Amy Taubin

  • Mireia Sallarès’s Little Deaths

    ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL and provocative documentaries I’ve seen in all the years I’ve been looking at movies has never had a theatrical release or been shown in a film festival anywhere. Mireia Sallarès’s 2009 Las Muertes Chiquitas (Little Deaths) played briefly at Anthology Film Archives in New York this past fall. Three years before, NYU’s Catalan Center had presented it in conjunction with an exhibition of Sallarès’s photographs. Now, probably thanks to filmmaker Jill Godmilow, Sallarès’s champion in the US, it is available on DVD from Facets Media for less than thirty bucks. What are you

  • film March 17, 2014

    Hollywood Ending

    A SMART AND WITTY TWIST on the reality genre, Doll & Em is a six-part series created by actors Emily Mortimer and Dolly Wells, starring Emily Mortimer and Dolly Wells, and written by Emily Mortimer, Dolly Wells, and Azazel Jacobs. Mortimer’s husband, Alessandro Nivola, is the producer, and Jacobs directed the entire shebang. Mortimer and Wells are British, as is the series, which was made for the Sky Channel’s “Sky Living” and then acquired by HBO. Five of the six half-hour episodes, however, are located in LA.

    So is this an incestuous selfie—smug Brits with excellent educations and cultural

  • film March 05, 2014

    Past Imperfect

    ANDREW BUJALSKI’S COMPUTER CHESS (2013) is set in an undistinguished hotel that gradually is revealed to be haunted by the problem of “the ghost in the machine.” The year is roughly 1980, and teams of unkempt, bespectacled computer science pioneers with MIT and Stanford pedigrees are competing in an annual chess tournament which pits program against program, with the winner then matched against a putatively human expert, the tournament’s organizer (played by film critic Gerald Peary, one of Bujalski’s first supporters).

    Although no one would have predicted it, this most oddball of Bujalski’s four

  • film February 05, 2014

    Mash Media

    “NEW FRONTIER,” the mini–art fair component of the Sundance Film Festival, was headquartered this year in and around the building where casual or well-heeled festivalgoers buy movie tickets. (Industry professionals register for passes and “packages” in advance.) Between the ticket buyers and the not inconsiderable numbers of viewers who are excited by the promise of expanded and interactive media, “New Frontier” drew crowds every day to its primary location—between Park City’s Main Street and its free bus depot.

    With the exception of jury members and the rich and famous who have their own cars

  • Nancy Buirski’s Afternoon of a Faun

    OH DEAR, the dilemma of the dance film, doomed to be a frustrating collection of moving-image illustrations, which are no substitute for seeing dancers in live performances of works in their entirety. This is the case even when the clips are as revelatory as in Nancy Buirski’s Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq, a portrait of the legendary dancer who inspired some of George Balanchine’s greatest ballets—made to the measure of her distinctive body and sensibility. Despite their brevity, the film clips and television kinescopes that Buirski selects make one instantly aware of Le Clercq’s

  • film January 16, 2014

    Bringing It Back Home

    FOR JUST UNDER A WEEK, Anthology Film Archives serves as the downtown annex of the Whitney Museum’s “Rituals of Rented Island” exhibition. Titled “Further Rituals of Rented Island,” the Anthology series brings together films and videos made by or documenting the work of many of the artists in the Whitney show, returning them to their point of origin—the underground venues of Lower Manhattan.

    I am not the ideal viewer for the Whitney exhibition, subtitled “Object Theater, Loft Performances, and the New Psychodrama—Manhattan, 1970–1980” (with a preamble in the late 1960s and an afterward in the

  • film December 03, 2013

    Larger than Life

    DOMINIQUE BENICHETI’S 1973 Cousin Jules might have been a documentary game-changer, had it not gone virtually unseen for forty years. In 1968, Benicheti began shooting a portrait of his seventy-seven-year-old distant relative Jules Guiteaux, a blacksmith who lived with his wife of the same age on a small farm in rural France. Barely out of film school in Paris, but already committed to the large-format film technology with which, along with 3-D, he would work for his entire career, Benicheti made Cousin Jules in 35-mm Cinemascope with a stereophonic sound track composed entirely of concrete,

  • Amy Taubin

    1 “JEAN-LUC GODARD: THE SPIRIT OF THE FORMS” (Film Society of Lincoln Center) Hitched to the back end of the New York Film Festival and organized by Kent Jones and Jacob Perlin, this staggering retrospective of the work of the greatest and most innovative postwar maker of moving images lacked only Godard’s recent forays into 3-D. Ever a showman, JLG knows how to keep us coming back for more.

    2 A TOUCH OF SIN (Jia Zhang-ke) The most powerful film yet from the most surprising and serious contemporary Chinese filmmaker finds echoes of classic wuxia tales of injustice and revenge in Internet headlines

  • film November 13, 2013

    Free Admission

    THE ENTRY POINT for Amei Wallach’s Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Enter Here, a marvelously layered, purposefully nonlinear documentary portrait of the husband and wife team known to the international art world as “the Kabakovs,” is the enormous 2008 retrospective of their work that was mounted in three huge Moscow venues: the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, the Winzavod Center for Contemporary Art, and the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture. It was the first time Ilya Kabakov had worked in the Russian capital since he took advantage of a 1987 travel permit to Austria to flee the Soviet Union, even

  • film October 21, 2013

    Beats, Rhymes, and Life

    THE BEST THING about the enthralling, super-smart Kill Your Darlings is director John Krokidas’s ability to capture the excitement of young men’s minds on fire, a delirium fueled, in this case, by literary ambition, hormones, bennies and weed, freedom from parental restraints, and the perversion of the closet. Set at Columbia University in 1943–44, Kill Your Darlings is the first film about the origins of the Beat movement that gets many things right.

    The story, largely told through the romantic imagination of the young Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), is styled as something of a 1940s film


    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


    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 (