COLUMNS

  • recent Asian cinema

    THE NEW WAVES of Asian cinema—from the three Chinas, Japan, and, more recently, Korea and Thailand—that have thrilled so-called specialized audiences over the past twenty years have gathered into a tsunami of sufficient force to propel the occasional Asian film to the top of the box-office charts. Moviegoers have gradually become acclimated to the hyperbolic pace and emotions (either glacial or boiling) and the fractured narratives of Asian film through the Hollywoodized hybrids of John Woo and Ang Lee, not to mention Quentin Tarantino. And although the eroticized longueurs of Wong Kar-wai’s

    Read more
  • Dig!

    ART HISTORY HAS long maintained a church and state–style separation between naive, unsophisticated work by so-called outsider artists and work whose construction and style are unmistakably savvy and sociable. Henry Darger, the Chicago janitor who spent his downtime secretly making obsessive paintings, is a good example of the consequence of these distinctions, remaining an honored guest of the art world rather than a bona fide star.

    In rock music, this prejudice is reversed: The outsider is the ultimate insider. Rock’s history has been one of constant reinvention by artists too crazy or ignorant

    Read more
  • J. Hoberman on Godard’s Notre Musique and war films

    LIKE MUCH IN contemporary Hollywood movies, the current model combat film was developed by Steven Spielberg. Saving Private Ryan (1998) provided a total immersion in state-of-the-art virtual carnage—the opening D-day landing is the most impressive demonstration of cinematic virtuosity of Spielberg’s career—while conspicuously failing to provide any historical context. Representing World War II but thinking Vietnam, Saving Private Ryan proposed the army’s band of brothers (rather than, say, the Nation or some abstract ideal or even the nature of the enemy) as war’s ultimate source of moral

    Read more
  • Riding Giants

    THE POPULAR IMAGE OF SURFING—a rider on a large, wind-groomed wave—is, alas, an idealization. Waves are bad more often than good, even (in fact, especially) at world-class breaks like Pipeline. Hence surfers travel when they can, in the hope that the waves will be better elsewhere. Occasionally they are. But even in the elite ranks of globe-trotting professionals, most of one’s time is spent doing various mental and physical finger exercises. Great waves arrive like Rilkean storms of inspiration, and serious surfers are fully the equal of artists in the degree of their commitment and obsessiveness.

    Read more
  • Baadasssss!

    MELVIN VAN PEEBLES’S now-legendary Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (which he wrote, directed, produced, and starred in) was the first film to show a black man kill a white man—two white cops, in fact—and get away with it. Rejected by the Hollywood system, it became required viewing for members of the Black Panther Party. But its appeal reached far beyond the radical fringe, as the box-office figures attest: Made independently on a shoestring budget of $150,000 in 1971, Sweet Sweetback grossed over $15 million in the United States, despite opening in only two theaters initially and, because of

    Read more
  • Superstar in a Housedress: The Life and Legend of Jackie Curtis

    JACKIE CURTIS made brilliant entrances, and although he sometimes overstayed his welcome, his final exit, in 1985 at age thirty-eight, came much too soon. Heroin, to paraphrase Lou Reed, was the death of him. Craig Highberger’s documentary portrait, Superstar in a Housedress: The Life and Legend of Jackie Curtis, which opens at New York’s Film Forum this month, takes its title from one of Curtis’s wryly class-conscious self-descriptions. The film would be a pedestrian affair if not for the vivacity of its subject, whose multiple incarnations—both on and off stage and screen—are evoked through

    Read more
  • Gary Indiana on Los Angeles Plays Itself

    THOM ANDERSEN’S film essay Los Angeles Plays Itself—which opens in New York, at Film Forum, in July—would seem to confirm a view that many of us who’ve lived all or part of our lives in Los Angeles have held as a matter of course: to wit, that LA’s a great place to live if you have nothing to do with “the Industry,” in which thirty-nine out of forty Angelenos are neither employed nor especially interested.

    The film’s opening sequence illustrates the bogus and silly qualities of “Los Angeles on film,” with footage from B movies like The Crimson Kimono (1959), He Walked by Night (1948), Pushover

    Read more
  • Metallica: Some Kind of Monster

    STRANGE TO SAY, at the very moment the rock-critical establishment finally discovered the ephemeral genius of avant-disco pioneer Arthur Russell (the adulation is lost on Russell, who died poor, of AIDS-related illness, in 1992), I found myself joining the millions who had plunked down their twenty bucks for St. Anger, the 2003 album by Metallica, a band that had always been—how shall I put this?—outside my sphere of reality. What activated my desire for this particular fetish object, which I probably will never play, was the documentary Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, by Joe Berlinger and

    Read more
  • Lars von Trier’s Dogville

    THE DOGME 95 “Vow of Chastity” notwithstanding, purity isn’t high on Lars von Trier’s agenda. Dogme’s refusal of certain resources and techniques is aimed less at establishing a “pure” filmic practice than at stimulating greater awareness and more conscious use of conventions. Strict rules can be liberating rather than oppressive, so long as they haven’t hardened into multiplex clichés. Although his new feature, Dogville, isn’t a Dogme film, von Trier has nevertheless imposed strict constraints on himself, shooting entirely on a soundstage. The set consists mainly of outlines and blueprints

    Read more
  • The Five Obstructions

    “The hardboiled old men with hearts of stone must die,” Lars von Trier declared in his first manifesto, twenty years ago, fresh from film school and ready to launch a Nordic nouvelle vague by killing the Father—or fathers, Ingmar Bergman in particular. Among the ancients the enfant terrible had in mind to vanquish was perhaps his professor and mentor, Danish icon Jørgen Leth, a poet, novelist, diplomat, and filmmaker whose poetic documentaries form the antonym of von Trier’s aggressive aesthetic. Nursing a grudge for two decades after Leth supposedly snubbed him in the hallway of the Danish Film

    Read more
  • Leni Riefenstahl

    NOW THAT SHE IS authentically dead—at 101, felled by a curse from the ghost of Ernst Jünger, who lived two years longer—Leni Riefenstahl has joined the shades she often conjured during a career of ardor, mystification, and, perhaps, subliminal expiation.

    What good would it do to apologize? she asks in the 1993 Roy Müller documentary The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl. Apologies don’t turn the clock back or raise the dead from dust. The sensible tactic, in the face of speeding time and mass amnesia, is to move on and hope that everybody forgets about it. But Leni knew they never

    Read more
  • Gary Indiana on The Fog of War

    I WILL BEGIN BY ADMITTING that I fell asleep five times during a morning press screening of Errol Morris’s The Fog of War—which received its US premiere at the New York Film Festival last September and is currently playing in theaters around the country—and I left the auditorium with precious few impressions besides that of the spectacularly bad dental work that Robert S. McNamara, the former secretary of defense, exposed each time he was featured in close-up. Having now viewed the documentary three additional times, while fully awake, what ultimately seems most impressive about Morris’s skewed

    Read more