Amy Taubin

  • film September 10, 2019

    Sticky Situations

    OH THAT VOICE, that hoarse, insinuating whisper, which simultaneously sucks you in and spits you out. It was Vito Acconci’s stock in trade during the first two decades of his career, when he was what he later described as “a situation maker.” Acconci began as a poet, and language was central to his video and performance work. He began making moving image pieces, first in Super-8 film then in video, toward the end of the 1960s, when Minimalism had hit a wall but survived by embedding itself in Conceptualism, performance, body art, film and video. Between 1968 and 1977, Acconci made close to a

  • film August 14, 2019

    Parental Controls

    IT WAS NOT UNTIL the documentary filmmaker Nanfu Wang had been living in the United States for several years and was pregnant with her first child that she began to think about China’s one-child policy. “The personal is political” was an axiom of the women’s liberation movement, invoked most powerfully in relation to women’s right to control their own bodies. Just six years after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision made access to obtaining an abortion a fundamental right in the United States—a ruling which has not since been as endangered as it is today—China instituted a policy prohibiting a woman

  • film July 26, 2019

    Swarm and Tender

    HATIDZE MURATOVA, THE HERO of Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska’s Honeyland, is believed to be the last wild female honey gatherer in Europe. A tall, slim, agile woman in her early fifties with a hawklike nose, a snaggletooth, weathered skin, and extremely kind eyes, she is not merely charismatic but a radiant being. When the filmmakers first encountered Hatidze, she and Nazife, her frail eighty-five-year-old mother, were the sole inhabitants of a centuries-old stone village in an arid region of Macedonia. She told them that she had long dreamed of someone making a movie about her method of

  • film July 11, 2019

    Not My Man

    NICK BROOMFIELD SAYS that his latest documentary, Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love, is his most personal. I don’t agree, but then again, “personal” is always complicated. In 1968, twenty-year-old Broomfield visited Hydra, the sun-bleached Greek island bohemia where real estate was cheap and dope was plentiful, and open relationships were cultivated. There, Broomfield took his first acid trip, on LSD supplied by Marianne Ihlen, a Norwegian woman about a decade his senior who’d acquired it from a London friend of her lover, Leonard Cohen. Ihlen, Cohen, and Axel—Ihlen’s son from a defunct

  • AGNÈS VARDA

    IN THE SPRING OF 2017, I accompanied two friends on a visit to Agnès Varda’s home on the rue Daguerre, in Paris, where she lived from the early 1950s until her death on March 29 at age ninety. In 1954, Varda mounted her first photography exhibition in the narrow, light-filled courtyard that bisects this house on a street named for the pioneering nineteenth-century French photographer. You may have seen the space in one of her documentaries: Varda seated on a plant-lined stone stairway with a cat nearby, talking to the camera, drawing us into her cinematic world. The house was filled with images

  • film April 12, 2019

    All the Rage

    THE CURRENT MINING OF FILM HISTORY for overlooked women directors has unearthed the confrontational oeuvre of the brilliant outsider Nelly Kaplan. An abbreviated retrospective of the Argentinian-born, French-language filmmaker—she has made fiction features, documentaries, and shorts—is playing at the Quad in New York through April 25. “Wild Things: The Ferocious Films of Nelly Kaplan” kicks off with a weeklong run of her best-known movie, the newly restored A Very Curious Girl (aka La Fiancee du pirate) from 1969, followed by more limited showings of six later features, among them 1976’s soft-core

  • film April 02, 2019

    In the Midnight Hour

    THE NOT-TO-BE-MISSED FILM in “Strange Desire,” the nearly complete Claire Denis retrospective at BAM through April 9, is US Go Home, made in 1994 as part of the French television series “All the Boys and Girls of Their Time.” Not only is US Go Home one of Denis’s most affecting and finely made films—it’s right up there with No Fear, No Die (1990), I Can’t Sleep (1994), Beau Travail (1999), and White Material (2009)—it is also the least available. You will never find it on discs or streaming, and it is doubtful it will play in a US theater again, unless a programmer is as willing to put in the

  • film March 21, 2019

    Fearful Symmetry

    SOME FILMS demand a second viewing, particularly when something that is revealed at the very end makes you rethink everything that led to the denouement. The second time around, you appreciate the subtlety of certain details you either failed to notice or misunderstood. This is absolutely the case for Jordan Peele’s Us, and particularly for Lupita Nyong’o’s performance. Peele’s script and direction are very smart and often inspired—I’m not going to get into a comparison with his 2017 debut feature, Get Out—but make no mistake, Nyong’o, who can be at once precise and volcanic, holds the film

  • JONAS MEKAS

    JONAS MEKAS described himself as a diarist, using this term to encompass his films and his videos, his prose and his poetry. He once told me that he was a long-distance runner; he was a sickly child and had taken up exercise to build stamina. Ninety-six years is a long run, but Jonas was so alive, so present during his last public appearances in the summer and autumn of 2018, that although his body was noticeably frail I refused to believe he would stop anytime soon. He told the writer John Leland, who had followed Jonas since 2015 for a New York Times series on New York City residents who are

  • COURT RULES

    SOME MOVIES tunnel into your emotions, some into your kinetic center, and some make you feel like your mind is on fire. The last are as pleasurable to think about after the fact as they are to watch. That High Flying Bird (2019), a movie about an NBA basketball lockout, is heady rather than kinetic is a surprise. Then again, maybe not, considering that its director is Steven Soderbergh, a filmmaker who gravitates toward puzzles and mindfucks but doesn’t always have scripts strong enough to sustain his vision. Here, he’s working with an exceptional writer, Tarell Alvin McCraney, who coauthored

  • film January 24, 2019

    Shadow Play

    I DON’T REALLY BELIEVE IN CANONS, but if Anthology Film Archives were to expand their Essential Cinema collection, one of the films they should add is Niki de Saint Phalle’s 1976 Un rêve plus long que la nuit (A Dream Longer Than the Night). The film is having a rare American showing in “Out of the Shadows: Experimental Feminist Films by Jane Arden, Niki de Saint Phalle, and Penny Slinger.” Curated by Alison Gingeras and Nicoletta Beyer, the series will be presented by Anthology from January 25 to January 31.

