Amy Taubin

  • CLOSE-UP: IN KINO VERITAS

    IT IS SURELY SOMETHING more than a felicitous coincidence that two foundational films in the history of the modern documentary—Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin’s Chronique d’un été (Chronicle of a Summer, 1961) and Chris Marker and Pierre Lhomme’s Le Joli Mai (The Lovely Month of May, 1963)—employ the same opening gambit: posing the eternal question “Are you happy?” to a seemingly random selection of Parisians. Inured as we are now to the tired charms of the “man on the street” interview, it may come as something of a shock to those who wisely seek out the newly restored versions of these

  • film June 20, 2013

    Early Light

    NOW IN ITS FIFTH YEAR, BAMcinemaFest has become a place not only to discover small, unheralded gems but also to preview idiosyncratic movies scheduled to open later in the summer or in the fall. The discerning audience that the festival has cultivated gives great word of mouth. The two not-to-miss movies, Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess (opening in July) and Andrew Dosunmu’s Mother of George (opening in September), suggest that the once promising project of American independent film has not entirely devolved into Hollywood calling cards or Malick “homages.”

    Set in Crown Heights’ Yoruba community

  • slant May 07, 2013

    Mother Nature

    “And here or elsewhere, I don’t have a life. I didn’t know how to make one. All I’ve ever done is leave and come back.” – Chantal Akerman, My Mother Laughs

    HEARTBREAKING AND DISTANCED, straightforward and oblique, Maniac Shadows, an autobiographical sound and image installation by Chantal Akerman, is impelled, like all of the artist’s films and gallery work, by the most primal relationship: the mother/child dyad. Most viewers of Akerman’s landmark film, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), think of the titular character as a part-time whore, but I’m sure that to herself

  • Shane Carruth‘s Upstream Color

    SOME MOVIES ARE SO SENSORIALLY and emotionally resonant that when one leaves the theater, the on-screen world seems to persist, skewing one’s relationship to sights and sounds, space and time. After I saw Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color, I felt as if I had acquired a crucial secret of which passersby, crowding against me in rush-hour Times Square or glimpsed at a distance through subway windows, were pitifully unaware. They didn’t know how porous our bodies and psyches are, how easy it would be for another person—or the state, or the culture—to evacuate what you think of as yourself,

  • film March 15, 2013

    For-ev-ah Young

    LAST NIGHT I saw Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers for the third time. Not because I had to—I’d already taken enough notes to write five pieces—but because I wanted to, the way I want to hear certain albums a hundred times over. The way Alien (James Franco), the misfit drug dealer who nearly steals the movie from its quadruple-heroine collective (Selena Gomez, Rachel Korine, Vanessa Hudgens, and Ashley Benson), keeps Scarface on repeat, “for-ev-ah.”

    Loops and repetitions are what Spring Breakers is made of—beginning with the delirious slo-mo bacchanal that puts you inches from the totally bare or

  • film March 03, 2013

    Brother’s Keeper

    I REMEMBER THINKING as I watched Dan Sallitt’s The Unspeakable Act at the 2012 BAMcinemaFest that it’s an American version of an Éric Rohmer film. The comparison was validated by the final credit, a thank-you to the French master of movies as conversations on morality and ethics, where light—from the sun, the moon, or a carefully placed lamp—often has the last word. Nine months later, a more immediate comparison comes to mind: The film is an antidote to Lena Dunham’s Girls.

