September 17, 2014
Water and Power

A short piece about a film made in Los Angeles. The L Magazine, September 17.

Water and Power was directed by the still-living American filmmaker Pat O’Neill, who was born in Los Angeles in 1939. He began making 16mm films in 1963 and designed special effects for Hollywood films for several years before and after completing his effects-laden independent 35mm feature. O’Neill continued to work in 35mm post-Water and Power, including for his celebrated film The Decay of Fiction, until transitioning to digital video in 2009.   

A 35mm print of Water and Power recently preserved by the Academy Film Archive will screen on Sunday, September 21 in New York at Anthology Film Archives within the film series "Lines and Nodes: Media, Infrastructure, and Aesthetics." The series is connected to a symposium of the same name that will occur at New York University on Friday, September 19. The goal of these events, as per the series website, is to “bring together artists and scholars to examine the mediated and aesthetic dimensions of extraction and infrastructure” and to explore a range of topics including “globalization, transmission, digitization, territorialization, labor migration, displacement, sustainability, [and] security.” 

The “Lines and Nodes” films that I have seen and liked from among the series’s six film programs include Daybreak ExpressTectonicsCanalThe Path of Oil, and Trade Tattoo.

Water and Power will screen in the series’s closing program, called “Water,” along with two recent short films, 28 Outfalls and Gowanus Canal, which were directed by Adam Diller and by Sarah Christman, respectively. The two younger artists speak about their work below. Their words are followed by a quote from Leo Goldsmith, one of the programmers of “Lines and Nodes,” about how the session’s three films address each other.

Adam Diller:  28 Outfalls developed from a study of Combined Sewer Outflow (CSO) sites. After repeatedly visiting the 28 sites with the highest flow during a six-month period, I started to focus less on the obvious elements of these settings (including waste) and more on a quality that I found common to all of them—a sensation of somehow being both inside and outside the city. My film focuses on this peripheral vibe, with the thought that connecting with these CSO sites can give a visceral experience of the city’s infrastructure and mode of relating to its environment.

Sarah Christman: In 2010 I completed a year-long study of a public beach in Jamaica Bay with a 16mm film called Broad ChannelGowanus Canal resulted from my subsequent collaboration with the New York-based biologist and artist Jenifer Wightman, who creates living sculptures from mud and water samples of polluted waterways. Jeni saw Broad Channel and invited me to film her sculptures - not to document her process, but as a departure point for my own film. 

I combined 16mm time-lapse imagery with underwater audio recordings by filmmaker and sound artist Kevin T. Allen to transport the viewer below the surface of one of New York City’s most contaminated bodies of water, where microorganisms thrive amidst manmade waste. In making the film, I explored my ongoing fascination with the exchanges between people, ecology, and industry that take place within urban spaces.

Leo Goldsmith:  28 OutfallsGowanus Canal, and Water and Power all share an approach to depicting landscapes (or aquascapes) that accounts for their palimpsest-like nature, revealing the changes that these spaces have seen over time, the complexities of ecosystems, and the relations between the human and the microbial. In doing so, they also all assume an oblique position that falls somewhere between documentary and experimental cinema — and between research and aesthetics — that is quite crucial both to our greater series and to the symposium that inspired it.

All three filmmakers address the issue of water’s relationship to geographic and economic specificities of cityscapes in exploratory, challenging, and altogether remarkable ways. Pat O’Neill’s film is especially important, as he’s been bringing his unique vision to bear on issues of landscape and infrastructure since 1976’s Sidewinder’s Delta, or even as early as 1964’s Bump City. It’s a rare treat to be able to screen the Academy Film Archive’s restored 35mm print of Water and Power in New York, where his work has been sadly neglected in recent years. We hope that it screens here more often in the future. 

September 15, 2014
Life’s Compass: Talena Sanders on Liahona

An interview focused around a beautiful film. Filmmaker Magazine, August 20.

This interview is conducted with the installation artist and filmmaker Talena Sanders about her first feature-length film, Liahona, which premiered in New York last year at Views from the Avant-Garde along with her short The Relief Mining Co.

