Screen Time

09.01.17

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 13.


OVER THE LATEST HOURS of Twin Peaks: The Return, two timelines emerge, one stronger, one fainter, like lines on a pregnancy test. (If my husband is reading this: I’m not pregnant.) Old Dougie Jones (Kyle MacLachlan) comes off a bender with the Mitchum Brothers (James Belushi and Robert Knepper) and the bunny-type girls (Amy Shiels, Giselle DaMier, and Andrea Leal) and swerves into the Lucky 777 Insurance office, horrisonous music, a marching song for manic-depressive clowns, playing behind him. Anthony Sinclair (Tom Sizemore), a double agent at the company, calls his other, criminal boss, Mr. Todd, to say that the latest attempt on Dougie’s life has failed. Mr. Todd (Patrick Fischler) says Sinclair has one day to finish the job. The clock ticks.

After work, around 6 PM by the light on the stucco, the cops at the Las Vegas Police Department continue to bungle the case involving Dougie Jones and Sinclair buys cyanide from a crooked detective (John Savage). Night falls on Sonny Jim carousing around his new gym set, courtesy of the Mitchum Brothers. In the driveway there is a brand-new convertible, ditto. Theme from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake plays, like in I’ve wondered whether this bright, jangly story was lagging a little behind the dark one, whether Dougie does not really coexist with Agent Dale Cooper, so that eventually we find that his timeline ended when Mr. C’s began, and are left, willing or not, with that bad Coop. The car, a BMW M3 convertible in alpine white, dates to 2014 and the scene was filmed in 2016, and presumably it was just the most recent car available, but if this were happening two years before the rest of the show, or if time were zigzagging, it would not be a shocker. (Lynch’s will, at its most self-serving, makes a world where a mere vicissitude of production can seem like a gotcha, any hole in the plot suggestive of a void.)

Two years was how long a certain agent with the Bureau had to be off in Argentina before being hailed, in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), as “the long-lost Phillip Jeffries.” Jeffries (David Bowie) appears in Agent Gordon Cole’s (David Lynch) dream in episode fourteen of The Return, in an alternate, black-and-white version of that scene, asking Albert (Miguel Ferrer) “who do you think that is there” instead of “who do you think this is there,” referring to Cooper, a change making the sentence more grammatical but also vicissitudinous, signaling that Cooper is further away than he seems (as that is habitually further away than this). He seems unsure whether it has really been two years. His accent belongs to a Confederate soldier who defected and joined up with Australian pirates. “We live inside a dream,” he tells Albert, who in the present, getting the replay from Gordon, says he’s beginning to remember (as if the original scene were not really a memory, but a dream he’d shared). Also in Gordon’s dream, making it a wet one, is Monica Bellucci (Monica Bellucci), who shows him his old self and repeats “ancient phrases,” among them saying: “We are like the dreamer.”

The next morning Janey-E (Naomi Watts) drives Dougie to work in the new car, and says, kissing him, “It’s like all our dreams are coming true.” (Emphasis: like.) Dougie, over coffee and pie with his would-be poisoner, foils the plot by giving him a silent, firm massage, a gesture that would be alien to Dougie and, if witting, is clever and evidences the remaining nature of Coop. After dinner at home, he eats cake and sees Sunset Boulevard on cable, and, hearing the name of that minor character for whom Gordon Cole is named, has a thought—a whole one—and crawls across the staticky carpet to stick his fork in a socket. The lights go white. Time’s up. No one’s heard from Sinclair. Chantal (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in Louboutins assassinates Mr. Todd, who was himself operating under long-distance control, presumably by Jeffries, and tells Hutch (Tim Roth) on the phone to order French fries. When we see them driving out of town it’s like 10 PM.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 14. Naido and Andy (Nae and Dana Ashbrook).


So far, easy. The scenes are not all linearly shown, but the times line up in Vegas and in South Dakota, and in Twin Peaks. While Sinclair confesses his sins to Dougie and to his legitimate boss, Deputies Hawk (Michael Horse), Andy (Harry Goaz), and Bobby (Dana Ashbrook) go to the place Bobby knows from his dad’s coded message, and at 2:53 in the afternoon, the vortexing hour, each are transported to another place while Naido (Nae), the blinded visage from that other place, lies on the ground. They take her to jail to be safe, a joke if I’ve ever heard one. Next morning, Gordon calls Sheriff Frank Truman to gather up more missing pieces in the Blue Rose case, and Nadine (Wendy Robie) walks miles from home to tell her pure, good husband Ed (Everett McGill) that he’s free to be with his true love, Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton). “How beautiful is this?” she says. Kierkegaardian, really, to find beauty nowhere but in ethics, to resolve a triangle in the symmetry of goodness returned. When Ed goes to the Double R, Norma’s busy with her franchise-happy boyfriend. “Cup of coffee,” he tells Shelly (Mädchen Amick). “And a cyanide pill,” he says to himself, while at the same time—although we saw it an hour ago—the foiled poisoner is flushing coffee for Dougie down the toilet. Ed’s line is a punchline and a pin in time.

Why are the pieces so cohering? For the same reason a magician takes care to explain, step by step, what he is going to do. When you think you know the steps, the sleight of hand becomes a greater surprise. Lynch is always reminding us that we’re supposed to be watching television, calling sudden attention to screens, glass—the gel-blue windshield of a car, the man squeakily cleaning the window outside Gordon Cole’s office, and in the very first episode, the glass box containing the dread apparition. When, in part nine, the coroner at the morgue in South Dakota, played with cool acidity by the comedian Jane Adams, relays the events of the previous two days or four episodes, Albert asks drily, “What happens in season two?” When Andy meets the Giant, the Giant unreels before his eyes a montage that might as well begin with Lynch saying, previously on Twin Peaks: The Return, and the Brechtian word for the montage would be Fabel, defined in John J. White’s book on Brecht as “a matter of a play’s parabolic potential, and of plot understood as an aggregate of significant details,” which we could sub for “perfect images” if a Godardian sense is desired.

