COLUMNS

  • Current Affairs

    UNDETERRED BY THE PRESENT HEALTH CRISIS, the Fifty-Eighth New York Film Festival will premiere its annual selections of world cinema virtually and, in Brooklyn and Queens, in drive-in screenings—the latter a resourceful reprise of the way many families saw movies in the 1950s. It may not be pure coincidence, in light of the circumstances, that the festival also offers a new slate this year, appropriately called Currents. Comprised of the same mix that characterized the Projections sidebar, which it has displaced, Currents offers more than a dozen feature-length movies and forty-six shorter works

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  • Gross Autonomy

    JACK LONDON has always been better understood abroad than at home. At different times in his life a gold prospector, an oyster pirate, a hobo, and a millionaire, London was also a committed internationalist whose political speeches in his twenties led the press to crown him the “Boy Socialist of Oakland.” (He later ran for mayor on Eugene V. Debs’s Social Democratic ticket.) London’s vivid depictions of working-class life and communal struggle garnered him a devoted following in Communist countries like the People’s Republic of China and postrevolutionary Russia, where, in 1918, the poet Vladimir

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  • Stranger Things

    I REMEMBER READING, probably on an IMDb trivia page, a quote about the smash-hit romantic comedy Meet the Parents (2000) from its director, Jay Roach: “I saw [the film] as an anxiety dream.” This is probably not how Ben Stiller’s feud with grouchy paterfamilias Robert De Niro is recalled in the popular imagination, any jitters smothered by fond memories of jokes about Puff the Magic Dragon, the name Gaylord, and the immortal eeriness of Owen Wilson in a wooly sweater. But revisit the movie with anxiety on the brain and it unfolds as a Kafkaesque hellscape of doomed interactions and metastatic

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  • Air America

    THE SAN FRANCISCO–BASED media collective Top Value Television (TVTV) was a bunch of “braless, blue-jeaned video freaks,” per Newsweek, who did what other news outlets didn’t. By producing several iconoclastic documentaries on politics and culture in the 1970s, they spearheaded a global movement of independent video, broadcasting the first tapes of this kind across US networks. They belonged to a critical group of video guerrillas, championing citizen journalism through cutting-edge consumer tech: the Sony Portapak, which was groundbreaking in those years for its “lightweight” twenty-five-pound

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  • Electric Dreams

    WHEN MICHAEL ALMEREYDA was about sixteen, he often visited the much older comic-book artist Alex Toth, who lived in Hollywood, chain-smoked, and talked endlessly about Nikola Tesla, visionary inventor of the mechanism that, 135 years later, still harnesses and distributes alternating current. Our illuminated world is the world that Tesla brought into being just before the dawn of the twentieth century. You might presume that the credit should go to Thomas Alva Edison, but you would be wrong. In 1980, Almereyda dropped out of Harvard to finish a screenplay about Tesla that was then optioned as

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  • Plot Twist

    A REVELATORY INVESTIGATIVE DOCUMENTARY that is dense with detail and yet drives like a thriller, Taghi Amirani’s Coup 53 tells the story of how Mohammad Mosaddegh, Iran’s only democratically elected Prime Minister, was driven from office and replaced by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who would rule as an absolute monarch until he was sent packing by the Islamic revolution of 1979. Since this is a story about Iran, it is also about the CIA and “Big Oil.” But the largely new wrinkle that Amirani’s film uncovers is the role that the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) played in maintaining what

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  • No Expectations

    IN AN EARLY SCENE in The Burnt Orange Heresy, Elizabeth Debicki and Claes Bang are sharing a postcoital cigarette, their chemistry as smoldering as its cherry tip. He is James Figueras, an ambitious and self-centered art critic whose face, at fifty-something, has the lived-in patina of a fine bronze worn down by bad weather; she is Berenice Hollis, a young, blonde American with a Modigliani build and the affectless, steely manner of an old-school femme fatale. The two have just met, and fucked, and they are talking about what might happen next in their affair: “A week from now, I’ll be planning

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  • Pox Populi

    BEFORE THE UPRISING, almost all acts had the suffix “during the pandemic” fastened to them: reading groups or online exhibitions during the pandemic, virtual political assemblies during the pandemic, cooking new recipes . . . during the pandemic. Before the initially insurgent revolt against a racist police apparatus—led by Black people, by decentralized formations, by a youth vanguard now in the process of being co-opted by a liberal not-for-profit machine—the Covid-19 pandemic was already understood by many to be the product not only of a virus but of a racialized capitalism that privatizes

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  • Abyss Ahead

    THE FEARLESS CHINESE DOCUMENTARIAN Hu Jie’s Spark is a group portrait of a small circle of dissidents who, in 1960, put out a clandestine publication by the same name. (Icarus is releasing the film on DVD paired with 2019’s The Observer, a useful but rather too brief documentary about Hu.) They were mostly students and academics who had been banished to the hinterlands during the Anti-Rightist campaign of 1956–57 for deviating from the Communist Party doctrine. Disillusioned patriotism is a truer description: They wanted the Chinese revolution to live up to its proclaimed ideals and become

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  • God Child

    IN THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE of Ramy’s first season, the eponymous Egyptian American protagonist finds himself at a party in Cairo. Everyone is doing coke and listening to house music. Ramy would rather be at a mosque. He’s in Egypt on a spiritual quest: He wants to feel closer to God, “eat authentic shit,” and “get clarity.” He’s an eager diaspora kid, the kind who talks to everyone in Arabic even though they all speak perfect English (“My English is premium; I went to AUC: American University in Cairo, baby,” his cousin Shadi retorts), wants to visit all the “cool mosques,” and is thrilled to

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  • Apocalypse Vow

    IN DA 5 BLOODS, history repeats itself not as farce but as tragedy compounded. Financed by and now streaming on Netflix, this fiercely intelligent and emotionally go-for-broke Spike Lee joint overwhelmed my small screen and me as well. Colliding hearts and minds, it arrives as a much-needed exorcism, but I suspect that, like Lee’s most urgent movies—Do the Right Thing (1989), Malcolm X (1992), 25th Hour (2002), BlacKkKlansman (2018), the anomalously tender Crooklyn (1994), the documentaries 4 Little Girls (1997) and When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006), and whichever you might

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  • Bonded Debt

    “I WANT HOT PINK GLITTER IN MY ASHES,” a redheaded, middle-aged woman quips, triggering nervous, scandalized laughter in a scene that evokes cinema verité as much as a home movie. Around a Thanksgiving table in Mississippi, gallows humor is a family affair, animated by tongue-in-cheek speculations about dismemberment, double indemnity, and itemized funeral budgets. At this point in Shared Resources, a feature-length work in progress by Jordan Lord, we know that Albert Lord (the filmmaker’s father, a graying man who observes this conversation with jaded reserve) is a former debt collector, or

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