The retrospective launches with this programme of seminal works by Warren Sonbert from his first to his last completed film. Of the many creative and cultural universes inhabited by Sonbert, none was perhaps more acutely experienced yet less publicly acknowledged than his homosexual identity and affliction with AIDS. Amphetamine was shot when Sonbert was only eighteen years old, approximately three years before the Stonewall riots. The film provides an important glimpse at the types of sexual experimentation that would propel queer youth to the front lines of the radical social transformations that were already underway. The film shows Sonbert’s early narrative style already defined, capturing in provocative fashion a window onto teenage transgression.
The programme continues with Noblesse Oblige, a masterfully edited work that features imagery Sonbert photographed of protests in San Francisco following the murders of Mayor George Moscone and Councilman Harvey Milk at the hands of Dan White. Sonbert modelled the structure of this film on Douglas Sirk’s classic melodrama Tarnished Angels (screening on Saturday 26 October). The programme culminates with Whiplash, his elegiac meditation on his own mortality, a film that was completed posthumously by former student Jeff Scher according to Sonbert’s instructions. Inscribed in the style of this film are both visual and musical metaphors for Sonbert’s rapidly deteriorating physical and motor skills.
Warren Sonbert and Wendy Appel, USA 1966, 16 mm, black and white, 10 min
Warren Sonbert, USA, 1981, 16 mm, 25 min
Warren Sonbert, 1995 (completed posthumously 1997), 16 mm, 20 min
Tate Film is supported by Maja Hoffmann / LUMA Foundation