• Digital Watch

    JAMES BENNING is as synonymous with observing the evolving American landscape as he is with 16-mm filmmaking, so it makes perfect sense that his first feature-length work in high-definition video would be an investigation of a German territory largely unfamiliar to the artist. In many ways, the construction of Ruhr, 2009, will be familiar to Benning’s followers: For each of seven shots that constitute the two-hour work, Benning’s frame remains fixed, allowing events—often subtle and frequently located at the threshold of wilderness and industry—to unfold before the camera in “real” time, unhurried

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  • Long and Short of It

    KELLY REICHARDT’S extremely promising debut feature, River of Grass (1994), suggested that she, unlike her protagonists—a pair of wannabe outlaws, too hapless and depressed to escape their Broward County backwater—was capable of a big move. Instead, she retreated from theatrical feature filmmaking for more than a decade, explaining that she found the experience of dealing with crews and financing alienating. The melancholy indie two-hander Old Joy (2006) was hailed as her comeback, as tough and tender in its revision of the “bromance” as River of Grass was of the road movie. She followed with

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  • Counting Sheep

    A FILM OF SUBTLE SHIFTS and slowly dawning disclosures, Sweetgrass documents with dispassionate rigor the two-hundred-mile journey undertaken by a group of sheepherders across Montana’s Absaroka-Beartooth mountains. Eschewing narration, interviews, or any explicit intrusions of directorial viewpoint, filmmakers Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor fix their toiling subjects in exactingly framed, frequently static compositions set off against the backdrop of the varied, occasionally majestic landscapes of the herding trail.

    In any nonfiction film that feints Wisemanian objectivity, the shaping

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  • Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon

    A BOY WANDERS THE RUINS of bombed-out Berlin, denied solace and sustenance at every turn. Coached to “let the weak disappear” by a pedophiliac black marketeer, a kind of Nazi Erlking who was once his schoolteacher, the child poisons his ailing father and then kills himself, less out of contrition than despair. Young Edmund, who responds to a malign postwar world by leaping to his death, is the protagonist of Roberto Rossellini’s Germany Year Zero (1948), long on the list of Michael Haneke’s ten favorite films. Characteristically, the Austrian master chose neither Rome, Open City (1945) nor Paisà

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  • Corneliu Porumboiu’s Police, Adjective

    LIKE 12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST, for which Corneliu Porumboiu won the 2006 Caméra d’Or at Cannes, Police, Adjective, the Romanian director’s second feature, is, in part, a film about language, particularly how the contradictory usages of certain words are dead giveaways for the state of a society. Police, to take a loaded example, can be employed as an adjective in such salient phrases as police procedural (the film’s genre) and police state (a form of government that continues to cast a shadow, as Porumboiu shows, on Romania’s newborn, already stagnating democracy).

    For most of the film, Cristi (

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  • For the Hell of It

    THE PENULTIMATE INSTALLMENT of Thomas Beard and Ed Halter’s “Summer Knowledge” series at Artists Space featured early 16-mm films (1975–1987) by the seminal and enigmatic Leslie Thornton. In keeping with the spirit and format of Light Industry, the programmers’ home venue in Brooklyn, Beard and Halter facilitated an open, rigorous conversation to complement each of the series’s six evenings of work by moving-image artists—William E. Jones, Anne Charlotte Robertson, Michael Robinson, Paul Sharits, Emily Wardill, and Thornton—artists whose practices straddle the film and art worlds and whom some

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  • Tony Tony Tony

    TERRY GILLIAM’S AMBITIOUS FANTASY, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, set to open in the US on Christmas Day, already did well in some parts of Europe when it premiered there in October—notably Italy and the UK, where it placed third during its opening weekends in both countries. I saw it the first time myself in Saint Andrews, Scotland, with an appreciative audience in early November. The lead character, Tony—played by the late Heath Ledger and three other actors (Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell) who were called in when Ledger died halfway through the filming—is partly conceived as

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  • Comic Strip

    CINEMATIC IS OFTEN A FRAUGHT TERM when used to describe comics. On the one hand, it can aptly express a story’s visual syntax (close-ups, jump cuts, dissolves); applied a different way, however, it derogatorily suggests that a series of panels are ready-made storyboards. But for a cartoonist like Dash Shaw, who revels in drawing’s fluidity and expressive imperfections, the transition between comics and animation is a natural one. His splendid four-part animated web series for, The Unclothed Man in the 35th Century A.D., underscores what’s best about all of his work—its eclecticism and

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  • Thank God It’s Friday

    BAM’S TIMELY REVIVAL of Howard Hawks’s great 1940 screwball comedy showcases two once-thriving, now nearly extinct traditions: print journalism and meaty roles for women in funny films. In one of cinema’s most felicitous gender reassignments, Hawks’s movie, written by Charles Lederer, transforms the two male leads of its source material—Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s 1928 hit play The Front Page—into ex-spouses Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) and Walter Burns (Cary Grant). Hildy, an ace reporter for the Morning Post, arrives at the office to tell Walter, also her editor, that she’s quitting

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  • Flight of Fancy

    A STIFF DOSE of domestic melodrama topped off with a head-spinning chaser of sci-fi horror, Ricky is a celebration of a conventional virtue (parenthood) that still manages to take the road less traveled. Katie (Alexandra Lamy) and Paco (Sergi López) are two blue-collar coworkers who one day sneak away from the assembly line to fool around in the bathroom. Cut to a few weeks later, and Katie is explaining to her mature, responsible daughter Lisa (Mélusine Mayance) that the apartment’s occupancy is about to double: Paco will be moving in, and she will soon be joined by a baby brother. “We’ll be

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  • Being Ridiculous

    DRAMA, AS WE ALL KNOW, IS CONFLICT. Ask any aspiring screenwriter. Conflict between characters, conflict within characters, conflict between characters and external circumstances. Among the many subversions and perversions that shape the film oeuvre of Andy Warhol, the treatment of conflict is paramount. In the films of the silent period, which by and large are portraits—the four-and-a-half minute Screen Tests and the longer single-subject movies such as Eat (1964) or Henry Geldzahler (1964)—conflict resides within the person on the screen and usually involves the ambivalent emotions and impulses

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  • Parent Trap

    IT’S ODD, AND SLIGHTLY UNSETTLING, when a great director assumes the style of another great director, but that’s what seems to have happened in Werner Herzog’s My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, a surreal psychodrama loosely based on the bizarre matricide committed by talented student actor and basketball player Mark Yavorsky in 1979 San Diego. Written by Herzog and longtime associate Herbert Golder, a classics professor at Boston University, the film was executive-produced by David Lynch—and it shows.

    Renamed Brad McCullum for the movie, the Yavorsky character is played with bewildered intensity

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