At one point Sanders mentions the influence that the American filmmaker David Gatten has had on her work. Gatten is a remarkable artist responsible for films such as The Extravagant Shadows and the ongoing Secret History of the Dividing Line series.

I consider both filmmakers friends, and something that I value in both their work is the importance they place on projection. Gatten and Sanders play with film form in remarkable ways that I think can only really be felt within darkened communal settings, and do so largely from desires to share their work and themselves with viewers willing to meet them.

Liahona will next screen on Thursday, September 18 in São Paulo within the fourteenth edition of the Indie Festival, whose events will occur at CineSesc, home to one of the city’s very best screening rooms.

The Indie consistently provides a bounty of thrilling films within its world cinema panorama and directorial retrospectives. The works by this year’s two retrospective-honored filmmakers, Eugène Green and Albert Serra, are currently unknown to me save for Serra’s dazzling Story of My Death. As for the panorama, in addition to Liahona I have already seen and liked 20,000 Days on EarthI’m Not Him, The Iron Ministry, Journey to the West, and Two Shots Fired. I look forward to discovering the lineup’s other jewels. 

September 14, 2014
Rendez-vous à Bray

A brief piece on a haunting film. The L Magazine, September 10.

A digital presentation of the recently restored Rendez-vous à Bray (whose title translates to Rendezvous at Bray), directed by André Delvaux, will screen in New York at the Spectacle Theater within the film series "How Anna Got Her Groove Back: Karina After Godard." The series lineup also includes the musical Anna and the science-fiction film The Time to Die, both starring Anna Karina.

The Denmark-born and still-living actress is known best for her collaborations with Jean-Luc Godard, to whom she was married between 1961 and 1965 and with whom she made eight films in France. Godard first saw her in a soap commercial and subsequently offered her a small role in his debut feature, Breathless, which she refused, because it would have required her to appear nude.

She then accepted Godard’s invitation to star in his follow-up feature, Le Petit Soldat, and went on to appear in his A Woman is a WomanMy Life to LiveBand of OutsidersPierrot le FouAlphavilleAnticipation (Godard’s segment of the omnibus film The Oldest Profession), and Made in U.S.A. She also appeared onscreen with him during this time in a charming episode of Agnès Varda’s film Cléo from 5 to 7.

She was a talented actress independent of Godard, though, as evidenced by work such as her tremendous lead performance in Jacques Rivette’s The Nun and her brief but indelible self-offering as one of two transfixing women in Delvaux’s film. (The other appears inside the protagonist’s mind in flashbacks, and is played by Rivette regular Bulle Ogier.)

The Belgian director Delvaux made films both in Flemish and in French, and directed several beguiling works in addition to Rendez-vous à Bray, such as The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short and Un soir, un train (aka A Night, a Train). These films focus on people ambiguously passing through layers of love, time, and reality, and offer their worlds and everything in them as possible phantoms of human minds.

This includes cinema itself, as suggested by Delvaux’s beautiful short 1001 Films, made with material found at the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique (aka the Royal Film Archive of Belgium). That same film archive has recently restored much of Delvaux’s film work and released it on DVD, providing an immeasurable service to film history along with an incredible gift. 

September 12, 2014
The Past -- and the Great Hou Hsiao-hsien -- Flourish at MOMI

An article about a great living filmmaker. The Village Voice, September 10.

This piece is published in honor of the film series "Also like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien," which begins tonight in New York at the Museum of the Moving Image (MoMI). Though the literalist in me is wary of using the word “complete” - there is at least one Hou-directed commercial that the MoMI lineup does not include - the series offers a tremendous display of Hou’s work.

It includes all seventeen of his completed features (with his eighteenth, The Assassin, anticipated for 2015), along with short films directed by him, four great films from other directors with which he was involved, and Olivier Assayas’s documentary HHH: A Portrait of Hou Hsiao-Hsien. Furthermore, everything is showing on celluloid save for Assayas’s film and Hou’s 2011 short La Belle Epoque, both of which were shot digitally; and all of the celluloid works are screening on 35mm (with new prints of Good Men, Good Women and Flowers of Shanghai struck for the series) save for The Green, Green Grass of Home, Hou’s third feature, which will screen in anamorphic 16mm.   

