Amy Taubin

  • film July 28, 2017

    Murder, She Wrote

    A LOVING SATIRE OF MATING AND MORES among Park Slope lesbians, Ingrid Jungermann’s Women Who Kill combines romantic comedy and murder mystery, and a dollop of psychodrama, and lightly stirs it into a summer movie treat. (Since crucial scenes take place in the fraught, rule-bound environment of the Greene Hill Food Co-op—actual name and location employed—a cooking metaphor is apropos.) Jungermann, the director, writer, and star of her debut feature, plays Morgan, a character so awkward and insecure that no one could regard the woman who conceived and embodied her as narcissistic or overreaching.

  • film June 21, 2017

    Magnificent Seven

    IT SEEMED LIKE OLD TIMES and yet it was, urgently, right now at the world premiere last Sunday of Jim McKay’s En el Séptimo Día (On the Seventh Day). Long one of the most promising New York independent filmmakers, McKay made his mark with two no-budget movies, Girls Town (1996) and Our Song (2000), both depictions of female Brooklyn public high-school students, most of them African American and Latino. They were anti–Beverly Hills 90210 movies—exemplary for their depiction of the liminal condition of underprivileged teenagers whose futures are uncertain no matter how ambitious and talented some

  • EVERYDAY PEOPLE: JONATHAN OLSHEFSKI’S DOCUMENTARY PORTRAIT OF AN AMERICAN FAMILY IN PHILADELPHIA

    “THE FILMMAKERS would like to thank the Rainey family for sharing their story.” The credit appears at the end of Jonathan Olshefski’s documentary Quest. It may be the only familiar note in a movie that is utterly unique in its choice of subject—a truly enviable family from America’s black underclass—and the way that subject is depicted. The words of thanks, which elsewhere would register as a pro forma courtesy, here invoke the very spirit that made the film possible: The Raineys’ ethos, politics, and practice of sharing their energy, skills, talents, and friendship inform every aspect

  • film May 08, 2017

    Burden to Bear

    A PRIMER ON THE WORK of the West Coast artist of the title—first name, Chris—Richard Dewey and Timothy Marrinan’s documentary Burden is well-researched but short on context. Piecing together video documentation of both the confrontational performance works that made Burden the most notorious artist of the 1970s and the intricately fabricated, often magically beautiful sculpture that he began to produce in the 1980s until he died in 2015, the filmmakers leave the commentary largely to Burden himself. Fortunately, he is articulate and seriously witty both in archival footage and in interviews

  • film April 16, 2017

    Heart to Heart

    IN KATELL QUILLÉVÉRÉ’S FILMS, characters’ lives are shaped by chance meetings and random events. Quillévéré’s third feature, Heal the Living, is narratively her simplest and subtlest.

    A young man is killed in a car accident. His heart is donated to a woman who would have died in early middle age without it. Their connection, without doubt, is profound, but it is also perplexing, despite the detailed depiction of the medical procedures involved in this scientific “miracle.” Our sense that something otherworldly has taken place before our eyes reflects on the conundrum that pulses within Quillévéré’s

  • film April 06, 2017

    City Flickers

    JOYOUS, EXHILARATING, AND TRANSFORMATIVE, Tyler Hubby’s documentary Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present is essential viewing for anyone involved in the history of music and visual art—and their interpenetration throughout the second half of the twentieth century right up to today’s web-based “goings on,” to borrow the phrase Conrad uses early in the film to describe how his $25.04 a month, Ludlow Street apartment saw the beginnings of the most subversive art of the first half of the 1960s.

    It was there that Conrad collaborated with Jack Smith on the soundtrack for Flaming Creatures (1963) and

  • Jonas Mekas’s Movie Journal

    Movie Journal: The Rise of the New American Cinema, 1959–1971, by Jonas Mekas. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016. 496 pages.

