Capital Celluloid 2023 — Day 107: Mon Apr 17

Losing Ground (Collins, 1982): Barbican Cinema, 6.35pm

Barbican introduction: A masterpiece from the late Kathleen Collins, this film is a beautifully crafted drams, focusing on the tension between university lecturer Sara Rogers and her artist husband played by Bill Gunn. A rare example of an Black independent film depicting the ennui of a Black middle class, focusing on a community of professional well-educated artists, this is a rare object, made all the more rare by the premature passing of both Collins and Gunn, two artists, whose short career’s were important examples of refusing to be subsumed by the limitations provided by the film industry at the tie and would be integral in developing networks and avenues for independent Black creative spaces. The film was restored in 2022, premiering in October, having received a preservation grant from the Film Foundation and the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation which enabled the creation of a new digital master from the original 16mm film elements, a new 35mm film negative, and a restored 35mm optical soundtrack, which we will be showing for our screening. The screening will be introduced by Dr Terri Francis.

New Yorker review:
It’s great news that one of the first American features directed by a black woman, “Losing Ground,” Kathleen Collins’s 1982 film, which wasn’t released until 2015, is about to come out on DVD and Blu-ray, thanks to Milestone Films. Though it’s good to see this film on the big screen, it’s most important simply to see it and see it again, freeze-frame on its deeply textured images and rewatch its sharply constructed scenes, flip through it rapidly for the pleasures of memory and watch it backward to see how it hangs together. I think it’s the movie that I’ve watched most often in the past year-plus, in the time since its rediscovery at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in February, 2015, and it continues to yield mysteries along with revelations. Rewatching it again this week, I was struck by a quality that had eluded me earlier: anger, an emotion that’s potentially destructive to express but self-destructive to repress.
The film’s protagonist, Sara Rogers (Seret Scott), is a professor of philosophy (she teaches, as Collins did, at City College of New York), whose research involves the quest for ecstatic experience outside the realm of religion. Her husband, Victor (Bill Gunn), is an older artist finally enjoying the first flush of success and looking to advance his work by spending a summer upstate spent sketching landscapes and people. To join him there, Sara would have to put her own research on the back burner, and Victor doesn’t hesitate to urge her to do so. The title of the film suggests the conflicts at its core—the paradox faced by many individual black women despite general progress regarding opportunities for women and African-Americans—and the action of the film, as I discuss in this clip, suggests some of the reasons why. Reason itself is among them—the effort to advance constructively while gripped by the irrational force of tradition, of unexpressed assumptions and unexamined mythologies, repressed desires and frustrated aspirations, undiscussed history and unacknowledged grief. The movie’s subject is the notion of liberation, one that’s as much aesthetic, philosophical, and emotional as it is practical and political. It’s one of the great tragedies of the modern cinema that Collins didn’t make any subsequent movies in which to pursue her powerful art and her powerful ideas—or that this very movie wasn’t seen widely in its time, and thus didn’t inspire (as it doubtless would have) a wide range of other filmmakers to pursue those ideas, to seek their own cinematic liberation.
Richard Brody

Here (and above) is the trailer.

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