Melissa Anderson


    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


    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


    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


    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,


    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

  • film October 16, 2015

    Room for Improvement

    THE STANDARD COMPLAINT about page-to-screen transfers is that the film version, which invariably must compress chronology and jettison subplots, can never hope to match the source text. Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s highly regarded 2010 novel, Room, however, proves how much can be gained when something is lost.

    A study of parent-child attachment in extremis, Donoghue’s book concerns a five-year-old named Jack and his twenty-something mother, known as Ma, who are imprisoned by a middle-aged sociopath in a suburban shed measuring ten by ten feet; the story is told exclusively

  • film October 13, 2015

    Don’t Be Cruel

    MICHAEL ALMEREYDA’S idiosyncratic biopic Experimenter concerns social psychologist Stanley Milgram (1933–1984), whose best-known study, begun in 1961, revealed subjects’ willingness to blindly follow authority, no matter the consequences. The movie’s unorthodoxies include fourth-wall breaking, as Peter Sarsgaard, playing the preeminent researcher, looks directly into the camera and addresses audience members as coconspirators. During these interruptions, texts ranging from South Pacific’s “Some Enchanted Evening” to Nabokov’s Speak, Memory are cited, though one passage, the sole line to be

  • film October 07, 2015

    New York Film Festival: Dispatch 4

    QUESTIONS OF VIRTUOUSNESS AND VIRTUOSITY have dominated several NYFF titles, most prominently in Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs, the Aaron Sorkin–scripted biopic of the tech messiah (loosely based on Walter Isaacson’s 2011 book) that was featured as the festival’s centerpiece. The degree to which Jobs, whose spectrum-y focus and affect is impressively performed by Michael Fassbender, displayed prodigious brilliance while forsaking righteousness operates as the film’s animating dialectic. Must the attributes be mutually exclusive? Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), who cofounded Apple Computer with Jobs and

  • film October 05, 2015

    New York Film Festival: Dispatch 3

    AT THE HALFWAY POINT of the Fifty-Third New York Film Festival, I find myself nostalgic for the fifty-second, which showcased Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language, a puckish disquisition that opens with this stinging pensée: “Those lacking imagination take refuge in reality.” I often think of that aphorism when sitting through a weakly argued and poorly structured documentary, traits that have unfortunately come to define most of the nonfiction movies that secure theatrical release. JLG’s words serve as an especially apt indictment of the corpus of Michael Moore, the man largely responsible

  • film September 28, 2015

    New York Film Festival: Dispatch 2

    “THE VOID IS MY DOMAIN,” crows French funambulist Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) midway through Robert Zemeckis’s The Walk, a 3-D recounting of the stuntman’s August 1974 high-wire promenade between the tops of the Twin Towers. Making its world premiere as the opening-night selection of this year’s New York Film Festival, Zemeckis’s extravaganza unquestionably instills, in the climactic scenes devoted to Petit’s extraordinary stunt, awe-inspiring acrophobia; viewers are convinced that they too are 110 stories above Lower Manhattan. Yet by the time this final act gets underway, the movie