Amy Taubin

  • 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

  • film November 14, 2019

    Ada, and Ardor

    MATI DIOP’S ATLANTICS is a girl’s coming-of-age story wrapped in a magical realism thriller, edged with an unsparing depiction of economic exploitation in a rapidly modernizing Senegal. It’s a lot to handle in a debut feature, but thanks to ambition, intelligence, and the desire to relate a story that is seldom told from the inside, Diop—aided by Claire Mathon’s hauntingly shadowed cinematography and composer Fatima Al Qadiri’s sinuous, dissonant score—pulls it off almost without a hitch. The influence of Claire Denis, who gave Diop her first screen role in 35 Shots of Rum (2008), is clear here,

  • film October 31, 2019

    Greatest Hit

    YOU CAN BE KNOCKED OUT by the craft of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman but remain convinced that its twilight-of-the-mob narrative is unworthy of the director’s effort. That was basically my response the first time I saw the movie. But great works have a way of hanging around in your head “in the still of the night,” to quote the Five Satins’ 1956 doo-wop hit that accompanies the opening and final sequences of the film, which is, at the least, one of the funniest yet deadly serious melodramas ever made. Scorsese was thirteen in 1956. Eternity, which is the subtext of the Five Satins’ song—and of

  • MAD MONEY

    THE WORLD looks pale and wan—as if about to expire—in Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat, an unsparing political, economic, and social satire in which almost every major character gasps for breath at one point or another. Scott Z. Burns’s screenplay is adapted from journalist Jake Bernstein’s 384-page Secrecy World: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite (2017), an extensive analysis of the hidden practices of money laundering, bribery, and tax evasion first exposed in 2015 when 11.5 million documents belonging to the forty-year-old Panamanian law

  • film September 27, 2019

    Bleeding Edge

    THE TITLE 48 WAR MOVIES seems straightforward, and so is one’s immediate impression of Christian Marclay’s single-channel video installation, which debuted at the Venice Biennale and is currently at Paula Cooper Gallery in New York. The piece is kinetic, cacophonous, and in-your-face. But it’s what you don’t see that gets you thinking. Marclay digitally layered forty-eight feature-length war films, each slightly larger than the one that almost conceals it, so that only the four outer edges of each film’s frame are visible. The movie in the center is the exception. We can watch it entirely,

  • 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