Film

  • All Work And No Play

    IF THERE IS A SINGLE, OVERRIDING THEME in Tony Zierra’s Filmworker (2017), it is that the life of Leon Vitali, the subject of this documentary, has been more or less divided between the twenty odd years before he met Stanley Kubrick and the nearly fifty years since. Every talking head in the film, including Vitali’s, testifies to this fact, so much so that it makes us question the reality of every aspect of the man’s life that is not related to Kubrick. Late in the doc, for example, we hear Vitali’s children voicing not very happy memories about their father’s psychological (when not physical)

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  • Driver’s Seat

    PERHAPS A LAST LOOK at downtown New York’s inspired and inspiring, anarchic, penniless 1970s art scene, before attention shifted to the capitalist, power-shouldered 1980s, Sara Driver’s Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat (2017) is an archival treasure trove. It is also an illuminating if narrowly cast portrait of the formative period in the twenty-seven-year life of an artist who absorbed and synthesized a visionary moment uptown and downtown to produce some of the most complicated and thrilling paintings of the second half of the twentieth century. Driver begins her

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  • Code Red

    “YES, SHE POISONED A WHOLE TOWN, BUT . . . ,” a friend texts me after watching the recently released Netflix documentary series Wild Wild Country (2018), and it is a popular response to Ma Anand Sheela, the true heroine of the show. The six-episode film presents an extraordinary amount of footage from the four years of Rajneeshpuram, a sixty-three-thousand-acre ranch in Wasco County, Oregon, established in 1981. The five thousand people who lived at Rajneeshpuram wanted to be with their Bhagwan (the Hindi word for “God”), Rajneesh, who is better known by the name Osho. The Rajneeshees flipped

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  • A THIN LINE

    ONE OF THE PRESENTING symptoms of my Shelley Duvall fandom is amateur numerology. The actress, among the most totemic and inimitable performers of the New American Cinema, was born on the seventh day of the seventh month of 1949. She made seven films with Robert Altman, the director with whom she remains the most closely affiliated. The greatest of their collaborations, 3 Women, was released in 1977.

    I focus on the dominance of seven in Duvall’s life and profession only to confirm what I already believe about occult signifiers: They mean nothing. Despite the lucky number, a hazy sense of

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  • Seeds of Change

    ONE DOESN’T NEED to go far to find a meaningful connection between art and serious farming, especially when the art in question is driven by political urgency. The example of John Berger, the poet, critic, and painter who lived half his life on a remote working farm in rural France, is close enough. For the past ten years, the Palestinian artist Jumana Manna has been making dazzling films and quizzical objects about the historical strata and lived experience of cities, namely Jerusalem. Her works draw upon many sources and experiment with many genres, but virtually all of them are urban—with

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  • People, They Ain’t No Good

    ALAN RUDOLPH IS AN URBAN FILMMAKER, particularly if not exclusively so. It is telling that the title of his first major movie, Welcome to LA (1976), reads like a sign you encountered on the way into town. His camera moves like a flaneur’s readily distracted eye, and Rudolph loves the opportunities that a city affords for lives to intersect, cross, and recross while heading along their individual orbits.

    As any cityscape is the sum total of the layers of years past, so too are Rudolph’s films, the better part of which can be seen in a twenty-one-film retrospective at the Quad. Rudolph began his

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  • Bad Boyfriends

    IF YOU’VE HEARD ANYTHING about Let the Sunshine In (2017), it is probably that Claire Denis’s new film is a romantic comedy, and that it is inspired by Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, a hyper-referential 1977 book that theorizes the language of love. So why reiterate this? Out of protest. Neither statement provides any real insight into this seductive and subtle film, but both figure as symptoms of the problem that a movie like this—which is to say, one about a mature woman’s sexuality, desire, and happiness—poses for a critical establishment that continues to have firm if

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  • Get Real

    LAUNCHED BY THE FRENCH FILMMAKER AND ANTHROPOLOGIST JEAN ROUCH with Jean-Michel Arnold in 1978, and hosted by the Centre Pompidou for the past four decades, “Cinéma du Réel” is an ideal vantage point from which to survey the landscape of contemporary documentary. Even amid the intensified skepticism about audiovisual media’s relationship to the real, and the proliferation of what is defined as “documentary,” this showcase for nonfiction film—broadly conceived—sustains the form’s disciplinary roots in ethnography and sociology even as it explores its outer limits in experimental film

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  • Hiding in Plain Sight

    “THE FEMINIST MOVEMENT WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN MY LIFE,” says Ursula Reuter Christiansen in a new interview that’s included in an exhibition at the National Gallery of Denmark, in Copenhagen. The show revolves around her cult classic short film Skarpretteren (The Executioner), 1971, and features related artworks, along with production and archival material. Reuter Christiansen began studying under Joseph Beuys at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1965, and then left her native Germany in 1970 for a farmhouse on a small Danish island with her husband, the composer Henning Christiansen. “It

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  • KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES

    TIME IS A METRIC for B-listers, the epigones, the basic. It is not for Grace Beverly Jones. “I’m often asked how old I am—the world likes to know a person’s age for some reason, as if that number explains everything. I don’t care at all. I like to keep the mystery,” the singer-actress-model-supernova declares in her 2015 auto-biography, I’ll Never Write My Memoirs. (The title repurposes the first line of “Art Groupie,” a track on her 1981 album, Nightclubbing.) For GBJ, age is nothing but a number—as in a numeral and an anesthetizing bit of irrelevant data. And time is but a hollow,

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  • OF TWO MINDS

    THE FIRST BUT PERHAPS NOT THE LAST Steven Soderbergh movie to get a theatrical release in 2018 is Unsane, which was shot on the iPhone 7 Plus with 4K capture and, of course, a kit of add-on lenses and stabilizers, with probably half the $1.2 million budget going to image-enhancing postproduction. As a result, the movie’s initial twenty minutes look exciting—like nothing you’ve quite seen before, certainly not like Sean Baker’s jittery, neon-hued, made-with-love-and-very-few-dollars iPhone 5s Tangerine (2015). By comparison, the nearly subliminal instability, slightly heightened color, and

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  • Between You and Me

    A WOMAN LISTENS TO A PLAINTIVE, MEANDERING KEYBOARD BALLAD performed by a musician, with whom she’s having an affair, for an audience of her alone. Tears run freely down her cheeks as the camera almost seems to move to caress her face and comfort her, the scene running the full four minutes of the song. An amped-up white longhair buttonholes an incredulous black restaurant manager and self-professed Reagan voter at a party and proceeds to harangue him for trying to join the oppressing class. At a civil and quiet memorial gathering, the angry and unreconciled daughter of the deceased lashes out

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