He and Frost, also reflexively, write arcs that call to the superfan’s conspiratorial instinct. Many guessed, well before the May 21 premiere, that Laura Dern would be playing Diane Evans, Agent Cooper’s former secretary. Even I guessed that Richard Horne (Eamon Farren) would be Audrey Horne’s (Sherilyn Fenn) son, as Richard tells Mr. C when the two meet at odds; and the bad Cooper, with his black, metallic voice, his all-black leather, makes us think of Darth Vader so we know Mr. C is the dad. Excited to get what we wanted, even if all we wanted was to be right, it’s easy to be unprepared for the greater excitation, not the whodunit, not even the whydunit, but how it’s done. The delay, the sickening reverb, in that inevitable union of Ed and Norma, set to a live rendition of Otis Redding’s “These Arms of Mine” that you’d never have guessed could get more awesome. The tension in an arm-wrestling match we know Mr. C, with his supernatural right arm, and his opponent unaware of it, can’t lose, yet watch intently as if we’re paying per view. The Log Lady has been dying the whole time, and Catherine E. Coulson, her embodiment, died soon after filming her scenes, but when she phones Hawk and says her log is turning gold, goodbye, it feels unacceptable. These forced cessations of breath and urges to disbelieve, not the chintzy special effects that make Twin Peaks at times look like a student film, or worse, an art student’s film, are cinema magic. Embarrassingly, for me, these sleights inculcate “magical thinking.” Maybe, I think, I should accept the failure to return of actual, known Cooper, get used to the idea that there will only be Dougie then Mr. C, that this world doesn’t deserve such a special agent, and then—voila, he’ll come, the way my period comes when I wear white jeans.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 15. Nadine (Wendy Robie).


At night time starts bending like a spoon. Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie), drinking at home after her break with reality in the grocery store, watches a boxing match on loop. A boxer comes from behind, lands a punch, and “now it’s a boxing match again,” we hear like ten times. Maybe she can’t sleep and changes out of her robe and goes after midnight to the bar, as we see her do in part fourteen, or maybe it’s the next night she goes to the bar, at a more normal, evening hour. I suppose it could also be the night after next; she could be sleepwalking. At the roadhouse, in parts fourteen and fifteen, we see a master of ceremonies (J. R. Starr, the only black man in the house) announcing the acts where before there was no emcee, suggesting it’s all the same night, but if the time in Twin Peaks is the same as in Vegas it should be two nights; plus, the crowd on the floor changes almost entirely and so do the people in the booths, or they’re playing musical chairs. James (James Marshall) and his randomly English coworker, Freddie (Jake Wardle, a London kid who was heretofore known exclusively for doing different English accounts on YouTube, and here appears to be doing them all), talk about going in part fourteen and show up in part fifteen, making it seem like actually it is the same night. James says hi to his crush, Renee (Jessica Szohr), and, long and absurd story short, ends up in jail along with Naido, Deputy Chad Broxford (John Pirruccello), and a drunk who echoes Naido’s chitters, Chad’s expletives, eliciting more chitters, expletives, another loop that may as well be taped.

And Audrey is still arguing with her husband, Charlie (Clark Middleton), about whether to go to the Roadhouse. Having played out over four episodes now, in nearly contiguous scenes up to ten minutes long, the argument is occurring at about one-hundredths of the average speed of life elsewhere. Here’s where we get the wow and flutter of the show, words for its effect on your skin, words originally for the distortion produced by the wobbly of vinyl on a turntable or the dragging of tape in a cassette shell.

Audrey, beginning to be afraid: “I feel like I’m somewhere else, and somebody else […] I’m not sure who I am but I’m not me.”

Charlie: “This is Existentialism 101.” [That’s true.]

Audrey: “Oh fuck you, I’m serious.” [That’s funny.] “Who am I supposed to trust but myself? And I don’t even know who I am! So what the fuck am I supposed to do.”

Charlie: “You’re supposed to go to the Roadhouse and see if Billy is there.”

Audrey: “Is it far?”

Charlie: “Come on, Audrey, you know where it is. Are you going to stop playing games or do I have to end your story too?” [Trigger warning for anyone who unfortunately watched HBO’s Westworld.]

Audrey, terrified: “What story is that, Charlie? Is that the story of the little girl who lived down the lane? Is it?”

The 1976 adaptation of The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane stars a thirteen-year-old Jodie Foster as the titular kid, Rynn, and features, in a nude scene, her older sister as body double—something I bet thrilled Lynch. She has a magician boyfriend, Mario (Scott Jacoby). To her stalking neighbor, soon to become her newest poisonee, she says that her (actually dead) dad’s name (actually the name of her hamster) is Gordon. Coincidences? At the end, you’re left with the same question you had at the start: Jesus, how old is this girl?

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 13. Mr. C (Kyle MacLachlan).


A murder suspect under investigation by Gordon and Albert, decades ago, died of being shot in a hotel room and her body, before becoming the body, vanished. Her last words: “I’m like the blue rose.” Her shooter, in turn, hanged herself and did leave a body. The two murderesses were identical and not twins. What can this signify, asks Albert of Agent Tammy Preston (Chrysta Bell), who replies, in syllables like a mermaid’s first steps on land, that a blue rose isn’t natural and neither was the dying woman—because murder isn’t natural, or suicide? No, because the first dying, vanishing woman was, intuits Tammy: “Conjured. What’s the word. A tulpa.” A tulpa being, in different Buddhist mythologies, a body made not from bodies but from a mind; or from a hive of minds, a collective projection. And in Christian mythology, we’re all descended from one tulpa, the word made flesh, for what is a word if not a “thoughtform.”