This is a special retrospective, and I am pleased to report that its screenings aren’t limited to New York. Series curator Richard I. Suchenski (the Director of Bard College’s recently established Center for Moving Image Arts and, in full disclosure, a friend and colleague of mine) has assembled an international tour whose list of stops can be found here.

Suchenski has also edited an impressive related book devoted to Hou that includes several different authors’ critical essays about the films as well as interviews with Hou and his collaborators. Many of these illuminating texts are being published for the first time.

I chose to focus my Village Voice article on Hou’s films around Flowers of Shanghai and The Puppetmaster due to the importance that I believed the Moving Image program was granting them. The realities of print journalism include word counts; while writing, I decided not to mention several of Hou’s films at all simply for reasons of space.

The great films directed by Hou that are not named in the article include The Boys from FengkueiA Summer at Grandpa’sDust in the WindDaughter of the NileGoodbye South, GoodbyeThree Times, and The Electric Princess Picture House.

The film series’s four wonderful works not directed by Hou are - in addition to Assayas’s film - Chen Kun-hou’s Growing Up (which Hou co-wrote with his future frequent screenwriting partner Chu Tien-wen), Edward Yang’s Taipei Story (which Hou produced, co-wrote, and starred in), Wu Nien-jen’s A Borrowed Life (on which Hou served as executive producer), and Jia Zhangke’s I Wish I Knew (in which Hou appears speaking about his inspiration for Flowers of Shanghai during a train ride that recalls the railway settings of Dust in the Wind and Goodbye South, Goodbye).

Assayas - a French filmmaker responsible for beautiful and surprising fiction works such as Cold WaterIrma Vep, and Summer Hours - made his documentary portrait of Hou after discovering Taiwanese cinema as a film critic. 

Two of the other four directors’ names might also already be known to cinephile readers. Yang stood with Hou at the forefront of the New Taiwan Cinema movement and directed seven features, including masterworks such as A Brighter Summer Day and Yi Yi (A One and a Two), before his 2007 death.

The 44 year-old Jia - responsible for powerful films such as PlatformThe World24 City, and A Touch of Sin - writes movingly in the Suchenski book about the impact he felt from seeing The Boys from Fengkuei during his time in film school. A conversation between Jia and Hou about their respective approaches to filmmaking can be found online (both in English and in Portuguese) in the catalogue of a recent Jia retrospective held in Brazil.         

September 16: A few days after making this post, I received an unexpected gift - a link connecting me to a preview copy of the recent documentary Flowers of Taipei - New Taiwan Cinema, directed by Chinlin Hsieh. This excellent film by Hsieh (who works as a programmer at the International Film Festival Rotterdam) travels back to the 1980s, a decade of economic growth and loosening restrictions in Taiwan, in order to research how the island’s filmmakers were responding to ways in which (says an interviewee) “The history of Taiwan was revealed piece by piece.”

Hsieh’s film does so largely with interviews whose presentations diverge from the monotonous talking-head approach of much documentary filmmaking through scenes of people eagerly conversing with each other about how they were first introduced to the work of Hou, Yang, and fellow Taiwanese filmmakers, as well as what riches they found within the films. They share their understandings, and in doing so, deepen ours.

The interviewees include foreign critics and programmers such as Marco Müller and Tony Rayns who helped promote the New Taiwan Cinema movement, along with important younger filmmakers - familiar devotees like Assayas and Jia, plus Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Martín Rejtman, Wang Bing, and many others - who describe being moved by what they saw.

Flowers of Taipei additionally presents clips from many New Taiwan Cinema films made not only by Hou and by Yang, but also by some of their lesser-known cohorts such as Wan Jen and Wang Tung. In several cases, the clips are presented in digital transfers of higher quality than I had imagined that their source films’ images could possess today, giving further incentive to dream of chances to watch New Taiwan Cinema films projected. 

