Nick Pinkerton

  • film March 10, 2021

    Decency and Disorder

    OUR SUBJECT IS A FIGURE SHROUDED IN MYSTERY, his image faded to near-disappearance by the passing of years. “Not much is known about the director Louis Valray, except that he was born in Toulon in 1896 and made two exceptional feature films in the mid-1930s,” reads the press release from New York’s Museum of Modern Art, which is featuring both of those films, La belle de nuit (1934) and Thirteen Days of Love (1935), recently restored by Serge Bromberg's Lobster Films, at its virtual cinema through the eighteenth of March. In this case, however, the bare minimum of detail touches on something

  • film June 08, 2020

    Ready, Willem and Abel

    THERE IS A CERTAIN SPECIES of fecund artist from whom work seems to flow in abundance, like a natural byproduct of his or her existence. In literature there are the Georges Simenons and Honoré de Balzacs; in pop music, the Chief Keefs and Mark E. Smiths. Various popular cinemas through the years have supported such prolificity—think 1930s Hollywood or ’80s Hong Kong—though as the mechanisms of production became more onerous in America, it became the provenance of independents and experimental filmmakers, from Stan Brakhage to Kevin Jerome Everson. In the latter-day commercial cinema, a business

  • film February 20, 2020

    Baroque Faith

    THE FIRST IMAGE in Pedro Costa’s Vitalina Varela is an empty street at night, from which a few headstones marking a cemetery are visible. It’s a grisaille, so denuded of color that you process the image as monochrome, and as such it’s a little disconcerting when a cortege passes through and a few hints of pigment—skin, a brown knit cap—become visible among the mourners, all black, all middle-aged or older, some walking with difficulty.

    I thought I recognized the street, hemmed in by high walls of concrete, though I’ve never been to Portugal. I thought, perhaps, it was one of those corridor-like

  • film February 06, 2020

    Perchance to Dream

    IN ANGELA SCHANELEC’S THIRD FEATURE,  Passing Summer (2001), there is a scene in which one of the characters—you might call her the central character, though it seems misleading to refer to a “center” in one of Schanelec’s films—a young woman, Valerie, played by Ursini Lardi, asks an older male authority figure for feedback on some short stories she has written. His analysis: “Rather nice, when you let yourself go, when you’re not trying to express too much through style alone. . . . To put it plainly, whole sentences are generally better than fragments. . . . Reading it, you start wishing for

  • film December 12, 2019

    Power Forward

    THE FILMS OF JOSH AND BENNY SAFDIE move at a hotfoot, thinking-on-your-feet pace, built around fraught and frantic protagonists who can see no further than the next contingency, or around the next corner of the personal maze they’re negotiating. Compulsive and often reckless behavior is a through line in the Safdies’ filmography; from 2008’s The Pleasure of Being Robbed—concerning the misadventures of a female kleptomaniac—onward, they’ve dealt in men and women working desperately to stay one step ahead of consequences. More recently, they’ve centered films on a lovelorn teenaged heroin addict

  • film October 18, 2019

    Mixed Signals

    A SON OF NEW HAMPSHIRE, Robert Eggers, in the course of two features, has established himself as a fanatic fetishist of the old, weird New England of popular imagination. His first, The Witch (2015), set in the forests of Plymouth Colony, takes place in the seventeenth-century Massachusetts now associated with Nathaniel Hawthorne and his reckonings with the Puritan legacy, while his follow-up, the late Victorian period The Lighthouse, moves out to sea. We’re now in the territory of Herman Melville, whose work is at one point invoked, though Providence native H. P. Lovecraft is perhaps the more

  • film August 16, 2019

    Fear of Fear

    TWO ENTWINED VIGNETTES open Roberto Minervini’s What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire?, a documentary shot among black communities in New Orleans and Jackson, Mississippi. The first shows a child, brandishing a prop machete, strutting down the middle of a city street, howling challenges into the night in one of the peacockish costumes of the Mardi Gras Indians. The second shows two brothers, one seemingly just into his teenage years, the other a few years younger, cautiously walking the corridors of a strobe-lighted haunted house, the smaller whimpering and begging to leave while the older

  • film May 16, 2019

    Well, Well, Weltschmerz

    WHEN IT COMES TO THE WILD WORLD of European genre cinema, a few national strains—UK horror, Italian everything—have tended to dominate repertory screen time and suck up critical oxygen. However, recent years have revealed something of the depth of the dark-horse Teutonic tradition, which has produced an abundance of films giving evidence of repressed rage and verboten desires howling for release behind the official, open-for-business facade of West Germany.

    The 2015 documentary Cinema Perverso: The Wonderful and Twisted World of Railroad Cinemas examines the checkered legacy of the cinemas opened

  • film April 25, 2019

    In the Palm of His Hand

    IF ONE IS PRESSED TO EXPLAIN the sensual and often masochistic beauties particular to postwar Mexican cinema, there are perhaps a half-dozen passages in Roberto Gavaldón’s La otra (The Other One, 1946) that could do the job in a trice. Tempting as it might be to go with the sequence of a footsore manicurist María (Dolores del Río) numbly negotiating the streets of a rain-plashed Mexico City while dreaming of a wealth beyond her reach, or the rooftop idyll between María and her cop boyfriend (José Baviera) that owes something to the yearning working-class romanticism of Frank Borzage, or the

  • film April 04, 2019

    Utter Chaos

    TO DESCRIBE A FILM AS “TALKY” IS, as often as not, to indicate a pejorative judgement; in a thousand screenwriting primers, you will read the adage “Show, don’t tell”—like any rule in art, this is to be discarded at will when circumstances demand. Mike Leigh never read any of those books, thank God, and though you could dismiss his latest work, the oratory-laden Peterloo, as talky, to do so would be to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of his project, which is precisely concerned with the relationship between speech and action, the butterfly-effect principle whereby words spoken in, say,

  • film March 14, 2019

    Last Hurrah for Chivalry

    WHEN WE FIRST ENCOUNTER ZHAO QIAO, the central character in Jia Zhangke’s Ash Is Purest White, she is perhaps a little over twenty, her face untrammeled by time or worry and framed by the most perfectly engineered bangs in Datong, the northern mining town whose streets are run by her boyfriend, Bin, a big man in the local jianghu gangs. The year is 2001, but by the time the story ends, in 2018, Qiao, played by Zhao Tao, is closer to the actress’s own age. At no point does Tao have recourse to actorly affectations in transforming the character from a young, wide-eyed moll to the shrewd, hardened

  • film February 28, 2019

    Danse Macabre

    GASPAR NOÉ’S CLIMAX is an encyclopedia of ways in which the human body can bend and break, a sailor’s knot guide of the contortions possible with four limbs, a trunk, and a head, skulls seemingly empty of thoughts other than sex and death. Set in an isolated school somewhere outside Paris where a troupe of hip-hop dancers has assembled for intensive rehearsals before an impending American tour, the movie unravels in something like real-time. Cutting loose at the end of a day’s work, the dancers dip into a punch bowl of sangria before discovering that one of them has spiked it with LSD, precipitating