    A fairy tale that, like the revisionist fairy tales of Angela Carter, refuses the

  • film December 20, 2018

    X Post Facto

    ON PRINCIPLE, I appreciate holiday counter-programming, and this year into next, the Christmas season festivities at the Quad are a nasty wonder. “Rated-X” is an ultra-democratic selection of movies that once received an “X” from the MPAA ratings board, which throughout its history has been composed largely of retired people from Los Angeles and Orange Counties who have the time to look at unreleased movies all day and give them ratings that supposedly are meant to protect children, but occasionally adults, from seeing things that could have a deleterious effect on society. (I’m not kidding: In

  • Amy Taubin

    1 ADRIAN PIPER (Museum of Modern Art, New York; curated by Christophe Cherix, Connie Butler, and David Platzker, with Tessa Ferreyros) Thanks not only to the great Funk Lessons video, 1983–84, but to the way the entire installation let the viewer journey through the narrative of her life in art, Piper’s retrospective was, for me, a movie and more.

    THE IMAGE BOOK (Jean-Luc Godard) As befits a dying planet, in Godard’s scorched-earth film, montage stutters, memory frays, and yet the will to look, listen, and make art survives.

    ROMA (Alfonso Cuarón) A masterpiece of old-fashioned narrative

  • film November 29, 2018

    Home Truths

    I KNOW MONEY IS TIGHT, and given your $10.99 monthly Netflix bill, why should you pay for a movie theater ticket to see Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, a movie shot digitally that isn’t even in color, when you’ll be able to stream it anytime you like, beginning December 14? Trust me, if it’s at all possible, get to a theater. Financed independently and then sold to Netflix, Roma plays for three weeks in art cinemas worldwide before it begins its streaming life. Well, half-life. Some of you may know this writer as the fanatic who insists that Warhol’s 16-mm celluloid movies become “nothing at all”—thanks,

  • CLOSE UP: STATIC SHOCK

    THE SURVIVING 472 silent Screen Tests that Andy Warhol shot on black-and-white 16-mm film between 1964 and 1966 constitute the most subversive investigation of portrait-making in the history of visual art. The subjects were visitors to and regulars at Warhol’s Silver Factory in Midtown Manhattan. Upon agreeing to be filmed, each one was instructed to sit in front of the camera, look straight into the lens, and try not to move or even blink. Warhol adjusted the tripod and the one or (sometimes) two lights, turned on the battery-operated Bolex, and typically walked away, leaving the subject to

  • SYNC OR SWIM

    “Believe me, we are never sad enough for the world to be better.”

    FOUR YEARS IN THE MAKING, Jean-Luc Godard’s Le livre d’image (The Image Book, 2018) could not be more of the moment. It is almost without narrative constraints—the most abstract in the series of collage films that spin off from his epic Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988–98)—and is thus as ephemeral as a dream. I saw it twice at Cannes in May, and although I still remember the intensity of the experience, the details have fled my mind. Le livre d’image is also the most melancholy of his late films, yet it is framed with an

  • film July 04, 2018

    Sorry Not Sorry

    THE TIME TO DO THE RIGHT THING is now or never. The urgency coursing through Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You makes it a perfect movie for the blazing summer of resistance. When Riley’s debut feature played at Sundance in January, it seemed like African American lysergic futurism. Six months later, even its most surreal moments are less prophetic than terrifyingly close to ordinary life in 2018—maybe with the exception of the human/horse gene-editing thing.

    What Riley brings to his first feature film is twenty-seven years of making music as the leader of the Oakland political hip-hop collective

  • film June 30, 2018

    Women About Town

    WHENEVER I WATCH Allan Moyle’s teen girl coming-of-age screwball comedy Times Square (1980), I remember the real-life story of Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick and the radically queer underground filmmaker Barbara Rubin meeting in the psychiatric hospital to which, in the early 1960s, their respective families (Sedgwick’s was Boston Brahmins, Rubin’s middle-class Queens Jews) committed them for drug use. One of Warhol’s most memorable screen presences, Sedgwick died of an overdose in 1971. In 1963, at age seventeen, Rubin made Christmas on Earth—the all-time most subversive American avant-garde

  • film June 21, 2018

    Girl Power

    A TERRIFIC PREVIEW of the summer’s hot independent movies and a place to make discoveries, this year’s BAMcinemaFest is one of the best in the series’s ten-year history. The films show only once, with the directors doing a Q&A after each screening. The sold-out opening night has Boots Riley presenting his debut feature, the dark, delirious Sorry to Bother You, which at Sundance seemed like Black Futurism but six months later is more like a prophecy fulfilled—maybe not today, but probably tomorrow. The visuals are as eyeball-rattling as a comic strip; the soundtrack by Tune-Yards and Riley’s

  • ALL SHOOK UP

    FROM LATE 2015 through the end of 2016, the documentarian Eugene Jarecki drove around the United States in a 1963 silver Rolls-Royce that had belonged to Elvis Presley. Promised Land, the film that emerged from his travels, premiered at Cannes in May 2017. But over the next six months, it was reedited to become The King, its focus more sharply on the titular (by nickname) singer as a sieve through which to filter all the contradictions of America.

    Jarecki is the author of The American Way of War: Guided Missiles, Misguided Men, and a Republic in Peril (2008) and the founder of the Eisenhower