Friday, February 9, 2018 at 7:30pm
Charles Atlas's Hail the New Puritan

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Hail the New Puritan, Charles Atlas, 1986, digital projection, 85 mins

Introduced by Tobi Haslett

Charles Atlas’s Hail the New Puritan now looks like a glinting frieze from a vanished London, a film that hymns the beau monde of the demimonde while tracking a day in the life of the choreographer Michael Clark.

Atlas, valiant practitioner of dance for camera, here presents a kind of faux cinéma vérité as he snatches up samples of Thatcher-era cool: nightlife icons like Leigh Bowery, Trojan, and Rachel Auburn primp and bicker; the drag queen Lana Pellay gives Clark a regal kiss on the cheek; and Clark himself, smirking through an interview with a square reporter, gives a little summa of why he loves the Manchester post-punk band The Fall.

Mark E. Smith, the rat-faced raconteur and mastermind of the group, makes his own cameo. Joined by his then wife and bandmate Brix, Smith wears tweed and delivers a few lines of gnomic, jagged dialogue with put-on pomp. Brix chimes in, as does a slick-looking Clark. The whole thing sounds like a Fall track: “Pop art, nor ghoulish tinkering, is not science.” “How can we quantify the mongrelization of class and soccer?” “Computer trust will be the death of the American brain.” “Some wash so much, their features are eroded.” Text is stamped across the screen: “speaks in semantic ciphers.”

The line is, of course, a perfectly adequate description of Smith, who died on January 24. This screening is a memorial to him. Hail the New Puritan may be a shining portrait of Clark, but the film bristles with Smithian sensibility: Atlas lifts his title from “Spectre vs. Rector,” one of the four Fall songs to which Clark and his dancers perform (in costumes made by Bowery). And it’s Smith’s presence that shoves the film brusquely into its political moment—that is, the shredding of the welfare state under Tory rule. Here, then, is a punk ballet, set against the malevolent backdrop of neoliberal technocracy. As Smith himself says, “Computer hamlets, inefficient in their cock-ups, are not something to dance past.”

The Fall is no longer with us—but the technocrats are. One of the film’s scenes has a stunning poignancy, a bitter accuracy, and a special relevance to a world made by Thatcherites but now without a Smith. Clark struts into a dressing room and starts fussing with his mohawk, as his friend Trojan makes the sneering remark: “Punk’s dead, Michael.”

- TH

Tickets - Pay what you wish ($8 suggested donation), available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.