Howard Hampton

  • Abel Ferrara, Ms. 45, 1981, 35 mm, color, sound, 81 minutes. Thanta (Zoe Tamerlis).
    film March 25, 2014

    Going My Way

    MS. 45 (1981) has to be the most succinct, eye-popping title in movie history. Four point-blank characters—a single abbreviation, and a double-digit number—typed out on the screen to the sound of gunshots and punctuated by a bullet hole! More than a title, it is its own self-generating graphic, instantly telegraphing a cruelly concrete meaning (woman-grabs-a-gun-and-goes-ballistic) together with a cornucopia of suggestiveness: This is NYNY, capital of vice and degradation, city of Mickey Spillane, Weegee, Taxi Driver, Son of Sam, “Street Hassle”–era Lou Reed, Cindy Sherman, Times Square grindhouses,

  • Paul Schrader, Cat People, 1982, 35 mm, color, sound, 118 minutes. Irena Gallier (Nastassja Kinski).
    film February 03, 2014

    Kitten Without a Whip

    ON FIRST SEEING Paul Schrader’s Cat People in 1982, my reaction was a wave of almost nauseated confusion: What was Schrader up to with this hodgepodge? Why did these voluptuous, neo-gothic jigsaw pieces sometimes feel like they had been soldered together by a blind monk in shop class? Precisely what the fuck was he thinking? I could barely sort out my own responses to what was thrashing around on-screen. It was as though the director, writer, actors, and designers had set out to make a perfectly respectable shocker, overlaying the sex, horror, patriarchal gore, and New Orleans juju with a nice

  • Left and right: William Wyler, The Best Years of Our Lives, 1946, 35 mm, black-and-white, sound, 172 minutes.
    film November 05, 2013

    Best Defense

    BY AN INTERESTING COINCIDENCE, Warner Bros. is releasing its new Blu-ray of the 1946 classic The Best Years of Our Lives at the same time as a box set of all three of James Dean’s films: Rebel Without a Cause (1955), East of Eden (1955), and Giant (1956). Most everyone who is serious about cinema has seen Dean’s movies (Giant maybe not so much), but I can’t help wondering how many people under fifty-five have ever watched The Best Years of Our Lives. It was the sort of picture you’d expect the parents in Rebel Without a Cause to relate to—meticulously designed to speak to the people who lived

  • Richard Linklater, Slacker, 1991, 16 mm, color, sound, 100 minutes.
    film September 17, 2013

    That’s All Folks

    RICHARD LINKLATER’S SLACKER has the most evocative cast list in movie history: “Roadkill” (Jean Caffeine), “Dostoyevsky Wannabe” (Brecht Andersch), “Been on the moon since the ’50s” (Jerry Delony), “Tura Satana look-alike” (Heather West), “Pap smear pusher” (Teresa Taylor), “T-shirt terrorist” (Mark Harris), “Sidewalk psychic” (Gina Lalli), “Traumatized yacht owner” (Lori Capp), “Recluse in bathrobe” (Bongo Don Stroud), “Shut-in girlfriend” (Janelle Coolich), “Conspiracy-A-Go-Go author” (John Slate), “Video backpacker” (Kalman Spelletich), “Having a breakthrough day” (D. Montgomery), to name

  • Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Beware of a Holy Whore, 1970, 35 mm, color, sound, 104 minutes.
    film August 30, 2013

    The Gang’s All Here

    THINK OF EARLY FASSBINDER: ECLIPSE SERIES 39—the Criterion Collection DVD set of five of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s first eleven feature-length films, made whirlwind-fashion between 1969 and 1970—as a portable cross between an art installation and a German delicatessen. The lean, piquant cold cuts of his 1969 debut Love Is Colder Than Death are like a black-and-white platter of blood sausage, gorgeously splayed out in razor-sharp slices. Katzelmacher (1969) is spotty weisswurst, marinated in bile; Gods of the Plague (1969) is raw gangland ham on rye; The American Soldier, pulpy headcheese

  • Ben Wheatley, A Field in England, 2013, HD video, color, sound, 90 minutes.
    film July 15, 2013

    Cult Culture

    CAN YOU ENGINEER A FILM to be an instant cult classic? Doesn’t a movie need to arrive at that status after first being discovered by its audience, via a steady accretion of passionate devotion and years or at least many midnights of fermentation? Look at Eraserhead’s (1977) glacial ascent to immortality—admittedly, long before video and the Internet—or Repo Man (1984), The Big Lebowski (1998) (more than a cult, now it’s a veritable philosophy), even Donnie Darko (2001). The hardiest cult movies typically present some manner of altered reality with a skewed but internally consistent worldview;

