Melissa Anderson

  • LAUGH IN, LAUGH OUT

    WHEN LILY TOMLIN’S FIRST FILM, Robert Altman’s Nashville, was released in June 1975, the actress and comedian had been a star for at least five years, celebrated for her array of voluble characters. Some of these personae—Ernestine, the floridly passive-aggressive telephone operator; Edith Ann, an uninhibited five-year-old emotional savant—made their debut during her 1969–73 tenure on NBC’s Laugh-In. Others, like Bobbi Jeanine, a bromide-dispensing lounge-circuit organist, premiered on The Lily Tomlin Show (1973), the first of her four eponymous TV specials from the ’70s. These personalities

  • WET DREAM

    SEXY. David Hockney luxuriates in the word, adding extra sibilance to the adjective, one he applies to a friend, the American model Joe MacDonald, who sits with him in a hotel room in Geneva in June 1973. Their flirty conversation occurs early on in Jack Hazan’s A Bigger Splash (1974), a partly scripted, partly improvised quasi documentary about the English painter, then at the height of his fame and recently broken up with Peter Schlesinger, the subject of some of Hockney’s best-known works. Fact embellished by fiction (and vice versa), A Bigger Splash, protean in structure, explores fluid

  • FANTASY FUTEBOL

    THE FIRST FEATURE-LENGTH WORK by the occasional collaborators Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt, the delirious Diamantino (2018) centers on a disgraced, spectacularly dumb soccer superstar, his IQ not much higher than his body-fat percentage. The sports-celebrity-industrial complex is merely one target of this robust, rollicking satire, which exposes the idiocy engulfing the world—especially Europe—more nimbly and effectively than anything Michael Moore or the editorial board of The Guardian could ever concoct.

    Although Diamantino premiered a full year ago, winning the grand prize at the

  • PLIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD

    THE FILMS of writer-director Christian Petzold are haunted: by the specters of history, by revenants, by shadowy protagonists often in flight or exile. These phantom threads are stitched together to create supple narratives that recall earlier movies—Vertigo especially—or classic genres (noir, the woman’s picture) without being in thrall to them. Petzold, born in 1960 to parents who had recently emigrated from East to West Germany, revitalizes old templates to offer new perspectives on historical rifts and traumas.

    That style is particularly pronounced in Transit (2018), his latest film, based

  • Melissa Anderson

    ZAMA (Lucrecia Martel) A significant departure for Martel, this bewildering, enthralling adaptation of fellow Argentinean Antonio Di Benedetto’s 1956 novel of the same name, the tale of an abject late-eighteenth-century magistrate, brilliantly diagnoses the sickness of empire.

    EIGHT HOURS DON’T MAKE A DAY (Rainer Werner Fassbinder) RWF’s proletariat paean from 1972–73—the first of several TV miniseries that the prodigious New German Cinema godhead would direct—stands as his warmest, most optimistic project, filled with utopian promise and a dazzling constellation of characters.

  • LADIES OF THE LAKE

    THE STATUS OF female filmmakers in the twenty-first century remains grim. In 2016, two federal agencies began an investigation into discrimination against women directors in Hollywood, prompted by the ACLU’s abysmal findings on sexism in the industry. In June of this year, the Directors Guild of America published a report on the 651 films released theatrically in the US in 2017—from the microbudgeted to the big-studio-backed—which found that women accounted for only 16 percent of directors.

    Against this bleak data, several initiatives from the past five years have reminded us of the

  • FRENCH, OPEN

    THOSE WHO SAW last year’s BPM (Beats per Minute), Robin Campillo’s pulsating drama about the Paris branch of ACT UP in the early 1990s, will never forget Adèle Haenel. She plays Sophie, the headstrong dyke member of the activist group. Fury burns in her gleaming green eyes. Her whistle at the ready, Sophie—tall, toned, physically solid—leads her comrades as they storm the headquarters of a drug company and shout, “Melton Pharm, assassin!” At one of the coalition’s weekly meetings, fake blood still staining her T-shirt, she vents her frustration with the improvised tactics of some of

  • A THIN LINE

    ONE OF THE PRESENTING symptoms of my Shelley Duvall fandom is amateur numerology. The actress, among the most totemic and inimitable performers of the New American Cinema, was born on the seventh day of the seventh month of 1949. She made seven films with Robert Altman, the director with whom she remains the most closely affiliated. The greatest of their collaborations, 3 Women, was released in 1977.

