Sara Driver’s 1981 short (48 minutes) narrative feature You Are Not I screened last Thursday in the 49th New York Film Festival’s “Masterworks” sidebar.
When exploring the cinema that emerged from the Lower East Side DIY boom of the late 70s and early 80s, you will most often be treated to drug-fueled ramblings, killer soundtracks and some gorgeously minimalist cinematography of young ruffians slumming around New York. Thank god, then, for Paul Bowles, who stowed away his copy of Sara Driver’s You Are Not I, an adaptation of his own short story of the same name and one of the few films to take the No Wave aesthetic outside of the scene.
At Thursday’s screening, the packed house included Driver, star Suzanne Fletcher, cinematographer Jim Jarmusch, and unaffiliated fan Steve Buschemi. Copies of the print had been destroyed in the early 80s, and the film hadn’t been seen since. Mysteriously preserved, most likely by insecticide, this masterful work was all but lost until 2009, when University of Delaware librarian Francis Poole discovered a cardboard box containing the reels among Bowles’s old belongings.
Fletcher hauntingly portrays a young woman who has escaped from an asylum. As the film opens, she is wandering through one of the most masterfully shot car crashaftermaths this reviewer has ever seen (and which features an appearance by Nan Goldin, as a cadaver) only to be taken back to her sister by the one and only Luc Sante (playing a random passerby). The eerie and ambient compositions by Phil Kline are accompanied by a blasé voiceover that allows Fletcher to use only her outrageously expressive eyes to convey her unstable madness. Now that the film has properly been restored and debuted, here’s hoping it finally gets the repertory play it deserves. MoMA, pay attention.