Nick Pinkerton

  • film January 05, 2018

    Journey to the East

    MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI ARRIVED IN CHINA IN MAY OF 1972, about seven hundred years after Marco Polo and a few months after Richard Milhous Nixon. The People’s Republic of China, established in 1949, was then coming out of more than a decade-long period of almost total diplomatic estrangement, the thaw overseen by premier Zhou Enlai with the permission of the sick, senescent, and increasingly erratic Mao Zedong after the official close of the morally and materially catastrophic Cultural Revolution. During the preceding period of isolation, precious few images of China had been seen abroad, and so

  • film December 19, 2017

    Little by Little

    DOWNSIZING, ALEXANDER PAYNE’S SEVENTH FEATURE FILM, is an enormous movie—enormous in its ambition, and enormous in its ingenuity. As such, it is distinctly out of step with the times. Monumentality is acceptable in the action blockbuster, but when it comes to anything else, the small and the subtle and the half-toned are the markers of refined taste. Payne and his collaborator and frequent cowriter Jim Taylor produced one of the great American comedies about taste as a social marker, Sideways (2004), and so they must have known they were going way out on a limb here. What they’ve created

  • film November 15, 2017

    Lost and Found

    “WE WERE A GENERATION OF ORPHANS” is how Werner Herzog, the most prominent survivor of the celebrated class of filmmakers whose disparate practices were said to constitute the New German Cinema, has described the situation he and his contemporaries faced coming into their own in the 1960s. In their most literal sense, his words refer to the ruinous casualties of World War II, but Herzog was also speaking to the peculiar situation of German cineastes looking for a way to connect to a national tradition whose continuity had been severed during the years of National Socialism, when the mighty

  • film October 18, 2017

    To B, or Not to B

    POVERTY ROW WASN’T A PLACE ON ANY MAP. The studios were scattered around Los Angeles and its environs: Republic was based in Studio City with a ranch for cowboy pictures in Encino. Monogram did its oaters in Placerite Canyon, with a lot on Sunset Boulevard owned today by the Church of Scientology. Producers Releasing Corporation moved from Gower Street to Santa Monica Boulevard, where they would eventually acquire the pompous sobriquet Eagle-Lion Films after being purchased by British producer J. Arthur Rank. What unified the “B-Hive” wasn’t geography but the sort of work that they did—B pictures

  • film September 21, 2017

    Small Wonder

    A SHELTER AWAY from the vast and all-consuming Toronto International Film Festival’s red-carpet parades, the Wavelengths program is TIFF’s home for all things experimental and otherwise undefinable. As of last year, the mandate of Wavelengths programmer Andréa Picard had even expanded to include off-site installation works, such as Albert Serra’s multiscreen Singularity.

    Such expansions were curtailed in 2017. Wavelengths was slightly smaller this year—as, indeed, was TIFF in toto, part of an across-the-board attempt to rein in a megafestival that had become too big to present a cogent identity.

  • film September 13, 2017

    By the Book

    ONE OF THE MYSTERIES OF Ex Libris: New York Public Library is how a movie consisting almost entirely of people sitting around talking on library grounds manages to feel urgent and invigorating.

    The film is the latest of the institutional studies that Frederick Wiseman has been producing for the half century since Titicut Follies (1967), set in the Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane. Wiseman’s project is among the most ambitious ever undertaken in nonfiction cinema, a nearly comprehensive chronicling of (mostly) American institutions, and his rigor and intelligence are so

  • film August 18, 2017

    As Luck Would Have It

    LOGAN LUCKY, Steven Soderbergh’s return to theatrically distributed feature filmmaking after an announced retirement, is very far from the grand statement one might expect after a long period of withdrawal and seclusion. In point of fact, Soderbergh has never really disappeared from the scene, and he’s never been so precious in conducting his career to succumb to the eventizing ballyhoo that obsesses a Tarantino or a Nolan, and so he has kept working at something or another at a brisk clip.

