When Hollywood actress Jean Simmons in a 1940 movie painted her face black

Actress Jean Simmons in ‘Black Narcissus’, Dir. Michelle Williams Gamaker’s House of women recasts the role, auditioning only Indian expat or first-generation British Asian women and non-binary individuals living in London.

Film series: Flim-flam redux at Art Gallery of NSW (30 August ”“ 27 September)

After a long hiatus, The Art Gallery is thrilled to resume film screenings with Flim-flam redux, a series which was interrupted in March due to COVID-19.

Doppelgangers, false identities and body swaps: each generation of filmmakers adapts these tropes to the anxieties of its era. This season proposes that our current fascination with the double pivots on questions of authenticity and deception. We’re held rapt by the rise and fall of Instagram fraudsters, sham startups and deep fakes. In the space between the original and its counterfeit lurks the con.

In dialogue with the exhibition Shadow catchers, this series draws together compelling stories of doubles and fabricated realities. Scams exist on a spectrum from small-time rackets to structural inequalities that hide in plain sight. Featuring films by Elaine May, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Cheryl Dunye and more, Flim-flam redux explores a collective vulnerability to lies that sound like truth.

Wednesdays and Sundays 2pm
30 August – 27 September 2020

Free, bookings required

For all the details including what, when and how you can book, read our Film ticket FAQs

Location: Domain Theatre

Related exhibition: Shadow Catchers

Cinema of fakes, cons, doubles:

House of women
Dir. Michelle Williams Gamaker 2017 (UK)
14 mins 16mm-to-digital Colour Unclassified 12+
Jasdeep Kandola, Arunima Rajkumar

In 1946, auditions were held for the character of the silent dancing girl Kanchi in British directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s Black narcissus (1947). After a nationwide search, the coveted role went to Jean Simmons, a white actor who wore blackface to become the ”˜exotic temptress’. House of women recasts the role, auditioning only Indian expat or first-generation British Asian women and non-binary individuals living in London. Unlike in the original role, the re-cast Kanchi speaks. Drawing on the  tension between construction and illusion, Gamaker interrogates the colonial fantasies of the 1940s British studio system which often replaced Indian actors with British actors when representing the British Raj and its people.


The watermelon woman + America

Dir. Cheryl Dunye 1996 (US)
90 mins 35mm-to-digital Unclassified 15+
Cheryl Dunye, Guinevere Turner

This watershed of ’90s New Queer Cinema was one of the first features to explore Black lesbian identity and the historical representation of women of colour in Hollywood. Dunye cast herself as Cheryl, a queer video-store clerk and aspiring filmmaker searching for African American actresses in 1930s and 1940s films. She becomes obsessed with an elusive ”˜mammy’ figure credited only as ”˜the watermelon woman’ and discovers that the off-screen life of the actress mirrors her own. A playful, irreverent portrait of the filmmaker as fabricator, The watermelon woman conjures a speculative history that blends fact and fiction, past and present. In Dunye’s words: ”˜The idea came from the real lack of information about the lesbian and film history of African American women. Since it wasn’t happening, I invented it.’

Preceded by:

Dir. Garrett Bradley 2019 (US)
29 mins Digital Colour
Unclassified 15+

Garrett Bradley’s extraordinary short imagines a lost lineage of African American cinema. Inspired by Bert Williams’ recently rediscovered feature Lime kiln club field day (1913) ”” the first known film to feature an all-Black cast ”” America is an ecstatic sensory experience that rewrites our visual history in the name of Black empowerment.


