Melissa Anderson

  • Ana Lily Amirpour, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, 2014, HD video, black-and-white, sound, 99 minutes. The Girl (Sheila Vand).
    film November 20, 2014

    There Will Be Blood

    AS SEDUCTIVE AND FOREBODING AS ITS TITLE—a simple, declarative sentence that encompasses many mysteries—Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut feature reanimates and restores the sexiness of the vampire movie, held for too long as the undead hostage of the purity-ring-preaching Twilight franchise. Performed entirely in Farsi, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is set in Bad City, a fictional Iranian ghost town (played by Taft, California, situated in the San Joaquin Valley) where oil rigs pump continuously and corpses are dumped in ditches. Plot is subordinate to mood and atmosphere (as in Claire Denis’s 2001

  • Production still from Bert Williams Lime Kiln Field Day, 1913. Odessa Warren Grey and Bert Williams.
    film October 29, 2014

    Gold Rushes

    “I THINK THEY DIDN’T release it because it wasn’t racist enough,” said Ron Magliozzi, associate curator in the film department at the Museum of Modern Art, before a press preview of assembled footage of a movie shot in 1913 but ultimately abandoned—the earliest surviving feature-length production with a black cast. The stunning rushes for this work—a lively project devoid of many (though not all) bigoted grotesqueries—are being presented as part of MoMA’s twelfth annual film-preservation program “To Save and Project”; this particular rescue mission has an exceptionally long history. These seven

  • Gregg Araki, White Bird in a Blizzard, 2014, color, sound, 91 minutes. Kat Connor, Beth, and Mickey (Shailene Woodley, Gabourey Sidibe, and Mark Indelicato).
    film October 24, 2014

    Apocalypse Now

    GREGG ARAKI FOLLOWED his 1992 breakthrough, The Living End, one of the foundational titles of the New Queer Cinema, with what he called his “teenage apocalypse trilogy”: Totally Fucked Up (1993), The Doom Generation (1995), and Nowhere (1997). Yet in the seventeen years since the final entry of that triptych, Araki has rarely strayed from the theme of adolescents or young people confronting the end of the world. Sometimes the planet quite literally blows up, as in 2010’s Kaboom. In Araki’s latest, the uneven White Bird in a Blizzard—which he adapted from Laura Kasischke’s 1999 novel of the same

  • Peter Sattler, Camp X-Ray, 2014, HD video, color, sound, 117 minutes. Ali and Cole (Peyman Moaadi and Kristen Stewart).
    film October 18, 2014

    Camp Camp

    SO MUCH OF CAMP X-RAY, writer-director Peter Sattler’s first feature, is so thuddingly didactic and yet morally obtuse that my writing anything else about the film beyond this sentence may be a further violation of the Geneva Convention. But as bad as this dubious project might be, the two performances at its center elevate it: Kristen Stewart as Cole, a soldier stationed as a guard at Guantánamo Bay, and Peyman Moaadi as Ali, the detainee she befriends. Both actors impressively shade impossible roles with alert nuances.

    Before it descends into facile metaphors, Camp X-Ray begins with startling,

  • Laura Poitras, Citizenfour, 2014, HD video, color, sound, 114 minutes. Edward J. Snowden.
    film October 13, 2014

    The Story of Us

    LAURA POITRAS’S CITIZENFOUR is an electrifying countdown to an epoch-altering event, unfolding in an antiseptic all-white room. Poitras had been working for at least a year on a documentary about the surveillance state—the final installment of her trilogy on the US post-9/11—when she began receiving, in January 2013, encrypted e-mails from someone who warned, “Assume your adversaries are capable of one trillion guesses per second.” Her correspondent signed off as “Citizenfour,” the alias of Edward J. Snowden, whom Poitras, along with journalist Glenn Greenwald, would meet in the mall of the Mira

  • Olivier Assayas, Clouds of Sils Maria, 2014, 35 mm, color, sound, 124 minutes. Maria Enders and Valentine (Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart).
    film October 11, 2014

    New York Film Festival: Dispatch 5

    “IT’S A MOVIE in which you never forget you are watching these actresses,” director Olivier Assayas said at the press conference following the screening of his magnificent Clouds of Sils Maria, a film that explores the unstable boundaries between performing and being. “These actresses,” who were seated stage right from Assayas, are Juliette Binoche, who plays Maria Enders, an internationally renowned star, and Kristen Stewart, as Valentine, Maria’s personal assistant. Maria, who’s “sick of acting on wires in front of green screens,” is considering whether to star in a revival of the stage drama

  • Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice, 2014, 35 mm, color, sound, 148 minutes. Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix).
    film October 08, 2014

    New York Film Festival: Dispatch 4

    AT ONCE IRREPRESSIBLE AND DOLEFUL, Paul Thomas Anderson’s terrific THC-laced comedy noir Inherent Vice, which screened for the press just hours ahead of its world premiere at the New York Film Festival on Saturday, concerns both high times and end times. Based on Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel of the same name—the first of the author’s works to be adapted for the screen—Anderson’s seventh feature marks a return to the roistering, nutter-dense ensemble that defined his 1997 breakthrough, the porn picaresque Boogie Nights. But the director’s ambitions are much greater in Inherent Vice than in the

  • Michael Roemer, Nothing but a Man, 1964, 35 mm, black-and-white, sound, 95 minutes. Josie (Abbey Lincoln) and Duff Anderson (Ivan Dixon).

    Michael Roemer

    “I’M SLIGHTLY OUT OF SYNC with my own time,” the staunchly independent filmmaker Michael Roemer, who has taught at Yale University School of Art since 1966, told the New York Times in 2004—an observation borne out by the initial reception of most of his work. Roemer’s comment was made forty years after the premiere of Nothing but a Man, a film that boasts one of cinema’s most fully realized African American couples, on the occasion of its DVD release. Although Nothing but a Man was heralded at both the Venice and New York Film Festivals in 1964, it did negligible box office during its

  • Bertrand Bonello, Saint Laurent, 2014, 35 mm, color, sound, 150 minutes. Yves Saint Laurent (Gaspard Ulliel).
    film September 30, 2014

    New York Film Festival: Dispatch 3

    “I’VE CREATED A MONSTER and I have to live with it,” Yves Saint Laurent (Gaspard Ulliel) says, sometime in between collections in 1972, in reference to himself in Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent, a slinky, heady biopic of the exalted fashion designer. Speaking at a press conference immediately following the screening at Walter Reade Theater, Bonello, who also co-wrote the script, explained that his main line of inquiry was “what it cost Saint Laurent to be Saint Laurent every day.” Or, more specifically, for several days between 1967 and 1977, a decade marked by YSL’s greatest excesses, whether

  • David Fincher, Gone Girl, 2014, HD video, color, sound, 149 minutes.
    film September 28, 2014

    New York Film Festival: Dispatch 2

    TO AN OUTSIDER, the rites and customs of heterosexual courtship and marriage, at least as depicted and dissected in several different genres of popular culture from the past decade or so—talk shows, advice books, most romantic comedies, several Judd Apatow productions, particularly This Is 40 (2012)—can appear unremittingly, if unintentionally, pathological. Straight mating, it would seem, is the ultimate (and original) folie à deux, a florid psychosis whose presenting symptoms are acute vituperation, subterfuge, rancor, and regression. Among the most self-loathing of heterosexuals is the central

  • Alice Rohrwacher, The Wonders, 2014, Super 16, color, sound, 111 minutes.
    film September 24, 2014

    New York Film Festival: Dispatch 1

    ONE WEEK INTO PRESS SCREENINGS for the New York Film Festival, which begins September 26, and already the offerings—or at least their makers—have begun to infiltrate my REM sleep. During my waking hours, however, several of the supple, stinging aphorisms in Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language have returned, sometimes unbidden, to my mind, particularly the opening pensée: “Those lacking imagination take refuge in reality.”

    A variation—often its inverse—of that Wildean observation (I could have sworn Oscar himself said it in “The Decay of Lying”) proved to be a guiding principle for several films

  • Richard Brooks, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1958, 35 mm, color, sound, 108 minutes. Brick Pollitt and Maggie Pollitt (Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor).
    film September 22, 2014

    Taylor Made

    “ACRIMONY AND UMBRAGE, tears, door-slamming, broken dishes, jeers, cold silences, whispers, raised eyebrows, the determination to take no notice, the whole classic paraphernalia of insult and injury is Tennessee Williams’ hope-chest,” Mary McCarthy wrote in a spectacularly negative review of A Streetcar Named Desire for Partisan Review in 1948. Though I tend to share McCarthy’s antipathy to the playwright’s work, I don’t think the liabilities she lists are insurmountable. They are, in fact, elevated to fascinating, florid heights by Elizabeth Taylor in the three film adaptations of Williams