COLUMNS

  • Books

    The Americans

    THE AMERICANS, by Robert Frank. Aperture, Inc., New York (republished) 1959/1969.

    In 1956 Robert Frank, a Swiss photographer living in New York, applied to the Guggenheim Foundation for funds to photograph America. In his proposal he offered “. . . to produce a social document the visual impact of which will nullify explanation.” The grant was awarded, and after it another grant followed. For two years Robert Frank traveled throughout America photographing almost every aspect of our culture. In 1959 he published these photographs, first in Europe (Delpire Press, Les Americans) and later in America,

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  • Film

    Space in Film

    Space is the most dramatic stylistic entity—from Giotto to Noland, from Intolerance to Weekend. How an artist deploys his space, seldom discussed in film criticism but already a tiresome word of the moment in other art, is anathema to newspaper editors, who believe readers die like flies at the sight of esthetic terminology.

    If there were a textbook on film space, it would read: “There are several types of movie space, the three most important being (1) the field of the screen, (2) the psycho logical space of the actor, (3) the area of experience and geography that the film covers.” Bresson deals

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  • Film

    The Ten Best: Black Girl, Ma Nuit Chez Maud, Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son, ←→, Ghronik der Anna Magdalena Bach, Le Gai Savoir, _The Wild Bunch

    THE TEN BEST: 1) Black Girl 2) Ma Nuit Chez Maud 3) Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son 4) ←→ 5) Ghronik der Anna Magdalena Bach 6) Le Gal Savoir 7) a tie among three Hollywood eccentricities, The Wild Bunch, Easy Rider, The Rain People 8) High School and La Raison Avant La Passion 9) Coming Apart 10) They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and La Femme Infidèle.

    One. Black Girl could have been sentimental pro-African anti-white (a very quiet, particular, personal story: an obstinate, naive Sengalese, taken to France as a mother’s helper, finds that she has no freedom of movement when she gets there. Thrilled to

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  • Film

    Wavelength, Standard Time, ←→, and One Second in Montreal

    THE COOL KICK OF of Michael Snow’s Wavelength was in seeing so many new actors—light and space, walls, soaring windows, and an amazing number of color-shadow variations that live and die in the windowpanes—made into major esthetic components of movie experience. In Snow’s Standard Time, a waist-high camera shuttles back and forth, goes up and down, picking up small, elegantly lighted square effects around a living room very like its owner: ordered but not prissy. A joyous spiritual little film, it contains both his singular stoicism and the germinal ideas of his other films, each one like a

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  • Film

    The Underground Festival at the Elgin Theater, La Raison Avant La Passion, Cat Food, and 1933

    At the Underground Festival that ran night and day in late December at the Elgin Theater, Snow’s films were pure reflective intelligence within an exacting, hard-nosed compositional system. The direct opposite is a random, hit-and-miss quality in Joyce Wieland’s La Raison Avant La Passion, a veritable pasture of expansive landscape imagery. The film is divided into three sections, a green section of the East. Coast, then a middle which is an ode to Trudeau (mostly Canadian flags and hot orange-red-pink face shots) and lastly an extraordinary white endlessness of snowscape. With its dry middle

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  • Film

    Don Siegel, Madigan, Coogan’s Bluff, and The Lineup

    Considering the automatic high coloring of his vermin, the anxious hopping around for the picturesque, the hokey scripts with worn-out capers and police-routine plots, why write about Don Siegel? Having made a few good modest-budget films—Baby Face Nelson, Flaming Feather with Presley, Return of the Body Snatchers—that aren’t shown in art theaters, he has been wrongly deified by auteurists, though he’s basically a determinedly lower case, crafty entertainer who utilizes his own violence to build unsettling movies with cheap musical scores that leave in their wake a feeling of being smeared with

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  • Film

    The New York Film Festival, My Nuit Chez Maud, Une Femme Douce, The Epic That Never Was, and Pierre and Paul

    In the type of multi-sensation circus that is the New York Film Festival, it is difficult to pin down the precise intellectual tone and incredible grace of Eric Rohmer’s Ma Nuit Chez Maud. What makes it so special is that it’s involved with a whole stratum of European culture that’s totally ignored in films: the intellectual Catholic living in the provinces. Constructed on the encounters of a single person in a new town, its pleasure comes from specificity: of time (Christmas), locale (a bustling job-prosperous town of narrow streets), geography (a wintry, sparse landscape), cast (an unimposing

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  • Film

    Duet for Cannibals, Adalen ’31, and Bob and Carol

    Susan Sontag’s Duet for Cannibals looks and feels like skimmed milk. An airless, room-locked, unusually adroit drawing-room comedy. A young man with the style and dress of an avant-garde painter is employed to catalog the life work of a political refugee. There is nothing convincing about his task, his employer’s career or the reason he and his girl are swallowed up by the powerful personalities of the two urbane, pompous vampires in an ultra-bourgeois house. The combination of a gutless spirit and sado-masochistic games (I kill you, you kill me and then we all get up and walk out the door)

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  • Film

    The Wild Bunch, Easy Rider, More, The Gypsy Moths, The Rain People, and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice

    The Wild Bunch has a virile ribbon image, often an aerial view, of border life in 1914 Texas, stretched across a mottled wide screen in which there are so many intense, frontal details—five kids marching in a parade with their arms linked, a line of bounty hunters riding straight at the camera—that the spectator’s store chest of visual information is constantly widened. Someone seems to have studied all the frontal postures and somber-sharp detailing in Civil War photographs, as well as the snap-the-whip, across-the-page-compositions that Homer often used as a perfect substructure for the

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  • Books

    David Smith by David Smith

    David Smith by David Smith, ed. Cleve Cray (Holt, Rinehart, N.Y., 1968), 176 pages, illustrated.

    As a compilation of statements by the artist, accompanied by many color photographs of Smith and his work, David Smith by David Smith cannot easily be categorized. There is not enough information to consider the book either biography or documentary, nor is is sufficiently systematic to be considered scholarly. Another approach might have been philosophical—an attempt to establish the artists as a speculative or analytical thinker after the fashion of Kandinsky or Sir Joshua Reynolds—but here the book

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  • Books

    History of Modern Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture

    History of Modern Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture. by H. H. Arnason, Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1968

    H. H. Arnason’s History of Modern Art is guaranteed to become a bestselling textbook. In terms of the college market, the book has all of the “proper” ingredients: it is generously illustrated with black and white reproductions and colorplates of the highest quality; it contains more information on more painters, sculptors and architects from more countries than any other single volume published to date; it pursues its subject from the beginning of the 19th century to the late 1960s; finally,

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  • Film

    Sam Fuller, Pickup on South Street, Steel Helmet, Run of the Arrow, and China Gate

    Though he lacks the stamina and range of Chester Gould or the endlessly creative Fats Waller, Sam Fuller directs and writes an inadvertently charming film that has some of their qualities: lyricism, real iconoclasm, and a comic lack of self-consciousness. He has made 19 no-flab, low or middle budget films since 1949, any one of which could be described as “simpleminded corny stuff . . . colorful though,” a bit of John Foster Dulles, a good bit of Steve Canyon, sometimes so good as to be breathtaking, Pickup on South Street is a marvel of lower class nuttiness, Richard Widmark as a pickpocket

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