A Few Remarks On Sarah Driver's "Sleepwalk"
When I had read, recently, the article of an old friend, on Driver's full length feature film, "Sleepwalk", I immediately wanted to see it. It proved difficult and would have been impossible perhaps if I had not been able to borrow a VHS copy privately. For I found out that in this country where the sovereignty of consumers is praised far and wide as unexceeded in our brave new world, Driver's film can neither be loaned from a commercial distributor nor is it on sale. If you find out that somewhere there is in fact an outlet that is distributing it, please be kind enough to let me know (via the editor of this journal).
But don't we notice, again and again, that the work of marvellous artists goes unnoticed while the big corporations, and certainly not only those based in Hollywood or New York, feed the public the worst trash, directing consumer behavior and deforming the sensibility of individuals in the most horrendous way?
However, Sarah Driver's work never went unnoticed when presented at international film festivals. As recently as 2001, Chris Fujiwara, reporting on the Cannes film festival, was able to tell his readers that "Sara Driver`s neglected Sleepwalk" was shown again, on June 9 of that year, in this prestigeous context. He summed up what the film was about, as a story about
"[...] a Manhattan typesetter (Suzanne Fletcher) whose freelance gig translating a collection of Chinese fairy tales propels her, her roommate (Ann Magnuson), and her young son (Dexter Lee) into an increasingly unreal and mysterious existence." (1)
And characterizing the way the film is done, he says,
"Filmed in cool grays and blues with splashes of lurid red, Sleepwalk is as exquisite a color film noir as Allan Dwan’s Slightly Scarlet: long shadows turn the heroine’s workplace and apartment into dense neural fields, and the actors, all excellent, find unstudied ways of inhabiting Driver’s glistening frames."(2)
It was already in 1986 that the well-known Mannheim Filmschau (in West Germany) showed Driver's "Sleepwalk" where the jury immediately awarded it their "Special Prize". They highlighted it later on, in their internet site, as the noteworthy film of that year.(3)
Also in 1986, "Sleepwalk" received professional attention in France, winning
"[...] the prestigious Prix Georges Sadoul given by the French Cinematheque [...] and [it was chosen as][...] the opening night selection for the 25th Anniversary of the Semaine International de la Critique at Cannes (1986)."(4)
This kind of success at European film festivals brought a kind of fringe recognition in the States; a year later, when
"SLEEPWALK was also featured at the Museum of Modern Art's 1987 New Directors New Films series and the 1987 Sundance Film Festival." ((5)
A remarkable piece of criticism was supplied at the time by Caryn James in the New York Times.(6)
Also in 1987, the film critic (and poet) Andreas Weiland, had written about "Sleepwalk", referring pointedly to
"[a] rhythm that reasserts itself in waves, surging again & again, in all those 'content'-related recurrences that shape the dreamlike 'story' of the film as much as its 'form.'[...]"(7)
Sarah Driver's reputation as a creative artist was not translated into success at the box office, though. Despite the attention paid to her first feature film in the year it was released (1986)) as well as the following year, it took her seven years to obtain a chance of making (and that is to say, financing) a second feature film, "When Pigs Fly" (1993), described as "a comedy-drama with supernatural overtones" and released in the United States in 1996.
None of her films was presented to a large audience by major distributors and Sarah Driver's means to secure attention for her fine work proved more than limited, under existing market conditions.
Later on, an American critic, Gerald Peary, bitterly noted that her
"[…] subtle, magical narrative features (Sleepwalk, When Pigs Fly) have been seen a thousand times less than the movies of her 25-year-companion, Jim Jarmusch [...]". (8)
And thus it cannot be denied that a second, more recent wave of recognition is hardly a sufficient consolation to those who would have liked her to obtain more chances to make 'strangely' fascinating, innovative independent movies.
True enough, she was able to become a teacher at the Graduate Film School of New York University (in New York City).(9) She has also been invited to be a member of the jury at several film festivals, among them the Buenos Aires Film Festival (2004), The Miami International Film Festival (2005), and the San Sebastian Film Festival (2006).
And as recently as 2004, the Buenos Aires Independent Film Festival highlighted Sarah Driver's filmic work, as well. It was Gerald Peary, reporting from the Buenes Aires Independent Film Festival in 2004, who briefly refers in his article to a number of independent films from the States, among them Sarah Driver's films, "Sleepwalk" and "When Pigs Fly".(10)
If, on the other side, the public in the United States was strangely protected against the impact of Sarah Driver's films, there were of course a few cinéastes, especially in the big cities like New York, who were able to see her work.
In an exchange of e-mails published on the internet, a cinéaste called "Larry" writes about "Sleepwalk",
"I have a VHS copy of this film. I like it a lot. It's odd
In another e-mail, the same Larry DaSilveira writes,
"Speaking of Sara Driver, I was watching her film SLEEPWALK last night
As I recall, it was Driver that gave Jarmusch a copy of the Hagakure...." (12)
Sarah Driver has also worked as Assistant Director of
Jim Jarmush's film "Permanent Vacation" (1980), her first serious directing
job before doing the short film "You Are Not I" in 1982. Like Stan Brakhage,
Piero Heliczer, Kenneth Anger, Jonas Mekas, Robert Kramer and others, she
is one of the few important filmmakers of this country - artists who will
be remembered when much of what is commercially successful today, will
have disappeared from our memory.
(1) This plot
outline is taken from: Chris FUJIWARA, "Yankees do it. 40 years
of USA indies at Cannes", in: The Phoenic.com movies, Issue Date: May 31-
June 7, 2001 - Another suumary puts it this way:
"Nicole has a boring job operating a word processor. Because she
understands Chinese she agrees to translate an ancient, Chinese manuscript
in her own time. Part of the manuscript has been stolen." (Source:http://ftvdb.bfi.org.uk/sift/title/349919)
Yet another "Plot Outline" tells us: "A woman is hired to transcribe an
ancient Chinese manuscript. She finds that little by little, the manuscript
has powers that begin to take over her life."
(2) Chris FUJIWARA, "Yankees do
it. 40 years of USA indies at Cannes", in: The Phoenic.com movies,
(3) The Mannheim Filmschau's
internet site refers to the festival as a "Springboard to success", noting
that "[t]his Festival is one of the oldest in the world", and continuing
this advertisement for itself by stating:: " For more than 50 years it
has been a forum for independent films with a personal touch- in brief
author's cinema. Every year, up-and-coming stars are discovered at our
Festival. Many world-famous directors started their careers in Mannheim-Heidelberg:"
This is followed up by the following list of important films and filmmakers
"discovered" at the Mannheim film festival:
(6) Caryn James, " 'Sleepwalk'. Fairy Tales in Real Life", in: The New York Times, March 20, 1987 (See also the copy of it, saved from the NY Times Archives that is made available as an external link.)
(7) Andreas Weiland, "Sleepwalk. Notes On A Film By Sarah Driver". The text, written in October 1987, after seeing the film in Germany, was privately circulated as a typescript. It has now been published in Art in Society, Issue No. 5.
(8) Source: http://www.geraldpeary.com/festivals/buenos-2004.html
(10) Source: http://www.geraldpeary.com/festivals/buenos-2004.html
(11) Email from "Larry" DaSilveira
(Sent Wednesday, May 12, 2004, 1.33 PM).
(12) Source : http://movies.groups.yahoo.com/group/jarmusch/message/1521