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Peter Wollen's "Friendship's Death" at Cannes Classics in restored 4K print


Friendship's Death (UK 1987) was part of the Cannes Classic series directed by Peter Wollen and produced by the BFI.  It stars Tilda Swinton as an alien named "Friendship" who was on hand to introduce the film and sad she hadn't seen it on a big screen since 1986 and "can't wait". Everytime she has seen it since then , Swinton conveyed that it feels "so modern and so fresh" even though there are "anachronisms in it like finding a sushi bar in Gaza but in terms of its political clarity is right on the moment". She said it was her second film made six months after making Derek Jarman's Caravaggio (1986).

Producer Rebecca O'Brien explained that it was incredibly fun to make this science fiction cult film with Swinton and Bill Paterson, the actors in the film,and that it took two weeks. Wollen called it a "BFI B film" and would place certain objects in the "mise en scène" to play with film theorists. 

Swinton's character "Friendship" comes to earth and is invited to MIT but first lands in Amman Jordan where the PLO is fighting Jordanians during Black September September 1970. Covering the event is British Journalist Sullivan (Bill Paterson) who speaks with "Friendship" about philosophy, warfare and technology. 

Wollen made films with Laura Mulvey who wrote the classic definitive feminist essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema: (1974) . Wollen was a theorist and wrote the classic study "Signs and Meaning in the Cinema" (1969). While teaching at Columbia one of his students was Kathryn Bigelow: "He was great. He’s illuminating. Until I met him I was just looking at light reflected on a screen. After that it was more like a window". said Bigelow.

I spoke with Tilda Swinton after the scrrening who agreed what an inspiration he was to filmmakers like Bigelow and Lizzie Borden (Born in Flames 1983). They were both living in New York at the time that Wollen was active on the cinema scene.  Bigelow and Borden made films that have the experimental wit and political engagement of Friendship's Death. Borden's Born in Flames evokes the spirit of 70’s feminism and is set in the future after the socialist revolution in the USA. Bigelow made At Dark (1987) about a cowboy in the midwest that meets nomadic vampires.

©Moira Jean Sullivan Tilda Swinton and producer Rebecca O'Brien, Cannes Classics, July 10, 2021.

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