Foucault, in The Order of Things, writes about the unity of thoughts that cannot be represented in sentences. To his mind’s eye, “the brightness is within the rose.” But a sentence with any logic is a set of “linear propositions” and in a line he “cannot avoid [the brightness] coming either before or after [the rose].” Language, at last, is “to thought and to signs what algebra is to geometry: it replaces the simultaneous comparison of parts (or magnitudes) with an order whose degrees must be traversed one after the other.” And we know how Audrey Horne used to feel about algebra. Lynch does not, however, accept these limits and is more logocentric, that is—speech takes precedence over writing, and, with the major exception of Laura’s Diary, text is left to signage and the pictorial. A reader sees the whole line at once, which is why her mind automatically fills in missing words and switches transposed ones; a listener doesn’t parse the sentence until she hears the end, unless the sentence is so cliché, idiomatic, or like her own thoughts that she can finish it, and so “blue” is anything until she hears “rose,” making the before or after irrelevant as far as meaning goes. The less predictable, undemotic, unnatural the speech, the more it begs repetition, the more unified its expression can be.

I’ve been rereading at night the stories of Laura (Riding) Jackson. One that makes me think even more about Lynch is “The Story-Pig,” wherein a totem in the shape of a porker tells stories to the guests of a hotel. A maid named Rose spends her days polishing the Story-Pig, who is silver or gold depending on the angle, and tries to make him brighter and brighter, but there is a limit to his brightness, and she sighs. At dusk she is transformed, with the help of her equally classed lover, Hans, and a pair of red slippers, into a Queen. Her subjects are “snobs by day, sentimentalists by night.”

Although the clock ticked round always to the same hour, things themselves were never the same again. [The citizens] only escaped because they were quite old, quite dead. They belonged to the Queen and had no illusions about tomorrow, when they were almost the same but never quite—except the Queen, and she only because she went not from a beginning to an end but from a beginning to a beginning.

They were dead, but they were also alive—exactly because they were dead, having beheld the true rose that is not a flower at all, and because who behold this “shall never die.”

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 15. Big Ed Hurley and Norma Jennings (Everett McGill and Peggy Lipton).


Who is the dreamer? You and I as the collective, singular viewer—we’re the dreamer, we’re the simplest answer. “We live inside a dream,” says Jeffries. All characters do live in boxes in a larger box. Lynch meditates transcendentally, goes deeper than meaning to find, I suppose, desires we’re left hoping are not his own. “We’re a nation of killers,” says Chantal to Hutch in the van, by way of shrugging off the day’s work. “We [white Americans] killed all the Indians, didn’t we?” Rynn to Mario, in The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane: “You Americans are a violent people.” Last week the actor who plays Mickey, a trailer-park resident, on The Return, was arrested in Spokane, Washington for beating his girlfriend nearly to death with a baseball bat. She’d declined to go to the store to get him a Kool-Aid before going to work at 420 Lingerie. I remembered David Foster Wallace on Charlie Rose, reprising his definition of Lynchian:

A regular domestic murder is not Lynchian. But if the man—if the police come to the scene and see the man standing over the body and the woman—let's see, the woman’s ’50s bouffant is undisturbed and the man and the cops have this conversation about the fact that the man killed the woman because she persistently refused to buy, say, for instance, Jif peanut butter rather than Skippy, and how very, very important that is, and if the cops found themselves somehow agreeing that there were major differences between the brands and that a wife who didn't recognize those differences was deficient in her wifely duties, that would be Lynchian—this weird—this weird confluence of very dark, surreal, violent stuff and absolute, almost Norman Rockwell, banal, American stuff.

Americans are born into a history of violent, systemic crime and the cover-up is usually banal, and these truths are also, by now, banal. Lynch and Frost wrote the show’s four-hundred-page script in a couple months and started production before it seemed plausible that Trump would win. Lynch as a prophet of the homeland is not a turn I predicted. Then again, any successful near-future prophecy is merely an accurate observation of the present, a palm reader reading the nerves, not the lines.

Sarah Nicole Prickett

Sarah Nicole Prickett’s previous recaps of Twin Peaks: The Return:

Episodes 1 & 2
Episodes 3 & 4
Episode 5
Episodes 6 & 7
Episode 8
Episodes 9 & 10
Episodes 11 & 12

Twin Peaks: The Return plays Sundays at 9 PM on Showtime.

Stanya Kahn, Stand in the Stream, 2017, HD video, color, sound.


STAND IN THE STREAM, the title of Stanya Kahn’s recent hour-length video, has taken on an extra layer of associations in the final two weeks of its exhibition at MoMA PS1. So has the opening image of a policeman in a heavy-duty military-like jacket and helmet standing, his back to the camera, on a beach next to some kind of motorized, perhaps amphibious vehicle. I think I’ve seen something like it on TV, ferrying stranded Texas flood victims to safety. Or maybe not.

