Amy Taubin

  • 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


    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


    “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

  • film June 01, 2016

    Elastic Heart

    SATISFYING DOCUMENTARIES about artists are rare. This year there are already two: Timothy Marrinan and Richard Dewey’s Burden, as in Chris Burden, acquired at Cannes by Magnolia Pictures for release in the coming months, and Marcie Begleiter’s Eva Hesse (2016), currently playing at Film Forum and distributed across the US by Zeitgeist Films. The dramatic turns in the lives—and work—of both artists invite movie treatment. But what makes the films a cut above most art documentaries is that they depict their subjects’ accomplishments not simply as evidence of maverick genius, but as contingent on

  • film May 09, 2016

    Hershey’s Kiss

    EARLY IN THE ALLURING, bittersweet Sin Alas (Without Wings, 2015), there is a shot as mysterious as a passage in Jorge Luis Borges or José Lezama Lima, the writers that inspired filmmaker Ben Chace’s memory piece about love and loss in a city where past and present soon will be obliterated by the tidal wave of capital that is its future. High above the cluttered cityscape of Havana, the camera captures a pigeon soaring and circling to land inches from the lens. A reasonable explanation: The bird is a homing pigeon and its coop is probably on the roof where Chace and his ace cinematographer Sean

  • film March 25, 2016

    Too To

    A 3-D MUSICAL BY JOHNNIE TO, Hong Kong master of balletic gun battles to the death: Who could ask for anything more? To’s Office (2015) is certainly the most kinetically entertaining, ingeniously staged spectacle in town, and the splendid projection at the new Metrograph theater is bound to do it justice. But as a movie about the capitalist greed and corruption that has replaced communist greed and corruption in China, it lacks the satiric bite and inspired insanity, not to mention the moral complexity, of The Big Short’s vision of greed and corruption, American style. Nor does it have the energy

  • film March 07, 2016

    Sisters’ Keeper

    VALERIA BRUNI TEDESCHI’S adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters is a remarkable film, perhaps the most brilliant version of the play I’ve ever seen on stage, screen, or television. It will be shown twice in Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, with Bruni Tedeschi doing a Q&A after both screenings. Because it is part of a series of collaborations between the Comédie-Française and the European television channel Arte, it’s unlikely to get commercial distribution in the US; these two screenings (March 9 at 3:30 PM and March 11 at 6:30 PM) may be your only chances to