COLUMNS

  • Film

    Stage Coach

    Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s dramas of disconnection

    IN THEIR EARLY DAYS, films weren’t as concerned with the realistic elaboration of action as with the various devices writers, directors, cinematographers, and production artists used to convey ideas and emotion through moving images. Theatricality—what Roland Barthes called a “sensuous artifice”—was at the basis of these movies, tasked not with recreating verité on screen but with artfully construing the psyche. Shadows and bursts of light, recurring objects, long takes, static camerawork, expressive acting, and striking (though not necessarily beautiful) faces seared images into a viewer’s

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  • Film

    Dog Eat Dog

    Jane Campion makes a western

    “FOR WHAT KIND OF MAN would I be if I didn’t help my mother, if I didn’t save her?” Jane Campion’s unsparing The Power of the Dog opens with this question, spoken in voice-over by teenaged Peter Gordon (Kodi Smit-McPhee), one in the film’s principal-character quartet. Something in the words and the timbre of Peter’s voice instantly called up a memory of Psycho’s Norman Bates and his affectless “A boy’s best friend is his mother,” an association confirmed by the first sight of Codi—tall and skinny, with gestures that are blatantly femme, or in the lingo of the times (1925), a Nancy boy. But if

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  • Film

    Take Two

    Blair McClendon on Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir Part II (2021)

    EXORCISMS ARE NOT EASY. A haunting is a spider’s web, a palm across the throat, embers threatening to light again. All of these are better comfort than the world as it is, wracked with absences which go increasingly unremarked upon. There are many ways to finish the phrase “grief is,” but the issue for the bereaved is that grief consumes. The dead remain dead and in their wake there is this thing which devours, doubles back, and devours again even when there is little left to scavenge. This is a dreary state of affairs. The art of grief, when it’s bad, can give into wallowing. Over the course

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  • Film

    American Hustle

    Nick Pinkerton on Wendell B. Harris Jr.’s Chameleon Street (1990)

    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

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  • Film

    PRACTICAL MAGIC

    J. Hoberman on Neelon Crawford

    NEELON CRAWFORD’S FILMS are at once deeply unfashionable and exactly on time. In making his old-school 16-mm productions in the days of cinepoetry, mostly with a Bolex, his principal concerns were light, movement, and texture, often in the natural world. Crawford’s first film, Freakquently, 1968, is pretty much the sort of movie you’d expect a twenty-two-year-old guy impressed by Bruce Conner and living on the outskirts of Haight-Ashbury to make—a try-anything Kodachrome sound-image collage replete with trippy effects, snatches of Jimi Hendrix, and a nude dancer gyrating in a mirrored cube of

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  • Film

    Hot Wheels

    Beatrice Loayza on Julia Ducournau’s Titane (2021)

    IF YOU’VE HEARD ANYTHING about Titane, it probably involves someone getting fucked by a car. Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or winner—a mishmash of grindhouse tropes doused in that transgression-conferring, liquid neon color palette du jour known as “bisexual lighting”—is an onslaught of sensationalist imagery and discordant textures: oil-slicked flesh gliding over strips of metal in the opening titles, a lock of hair snatched out of a nipple ring, a woman’s head resting on a man’s bare chest still oozing from a third-degree burn. Behold an incessant smashing of dichotomies—the hard and the soft,

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  • Film

    Cats and Dogs

    Amy Taubin on the New York and Toronto film festivals

    EVEN WITH the New York Film Festival kicking off tonight with Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, I thought I had had enough of festivals, at least until 2022. Wild horses could not have dragged me to see Frances McDormand, whose every performance is more forced than the last, assay Lady M, although I would have liked to see Denzel Washington’s interpretation of the character whose name must not be spoken except within a performance of “the Scottish play.” (Were you under the impression that the “don’t speak his name” shit began with Voldemort?) And then, early yesterday morning, I went to a

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  • Film

    Social Studies

    Tony Pipolo on “Currents” at the 59th New York Film Festival

    WITH FIFTEEN FEATURES and eight programs of shorts, the second edition of the New York Film Festival’s “Currents” sidebar almost qualifies as a festival in itself. Again international in scope, this year’s selections reflect the ongoing impact of social media, not only in terms of how it has altered the speed and perspective by which global events are registered, but in how it suggests a possible new direction for cinema; this seems to be the point of Tiffany Sia’s Do Not Circulate. In reworking cellphone images of the violent police response to protests in Hong Kong in 2019, Sia’s work seeks

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  • Film

    Grand Illusion

    Nicolas Rapold on the 78th Venice Film Festival

    PEDRO ALMODÓVAR’S PARALLEL MOTHERS was the official opening night film of the 78th Venice International Film Festival, but through a twist of scheduling, mine was the less-trumpeted Atlantide. The new feature from gallery artist and filmmaker Yuri Ancarani was a playful overture, a coming-of-age portrait of teenagers and their fast boats on the lagoons and waterways of another Venice not mobbed by tourists. Reframing the games of status and speed from Ancarani’s luxe mirage The Challenge (with an assist from some re-creation), Atlantide has everything: drag racing, hot pursuit by police, boat

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  • Film

    Prodigal Son

    Domenick Ammirati on Cheryl Dunn’s Moments Like These Never Last (2021)

    FOR THE UNINITIATED: Dash Snow was a New York City street kid, graffiti writer, and artist who died at in 2009 age twenty-seven of a heroin overdose, leaving behind an infant daughter, a partner, and many grieving friends. These are facts. He left behind little in the way of art-historical significance. This is an opinion, though one with which most presumptive experts agree. I mention this only to clarify the stakes of a new documentary about Snow. Moments Like These Never Last is a movie about a debatably compelling personality whose arc pierced an art world enthralled by youth, glamour, and

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  • Film

    ALCHEMICAL ROMANCE

    Ara Osterweil on Daïchi Saïto’s earthearthearth

    WE BEGIN IN THE BLACK, as the film exhales. Slowly, a jagged horizon appears against the darkly glowing empyrean. It flickers out, then returns. Another ragged lip of earth teethes a lambent sky: an awakening. Shot on 16 mm in 2015 in the Atacama Desert spanning the border between Chile and Argentina, and later blown up to a magisterial 35 mm, Daïchi Saïto’s thirty-minute experimental film earthearthearth (2021) is an optical acid trip in which the boundaries between terra firma and yawning firmament dissolve in a hallucinatory explosion of color and light.

    Like Ronald Johnson’s ARK (1996), the

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  • Film

    Modern Times

    Ratik Asokan on three Indian labor documentaries

    WHEN THE FIRST PANDEMIC WAVE swept through India last year, television stations briefly turned their attention from the elite’s fever dreams of jingoism and celebrity to the nightmarish condition of the working poor. It wasn’t so much the virus as the government response. Days after Prime Minster Narendra Modi declared a lockdown on March 24, there was a vast exodus of workers, who fled cities for their villages, largely on foot. More than 130 million lost their jobs overnight; wages had been so low and protections so scarce that they lacked even a few days’ savings. “The images of this restive

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