Kahn lifted the title from a bit of dialogue in Bertolt Brecht’s Man Equals Man (1926), an early play about the dehumanizing effect of capitalism. In Kahn’s video the phrase becomes an injunction to action—to enter the stream of life where the personal and the political meet to form a secondary stream, that of images. Modestly, Kahn barely attempts to distinguish her video from the chaos of pictures streaming around her. Instead she incorporates them, so that half of Stand in the Stream is composed of recorded live-streams of footage from activists and other on-the-ground sources—largely political protests and street fighting—alternating with desperate and grotesque chat-room attempts at connection. The other half is home-movie footage—of friends and family, a birth and a death. The material, gathered between 2011 and 2016, is not arranged chronologically, but the entire work is dominated by the decline of Sandra Kahn, the artist’s mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, just as Sandra’s mother had years before. Kahn touches on four generations—her grandmother, her mother, herself, and her son—but it is Sandra’s bravery and self-awareness, even when she has lost the words with which to communicate her experience, that makes Stand in the Stream a particular and memorable work.

My favorite of Kahn’s videos is Sandra (2009), a portrait that weaves together two conversations between mother and daughter. In one, Sandra talks about being involved with a man who could have gotten her into more trouble with the law than her own political radicalism might have. In the other, she matter-of-factly details exactly how she wants her body to be handled after her death. Toward the end of Stand in the Stream, we see Stanya and others carrying out the burial rituals exactly as Sandra described them. I wish that the care Kahn lavished on these images had been applied elsewhere in the work.

Amy Taubin

Stand in the Stream is at MoMA PS1 through September 10.

Pointe Break

08.23.17

Valérie Müller and Angelin Preljocaj, Polina, 2016, HD video, color, sound 112 minutes.


THOUGH POLINA IS DESCRIBED AS A DANCE FILM, it is by no means typical of the genre. Like its titular protagonist, who rejects a career as a Bolshoi ballerina in search of something more vital to her life, the film does not follow the lead of its estimable predecessors. Unlike The Red Shoes (1948), it is not about a ballerina under the spell of a tyrannical impresario. Nor is it like the first episode of Vincente Minnelli’s The Story of Three Loves (1953), which echoes the same fatal attraction leading to the death of the heroine—played by the glorious Moira Shearer in both films. And though it may have something of the ambitious choreographer’s obsession of fusing dance with life that drives Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz (1979), that film too is more grandiose than the modest Polina. As directed by Valérie Müller and Angelin Preljocaj, Polina is ultimately an affecting yet unromantic love story in which Polina’s eventual triumph is really about integrating dance with her poor Russian background and her strong bonds with her father and her fatherly mentor, Bojinski.

The film takes a different path than the Bastien Vivès graphic novel on which it is based. We learn nothing of Polina’s home life in the graphic novel. Her mother appears as an abstract blur in the book’s first four gray frames, spouting advice as she drives her daughter to her first audition, about how she should behave, before signing off with an indifferent, “You’ll be great, Polina,” never (but once) to be heard from again. The film’s account of the father’s struggle to keep the family afloat while dealing with unsavory thugs trafficking in God knows what is nowhere hinted at in the novel, nor are Polina’s memories of hunting with her father, images that recur most movingly in the movie’s final scene.

The book is consumed with the contrasting dance worlds of Polina’s journey—from her rejection of the classical repertoire to her ventures around Europe, earning a living as a barmaid, and finally to her status as a celebrated choreographer. The film eschews this trajectory toward resounding success, deepening not only the flat graphics of the novel but its characterological dimension as well.

Thus, the bulk of the movie is dominated by Polina’s encounters with Bojinski and Parisian choreographer Liria Elsaj, while the final third traces how her seemingly directionless life unexpectedly leads to the blossoming of a newly discovered self. Cheered on by a group of experimental artists and their trainer, Polina improvises a fusion of ballet and natural movements that reveals her unique talent and creative bent.

Valérie Müller and Angelin Preljocaj, Polina, 2016, HD video, color, sound 112 minutes.


At the end, her search, while still ongoing, is poetically captured in the film’s only extended performance—choreographed by codirector Preljocaj. Beginning as a lovely pas de deux invigorated by aspects of modern dance, it is intercut with the fantasized image of an approving Bojinski, and then segues from an audition space to a stage set that re-creates—as a projection of her imagination?—the wintry woods associated with her father and her childhood, replete with the reappearance of a powerful but vulnerable stag. The potent, open-ended nature of this final scene is perfectly in sync with the life of its protagonist.

The film’s actors are utterly at home in the world of dance. If at first Aleksei Guskov’s Bojinski evokes the stereotypical demonic perfectionist—à la Anton Walbrook’s Boris in The Red Shoes—it is soon clear that he is closer to the strict but caring father figure whom Polina comes to love. Juliette Binoche is unnervingly convincing as the French mentor Elsaj, for whom dance is everything, and all about loss—an especially apt message that the young Polina absorbs only later.

Anastasia Shevtsova’s understated performance deftly suggests Polina’s reserve and interiority, rendering her search for an artistic path as much about character exploration as it is about the language of dance. Her love affairs with the two appealing young male leads, Adrien and Karl (Niels Schneider and Jérémie Bélingard), are as seamlessly integrated as they are in her life, highlighting an aspect of dance movies too often strained.

Widescreen cinematography is so commonplace today that the work of DP Georges Lechaptois might easily go unnoticed: It gets right both the dark vastness of Moscow’s spaces and the cluttered density of a Belgian bar, while lending the final dance piece a physical and poetic aura essential to its artistic and psychological impact.

Tony Pipolo

Polina opens in select theaters in New York on August 25 and Los Angeles on September 1.

Steven Soderbergh, Logan Lucky (2017), color, sound, 119 minutes. Clyde Logan and Jimmy Logan (Adam Driver and Channing Tatum).


