Curtis Harrington The Assignation

The earliest film in this remarkable set was made when Curtis Harrington was all of 14, so it is unsurprising that some of the eight films included wear their aspirations on their sleeves; with its occultist pretensions, The Wormwood Star (55) is little more than Kenneth Anger lite. At their best, though, the shorts reveal an unforced blending of postwar California breeziness and florid visual style. Picnic (48) opens with a middle-class family haltingly trudging down a winding hill toward a windswept beach, their alfresco lunch having become an existential journey. In other films, Harrington makes the act of following seem simultaneously creepy and courtly. The filmmaker himself plays a spry stalker on the trail of a Hitchcock blonde who turns into a bag of bones in Fragment of Seeking (46), while a figure in a black robe and carnival mask is ferried through Venice’s canals to meet a woman of mystery in The Assignation (53). When they embrace, the petals of a red rose scatter to the ground, a symbolic deflowering representative of the fresh-faced imagination on display here.