Ed Halter

  • film March 05, 2010

    Life or Something like It

    GRITTY BUT ELEGANT CHRONICLES of a rapidly transforming society, Jia Zhangke’s films depict street-level life in contemporary China with a hyperreal, science-fictional gloss. The scripted characters of The World (2004) are performers and staff at an actual Bejing theme park filled with miniature replicas of international tourist sites like the Eiffel Tower, the pyramids, and Lower Manhattan. In a dystopian twist worthy of Baudrillard, the sprawling attraction displays the tagline SEE THE WORLD WITHOUT EVER LEAVING BEIJING. Still Life (2006) takes place in a city being destroyed and rebuilt to

  • film February 22, 2010

    Porn Yesterday

    THE DYNAMIC OF WILLIAM E. JONES’S work lies in the tensions produced between, on the one hand, deep-running vortices of emotion and longing and, on the other, the angular severities of social control, unearthed and drawn out from the otherwise obscured historical matter of gay men’s subjective lives and shared fantasies. Among the source materials for his five long-form pieces, numerous short films, and printed publications are 1970s pornography, legal data, pop music, and personal memories: Extraordinary and unexpected facets emerge from the obsessive jewel-cutting that Jones performs on this

  • POWERS OF PROJECTION: THE ART OF BRUCE McCLURE

    BRUCE MCCLURE KEEPS A STUDIO at the northernmost tip of Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood, in an industrial enclave a fair walk from the nearest subway. Overhead, the Pulaski Bridge, which connects the borough to Queens, throbs with a constant onrush of vehicles, generating a rhythm that transforms the ambient workday bustle of the surrounding blocks into something like rough background music. Inside, McClure’s studio is a nearly windowless, thick-walled bunker: a good situation for someone who experiments, as he does, with the intricacies of projected light and with elaborate patterns of

  • film October 05, 2009

    Women’s Work

    “IT BECAME VERY CLEAR TO ME that everything in my life, in terms of my art, I was going to have to fight for.” So says artist Nina Yankowitz in The Heretics, Joan Braderman’s info-packed documentary on the groundbreaking feminist art magazine Heresies. The film contextualizes the hurdles faced at the dawn of second-wave feminism: Prior to the 1970s, as interviewees attest, one of the highest compliments a female artist might get from teachers and critics was that she “painted like a man.” Published from 1977 to 1992, Heresies was produced out of (still) scrappy Lower Manhattan by a sprawling

  • film October 01, 2009

    Room with a View

    AVANT-GARDE CINEMA has become more historically minded in recent years, a phenomenon that can be chalked up to multiple factors: Archival preservation efforts, new scholarship, DVD releases, and programming have explored and expanded the history of experimental filmmaking far beyond the once-standard canons. Paralleling this trend, curators Gavin Smith and Mark McElhatten have annually peppered the New York Film Festival’s “Views from the Avant-Garde” sidebar with older rarities. This year’s edition, the festival’s thirteenth, includes a number of noteworthy revivals, anchoring the three-day

  • film September 25, 2009

    Dick Flicks

    AVANT-GARDE FILMMAKING of late has been dominated by jewel-cutter formalism and minimalist documentary, but the films of Vivienne Dick serve as reminder that these paradigms have not always been in place. Obsessed with exhuming repressed traumas, voicing beaten-down identities, and generally meandering through a complex matrix of bad vibes, Dick’s works from the late-1970s onward are unapologetically messy, subjective, near plotless, and political—thereby proposing that so, too, is life.

