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Watching the Unwatchable: Films Confront Torture

Sunday, November 1, 2009
5:30 p.m. Quiet Rage: The Stanford Prison Experiment
Ken Musen (U.S., 1988)

In 1971, the basement of the Stanford University psychology building was transformed into Stanford County Prison, and twenty-four male college students into its prisoners and guards, in an experiment engineered by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo. Based on footage from the “prison” and testimony from its occupants, Quiet Rage documents the ease with which identity and morality can be distorted by power relations. It also hints at the fraught relationship between ethics and performance: the young participants played their roles to the hilt not just for the experiment, but for the camera. Zimbardo went on to testify for the defense in the court martial of Ivan Frederick, one of the amateur photographers at Abu Ghraib.

—Juliet Clark

• Written by Musen, Philip Zimbardo. (50 mins, B&W/Color, Digital video, From Philip G. Zimbardo, Inc.)

Followed by:
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Andy Warhol (U.S., 1965)

Years before Stanley Kubrick adapted Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, Andy Warhol brought us this low-rent, pop-fueled version. Gerard Malanga does his best James Dean impression as juvenile delinquent Victor, who is subjected to a course of S&M reeducation. Edie Sedgwick looks on as the ultimate bystander, unmoved by pain or pleasure. With figures crammed into the frame, the film is both chaotic and claustrophobic—in the words of the Martha and the Vandellas song on the soundtrack, there’s nowhere to hide.—Juliet Clark

• Written by Ronald Tavel. Photographed by Warhol. With Gerard Malanga, Edie Sedgwick, John MacDermott, Ondine. (64 mins, B&W, 16mm, From Museum of Modern Art, New York)

• (Total running time: 114 mins)