COLUMNS

  • PRACTICAL MAGIC

    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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  • Hot Wheels

    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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  • Cats and Dogs

    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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  • Social Studies

    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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  • Grand Illusion

    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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  • Prodigal Son

    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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  • ALCHEMICAL ROMANCE

    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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  • Modern Times

    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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  • Space Oddity

    AN ANDROID NAMED FRIENDSHIP is sent to Earth on a peace mission from the faraway galaxy of Procyon, but something goes wrong upon atmospheric entry: Instead of landing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she finds herself in Jordan during Black September, the 1970 military conflict between the Jordanian army and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) that followed in the wake of Israel’s mass Palestinian depopulations of 1967. Stranded in Amman, the android, designed by computers to arrive with a “fully axiomatized system of ethics” and a penchant for Charlie Parker, is captured

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  • Burn This Way

    AMID CREPITANT FLAMES and crying gulls, Pablo Larraín’s Ema begins with the same musical device that opened his previous film, Jackie (2016): a glissando, that quivering freefall between two notes ferried by string, synth, or breath. The sound of surrender to momentum, the sliding frequencies of a swoon. Jackie’s blooming glissandi laid a shortcut to intrigue where there was otherwise little, but with composer Nicolás Jaar, Larraín has found a way to spin that sonic texture into the core of his new film. Ema is about many things—a couple’s failed adoption, the special vitriol reserved for

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  • High Stakes

    “I WAS A VERY STRANGE CHILD. Everything had to be very beautiful.” In a 1974 interview with Impressions Magazine, the multihyphenate maverick Bill Gunn traced his aesthetic sensibilities to his precocious early years. A quiet only child who grew up in Philadelphia mostly around adults and with parents who both had artistic backgrounds, Gunn was fascinated by storytelling and uninterested in still photography and sought a physiognomic proximity that the theater could not deliver. The cinema, a space of collective solitude and close-ups, was an ideal fit. He called it his babysitter.  

    Gunn, who

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  • Test Drives

    JUST AS, FOR MANY, the pandemic’s repercussions on the movie industry weren’t fully accepted as fact until the Cannes Film Festival canceled their 2020 edition, so too were international film events in physical space not considered a reality until director Thierry Frémaux announced the festival’s return earlier this year. And return it did, belatedly and somehow bigger than ever, with new dates (July instead of the customary May), a new section (Cannes Premiere), new health protocols (mandatory Covid tests every forty-eight hours for non-Europeans), and a handful of films (most notably Wes

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