Amy Taubin

  • ELECTRIC DREAMS

    WHEN MICHAEL ALMEREYDA was about sixteen, he often visited the much older comic-book artist Alex Toth, who lived in Hollywood, chain-smoked, and talked endlessly about Nikola Tesla, visionary inventor of the mechanism that, 135 years later, still harnesses and distributes alternating current. Our illuminated world is the world that Tesla brought into being just before the dawn of the twentieth century. You might presume that the credit should go to Thomas Alva Edison, but you would be wrong. In 1980, Almereyda dropped out of Harvard to finish a screenplay about Tesla that was then optioned as

  • film August 21, 2020

    Electric Dreams

    WHEN MICHAEL ALMEREYDA was about sixteen, he often visited the much older comic-book artist Alex Toth, who lived in Hollywood, chain-smoked, and talked endlessly about Nikola Tesla, visionary inventor of the mechanism that, 135 years later, still harnesses and distributes alternating current. Our illuminated world is the world that Tesla brought into being just before the dawn of the twentieth century. You might presume that the credit should go to Thomas Alva Edison, but you would be wrong. In 1980, Almereyda dropped out of Harvard to finish a screenplay about Tesla that was then optioned as

  • film August 19, 2020

    Plot Twist

    A REVELATORY INVESTIGATIVE DOCUMENTARY that is dense with detail and yet drives like a thriller, Taghi Amirani’s Coup 53 tells the story of how Mohammad Mosaddegh, Iran’s only democratically elected Prime Minister, was driven from office and replaced by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who would rule as an absolute monarch until he was sent packing by the Islamic revolution of 1979. Since this is a story about Iran, it is also about the CIA and “Big Oil.” But the largely new wrinkle that Amirani’s film uncovers is the role that the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) played in maintaining what

  • film June 15, 2020

    Apocalypse Vow

    IN DA 5 BLOODS, history repeats itself not as farce but as tragedy compounded. Financed by and now streaming on Netflix, this fiercely intelligent and emotionally go-for-broke Spike Lee joint overwhelmed my small screen and me as well. Colliding hearts and minds, it arrives as a much-needed exorcism, but I suspect that, like Lee’s most urgent movies—Do the Right Thing (1989), Malcolm X (1992), 25th Hour (2002), BlacKkKlansman (2018), the anomalously tender Crooklyn (1994), the documentaries 4 Little Girls (1997) and When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006), and whichever you might

  • film May 19, 2020

    À La Modal

    THE EDDY, a sensational eight-episode Netflix miniseries, is named for a jazz club in Paris’s thirteenth arrondissement, home to a polyglot sextet led by American ex-pat Elliot Udo (André Holland). On good nights, the music induces euphoria in the club’s devoted audience, and perhaps you as well. (Wear good headphones and turn up the sound.) There are also nights when nothing lands, and, even worse, when the dive’s owners, Elliot and his best friend Farid (Tahar Rahim), are terrorized by henchmen for a Serbian mob boss. The Eddy is a jazz musical with a thriller edge, and it’s also a dense

  • KILL OR CURE

    IF YOU EVER GET SICK IN ROMANIA, hightail it to Vienna. That was my immediate takeaway, near the end of January—almost to the day that the first Covid-19 case was diagnosed in the United States—from Alexander Nanau’s Collective (2019), a chilling investigative documentary about the endemic, engulfing corruption inside Romania’s health system. Anyone who has seen Cristi Puiu’s true-story-based narrative The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005)—a foundational title of the New Romanian Cinema that follows a dying old man as he’s rejected by hospital after hospital—has already gotten an eyeful of what

  • film April 03, 2020

    Autumn Leaves

    IN ELIZA HITTMAN’S SUPERBLY UNDERSTATED Never Rarely Sometimes Always, a seventeen-year-old high schooler named Autumn (Sidney Flanigan, in a strikingly honest and emotionally layered screen debut) needs to have an abortion. Need is the operative word, not want. Autumn’s need is not medical. She needs to able to control her life. She needs to get out of the small failed Pennsylvania town where every man treats every woman as if she’s a punching bag, existing only to prove his power. If she is forced to care for a baby, Autumn knows she’ll never be able to get away.

    In Pennsylvania, a minor must

  • film March 16, 2020

    Home Alone

    TO PARAPHRASE X-Ray Spex’s Poly Styrene: “Oh Anxiety, Up Yours!” Although some readers believe I’m an early ’80s punk, I’m actually eighty-one years old, and find myself in an increasingly dismaying demographic. As of late, I wake up several times a night in a panic, which deep breathing does not alleviate. The only way I can suspend dire thoughts about mortality—my own and that of people I love—is by watching movies on my home screens. Putting aside my preference for dark theaters, where images are big if not always beautiful, I’m amazed at how easy it is to get lost in moving pictures that

  • film January 23, 2020

    In the Wind

    A BARE-BONES DANCE HALL in Shanghai, date unclear. Chinese couples, middle-aged and older, dance slowly to a recording of Mack Gordon and Harry Warren’s 1945 “I Wish I Knew,” sung in English by Dick Haymes. The song has been covered by dozens of crooners, Americans and Chinese, but the most transcendent recording is on the 1962 album Ballads by the John Coltrane Quartet; the instrumental arrangement, particularly Coltrane’s extended solo, expresses more than words can. Still, for Jia Zhangke, who borrowed the song’s title for his 2010 documentary, the lyrics matter. The dance hall scene occurs

  • THEY LOST IT AT THE MOVIES

    FILM WILL BE DIGITIZED, or it will not be incorporated into the Museum of Modern Art’s otherwise exciting reconfiguration. I wish I could focus instead on how glorious certain familiar paintings look in their new circumstances, first among them Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942–43, always dazzling in form and now, amid many twentieth-century abstractions from South America, revelatory in another way. Or how amazing it was to discover a small, untitled hut-like sculpture constructed by an unknown artist in 1936 from the pages of a Sears, Roebuck catalogue that is as mysterious and alluring

  • film December 20, 2019

    Over Exposure

    BENEDETTA BARZINI IS STANDING OVER THE SINK of her cluttered Milan apartment, gulping down a couple of pills. Now in her mid-seventies, she is the subject—no, the hero, the raison d’être—of The Disappearance of My Mother, a remarkably enthralling documentary by Beniamino Barrese, the youngest of her four children. The pill-taking occurs not quite midway through the film, and it is heart-dropping. Not because I identified with Barrese, though, whose obsession with keeping his mother with him forever inspired this intimate depiction of a mother-son dyad, along with Barzini’s crucially reluctant

  • Amy Taubin

    Amy Taubin is a Contributing Editor of Artforum and Film Comment. She is currently working on a collection of forty years of her criticism.

    1

    HONEYLAND (Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska)

    Hatidze Muratova, likely the last female wild-honey gatherer in Europe, is the charismatic hero of this observational documentary in which an almost-abandoned stone village in Macedonia becomes the scene of a battle between sustainable environmental measures and earth-destroying capitalist greed and stupidity.

    2

    THE SKY SOCIALIST: ENVIRONS AND OUT-TAKES (Ken Jacobs)

    What was almost lost—the heartbreaking handheld