LOGAN LUCKY, Steven Soderbergh’s return to theatrically distributed feature filmmaking after an announced retirement, is very far from the grand statement one might expect after a long period of withdrawal and seclusion. In point of fact, Soderbergh has never really disappeared from the scene, and he’s never been so precious in conducting his career to succumb to the eventizing ballyhoo that obsesses a Tarantino or a Nolan, and so he has kept working at something or another at a brisk clip.

His “comeback,” if we want to call it that, is a piece of candy-colored cracker-barrel Americana. It has a heist at its center, which relates it to his quite successful trio of Oceans films, but its setting is Appalachia—Boone County, West Virginia, and western North Carolina, specifically—and, in its interest in the details of lives lived paycheck to paycheck in regions of the country little-depicted in popular cinema, it is closer to something like Bubble (2005), shot in the Ohio River towns of Parkersburg, West Virginia, and Belpre, Ohio, or Magic Mike (2012), with its early scenes of men at work laying Spanish tile in West Central Florida.

Logan Lucky shares the latter film’s star, Channing Tatum, here playing Jimmy, a Boone County native who lost his shot at football stardom years ago when he blew out his knee, and who, when first encountered, is about to lose his job patching up sinkholes under the NASCAR Charlotte Motor Speedway. It’s in the immediate aftermath of this professional humiliation that Jimmy comes to his brother, Clyde (Adam Driver)—a bartender who’s learned to practice mixology with one hand after returning from his military service with a rubber mitt—with a plan to rob the Speedway in broad daylight. The undertaking is to be a family affair, with Jimmy and Clyde enlisting the services of their sister, Mellie (Riley Keough), a hairdresser and notorious speed-demon, and the three Bang brothers, each of whom brings a different liability—Fish and Sam (Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson) are not the sharpest crayons in the pack, while safe-cracker big brother Joe (Daniel Craig) will have to be sprung from prison, kept beyond its walls for the duration of the job, and returned undetected with an airtight alibi.

In the planning, execution, and aftermath of the heist, Soderbergh and his screenwriter, a mysterious and possibly fictitious personage credited as “Rebecca Blunt,” make free use of ellipses. They keep the viewer ever-so-slightly out of the loop in the planning stages of the caper, withholding essential information while allowing us teasing glimpses of objects to be employed therein: Why is Mellie painting cockroaches on the coffee table? What are those firefighting helmets in the trunk for? And—after the deed’s been done—what’s up with Jimmy’s apparent change of heart?

Working in the register of the country-fried caper, Logan Lucky displays a great sense of playfulness toward “authenticity” even while trafficking heavily in the very concept, weaving variations on the theme of the counterfeit throughout the film. Its male leads have honest-to-God flyover-country working-class bona fides—Driver is a Marine Corps vet, Tatum an ex-jock Mississippian who can operate a bulldozer without looking like an impostor. He is introduced digging around under the hood of a dinged-up 1983 Ford pickup in the company of his young daughter, Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie, giving the most charming, unaffected child’s performance in recent memory), while discoursing on the history of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads”—an Appalachian anthem, he notes, that was written by Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert at a time when they’d never set foot in the name-checked West Virginia. And yet, counterfeit abounds: Here, we have Georgia locations doubling for the Mountain State; Craig putting on his best hillbilly accent (naked becomes nekkid) while Seth MacFarlane, playing an energy-drink magnate and stock-car team owner, goes limey; passing references to blackface and whiteface; and Sadie appearing at a Little West Virginia pageant in a dolled up JonBenét Ramsey–esque pretense of adulthood. The labored sense of gritty legitimacy that weighs down most recent attempts at the blue-collar American action movie (Hell or High Water being one prominent instance) here becomes the stuff of comedy. Sebastian Stan’s salt-of-the-earth NASCAR driver, profiled in a brief digression, is revealed as a raw-food-obsessed nut, an equivalent to the breed of careerist country musicians who sing about cheap beer and honky-tonks but lives off acai bowls and juice bars. There’s also a good bit where Keough needles Jimmy’s ex-wife’s McMansion-dwelling, Ford dealership-owning husband (David Denman) into taking a stick shift off the lot by mocking his dependence on automatics; authenticity, we see, is strictly a preoccupation for the middle-class.

What Soderbergh understands and revels in, as working-class hero Andy Warhol did, is the fact that authentic homespun American life is shot through with a generous dose of artifice—artificial sweeteners and colors that appear nowhere in nature. Soderbergh is acting as his own DP here under his usual “Peter Andrews” pseudonym, shooting on a RED digital camera with Leica Summilux-C lenses, and these give his widescreen frame—invariably teeming with bright life and incident—an ultra-sharp pellucid, almost glassy deep focus unlike anything in classic, grain-rich 35-mm Cinemascope. In constructing his contemporary Appalachia, Soderbergh gets a sense of everyday life that’s bigger than life. He has, somewhat perversely, made a drive-in movie for the hi-def age, one in which flat screens are ubiquitous—it’s a nice gag that a mounted TV in a hallway plays the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte as background visual noise throughout the film’s mock “prison riot”—in fact an elaborate put-on covering up other subterfuges. The color palette is a combination of cotton-candy pink, My Little Pony band-aids, manicures that glitter like an Arabian Nights treasure trove, the cacophony of sponsorship logos on stock cars, gas stations worthy of Ed Ruscha, and ubiquitous red-white-and-blue gear. This is one of the only movies to take full advantage of the pomp of a major sporting event preshow, replete with an F-14 flyover and LeAnn Rimes belting out the national anthem.

