PRINT December 2013

FILM: Best of 2013

Erika Balsom

Film reel of Luther Price’s Clown, 1991, about to be screened at the Oberhausen Central Station, May 5, 2013. Photo: Kurzfilmtage/ Daniel Gasenzer.

1 LUTHER PRICE (International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, Germany) The highlight of this tightly focused survey of the work of Boston-based experimental filmmaker Luther Price was the midnight screening of Clown (1991) in a makeshift bar at Oberhausen’s central train station. Rumor had it the floor might collapse, but that didn’t stop people from crowding in.

2 A SPELL TO WARD OFF THE DARKNESS (Ben Rivers and Ben Russell) How should a person live? Where can one locate utopian and even transcendent experience in a world that consistently forecloses it? Rivers and Russell lead the viewer through three possibilities in this collaborative feature.

3 IMITATION OF LIFE (Mathias Poledna) Poledna’s three-minute 35-mm animation—the centerpiece of the Austrian pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale—is whimsical only on its surface, asking questions about obsolescence, labor, history, and the fraught relationship between image and reality.

4 THE ESSAY FILM In new works such as John Akomfrah’s Stuart Hall Project and in historical programming like the BFI’s “Thought in Action: The Art of the Essay Film,” 2013 saw a wealth of engagements with this rather indefinable but vital form.

5 NARCISA HIRSCH AND MICHAEL SNOW IN CONVERSATION (TIFF Bell Lightbox, Toronto) In 1975, Hirsch shot Taller (Workshop), a loose remake of Snow’s 1970 35-mm slide piece A Casing Shelved, but, living in Buenos Aires, she had never seen the original. This special screening and onstage dialogue brought the two filmmakers together to respond to each other’s work for the first time.

Sam Ashby, They grew up on the outside of society. They weren’t looking for a fight. They were looking to belong., 2013, 12-minute sequence of twenty-six projected images, sound, viewing box.

6 PROVENANCE (Amie Siegel) Siegel traces—in reverse—the trajectory of the furniture Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret designed in the 1950s for Chandigarh, charting the intersection of transnational modernism and the global market for cultural objects.

7 NORTE, THE END OF HISTORY (Lav Diaz) Eschewing many of the now-cliché moves of so-called slow cinema while still demonstrating a major investment in duration, Diaz’s Dostoyevskian tale is a potent and poetic indictment of contemporary Filipino society.

8 OUT 1: NOLI ME TANGERE (Jacques Rivette) No English-subtitled print of this thirteen-hour 1971 film exists (rare screenings have featured soft subtitles projected live), but thanks to German imprint Absolut Medien, Rivette’s epic is now available on DVD.

9 A TOUCH OF SIN (Jia Zhang-ke) This examination of violence and exploitation in contemporary China initiates a new phase in Jia’s oeuvre, as the filmmaker departs from docu-fiction and embraces taut storytelling and purposeful artifice.

10 SAM ASHBY, THEY GREW UP ON THE OUTSIDE OF SOCIETY. THEY WEREN’T LOOKING FOR A FIGHT. THEY WERE LOOKING TO BELONG. (White Building, London) In Ashby’s video installation, Old Hollywood depictions of street gangs are accompanied by looped audio of case studies describing the use of aversion therapy to “cure” homosexuality in the 1960s. Where those patients would have received shocks if aroused, here another relationship to the image becomes possible.

Erika Balsom is a lecturer in film studies and liberal arts at King’s College, London. Her book, Exhibiting Cinema in Contemporary Art, was published by Amsterdam University Press earlier this year.