At the Chazen: Stuart Gordon Retrospective, Part One

Stuart Gordon

Born and raised in Chicago and educated at UW Madison, Stuart Gordon (1947-2020) turned to movie storytelling after nearly two decades of acclaimed theatrical productions that were frequently outlandish and sometimes controversial. Gordon’s cinematic oeuvre was similarly championed for a colorful visual style, themes that celebrated working class underdogs, and stories driven by flamboyant villains who are typically authority figures abusing their power. A horror and science-fiction genre specialist, Gordon also made a few movies that are not easily categorizable. This first section of our year-long Stuart Gordon retrospective highlights three fun and futuristic sci-fi action vehicles, Fortress, Robot Jox, and Space Truckers, plus Gordon’s 2004 David Mamet adaptation, Edmond. The series will continue with more screenings at the 2022 Wisconsin Film Festival, and on the Cinematheque calendar later this year. All of the 35mm prints for this series are courtesy Wisconsin Center for Film & Theater Research.

  • Sun., Jan. 30 | 2:00 PM

In a dystopian 2017, the U.S. government has limited families to one child per female, no exceptions. Arrested after daring to conceive a second time, Brennick (Lambert) and his wife, Karen (Locklin), are sentenced to a high-tech maximum security prison run by a sadistic and cybernetically “enhanced” warden (Smith). Now, the couple must attempt an escape before Karen gives birth. Highly imaginative and consistently witty, director Gordon’s sci-fi action gem was an enormous hit outside of the U.S. 

  • Sun., Feb. 27 | 2:00 PM

Decades before Pacific Rim, director Gordon and writer Joe Haldeman conjured up this futuristic action movie set in a world where war has been outlawed and replaced by gladiatorial matches between giant robots, piloted by men known as robot jockeys. The story revolves around the fight over the territory known as Alaska that comes down to a battle between American and Russian jox. “There are giant robots fighting each other with projectile-fists and crotch-saws…the stop-motion animation and model work on Robot Jox looks really cool, even now. In a way this is the original live-action Transformers movie, but with more handmade charm” (Noel Murray, The Dissolve).

  • Sun., Mar. 27 | 2:00 PM

Transporting goods throughout the galaxy, a trio of spaceship driving long-haulers (Hopper, Dorff, and Mazar) discover that their unknown cargo is a secretly developed new super weapon. A comic sci-fi fantasy with a pro-working class aesthetic, Space Truckers is filled with director Gordon’s signature outlandish and colorful visuals, imaginative production design, eye-popping costumes, and flamboyant props. The terrific supporting cast includes Charles Dance, George Wendt, The Road Warrior’s Vernon Wells, and Gordon regular Barbara Crampton.

  • Sun., Apr. 24 | 2:00 PM

Director Gordon’s adaptation of David Mamet’s one-act play follows everyman Edmond Burke (Macy) as he visits a tarot reader who tells him “You are not where you belong.” Walking out on his job and his family, Edmond immerses himself in a big city underworld of violence and prostitution, believing he’s found the answer to the most existential of questions. “This is a small film with a big payback, like a series of tableaux that illustrate how a mild mannered Mr Everyman can become viciously untamed” (Derek Malcolm, London Evening Standard).