James Nares's Downtown Empire Strikes Back

'70s avant-garde filmmaker-cum-painter returns to the moving image

After Rome 78, Nares made a political documentary—a controversial 1980 video interview with an IRA member titled No Japs at My Funeral—but turned to other forms of art for much of the remaining decade, never realizing projects like a feature script he penned with Gary Indiana. "Around '82, '83, I began to concentrate on the painting," he says. "I'd made these movies and became really disillusioned with film in the way I was trying to pursue it. I was one of those guys who always wanted to do everything—and, around that time, I realized I couldn't." And, Nares adds, the social makeup of the downtown world changed; fertile collaborations between closely knit networks of writers, artists, filmmakers, and musicians gave way to more fragmented and segregated scenes.

Just another night at the Beatrice Inn: Rome 78
James Nares

Just another night at the Beatrice Inn: Rome 78

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James Nares: Motion Pictures
May 16 through 22
Anthology Film Archives

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In more recent years, however, he's returned to making moving-image work, some recalling the simple structures of the first films: Paper Factory, a video made last year, uses rhythmic editing to create an audio collage from plastic tubing thrown around in his studio. The edgy threat of danger may be softened, but the direct simplicity remains. "I liked the instant results," he says of the early work. "Make something quietly by yourself, and it would be there. In a funny way, I've come back to making films in the same way that I used to."

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