    I BEGAN READING Jonas Mekas’s Movie Journal column in the Village Voice in 1961, three years after it first appeared and roughly around the time I saw his first feature film, Guns of the Trees (1961), at the eclectic New York film showcase Cinema 16. Chalk it up to callow youth and an inchoate sense that women were most valued as muses or if they filmed flowers, but I was not receptive to the emerging movement that Mekas would dub the New American Cinema and certainly

  • film February 10, 2017

    Kedi Porn

    If Make America Kittens—the Chrome extension that instantly replaces Donald Trump’s face with images of adorable cats—no longer blots out the horror, try Kedi, Ceyda Torun’s celebration of the felines of Istanbul and the humans who nurture them, or at the very least appreciate living among them. Never cute, this documentary about the interspecies bonding that defines daily life in Istanbul’s old town is as resourceful, agile, and scruffily seductive as its seven feline stars and supporting cast of hundreds.

    Torun, who grew up in the city, says that she would not be the person she is today were

  • film February 09, 2017

    What’s in a Name?

    DID YOU WONDER WHO FIRED THE GUN?, Travis Wilkerson’s 2017 film/performance, was one of the strongest works at a chilling Sundance Film Festival, where the temperatures averaged five degrees Fahrenheit at night and many works spoke of destruction and suffering so great as to make one feel like a spoiled brat for even mentioning the weather.

    A veteran of Sundance, Wilkerson showed, as usual, in the New Frontier section, once devoted to experimental films of all genres but now largely a showcase for the Sundance Institute’s Virtual Reality initiative. Which is a pity, because however much I’d like

  • Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro

    IN THE WEEKS following the 2016 US election debacle, three documentaries that condemn institutionalized racism as the most egregious failure of American democracy found themselves prime contenders for best nonfiction film of the year. In form, Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, Ezra Edelman’s O.J.: Made in America, and Ava DuVernay’s 13th have little in common. A comparison between them, however, might provoke useful arguments, old and new, about the effectiveness of films meant to galvanize political action.

    Impressive as DuVernay’s scathing indictment of the prison-industrial complex and Edelman’s

  • film January 19, 2017

    Displeasure Principles

    A FACE IN THE CROWD, Elia Kazan’s caustic 1957 exposé of American greed and gullibility, has never seemed as horrifying as it does now that a fulminating, fascistic fuckup has become the leader of the unfree world, its future to be determined by Exxon. Under Kazan’s direction, Andy Griffith gives a larger-than-life performance as a country-western singer with a talent for demagoguery who rides local TV stardom into high political office.

    Kazan’s takedown of American democracy opens Anthology Film Archives’s eclectic series “Inauguration of the Displeasure Dome: Coping with the Election,” which

  • Amy Taubin

    1 “BRUCE CONNER: IT’S ALL TRUE” (Museum of Modern Art, New York) MoMA delivered for Conner with this staggering retrospective that underscored the reciprocity between his moving-image and static work by giving seven films optimum projection within the 250-piece exhibition.

    “Bruce Conner: It’s All True” is currently on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, through January 22, 2017.

    2 & 3 MOONLIGHT (Barry Jenkins) and TONI ERDMANN (Maren Ade) The two best films of the year could not be less alike except in their embrace of unconditional love, briefly experienced in childhood, then denied,

  • film November 27, 2016

    Say Uncle

    CHARISMATIC, IMMENSELY TALENTED, AND DRIVEN TO REPRESENT, Howard Brookner made three feature-length films in his short life. He died of AIDS in April 1989, a few days shy of his thirty-fifth birthday. Today he is best known for his 1983 documentary portrait of William S. Burroughs, Burroughs: The Movie. But he might have fallen into complete obscurity if not for his nephew Aaron Brookner, who dug up and restored the Burroughs film (rereleased by Janus Films and Criterion in 2014). Aaron then took charge of Howard’s enormous archive, with materials for Burroughs and two other features, Robert

  • film November 18, 2016

    X Files

    THE MOST SINISTER ESPIONAGE THRILLER currently playing in a theater in New York (and soon to be released online) is a mere ten minutes long. Laura Poitras and Henrik Moltke’s Project X ends with a low-angle shot that makes the exceedingly strange, windowless building at 33 Thomas Street in TriBeCa look like the Monolith in Kubrick’s 2001.