Sunday 30 August 2020 2pm ”“ 3:59pm

Salaam cinema + House of women

Dir. Mohsen Makhmalbaf 1995 (Iran)
70 mins 35mm Colour Unclassified 12+
M H Mokhtarian, Azadeh Zanganeh
Farsi with English subtitles

Tehran, 1995. Renowned director Mohsen Makhmalbaf begins casting a new film to celebrate the centenary of cinema. A newspaper ad calls for 100 actors; 5000 turn up. After calmly announcing, ”˜You are now both the subject and the actors in the film,’ he begins auditions. A parade of rebellious young women, intellectuals and Paul Newman lookalikes sing, dance, imitate Elvis and cry on cue. Makhmalbaf exposes the smoke-and-mirror power of cinema to manipulate and deceive the populace, all the while channeling their collective desires. The film could only have been made by a director who was himself impersonated years earlier by a cinema-obsessed con man (resulting in a famous trial that was the subject of Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-up, 1990). ”˜In our era of reality television and media stars who are desperate to make it”¦ Salaam cinema is really prescient, and all the more amazing for being from Iran in the 1990s’ ”“ filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer (The act of killing).

Mikey and Nicky

Dir. Elaine May 1976 (US)
119 mins 35mm-to-digital Colour Rated M
John Cassavetes, Peter Falk

Following the critical success of A new leaf and The heartbreak kid, May turned from comedy to the gangster film. Cassavetes is Nicky, a minor bookie on the lam after stealing from a mob boss. Holed up in a flophouse, he calls on old mate Mikey (Falk) to bail him out. Scripted to match the live-wire energy of its stars ”“ and inspired by real-life characters from May’s own childhood ”“ this is a portrait of small-fry swindlers in crisis. The pair’s non-stop dialogue careens between tender memories and shocking misogyny, revealing the rage and vulnerability behind their big-men schtick. Famous for shooting extraordinary amounts of film, May amassed over a million feet of footage (three times the amount shot for the four-hour Gone with the wind). Delivered over-budget and months after schedule, Mikey and Nicky almost ended her career. She returned in 1987 with Ishtar, and is making another comeback at the age of 87 with an upcoming film called Crackpot.


Wednesday 9 September 2020 2pm ”“ 3:59pm

Sunday 13 September 2020 2pm ”“ 3:59pm

Seconds + Slow graffiti

Dir. John Frankenheimer 1966 (US)
107 mins 35mm B&W Rated M
Rock Hudson, John Randolph

Adored by Bong Joon-ho and Cindy Sherman alike, Seconds is a hallucinatory dispatch from the far-flung fringes of 1960s Hollywood. Depressed middle-aged banker Arthur Hamilton (Randolph) is approached by a syndicate offering to fake his death and ”˜rebirth’ him as an all-improved version 2.0. He wakes up with the face of Rock Hudson, a dossier of fake degrees and a swinging new social life in Malibu. High-contrast, wide camera angles (courtesy of famed cinematographer James Wong Howe), fragmented editing and warped sound design refract the legend of Faust through the paranoia of the late sixties. Fifty years on, this cult story of a shady corporation preying upon our collective dreams of metamorphosis still resonates. As critic Dana Stevens reflects, ”˜Sometimes the person I’m recommending it to will already know the movie, and they’ll get a wild look in their eyes for a moment and say “Seconds, oh my god, Seconds”’.

Preceded by:

Slow graffiti
Dir. Alex da Corte 2017 (US)
12 mins Digital Colour Unclassified 12+

A shot-for-shot remake of Jørgen Leth’s canonical short The perfect human (1967) updated foDespair

Dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder 1978 (West Germany)
120 mins 35mm-to-digital Colour Rated M
Dirk Bogarde, Andréa Ferréol

Based on a novel by Vladimir Nabokov and scripted by Tom Stoppard, Fassbinder’s first English-language feature is a deliciously camp film about resemblance, or the lack of it. Bogarde stars as Hermann Hermann, a Russian-Jewish émigré chocolatier living with his wife Lydia (Ferréol) in Weimar-era Berlin. Inspired by a film featuring twins and split-screen trickery, Hermann concocts a plan to escape the looming Nazi threat and claim his own life-insurance policy in the process. Key to the scheme is a homeless man whom he is convinced bears an uncanny (but in fact nonexistent) similarity to himself: ”˜We are as alike as two peas. It’s a freak of nature. I stand before me.’ What follows is an arch, often bizarre exploration of dissociation and delusion. ”˜Despair is like a homoerotic Vertigo filmed through a disco ball’ ”“ Time out.


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