COLUMNS

  • Dance Dance Revelation

    I TRAVELED TO SEE Jeremy Shaw’s Phase Shifting Index, 2020, at the Frankfurter Kunstverein after I’d had my “mind blown”—I keep describing it that way—by his Quantification Trilogy, 2014–18, currently on view at the Julia Stoschek Collection in Berlin, where Shaw is based. For nearly two decades, the Vancouver-born artist has made work that very much sets out to blow your mind while also thematizing mind-blowing as such. His 2004 video DMT shows close-ups of people’s faces as they come up on the psychedelic drug and try to describe what it feels like. This Transition Will Never End, 2008–, also

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  • Byrne Medicine

    IS AMERICAN UTOPIA A STATE OF MIND or a state of obliviousness? A bohemian house party transplanted to Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood or a cunningly intellectualized, Dadaist turned soccer dad musical of It’s a Wonderful Life? This concert film collaboration between the singer-conceptualist David Byrne and the director Spike Lee is “of the moment” but feels either brazenly or haplessly out of sync with actual America. In the lifetime between the show’s Broadway run back in late 2019–early 2020 and this doom-struck October, social uplift wrapped in musical euphoria has become suspect. “Precarity” having

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  • Critical Distance

    FOR CINEPHILES, CRITICS, AND INDUSTRY FOLK, the end of summer is announced by three overlapping North American film festivals: Telluride, Toronto (TIFF), and New York (NYFF). I usually make do with the last, although this year I had committed to going to TIFF before it became clear that “going” meant watching links in my own apartment—the same links that were shown to the paying public. There’s something to be said for not having to dash from theater to theater every day, for being able to turn off an indifferently received movie and queue up the next without even breaking for coffee. Yes, the

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  • TIME IS THE BEST AUTHOR

    NEARLY THIRTY YEARS of filming the same face, the same body: The old chestnut that “every fiction film is a documentary of its actors” takes on special meaning in the many works Tsai Ming-liang has made with Lee Kang-sheng since first chancing on him outside a Taipei arcade in 1991. “Without this face, I don’t want to make films anymore,” Tsai said eighteen years later. Is a greater declaration of love possible? Lee has appeared in nearly every one of the Malaysian director’s projects since their meeting, whether these were destined for television, cinema, the gallery, or VR. Although Tsai’s

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  • Current Affairs

    UNDETERRED BY THE PRESENT HEALTH CRISIS, the Fifty-Eighth New York Film Festival will premiere its annual selection 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. Comprising 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 such as the People’s Republic of China and postrevolutionary Russia, where, in 1918, the poet

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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, the 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

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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 Iranian 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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