Curtis Harrington: Cinema on the Edge

Reviewed by Drew Heitzler

Rembrandt Fucked the Maid 
The idea of putting together Art with found objects. None of that has ever had any personal interest for me. The only thing I was interested in – and always have been and always will be – is surrealist painting.
His strangely dark yet brightly lit films
Fragment of Seeking (1946) offered an introverted shadow to the psycho-erotic blare of his two chief avant-garde friends, pacesetters Kenneth Anger and Maya Deren.
Gregory Markopoulos, who also operated the camera.
The Wormwood Star (1956) is a wonderful Kodachromatic survey of the mystical work, form, life and art of Marjorie Cameron
Let us not fool ourselves: the experimental film, ostensibly free from the aforementioned tyranny, is too trifling, too in love with its petty effects, too introverted, too lazy, and most often ends as a victim, also, for its means by circumstance have been too transcribed.
You know at the time I just wanted to work, and I considered Curtis an artist. And also, he was inside the system at that time, he was Jerry Wald’s assistant at 20th Century Fox. Jerry Wald was one of the biggest producers in Hollywood at that time.
Ironically, the best films have been produced, whatever the consequences to the artist, and they have often been considerable (witness historically, the systematic, exteriorly induced decay in the extraordinary talents of Erich vin Stroheim, Josef von Sternberg and Orson Welles, as example) within the framework of commercial cinema.
“I didn’t want to use actors in my films” he said to Films and Filming magazine, “just people who seemed to have a quality I wanted to use.”
Combining the necessities of no-budget film-making with high budget 35mm cinematography
Cinematographer of Night Tide. Vilis Lapenieks.

We made Night Tide non-union totally. And you know also Cassavetes was in New York, and this was made in Los Angeles, right in the heart of the industry. We made it right in front of their noses. So like Shadows and Night Tide really are the first real independent feature films.
The independence of it is not the point of it. From my point of view, Cassavetes’ work is almost the antithesis of mine. And I never had any interest in him as a filmmaker at all.
I think you have to understand my films – all of them – from an aesthetic point of view.
“I showed it in Venice (Italy) and then nothing, we couldn’t get it released. And then finally, we were able to do it through Roger Corman’s company, the Film Group, which was his version of American International.
It is a wide-eyed documentary poem about Venice (California).
Night Tide had its greatest success as the bottom half of a double bill with one of the Vincent Price Poe films. I forgot which one.
The 50’s noir films were considered forgettable, cheap “B” filler by the studios, but years later are recognized as true cinema long after the “A” film spectacles of the 50’s are forgotten.
“If you want to know something about a trumpet player, do you ask the trumpet?’’
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Amy Greenfield, Ed., Curtis Harrington: Cinema on the Edge, (Anthology Film Archives, 2005) 
Images: Still from Night Tide (1961) and Fragment of Seeking (1946)