Nick Pinkerton

  • film July 24, 2015

    Golden Days

    PRIDE COMES BEFORE A FALL. This lesson unites film noir from the United States and its south-of-the–Rio Grande equivalent, the Mexican ciné negro—though the degree of pride, and the manner of its expression, vary in ways that say something about masculine self-image. The protagonist of US noir is often something of a schlump patsy, dumber by half than he thinks he is, obliviously backing into a way-over-his-head situation. The ciné negro protagonist acts like a matador when in fact he is the bull; he’s every bit as oblivious, yes, but twice as arrogant as he strides toward oblivion.

    In Roberto

  • film July 02, 2015

    Ford Motors

    A DILEMMA IS AT THE HEART of John Ford’s cinema: You are going on a long journey. You must decide what to take with you and what you will leave behind; if you will travel alone, or in company. Sometimes this journey crosses physical space—the plains and deserts and mountains of the American West, say—though even standing in a single spot, one passes through time, the length of a life and the lives of generations.

    In Ford’s film of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1940) there is an extraordinarily moving scene in which, as the Joad family load up their jerry-rigged moving truck for the long, hard

  • film June 01, 2015

    Life in Movement

    THE PROGRAM of Movies of Local People that will play at the Museum of Modern Art in early June is one of several newsreels produced by the traveling filmmaker and entrepreneur H. Lee Waters. Waters photographed communities in the southeast United States (mostly North Carolina) and then sold them back a chance to see themselves on the silver screen, posing and goofing for the camera or otherwise just going about their business, in a limited engagement at a local venue. This particular edition happens to have been made among the black community of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for screening at the

  • film May 28, 2015

    Medium Rare

    LET’S TAKE FOR GRANTED the received wisdom which says that the “average moviegoer” can’t tell the difference between a 35-mm print and a Digital Cinema Package (DCP) projection. The conclusion we should draw from this isn’t that there is no difference between these formats, but that the arbiters of film culture, including critics, curators, and absolutely everyone else, have failed entirely to educate a wider public as to what this difference is, and how to talk about it. Cinema is usually a narrative art, but it is always a visual art. Nevertheless, the discussion of the former aspect has

  • film May 15, 2015

    Unauthorized Biography

    IN A BUSINESS that exerts an irresistible pull to hustlers, fabulists, and frauds, the screenwriter Philip Yordan (1914–2003) was in a class by himself. He was famous for his last-minute punch-ups, the so-called “Yordan touch,” as well as his extraordinary prolificacy, turning out more material in short order than any one man could possibly be capable of producing—more, in point of fact, than one man was capable of producing.

    The scare quotes on the title of Anthology Film Archives’s “ ‘Written’ By Philip Yordan” series refer to the fact that, more even than was usual of scripts created in the

  • film May 09, 2015

    Listen Up

    JAPAN CAME LATE to sound movies—it was, in the course of the twentieth century, one of the only times that the Japanese came late to anything that had to do with technology. While synchronized dialogue conquered the various Western cinemas with blitzkrieg speed after 1927, the conversion of the Japanese lingered on for well over a decade afterwards.

    This “delay” didn’t come because the Japanese were waiting on the equipment to arrive. The first Japanese sound-on-film production made in Japan is often identified as a long-disappeared 1926 production called Remai (Dawn) by theater director Osanai

  • film April 30, 2015

    Three’s Company

    THE ACADEMIC Tom Gunning coined the phrase “the cinema of attractions” to refer to a strain of filmmaking that popped up in the first decade of the invention’s life, which would later serve as an inspiration for the avant-garde. These are films belonging to what is sometimes called “the Méliès tradition,” named for the magician-turned-filmmaker Georges Méliès, an “exhibitionist cinema” of “trick films,” in which narrative is of secondary importance to the realization of fabulous and impossible illusions. In Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2011), Méliès, played by Ben Kingsley, is a forgotten man, running

  • film April 13, 2015

    Paradis Gained

    ALAIN CAVALIER’S LE PARADIS, making its US premiere Tuesday, April 14 at the second edition of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Art of the Real festival, begins with an almost unbearably moving overture. The first images are of a brown, fleecy peacock chick, sticking close to the shadow of its mother. After a cut, the little bird is seen inside a cardboard box, swaddled in what appears to be bandages. Finally, it lies lifeless at the base of a spindly tree—“In the fresh blue watercress,” intones the director, an invisible presence throughout by way of voice-over and his first-person singular

  • film April 02, 2015

    Object Lessons

    THE FILMS OF WALERIAN BOROWCZYK, now receiving a weeklong retrospective at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, are among the purest instances of fetishist cinema that I know. Although “Boro”’s movies certainly abound with erotic fixations and substitute phalluses—the altar candlesticks and zucchinis in the “Thérése Philosophe” episode of Immoral Tales (1973), the bedpost in The Beast (1975), the catalogue of verboten vintage erotic paraphernalia in A Private Collection (1973)—I use this phrase not with a solely sexual connotation, but with the broader meaning of fetish: the imbuing of inanimate

  • film March 30, 2015

    True to a Point

    TRUE/FALSE, A FOUR-NIGHT, three-day documentary film festival which takes place annually in the central Missouri university town of Columbia, has since its humble beginnings in 2004 acquired a reputation for its curatorial excellence, as well as for the fervid, quasi-mystic loyalty that it inspires in regular attendees—journalists, filmmakers, and most anyone involved in the distribution and exhibition of docs. True/False is scheduled immediately before South by Southwest, where many films and filmmakers decamped to immediately after the party in Columbia ended, and with praise for True/False

  • film March 20, 2015

    Pretty Hurts

    IN THE LIFE OF SHIRLEY YAMAGUCHI, who died in the fall of last year at age ninety-four, the entire twentieth-century history of the Pacific Rim is reflected.