    The unspeakable act of the title is sister/brother incest. Seventeen-year-old Jackie (Tallie Medel) is in love with her

  • film January 01, 2013

    Patients’ Patience

    ENHANCED CINEMA VERITÉ, Peter Nicks’s The Waiting Room drops us into the middle of the emergency room of Oakland’s Highland Hospital, which has become, by dint of our failed health care system, the primary care facility for a population of some 250,000 Californians, most of them without health insurance. We are, of course, like the director and his compact crew, merely observers. Nevertheless the thought occurs that, but for the grace of a regular paycheck with benefits or a substantial rainy day fund, there go you and me. Refusing didacticism, statistics, or analysis, The Waiting Room is, by

  • 1000 WORDS: KATHRYN BIGELOW

    THE SETUP of Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty puts you in the last place in the world you’d ever want to be. Over a black, empty screen, we hear a sound collage of phone calls made from the Twin Towers after they were hit, ending with a young woman’s plaintive “I’m going to die, aren’t I?” and the whispered “Oh, my God” of the 911 operator as she loses the connection. It is an opening even more immersive than that of Bigelow’s previous film, The Hurt Locker (2008), where we find ourselves looking through the lens of a video camera mounted on a remote-controlled “bot” as it hurtles along a

  • Andy Warhol’s San Diego Surf

    IN ANDY WARHOL AND PAT HACKETT’S POPISM (1980), there is but half a page devoted to the shooting of a movie that has come to be titled San Diego Surf (1968/1996). Warhol recounts that he, Paul Morrissey, and Viva went to Southern California on a college speaking tour and then stayed to make a surfing movie. They rented a beachfront mansion in La Jolla and a couple of nearby houses for the cast and crew. Warhol recalls:

    Everybody was so happy being in La Jolla that the New York problems we usually made our movies about went away—the edge came right off everybody. I mean, it wasn’t like our

  • film December 17, 2012

    Dear Diary

    JONAS MEKAS turns ninety this Christmas Eve, and a dozen-odd gallery, museum, and cinematheque shows have been organized worldwide in his honor, including a complete film and video retrospective in Paris at the Beaubourg (through January 7) and an exhibition in London at the Serpentine (through January 27). One of the more modest celebrations, a selection of well-known masterworks, curiosities, and a few New York premieres, begins tonight, December 17, and continues for a week at Mekas’s home base, Anthology Film Archives, which he cofounded in 1970.

    Beginning with Diaries, Notes & Sketches (

  • Amy Taubin

    1 Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg) As Videodrome was to McLuhanesque TV addiction in 1982, Cronenberg’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel is to the new flesh of cybercapitalism. An elegant, minimalist digital death trip, a video game in which everyone is played, and, like it or not, a mirror reflection of the way we live now.

    2 The Gatekeepers (Dror Moreh) Which is more mind-boggling—that Moreh persuaded six former heads of the Shin Bet, the men charged with Israel’s internal security, to talk publicly for the first time about their roles in the deadly Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or the

  • film November 26, 2012

    Cat and Mouse

    SOMEWHERE IN AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE—in some confusingly named folder buried in “My Documents” or in the Cloud (if only I had turned on iCloud Backup)—is a review of Lisa Duva’s Cat Scratch Fever (2011). I am intermittently convinced that I wrote this review immediately after I saw a DVD of the movie a few months ago, that I will find it if I search hard enough, and that finding it would be wildly preferable to focusing on the daunting task of re-creating it, as I am now trying to do. This elusive review begins (I refer to it in the present tense because it exists, always has existed, and always

  • film November 12, 2012

    National Holliday

    ABOUT SHIRLEY CLARKE’S Portrait of Jason (1967), Ingmar Bergman remarked, “The most fascinating film I’ve ever seen.” You definitely might agree, if you were able to see this masterpiece of film portraiture. An eclectic experimental filmmaker, Clarke set out to beat Warhol at his own game—and she did. In Portrait of Jason, the titular gay, African-American hustler/cabaret performer/maid-or-butler-as-needed seizes the opportunity that Clarke offers—to perform for the camera and thus become immortal. Clarke filmed Jason Holliday over the course of a single drunken twelve-hour night and then edited

