Erika Balsom

  • Irma Vep, 2022, production still from Olivier Assayas’s TV miniseries on HBO. Mira Harberg (Alicia Vikander). Photo: Carole Bethuel.


    SOMETIMES THE WAY OUT is the way through. With Irma Vep (2022), an eight-part miniseries reprising his 1996 film of the same name, Olivier Assayas dives headlong into the sorry state of twenty-first-century cinema: superheroes, endorsement deals, the menace of “quality” television. He depicts a world in which the old idea of the noble seventh art has definitively withered. If the repetitiveness of contemporary popular media is part of the problem—as Adorno memorably put it, “Bourgeois commodities . . . must touch up the ever-same as the ever-new in order to win customers”—then Assayas proposes

  • Ruth Beckermann, MUTZENBACHER, 2022, 2K video, color, sound, 100 minutes.


    AT THE START of Ruth Beckermann’s MUTZENBACHER (2022), text appears over an image of the repurposed industrial space that will serve as the film’s sole setting. It announces a casting call: The director seeks men in Vienna between the ages of sixteen and ninety-nine to participate in a film about Josefine Mutzenbacher, no previous acting experience required.

    But who is Josefine Mutzenbacher? In the anglophone world, the name is not widely known. For many German speakers, however, it is loaded with cultural significance. Josefine Mutzenbacher, or The Story of a Viennese Whore, as Told by Herself

  • Shengze Zhu, A River Runs, Turns, Erases, Replaces, 2021, HD video, color, sound, 87 minutes.

    Urban Studies

    THE WINNER OF THE GOLDEN BEAR at this year’s Berlinale was Radu Jude’s Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (2021), an irreverent social satire about a teacher who faces judgment by the community after a sexually explicit video she made with her husband—intended solely for private consumption—is leaked online. This send-up of righteousness and opprobrium is set during the Covid-19 pandemic, with Jude never missing a chance to mine distancing protocols and mandated mask-wearing for comic value and contemporaneity. At a festival disrupted by sanitary restrictions, with press and industry screenings

  • James Benning, PLACE (detail), 2020, still from the HD video component (color, sound, 84 minutes) of a mixed-media installation additionally comprising a letterpress book and seven paintings on plywood, canvas, and paper.

    The Lives of Others

    JAMES BENNING HAS SAID that when he first started making films, in the early 1970s, he was “like a folk artist.” Although he later completed an MFA at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, he initially came to his medium with no formal training in art or cinema. What he did have were two degrees in mathematics, an education critics often mention when accounting for the metric rigor of Benning’s celebrated 16-mm films, such as TEN SKIES, 2004, comprising ten ten-minute static takes of the Southern California firmament, and One Way Boogie Woogie, 1977, composed of sixty one-minute shots of industrial

  • Ulrike Ottinger, Freak Orlando, 1981, 35 mm, color, sound, 126 minutes. From “Defiant Muses.”

    Erika Balsom

    Erika Balsom is a reader in film studies at King’s College London. Most recently, she is the coeditor of Artists’ Moving Image in Britain Since 1989 (Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art/Yale University Press, 2019).

    “DEFIANT MUSES: DELPHINE SEYRIG AND THE FEMINIST VIDEO COLLECTIVES IN FRANCE IN THE 1970S AND 1980S” (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; curated by Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez and Giovanna Zapperi) and “OUT OF THE SHADOWS: THE PIONEERING WORK OF ATTEYAT AL-ABNOUDY, ASSIA DJEBAR, JOCELYNE SAAB, HEINY SROUR” (Courtisane Festival, Ghent, Belgium)

    In this strange

  • Tsai Ming-liang’s Rizi (Days), 2020, 4K video, color, sound, 127 minutes. Kang (Lee Kang-sheng).


    NEARLY THIRTY YEARS of filming the same face, the same body: The old chestnut that “every fiction film is a documentary of its actors” takes on special meaning in the many works Tsai Ming-liang has made with Lee Kang-sheng since first chancing on him outside a Taipei arcade in 1991. “Without this face, I don’t want to make films anymore,” Tsai said eighteen years later. Is a greater declaration of love possible? Lee has appeared in nearly every one of the Malaysian director’s projects since their meeting, whether these were destined for television, cinema, the gallery, or VR. Although Tsai’s

  • Still from Brett Story’s The Hottest August, 2019, HD video, color, sound, 95 minutes.


    THE PRESENT FEELS INESCAPABLE, like a miasma too close, too everywhere, to apprehend. Yet it is precisely because of this blinding proximity that the present demands to be given shape in a lasting, shareable form—so that we might make sense of our place within it, so that the feeling of our time will remain available to encounter in times to come.

    In her third feature film, The Hottest August (2019), geographer turned documentarian Brett Story proposes one way to give shape to our moment. Story roams the five boroughs of New York in the eighth month of 2017, posing questions from behind the camera


    LOOKING DOWN ON THE SUPINE BODIES, so much living flesh laid out on towels, I feel an eerie sense of unreality set in—the kind that surges when fiction is powerful but not total. Some twenty people are below, applying cream to block the rays of a fake sun while sending real text messages, reclining on an artificial beach while actually taking care of a temperamental dog and tending to the children who trigger the animal’s barky agitation. Some are volunteers, resting for the day inside a piece of art. In a continuous loop, the cast sings songs of tourism, overwork, environmental catastrophe,


    THE MENTION OF REDDIT most likely conjures the thought of “Ask Me Anything” interviews, or perhaps the alt-right sewers of /r/The_Donald or /r/TheRedPill. In Chris Kennedy’s silent 16-mm film Watching the Detectives (2017), the website figures as something else: a place to witness the ways in which truth claims are made and unmade across distance, in real time, often with little grounding in fact.

    Kennedy begins with a tweet—“Ain’t no love in the heart of the city, stay safe people”—before cutting to footage of the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three and injured some 260 others

  • Openings: Charlotte Prodger

    BEDROOMS, BATHROOMS, Samuel R. Delany. Scotland, public sex, emails from friends. Blogs, lesbians, pissing. Glasgow-based artist Charlotte Prodger peppers her single-channel videos with such constellations of people, places, and things. Prodger’s attraction to taking inventory—whether in a screen-printed compendium of her recent addresses or in a voice-over recitation of the deity Bridgit’s many names—stems from a drive not to forcibly impose an order or hierarchy, as such acts often do, but to be attentive, to stay close to the rumble of things and not overlook small variations by


    Rosa Barba searches for deep time in the age of the instant. She finds it in the sculptural materiality of film itself, but also in vaults, archives, buried stores of radioactive waste—and the cosmos. “Send Me Sky” thematizes astronomy and cinema, positing both as matters of light and time. A new commission filmed at the Harvard College Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, will be accompanied by a selection of recent works, including The Color Out of Space, 2015, comprising images shot at the Hirsch Observatory in Troy, New York, projected through colored glass,

  • Reza Abdoh

    Before his death from AIDS in 1995 at just thirty-two, Iranian American theater director Reza Abdoh had developed a multimedia practice that crossed formal experimentation, provocation, and a commitment to political action. In maximalist productions with his company, Dar a Luz, staged in abandoned spaces in Los Angeles and New York, Abdoh drew on oneiric fantasies, sadomasochism, queer club culture, and the legacy of the avant-garde to subject his audiences to a sensory assault. This collaboration between MoMA PS1 and