Film series: Putting on a show

    • 	Image: Still from Cabaret
    • The transformative power of performance

      Art After Hours, Film

Performance, in its diverse forms, has been a fundamental human activity throughout history. This film series explores various aspects of performance through the transformative power of song, music, dance, drama and ritual. It is the power of theatre to transport us to another reality, time and place. From rock ’n’ roll cinema to the Hollywood musical, these filmmakers exploit the theatrical imagination in order to create illusion, alter perception and reinvent the everyday. The imperatives of culture, class and gender are sometimes portrayed in confronting, subversive ways, showing them to be oppressive, dispensable or absurd – as several of these films demonstrate.

Putting on a show series screens in parallel to the 20th Biennale of Sydney. The Biennale includes Ghost Telephone, a special project, curated by Adrian Heathfield, which is a series of performances by artists devised in response to works on display at the Art Gallery of NSW.

Note: there will be no screening on Saturday 26 March or 16 April 2016 as previously advertised. The Gallery apologises for any inconvenience.

Wednesdays and Sundays 23 March - 8 June 2016
Saturdays 9, 23 April, 21 May 2016
Monday 28 March 2016
See listing for times


Films start at the advertised time. Doors open 30 minutes before. Tickets are issued at the Domain Theatre one hour before. Latecomers not admitted. Babes in arms not permitted.

Location: Domain Theatre

Related exhibition: 20th Biennale of Sydney

Image: Still from Cabaret

    • Singin’ in the rain


      Wednesday 23 March 2pm – 3:42pm

      Wednesday 23 March 7:15pm – 8:57pm

      Sunday 27 March 2pm – 3:42pm

      Read the description

      Dir: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly 1952 (US)
      102 mins 35mm Colour Rated G
      Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor
      With an incredibly talented cast of performers, Singin’ in the rain satirises the panic that swept Hollywood’s fledgling industry during its difficult transition to sound in the 1920s. The 'most popular musical ever made’ examines how some established, silent film stars’ careers were suddenly jeopardised by having their speaking voices scrutinised for the first time. Richly deserving its inclusion in the American Film Institute list of 100 greatest films, Singin’ in the rain shines with the joy of performance. Kelly’s famous rain-drenched dance sequence is justly one of the most celebrated movie musical numbers ever conceived. Other song and dance numbers are equally exuberant: reviving a trick he had perfected as part of his family’s vaudeville act, O’Connor displays astonishing acrobatics as he lampoons the movie industry in Make’ em laugh.

    • The kids are alright


      Monday 28 March 2pm – 3:48pm

      Read the description

      Dir: Jeff Stein 1979 (UK)
      108 mins 35mm Colour Rated M
      The Who, Ringo Starr, Steve Martin, Melvin Bragg
      Capturing the spirit of rock 'n’ roll, photographer, fan and first-time filmmaker Stein details the career of British rock group The Who. His freewheeling documentary, promoted as 'a celluloid rock 'n’ roll revival meeting’, includes live performances, previously discarded footage, promotional films and interviews from 1964 to 1978. It covers the band’s early Mod period playing sweaty cellar clubs, to the recording of the album Who are you. The 1960s and ’70s were The Who’s glory years as a live act, during which their powerful sound and theatrical stage presence were at their absolute peak. Unlike many classic rock acts, The Who had an idiosyncratic fan base and in 1979 Stein catered to this distinct and unpredictable audience by producing this thrilling, self-mocking, definitive rock documentary.

