COLUMNS

  • João Pedro Rodrigues

    “THERE ARE CERTAIN THINGS we shouldn’t try to understand,” declares the eponymous bird watcher in João Pedro Rodrigues’s The Ornithologist—including, one surmises, the film he’s in. The most conventional of the Portuguese auteur’s protagonists, who have included a libidinous, latex-encased garbage collector seeking rough sex amid the rubbish (O fantasma [2000]) and an aged drag queen mortally poisoned by silicone breast implants (To Die like a Man [2009]), the solitary ornithologist nevertheless undergoes one wild ride after crashing his kayak on an annual trek to survey birds in a remote

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  • Church Folk

    IT’S A PLEASURE TO REPORT that at least half of this year’s selections in the Open Roads series of New Italian cinema would make any film festival worth attending.

    Edoardo De Angelis’s Indivisible is a flashy opening feature, with its tale of twin teenage girls physically joined at the hip, but it also underlines the powerful forces of church and family that remain critical elements in Italian movies. Both themes are as inextricably bound in this film as the twins themselves (played by Angela and Marianna Fontana), whose condition is exploited by a father who parades them around Naples to sing

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  • Fig Leaves

    AMONG THE NEARLY EXTINCT COMMUNITY of classic jazz purists, my uncle was relatively well known. Working under John Hammond at Columbia Records in the early 1960s, he produced the seminal reissue LP King of the Delta Blues (1961), a compilation of ’30s recordings by Robert Johnson that, along with Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music (1952) was a Rosetta Stone of the ’60s folk revival. His real love, however, was jazz, specifically early jazz—original Dixieland through the big-band swing era of the ’30s and early ’40s. He thought that bebop—the frenetic, highly improvisatory, small-band

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  • Eternal Return

    EUCALYPTUS TREES, WEAKENED BY DROUGHT, are on their last legs all over Los Angeles. One fell and knocked out the power lines next to my friend’s house, where I am staying, in Eagle Rock, and we stood on the deck drinking Vinho Verde––delicious, like if wine were beer––watching the action. A fire truck loitered for an hour, produced no helpers, and left. Disruption made the street its own neighborhood. Homeowners came out wondering, hands synchronized on hips. One man retrieved his digital camera and tripod and took commemorative photos. Another ambled the length of his driveway twice an hour to

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  • Who Runs the World?

    “I ALWAYS THOUGHT A PUNK was someone who took it up the ass,” William S. Burroughs once said, and no one has coupled the sodomite with the transgressive hellion more riotously than the Canadian filmmaker, self-styled “pornographic philosopher,” writer, and all-around queer rake Bruce LaBruce. Cruise the freak scene of his collected works with their populations of zombie teens, skinheads, and deranged auteurs (remember LaBruce as the drug-addled hero of Super 8 ½ [1994], guzzling cocktails in his Butthole Surfers T-shirt?), and discover an artist at once contemptuous of the hopelessly defanged

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  • The Heart of Maryland

    WALKING OUT OF BALTIMORE’S NEWLY RESTORED PARKWAY THEATER, I was in a daze after having watched a 35-mm print of Agnès Varda’s magnificent Vagabond (1985)—the first time analog film had been shown in the building in more than forty years. I then stumbled into a neighboring McDonald’s and queued up behind a slim older gentleman clad in head-to-toe Comme des Garçons who just happened to be the director of Pink Flamingos (1972). It is on the occasion of such pure strikes of Stendhal syndrome that having devoted one’s life to cinema seems like a not entirely worthless undertaking.

    I had been twice

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  • Burden to Bear

    A PRIMER ON THE WORK of the West Coast artist of the title—first name, Chris—Richard Dewey and Timothy Marrinan’s documentary Burden is well-researched but short on context. Piecing together video documentation of both the confrontational performance works that made Burden the most notorious artist of the 1970s and the intricately fabricated, often magically beautiful sculpture that he began to produce in the 1980s until he died in 2015, the filmmakers leave the commentary largely to Burden himself. Fortunately, he is articulate and seriously witty both in archival footage and in interviews

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  • Leaks and Geeks

    “INFORMATION WANTS TO BE FREE.” This cyberpunk maxim, originally uttered by Whole Earth Catalog publisher Stewart Brand in conversation with Apple’s Steve Wozniak at the 1984 Hackers Conference, rarely comes up in discussions of the character and motivations of Julian Assange, the editor in chief and global face of WikiLeaks. Assange has been an activist “publisher” for so long now that it is frequently forgotten he was originally a hacker—a very sophisticated one. Operating under the pseudonym Mendax from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, Assange successfully cracked the US Department of Defense

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  • Paz Encina

    PAZ ENCINA makes film objects and situational documentaries, or sit-docs, movies in which a dramatic narrative is transparently constructed from a handful of organized audiovisual facts. Sound in Encina’s minimalist films generally takes precedence over image. The artist is a formalist whose subject is the history of her native Paraguay—poor, landlocked, governed for decades by the ruthless right-wing dictator General Alfredo Stroessner.

    Encina, who studied classical guitar as a child, learned to read music before she knew the alphabet. She builds her films, she has said, on the foundation

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  • After Darko

    RICHARD KELLY’S now-legendary debut, Donnie Darko (2001), forged a bittersweet, nutty-poignant idiom from the pop-culture overload of the writer-director’s late 1980s suburban Virginia youth. (It feels as if Kelly was possessed by Donnie instead of merely being his creator.) Most impudently, the film juxtaposes the grinning title teen (Jake Gyllenhaal, exhibiting a quirky Travis Bickle–as–Boy Scout air) below a movie marquee featuring the dream Halloween team of The Evil Dead and The Last Temptation of Christ.

    That combination sums up Donnie Darko as well as anything: a comic-book Passion Play

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  • Digital Divide

    HOWEVER GRUDGINGLY film-lovers have accepted the hegemony of digital, there is no denying that avant-garde artists have spun gold from newer media. The indomitable, self-taught Ernie Gehr, whose film career began in the late 1960s and whose thirty-odd ventures in 16-mm include such gems as Still (1969–71), Serene Velocity (1970), Eureka! (1974), and Side/Walk Shuttle (1991), has more than doubled that output with digital works, the latest of which will be shown Monday at Redcat in Los Angeles.

    A master interrogator of space and gravity-defying cinema, Gehr has plumbed the possibilities of digital

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  • Stealing the Scene

    WHEN LAURIE SIMMONS’S new film My Art was screened at the Whitney Museum last fall, the artist and now movie director accompanied it with a talk in which she remarked on how few films had gotten the business of being an artist right. Indeed, so many films which have gotten it wrong come to mind—we probably all have our own cheesy favorites—that the prospect of a movie on artmaking by a feminist artist of Simmons’s standing, and one that she not only directed but wrote and stars in, seems likely to draw murmurs of “At last.” Certainly when the film finds a distributor—it plays at the Tribeca Film

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