As a schemer and do-it-yourself-er, Jimmy is a figure after inveterate tinkerer Soderbergh’s own wheeler-dealer heart. In lining up the money for Logan Lucky, the director pursued a new distribution model intended to cut out studio participation (and interference) entirely—a model that leans heavily on his preexisting celebrity and the participation of salable celebrities, and so no more practicable and sustainable for most filmmakers than Radiohead album giveaways. While the movie exists thanks to its stars, it’s the bit players who make it play: Along with the abovementioned Denman, honorable mentions are due to Rebecca Koon as a chatty salon patron who comes in for a purple wash and drives a purple El Dorado; eastern Kentucky homeboy Dwight Yoakam as the prison warden; and Jon Eyez as a convict who very nearly walks off with the movie in a single scene. (The credits also list “Wild and Wonderful” West Virginia legend Jesco White, star of the cult 1991 documentary Dancing Outlaw and a clear sartorial inspiration for the film, though I failed to catch him in my screening.)

Not every bit of business in this very busy movie lands soundly. MacFarlane, though impeccably cast as a dead-eyed, imminently hateable creep, occupies an amount of screen time disproportionate to what he brings in terms of narrative drive or comic pleasure, and the introduction of Hilary Swank as an agent investigating the speedway heist comes too late to be anything but an invitation to a sequel. Soderbergh seems content to work loose here, to leave a few plot threads trailing off. His decision might seem counterintuitive, as the heist movie is classically an opportunity to show off directorial chops—see, for instance, the first half of Bertrand Bonello’s lubricious, machine-tooled Nocturama (2016), which, in turn, invokes the spirit of Jules Dassin’s Rififi (1955). But where those films wear their virtuosity on their sleeves, Logan Lucky feels like the work of a filmmaker with nothing to prove, neither sententious seriousness of purpose nor technical knowhow. Freed from such lofty imperatives, the movie can instead focus on the minutiae that matter—Clyde mixing a martini with dexterous flair, Jimmy’s meet-cute in a mobile medical center, the way Sadie’s mother (Katie Holmes) reaches in from out of frame to twirl one of her daughter’s pigtails—all of which helps to create the larger world in which our story is taking place. Logan Lucky isn’t perfect in every measurement, but it has about it a feeling of jerry-rigged ingenuity that’s ultimately more appropriate than perfection would be.

Nick Pinkerton

Logan Lucky is now playing in select theaters.

Bennie and Josh Safdie, Good Time, 2017, 35 mm, color, sound, 100 minutes. Nick Nikas and Connie Nikas (Bennie Safdie and Robert Pattinson).


IN THE SAFDIE BROTHERS’ GOOD TIME, Robert Pattinson does an end run around the cops and anyone and anything that comes between him and the nowhere to which he’s headed. He’s literally on the run almost every time we see him, and when he’s not running, his adrenaline is jacked up so high it looks as if he is. As Connie Nikas, a petty criminal with a long rap sheet on a mission to save Nick (Benny Safdie), his younger and in every way slower brother, from the system, Pattinson jettisons almost everything that made him a romantic leading man—good manners, cultured diction, languorous grace, and, most of all, middle-class impulse control—to find his way inside a feral, low-life megalomaniac with eyes like headlights, fixed unblinkingly in their sockets and devoid of emotion. It’s the primary reason actors enjoy playing villains—or the kind of antihero that Connie is: Pattinson seems to have checked his superego before each shot and let his id wreak havoc.

Pattinson’s Connie is on a bad trip, and so is the movie—except that it’s so kinetic and exciting to look at and listen to that you just go with it without worrying that you’ll be wrecked in the morning. Its saving grace—besides the riotous beauty of Sean Price Williams’s 35-mm widescreen neon-streaked mega-moving images and a propulsive techno score by Oneohtrix Point Never (Daniel Lopatin), made more immersive by Benny Safdie and Evan Mangiamele’s sound design—is the Safdies’ commitment to showing us the people and places of a marginal New York. Good Time is set almost entirely in a single twenty-four-hour period, and its accelerating dive-toward-doom trajectory (screenplay by Josh Safdie and Ronnie Bronstein; editing by Benny and Ronnie; direction by both Safdies) resembles nothing so much as Martin Scorsese’s 1985 After Hours, albeit Connie is a lot closer to Robert De Niro’s Johnny Boy in Mean Streets (1972) than to Griffin Dunne’s uptown nebbish terrorized by cool and/or crazy Tribeca women. The Safdies know their New York pulp movies, so it’s no wonder that Good Time is being compared to early Scorsese and to Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975). To those I’d add Nick Gomez’s unforgettable 1992 no-budget indie debut, Laws of Gravity, which has Peter Greene and Adam Trese as wannabe felons every bit as hapless as Connie and handheld cinematography by Jean de Segonzac that is as vertiginous as Williams’s.

Good Time opens with a close-up of Nick, who is mentally challenged, having a bad time in a city-funded psychiatrist’s office. When the shrink questions him about having thrown a heavy metal object at his grandmother, tears well up in Nick’s eyes and roll down his broad, fleshy face. It’s an astonishing sight, in part because the tears seem to catch both the character and the actor by surprise. While we are wondering what to make of this, Connie bursts into the room, absconds with his brother, and the next thing we know they are donning ski masks and robbing a bank. Connie has a vague John Steinbeck–like dream of saving Nick by taking him to live on a farm. For that he needs money, hence the bank robbery. But if Connie knows nothing about robbing banks, he also hasn’t a clue who his brother is or what he needs. This is literally proved midway through the film when he steals a man, wrapped head-to-toe in bandages, from a hospital room. He thinks it’s Nick, who is indeed in the hospital, where he was taken after he plunged through a glass door at the end of the chase that followed the bank robbery and was beaten up at Rikers. But the guy in the wheelchair who Connie hustles onto an Access-a-Ride isn’t his brother.