      Related exhibition: Murruwaygu

    • Cabaret


      Wednesday 30 March 2pm – 4:03pm

      Wednesday 30 March 7:15pm – 9:18pm

      Sunday 3 April 2pm – 4:03pm

      Read the description

      Dir: Bob Fosse 1972 (US)
      123 mins 35mm Colour Rated M
      Liza Minnelli, Michael York, Joel Grey
      Based on novelist Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin stories, this classic musical-drama is set in Germany in 1931. The setting is a local cabaret where, unbeknownst to the performers and audience, the decadence of the 1930s is about to come to an end. Masterfully choreographed by director Fosse, the growing threat of the fascist political regime is juxtaposed with the bawdy entertainment of the nightclub. Kander and Ebb’s songs brilliantly and often savagely satirise the lives and problems of the main characters. The Emcee (Grey) is brilliant – as are York and Minnelli.

    • Santa sangre


      Wednesday 6 April 2pm – 4:03pm

      Wednesday 6 April 7:15pm – 9:18pm

      Sunday 10 April 2pm – 4:03pm

      Read the description

      Dir: Alejandro Jodorowsky 1989 (Italy/Mexico)
      123 mins 35mm Colour Rated R
      Blanca Guerra, Guy Stockwell
      Jodorowsky’s avant-garde, adult horror makes use of disorienting flashbacks and flash-forwards to concoct a provocative psychedelic journey. Set in Mexico, the film tells the story of Fenix, a boy magician at the Circus Gringo, a ramshackle touring show in Mexico. The circus is run by his father Orgo (Stockwell), a knife-thrower, and his mother Concha (Guerra), a trapeze artist. Young Fenix witnesses horrifying events when his father commits suicide after severely maiming his mother. Committed to an asylum, Fenix eventually escapes and, reunited with his mother, forms a symbiotic relationship in a mime act they perform. Deliberately disturbing and provocative, Santa sangre is a strange and violent vision: a heady mix of religious and hallucinatory imagery, a celebration of the circus and its tawdry charms, and a landmark in cinematic surrealism.

    • Rockaby


      Saturday 9 April 2pm – 2:58pm

      Read the description

      Dir: DA Pennebaker 1982 (UK)
      58 mins 16mm Colour
      The revered American filmmaker DA Pennebaker chronicles the rehearsal process and world premiere performance (in Buffalo, New York) of Samuel Beckett’s 1981 work Rockaby. Directed for the stage by Alan Schneider, the play features Billie Whitelaw who, at the time, was regarded as one of the foremost performers of Beckett. She had previously been directed by Beckett in two of his plays, Footfalls (1976) and Happy days (1979). One of the attractions of Whitelaw for Beckett was her intellectual innocence. In her own words, she simply performed what he wrote. As the play takes form, various views of Beckett emerge, revealing his strong influence on modern theatre and the complex way his writing grips an audience. Whitelaw won an Obie Award for her performance in the play.

      Screens with Poetry in motion

    • Poetry in motion


      Saturday 9 April 3pm – 4:30pm

      Read the description

      Dir: Ron Mann 1982 (US)
      90 mins 16mm Colour Rated M
      Described as the 'Woodstock of poetry’ by American Film, Poetry in motion is an anthology of 24 leading North American poets who sing, chant and read their work. A celebration of poetry’s ancient oral tradition and a demonstration that verse is a living and thriving art form, the film presents dynamic, entertaining and inspiring works by Charles Bukowski, William S Burroughs, John Cage, Anne Waldeman, Helen Adams, Allen Ginsberg and Tom Waits.

      Screens with Rockaby

      Note: 'Poetry in motion’ screens on 9 April, rather than 16 April as previously advertised. The Gallery apologises for any inconvenience.

    • The harder they come


      Wednesday 13 April 2pm – 3:38pm

      Wednesday 13 April 7:15pm – 8:53pm

      Sunday 17 April 2pm – 3:38pm

      Read the description

      Dir: Perry Henzell 1973 (Jamaica)
      98 mins 35mm Colour Rated M
      Jimmy Cliff, Janet Barkley
      The first Jamaican-produced feature film is a groundbreaking cult classic. Rural boy Ivanhoe Martin – played by reggae musician Cliff – comes to the city looking for his big break in the music business. Like many real-life youths, who, drawn by the promise of stardom, flocked to Kingston in the early 1970s, Ivan discovers the capital to be a dazzling, harsh and fearsome world. Offering a richly textured picture of shanty-town life, director Henzell preferred to work without a script, improvising dialogue along the way and shooting on location. Generally credited with popularising reggae outside Jamaica, the film has a beautifully integrated soundtrack which includes contributions from Toots and the Maytals, Desmond Dekker and Cliff himself.

