Herb Shellenberger

Double Vision: Jean Vigo/Ron Rice
February 1–2, 2019
Lightbox Film Center
Philadelphia, PA, US

À propos de Nice, Jean Vigo, 1930, France, DCP, 25’
L’Atalante, Jean Vigo, 1934, France, DCP, 89’
Chumlum, Ron Rice, 1964, US, 16mm-to-35mm, 26’
The Flower Thief, Ron Rice, 1960, US, 16mm, 58’
The Queen of Sheba Meets Atom Man, Ron Rice, 1963/1981, US, 16mm-to-35mm 108’
Senseless, Ron Rice, 1962, US, 16mm, 28’
Taris, Jean Vigo, 1931, France, DCP, 10’
Zero for Conduct, Jean Vigo, 1933, France, DCP, 44’

"Double Vision" is a dual retrospective looking at the films of Jean Vigo and Ron Rice, two filmmakers who—despite living at different times and working in different parts of the world—are tied together with an invisible thread. Both deeply poetic filmmakers who found beauty and imagination in people from the lower rungs of society, Vigo and Rice’s vibrancy and vision were articulated over four films each, as both their lives were cut short on the precipice

Jean Vigo was born 1905 in Paris to Emily Cléro and the infamous anarchist Miguel Almereyda. The backdrop of radical politics surrounding his upbringing influenced his worldview and—after a wildly swinging pendulum of good and bad fortune—led him into the cinema. Vigo’s contributions as a filmmaker, made between 1929 and 1934, total three shorts of drastically different forms and the feature L’Atalante, released only in a severely compromised version before he succumbed to tuberculosis in 1934.

Months later, Ron Rice was born 1935 in New York. A prominent member of the New American Cinema Group, Rice’s restless temperament and nomadic lifestyle led him outside of New York around the United States and Mexico, settings for several of his films. Rice’s oeuvre, made between 1959 and 1964, comprises three short films also of different forms and one feature, unfinished in his lifetime but later edited by his close collaborator and friend Taylor Mead. On a trip to Mexico, Rice died of pneumonia at the end of 1964.

Writing after receiving fresh news of his friend’s death, Jonas Mekas delared in The Village Voice: “The small body of work that Ron left will have to be compared now with the work that Jean Vigo left at his own untimely and wasteful death.” While not ignoring these significant tragic circumstances surrounding the lives and films of these two directors, this series represents the first time their films have been so directly exhibited with each other, aiming for new connections and deeper comparisons to emerge.

Mekas’s description of the films of Ron Rice could just as appropriately apply to Jean Vigo: “Each film is a new departure, each like no other, each breathing the poetry, unexpectedness, and imagination that marked him as one of our most original artists.” Following new restorations of both filmmaker’s films, the time is right to reexamine their works together, allowing this juxtaposition to bring about new ideas, readings and complications to their collective eight films.

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