    His “comeback,” if we want to call it that, is a piece of candy-colored cracker-barrel Americana. It has

  • film August 14, 2017

    Digital Planet

    THE FILMS THAT WILL BE PLAYING at Anthology Film Archives in “This Is MiniDV (On 35mm)” are collected according to a simple principle, but for this viewer they conjure up a complicated welter of feelings. In keeping with recent (and welcome) developments following the DCP changeover catastrophe, which have raised awareness of projection format and brought us festivals and programs dedicated to nitrate film and 3D restorations, ultra-niche “This Is MiniDV” looks at a brief moment in the late 1990s and early aughts when the digital revolution was only partially complete: almost totally in

  • film August 07, 2017

    Lines of Flight

    SELF-MYTHOLOGIZATION WAS BUILT into the story of the Zanzibar Group from the beginning. A loose confederation of young amateur filmmakers joined together in the late 1960s around shared radical politics and the patronage of twenty-five-year-old heiress Sylvina Boissonnas, they were named retrospectively for a voyage undertaken by one of their number, Serge Bard. Bard was a dropout from the ethnology department at the university of Nanterre who had crossed the African continent to reach the revolutionary Maoist government of Zanzibar, making a film along the way.

    Bard never completed his proposed

  • film July 20, 2017

    Family Circus

    TIZZA COVI AND RAINER FRIMMEL’S MISTER UNIVERSO, a simple, modestly scaled road movie made with delicacy and feeling, centers on the quite self-centered Tairo Caroli, a lion tamer in a small Italian circus who is in the habit of having his commands followed. We are introduced to Tairo preening in the mirror before a performance—he’s handsome if a little husky in his sequined shirt, still carrying some baby fat. Though Tairo makes his living stepping into a cage with big jungle cats to whom he plays “Daddy,” there is still much of the little boy about him, the tantrum-prone brat who bedevils

  • film July 14, 2017

    Super Mario

    THE CINEMATOGRAPHER TURNED DIRECTOR is a dicey proposition: For every success story such as Jack Cardiff’s or Nicolas Roeg’s, there’s Gordon Willis’s with Windows (1980) or Christopher Doyle’s with Warsaw Dark (2009), or other examples that aren’t even distinguished by true awfulness. And then there is the curious case of the Italian Mario Bava, whose cinema is so radically, disorientingly, sumptuously eye-filling that I all but gave up trying to categorize it years ago. These films are beyond understood categories of taste—they merely are.

    The newly refurbished Quad Cinema on West Thirteenth

  • film July 06, 2017

    Haunted House

    TO ATTEND ONE’S OWN FUNERAL, hiding in the church gallery, like Tom Sawyer and Joe, is a cherished American boyhood dream, and something close to the jumping-off point for David Lowery’s A Ghost Story, a leap into the blue which lands very far from its point of origin.

    The film stars Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck as a young couple, never named, whose life together in a suburban ranch-style house is cut short when he is killed in an automobile accident just a few feet from their driveway. She says her goodbyes to his cold body on the mortuary slab, but his soul, or something, isn’t quite ready to

  • film June 16, 2017

    Going Ape

    SINCE THE CINEMA has faced such a long struggle for respectability as an art form, it’s only understandable that some of its advocates resent being reminded of its unbreakable bond with the lowest common denominator. How else to explain that we’ve been so many years without a proper survey of the monkey movie, a storied subgenre—a few years in my youth alone rendered up Monkey Trouble (1994) and Dunston Checks In and Ed (both 1996)—which simultaneously recalls the step-right-up fairground provenance of the movies and the undignified, tire-swinging, feces-smearing ancestry of humankind?

  • film June 02, 2017

    The Importance of Being Ernst

    ERNST LUBITSCH WAS BORN in booming Berlin in January 1892 and died much too young in Hollywood, California, in 1947. He was a German Jew of age to have served in one World War and to have been a likely civilian casualty of a second, but by dint of luck and talent he avoided both. While living through the multiple ructions that rocked the European continent in the first half of the twentieth century and the wider world-historical earthquake of these years, he remained almost single-mindedly committed to producing wry, light, sparkling comedies that reflect the values of graciousness and grace.

