COLUMNS

  • Tailor Swift

    HOW TO DESCRIBE Paul Thomas Anderson’s magnificently daft Phantom Thread, a movie as precise as it is delirious. To borrow from Stanley Cavell, it’s a comedy of courtship, marriage, and remarriage. Comedy, however, may be too clear-cut a designation for this story about the intimate life of a couple from first attraction to a precarious arrangement of power, for which no one would write a lifetime warranty. Beyond the dazzling performances of Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, and Lesley Manville; the swooping and/or oddly angled luminous 35-mm cinematography by Anderson himself; and the almost

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  • Aftermaths and Undergrounds

    IN 2001, MARTHA ROSLER coined the term “post-documentary” to describe the unusual status of “social documentary photography in the postmodern world”—a moment in which the form’s claims to transparency, objectivity, and authenticity were everywhere under scrutiny. It’s a scenario that’s familiar enough sixteen years later: Suspicion of media in general and images in particular is widespread to the point of numbing banality, and yet no less dizzying. With endless hand-wringing over “fake news” and the politics of distraction, the little cinematic category we call “documentary” and its “

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  • Little by Little

    DOWNSIZING, ALEXANDER PAYNE’S SEVENTH FEATURE FILM, is an enormous movie—enormous in its ambition, and enormous in its ingenuity. As such, it is distinctly out of step with the times. Monumentality is acceptable in the action blockbuster, but when it comes to anything else, the small and the subtle and the half-toned are the markers of refined taste. Payne and his collaborator and frequent cowriter Jim Taylor produced one of the great American comedies about taste as a social marker, Sideways (2004), and so they must have known they were going way out on a limb here. What they’ve created

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  • Amy Taubin

    1 SPOOR (Agnieszka Holland with Kasia Adamik) A primeval forest in Poland is the battleground for the no-holds-barred struggle of a woman who risks everything to protect the creatures that live there from a corrupt, death-dealing, patriarchal status quo. The greatest film by a world cinema master.

    2 QUEST (Jonathan Olshefski) A remarkably intimate portrait of the Rainey family of North Philadelphia, who welcomed Olshefski and his camera into their home over ten years with a kindness and generosity of spirit that make the documentary a unique gift to audiences.

    3 GET OUT (Jordan Peele) Racism

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  • Sliding Doors

    WORLDS COLLIDE in Anita Thacher’s radiant Anteroom. The 1982 installation has been exactingly re-created at Microscope Gallery, using all but obsolete analog technology, specifically two slide projectors synced by a Tascam that uses audio tape to queue the slides changes. I’m beginning with the technology because the analog “imperfections” enhance the particular physicality of the piece, which not only is ravishing to the eye but also elicits an associative, elusive, and unstable sense of one’s own interiority.

    Thacher, who died in September, began her career in the early 1960s as a painter and

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  • Unprofessional Pride

    IT’S HARD TO IMAGINE a more eclectic group of films sharing a single series than those being screened by the Film Society of Lincoln Center under the umbrella title “The Non-Actor.” From Sergei Eisenstein’s October: Ten Days That Shook the World (1928), F. W. Murnau’s Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931), and Roberto Rossellini’s Germany Year Zero (1948) to Shirley Clarke’s The Cool World (1963), Andy Warhol’s Vinyl (1965), Ousmane Sembene’s Black Girl (1966), Straub-Huillet’s Othon (1970), and Pedro Costa’s Colossal Youth (2006), the range is nothing if not bold. In addition to outright

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  • Lost and Found

    “WE WERE A GENERATION OF ORPHANS” is how Werner Herzog, the most prominent survivor of the celebrated class of filmmakers whose disparate practices were said to constitute the New German Cinema, has described the situation he and his contemporaries faced coming into their own in the 1960s. In their most literal sense, his words refer to the ruinous casualties of World War II, but Herzog was also speaking to the peculiar situation of German cineastes looking for a way to connect to a national tradition whose continuity had been severed during the years of National Socialism, when the mighty

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  • It Follows

    IT’S HALLOWEEN NIGHT, 1984, in the new season of Stranger Things, and police chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is talking to a locked door. The show’s telekinetic heroine Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is on the other side, age thirteen, reenacting Poltergeist (1982) with the TV tuned to a dead channel. “Sorry, kid,” he mumbles, trying to be a dad. “I lost track of time . . .”

    That could be a hot new slogan for Netflix, which produces the series. In the fictional small town of Hawkins, Indiana, the 1980s are brought back from the dead in high definition, every frame like a window into a dollhouse

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  • DESIRING MACHINE

    “FROM THE START, pianists have an uphill battle to become good musicians, because of the essentially mechanical nature of their instrument,” the critic Nicholas Spice once wrote of Glenn Gould. “Where string players, wind players and singers are obliged to involve their bodies and their breathing in their technique, pianists can sit at their keyboards like computer operators.” If the piano is a kind of machine, one could say that hands—famously fetishized by Michael Haneke’s cool gaze in The Piano Teacher—are the link by which the pianist yokes herself to the machine. Or, better,

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  • O Pioneers!

    NEVADA IS FAMOUS for shotgun weddings, but from 1931 to 1970, the state was a mecca for prospective divorcées. It was one of few places in the US that offered a wide range of legal grounds for ending a marriage, and it had a lax residency requirement—a mere six weeks. Divorce became a veritable industry in Reno, where dude ranches catered specifically to those looking to untie the knot.

    This Wild West is the unlikely setting for the same-sex romance depicted in Desert Hearts (1985), which was recently digitally restored by the Criterion Collection, Janus Films, and the UCLA Film & Television

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  • To B, or Not to B

    POVERTY ROW WASN’T A PLACE ON ANY MAP. The studios were scattered around Los Angeles and its environs: Republic was based in Studio City with a ranch for cowboy pictures in Encino. Monogram did its oaters in Placerite Canyon, with a lot on Sunset Boulevard owned today by the Church of Scientology. Producers Releasing Corporation moved from Gower Street to Santa Monica Boulevard, where they would eventually acquire the pompous sobriquet Eagle-Lion Films after being purchased by British producer J. Arthur Rank. What unified the “B-Hive” wasn’t geography but the sort of work that they did—B pictures

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  • Hyde and Seek

    PERHAPS MOTHER!, that self-gormandizing envisaging of Roman Polanski’s Stardust Memories as an all-you-can-swallow buffet of metaphysical leftovers and creamed corn à la mode, left you unsatisfied. Then Stephen Frears’s much-maligned and oft-magnificent Mary Reilly (1996) is the perfect Goth-Hitchcock antidote. A subliminally satirical reworking of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tale from Frears and screenwriter Christopher Hampton, Mary Reilly is a batty extension of their previous Dangerous Liaisons into the overlapping terrain of Victorian manners and sexual horror. The film is a world of

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