Film Studies scores copy of rare art film ‘Lupe’

The Film Studies department celebrated its recent acquisition of Jose Rodriguez-Soltero’s 1966 film “Lupe” on Sunday with a special screening event, which included a brief discussion with the filmmaker, a member of the circle of avant-garde filmmakers that includes Andy Warhol and Kenneth Anger.

The event was jointly sponsored by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies at Yale and the Yale Research Initiative on the History of Sexualities.

The film — a mix of music, colors, abstract scenes and little dialogue — is based loosely on the life and death of Mexican-American actress Lupe Velez. The music, far more than mere background, borders on serving as the film’s narrative and ranges from classical to contemporary pop music.

Lupe is played by Mario Montez, the drag-queen star of numerous Warhol films.

The 16 mm color film reel for “Lupe” was purchased through the Fund for Lesbian and Gay Studies at Yale, said Ron Gregg, senior lecturer and programming director in the Film Studies Program.

The fund exists to promote LGBT studies and research, library acquisitions, visiting professorships and other academic programs. While FLAGS has been used to purchase videos and DVDs in the past, this is the first film-reel purchase using the fund, Gregg said.

Gregg organized both the acquisition of the film and Sunday’s screening, which was followed by a short discussion with the visiting filmmaker and a showing of two other films from the same period — Rodriguez-Soltero’s own silent film “Jerovi” and Kenneth Anger’s “Scorpio Rising,” released in 1965 and 1962, respectively.

Until recently, the only copy of “Lupe” that existed in North America was the filmmaker’s personal copy. But it was recently remastered by Anthology Film Archives, which offered Yale the opportunity to buy a copy of the film at a fairly inexpensive rate, Gregg said.

This recent addition to Yale’s wide collection of film reels makes the University the only school in the nation to possess a copy of “Lupe.” Anthology has plans to make a copy available for rent to other institutions in the near future, however, which will help alleviate demand for Yale’s rare copy, Gregg said.

The process of remastering rid the old film of many of its blemishes, Rodriguez-Soltero said. But the director, who saw the restored version for the first time last week, said he thinks it also took away some of the film’s character.

“I miss the scratches — I miss the ugliness,” he said. “It wasn’t supposed to look this good.”

The screening drew about 30 people — a mixture of Yale students, professors and New Haven residents — and reaction to the film was similarly varied.

“I’m hoping [the audience] loves the film,” Gregg said before the screening. “I’m hoping they respond to it. We’re screening what is a forgotten film — people know Andy Warhol, they know Kenneth Anger. … Nobody knows Jose Rodriguez-Soltero.”

Several viewers said they were more interested in seeing Anger’s “Scorpio Rising,” while for others, “Lupe” was the main attraction.

“I found ‘Lupe’ a little difficult,” New Haven resident Frank Defina said. “The flamenco was very good, but overall, there were parts I liked and parts I didn’t like.”

Rodriguez-Soltero said time has altered the film’s intended message and viewers’ reception of the film, while Defina and Gregg stressed the film’s historical importance. Its unique cinematic style influenced modern music videos, Gregg said.

“It was a historical representation of what was happening in New York City at the time,” Gregg said. “It’s an important example of the energy coming from the New York film underground.”

Perhaps Rodriguez-Soltero himself best sums up the essence of “Lupe.”

“This is an art film,” he said. “This is not a Hollywood movie. It’s not supposed to be perfect. We were really not into narrative. We were into putting our friends into a movie.”

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