Connie takes refuge with the bandaged man in the house of a trusting elderly woman who lives with her granddaughter, Crystal (Taliah Webster, whose mix of curiosity and nonchalance is one of the movie’s joys). After peroxiding his hair piss yellow as a disguise and putting a few unenthusiastic moves on Crystal, Connie somehow discovers (I forget exactly how or when—that’s how much frenetic activity there is in the movie) that the man he stole is not his brother but Ray (Buddy Duress), a jailbird even more delusional than he is. Ray has stashed a bottle of liquid LSD, which he claims is worth a fortune to his drug-dealer boss, in an amusement park that’s closed for the winter. Leaving Crystal as a lookout, Connie and Ray break in; even before they find the acid things get hallucinatory, what with the rides and the lights. When the cops arrive, they mistake the security guard (Barkhad Abdi, the quietest of scene stealers) and Crystal for the vandals—why not? they’re black—leaving Connie and Ray free to hurl themselves even further into the abyss.

This is the Safdies’ biggest movie, and while the budget allowed them to work with the magnetic and gifted Pattinson and to shoot in an array of complex locations, they also held fast to their guerrilla filmmaking method. The outer boroughs of New York have rarely been shown as realistically and phantasmagorically within a single movie. It is the city of millions of people who live on the economic margins and try to stay sane and safe while keeping out of the way of the desperate in their midst—people like Connie, whose nightmares twist his perceptions and make him incapable of having a good time or gifting his brother with a better life. Nevertheless, he’s more to be pitied than despised. The Safdies give the last word to Iggy Pop, in a song he wrote for Good Time. That word is “love.”

Amy Taubin

Good Time is now playing in select theaters.

Jeff Tremaine, Jackass: The Movie, 2002, 35 mm, color, sound, 98 minutes.


THE FILMS THAT WILL BE PLAYING at Anthology Film Archives in “This Is MiniDV (On 35mm)” are collected according to a simple principle, but for this viewer they conjure up a complicated welter of feelings. In keeping with recent (and welcome) developments following the DCP changeover catastrophe, which have raised awareness of projection format and brought us festivals and programs dedicated to nitrate film and 3D restorations, ultra-niche “This Is MiniDV” looks at a brief moment in the late 1990s and early aughts when the digital revolution was only partially complete: almost totally in postproduction, an outlier in production, and in distribution not at all. With 35 mm still the standard for theatrical projection, this meant that even films shot on the wave of consumer-grade standard-definition DV cameras would have to be printed on celluloid if they were to reach a wide audience, and the reels unspooling at AFA are the remaining artifacts of this bygone era.

The program comes courtesy of rep film-listing site Screen Slate, the only website that actually gives me pleasure in checking daily, and it has a particular poignancy for one of my vintage. This comes from the fact that their heyday happens to approximately correspond to my film school undergraduate years, when I was an Earnest Young Man fired with enthusiasm for the cinema—they are a Proustian madeleine of murky palette and digital artifacting. It was a moment where one might still be taught editing by cutting 16-mm stock of a Gunsmoke fistfight on a flatbed Steenbeck while being told in class that the future of the medium was a movie shot by a young Dane on a Sony DCR-PC3 Handycam: Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration (1998).

Vinterberg’s film, which makes flashy use of the Handycam’s lightweight mobility and ability to burrow into the smallest crevasses, is key for several reasons. Concerning an eldest son’s determination to torpedo his father’s sixtieth birthday by letting all those assembled know that the grand old man molested him, it was an early augury of the relationship between the “raw” aesthetic of early DV and touchy subject matter. The return of the (sexually) repressed was hot stuff at the time, hence Miguel Arteta’s Chuck & Buck (2000), which reunites two preadolescent fuckbuddies as very different adults. The movie’s bouncy, twee sound track cues, awkward-pause comedy, and “I’m okay, you’re okay” resolution set the stage for a thousand Sundance abominations to come. Digital was also meant to confer authenticity, something that Michael Winterbottom toys with in his glib Manchester music-scene panorama 24 Hour Party People (2002), intermixing stock footage with original DV material to recapture the immediacy of this period’s incredible creative ferment, as well as to convey the drab gray-brown cruddiness of northern England in the 1970s. (The film’s stations-of-the-cross treatment of Ian Curtis’s suicide is still leering and ghoulish, though this time through I did appreciate the subtle hints of Alan Partridge that star Steve Coogan brings to the character of Factory Records cofounder and Granada Television presenter Tony Wilson.)

The Celebration is also distinguished as the first film to earn “Dogme 95” classification. The term refers to a manifesto signed by Vinterberg and his countryman Lars von Trier that puts forth a list of “Vows of Chastity”—only location shooting, handheld camera, no special effects, and minimal lighting—which, if followed, would supposedly detoxify a film culture corrupted by artifice and filthy lucre. Von Trier is represented at AFA by his Dancer in the Dark (2000), a gallows musical starring Björk that wasn’t Dogme-certified but which did stage its seven production numbers live, capturing them warts-and-all with something like a hundred cameras running simultaneously. When the movie arrived in theaters, its star was coming off as good a three-album run (Debut, Post, Homogenic) as any solo artist has ever had, and Dancer in the Dark is of interest in the sense that any document of a once-in-a-generation talent at her prime must be. Though it should be said that while something like “Hyperballad” has given me insights with lifelong application, there’s little worth mulling over in this dour reworking of the Dennis Potter/Herbert Ross Pennies from Heavens (1978/81), which contains perhaps the silliest courtroom scene in film history and can barely conceal its snide superiority to showbiz razzle-dazzle. (It takes courage to enjoy it, Lars.)

Lars von Trier, Dancer in the Dark, 2000, 35 mm, color, sound, 140 minutes.


Like Protestantism and so many reformative movements, Dogme 95 mostly came down to an excuse to cut corners and not do tiresome things under the guise of purification. It was enormously influential for a spell among young men looking for a creed, as were the jeremiads of blowhard academic and John Cassavetes biographer Ray Carney, but vows of poverty look a little less appealing when the visual impoverishment of cinema is a rule rather than exception. Still, back then Dogme quickly went international, and its challenge was taken up by alleged wunderkind Harmony Korine in his Julien Donkey Boy (1999), an alarming combination of desperate, fraudulent performances and inspired ideas for what to do with a DV camera. Take, for instance, the scene in a thrift store with Chloë Sevigny––not for a moment believable as a working-class Queens girl––given a measure of veracity by the fact that it’s caught with a glasses camera.

The hidden-camera aesthetic is also essential to the two legitimately great American films in the series. The first feature-film spinoff of the MTV show of the same name, Jackass: The Movie (2002) was the apotheosis of a decade-plus of suicidal backyard stunts and skate video culture, specifically the tapes produced by Big Brother Magazine and Bam Margera’s CKY contribution. The Jackass films, which move between pranking passersby and testicular trauma– or vomit-inducing stuntwork, have sometimes been classed up by comparisons to silent comedy, but they have no story lines to speak of, just a series of ingeniously idiotic vaudevillian blackout skits presided over by the deadpan emcee/punching bag Johnny Knoxville. The knockabout American tradition is likewise drawn on in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled (2000), which has Damon Wayans’s adenoidal Ivy League–educated television writer developing a wildly offensive minstrel show in anticipation of being released from his contract in the ensuing fracas, only to wind up with a massive hit on his hands. While weighed down by some rote dramatic passages in its latter half, the movie at its best is a volatile and highly inappropriate piece of gonzo filmmaking with something to offend everyone. Contemporary reviews were tepid—Roger Ebert found the film “perplexing”—but Bamboozled is alive precisely because it gives a sense of being at war with itself: Wayans’s character is persuasive and cuttingly articulate even as he argues against the film’s apparent thesis, while the scenes of the studio tapings of “Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show” express the depths of Lee’s misanthropy, an outright contempt for the gormless masses. And unlike the ham-handed satire of Lee’s Chi-Raq (2015), the movie is a sick comic riot, from Michael Rapaport’s blowhard wannabe ’hood network exec to Wayans’s over-enunciated voice-over reading, “Needless to say, the Mau Maus did not fit into our plans.”

DV gave access to young filmmakers—AFA’s program includes The Forest for the Trees (2003), the debut of twenty-six-year-old Toni Erdmann director Maren Ade. It also acted as an agent of rejuvenation for those not so young. When Agnès Varda made The Gleaners & I (2000), she had her career’s worst debacle just behind her, the woeful, cameo-studded cinephile nostalgia trip A Hundred and One Nights (1994), but the ability to operate as a one-woman crew seemed to refocus and rejuvenate her. Some will also claim Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten (2002), a film consisting almost entirely of dashboard-mounted views of the driver (the excellent Mani Akbari) and passengers in a small coupe moving around urban Tehran, as among the Iranian filmmaker’s supreme accomplishments, though it seems to me, while occasionally quite moving, basically a formal experiment exploring DV’s capacity for long takes, particularly suited to shooting with nonprofessional performers without fear of burning through precious film stock.

David Lynch, Inland Empire, 2006, 35 mm, color, sound, 180 minutes.


Pedro Costa was working along not entirely dissimilar lines beginning with his 2000 In Vanda’s Room, shooting hundreds of hours of material on DV with the residents of Lisbon’s since-bulldozed Fountainhas slum. With Colossal Youth, Costa established himself as a trailblazer in digital cinematography, not mimicking the effect of film but exploring the new medium in its own right, while, somewhat atypically in this company, keeping his camera locked down on a tripod. Ventura, a retired Cape Verdean construction worker, is at the center of Colossal Youth and appears in every scene, whereas the sunlit sky appears in almost none—a sliver of blue here, a blown-out window there. Costa gets ravishing low-light images, deep blacks in his chiaroscuro compositions, and a remarkable sense of the patina of rooms which have seen so much hardship, contrasted to the immaculate walls of the new housing project, which have seen none, free of ghosts but also without a soul.

Colossal Youth was released in 2006, by which time digital had begun to make significant inroads in Hollywood productions—take Michael Mann’s Miami Vice, shot with the high-end high-def Thompson Viper FilmStream—and it forms an outlier in the series with David Lynch’s Inland Empire from the same year. Lynch had for years been an analog holdout, cutting films on a reel-to-reel Kern when the rest of Hollywood had long since gone Avid, but when he went digital he did so with the zeal of a true convert, and in a 2006 Wired interview, he can be found rhapsodizing about the computerized future with characteristic “gee whiz” wonderment. (“If we keep our thinking caps strapped on, we could find something beautiful out there in the ether.”) Always attuned to texture like the painter-cum-director that he is, Lynch used his SONY PD-150—formerly a professional-grade camera, which, by that time, had become affordable to consumers—to pursue the possibilities of pixelated impasto, while filtering the tropes of B-noir through an appropriately chintzy-looking twenty-first-century aesthetic. From this breakthrough a straight line can be drawn to Lynch’s ongoing Twin Peaks: The Return, a program that suggests the artist, like the rest of us, has seen something altogether more malevolent emerge from the digital ether in the past decade.

Nick Pinkerton

“This Is MiniDV (on 35mm)” runs through August 22 at Anthology Film Archives in New York.