    Beginning as an Irish expat in drop-dead New York, Dick made her earliest films on Super-8, becoming one of

  • film September 20, 2009

    Talking Trash

    READING TORONTO’S major newspaper coverage of the city’s international film festival, which closed this past weekend, one might believe that the sprawling cinematic behemoth was largely devoted to starry red-carpet walks by the likes of Michael Moore, who chose to world-premiere Capitalism: A Love Story (2009) there, and Oprah Winfrey, blitzing through town to promote Precious (2009), which took the festival’s People’s Choice Award. Even the controversy around the festival’s “City to City” showcase of films from Tel Aviv—strategically coinciding with the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s “Brand Israel”

  • film August 31, 2009

    Being There

    LIKE HIS SECOND FEATURE, LOS MUERTOS (2004), Argentine filmmaker Lisandro Alonso’s Liverpool (2008) is a work of rugged solitude, executed with a careful simplicity of unhurried, unbroken, and generously distanced shots. Both study homecomings: While Los Muertos followed its newly ex-con protagonist down a lazy river wending from prison to his village, Liverpool tracks Farrel (Juan Fernández), a cargo-ship worker who goes ashore at Tierra Del Fuego to reunite with his ill mother, who lingers bedridden in a remote logging camp. By placing lone male protagonists against depopulated expanses of

  • film June 26, 2009

    Plante Life

    A DECADE AGO, Cinemad was one of a small handful of publications chronicling new directions in visionary filmmaking—defined in the broadest sense by that staple-bound Xerox zine as anything on the fringes of independent cinema that struck the fancy of intrepid editor and writer Mike Plante. He espoused an unruly blend of sensibilities, equally indebted to the avant-garde and to the VCR-era cult, using little more justification than his own tastes to frame generously chatty interviews with artists and off-the-cuff videotape reviews. A few years back, Cinemad shed its paper identity, transmuting

  • film June 17, 2009

    Survival Skills

    A NEARLY FORGOTTEN INSTANCE of late-Weimar social realism, Kuhle Wampe, or Who Owns the World? (1933) is a strident anticapitalist drama built from partially documentary elements, directed by Slatan Dudow (a former assistant to Fritz Lang) and based on a screenplay by Bertolt Brecht and Ernst Ottwalt. The central plot concerns a working-class family, impoverished by the nation’s financial collapse and forced to move to a burgeoning tent city on the outskirts of Berlin, but the German people as a whole become the film’s ultimate protagonist. Influenced by Eisenstein’s experiments in montage and

  • film May 12, 2009

    Tom Tom Club

    A MAD PROFESSOR OF VISUAL PERCEPTION, Ken Jacobs has produced decades of work investigating the underpinnings of optical experience. After shooting madcap romps with the likes of Jack Smith, Jacobs embarked on his analytic projects with Tom, Tom, the Piper’s Son (1969–71), created in the thick of the structural turn in North American avant-garde filmmaking, when artists like Michael Snow, Paul Sharits, and Hollis Frampton discarded visual poetics in favor of a more rigorous investigation and reconstruction of film form. Tom, Tom takes as its starting point a one-reeler of the same name from 1905

  • film April 13, 2009

    Screen Savers

    STYLISHLY PACKAGED IN LEATHER BLACK AND FACTORY SILVER, 13 Most Beautiful . . . Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests arrives as the first official DVD release devoted to films directed by Warhol, produced in collaboration with the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. The selection culls a baker’s dozen from the 472 silent, single-reel 16-mm portraits Warhol shot at his studio between 1964 and 1966, inspired by the artist’s own “The Thirteen Most Beautiful Boys” and “The Thirteen Most Beautiful Women,” two ongoing exhibition concepts for which Warhol chose different reels each time they screened.

  • Derek Jarman

    DEREK JARMAN was once lionized as Britain’s homegrown Cocteau. Features such as Caravaggio (1986) and Edward II (1991) marked him as heir to the baroque art-house theatrics of Michael Powell and Ken Russell, while his unabashed homoeroticism and strident politics were an inspiration to the New Queer Cinema, of which he was a leading light. Jarman’s influence has dimmed since his AIDS-related death in 1994, but recent activity suggests a reassessment. Last year, Zeitgeist Films released a remastered box set containing Caravaggio, Wittgenstein (1993), Blue (1993), and The Angelic Conversation (

  • film March 20, 2009

    Starting from Scratch

    IT’S FITTING THAT the first video artist released on Lux’s DVD label would be George Barber, whose early efforts screened widely on home televisions. Barber became known in the mid-1980s through his participation in Britain’s short-lived but influential Scratch Video movement, which transformed appropriated images from popular film and television through fast edits, vivid graphics, audio samples, and industrial-synth beats; he distributed his colleagues’ work beyond both galleries and broadcast TV via a VHS tape called The Greatest Hits of Scratch Video, sold in record shops.

