As far back as D.W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation" in 1915, the American mystique has fascinated both native and foreign film makers. But in the last few years, America's social and political makeup have become particularly hot movie topics thanks to overtly patriotic commercial blockbusters such as "First Blood Part II: Rambo" and "Rocky IV."
It's partially in response to the images in those Sylvester Stallone films and others such as "Red Dawn" and "Invasion U.S.A." that the UC Irvine Film Society organized its spring series, entitled "Images of America Through Open Eyes: Strangers in a Strange Land," which opens today.
Beginning with Jim Jarmusch's 1984 Cannes Film Festival winner "Stranger than Paradise," the series includes 10 films by native and foreign directors that explore America and its people.
For the most part, the movies to be shown over the next 10 weeks take the point of view of outsiders looking at America, from Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni's "Zabriskie Point" to American director John Schlesinger's "Midnight Cowboy."
"We weren't looking for the familiar view of America," said Ross Goo, one of four UCI film students who put the program together. "Sometimes foreigners and misfit film makers can better capture those realities in our community and the way we talk to one another. They can pick them out and show them to us in a different way."
The film society decided not to include hugely popular films like "Rambo" in this series but instead selected movies that "show the other side of the coin."
"Most of them present a challenging look at America," Goo said. "The reason we're not showing films that are somewhat tinted with a commercial point of view is that those films are already out there for people to see. They are mass produced and mass distributed. As a film society, we provide films that are hard to get hold of and not often seen."
Following "Stranger than Paradise," which will be shown today at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. in the Social Science Hall, the series continues with British director Nicholas Roeg's "The Man Who Fell to Earth" (April 11), American director Joan Micklin Silver's "Hester Street" (April 18) and Swedish director Jan Troell's "The Emigrants" (April 25).
In May, the offerings will be "Zabriskie Point " (May 2), "Midnight Cowboy" (May 9), German director Werner Herzog's "Stroszek" (May 16) and his two 1980 documentaries "God's Angry Man" and "Huie's Service" (May 30) and American director Robert Altman's "Nashville" (May 23).
All films will be shown on Fridays at 7:30 p.m. (only "Stranger Than Paradise" will be given two screenings) in the Social Science Hall on the Irvine campus.
"We tried to get as many varying points of view as we could, from British, Swedish, German, American film makers, to have a comprehensive perception of this country and its people," Goo said.
"Getting foreigners' and underground film makers' points of view of America is, I think, more entertaining than seeing something we already know," Goo said. "We hope it's also a more accessible series than what we've been able to do because it is about us."