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Stranded  /  The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean

The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean
March 9, 2017 - 7:30 pm
Juleen Compton, film historian Maya Smukler, Archive director Jan-Christopher Horak.

Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by the National Film Preservation Foundation

The Books of Ed Ruscha  (1968-9)

This rare foray into filmmaking by the iconic California visual artist opens with Mason Williams, the composer of "Classical Gas" solemnly making himself a drink on a hillside patio at dusk as if performing an incantation.  Heavy reverb on the soundtrack amplifies every sound until he sits down to read through a stack of Ruscha's photography books, Twentysix Gas Stations, Some Los Angeles Apartments, Every Building on the Sunset Strip, etc.  In an over-the-shoulder shot, we see each page of each book as Mason flips through them, briefly contemplating what he sees and reading any available text as a kind distanced recitation.  Mason punctuates this seeming solemnity with moments of irreverence, manhandling, at times, these limited edition art objects as if they were toss away shopping catalogs as he presses on with his appointed task.  —Paul Malcolm

16mm, color, 38 min.  Director: Ed Ruscha.  With: Mason Williams.

Restored from a 16mm Kodachrome composite master print and a 16mm magnetic track.  Laboratory services by Fotokem, Audio Mechanics, Simon Daniel Sound.

Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by Century Arts Foundation

Stranded  (1965)

Juleen Compton was an independent American filmmaker—and one of the only women making features during the decade—working in both Europe and the United States during the 1960s.  As a teenager, in the 1950s, Compton moved from Phoenix to New York City where she became part of the tight-knit theater community; she was close friends with playwright Clifford Odets; and studied acting with Lee Strasberg who recommended that she take classes with Harold Clurman, co-founder of The Group Theatre.  In 1961 Compton and Clurman were married until his death in 1980.  During these years, Compton began a successful career in real estate and interior design; a secondary profession that would finance her work as an independent filmmaker.

Compton's first feature was the autobiographical Stranded, which she wrote, directed, starred in, self-financed and distributed.  Released in 1965, the film shares the cinematic experimentation and stylish, youth-centric rebellion of the French New Wave made even more radical by its progressive portrayals of female independence and sexuality, beatnik culture, and discussions of homosexuality.

Stranded follows Raina, a young American woman (played by Compton), traveling through Greece with her American lover (Gary Collins), and her French, gay, best friend (Gian Pietro Calasso).  Raina partakes in several love affairs rejecting marriage offers for no other reason than she likes her life the way it is.  Made just prior to the arrival of second wave feminism, Compton, as writer-director, never judges her on-screen alter-ego the way similar female characters were frequently punished in other films during this era by stigmatizing female sexuality.

Compton's drive to make her first movie without any formal filmmaking training was similar to Raina's pursuit of living life on her own terms.  Compton made the picture for under $300,000, investing her own money into the project.  It screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 1965 and had a theatrical run in Paris, but has rarely been seen since.  —Maya Montañez Smukler

35mm, b/w, 90 min.  Director: Juleen Compton.  Production: Compton Films.  Distribution: Compton Film Distributors.  Producer: Juleen Compton.  Screenwriter:  Juleen Compton.  Cinematographer: Demos Sakeyyariose.  Editor: Claud Plouganou, A. Siaskas.  Cast: Juleen Compton, Gary Collins, Alkis Yannakas.

Restored from the 35mm acetate duplicate picture negative and 35mm original acetate track negative.  Laboratory services by Fotokem.  Sound services by Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio, Inc., Simon Daniel Sound.

Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by Century Arts Foundation

The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean  (1966)

Written, directed, and self-financed by Juleen Compton, The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean is the story of a clairvoyant teenage girl, Norma Jean (Sharon Henesy), taken advantage of by a boy band, fashioned after The Beatles, determined to exploit the young woman's powers as part of a hoax revival.

Filmed in the Ozarks with a cast of young, unknown actors (a 25-year-old Sam Waterston co-stars in his first film appearance), the picture's opening title sequence—the two young leads walking through a bucolic setting with Michel Legrand's sentimental score—suggests a tender tale about a pair of young companions.  However, the movie quickly takes an unusual turn when Norma Jean and her friend Vance (Robert Gentry) pick up an enormous plastic dome they've ordered.  The narrative never reveals the structure's origins or purpose, but the image of the looming, yet magical two-story high edifice, provides an engaging and enigmatic set piece for the rest of the movie.

Stylistically accomplished, the movie is an impressive example of American independent feature filmmaking during the mid-1960s and an uncommon portrayal, for the time, of female agency.

During the 1970s, Compton moved to Los Angeles in hopes of directing features in Hollywood.  In 1974 she participated in the inaugural year of the American Film Institute's Directing Workshop for Women; and wrote scripts for television movies. Frustrated with Hollywood's sexist hiring practices, after completing her third film, the independently produced Western Buckeye and Blue (1988), Compton returned to New York City during the 1990s to run her successful off-Broadway theater company, the Century Center for the Performing Arts.  —Maya Montañez Smukler

35mm, b/w, 82 min.  Director: Juleen Compton.  Production: Compton Films.  Producer: Juleen Compton, Stuart Murphy.  Screenwriter: Juleen Compton.  Cinematographer: Roger Barlow.  Editor: Budd Hamilton, Stuart Murphy.  Music: Michel Legrand.  Cast: Sharon Henesy, Robert Gentry, Marco St. John, Sam Waterson, Skip Hinnant, Arthur Hughes.

Restored from the 35mm original picture negative and 35mm original track negative.  Laboratory services by The Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory.  Sound services by Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio, Inc., Simon Daniel Sound.