Nick Pinkerton

  • Wendell B. Harris, Jr., Chameleon Street, 1990, DCP, color, sound, 94 minutes. William Douglas Street, Jr. (Wendell B. Harris, Jr.).
    film October 22, 2021

    American Hustle

    WILLIAM DOUGLAS STREET JR., a Black Michigan man with an empty wallet, a florid vocabulary, and a naturally patronizing, aristocratic air, doesn’t quite fit in anywhere. This another way of saying that he fits in just about the same everywhere, a valuable trait for a man in his line of work—namely, con artistry.

    In writer-director Wendell B. Harris Jr.’s 1990 Chameleon Street, an embellished version of the life and lies of real Detroit-based con artist Street, Harris, starring in the lead role, gives us a Black Tom Ripley, the most unforgettable underclass antihero this side of Mike Leigh’s 1993

  • Jia Zangke, Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue, 2020, DCP, color, sound, 112 minutes.
    film May 28, 2021

    I Shall Not Be Moved

    SPEAKING ON THE CLIMAX of his 1984 period piece Shanghai Blues, which ends on a Hong Kong–bound train from Shanghai, the Saigon-born, Hong Kong–based filmmaker Tsui Hark offered that the Chinese “are caught in something like a migrating curse, moving from one place to another.”

    On the face of it, Tsui’s cinema, with its staccato editing and pop sensibility, might seem to have little to do with that of Jia Zhangke, who has been the most prominent Mainland Chinese filmmaker on the festival circuit since his first feature, Pickpocket, played the Berlin International Film Festival in 1998—the title

  • Louis Valray, La belle de nuit, 1934, 35 mm, black-and-white, sound, 87 minutes. Claude and Maïthé (Aimé Clariond and Véra Korène).
    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

  • Abel Ferrara, Tommaso, 2019, DCP, color, sound, 115 minutes. Tomasso and Nikki (Willem Dafoe and Cristina Chiriac).
    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

  • Pedro Costa, Vitalina Varela, 2019, DCP, color, sound, 124 minutes. Ventura and Vitalina Varela.
    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

  • Angela Schanelec, Der traumhafte Weg (The Dreamed Path), 2016, DCP, color, sound, 86 minutes. Theres (Maren Eggert).
    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

  • Robert Eggers, The Lighthouse, 2019, 35 mm, black-and-white, sound, 109 minutes. Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson.
    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

  • Roberto Minervini, What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire?, 2018, DCP, black-and-white, sound, 123 minutes. Titus and Ronaldo King.
    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

  • Ralf Olsen, Blutiger Freitag (Bloody Nights), 1972, 35 mm transferred to DCP, color, sound, 97 minutes.
    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

  • Roberto Gavaldón, La otra (The Other One), 1946, 35 mm, black and white, sound, 98 minutes. Courtesy Filmoteca de la UNAM.
    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

  • Mike Leigh, Peterloo, 2018, DCP, color, sound, 154 minutes.
    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,