• Closet Case

    PHILADELPHIA FOR THE ART-HOUSE CROWD (with crossover appeal to readers of Allure and fans of Mad Men), A Single Man is a gay film designed for the tolerant admiration of straight audiences. For his directorial debut, Tom Ford, the former creative director of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, has adapted Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel (the author’s personal favorite of his books) about a day in the life of George, a fifty-eight-year-old gay Englishman who teaches literature at a small college in Los Angeles; memories of his longtime partner, Jim, who died eight months prior in a car crash,

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  • Style and Substance

    THE NEW GERMAN CINEMA that blossomed in the 1970s is often reduced to three directors—Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder—for US consumption. The distribution company Facets has slowly been working to counteract this trend: Soon to come is a stream of Alexander Kluge DVDs; for now, Facets has completed its release of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s trilogy of films on the roots of German pathology, following Hitler, a Film from Germany (1977) with Ludwig: Requiem for a Virgin King (1972) and Karl May (1974).

    Ludwig blends the influences of Wagner—who is repeatedly name-dropped by

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  • Madness and Civilization

    “CELEBRATING CHEKHOV,” a miniseries of adaptations of the Russian author’s work, is currently being presented at the Walter Reade Theater by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Confined to works by Soviet and Russian filmmakers, the series includes both familiar titles—Andrei Konchalovsky’s Uncle Vanya (1970) and Yuli Karasik’s The Seagull (1970)—and lesser-known ones: Chekhov’s Motives (2002), directed by Kira Muratova, and Ward No. 6 (2009), directed by Karen Shakhnazarov and Aleksandr Gornovsky, the Russian submission to the 2009 Oscar race, which is having its American premiere in the series.

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  • Ride Lonesome

    SINCE DEBATES OVER AUTEURISM now seem as distant as Madame de Staël, it was hardly noticed at the 2008 Cannes International Film Festival, even as the Directors’ Fortnight celebrated its fortieth birthday, that the politique’s monism had created a small crisis. Through caprice, impatience, or sheer fatigue, critics experienced collective irritation with the staunch constancy of several celebrated auteurs. Nuri Bilge Ceylan, even while extending his muted narrative into once unimaginable modes of suspense and melodrama in Three Monkeys, was scorned for relying on his patented long takes and

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  • Young Love

    “I NEVER TIRE of filming with children,” François Truffaut once said. “All that a child does on-screen, he seems to do for the first time.” More than any of the director’s other works, Small Change (1976) is devoted to cataloguing these magically fresh exploratory acts and gestures.

    Made in collaboration with the people of Thiers, a steep-sloped town in central France, Small Change was shot over a two-month school break during the summer of ’75. Truffaut’s workshop approach to filming a group of child nonactors brings to mind Laurent Cantet’s recent film The Class (2008), but unlike that timely

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  • A Walk to Remember

    THE PERFORMANCES MATCH THE LANDSCAPE: devastated and raw, deliberately unrefined. In The Road, we walk alongside an exhausted father and son as they traverse a gray, vaguely familiar hellscape. The father is prone to emotional outbursts, the young boy is still struggling to comprehend his own emotional capacity; yet together, in the shadows of a world where gangs seek victims who can serve as both prison labor and food, these two final members of a devastated family struggle to maintain a semblance of normalcy. When they come across a full can of Coca-Cola, the father (a scruffy Viggo Mortensen)

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  • A River Runs Through It

    RIVERS HAVE no poetic power anymore, German filmmaker Hans-Jürgen Syberberg tells us in David Barison and Daniel Ross’s 2004 documentary The Ister (now available on DVD). They have lost their mythic resonance and become part of the “machine” of “daily life.” These days, Syberberg asserts, nobody would create a major work of art about a river, the way Richard Wagner or Friedrich Hölderlin did. Syberberg’s musings appear at the very conclusion of Barison and Ross’s three-hour philosophical voyage. The film traces the Danube’s full course, from the Black Sea all the way to its source in southern

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  • Loan Star

    SOUTH KOREAN DIRECTOR Hong Sang-soo’s films haven’t yet attained steady American distribution, but they have had an impact on younger Korean filmmakers. Lee Yoon-ki’s My Dear Enemy (2008) is perhaps the first prominent Hong-influenced film to reach stateside screens, and it actually shows more of a flair for light comedy than Hong himself achieved in his latest film, Like You Know It All (2009).

    Lee has a gift for visual style, but he wears this virtuosity casually. The Steadicam Cinemascope shots that kick off My Dear Enemy make clear that the film will be something beyond the humdrum or prosaic.

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  • Here, There, Everywhere

    WHILE MOST FESTIVALS rush to trumpet the abundance of premieres in their lineups, the Viennale, a two-week cinephile’s delight that concluded last Wednesday, prides itself on a discerning mix of old and new. In fact, the sheer range of its retrospective programming tells you all you need to know about this ambitious, eclectic festival. This year’s edition featured a ten-film retro of the late Filipino director Lino Brocka, handpicked by his younger compatriots, including Khavn de la Cruz and Raya Martin. A parallel retrospective at the Austrian Filmmuseum, titled “The Unquiet American” and

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  • Pipe Dream

    BRIAN JONES PRESENTS THE PIPES OF PAN AT JOUJOUKA arrived in New York record stores in 1971. The name of the remote Moroccan village where Jones recorded the “Master Musicians”—as they are called on other recordings—is, in fact, Jajouka (the error was corrected when the recording was reissued in 1995), but everything else about this magic LP was perfect. I played it every day for weeks and have it still.

    Jones was introduced to Jajouka and its glorious kef-smoking, Sufi-related reed and percussion ensemble by Brion Gysin, who was a frequent visitor, along with his Tangiers literary pals William

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  • Bad Connection

    DISTINCTLY TWENTY-FIRST-CENTURY HEROINES, the protagonists in the Los Angeles–set videos of Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn exert tremendous willfulness and conviction, whether confronting social isolation or the apocalypse. The duo’s rough-hewn, largely improvised work showcases the singular, motormouthed talents of Kahn, whose bizarre, hilariously detail-rich monologues are boastful claims and pleas for connection. In their first work, Winner, 2002, Kahn plays Lois, a woman who has won a cruise on a radio call-in show; she’s filmed by Dodge, in the role of a never-seen camera operator named Peter

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  • Marie Way

    MARIE MENKEN was six-foot-two and hefty, with a foghorn voice that could silence a room, but she made films whose delicacy was their surprise. “Marie’s films were her flower garden,” wrote Jonas Mekas, in his obituary for Menken, who died in 1970 at age sixty-one. “Whenever she was in her garden she opened her soul, with all her secret wishes and dreams. They are all very colorful and sweet and perfect, and not too bulky, all made and tended with love, her little movies.”

    Some of these colorful and, yes, perfectly formed—but never sweet—movies are included in the “Essential Cinema” collection of

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