Film

  • Frederick Wiseman

    WE CAN ARGUE OVER WHETHER OR NOT Frederick Wiseman is the most gifted documentary filmmaker America has ever produced, but he is surely the most obsessive. He began his career in 1967, abandoning his law practice to chronicle the treatment of inmates at Bridgewater, Massachusetts’s State Prison for the Criminally Insane. The outcome of that effort was Titicut Follies, a legendary muckraker of a picture (though we can only speculate about the reforms it might have inspired, since its release was held up by legal hassles for two and a half decades). In the thirty-three years he has now been making

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  • Ismail Merchant’s Cotton Mary

    Ismail Merchant, James Ivory, and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala forged a producer-director-writer team that began exploring the clash of cultures about two decades before it became fashionable. With India as the arena and the Raj as context, the piquancy of their unique Indian-American-European perspective on this oh-so-very-British—and, to a lesser extent, Indian—subject, starting with the delectable Shakespeare Wallah (1965), was often lost on all three continents.

    Cotton Mary, Merchant’s fourth directorial venture (which opens in New York on February 11), a film about the gradual destruction of an

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  • The Straight Story

    SEVENTY-NINE-YEAR-OLD Richard Farnsworth’s performance in David Lynch’s The Straight Story (1999) has a beautiful, disarming nakedness: There doesn’t seem to be anything between the elements and his weathered skin except the stubborn pride the old actor projects. As seventy-three-year-old Alvin Straight, who can barely walk yet drives a battered lawn mower nearly 300 miles from Iowa to Wisconsin to visit his sick, estranged brother, Farnsworth takes in the world and his own increasing frailty with an aching watchfulness. Farnsworth’s eyes articulate what Straight himself can’t put into words,

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  • Harmony Korine

    Film critics and buffs, even connoisseurs of the offbeat, have such a fierce love-hate relationship with Harmony Korine that it’s easy to forget the splash he made as the precocious teenage screenwriter of photographer Larry Clark’s film debut, Kids (1995). Clark’s protégé has since written and directed the daring if unpopular Gummo (1997) as well as his Dogma-accred-ited second feature, Julien Donkey-Boy (1999), while Clark has man-aged only Another Day in Paradise (1998), a clunky, misshapen crime thriller as flimsy excuse to fuss over the beautiful Vincent Kartheiser—suggesting that, when it

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  • Pedro Almodóvar

    DEDICATED “TO ALL ACTRESSES who have played actresses, to all women who act, to men who act and become women, to all people who want to be mothers,” and last but not least, to his own mom, Pedro Almodóvar’s All About My Mother, which opened the New York Film Festival in September, is a gender- and genre-bending tale of grief and renewal. The thirteenth film by the director of such previous international hits as Dark Habits (1983), Matador (1986), Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), and most recently Live Flesh (1997), All About My Mother walks the fine line between melodrama and

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  • Kimberly Price

    AS YOU LIKE IT? First-time director Kimberly Peirce’s Boys Don’t Cry (which opened in October) dramatizes the true-life story of Teena Brandon, the small-town Nebraskan girl who lived and loved as a boy until she was brutally raped and murdered in 1993 for getting caught at it. Like the recent Matthew Sheppard killing, Brandon’s senseless death reverberated in the hollows of the American psyche, pitting our collective intolerance of sexual deviancy against our personal abhorrence of thuggery. While the historical record is a case study worthy of Gender Theory 101, Peirce’s docudrama harks back

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  • Atom Egoyan

    BY LEAVING HIS CUSTOMARY Canadian settings and cast of regulars behind in this adaptation of William Trevor’s novel Felicia’s Journey, director Atom Egoyan may have intended to challenge himself by filtering his customary preoccupations with family dysfunction and video technology through someone else’s vision. But the result falls far short of his 1997 adaptation of Russell Banks’s The Sweet Hereafter.

    Here, Felicia (Elaine Cassidy), a pregnant Irish teenager, travels to England in search of her baby’s father and winds up in the clutches of the obsessional factory manager Hilditch (Bob Hoskins).

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  • Charles and Ray Eames

    IN 1954, WHEN I WAS A PINK-CHEEKED lad of a mere thirteen years, our family—newly returned to Los Angeles from the aging, sooty confines of Cleveland—paid a visit to an old friend of my father’s who’d made it big at Capitol Records and built a house on Webster Drive, in LA’s Silver Lake district. The house was a simple box, half redwood and half glass, with a little stainless-steel trim. The far wall of the living room was entirely glass, looking out onto a sparse deck and, beyond, a spectacular view of the Silver Lake reservoir. Standing for the first time in the living room, I thought the home

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  • Titanic: Anatomy of a Blockbuster

    “Instant books” first appeared in the ’70s: thin, hastily written paperbacks designed to hit drugstore and airport sales racks while public interest in a political event or celebrity scandal remains fresh. The ’90s have given us the academic instant book, collections of essays that, because of the slow pace of scholarly publication, generally appear after public interest in whatever “hot” topic they explore has waned. Madonna, Princess Di, and the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan affair have been given the cultural studies treatment; now comes Titanic: Anatomy of a Blockbuster. Like the film itself,

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  • Kristin Jones talks with Olivier Assayas

    ITALO CALVINO ONCE DESCRIBED his primary working method as “the subtraction of weight,” an idea that also animates the latest film from the forty-four-year-old French director Olivier Assayas. Late August, Early September, which opens in New York in early July, is a story about suffering and death, but one infused with an extraordinary degree of lightness and spontaneity, stemming in part from the film’s elliptical construction and loosely sketched characters. This effortless quality is the result of years of exploration on Assayas’s part. He studied painting and literature, then wrote film

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  • High Art and Pecker

    MOVIES ABOUT ARTISTS and their demimondes are notoriously unreliable. We’re not talking old-style Hollywood productions about the titanic geniuses of yore; such fare as The Agony and the Ecstasy, often screened on Ted Turner’s invaluable American Movie Classics cable network, has seen me through many predawn insomniac hours. More contemporary efforts focusing on artists, dealers, or collectors—e.g., Legal Eagles, 9 1/2 Weeks, Wall Street—have been miserable failures from the standpoint of art-world reality. (True, only those who are at best naïf go to any movie in search of la vérité, and I

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  • Sharon Lockhart

    SHARON LOCKHART’S Goshogaoka (1997) provides a much-needed slap on the wrist to the frequently tedious, self-involved goings-on of much American “independent” movie-making, by showing how a few simple and surprising elements—a single camera angle, six ten-minute sequences, a Japanese junior high girl’s basketball team—are all it takes to charm the eye and mind. We hear an extended bell tone, like a sound that might summon initiates to prayer; we see the polished sheen of a basketball-court floor in a gymnasium-cum-auditorium (whose stage and red curtain center the frame); we hear the rumble of

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