Stuart Gordon, locally groomed master of theatrical science fiction — Tone Madison

From January 30 through April 24, UW Cinematheque at the Chazen presents a one-Sunday-per-month 35mm retrospective of the offbeat and imaginative playwright, screenwriter, and director.

Header Image: A collage of the four Stuart Gordon films in the retrospective. Clockwise from top left: John Brennick (Christopher Lambert) and his cellmates Nino (Clifton Collins Jr.), Stiggs (Tom Towles), D-Day (Jeffrey Combs), and Abraham (Lincoln Kilpatrick) plot their escape in “Fortress”; Achilles (Gary Graham) and Alexander (Paul Koslo) face off in their giant robots in “Robot Jox”; the titular character (William H. Macy) brandishes a knife in “Edmond”; and Macanudo (Charles Dance) menace his prisoners Mike Pucci (Stephen Dorff) and John Canyon (Dennis Hopper) in “Space Truckers.”

Though best known for his Lovecraft adaptations Re-Animator (1985) and FromBeyond (1986), the late Stuart Gordon (1947-2020) was more than just a horror director. Starting out as a renegade theater major at UW-Madison, Gordon co-founded the Broom Street Theater before moving to Chicago to become a pivotal figure in that city’s theater scene. Always unpredictable, Gordon moved into filmmaking in the 1980s, with his blood-soaked debut Re-Animator establishing him as a unique master of the genre. This semester, UW Cinematheque’s year-long retrospective of Gordon’s career begins with a 2 pm Sunday matinee series of some of his lesser-known films—the science fiction movies fortress (1992), Robot Jox (1989), and Space Truckers (1996), as well as his adaptation of David Mamet’s Edmond (2005). All four will be shown on 35mm prints at the Chazen Museum of Art, direct from the Stuart Gordon vault at the Wisconsin Center for Film & Theater Research.

Full of ingenious practical effects and outlandish villains, Gordon’s sci-fi worlds are just as imaginative, anti-authoritarian, and over-the-top as his horror films. Gordon had an obvious passion for the genre, and returned to it throughout his career. During his time at the Organic Theater in Chicago, Gordon adapted science fiction novels by Bradbury, Vonnegut, and others to the stage; and his own Marvel Comics-inspired sci-fi serial play Warp! had a brief run on Broadway with art production by comics artist Neal Adams. While his sci-fi films conform to genre conventions, Gordon clearly has fun working within the form while adding his own personal touch.

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