COLUMNS

  • Film

    Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark

    IT SOUNDS GOOD on paper. Lars von Trier, bold, gifted, iconoclastic Danish director, completes his long, tantrum-filled mission to win the Cannes Film Festival's—and serious filmdom's—award of awards, the Palme d'Or, and is cemented as one of the greats. But this isn't the '70s, and taking first prize at Cannes last May doesn't automatically make Dancer in the Dark a classic or assure von Trier's position in the pantheon. Those who've seen his shape-shifting oeuvre as proof that European avant-garde film survived the senility, retirement, and death of its postwar masters were understandably

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  • Film

    Edward Yang’sYi Yi

    DESPITE SOME RECENT, heartening developments—stateside distribution for two Tsai Ming-liang movies (Vive l'amour [1994] and The Hole [1998]) and Winstar's acquisition of an assortment of Hou Hsiao-hsiens (including The Puppetmaster [1993] and Flowers of Shanghai [1998])—Taiwanese cinema is still an unknown quantity in America. It takes time for horizons of cinematic “difficulty” to broaden. Unfortunately, that's the kind of time that few distributors or exhibitors can afford, especially now that the once-flourishing network of independent art houses, the kind that gave an Antonioni semipopular

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  • Film

    Jean-Luc Godard

    ECM RECORDS' IMPOSING, slipcased five-disc sound-track album to Jean-Luc Godard's four-and-a-half-hour Histoire(s) du cinéma video project (1988–98), complete with four hardcover books of images and text in three languages—all for a list price of $180—is the last word in dolorous mood Muzak. Godard's eight-part Histoire(s) is his gnomic farewell to an art form—remixing and cross-referencing a century's worth of film to evoke cinema's obsolescence at the same moment its visual traces have replaced memory and history alike. Cahiers du cinéma was thrilled by the sound track's

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  • Music

    Michel Houellebecq

    ONE OF THE MORE TELLING recent developments in French cultural life has been the sudden nostalgia for Jean-Paul Sartre coinciding with the twentieth anniversary of his death this year. No one really misses Sartre's ideas about “Being” or the Communist International, but a reconsideration of the place he filled in French culture has signaled a genuine EU-era cultural identity crisis. He was the last in a long line of engaged and very public intellectuals, a tradition that included, in the twentieth century alone, Zola, Malraux, Camus; if France is no longer turning out Voltaire-quality men of

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  • Books

    The Harold Letters

    THE HAROLD LETTERS is a curious addition to the Clement Greenberg literature. The volume encompasses some fifteen years of correspondence from Greenberg to his college friend Harold Lazarus, beginning in 1928 when the two were nineteen-year-old classmates in the English department at Syracuse. The missives are chatty, lubricious, name-droppy, gossipy, vulgar. Plainly juvenilia, The Harold Letters will amuse Greenberg devotees, demonstrating that before he congealed into the dome-headed oracle of AbEx and Color Field, he was once young and arrogant and sexed up and ambitious as opposed to merely

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  • Film

    Steal This Movie!

    I DON'T REMEMBER precisely when I first learned to equate Grateful Dead fandom with class privilege, when I finally figured out that those hokey dancing bears glued to the rear window of a Saab signaled that you were tailgating a pleasure-loving scion of American entitlement, but it must have been around the same time that Abbie Hoffman, having resurfaced after a decade underground, was beginning to dabble in the hopeless leftist causes of the '80s. This unhappy coincidence was no doubt what provoked my first glimmers of doubt concerning the '60s counterculture.

    Yes, there was something genuinely

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  • Film

    The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack

    AIYANA ELLIOTT'S DOCUMENTARY about her demi-legend of a folksinger father, The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack (which opens nationally this month), is the kind of plainspoken memoir-cum-biography you might stumble across on PBS some uneventful night and gradually get caught up in, the rhythms of its unspooling anecdotes seducing you against your will. “I've never heard anybody that was so enchanting on subjects I didn't give a damn about,” is Kris Kristofferson's affectionate characterization of the sixty-nine-year-old raconteur, rake, and self-made myth whose pale faux-Guthrie warble may be his least

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  • Interviews

    1000 WORDS: TIM HAWKINSON

    A Post-it note almost imperceptibly twitching on a page to mark time; a model sailing ship stretched full circle until bow and stern merge like a snake eating its tail; a skeleton assembled out of rawhide dog bones: Tim Hawkinson's work is always surprising. But with Überorgan he's outdone himself. A combination bagpipe, pipe organ, and player piano elegantly jury-rigged mostly out of materials you might find at your local Home Depot and Radio Shack, Überorgan is a behemoth sound-producing instrument. Its principal components are twelve Winnebago-size polyethylene bags lashed to the ceiling,

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  • Books

    the New Vienna School

    THE SO-CALLED VIENNA CIRCLE, which flourished in the years before the Second World War, was an informal association of philosophers and scientists dedicated to the overthrow and eradication of metaphysics, regarded by them as nonsense, portentously disguised. Nonsense was understood as whatever could not be verified empirically. This was the notorious verifiability criterion of meaning, which, they believed, the natural sciences exemplified to perfection. Final solutions, of course, were much in the air in '30s Vienna, and such was the ferocity of the Vienna Circle, whose texts bristled with

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  • Books

    Jed Perl

    JED PERL ISN’T WRONG about everything, but even when he’s right, he’s wrong. Perl is right to be suspicious of academics—most of us are far from brilliant. And he’s right to be suspicious of journalism, almost all of which is dreadful. And he’s probably also right that many dealers only like what sells. But in turning away from the “vanguard” of the contemporary art world, he is wrong to look to the tweedy, “cultured” intelligentsia for the true vine: Whether neo-con or old left, their ideas about art tend to be obtuse.

    A Hilton Kramer protegé formerly of the New Criterion, Perl has been the art

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  • Books

    Frances Stonor Saunders

    AS CONSPIRACIES GO, this one featured a most unlikely concatenation of players and aims. A few years after its founding in 1947, the CIA began a campaign to promote international “cultural initiatives” in complex, covert association with the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), an organization of intellectuals, writers, scientists, and artists established by anti-Stalinist, social-democratic Americans and Europeans in the Berlin of 1950. The CCF aimed to mobilize the energies of the “Non-Communist Left” and to meet head-on the worldwide challenge of the Cominform, the Soviet cultural organization.

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