COLUMNS

  • Passion Play

    LARISA SHEPITKO began work on The Ascent (1977) when she was recovering from a severe spinal injury and pregnant, seized by an afflatus of fear. “I was facing death for the first time,” the Ukrainian director told an interviewer in June 1979. “Like anyone in such a situation, I was looking for my own formula of immortality.” In doing so, she reached for one of the most immortal tales ever told, transposing the Passion of Jesus to the freezing hinterland of Nazi-occupied Belorussia. A Dostoevskian psychodrama of sacrifice and betrayal, The Ascent is her most visually accomplished film, her

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  • Capitol Records

    Tape recorders, ordinary cameras, and movie cameras are already extensively owned by wage-earners. The question is why these means of production do not turn up at factories, in schools, in the offices of the bureaucracy, in short, everywhere there is social conflict.

    —Hans Magnus Enzensberger, “Constituents of a Theory of the Media” New Left Review (1970)

    HOW QUAINT that question seems today.

    The assault on the Capitol on the afternoon of January 6—the first hostile occupation of the building since Washington was sacked and set ablaze by British soldiers in 1814—is one of the most shocking attacks

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  • Caste Away

    “A BRAHMIN MUST BE A CULTURAL SUICIDE BOMBER,” writes Suraj Yengde, author of Caste Matters (2019). In other words, a brahmin must enter the upper-caste corridors of power to which only they have access, and detonate. Several indisputable facts underscore this statement: Wealth and influence in India are under the sole proprietorship of the upper castes. Maintained primarily through endogamy and nepotism, this hegemony continues to exploit and deplete the labor and emotional reserves of lower caste people. The responsibility of anti-caste work must fall on those that have access to the networks

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  • Blue Velvet

    IN 1929, two years after the setting of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and about seven months after Rainey, the “Mother of the Blues,” made her last recordings, another stylish Southern blues singer—the “Queen” of the genre—cut a song with her new husband. On “When the Levee Breaks,” Memphis Minnie looses her guitar on Kansas Joe McCoy, who starts to sing:

    If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s going to break

    If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s going to break

    And the water gonna come in, have no place to stay

    Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, adapted for the screen from August Wilson’s eponymous play by director and dramatist

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  • Tourist Trap

    JAPAN AND UZBEKISTAN have a friends-with-benefits relationship, one that sees the world’s third-largest economy and its sogo shosha investing in and importing the formerly-Soviet Central Asian nation’s resources—some radioactive (uranium), some laxative (dried fruit)—and bolstering a miscellany of Uzbek projects, from industrial modernization to Covid-19 response to tourism. Such a transactional bond doesn’t exactly sound like the stuff from which movies are made. 

    Yet Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Tourism, its national cinema agency Uzbekkino, and a handful of Japanese production companies teamed up

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  • Chasing Kane

    IN 1925, Herman J. Mankiewicz, theater critic and reporter for the New York Times and for the New Yorker in its first year, and the author of quite a few mostly failed Broadway plays, all of which qualified him for a seat at the Algonquin Round Table, received an invitation from MGM studios to move to Hollywood and be well paid to write for the movies. Pictures had not yet learned to talk, but soon they would, and in the meantime, Mankiewicz’s talent for narrative structure and succinct intertitles was in demand. Movie production, which until the end of World War I had been the work of hundreds

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  • John Waters

    Film director John Waters is working on a novel titled Liarmouth. His last book Mr. Know-It-All (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019), was just released in paperback.

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    BUTT BOY
    (Tyler Cornack)

    A jaw-dropping, deadpan, bowel-bonkers thriller about a heterosexual dad who after a routine visit to his proctologist becomes a serial killer and inhales his victims up his ass, I kid you not. First a dog, then a child, and finally the very cop who pursues him. The finale takes place inside Dad’s rectum. Ah, they don’t make ’em like they used to!

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    SWALLOW
    (Carlo Mirabella-Davis)

    What can I say? I love movies

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  • Amy Taubin

    Amy Taubin is a contributing editor of Artforum.

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    THE HANDY, AFFORDABLE-TO-EVERYONE, MOVING-IMAGE CAMERA

    Dziga Vertov’s idea that the motion-picture camera could speak truth to power and therefore was essential to democratic social and cultural aspiration found ample traction in the 1960s, when an army of filmmakers waged resistance with 16-mm and analog video newsreels. This tradition today manifests in the countless nonfiction works largely shot with small video and cellphone cameras, among them two of the great movies of the year, Garrett Bradley’s Time, which focuses on activist Fox Rich

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  • James Quandt

    James Quandt, Senior Programmer at TIFF Cinematheque in Toronto, is the editor of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Austrian Film Museum, 2009) and Robert Bresson (Revised) (Indiana University Press, 2012).

    Of the hundreds of films I have watched during the coronavirus lockdown, most were classics on the Criterion Channel or Kanopy, so my pandemic Top Ten is culled exclusively from the superbly curated 2020 New York Film Festival.

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    THE WOMAN WHO RAN (Hong Sang-soo)

    Hong’s brisk, bucolic social comedy comprises a series of seemingly equable conversations that are inevitably invaded by neighborly dispute,

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  • Erika Balsom

    Erika Balsom is a reader in film studies at King’s College London. Most recently, she is the coeditor of Artists’ Moving Image in Britain Since 1989 (Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art/Yale University Press, 2019).

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    “DEFIANT MUSES: DELPHINE SEYRIG AND THE FEMINIST VIDEO COLLECTIVES IN FRANCE IN THE 1970S AND 1980S” (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; curated by Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez and Giovanna Zapperi) and “OUT OF THE SHADOWS: THE PIONEERING WORK OF ATTEYAT AL-ABNOUDY, ASSIA DJEBAR, JOCELYNE SAAB, HEINY SROUR” (Courtisane Festival, Ghent, Belgium)

    In this strange

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  • Cassie da Costa

    Cassie da Costa is a staff writer for Vanity Fair and a commissioning editor for the queer and feminist film journal Another Gaze.

    1

    SHAKEDOWN (Leilah Weinraub)

    Finally available to stream (on Pornhub.com) after years of distribution roadblocks due to the documentary’s nudity, Weinraub’s film develops a new theory of entertainment and economics in its portrait of the eponymous Los Angeles lesbian strip club.

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    BEAU TRAVAIL RERELEASE (Claire Denis)

    It’s not really a title you can satisfyingly translate to English, and the film feels like that too. Janus’s restoration, supervised by cinematographer

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  • Short Circuit

    THE SHARJAH FILM PLATFORM—the third edition of Sharjah Art Foundation’s film festival—opened earlier this month, in a country whose low coronavirus cases have allowed it to resume regular, though masked operation. But the weeklong platform seemed like a telegram from another time—or a harbinger of what’s to come. Whenever life returns to normal, and whatever that normal is, our viewing habits will have changed significantly from the cinematic paradigm, with its collective, focused, and non-serial engagement with singular subjects. The festival’s focus on shorts gestured toward the freedom in

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