Posted May 8, 2018
By JBFC Senior Programmer Andrew Jupin
I will never forget where I was the first time I saw Paul Schrader’s First Reformed. It was the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and the moment I noticed the title listed in the massive festival guide/bible, I knew I had to make a point to see this film. A fan of Schrader’s work since I first saw Auto Focus at my local art house in 2002, I felt like a bad fan for missing his previous film, Dog Eat Dog, the year before at the festival.
I went into the screening almost completely cold—all I knew was that Ethan Hawke played a priest, Amanda Seyfried co-starred, and Paul Schrader wrote and directed the film. On the other side of First Reformed’s 113 minutes, the lights came up, and not a single person moved. We’d all been through something—we’d all experienced First Reformed, a film that contains the tensest final ten minutes I’ve seen put on screen in a long time.
Paul Schrader’s First Reformed is like Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest if you grabbed it by the ankle and shook it upside down out a window—a much more intense tale of a priest in spiritual crisis.
As the new film releases slate started to take shape, and First Reformed got an official release date, I started tossing around the idea of finding space to play some of Paul’s other directorial efforts. As an artist, Schrader is most prominently known as the screenwriter behind some of Martin Scorsese’s best films, including Taxi Driver, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Raging Bull—he also wrote The Yakuza for Sydney Pollack and Obsession for Brian De Palma, two more great films. But considering First Reformed is a film he not only wrote but also directed, I wanted this series to stick to his directorial efforts.
The series is called “Don’t Look Away: The Films of Paul Schrader” because that is exactly what his films command you do: Never break eye contact with the screen. Throughout his directorial efforts—and to be fair, many of his screenplays as well—Schrader takes his audience into exotic, seamy, dangerous, and altogether fascinating places. Whether you’re peering into Los Angeles’s seedy world of D-list porn sets, observing the assembly line in a corrupt auto factory that’s abusing its workers, in a gross hotel room with a television actor whose star is quickly burning out, or even in a New Orleans zoo where a preacher just may be turning into a large cat, Schrader’s films allow us to look in on worlds and scenarios we know little about and may never find ourselves in, but are more than happy to spy on for a couple hours. Hypnotized and enticed, one can never take their eyes off the screen.
In the week leading up to the release of First Reformed, we’ll be screening seven of Schrader’s most memorable directorial efforts including his debut, Blue Collar, his outrageous reimagining of Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People, Auto Focus (like an E! True Hollywood Story put to film), and his Oscar-winning Affliction. We’re wrapping up the series with a one-night-only screening of his gorgeous and brilliant Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters—that show is for JBFC Members only, so if you’re not a member yet, join now because this film is going to look real pretty on a new DCP (Affliction and Auto Focus are playing on 35mm, but both films deserve a digital remastering and Blu-ray release).
The directorial works of Paul Schrader have often been overshadowed by his screenwriting achievements, but as we approach the release of a truly great film with First Reformed, “Don’t Look Away: The Films of Paul Schrader” is the perfect opportunity to catch up with some excellent, risky, out-there, and challenging films—or if you’re looking to brush up on Schrader’s filmography, this series is a great crash course into the oeuvre of one of cinema’s most provocative minds.
First Reformed opens May 25 at the JBFC. Don’t Look Away: The Films of Paul Schrader runs May 18-24 as part of Retro Revival, sponsored by Wine Enthusiast. Tickets for the series are on sale HERE.