COLUMNS

  • 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 then fucked, and they are talking about what might happen next in their affair: “A week from now, I’ll be

    Read more
  • Pox Populi

    BEFORE THE UPRISING, almost all acts had the suffix “during the pandemic” fastened onto 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 coopted 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

    Read more
  • 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 of that 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 or academics who had been banished to the hinterlands during the “Anti-Rightist” campaign of 1956–57 for deviating from Communist Party doctrine. Disillusioned patriotism is a truer description: They wanted the Chinese revolution to live up to its proclaimed ideals and become genuinely

    Read more
  • 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

    Read more
  • 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

    Read more
  • 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

    Read more
  • Ready, Willem and Abel

    THERE IS A CERTAIN SPECIES of fecund artist from whom work seems to flow in abundance, like a natural byproduct of their existence. In literature there are the Simenons and Honoré de Balzacs; in pop music, the Chief Keefs and Mark E. Smiths. Various popular cinemas through the years have supported such prolificity—think ’30s Hollywood or ’80s Hong Kong—though as the mechanisms of production became more onerous in America, it became the provenance of independents and experimental filmmakers, from Stan Brakhage to Kevin Jerome Everson. In the latter-day commercial cinema, a business of house-of-cards

    Read more
  • À La Modal

    THE EDDY, a sensational eight-episode Netflix miniseries, is named for a jazz club in Paris’s thirteenth arrondissement, home to a polyglot sextet led by American ex-pat Elliot Udo (André Holland). On good nights, the music induces euphoria in the club’s devoted audience, and perhaps you as well. (Wear good headphones and turn up the sound.) There are also nights when nothing lands, and, even worse, when the dive’s owners, Elliot and his best friend Farid (Tahar Rahim), are terrorized by henchmen for a Serbian mob boss. The Eddy is a jazz musical with a thriller edge, and it’s also a dense

    Read more
  • Isolation Tank

    IN CONFINEMENT, the captive mind cycles like a broken karaoke machine. Little Caesar’s last words bleed out over vintage Doors: “Mother of mercy, is this the end?” Is this perilous moment the inevitable fulfillment of our dystopian fantasies, nihilist reveries, catastrophist theories, jaundiced forecasts, and intellectual doomsday-prepping? Oh, mama, has the Groundhog Day of reckoning come round at last—only with charnel nursing homes and fatal equipment shortages in place of SFX hordes and burning cities?

    But let’s not get ahead of our civilizational demise. Instead of doubling down on rote

    Read more
  • Good Measure

    PLEASE BELIEVE THESE DAYS WILL PASS. Amid a massive collective reckoning with sickness and death, these words are emblazoned on billboards across ten UK cities, oblivious to anger and grief. Carolyn Lazard’s work offers a markedly different perspective on temporality, putting store in indeterminacy. How will disparate feelings around what could have been, and what is now, affect what happens in the future? The Philadelphia-based artist’s first UK solo show, “Safe Space,” originally scheduled to open on April 2 at Cell Project Space in London, is indefinitely postponed. An April screening of

    Read more
  • KILL OR CURE

    IF YOU EVER GET SICK IN ROMANIA, hightail it to Vienna. That was my immediate takeaway, near the end of January—almost to the day that the first Covid-19 case was diagnosed in the United States—from Alexander Nanau’s Collective (2019), a chilling investigative documentary about the endemic, engulfing corruption inside Romania’s health system. Anyone who has seen Cristi Puiu’s true-story-based narrative The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005)—a foundational title of the New Romanian Cinema that follows a dying old man as he’s rejected by hospital after hospital—has already gotten an eyeful of what

    Read more
  • THE LONG GOODBYE

    A MESMERIZING, two-hour assemblage fashioned from archival material intended for The Great Farewell, a never-released feature documenting the March 1953 funeral of Soviet maximum leader Joseph Stalin, Sergei Loznitsa’s State Funeral is both awesome and stupefying, conjuring the spectacle of a dead pharaoh laid to rest in a celluloid pyramid of his own design.

    In making The Great Farewell, the filmmakers had access to film stock captured in Germany during World War II. Thus, the first thing that strikes the viewer of Loznitsa’s artful, dispassionately titled re-hallucination may be the glorious

    Read more