September 9, 2014
The Blues Accordin' to Lightnin' Hopkins

A brief piece about a sweet film. The L Magazine, September 3.

The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins recently screened in New York on DCP at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) as part of the film series “Les Blank,” mounted in tribute to the late, great American documentarian who passed away last year at age 77 after more than a half a century’s worth of films. 

Blank’s other wonderful works include Dizzy GillespieThe Sun’s Gonna ShineA Well Spent LifeWerner Herzog Eats His ShoeBurden of Dreams (about the making of Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo), Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers, and Gap-Toothed Women. These films and many others (including several pleasurable records of Louisiana’s Cajun culture) offer loving odes to the act of finding one’s own way through the world. Blank’s final film, a documentary portrait of another great American filmmaker called How to Smell a Rose: A Visit with Ricky Leacock in Normandy (co-directed by Gina Leibrecht), premiered earlier this year.

Blank’s son Harrod Blank - himself a documentary filmmaker - offers some words below about his father’s favorite among his own films:

Harrod Blank:  The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins established my father Les Blank’s career as an independent filmmaker. He first learned his craft through directing countless industrial films, and this helped him express his emphatic view of the beauty of life surrounding him with Lightnin’ Hopkins, a story built around a portrait. The film didn’t fit into the box reserved for documentaries at that time, and even today it hasn’t really been properly defined. It’s part poetry, part observation, and all testament to the way in which Les saw the world – with a love that he tuned into through his eyes and shared through his lens. I think that Lightnin’ Hopkins is an ode to the essence of being, of living, of creating, and of making the best out of blues and of life.    

August 29, 2014
Nuria Ibáñez [on The Naked Room]

An interview with the director of a remarkable recent film. artforum.com (“500 Words” section), August 29.

The Naked Room is Spain-born filmmaker Nuria Ibáñez’s second feature-length documentary following 2009’s The Tightrope. The film is set entirely inside a children’s hospital in Mexico City and focuses largely on the faces of young people as they tell their stories to doctors during psychiatric consultations.

I haven’t seen anything like The Naked Room before, with its great plainness of form, sensitivity to suffering, and openness to human need. The only film to which I would compare it is Forugh Forrakhzad’s The House is Black - for the two films’ shared recognition of humanity, and for their shared spirit of warmth and kindness towards one’s fellows.

Since 2010 Ibáñez has run the Mexico-based production company Miss Paraguay Productions with director/producer Mercedes Moncada Rodríguez, whose remarkable film Magic Words (Breaking a Spell) received its U.S. theatrical premiere run this past May. 

August 25, 2014
Menahem Golan

August 25: The link above leads to a trailer for the film Love Streams, produced by Menahem Golan, who died August 8 at age 85. 

The Israel-born Golan was known best for prolifically directing and producing popular action films throughout the 1970s and 1980s. During this time, he also used the company he founded, The Cannon Group, to back several smaller arthouse films, such as BarflyShy PeopleTough Guys Don’t Dance, and Jean-Luc Godard’s inimitable King Lear.

Golan’s artisanal productions additionally included the last feature credited to American actor-director-writer John Cassavetes, which recently received its first-ever official North American home video release thanks to The Criterion Collection. This release comes not a moment too soon; Golan and Cassavetes’s collaboration thirty years ago resulted in one of the greatest movies ever made.  

August 24, 2014
Goshogaoka

A brief piece about a pleasurable film. The L Magazine, August 20.

Goshogaoka, directed by the American filmmaker and still photographer Sharon Lockhart, will be screening in New York on Tuesday, August 26th at Light Industry. This clever and original dance film (made in collaboration with Stephen Galloway, former ballet director of the Frankfurt Opera) will appropriately be screening on a double-bill with the short film A Study in Choreography for Camera, directed by Maya Deren.

The 16mm pairing highlights how the Russia-born choreographer and dancer Deren incorporated dance registers into her foundational American experimental films - which additionally included Meshes of the AfternoonAt Land, Ritual in Transfigured Time, and Meditation on Violence - as well as into her field research on Haitian culture and rituals, which led to her book-length study Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti and to her unfinished film of the same name.

