Still from Night Tide, 1961, courtesy Phoenix Films

Still from Night Tide, 1961, courtesy Phoenix Films

The Surreal Films of Curtis Harrington

April 9, 2020
Adam Piron, Assistant Curator for Film

As we continue to engage with art remotely, LACMA’s Assistant Curator for Film, Adam Piron will recommend a biweekly selection of new and classic films that provide a distilled focus on filmmakers, performers, and genres available to stream from home. Film has an important place at LACMA and we believe in its role as a point of connection, education, and comfort for our audiences and members.

There’s a dreamlike quality that’s infused in what we’ve slowly been calling our new reality. It’s difficult to completely define, partially because we’re in the midst of it and partially because there are new edges of fear to everyday life that emerge through the daylit haze. If there’s a realm of cinema that explores these nebulous borders and their madness, then its king can be no other filmmaker than Curtis Harrington.

Known today as a pioneer of New Queer Cinema, Harrington first gained recognition for his student films in the immediate post-WWII cultural shifts. He quickly became known for his gothic and surreal aesthetic, one that poetically balanced illusion and atmosphere. With that, he became a major figure in American Avant Garde Cinema of the 1940s and 50s where his contemporaries and collaborators were the likes of Kenneth Anger and Maya Deren. This led to his 1961 feature debut, Night Tide, starring Dennis Hopper, followed by a number of fine chamber horror gems starring his idols Simone Signoret, Debbie Reynolds, and Shelley Winters.

As part of FILM at LACMA’s Stay at Home Film Series, we will be doing a live stream screening of Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide on LACMA’s YouTube channel on Friday, April 17 at 7:30 pm PST/10:30 pm EST. Harrington’s surreal thriller stars Dennis Hopper as an aimless sailor mesmerized by a young woman who acts as a mermaid in a sideshow on the Venice boardwalk—and may in fact be a siren herself. Initially praised by Italian and French critics in 1961, and later released by Roger Corman, Harrington’s debut also features the atmospheric cinematography of an uncredited Floyd Crosby (High Noon) and the West Coast jazz of David Raksin (Laura). Night Tide was restored in 2008 by the Academy Film Archive with support from The Film Foundation and Curtis Harrington.

Join our viewing party on Twitter at #NightTideLACMA with our Film Curator Adam Piron (@adam_piron).

Recommended Viewing:

Night Tide (1961, 84 mins.): Live Stream screening (Friday, April 17, 2020 at 7:30 pm PST)

The Curtis Harrington Short Film Collection, includes:
"Fragment of Seeking" (1946, 16 mins.)
"Picnic" (1948, 22 mins.)
"On the Edge" (1949, 6 mins.)
"The Assignation" (1953, 8 mins.)
"The Wormwood Star" (1955, 10 mins)
"Usher" (2002, 38 mins.)

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1972, 91 mins.)

Ruby (1977, 85 mins.)