    There is almost nothing in this elegant connect-the-dots exercise that lower Manhattan denizens with any awareness of the workings of power didn’t take for granted decades ago. Designed by the architectural firm John Carl Warnecke & Associates, the 550-foot-tall

  • film November 04, 2016

    Volcano Lovers

    WERNER HERZOG’S INTO THE INFERNO opens with what might be the most amazing drone shot in the short history of drone-use in motion pictures. We seem to be gliding up the side of a large mountain—up, up, past the tiny figures of a camera crew hovering near the crest—and then, without hesitation, floating over the top to look down into a crater with red-hot churning magma. A nearly invisible jump cut brings us closer to the molten mass, now filling the entire screen, and another cut puts us deeper into the pit, the drone camera swooping amid exploding fires. Be thankful that Herzog did not avail

  • OPENINGS: SOPHIA AL-MARIA

    THE QATARI AMERICAN polymath artist Sophia Al-Maria grew up shuttling between rural Washington State, where she was born in 1983, and the Arabian Gulf, to which her bedouin father had returned after he unofficially separated from her mother. But the internet is the place where her work is generated and largely lives. There, she is a time as well as a space traveler. You might describe her as a cyberhistorian of the End Times.

    I first encountered Al-Maria’s work by chance on July 25, 2015, when I idly opened an e-flux mailer only to discover an intriguing post for “Supercommunity,” a publication

  • film September 14, 2016

    Accidental Activist

    AS WHITE-KNUCKLE SUSPENSEFUL as any movie you are likely to see this year, Robert Kenner’s Command and Control is a documentary about a nuclear near-disaster that occurred in 1980 at the Titan II missile complex in Damascus, Arkansas. Masterfully constructed, the film is a nuclear-arsenal procedural that takes us step by step through the chaos that ensued when an accidentally dropped socket during a routine inspection punctured the missile’s casing, causing a fuel leak, which led to a massive fire and explosion in the facility. What followed this initial “human error” was a desperate attempt by

  • SHINE A LIGHT: THE ART OF BRUCE CONNER

    “WHAT A SHOW! WHAT A SHOW!” The reaction of the unseen, breathless, and elated MC at the end of Bruce Conner’s moving-image installation Three Screen Ray, 2006, is likely to be the exclamation of many a visitor exiting “Bruce Conner: It’s All True,” the revelatory retrospective of some 250 works currently installed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (through October 2). In his half century of making art, Conner (1933–2008) embraced painting, sculpture, assemblage, collage, drawing, photography, performance, and movies—all (save, perforce, performance) generously represented at MoMA.

  • film August 03, 2016

    Our Frank

    LAURA ISRAEL’S PORTRAIT OF ROBERT FRANK is a remarkable reflection of the immediate connection of outer and inner vision that defines the lens-based art of its subject. If you want lists of Frank’s works and achievements, consult the Robert Frank Collection pages at the National Gallery of Art or the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Or for a laugh, you might search out the 1984 Arte documentary, which Israel uses for a few seconds here and there as a foil, to show that Frank doesn’t suffer foolish questions gladly. And that he once possessed, and probably still does, a nice tweed jacket. As he

  • film June 10, 2016

    Watch and Learn

    AN EXCEPTIONALLY VARIED AND STRONG EDITION of the Human Rights Watch Festival opens with the multi-award-winning Hooligan Sparrow, an ingeniously made first documentary feature by Nanfu Wang, who is the recipient of the festival’s Nestor Almendros Award for courage in filmmaking. The film follows Ye Haiyan, aka Hooligan Sparrow, a Chinese political activist who focuses on women’s rights, as she organizes protests against a middle-school headmaster and a government official who allegedly raped female students. Sparrow’s mastery of the internet has made her a high-profile enemy of the state. The