Who is Mark Rappaport, director of Fandor’s current #filmoftheweek?
His three latest movies, which are all new to Fandor, should give some insight into his oeuvre as a whole. Recent Fandor Featured Release The Circle Closes interrogates the presence of non-human characters in four of the cinema canon’s classics. This week’s Featured Release Debra Paget, For Example examines the career of a prolific B-list contract actress, giving her ten-year tenure in the industry its due. And New Release Max & James & Danielle uses the magic of post-production to match up master auteur Max Ophüls’ two favorite muses, James Mason and Danielle Darrieux, in a casting that happens after the fact. In short, he is the kind of artist who would even make films like these in the first place, films that are invested in the economies — visual, personal, structural and literal — of cinema. Not only has he made over nineteen narrative films, experimental documentaries and cinematic essays since 1966, which is impressive in and of itself, but he also thinks deeply and writes critically about them (sometimes for Fandor’s Keyframe journal, even). It’s this synthesis of auteur and analyst that is the key to understanding just what Mark Rappaport does.
Rappaport’s passions lie not just in cinematic storytelling, but examining the construction of stories, and he uses the performances and histories of others as the inspiration, material and indeed the very raison d’être for his directing practice. His work has always been marked not only by the investigative impulse, but also by intentional and stylized aesthetics and an unpretentious, infectious spirit. The source? Deep, abiding love for the medium and the message of cinema.
His initial experiments show this predilection right from the start, from filming a young man pondering the countenance of Greta Garbo in Mur 19 to slyly deconstructing pornography in Blue Streak. From there, he moved on to make a series of narrative features that drew comparisons to Godard by testing the boundaries of narrative itself: about composers (Mozart in Love), vampires (Casual Relations) and transgressions (Local Color), among many, many other subjects. Roger Ebert once wrote, in his review of Rappaport’s 1978 feature The Scenic Route, “Rappaport makes movies that look, sound and feel like nobody else’s movies. He is an original. He has discovered and recorded his own universe in the same sense that William Blake, Lewis Carroll, J. R. R. Tolkien or Charles Addams have. You enter it on his terms, because it’s his fantasy, but you get caught up in it immediately.”
Editor-in-Chief of RogerEbert.com Matt Zoller Seitz was able to interview the director about his past works and his shift into “fictitious autobiography” and video essay: “I owe a good part of my sensibility, if not my career”, says Seitz, “to the films of Mark Rappaport.” We recommend reading the interview in its entirety here.
We take appropriation (in the form of super-cuts, GIFs, mash-ups and the like) for granted in media arts these days, but before the rise of digital distribution, found footage films were a slightly more impressive feat. Even more impressive? That Rappaport has been able to elevate his particular kind of commentary to a highly enjoyable (and dare we say, thoroughly edu-taining) art form. Since Rock Hudson’s Home Movies, made in 1992, his films have focused on the constructions of cinema as they intersect with constructions of race, gender and class. Because this process takes the scraps of our past, holds them up to what we know of our culture and makes attempts at understanding the link, the term “archeology” truly is apt. Rappaport’s films, as made clear in his early performative lecture Mark Rappaport: The TV Spinoff, remind us that no movie is made in a vacuum.
As the decades have passed, Rappaport’s methods and formats have changed to fit the times, but the focus remains on a very specific era of classic cinema. He is committed to investigating the art that informed his youth, and to finding the seams at which he can open up those fictions. And now, the trend towards increased media literacy and the deconstructive urge in popular culture may have finally caught up to him— just look at the proliferation of blogs devoted to one star, obsessively breaking down their dialogue, their gestures, their clothes and their personas — but his works have always taken these imperatives to the next level. Whether you are a dyed-in-the-wool film buff or totally new to the material, Rappaport’s deft mixture of clever camerawork (in films like Exterior Night, From the Journals of Jean Seberg and The Silver Screen/Color Me Lavender, he wields techniques like rear projection and superimposition to incredible effect) and keen insights will leave you with more than you knew before, and keep you coming back for more. That’s a promise!
We’ll leave you with Rappaport in his own words, from that same interview with Zoller Seitz:
The first time I saw Mystery Science Theater 3000, I said, “Oh my god, this is my life story.’ You’re sitting there practically screaming out at the screen, ‘No no, don’t open that box,’ or, ‘Don’t go in the closet, don’t go in the cellar,’ or finishing lines of dialogue before they’re said.’ So I think that, in a sense, Rock Hudson’s Home Movies and From the Journals of Jean Seberg come out of that. I’m yelling back at the screen, but in retrospect.
Suggested Bonus Viewing
This movie list expands the Rappaport universe with Fandor films featuring the actors, subjects and stars that appear in his massive oeuvre.
And really, you can’t get more marvelously meta than this great Keyframe video essay on his video essays:
Suggested Bonus Reading
For more context into the wondrous world of Rappaport’s essays and stories, check out these great resources:
Keyframe Essays on Rappaport’s Films
Keyframe essays by Mark Rappaport on his own films:
Mark Rappaport’s headshot is by Robin Holland.