    • An American in Paris


      Wednesday 20 April 2pm – 3:55pm

      Wednesday 20 April 7:15pm – 9:10pm

      Sunday 24 April 2pm – 3:55pm

      Read the description

      Dir: Vincente Minnelli 1951 (US)
      115 mins 35mm Colour Rated G
      Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron
      One of Kelly’s classic musicals, this Oscar-winning picture features the celebrated dancer playing a frustrated artist and free-spirited author. Set in a Paris entirely recreated on the sound stages of MGM, the film is interspersed with dance numbers choreographed by Kelly and seamlessly integrated into the action by director Minnelli. Designed to excite the senses, it features a central set piece that brings the story to a halt for a non-linear, stylised modern-dance sequence with elaborate costumes, props and backgrounds based on the paintings of Dufy, Rousseau, Manet, Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec. The ballet sequence alone cost more than half a million dollars, a staggering sum at the time.

    • Highway


      Saturday 23 April 2pm – 2:57pm

      Read the description

      Dir: Sergei Dvortsevoy 1999 (Kazakhstan)
      57 mins 35mm Colour
      Kazakh with English subtitles
      A Uigur circus family travels between Central Asia and Moscow in a crowded, hand-cranked bus. They make their living by performing in the villages and hamlets along the highway. Capturing their performances as well as their intimate domestic moments, director Dvortsevoy observes the daily life of the Tadjibajev family in all of its routine and mystery. Born in Kazakhstan, Dvortsevoy studied film in Moscow. His intimate, observational documentaries, without narration, explore the poetry and mystery of everyday life in his home country.

      Screens with New circus

    • New Circus


      Saturday 23 April 3:15pm – 3:29pm

      Read the description

      Dir: Mandy Smith (Aust)
      14 mins 16mm Colour
      The Australian contemporary circus movement emerged in South Australia in early 1973 when a small co-operative circus group, New Circus, gave its first performances at a wine festival. Their repertoire included a juggling act (Jack Daniel), a highwire act (Tim Coldwell), sword swallowing and fire eating (Mike Harbison) and plate spinning (Dave Black) – all accompanied by live music from Buzz Leeson. New Circus encouraged the creation of the Soapbox Circus by the Pram Factory, Melbourne in 1976 and later influenced the establishment of Circus Oz. This rare documentary shows rehearsals and performances of New Circus with the artists ruminating on the nature of their craft and their desire to transform the traditional entertainment of circus.

      Screens with Highway

    • Nightmare Alley


      Wednesday 27 April 2pm – 3:51pm

      Wednesday 27 April 7:15pm – 9:06pm

      Sunday 1 May 2pm – 3:51pm

      Read the description

      Dir: Edmund Goulding 1947 (US)
      111 mins 35mm B&W Rated PG
      Tyrone Power, Joan Blondell
      Goulding’s mean, moody and magnificent melodrama centres on a common fairground huckster and con man Stanton Carlisle (Power) who rises to social celebrity and fame exploiting a mind-reading performance he has learnt from another carnival act. Blondell is superb as Zeena, a psychic married to a hopeless drunk, but in love with Stanton. To make the film more believable, the producers built a full working carnival on the 20th Century Fox backlot. They also hired over 100 sideshow attractions and carnival people to add further authenticity. Lee Garmes’ low-key photography adds an expressionistic quality to this extraordinary example of late film noir. (A note that is useful for understanding this story: 'geek’ was US carnival slang for a performer, often billed as a wild man, whose act usually included biting the head off a live chicken.) Archival print courtesy 20th Century Fox.

