Nick Pinkerton

  • 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 (

  • film October 22, 2014

    State of Play

    PEE-WEE’S PLAYHOUSE ran for five critically acclaimed seasons on CBS Saturday mornings from 1986 to 1990, producing a grand total of forty-five episodes. The third season was limited to two episodes by the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike. After the fifth season, burned out by the workaday grind of the production, Paul Reubens, the creator of the Pee-wee Herman character and star of the show, put the character on hiatus. (The attrition is even evident in the product—the series finale is a clips show!) When, in the following summer of 1991, Reubens was arrested for indecent exposure while

  • film October 15, 2014

    Dead Alive

    OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS, Bill Morrison—a man whose ability to conduct archival footage like Toscanini could a symphony orchestra was never in doubt—has emerged as one of our premier screen historians, matching his established interest in film as the fading physical representation of collective memory to single historical milieus and events. This new stature is largely based on the strength of two short features, The Miners’ Hymns (2011) and The Great Flood (2013), the latter of which had successful theatrical engagements in New York and Los Angeles earlier this year.

    Today Morrison’s visibility

  • film September 23, 2014

    Friends and Family

    I’M OPPOSED ON GENERAL PRINCIPLE to the assumption of audience ignorance—“Ten Movies You’ve Never Heard Of” and so on—but in the case of “Discovering Georgian Cinema,” an exception can be made. The two-part program, arranged by Berkeley’s Pacific Film Archive in collaboration with New York’s Museum of Modern Art and playing more or less simultaneously at both institutions, offers a look at work that is scarcely available beyond the Black Sea, and on 35-mm exhibition prints, to boot.

    Sergei Parajanov, perhaps the most internationally renowned Georgian-born filmmaker on the basis of works like

  • film September 18, 2014

    Unknown Knowns

    FAREWELL TO LANGUAGE reconfirmed both acolytes and apostates in their opinions of Jean-Luc Godard, Christian Petzold’s Phoenix was the scene of the big critical tug-of-war, and Tusk found Kevin Smith making movies among the Canadians—by and large a polite, pacific people who have done nothing to deserve such a cruel fate. This year’s Toronto International Film Festival, it can be said, was largely a matter of known quantities.

    If this TIFF was lacking in unexpected revelations from heretofore unknown filmmakers, there were big showings by directors who aren’t household names with most moviegoers.

  • film September 05, 2014

    Waters’s World

    THE LAST NEW MOVIE to be directed by John Waters, A Dirty Shame, came out in US theaters almost exactly ten years ago. Despite being an infectious sex farce with a chewy, eager-beaver central performance from Tracy Ullman, it failed to turn a profit. Today, Waters’s film catalogue is only one of this one-man industry’s holdings, and “John Waters” the brand has never been so ubiquitous—but the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s comprehensive “Fifty Years of John Waters: How Much Can You Take?” is a chance to reconsider the works on which the legend was built.

    Like another auteur specializing in odd