    I focus on the dominance of seven in Duvall’s life and profession only to confirm what I already believe about occult signifiers: They mean nothing. Despite the lucky number, a hazy sense of

  • KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES

    TIME IS A METRIC for B-listers, the epigones, the basic. It is not for Grace Beverly Jones. “I’m often asked how old I am—the world likes to know a person’s age for some reason, as if that number explains everything. I don’t care at all. I like to keep the mystery,” the singer-actress-model-supernova declares in her 2015 auto-biography, I’ll Never Write My Memoirs. (The title repurposes the first line of “Art Groupie,” a track on her 1981 album, Nightclubbing.) For GBJ, age is nothing but a number—as in a numeral and an anesthetizing bit of irrelevant data. And time is but a hollow,

  • WHEN LARRY MET LAWRENCE

    I ALWAYS THINK I’ve misremembered the title, or that the name itself is a red herring: Why is it Women in Love when the most infamous scene from Ken Russell’s 1969 film—an adaptation of D. H. Lawrence’s 1920 novel—features Alan Bates and Oliver Reed, both nude and sweat-slicked, their dongs jouncing, wrestling in front of a roaring fire? The lusty grapple lasts three minutes and feels like thirty. “Was it . . . too much for you?” one man asks the other, panting.

    The query could apply to nearly any segment of Russell’s third movie, his breakthrough. (Within the next ten years, the English

  • Melissa Anderson

    1 MOONLIGHT (Barry Jenkins) In Jenkins’s wondrous, superbly acted second film, love between black men—whether carnal, paternal, or something else—is explored with specifics and expansiveness, not foregone conclusions.

    2 TONI ERDMANN (Maren Ade) Social studies at its finest, Ade’s piquant dissection of father-daughter bonds and the sinister banality of corporate consultancy meticulously lays bare the comedy of mortification.

    3 O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA (Ezra Edelman) Assiduously researched and seamlessly assembled, Edelman’s nearly eight-hour documentary about the disgraced football star

  • Benjamin Crotty’s Fort Buchanan

    SOAPY, SEXED-UP, AND ANARCHIC, Benjamin Crotty’s Fort Buchanan may be the only military-spouses comic melodrama as indebted to the Lifetime channel as it is to the oeuvre of Eric Rohmer. Despite these pronounced influences, though, Crotty’s riotous feature debut is stamped with a wholly distinct sensibility, one that’s simultaneously ludic, queer, mercurial, and concupiscent.

    Like his movie, a fruitful (and fruity) amalgam of histrionic American TV and Gallic auteur cinema, Crotty is a binational hybrid: Born in Spokane, Washington, and educated in the US, the writer-director earned an advanced

  • film November 25, 2015

    Girl, Interrupted

    REDUCING A REMARKABLE LIFE AND MARRIAGE to stultifying solemnity, Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl might be most charitably thought of as a public-service announcement gussied up in interwar-period costuming and interior design. Based on David Ebershoff’s 2000 novel of the same name, Hooper’s project is a docudrama about artist spouses Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander) and Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), who, in the late 1920s, began presenting as Lili Elbe and in 1930 became one of the first recipients of gender-reassignment surgery. In all fairness, some of the film’s decorousness is rooted in the

  • passages November 19, 2015

    Chantal Akerman (1950–2015)

