Curtis Harrington was one of the few directors who began in the avant-garde and made the transition to feature narrative moviemaking. Like his friend Kenneth Anger, Harrington began by just picking up a camera and making movies, and both artists came out of the extremely particular world of the west coast art/poetry/cinema/music/occult world of the 40s and 50s. The last of Harrington’s non-narrative shorts, which had a life on the college 16mm circuit and in film societies, was The Wormwood Star (1956), a cinematic portrait of artist Marjorie Cameron, the widow of the rocket engineer and Aleister Crowley adept Jack Parsons. Cameron, who appeared with Harrington in Anger’s 1954 Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (along with Anaïs Nin and Anger himself), was called upon by Harrington to play the Water Witch in his first narrative film, Night Tide (1961, restored by the Academy with the help of The Film Foundation in 2007), about a sailor (Dennis Hopper) who falls in love with a boardwalk carnival performer (Linda Lawson) who he comes to realize is a real mermaid. I remember turning on a little black and white portable TV when I was young and being entranced by this homemade film, which seemed to emanate from its own planetary signal: related to a very particular strain of Hollywood cinema (under the sign of Josef Von Sternberg, on whose work Harrington had written a small book) but not quite of it, similar in spirit to the freshness of the French New Wave and Cassavetes’ Shadows but vastly different from both, Night Tide had its own trancelike, twilit magic. As was the case with so much in American cinema at the time, Roger Corman played a crucial role in getting Night Tide distributed.

Harrington went on to make many films in the very particular sub-genre spawned by the success of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? before he was drawn into what he called the vortex of episodic television. He was a key figure in American movies, a great raconteur and chronicler, and he worked and lived at the crossroads of multiple dynamic creative energies that exploded from the 50s through the 70s like a supernova. It still lights our way.

- Kent Jones

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Night Tide (1961, d. Curtis Harrington)
Restored by the Academy Film Archive with support from The Film Foundation and Curtis Harrington.

The Film Foundation

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