COLUMNS

  • David Salle's Search and Destroy

    I APPROACHED DAVID SALLE’S first movie with an open mind, if not exactly an open heart. Bashing Salle, after all, whether for his paintings or his public persona, has become a rather routine gesture; there’s not much pleasure left in it. (Eileen Daspin had perhaps the last gasp of dramatically wicked fun at Salle’s expense eighteen months ago in the fashion and society magazine W’s excoriating profile of the artist, which quoted yours truly.) It seemed a better idea to see Search and Destroy in a frame of mind in which I might actually enjoy the film. Getting a movie made is famously hard, and

    Read more
  • Atom Egoyan

    IT IS A YOUNG stripper in schoolgirl drag who ushers us into Atom Egoyan’s heart of darkness, Exotica. In the verdant sleaziness of an upscale titty bar, rituals bleed their meanings as lives intersect and then collide. At the vortex of this emotional cyclone is Francis (Bruce Greenwood), a tax auditor, still reeling from the deaths of his wife and daughter, who transforms his mourning into the disturbing psychological games that he plays with an exotic table-dancer named Christina (Mia Kirshner). Recovering from her own history of abuse, Christina is struggling to leave behind her ex-boyfriend,

    Read more
  • Ed Wood

    People! All going somewhere. All with their own thoughts, their own ideas, all with their own . . . personalities. One is wrong, because he does right. And one is right . . . because he does wrong. Pull the string! Dance to that . . . which one is created for!

    —Bela Lugosi, in Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda?, 1953

    AT THE BEGINNING of his strangely autobiographical first film, Glen or Glenda?, Ed Wood introduces an inexplicable framing device that, absurd as it is, may be the film’s most telling moment: he offers an aging Bela Lugosi as God, sitting above humanity, watching with disgust, and babbling

    Read more
  • Six Degrees of Separation

    There is something morally anemic about Six Degrees of Separation. On Broadway, where it ran like a Restoration comedy on poppers, the messier social issues of John Guare’s play were folded in on themselves—as if a perfect sheet of dough covered everything with a creamy ubiquitousness. That the scary plight of the hustling black antihero is left willfully unresolved in order to serve up an epiphany of conscience to its careless white heroine caused nary a whisper of discontent.

    The play’s premise concerns a young man who claims to be the son of Sidney Poitier in order to insinuate himself into

    Read more
  • Schindler's List

    Not until Schindler was I really able to not reference other filmmakers,“ Steven Spielberg has said. ”I’m always referencing everybody. I didn’t do any of that on this movie.“ But he did something even more ”post-Modern" and appropriative: he referenced the Holocaust, and without understanding it. Instead of interpreting this particularly notorious part of modernity (a part that pessimists have come to view as symptomatic of the whole), instead of gaining insight into it, he identified himself with it the way one does with a film star.

    Schindler’s List is a filmic act of belated empathy yet of

    Read more
  • Menace II Society

    IT IS ONLY WITH DIFFICULTY that I tolerate the mediocrity of most contemporary black cinema, a trick I manage by constantly reminding myself that mediocrity is a necessary stage in the development of a mature practice. What I’m unable to tolerate is the delusional critical assessment of these films. Simply put, the so-called New Black Film Renaissance is as clear a case of the Emperor’s new clothes as I How can think of. With a handful of exceptions, these films are barely worth discussing in anything but the most base sociological or, worse, commercial terms. The incapacity, really the

    Read more
  • Gillian Armstrong’s Last Days Chez Nous

    A man’s home is his castle. A woman’s place is in the home. A house is not a home. Home is where the heart is.

    THE HOMES SOME OF US live in are made of mortar and wood and tenderness. For others, they are built from battered tin cans, cardboard boxes, terror. We also have homes in thought: I imagine feminism as a home, for example, in which, in an ideal world, room after room runs into the next, with all the doors open and the boundaries blurred. Ideas circulate like air, clearing out stuffiness and breathing life into stale corners. But for many of us, feminism is no longer a safe house; a

    Read more
  • Ridley Scott's Blade Runner

    “YOU NEXUS, HAH?” asks the wizened Asian technician at Eyeworld. “I made your eyes.” Roy Batty, the android replicant, purses his lips in ironic amusement: “Well, if only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes.”

    References to eyes abound throughout Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, not only at Eyeworld. The film’s second shot features a huge disembodied eye, staring unblinkingly at the infernal city spread before it (visible in the pupil as an impossibly clear reflection). Replicants’ eyes reflect with a glowing red when the light hits them right. The replicant-detecting apparatus of a blade

    Read more
  • Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs

    Let me tell you what “Like a Virgin”’s about. It’s about this cooz who’s a regular fuckin’ machine. I’m talkin’ morning day night afternoon dick dick dick dick dick dick dick dick dick.

    Then one day she meets this John Holmes motherfucker and it’s like, Whoa baby. I mean this cat is like Charles Bronson in The Great Escape: he’s diggin’ tunnels. All right, she’s gettin’ some serious dick action and she’s feelin’ somethin’ she hasn’t felt since forever. Pain. Pain. It hurts, it hurts her . . . just like it did the first time. You see the pain is remindin’ the fuck machine what it was once like to

    Read more
  • the Other Ireland

    We see it often enough: revelations about the private life of a public figure escalate into full-blown political and media spectacles. It also happens, though, that “ordinary” individuals are wrenched from everyday life and projected onto a national stage, as if acting out some deeply repressed anxiety in the social psyche. What was it about narratives of sexuality in Ireland, for example, that earlier this year turned the private trauma of a 14-year-old girl into a crisis that convulsed the entire nation?

    In January, a Dublin schoolgirl, pregnant after an alleged rape by a neighbor, sought

    Read more
  • Tom Kalin's Swoon

    ON MAY 21, 1924, Nathan Leopold, Jr., and Richard Loeb murdered Robert Franks, their 13-year-old neighbor, in the back of a rented pale-blue Willys-Knight while motoring along a busy Chicago highway. They then made a failed attempt to extort ransom money from the dead boy’s father, a wealthy entrepreneur. Eight days later both were arrested, brought in on circumstantial evidence—Leopold had inadvertently left his custom-made eyeglasses at the marsh where the naked and mutilated body had been secreted. Two days later the friends confessed. Subsequently tried and convicted, they were sentenced to

    Read more
  • THE SUBLIME AND THE AVANT-GARDE

    IN DECEMBER, 1948, Barnett (Baruch) Newman wrote an essay entitled “The Sublime is Now.” In 1950-51, he painted a canvas that he called Vir Heroicus Sublimus; in the early and mid ‘60s, he cast three bronze sculptures entitled Here I (For Marcia) , Here II, and Here III; another painting, from 1962, was called Not There––Here; two others, from 1965 and 1967, were titled Now I and Now II. In 1949 he painted Be I (of which he did a second version in 1970), and in 1961-64 he painted Be II.

    How is one to understand the sublime––let us think of it as the focus of a sublime experience––as something “

    Read more