  • film May 10, 2017

    The Heart of Maryland

    WALKING OUT OF BALTIMORE’S NEWLY RESTORED PARKWAY THEATER, I was in a daze after having watched a 35-mm print of Agnès Varda’s magnificent Vagabond (1985)—the first time analog film had been shown in the building in more than forty years. I then stumbled into a neighboring McDonald’s and queued up behind a slim older gentleman clad in head-to-toe Comme des Garçons who just happened to be the director of Pink Flamingos (1972). It is on the occasion of such pure strikes of Stendhal syndrome that having devoted one’s life to cinema seems like a not entirely worthless undertaking.

    I had been twice

  • film April 14, 2017

    Lies, All Lies

    IF, LIKE SOME OF US, you have grown comatose through repeat exposure to the cluster of festival fodder clichés often grouped under the unsexy sobriquet “slow cinema,” there’s reason to feel antsy at the opening of By the Time It Gets Dark, the second feature by director Anocha Suwichakornpong.

    Stick with it. After rolling out a few fragmentary, ambiguously related scenes, the movie settles into something like a straightforward narrative: Two women arrive at a rental home in the Thai countryside to rusticate. They are age-appropriate to be mother and daughter, but in due time it’s revealed that

  • film April 10, 2017

    Czech Please

    THE ENORMITY OF INTERNATIONAL FILM HISTORY is daunting; you might devote a decade to seeing everything from 1932 alone and never, ever get to the bottom of it. In the face of such bounty, the response is often inexcusable apathy—see, for example, the almost total absence of pre-1950 cinema from Netflix, which, having driven the video store into extinction, now uses its market dominance to push its mediocre-to-awful original programming. With such epidemic cultural amnesia running amok, the work of repertory programmers provides a valuable corrective: Witness the Museum of Modern Art’s fourteen-film

  • film April 07, 2017

    Young Love

    “A WHILE BACK, if I remember right, my life was one long party where all hearts were open wide, where all wines kept flowing.” This is how the nineteen-year-old Arthur Rimbaud bade adieu to his carefree salad days at the opening of A Season in Hell (1873)—for none are quite so attuned to the evanescence of youth as the truly young, who can actually feel the stuff slipping through their fingers.

    It is on such a note of sober contemplation that Michal Marczak’s docufiction All These Sleepless Nights, a film that is most of the time very far from sobriety, begins. Krzysztof Baginski, a pale kid

  • film March 31, 2017

    League of His Own

    IN A STORM-TOSSED MODERN WORLD, Wesley Snipes’s Twitter feed is an island of calm. It’s heavy on nostalgia—with production photographs from the set of White Men Can’t Jump (1992), for example—and rather profound conversation prompts (“At what age did you realize the world you live in was not your friend?”), as well as ice-cold troll executions and sage declarations that merge the Afrocentric and humanist, a typical sampling being: “Every ethnicity is absolutely beautiful and worthy. I’m simply reminding my brothers and sisters WE ARE OF ROYALTY.” He seems like he’s in a good headspace, which is

  • film March 24, 2017

    Great Migrations

    MIGRATING FORMS IS NEW YORK’S WEIRD FILM FESTIVAL. I say this with the greatest of affection, for through the years it has, often well ahead of the curve, provided a theatrical showcase to up-and-comers working in all manner of moving-image mediums: Ed Atkins, Ian Cheng, Jacob Ciocci, Laida Lertxundi, James N. Kienitz Wilkins, Zhao Liang, and many more others than I can at this point remember.

    Tradition holds that around this point one has to mention that Migrating Forms is the reincarnation of the New York Underground Film Festival, but by the time of its eighth edition it has very much taken