January 4-8, 2002

American Cinematheque Presents...

Spontaneous Combustion: A Tribute to Sean Penn In-Person!

Please join us for the first major U.S. Retrospective of Sean Penn’s work, featuring screenings and conversations with Penn himself!

Series Compiled by Dennis Bartok. Additional Program Notes by Chris D.

Special Thanks to: Lois Smith/PMK; John Kirk/MGM-UA; Janet Hill/MIRAMAX; Paul Ginsburg/UNIVERSAL FOCUS; Brian Claussen/SWANK; Melinda Hovee and Sejin Park/FINE LINE; Patricia Hickey/SONY CLASSICS; Marilee Womack/WARNER CLASSICS.

Tickets available 30 days in advance.



SCHEDULE (by series)

SCHEDULE (by date)







From his searing film debut in the military school drama TAPS to his remarkable performance in the upcoming drama I AM SAM, Sean Penn has established himself as one of the finest American actors of his generation.

Penn has made a career out of playing volatile, uncompromising characters in films such as THE FALCON & THE SNOWMAN, AT CLOSE RANGE, STATE OF GRACE, CASUALTIES OF WAR and DEAD MAN WALKING; he’s also shown surprising range and versatility in his comic performances in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH and SWEET AND LOWDOWN.

Born in Los Angeles, the son of director Leo Penn and actress Eileen Ryan, Penn joined the Group Repertory Theatre in L.A. directly out of high school before appearing in several made-for-television films. Following his 1991 directorial debut with the acclaimed film THE INDIAN RUNNER, Penn has established himself as a talented director with his unflinching portraits of tormented modern characters in THE CROSSING GUARD and his recent THE PLEDGE, starring Jack Nicholson.

Friday, January 4 – 7:30 PM

Double Feature:

THE FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN, 1985, Orion (MGM/UA), 123 min. Sean Penn delivers one of his most memorable performances as squirrelly low-life Daulton Lee, who convinces childhood pal Christopher Boyce (Timothy Hutton) to sell U.S. government secrets to the Russians, in director John Schlesinger’s complex, fact-based thriller.

SHE’S SO LOVELY, 1997, Miramax, 97 min. A valentine to dysfunctional lovers on the skids everywhere. Director Nick Cassavetes adapts a story by father John with an unerring sense of Bukowski-esque flophouses and sanity-threatening suburban life. Alcoholic ne’er-do-wells Sean Penn and Robin Wright, torn apart by violence, reunite explosively years later when Penn is released from an institution, and Wright’s new hubby, John Travolta, learns that nice guys may sometimes finish last.


Saturday, January 5 – 5:00 PM

Sean Penn and James Foley In Person!!

AT CLOSE RANGE, 1986, Orion (MGM/UA), 115 min. Director James Foley paints an achingly beautiful mural of an outlaw family unraveling under the weight of sociopathic dad Christopher Walken’s drug-addled psychosis. Pastoral images of Norman Rockwell’s America are stood on their head as half-brothers Sean and Christopher Penn get sucked into the vortex of the larcenous family business. Based on a true story, AT CLOSE RANGE co-stars Mary Stuart Masterson and Millie Perkins. Discussion following with actor Sean Penn and director James Foley (schedules permitting).


Saturday, January 5 – 8:00 PM

Sean Penn In-Person!!  Double Feature:

THE INDIAN RUNNER, 1991, MGM, 125 min. Inspired by the Bruce Springsteen song "Highway Patrolman," this auspicious debut for first-time director Sean Penn focuses on the inevitable Cain and Abel relationship between two loving brothers: small town lawman David Morse and Vietnam-vet Viggo Mortensen. Often unbearably moving but never sentimental, with a gallery of stand-out performances by Charles Bronson, Sandy Dennis, Dennis Hopper, Patricia Arquette and Valeria Golino.

THE PLEDGE, 2001, Warner Bros., 124 min. Penn’s most recent film as director is a fierce, unrelenting crime drama (adapted from a Friedrich Dürrenmatt novel), starring Jack Nicholson as a retired Nevada sheriff whose life is transformed by his promise to find the murderer of a young girl. Co-starring Patricia Clarkson, Robin Wright, Helen Mirren, Tom Noonan and Vanessa Redgrave. Discussion between films with director Sean Penn (schedule permitting).


Sunday, January 6 – 5:00 PM

Sean Penn In-Person!!  Double Feature:

DEAD MAN WALKING, 1995, Gramercy, 122 min. Penn delivers arguably his finest performance as convicted killer Matthew Poncelet, in director Tim Robbins’ emotionally shattering study of capital punishment and spiritual redemption on Death Row. Susan Sarandon is equally stunning as Sister Helen Prejean, the real-life nun who befriended Poncelet during his imprisonment.

SWEET AND LOWDOWN, 1999, Sony Classics, 95 min. Another amazing, chameleon-like performance by Penn, this time starring as hugely talented (but emotionally handicapped) jazz guitarist Emmett Ray, in director Woody Allen’s sweetly comic fable, loosely inspired by the music of legendary gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. With Samantha Morton and Uma Thurman. Actor Sean Penn will not be appearing as was originally announced.


Tuesday, January 8 – 7:30 PM

Double Feature:

CARLITO’S WAY, 1993, Universal, 144 min. Older-but-wiser gangbanger Al Pacino is released from prison hoping to go legit managing his own nightclub -- but loyalty to his clueless, cokehead lawyer (Sean Penn in a flawless, soul-destroying portrait) and the paranoia and macho one-upmanship of the ‘hood stack the odds against him. This neo-noir masterpiece by director Brian de Palma also stars Penelope Ann Miller, Luis Guzman, John Leguizamo and Viggo Mortensen.

HURLYBURLY, 1998, Fine Line, 122 min. Dir. Anthony Drazan. Adapted by David Rabe from his award-winning play, HURLYBURLY stars Sean Penn and Kevin Spacey as a pair of desperate, cocaine-fueled Hollywood producers trying to stay afloat in a sea of double-talk and self-deception. Brilliantly acted by a stellar cast that includes Robin Wright, Garry Shandling, Anna Paquin and Meg Ryan.