    Several of Barber’s

  • film March 10, 2009

    Brothers Keepers

    CLOWN PRINCES of the American avant-garde, George and Mike Kuchar invaded the nascent New York underground film scene in 1964 thanks to a screening at Ken and Flo Jacobs’s downtown loft. The Bronx-raised twins were only twenty-one, but they’d been making films for almost a decade: miniature melodramas shot in lurid color on spaghetti-thin 8 mm. In recent years, Anthology Film Archives has worked to restore the extant prints of their youthful efforts, blowing them up to 16 mm for preservation. The earliest surviving complete movie from their teen years contains all the voluptuous madness and

  • film February 19, 2009

    Footage Fetish

    FILM/SPEAKS/MANY/LANGUAGES (1995), an early one-minute piece by Gustav Deutsch made from bits of a Bollywood musical, might at first seem to merely advertise a multicultural message typical to its era: that cinema has always been a global phenomenon. But its construction says more. Deutsch embeds the words of the title as near-subliminal flashes, and the original footage has been reprinted to display not only the entire frame, with dust and scratches intact, but the optical sound track and sprocket holes as well, reminiscent of George Landow’s structural loop Film in Which There Appear Edge

  • film January 27, 2009

    All His Life

    A METAPHYSICAL POET of film’s postwar avant-garde, Bruce Baillie fuses inner and outer space through a sensuous manipulation of photographic surfaces. In Castro Street (1966), images of chuffing trains peel off from physical reality like shed skins, remarried in carefully fluid superimpositions, and set to a soundscape that combines machine noises with natural murmurs. Juxtaposing rich 16-mm color stock with high-contrast black-and-white lends a ghostly air to the massive engines, occasionally punctuated by makeshift iris mattes created by Baillie’s hands cupping his camera’s lens. He achieves

  • film January 09, 2009

    French Braid

    “ONE GOES TO the latest Godard prepared to see something both achieved and chaotic, ‘work in progress’ which resists easy admiration,” Susan Sontag wrote in 1968. Uneasy chaos certainly typifies Made in USA, a 1966 feature by the director that—ironically enough for its titular claim—has heretofore been rarely screened stateside. Made as a side project to Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967), in response to his producer’s need for a quick cash influx, Made in USA doesn’t share its sister film’s essay structure, but rather continues Godard’s ongoing disintegration of cinematic narrative,

  • film December 05, 2008

    Speak, Memory

    WANG BING HAS a predilection for the documentary as an epic form. His film Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks (2003) spends over nine hours with laborers at a declining mining concern in northeastern China, and his latest project, Crude Oil (2008), a visit inside the everyday grind of workers on an Inner Mongolian oil field, clocks in at a daunting fourteen hours. These video monuments, which he has presented both theatrically and as installations, speak to the colossal scale required to envision even a fragment of China’s millennia-deep history, its imperial geography, or its billion-plus people.

    At

  • film November 19, 2008

    Comic Genius

    TO UNDERSTAND JERRY LEWIS the performer, simply rewatch a handful of his sixty-odd films, from the self-described “handsome man and a monkey” comedies made with Dean Martin in the 1950s, through the movies Lewis directed at the height of his gooney powers like The Bellboy (1960), The Nutty Professor (1963), and The Family Jewels (1965), up to his late-career revival via the angsty slapstick of Hardly Working (1980) and Cracking Up (1983), and the disturbingly unfunny reflexivity of his performance in Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy (1982). But to understand Lewis the thinker—the theorist,