    • Bullets over Broadway


      Wednesday 4 May 2pm – 3:38pm

      Wednesday 4 May 7:15pm – 8:53pm

      Sunday 8 May 2pm – 3:38pm

      Read the description

      Dir: Woody Allen 1994 (US)
      98 mins 35mm Colour Rated M
      John Cusack, Dianne Wiest
      In 1920s New York, a struggling playwright, David Shayne (Cusack) is forced to cast a mobster’s talentless girlfriend in his latest drama in order to get his stage production financed. Agreeing to this compromise is the first step towards the playwright’s total corruption. Eventually Shayne must decide whether art or life is more important. Allen’s screwball comedy thriller is one of his finest films and features a spectacular ensemble cast who sparkle in every scene.

    • The red shoes


      Wednesday 11 May 2pm – 4:16pm

      Wednesday 11 May 7:15pm – 9:31pm

      Sunday 15 May 2pm – 4:16pm

      Read the description

      Dir: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger 1948 (GB)
      136 mins 35mm Colour Rated G
      Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook
      A fascinating backstage look at the world of dance, The red shoes presents a ballet within a film, framed by the story of a dancer’s life. Based on a fairytale by Danish author Hans Christian Anderson, this tragic fable dramatises the conflict between the desire for romantic love and the all-consuming passion to perform. The story is inspired by the Ballets Russes and the tyrannical hold its founder, Diaghilev, exerted over his greatest dancer, Nijinsky. Regarded as one of the greatest films of British cinema, this rhapsody of colour expressionism is a rare synthesis of camera, music, choreography, design and performance.

    • Satin rouge


      Wednesday 18 May 2pm – 3:31pm

      Wednesday 18 May 7:15pm – 8:46pm

      Sunday 22 May 2pm – 3:31pm

      Read the description

      Dir: Raja Amari 2002 (Tunisia/France)
      91 mins 35mm Colour Rated M
      Hiam Abbass, Hend El Fahem
      Arabic with English subtitles
      An attractive widow, Lilia (Abbass) is living with her strait-laced in-laws and rebellious teenage daughter, Salma (El Fahem). One day she finds herself in a cabaret nightclub and is attracted to its sensual underground culture. She befriends one of the dancers and is soon performing on stage herself. Compelled to keep her evening activities a secret, she maintains the facade of a grieving widow who has left her erotic life behind. Tunisian director Amari lends a great sense of authenticity and intimacy to this upbeat, low-budget drama which explores the social hurdles of a middle-aged Tunisian widow who wishes to re-engage with life.

    • Dance in the sun/Flamenco at 5.15


      Saturday 21 May 2:30pm – 3:10pm

      Read the description

      Dance in the sun
      Dir: Shirley Clarke 1953 (US)
      7 mins 16mm B&W
      Choreographer, performer, teacher and writer Daniel Nagrin, was known for his intensely dramatic modern dance solos. He studied with the choreographer Martha Graham who was credited with transforming American dance during the 20th century. A diverse artist, Nagrin also appeared in high-profile musicals on Broadway. He performed his 1950 work Dance in the sun in this early film for director Clarke. Clarke would go on to make her name as one of the most influential of US experimental filmmakers with works such as Skyscraper, The cool world and Portrait of Jason.

      Flamenco at 5.15
      Dir: Cynthia Scott 1983 (Canada)
      30 mins 16mm Colour Rated G
      Flamenco at 5:15 offers a thrilling insight into a visceral art form – flamenco. This Oscar-winning documentary is an impressionistic record of a dance class given to senior students of the National Ballet School of Canada by two great teachers from Spain, Susana and Antonio Robledo. The couple introduce the students to the secrets of the ancient art of flamenco, the dynamic visual style and staccato rhythms of the dance and the songs of Spanish Jews.