    An actress, songbird, and legislator who lived and worked in Manchuria, Tokyo, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong, Yamaguchi is one of the subjects of a Japan Society film series timed to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War II. “The Most Beautiful: The War Films of Shirley Yamaguchi & Setsuko Hara” is somewhat deceptively named—the nine-feature program focuses on female stars, and so none of the movies are dispatches from

  • film March 06, 2015

    Sky’s the Limit

    THE ROLE OF CINEMATOGRAPHER has its perks, not unlike those of any of the ancillary creative roles in filmmaking. Once you’ve shown that you know your business, you generally won’t lack for work until you’re ready to retire, and you’ll likely have a longer and busier career than a director starting out at the same time, for directors are more celebrated and, at the same time, more liable. The downside, if you consider it one, is that you’ll rarely be taken as seriously as an artist. Writing about the Spanish-Cuban director of photography Nestor Almendros, David Thomson delivered an ultimatum

  • film February 28, 2015

    Angles in America

    BLACK-AND-WHITE CINEMASCOPE is alluring precisely because it doesn’t add up: It’s penthouse and pavement, tuxedo and work boots. ’Scope, at least when it first appeared in 1953, had a lavish connotation; black-and-white was stark, austere, increasingly associated with film’s musty history rather than its bright, varicolored future. The introduction and promotion of the CinemaScope process, which involved the use of anamorphic lenses to shoot and project movies in a new widescreen format that was nearly twice as broad as the Academy ratio that had up until then been the standard, was in part a

  • film February 07, 2015

    Lost and Sound

    IN TRYING TO PINPOINT what made John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween a cultural flashpoint, you’ll hit a wall if you’re just looking at the subject matter. Knife-wielding psychos were not unknown to cinema since well before, say, Hitchcock’s Psycho—to which the film owes a certain debt. What Halloween has (and Carpenter’s 1976 Assault on Precinct 13, too) is a very particular combination of flourish and minimalism—that is to say, it’s a matter of style.

    The flourish is in the insidious stalking Steadicam, the fact that, as perspicacious Village Voice critic Tom Allen observed, the film “owes more to

  • film February 06, 2015

    History Lessons

    “B.C. PICTURES and five other major studios announced mainly through the columns that they were not planning to produce any more Black Pictures. There are a few in production, they will be finished. ‘It was discovered that as many ‘Blacks’ went to see Jaws as went to see Sounder?’ […] The industry will of course continue its effort to integrate what has unfortunately been referred to as the white film until an acceptable racial balance has been achieved to the satisfaction of the community at large. ‘In other words, we’re out of work,’ I said.”

    This comes from Rhinestone Sharecropping, a 1981

  • film January 30, 2015

    God Parts

    FIRST LOOKING DOWN into the still water of a pond dusted with lightly falling snow—the photography is pure black-and-white, which is to say there’s nothing but black and white—the frame rears up to look out across a disorderly, frost-crusted landscape with a distinctly medieval aspect, dotted with a few ragged muzhiks. “This is not Earth, it’s another planet,” asserts a narrator, grumbling in Russian, though this claim is up against the evidence of our eyes.

    This is the disorienting opening of Aleksei German’s Hard to Be a God, an epic at once claustrophobically immediate and otherworldly. The

  • film January 24, 2015

    Borscht Belt

    AMONG GROUPS OF BACKYARD, amateur filmmakers, it is common practice to create your own “studio,” an entity in name alone that serves as a password, an ego-bolstering sense of identity, a communally bonding inside joke. When I was making movies with friends in Cincinnati we used the name Technetium Enterprises. I have a friend who started his own BS company, Creatively Bankrupt, when he was at university. And around a decade ago, some kids in Miami, many of them graduates or current students at the New World School of the Arts, a magnet high school downtown, formed Borscht Corp.

    I was thinking

  • film January 17, 2015

    Force to be Reckoned With

    FORCE MAJEURE, the Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s fourth feature, was along with Paweł Pawlikowski’s Ida one of 2014’s handful of breakout foreign art-house successes. They are both movies whose qualities are on the surface self-evident, and Östlund’s puts its themes and roiling inner turmoil before a viewer with crystalline clarity. Force Majeure begins with a family on a ski holiday posing as a perfect unit for a photographer, and proceeds to reveal them as anything but, as their experience of a controlled physical avalanche induces an uncontrolled emotional one.

    Force Majeure is a concise,

  • film December 19, 2014

    Late Great

    JOHN HUSTON doesn’t have a flawless track record as a film director, but few have so perfectly embodied the idea of what a film director ought to be. With his deliciously drawn-out, folksy baritone and those long, eloquent hands, Huston exuded authority—a quality which other directors were happy to take advantage of. When Otto Preminger needed someone to play a Boston prelate in The Cardinal (1963), he tapped Huston for the job, and so launched his parallel career as an actor. Orson Welles, whom Huston had employed in his 1956 Moby Dick among other films, invited Huston to star in his The Other

  • film December 10, 2014

    Heads in the Cloud

    TRYING TO DEFINE the parameters of the Migrating Forms festival, I’m tempted to say that, more than any other New York fest, it imagines what cinema will look like when and if it wholly leaves behind the twentieth-century definition of “cinema.” Making such a statement, however, would ignore some essential things about MF, now in its sixth year and its second at BAMcinématek, like the importance of film history to the fest, which has established a tradition of important retrospectives—for Jean-Pierre Gorin, Glauber Rocha, and Anne Charlotte Robertson previously, and of William Greaves (