Michael Putnam's "The Hard Swing" on 16mm
Join us on Tuesday, January 17th, at 7:30pm, when our friends at Light Industry will screen our print of Michael Putnam's 1962 documentary THE HARD SWING!
The rise of a new observational documentary in the early '60s, that today is typically categorized under the label of “cinema verite,” promised an unprecedented access to everyday situations and spontaneous actions through the portability of 16mm production and innovations in synchronized sound. Yet many of the classic examples of the movement gravitated not so much towards average people but instead figures who were already well-versed in playing to audiences, from Drew’s politicians to the Maysles’ salesmen, culminating in such performance-driven portraits of counterculture celebrities as Don’t Look Back, Gimme Shelter, and Woodstock.
Tonight’s program highlights two captivating early instances of this tendency. The first is a pioneering nonfiction experiment from the New American Cinema, Michael Putnam’s The Hard Swing. Made when the filmmaker was just 21, this now all-but-forgotten film documents a day in the life of veteran burlesque dancer Nita Louise at the President Follies Theatre in San Francisco’s Tenderloin. It provides a remarkable record of Louise’s routine, unfolding with a casual precision bespeaking hundreds of previous iterations, along with furtive footage of her male spectators. But the heart of the portrait is an unhurried opening sequence featuring Louise in her dressing room as she meticulously prepares. The Hard Swing made its New York premiere at the Charles Theater in July 1962, where it screened in a series with Ron Rice’s The Flower Thief and won Best Film, and was later singled out for praise overseas in a column for Sight & Sound. “Slowly, rather wearily, to the piped-in sounds of off-color jokes and clanging music on-stage, she goes through her toilette,” the magazine reported. “On stage, as the camera follows her in and out of the shadows, she becomes a ravishing odalisque for a time; then she trudges listlessly back to her dressing-room, where she sips tea while waiting for the next show.”
Putnam’s film is paired with Wolf Koenig and Roman Kroitor’s Lonely Boy, a foundational work of direct cinema and an exemplar of the National Film Board of Canada’s golden age of documentary production. The movie follows singer Paul Anka—then emerging as a 19-year-old pop phenomenon—before and after a concert for raucous hordes of screaming teen girls. As with Hard Swing, the film’s primary dynamic is the contrast between life offstage and the performance onstage; here, however, the audience plays a much more visible role, their antics and ecstasy as entertaining as Anka’s velvety love songs. Unlike Putnam’s burlesque dancer, Anka is hardly alone, constantly surrounded by flunkies, managers, and photographers. The backstage view expands into an analysis of the marketing team behind Anka, who dispassionately discuss him as a product to be shaped and sold.
Tickets: Pay what you can ($10 suggested donation), available at door.
**Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm. No entry 10 minutes after start of show.**