      Screens with Dancers

    • Dancers


      Saturday 21 May 3:15pm – 3:45pm

      Read the description

      Dir: John Chesworth, Derek Hart, Yutaka Yamazaki 1978 (UK)
      30 min 16mm Colour Rated PG
      Dance and film converge in this impressionistic account of the workaday world of dancers at a leading British company, the Ballet Rambert. Semi-documentary filming is combined with experimental techniques with dancers shown backstage, in performance, at rehearsal and at home. The filmmakers were all closely connected with dance: John Chesworth was a former dancer, choreographer and artistic director of Rambert and Derek Hart was part of the dance company. Leigh Warren, who also appears in the film, later became artistic director of the Australian Dance Theatre.

      Screens with Dance in the sun and Flamenco at 5.15pm

    • Freaks


      Wednesday 25 May 2pm – 3:04pm

      Wednesday 25 May 7:15pm – 8:19pm

      Sunday 29 May 2pm – 3:04pm

      Read the description

      Dir: Todd Browning 1932 (US)
      64 mins 35mm B&W Rated PG
      Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams
      This legendary 'horror’ film is unique and unsettling. Based on Tod Robbin’s short story Spurs, a circus 'midget’ falls in love with a statuesque trapeze artist who attempts to poison him for his money. Director Browning had a showman’s background, running away from home at 16 to join the circus. His unsentimental acceptance, respect and understanding of the daily life of carnival people saw him cast the movie with genuine performers: Randian, the 'living stump’; Schlitzy, the 'pinhead’; 'Siamese twins’, Violet and Daisy. Depicting the side-show performers as 'just regular folks’, Browning’s moving fable paints the 'normal’ trapeze artist Cleopatra – and her strong man accomplice – as the monsters. Proving too potent for Depression-era audiences accustomed to glossy formula movies, many exhibitors refused to show Freaks. A 1962 screening at the Venice Film Festival ended its marginal existence when a new generation of excited young critics saw the film for the first time.

    • The wizard of Oz


      Wednesday 1 June 2pm – 3:59pm

      Wednesday 1 June 7:15pm – 9:14pm

      Sunday 5 June 2pm – 3:59pm

      Read the description

      Dir: Victor Fleming 1939 (US)
      119 mins 35mm B&W and Colour Rated G
      Judy Garland, Ray Bolger
      Garland at 16 became a legend playing Dorothy, a girl from Kansas, who is transported to Munchkin land after her home is swept up in a terrifying tornado. She embarks on a treacherous journey along the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City accompanied by three hapless companions: vaudeville and Broadway performers Ray Bolger (Scarecrow), Bert Lahr (Cowardly Lion) and Jack Haley (Tin Man). The songs, make-up and costumes of this magical MGM dreamscape dazzled audiences at a time when the world was sliding into war. Now 75 years old, the film is still just as enchanting; the version screening at the Gallery is a rare 35mm Technicolor print.

    • Latcho drom


      Wednesday 8 June 2pm – 3:43pm

      Wednesday 8 June 7:15pm – 8:58pm

      Read the description

      Dir: Tony Gatlif 1993 (France)
      103 mins 35mm Colour Rated G
      The Romani people are scattered across the globe with communities in India, Egypt, Turkey, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Spain. Gatlif’s impressionistic documentary offers an unconventional history, tracing the Romani’s ancient migratory route from India through the Middle East and into Europe. The film evokes the journey through a series of thrilling musical interludes – one evolving into the next – travelling from east to west. A wedding in the harsh desert of Rajasthan transitions into a lush oasis in Egypt where the Ghawazi people sing and dance. In Istanbul, the Romani travel on a ferry to sell flowers and play music then, at a lonely train stop in Hungary, dance and sing as they wait by the tracks. A free-flowing experience, Latcho drom has no central character and minimal voice-over, instead relying on the emotional power of the performances to transport the viewer. The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival.