COLUMNS

  • Lodge Kerrigan

    WITH SIX YEARS between his second and third features, Lodge Kerrigan has at last come in from the cold, with a chilly, discomforting work that looks very much like a field report from the wilderness. Kerrigan, an independent filmmaker who lives in New York, made his debut in 1994 with Clean, Shaven, a lean, roughly textured portrait of a paranoid schizophrenic. His follow-up, Claire Dolan, was a study of isolated souls making fleeting contact in a cityscape of reflecting surfaces; the film’s glacially stylized quality was no doubt partly responsible for it being severely underrated when it

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  • Chris Marker

    AS HE CLOSES the preface to his Philosophy of Right, Hegel tells us, “When philosophy paints its grey in grey, one form of life has become old, and by means of grey it cannot be rejuvenated, but only known. The owl of Minerva, takes its flight only when the shades of night are gathering.” For Hegel, this was a statement of the limitations of philosophy. For the Situationists and for leftist intellectuals of postwar France, it became a favored point of reference—though neither acquiesced to the submission of the individual to the state or to the ineluctable force of history that Hegel coded into

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  • The Ister

    RIVERS HAVE no poetic power anymore, German filmmaker Hans-Jürgen Syberberg tells us in David Barison and Daniel Ross’s 2004 documentary The Ister (now available on video). They have lost their mythic resonance and become part of the “machine” of “daily life.” These days, Syberberg asserts, nobody would create a major work of art about a river, the way Richard Wagner or Friedrich Hölderlin did. Syberberg’s musings appear at the very conclusion of Barison and Ross’s three-hour philosophical voyage. The film traces the Danube’s full course, from the Black Sea all the way to its source in southern

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  • Jonas Mekas

    JONAS MEKAS, now eighty-two, has lived—and continues to live—many lives. For six decades his work in film, video, and poetry has been largely diaristic, so one’s first impulse is to approach it through his remarkable biography. For those familiar with avant-garde film, Mekas needs need no introduction: He is the indispensable archivist, curator, fund-raiser, and proselytizer for a genre of moving-image work that is precariously poised between the art world and the art film. It is largely through his efforts to create an infrastructure for avant-garde film—he founded the Film-Maker’s Cooperative,

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  • Georges Bataille’s Story of the Eye and Ma mère

    TRANSGRESSION, no less than its sister, transcendence, was a great goal of twentieth-century art. “The human being arrives at the threshold,” Georges Bataille wrote in 1938. “There he must throw himself headlong into that which has no foundation and no head.” Bataille’s taste for the luridly pornographic made him notorious. But what Bataille sought in the flesh, other modernists sought in the imagination, or in spirituality, or in the process of the work of art itself. All of these lead beyond representation. Bataille’s furious drive to violate all taboos, to go beyond all limits, simply makes

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  • James Quandt on Cinévardaphoto

    THE COBBLED QUALITY of Agnès Varda’s latest film, a suite assembled from three shorts, is belied by its cunning design. Structured as a kind of reverse retrospective, Cinévardaphoto—in limited release nationally—begins with her latest work, Ydessa, the Bears and Etc. . . . (2004), and travels backward in two-decade leaps to Ulysse (1982) and, finally, Salut les Cubains (1963). The portmanteau approach may be more pragmatic than poetic—film distribution renders any short film an instant orphan—but the wily Varda turns necessity into conceptual invention. Her triptych offers three variations on

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  • Mondovino

    JONATHAN NOSSITER’S documentary on the globalization of the wine industry, Mondovino—which opens this month in New York and Los Angeles—deals with its subject intelligently and ardently, but it makes its case against globalization so quickly (and so convincingly) that the ensuing amplification is anticlimactic. And there’s a lot of amplification. Nossiter, a filmmaker and professional sommelier, doesn’t take easy potshots at the internationalizing businesspeople he talks to; he lets the camera do it for him. Still, he listens carefully to both sides in the debate between the small vintners who

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  • Ernie Gehr

    BEST KNOWN FOR his single-minded, dynamic minimalism, Ernie Gehr has also been the American avant-garde filmmaker most devoted to exploring the “intensification of nervous stimulation” that pioneer sociologist Georg Simmel identified with urban life. Gehr’s oeuvre is a tale of three cities: San Francisco (his home for the last fifteen years), Berlin (which his parents fled before his birth in 1943), and New York (where he emerged as a leading structural filmmaker in the late ’60s). It is the latter that Gehr chose to revisit on the occasion of the Museum of Modern Art’s reopening last November,

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  • Jonathan Romney on Tracey Emin’s Top Spot

    TRACEY EMIN’S DEBUT feature film, Top Spot, is named after a nightclub in her hometown, a sexual utopia for local girls where, as she recalls in voice-over, “We’d snog and kiss, be fingered, titted up.” But “top spot,” she tells us, also refers to sexual intercourse in which the tip of the penis touches the cervix: “I mean,” comments Emin, sounding altogether outraged, “who would ever call a teenage disco ‘Top Spot’?”

    The artist now has a further reason to feel aggrieved. Top Spot was scheduled for UK theatrical release in December but was given an 18 certificate by the British Board of Film

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  • Michael Almereyda

    Michael Almereyda’s new documentary, William Eggleston in the Real World (at MoMA, January 17 and 19), begins with footage shot five years ago in Mayfield, Kentucky, where Eggleston was carrying out a commission from director Gus Van Sant to photograph the latter’s place of birth. Eggleston’s brilliantly colored, discomforting images have influenced not only photographers but some of the most subversive American filmmakers, including Van Sant, David Lynch, and Almereyda himself. Although best known for his New York–based fiction films—the contemporary, zip code 10021 Hamlet (2000) and the East

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  • Henry Darger

    WHEN EIGHTY-ONE-YEAR-OLD Henry Darger died in 1973 and his secret trove of art and writings was unearthed by his nosy Chicago landlords, the term “outsider art” was new, having been proposed only the previous year by art historian Roger Cardinal as an English alternative to art brut. At the time, the work of artists like Adolf Wölfli, Simon Rodia, and the Rev. Howard Finster, to the extent that it was known at all, was effectively stigmatized as a form of arts and crafts practiced by unusually creative religious fanatics, conspiracy theorists, and the mentally ill. But the discovery of Darger’s

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  • Manoel de Oliveira

    THE TENDER, NOSTALGIC QUALITY of Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira’s recent films I’m Going Home and Oporto of My Childhood suggests that he has succumbed to the serenity expected of the artist in old age—a senescent “late style” of harmony and reconciliation, as Edward Said described it in one of his last essays. Now in his mid-nineties and as prolific as ever, Oliveira has for decades maintained his august reputation with a series of often cryptic and demanding works. Where much Portuguese cinema tends toward reticence and melancholy, toward the sad, soulful qualities of fado and saudade

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