  • William A. Seiter, One Touch of Venus, 1948, 35 mm, black-and-white, sound, 82 minutes. Eddie Hatch and Venus (Robert Walker and Ava Gardner).
    film June 24, 2013

    Earthbound Goddess

    AVA GARDNER HASN’T HAD the pop afterlife of Marilyn Monroe, whose graven image adorns countless T-shirts, posters, and handbags in guises ranging from retro-chic to Warholesque to gangster rococo (varieties including tattooed, tattooed angel, tattooed with death’s-head, and bandanna-masked with and without guns). Immediately preceding Monroe, Gardner’s heyday ran from The Killers in 1946 to The Barefoot Contessa in 1954, and she was more admired as a natural beauty and a devastating sex symbol. She wasn’t any good at playing the victim, or being one.

    The jacket copy for Lee Server’s Ava Gardner:

  • James William Guercio, Electra Glide in Blue, 1973, 35 mm, color, sound, 114 minutes.
    film June 06, 2013

    Road to Nowhere

    WHEN BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN wrote “Born to Run” and sang, “The highway’s jammed with broken heroes,” he might have been thinking of a then-current spate of road movies piled with unlikely co-riders and misfit loners. Two Lane Blacktop (1970), Little Fauss and Big Halsy (1970), Duel (made for TV, 1971), Vanishing Point (1971), The Getaway (1972), Badlands (1973), The Sugarland Express (1974), Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974), Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974): Here was a bumpy Polaroid patchwork of the American Southwest, each snapshot presenting a different tangential angle on wide open spaces and arid

  • Haskell Wexler, Medium Cool, 1969, 35 mm, color, sound, 110 minutes. Ruth and John (Marianna Hill and Robert Forster).
    film May 19, 2013

    Stay Cool

    JEAN-LUC GODARD AND CINEMATOGRAPHER RAOUL COUTARD were trailblazers when it came to integrating disjunctive locales, attitudes, and story lines, but writer-director-cinematographer Haskell Wexler’s serpentine Medium Cool (1969) went even further. Observing a TV cameraman-reporter (Robert Forster) as events inexorably move from daily grind to the chaos of the Chicago Democratic Convention, blending naturalistic fiction with on-the-spot cinema verité, the movie shifts between reportage, interrogation of mass-media forms, street-theater satire, and subdued drama (occasionally flaring into melodrama,

  • Hal Hartley, Trust, 1990, 35 mm, color, sound, 107 minutes. Matthew Slaughter and Maria Coughlin (Martin Donovan and Adrienne Shelly).
    film January 28, 2013

    In Case of Emergency

    HAL HARTLEY’S second feature, Trust (1990), has aged gracefully: Its left-handed ambiguities, quizzical juxtapositions, wryly twisted symmetries, blank wit, askance plotting, pungently sketchy characters, and subversive understatement have taken on the stature of a recondite landmark. The iconic performances of Martin Donovan and the late, profoundly missed Adrienne Shelly feel like Long Island’s flatly blue-collar answer to Belmondo and Karina: a half-cocked, mixed-motive duo that bond over abusive parents, mutual despair, word definitions, a parched thirst for knowledge, and a hand grenade.

  • Michael Cimino, Heaven’s Gate, 1980, 35 mm, color, 216 minutes.
    film November 20, 2012

    Lost Horizons

    THE UNCUT HEAVEN’S GATE (1980) moves like a valedictory processional into the movie past—a funereal journey that waltzes across an Eastern prologue steeped in The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), then heads due West into the then-recent anti-Establishment territory of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) and McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), rumbling on through the classical heroic landscape of Shane (1953) and a hundred other rugged, slightly less Arthurian oaters. Destination: a winsome, full-bore naïveté straight out of D.W. Griffith, part lingering Victorian idyll, part horse-opera Intolerance,

  • Sam Mendes, Revolutionary Road, 2008, production still from a color film in 35 mm, 119 minutes.* April Wheeler (Kate Winslet) and Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio).
    film December 25, 2008

    Road to Nowhere

    AS DILIGENT A PORTRAIT of 1950s marital despair as forty-five million dollars can buy, Revolutionary Road (2008) reconstructs the stultifying suburbia of Richard Yates’s 1961 novel with tender, loving art direction, fastidious location scouting, phalanxes of extras uniformed as gray-flannel commuters, pinpoint casting of supporting roles, and the high-wattage domestic nuances of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as the unhappiest couple in those living-dead-end ’burbs. Despite the custom period detailing and root-canal intensity, it is undermined by a single crucial sound: piano notes plinking