Driver, working with Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon) whose life is invaded by sinister signs when she accepts a freelance translation job on some Chinese fables." Alt Screen posts a roundup of reviews and clips from last month's Film Comment Selects Q&A.

Sara Driver

Sara Driver

"In When Pigs Fly (1993) a jazz musician receives a visit from two friendly ghosts who died in a rocking chair that has recently come into his possession," writes Dennis Lim in the New York Times. "But for all their supernatural and surrealist flights, their frequent lapses into trance states, the films remain concretely rooted in their physical realities: the ominous expanses of American exurbia, the eerily desolate Lower Manhattan of the mid-1980s. The mix of site-specific grit and dreamlike reverie comes across too in The Bowery — Spring, her 11-minute documentary from 1994, a fond chronicle of the fabled thoroughfare in its final days as a skid row…. Much of Ms Driver's work — and some of Mr Jarmusch's — belongs to a now romanticized chapter of New York City's cultural lore: the vibrant, cross-pollinating downtown arts and music movements that came to be loosely known as No Wave. 'It's hard to convey today just how small physically the scene was,' Mr Sante said. 'Ideas rocketed around really fast, and the idea was to make the work for the immediate approval of your friends.' But Mr Jarmusch, never one for nostalgia, said he saw Ms. Driver's films less as time capsules than as timeless expressions of an unflagging curiosity: 'She has a kind of wonder at things, the strangeness of the world. It's a wonder that doesn't get jaded.'"

Earlier: George Sikharulidze interviewed Driver for Senses of Cinema 61.

Update, 3/24: Driver "remains the least aggressively scenesterish of the No Wave filmmakers to emerge from the creative cross-pollinations of 1980s New York," writes Mark Asch for Alt Screen. "While post-punk filmmakers like Amos Poe and Eric Mitchell took downtown Manhattan as their explicit subject, tuning in to the performative and personality-driven ethos that was its going trend, Driver's universe is a deeply private and madly logical headspace."

Update, 3/26: For Frank Thurston Green, writing at the Bomblog, Sleepwalk is "a beautiful confusion about whether we're seeing coincidence or conspiracy, whether New York is all these people have in common, whether only someone as bleary as Nicole could live in such a tornado of fairy dust."

Updates, 4/8: In La Furia Umana, Lilly Papagianni suggests that "Driver has almost created a genre of her own, a gritty, unrefined magic realism."

In the L, Miriam Bale briefly considers one of Driver's selections for her Carte Blanche series, Norman Z McLeod's Topper (1937).

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