new-york

Beth B

P.P.O.W. / Crosby Street Project / Anthology Film Archives

If only because of their intrepid advent in the wake of last year’s demonizing of “victim art,” Beth B’s simultaneous film retrospective and exhibitions struck bracing poses this winter. At the same time, they also suggested some of the problems with the genre.

B’s film work shows her to be a virtuoso of the talking head. In Stigmata, 1991, a half dozen men and women, each addressing the camera directly and alone, speak of their involvement with drugs. Cutting regularly among these hurt but articulate people, and occasionally interspersing shots of sunlit countryside, B brings out relationships among their stories, and sets a subtly absorbing pace. The one-minute Amnesia addresses the mechanisms of racism: here the speakers run through a series of slurs on “them”—comments that all sound current, but that the credits tell us date from 1992, when the film was made, to as far back as 1860.

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