    IN MY FIRST CONVERSATION with Chantal Akerman, which took place in late December 2009 in a studio apartment on Wooster Street, my brand-new white Olympus WS-400s digital voice recorder between us, I made the mistake of trying to vous-voyez her, or, more accurately, of trying to approximate that deferential form of address in English. “So, Madame Akerman,” I began, using an honorific that I had hoped would convey my utmost respect for a filmmaker I revered but one that inadvertently caused some offense. “Don’t call me madame! I’m not a madame,” she responded, alacritously but not too unkindly,

  • film November 10, 2015

    Ghost Worlds

    LONG EMBRACED AS A CULT HORROR MOVIE, Carnival of Souls (1962)—the only feature directed by Herk Harvey, who specialized in industrial and educational films, and essentially the only title of note for any member of its cast and crew—might more provocatively be thought of as a surrealist woman’s picture. Coincidentally, Harvey’s movie was released the same year that Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl was published; Candace Hilligoss, the sylphlike actress who plays protagonist Mary Henry, even bears a passing resemblance to the storied editrix of Cosmopolitan. Despite these superficial

  • film November 02, 2015

    Watch and Learn

    TIME AND NARRATIVE are pushed to the extreme in Jacques Rivette’s Out 1: Noli me tangere (1971), a film that operates simultaneously as stealth vérité and raw psychodrama. Fabled for both its length (just five minutes short of thirteen hours) and its rarity (it has screened only a handful of times in the past forty-four years), Out 1 becomes harder to classify as it unfolds, even while clues regarding its core enigma begin to multiply.

    As in many of Rivette’s films, especially Céline and Julie Go Boating (1974) and Le Pont du Nord (1981), Out 1 is greatly informed by improvisation and is at once

  • Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders

    WRITER-DIRECTOR Alice Rohrwacher’s oeuvre to date may be small, but she has quickly established herself as one of the finest chroniclers of girlhood in two uncommonly graceful and astute coming-of-age stories. Her feature debut, Corpo Celeste (2011), tracks not-quite-thirteen Marta (played by the unaffected yet confident nonprofessional Yle Vianello), whose family has returned to Italy after a decade living in Switzerland, as she navigates not only a new town and a changing body but also the confounding lessons promulgated in her confirmation class. The scenario allows for several wry observations

  • film October 27, 2015

    Drive Theory

    I think people know what Mulholland Drive is to them, but they don’t trust it.

    —David Lynch

    SOME FILMS YOU LOVE, some you hate; most you forget. If you’re lucky, one will have the power to completely derange you.

    I first saw David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive shortly before midnight on October 7, 2001, the same day that airstrikes began in Afghanistan—the commencement of our nation’s own seemingly endless unraveling. Hours later, I would return to the same theater in Chelsea to watch the movie again; over the next six months that Mulholland Drive continued to play in New York, I would revisit it at

  • film October 21, 2015

    Warp and Woof

    ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING once extolled her pets as “love without speech.” At one point in Laurie Anderson’s Heart of a Dog, a film that starts out as a paean to her rat terrier Lolabelle but evolves into disquisitions on many other subjects, the polymath artist imagines what her treasured animal companion (and other hounds) might say if granted this faculty. Giving voice is a specialty of Anderson’s, and Heart of a Dog abounds with her talent for voluble free association.

    Anderson’s narration is read over disparate imagery consisting primarily of her own animation and drawings, footage (sometimes

  • film October 19, 2015

    Birkin Tag

    ONE OF CINEMA’S GREATEST CROSS-POLLINATORS, Agnès Varda has been destabilizing the borders of fact and fiction ever since her first feature, La Pointe Courte, a key precursor to the Nouvelle Vague, premiered sixty years ago. Recently restored by Cinelicious Pics, the little-seen Varda films Jane B. par Agnès V. and Kung-Fu Master!, companion pieces that were shot in 1987 and released the following year, playfully dismantle ostensible polarities: middle-age and adolescence, celebrity and anonymity, reality and reverie.

    The B. in the first title stands for Birkin, the gap-toothed Swinging London