Apr 23: The unobtrusive humanism of “Auteur: Ricky D’Ambrose” at Micro-Wave Cinema

Auteur Ricky DAmbrose
Michael Wetherbee in D'Ambrose's 'Pilgrims'

The writer-director-producer’s most three recent short films, including the regional premiere of Spiral Jetty, will be presented in conjunction with two 2013 interviews he produced for MUBI

The first Micro-Wave Cinema program of Apr, which turns an eye to a distinctive retrospective of New York-based filmmaker, Ricky D’Ambrose, is a well-considered complement to the playful catalogue of “Auteur: Ted Fendt” that was showcased in Feb. Curated by UW-Madison PhD candidate and filmmaker Brandon Colvin, this latest collection, which screens FREE on Apr 23 in 4070 Vilas Hall at 7:00p, is probably the closest the vital micro-budget campus series has come to a “film programmer’s program,” which gathers not only D’Ambrose’s three beautifully formalist short films since 2013 – Pilgrims, Six Cents in the Pocket, and Spiral Jetty – but also two intimate interviews with legendary feminist director Chantal Akerman and contemporary colleague Dan Sallitt he produced in 2013 for the global streaming film site MUBI.

Attendees will have the opportunity to ask D’Ambrose about his particular chamber drama style honed through the influences of the likes of Akerman and Sallitt (as well as Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Peter Emanuel Goldman) in a Skype Q&A that will follow the FREE 70-minute presentation. Perhaps the most obvious influence, though, is the minimalism of Robert Bresson, whose Pickpocket (1959) directly informs the title as well as the off-whites and earth tone aesthetic of Six Cents in the Pocket (2015). Both Six Cents and Pilgrims (2013) feature the ghostly complexion of actor Michael Wetherbee, who coincidentally channels Old Stone Face, Buster Keaton, in his deadpan expressions but simultaneously adopts more tempered mannerisms typical of Bresson’s non-actors or “models.” Playing Clyde in both films, Wetherbee approaches the character with an equal sense of desperation and mystery, whether he’s a penniless personality slinking into an absent couple’s apartment (Six Cents) or being confronted in his own by a refugee, a political radical, and a Catholic priest in a seeming homage to Dickens’ most famous novella (Pilgrims).

The newly premiered Spiral Jetty (2017) headlines the show, though. While the familiar title has in mind the 1970 anthropological/environmental essay film by sculptor and video artist Robert Smithson, the correlation is really only perfunctory, as D’Ambrose is more interested in the character psychology and interiors (in the Academy ratio of 1.33:1, even) than sweeping panoramic takes off the shore of the Great Salt Lake. Replacing Michael Whetherbee here is Bingham Bryant as Daniel, a young archivist, who’s hired by an academic (Caroline Luft) to cover up incriminating evidence against her late father, a renowned psychologist. Madison cinephiles may also remember leading actor Bryant as the co-director of the Kafkaesque sci-fi For the Plasma that was featured as part of Micro-Wave Cinema just over a year ago. Reading deeper into Spiral Jetty‘s premise, it may prove to be a suitable companion to Alex Ross Perry’s latest harrowing relationship drama, Golden Exits (2017). And if that weren’t enough of a hook, Steve Macfarlane of Bomb Magazine shares an intriguingly sonorous analogy on D’Ambrose’s approach to movie-making: “[The director] orchestrates brilliantly distinct micro-sensations, the likes of which are typically naysayed by film professors liable to draw crass narrative recommendations between a short film’s length and its implied density of plot. These counteractions of noise and image can be both dislocating and sonorous at once- like the barest of strings plucked against each other.”

  • The three shorts and two MUBI interviews in this “Auteur: Ricky D’Ambrose” program screen FREE Sun, Apr 23, in 4070 Vilas Hall at 7:00p. A video Q&A with the director will follow. For more information on the Micro-Wave Cinema Series, visit their Facebook community page or Twitter feed.