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Looking Anew at Faces of the Past

Films at LACMA catch up with subjects from '50s Ireland, revisit Holocaust outrages.

June 13, 2002|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LACMA's splendid series, Double Exposure: Photography, Film and the Cinema, continues Friday at 7:30 p.m. with the Los Angeles premiere of Dierdre Lynch's deeply affecting "Photos to Send: Retracing Dorothea Lange's Travels Through Ireland."

In 1954, the renowned Lange went to rural County Clare on a Life magazine assignment, which also resulted in a book. Lynch, in 1997, decided to find out what happened to the subjects of those pictures. At the time of Lange's travels, Ireland was in the throes of high unemployment and resulting migration, and Lynch tells us that her filming brought back fond memories and opened old wounds.

Today, the beautiful farmland of County Clare has been increasingly turned over to more profitable forestry with some incursions of tract housing. Yet many of the warm, unpretentious and welcoming people Lynch encounters seem unchanged, although they and their families are clearly more prosperous than they were in 1954. Most seem content with how their lives have turned out, but the subjects of three of Lange's favorite photos stand out.

We learn, sadly, that the pretty girl whose portrait Lange posted in her workroom to cheer her on a rainy day died only a year later of a burst appendix. Another subject, then a self-assured teenager, is tracked by Lynch to a comfortable Jersey City, N.J., row house, where he said he's had a better life than had he stayed in Ireland. And a woman who was 10 when she was photographed by Lange says the photographer captured her anger then--an anger born of growing awareness that the beautiful environment was being spoiled, she said, by the church, which she said advocated that clergy and parents beat their children.

Lange appears in archival footage, commenting on her County Clare photos and stating that "one should use the camera as if one would be struck blind the next day." No wonder Lange's photos retain their intense beauty and emotional impact, and with "Photos to Send," Lynch, who will be present at the screening, honors the photographer as well as the people in her photographs.

"Photographer," also screening Friday, is a devastating film even among Holocaust documentaries.

In 1987, about 400 color slides from the early 1940s turned up in mint condition in a Vienna antique shop. They had been taken by Austrian Walter Genewein, the Nazis' chief accountant for the Lodz Ghetto, and their subjects were the inhabitants of the ghetto.

The irony is staggering: A man who participated in the Nazis' "Final Solution"--indeed, he got the German government to remit 80% of ghetto workers' wages to his office--inadvertently became one of its chief chroniclers.

Polish filmmaker Dariusz Jablonski frames his film by having Arnold Mostowicz, who was a doctor in the Lodz Ghetto and is an Auschwitz survivor, tell his terrible story. Jablonski cuts between the settings of Genewein's photos and those locales today, often substantially unchanged, giving the film movement, tempo and relief from images of gaunt faces ridden with despair and occasionally contempt at being photographed. (323) 857-6010.

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Warhol on Film, which accompanies MOCA's Andy Warhol retrospective, continues Friday at the Pacific Design Center's Silver Screen Theater with the 24-minute "Haircut (No.1)" (1963), followed by "Henry Geldzahler" (1964). The first of at least three films shot at Factory regular Billy Name's haircutting parties shows him cutting a friend's hair while a naked young man relaxes nearby. Nothing happens, yet a sexual tension builds. The second finds Warhol's friend and Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Henry Geldzahler slouched in the Factory's famous couch with Warhol's silent 16-millimeter camera turned on him for a whopping 88 minutes.

As time goes by, this prominent member of Manhattan's cultural elite becomes as bored and restless as we do watching him. He runs his hand through his hair, puffs on a cigar, repeatedly picks up and puts down a glass ashtray.In his relentless way, Warhol humanizes a mandarin figure in the world of art who behaves just as most of us would in the same situation.

Among the films screening at the Pacific Design Center on Wednesday is "Couch" (1964). Warhol shot an eight-hour version of "Couch," and this version is roughly an hour of the 2 1/2 hours of footage known to exist. Frankly, an hour is just about right for a series of four-minute loops of Warhol's entourage shown engaged in various activities on the large sofa that was a key Factory fixture.

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