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Indie Iconoclast: Celebrating The Career of David O. Russell


He may not walk away with the trophy for Best Director at this year's Oscar ceremonies, but David O. Russell's film THE FIGHTER will certainly go down for the count as one of the important cinema experiences of the year. A critical and box office success, THE FIGHTER has also revitalized the career of its iconooclastic director, who comes back after a seven year hiatus with a force that is sure to be felt for many moons to come. To celebrate this special moment and to explore his entire oeuvre, the recently re-opened American Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York is offering as one of its initial programs in its newly constructed screening theater a retrospective of Russell's career.  The Films Of David O. Russell opens tomorrow evening with a special screening of THE FIGHTER, in the presence of the director, who will participate in a q+a session following the film with fellowed acclaimed auteur Spike Jonze. The film, which could be an upset winner at the Oscars, already seems to have two in the bag for the supporting work of Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, who both won Golden Globe awards for their fierce performances last evening.


The Russell oeuvre is a mixed bag of genres and cinematic styles. His debut film, SPANKING THE MONKEY, was a controversial stab at the coming-of-age story that flirts with mother-son incest without sacrificing its emotional honesty and earthy comedy. FLIRTING WITH DISASTER, one of the first successes for star Ben Stiller, is a scrweball family comedy that also cheerfully explores such hot-button topics as adultery, adoption and the tensions between sibliings and their parents. The film features great cinematic stunt acting by a gifted ensemble that includes George Segal, Lily Tomlin, Patricia Arquette, Tea Leoni, Richard Jenkins, and Josh Brolin. 


Russell switched gears with his next project, offering an absurdist satire of modern warfare. THREE KINGS, his biggest budget film to date, starred George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube are three soliders-for-hire during the first Gulf War. The film, which is imbued with cynicism and political anger, portrays how idealogy can be twisted to justify a morre essential need.....greed. As they track down a pile of gold stolen by Saddam Hussein, Russell lets loose with a mix of audacious action and hare-brained comedy in a film that was both celebrated and reviled in its initial 1999 release.  The response was the same to his follow up project, the playfully irreverent I HEART HUCKABEES, which included a semi-serous exploration of profound existential questions along with a tongue-in-cheek childish delight in picking apart such matters, with a huh? cast that includes such disparate talents as Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, Jason Schwartzman and Isabelle Huppert. Love it or hate it, it is Russell's most personal (if sometimes inpenetrable) film to date.


With his career back on the fast track, it is especially prescient of the Museum of the Moving Image to offer this retrospective right now, gloriously unspooling the films in its new state-of-the-art screening theater (part of a $35 million renovation that has seen the museum triple its exhibition and education space). One of the industry's most original and inventive film artists, it is clear that his will be an artistic vision with many more tricks up his sleeve in the years to come. For more information on this series and the other offerings at the American Museum of the Moving Image, visit:

Sandy Mandelberger, Film New York Editor


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Mandelberger Sandy
(International Media Resources)

The Ultimate Guide to the New York Film, Video and New Media Scene.

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