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USA / Germany, 1981 (MIFF 1982)

Director: Jon Jost

Stagefright is an essay-film which examines the nature of theatre, of language, of magic and of 'acting'. Through purely cinematic means it moves, step-by-step, through the layers of human expression to unveil the central human story: Cain and Abel.

"What are we going to do about Jost? One critic of my acquaintance, who hates his work, has a simple solution for dealing with his combined brilliance and asocial tendencies. She assumes that he steals his ideas from other films, then lies when he claims he hasn't seen those films. According to this argument, there is a lipstick scene in Angel City that's a direct lift from Flaming Creatures, and the black studio space of Stagefright comes straight out of Le Gai Savoir.

"I think Jost tells the truth and hasn't seen either of the above films — which doesn't exactly prevent his work from remaining problematical, either. (In Hoboken, where these issues seem to matter less, he admitted that the opening shot of Godard 1980, which frames Godard from behind, comes directly from the opening of Vivre Sa Vie.) Jost openly admits that all his films are mainly part of a learning process, that he wants to get a foothold (or even a toehold) in Hollywood, that Angel City and Last Chants and Chameleon were all partially made to demonstrate that he could make well-acted and attractive-looking story films for practically nothing, that his ultimate goal is to make 'essay films for mass audiences'.

"Toward the end of Stagefright, after a lot more magic and allegory and reflections about acting, an actor gets a pie thrown in his face. The sequence slows down until it becomes a meditation on a nearly static image (pie-in-the-face) that seems to last forever. After one feels ready to scream and is ready to howl for blood — without ever looking away, for Jost is cunning enough to hold one's interest with the visual tease of quick intrusions, like a stopwatch and a screwdriver that enter and exit the frame — Jost suddenly cuts to another shot, taken directly from a 35mm print of Hearts and Minds. Its footage of a Vietcong suspect being shot at close range through the head is one of the most powerful and shocking eruptions of violence I've ever seen in a film. Like the killed rabbit in Last Chants, it both gratifies our desires for meaning and action and shows the resultant blood on one's hands in the process. As long as Jost goes on making more films just as truthful, I don't expect him to win any popularity contests." Jonathan Rosenbaum Film Comment, Jan.-Feb. 1982

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