RETROSPECTIVE: CURT MCDOWELL

February 11, 2016

 

The AAFF is excited to feature a program of newly restored 16mm films by Curt McDowell (1945-1987), a beloved favorite at the AAFF throughout the 1970s. The retrospective will be held Thursday, March 17th at 7pm in the Michigan Theater. The program will feature Ronnie (1972), True Blue and Dreamy (1973), Stinky Butt (1974), and Wieners and Buns Musical (1972) among others and will be presented by Mark Toscano, archivist for the Academy Film Archive. McDowell's film, Loads (1980) will also be featured in the Out Night program at 9:30pm on Thursday, March 17th in the Michigan Theater and A Visit to Indiana (1970) will screen in the Opening Night program, March 15th.

 

Familiar to most underground filmmakers, Curt McDowell’s name was tied with mystery, novelty, and zeal. With an exceptionally bold expression of sexuality and an autobiographical perspective of narration, McDowell’s films reflected his obsession with and curiosity for exploring sexuality.

 

“A filmmaker, actor, visual artist, and writer, McDowell arrived in San Francisco in the mid-1960s to attend the San Francisco Art Institute in the painting department and quickly changed course to become a filmmaker to work with George Kuchar, within a period that witnessed the Summer of Love, gay liberation, and the onset of AIDS, to which he succumbed at the age of 42.  He directed over 30 films, celebrating sex as well as genre riffing and autobiographical narratives that bear the influences of Jack Smith’s lush, DIY camp aesthetic, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s explosive melodrama, and Nan Goldin’s glimpses of countercultural bohemia" (The Tenderloin Museum).

 

George Kuchar, American underground film director and the co-creator of Thundercrack! (1975), worked  closely with McDowell in the seventies and eighties. Kuchar described McDowell as: “Curt, cute, controversial, and not celibate. He was a barrel of laughs and a roller coaster ride to hell and back. Life for him was a fast track to fast times that included devilish detours into forbidden erogenous zones. He explored all those zones with a zealous zeal: painter, pornographer, poet of the plebeian and the perverse; you name it (or sing it since he also wrote songs) and it all rings true.” 

 

When McDowell passed of AIDS in 1987, he left behind his entire life’s work—including films, paintings, and scrapbooks—which first were protected under Curt McDowell Foundation and later were placed under the care of his sister, Melinda, when the Foundation no longer existed. The Academy Film Archive recently launched a program to restore Curt McDowell’s complete collection of films. Confessions, featured in the Out Night at the 53rd AAFF, was the first output of this large-scale project. We are excited to be able to show such a large collection of McDowell’s work at the 54th Festival!

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