  • film November 09, 2012

    Rights of Way

    ONE OF THE GREAT American independent films and one of the great films about how racism defines African American masculinity, Nothing But a Man (1964) is as convincing and emotionally agonizing as it was when I first saw it at the New York Film Festival in 1964. Formally, the film absorbed the Neorealism that had dominated European cinema, particularly in Italy, since World War II, and which continues to energize emerging national cinemas through what now is dubbed “observational cinema.” The subject matter and point of view that made it seem “foreign” when it was first released—especially in

  • film November 05, 2012

    All About Steve

    SEE STEVE PAXTON tongue-kiss a frog in George Manupelli’s Cry Dr. Chicago (1971), screening one day only (Tuesday, November 6, 9 PM at Anthology Film Archives). See Paxton’s extended death scene in which he staggers through the grass, an arrow piercing his heart, before falling face first in a stream. It’s as bravura an example of giving up the ghost as Laurence Olivier’s famed swan dive at the end of Hamlet (1948), except that Paxton is poised on the tipping point of satire. Deadpan satire, of course.

    Paxton aside, there’s nothing sufficiently alluring about Cry Dr. Chicago to separate anyone

  • film October 19, 2012

    Friend of the Family

    ONE OF THE MOST SURPRISING, engaging, and psychologically complex documentaries of recent years, Arnon Goldfinger’s The Flat is a Holocaust movie like no other. It is also a mystery story, in which the moviemaker is a detective who follows clues, camera in hand, traveling back and forth between Israel and Germany, tracing the mind-boggling connection between his German-Jewish maternal grandparents and a high-level SS officer and his wife, a friendship that began before the Holocaust and continued long after.

    The film opens just after the death of the moviemaker’s ninety-eight-year-old grandmother,

  • film September 09, 2012

    Long Distance Relationship

    OBSERVATIONAL CINEMA of an exceptionally subtle and affecting order and a road movie like no other, Argentine filmmaker Pablo Giorgelli’s Las Acacias has taken a year and a half to travel from its 2011 Cannes Film Festival debut to its New York opening. At Cannes, it won the Camera d’Or (for best first feature) and also my favorite Cannes prize, the Grand Rail d’Or, which is given by an organization of French railroad workers. The workers are adventurous cinephiles, with tastes running to humanist films that stretch the conventions of realism to show unexpected truths. In 1998, they bestowed

  • film September 01, 2012

    The Shape of Jazz

    SHIRLEY CLARKE’S PORTRAIT MOVIE Ornette: Made in America (1985) is an intricately knit series of riffs on free jazz giant Ornette Coleman, one of the greatest living artists twentieth-century modernism produced. What makes the movie thrilling beginning to end is the score that Coleman himself wrote for it, largely derived from one of his major works, Skies of America (1972), a composition for symphony orchestra and free jazz combo. The mono sound track on this newly restored version—supervised by Audio Mechanic’s John Polito working in conjunction with the UCLA Film and Television Archive’s Ross

  • CLOSE-UP: ZOOM AND BUST

    Technology doesn’t expose its true meaning until it has been incorporated into the human body.

    —David Cronenberg

    BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS, David Cronenberg’s narcotized, hallucinatory, minimally parodic—or perhaps simply minimal—Cosmopolis may well have arrived in and already departed from the few “art” cinemas remaining in the US. (The movie opened in select cities on August 17.) Except for The Fly (1986), Cronenberg’s films have never attracted large audiences during their theatrical releases. But the director’s ardent followers—a mix of cinephiles and horror cultists—have

  • film August 10, 2012

    Troubled Water

    CHANTAL AKERMAN’S ALMAYER’S FOLLY opens with a deep night image of the sea, the beacons of barely visible boats playing across the water. That the image is very, very dark and accompanied by the yearning yet ominous prelude to Tristan and Isolde suggests that it should be read metaphorically. It is as much an expression of the surging energy of the unconscious as it is a first glimpse of the actual location of most of the film—a remote riverfront trading outpost in a Southeast Asian country. But practically speaking, this nightscape, barely decipherable on the French DVD (there is no