The most heartrending as well as the pithiest of Scandinavian bummers, Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl” is the tale of a child who freezes to death on New Year’s Eve, her hallucinated final hours illuminated by the matches she’s been put on the street to sell. The story is subject to all manner of variations in the four-program series “Hans Christian Andersen for Grown-Ups,” MOMA’s contribution to the Danish author’s bicentennial celebration; these range from primitive British trick films and Jean Renoir’s glorious candy-box 1928 version through Japanese animation and German dance film to sarcastic Nordic modernizations (Aki Kaurismäki’s quasi-Marxist The Match Factory Girl, Per Blom’s druggie New Year’s Eve) and Korean wild man Sun-Woo Jang’s lavish Resurrection of the Little Match Girl—which recasts the fairy tale as an ultra-violent video game.
The most poignant (and, according to curator Jytte Jensen, the inspiration for the series) is Andrew Meyer’s 1966 Match Girl. A nearly forgotten example of avant-indie filmmaking and a particular sort of New York fairy tale, it transposes Andersen’s story to the Silver Age of the Warhol Factory. The protagonist is a poor little rich girl (and potential pyromaniac) who, although evocative of reigning superstar Edie Sedgwick, is played by another underground ingenue, Vivian Kurz. Meyer appropriates Kurz’s actual Factory screen tests—not to mention Andy himself, who is drafted to mumble passages of Andersen’s story on the soundtrack and whose portrait of Marilyn assumes the function of the girl’s dead grandmother.
Warhol notwithstanding, Match Girl‘s main influence is Scorpio Rising. It’s carefully edited, and scored to Motown and the Rolling Stones (“Play With Fire”) with a TV used to annotate the images. Although most of the movie is devoted to observing its delicate star, there is a narrative. “Miss Match Girl of 1965,” as Gerard Malanga dubs the heroine, splits a fancy party, imagines herself selling matches on Fifth Avenue, and then swallows a bottle of pills. She survives and is sent to Europe. As the Andersen story ends, “No one knew the beauty she had seen . . . “