COLUMNS

  • avant-garde film on DVD

    THAT 16 MM FILM is dying, at least as an exhibition format, has long been obvious to those of us who teach film. The 16 mm prints on which film studies has relied since its inception are gradually becoming so old and worn as to be unusable, and are not, for the most part, being replaced. The solution for many institutions is to project DVDs of films, often using low-end digital projectors, resulting in the paradox that, while more and more students are studying the art of film, fewer and fewer are actually watching films on film.

    In addition to the significant loss of image and sound quality—which

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  • Andrew Solomon on Ballets Russes

    THE THREE BALLET companies that emerged following Diaghilev’s death in 1929 and the subsequent dissolution of his legendary Ballet Russe were the greatest dance troupes in the world in their day, and all contemporary ballet owes them a debt. From the 1930s to the 1960s, they were a nexus of splendid dancing; of magnificent choreography, by Léonide Massine, George Balanchine, David Lichine, and others; and of fantastic spectacle, including costumes and scenery by such distinguished artists as Matisse and Dalí. The first of these companies, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, took the best exiled

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  • Chantal Akerman

    “I MUST PHOTOCOPY THIS because soon there won’t be a trace,” says Chantal Akerman to her mother, Nelly, in the double video projection that is part of the daughter’s piece To Walk Next to One’s Shoelaces in an Empty Fridge. (First shown at the Centre Pompidou in 2004, the installation was at Marian Goodman Gallery in New York this past summer.) The object they are perusing—the daughter having drawn her chair close enough to put her arm around her mother’s shoulders as they sit at Nelly’s kitchen table—is the diary of Chantal’s maternal grandmother, Sidonie Ehrenburg, who was murdered at Auschwitz

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  • Alexander Mackendrick

    IN THE AUTEURIST heyday of the early ’60s, when you could still rush out to see the new John Ford or the new Raoul Walsh alongside the new Godard or the new Antonioni, the American-born, Scottish-bred director Alexander Mackendrick was a singularly elusive sort of auteur. Between the whimsical joys of his Ealing comedies from the ’50s—like The Man in the White Suit and The Ladykillers (but how whimsical or joyful were they, finally?)—and the corrosive New York noir of Sweet Smell of Success (underseen and underrated long after its 1957 release), it was hard to find blatant stylistic or thematic

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  • 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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