The double-bill also emphasizes the still-living Lockhart’s longtime interest in capturing poetic beauties of everyday motion. Her films are consistently performance records, whether they be set in overtly artistic venues - such as the titular theater of Teatro Amazonas - or in more seemingly mundane settings, such as the workers’ haunts of Lunch Break and Double Tide.    

The film Goshogaoka is closely related to Lockhart’s series of twelve still photographs called Goshogoaka Girls Basketball Team. Lockhart made both works during an artistic residency in Japan, using members of a girls’ basketball team at a high school located in a Tokyo suburb as her actors and models. Below, she briefly discusses the relationships between these two works and their moment’s place within her career:

How did you come to make Goshogaoka? What inspired the film?

Sharon Lockhart: At the time I was looking for ways to make an ethnographic film while on a residency in Japan. I was considering the ways cultures look at each other and also thinking about movement and reading about the pioneers of postmodern dance. After encountering the girls’ basketball team at this high school I thought that all the parts fit together perfectly. Their activities were themselves an interpretation of American culture, so I knew that interpretive models would be foregrounded.

What do you believe to be the relationship between the film and your still photographs of the members of the Goshogaoka girls’ basketball team? 

In a way, the film reads like a photograph, and the photographs read like cinema. The photographs suggest movement and narrative, while the film suggests tableau and close inspection. In the photographs, the girls are aping movement, copying action poses caught by flash photography in magazines.

What place does Goshogaoka hold within the context of your work as an artist?

Goshogaoka started so many things for me. It was my first project working outside the United States and my first attempt at posing questions around intercultural interpretation. It was also my introduction to working formally with choreography. When I looked at the film again recently, I was surprised to see how many aspects of my work on it still seem relevant to me.

August 21, 2014
Heinz Emigholz: building in time

An article about a great filmmaker, published on the occasion of the world premiere of his most recent feature, The Airstrip, at the Berlin International Film Festival this past February. Sight & Sound Online, August 8.

The careful composition of German filmmaker Heinz Emigholz's The Airstrip presents both man-made and natural spaces in the service of an argument about how contemporary architecture reflects the path that the world has taken since the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing the utopian ethos of Modernism and leading to a time when, writes Emigholz, “to ‘level a city’ became a new architectonic term.” In its questing approach his film—whose moods shift between playful, meditative, sarcastic, and bluntly moral in relation to a scene’s environment—falls somewhere between philosophical inquiry and speculative fiction.

The Airstrip holds much in common with Emigholz’s previous fiction features, such as The Meadow of Things and The Holy Bunch, yet it is also deeply connected to a number of documentary films that he has made within a series called Photography and beyond, of which The Airstrip marks the 21st part. The series’s other installments, all remarkable, include (in their order of series entry) The Basis of Make-Up ISullivan’s BanksMaillart’s BridgesThe Basis of Make-Up IIMiscellanea IMiscellanea IIGoff in the DesertD’Annunzio’s CaveThe Basis of Make-Up IIIMiscellanea IIISense of ArchitectureSchindler’s HousesLoos OrnamentalTwo Projects by Frederick KieslerA Museum in EssenEl Greco in ToledoLeonardo’s TearsOn Board the USS Ticonderoga, Parabeton - Pier Luigi Nervi and Roman ConcretePerret in France and AlgeriaTwo Museums, and more films to come. 

August 18, 2014
Elaine Stritch

The link above leads to a trailer for the film Providence, directed by Alain Resnais and featuring a diverse ensemble of wonderful actors. They include the American actress Elaine Stritch, a sharp-voiced possessor of great musical talent and fierce wit who died July 17 at age 89.

Stritch belonged much more to theater than to cinema. She was known best for her roles in Broadway shows (including her brilliant work with Stephen Sondheim), and the films that provided her with her biggest showcases were documentary records of her stage work.

However, she occasionally found rich supporting parts in fiction films whose scenes she could steal with aplomb. Her role in Resnais’s film as the embittered, hard-drinking lover of a haughty younger British barrister (both of them possible products of a writer’s imagination) is among the most shining examples.  

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