Dialogue with a Woman Departed

Martin Koerber

My personal “invisible film” is DIALOGUE WITH A WOMAN DEPARTED (1980), directed by Leo Hurwitz. When this film came to Germany in 1980, I was deeply moved to see it, and had the luck to be able to discuss it with Leo Hurwitz, who presented the film in person. I didn’t necessarily agree with everything that was said in the film, and thought some of the politics of its author were controversial, or rather he was fighting “yesterday’s battles”, but at the same time I welcomed this film enthusiastically for many reasons. It was a messenger from the “other America” we always have been in love with, but which so rarely had a voice. It was an aesthetic tour de force combining documentary images and sounds from many decades and an abundance of sources, but at the same time telling the life story of it’s maker, and the story of his oeuvre in poetic images taken from nature as well as from New York’s cityscape, while being ostensibly about someone else, Leo’s late wife Peggy Lawson (who was his co-worker on many films), and narrated as if in her words, and – seemingly – even with her voice. The film is, at the same time, a history of the 20th century and its political struggles, and the loving memory of a partnership which was encompassing everything: Work, Life, Love, lived and experienced and remembered not necessarily always in this order.

The film has disappeared from distribution, and I have no knowledge whether it is preserved in an archive, where the negatives might have ended up, etc. All available prints from the first release should probably have disappeared after long years of use – or if still physically existing, in all likelihood they are banged up and have turned pink. Shot in 16 mm, this film is especially vulnerable as this is now pretty much an “obsolete format” in most venues still projecting film. I would love to see it again, and I would love to hear the film is safe, original negatives and mix stored away in good conditions, reasonable prints available for rental, or even a good HD digitization existing… who knows.

Tom Hurwitz, Leo’s son, who is a filmmaker himself and supposedly lives in New York City, may know more. Perhaps he can be found.

If at all possible, please let us not only have a section in the catalogue, but also PLEASE program as many as possible of these invisible films – or else they would remain invisible, perhaps forever!