Watching the Detectives: Red Squad and Tearoom
Red Squad (Steven Fischler, Joel Sucher, Howard Blatt and Francis Freedland, 1972, USA, 16mm, 45 min.)
Tearoom (William E. Jones, 2007, USA, digital, 56 min.)
Both of the films in this program focus on historical examples of police surveillance, but in radically different ways. Red Squad was produced by Pacific Street Film Collective, formed by long-time friends Fischler and Sucher three years earlier, and the four filmmakers were all recent NYU film school grads. The film’s subject is the New York City Police Department’s Bureau of Special Services, known as the Red Squad, and the surveillance activities they undertake against perceived radicals (African-Americans, leftists, students, activists, and others). The filmmakers become part of their own story when the Red Squad and the FBI begin to target them as well.
Filmmaker and artist William E. Jones’s film Tearoom is an act of appropriation and recontextualization. He takes a film shot by the Mansfield, Ohio, police department in 1962, and presents it unaltered (excepting one small intervention). The film, shot in a public restroom through a one-way mirror, was used as evidence to prosecute men engaging in anonymous sexual acts. Jones’ reclamation of this footage, and his ironic retitling of it, recasts it from an official record of “deviancy” to a bittersweet look at gay desire.
This screening is part of the series:
Watching the Detectives May 3-May 19
Technological advances have put video cameras in millions of pockets, but the American justice system too often remains opaque to outside scrutiny. Documentary filmmakers take on this challenge in this film series pairing vital recent films with classic and archival works.