Millenium Actress: Zhao Tao

zhao tao

Originally published in Fireflies #3, Spring 2016

Zhao Tao’s first appearance in a film by Jia Zhangke features the actress, back turned to the camera, addressing an audience from the middle of a stage. Zhao’s role in Platform, Jia’s second feature, was her acting debut. In the decade-and-a-half since its release she’s appeared on a variety of stages, in a number of performative guises, in nearly all of Jia’s films. Needless to say she’s now synonymous with the director’s work, only periodically appearing in anyone else’s films (at the time of writing, her filmography lists only three credits in features not directed by Jia). Continue reading

The Last Shot in Detour and Some Earlier Moments


The following article, written by filmmaker and artist Morgan Fisher, was originally published in Cinema Scope 38, Spring 2009. Thank you to Morgan Fisher and Mark Peranson for allowing me to republish it here. Criterion’s Detour Blu-ray is available on March 19, 2019.

In the narration of a short film I finished in 1984, I talked about the last shot in Detour (1945), directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. My commentary was brief, and I knew even then that there was more to be said. The film in which I talk about Detour is Standard Gauge. It’s one continuous extreme close-up that shows one after another pieces of 35mm film that I had gathered in the course of my employment as an editor in Hollywood, while on the track I talk about each in turn. Apart from the titles, the film consists of this one shot, which is 32 minutes long. 

One of the pieces was from the leader of a reel of The Naked Dawn (1955), another film by Ulmer. In the leader was a frame with the title, The Naked Dawn. I had seen The Naked Dawn and liked it well enough, but the reason I included the piece of leader was because it gave me a chance to talk about the last shot in Detour. I love Detour, but the last shot is truly astonishing.  Continue reading

Looking Beyond the Screen: Biennale of Moving Images 2018

bim 2018

Originally published in frieze, March 2019

The slogan of the Biennale of Moving Images 2018, ‘The Sound of Screens Imploding’, isn’t merely a catchphrase, but a unifying concept reverberating through an array of film and gallery spaces. Billed as an ‘immersive exhibition’, last year’s edition – the third overseen by Andrea Bellini, director of the host venue, Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève – has expanded its remit accordingly, commissioning and enlisting films, music and performances as well as a series of individual audio-visual environments. Co-curated by Tate Modern’s Andrea Lissoni, this unique exhibition features 20 original projects that reimagine the aesthetic capacities of the screen and interrogate the moving image as a repository of ideas and information. Continue reading

Ready to Wear: Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Carne y Arena

carne y arena

Originally published in Film Comment, January/February 2018

Roger Ebert was fond of referring to cinema as “a machine that generates empathy.” In the last few years, the term “empathy machine” has been co-opted by proponents of virtual reality technology. In the artist’s statement that accompanies his new VR installation Carne y Arena (Virtually Present, Physically Invisible), an ambitious attempt to digitally re-create the process of illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, Alejandro G. Iñárritu goes one step further, outlining not simply an urge to engender the viewer’s empathy, but a desire to prompt a full-bodied response through “direct experience.” Continue reading

Let Art Flourish, Let the World Perish: Morgan Fisher on Another Movie

another movie

Originally published in Cinema Scope 74, Spring 2018

For Morgan Fisher, Another Movie is anything but another movie. The result of a decades-long reconsideration of the art and persona of Bruce Conner, Fisher’s first new film in fifteen years attempts to reckon with a work of such time-honored merit that its mere existence feel courageous. Conner’s epochal debut A Movie (1958), a 12-minute montage of disaster-related found footage set to Ottorino Respighi’s Pines of Rome, simultaneously crystalized a genre and incited what is now recognized as the second generation of the postwar American avant-garde, which Fisher’s first decade of meta-materialist film work both epitomizes and deconstructs on a movie by movie, method by method basis. Continue reading

Interview: Claude Lanzmann


A version of this interview was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter, May 5, 2016. Below is the complete transcript.

At 90 years old, director Claude Lanzmann made his first trip to the Academy Awards this past February on behalf of the Oscar-nominated documentary short film, Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah, Adam Benzine’s moving tribute to the nonfiction filmmaking titan and his most celebrated work, the landmark nine-hour Holocaust documentary Shoah (1985). Featuring new interviews with Lanzmann and a selection of critics and fellow directors, as well as unreleased footage from the making of Shoah, Benzine’s film is both an inside look at how a work of such historic and cinematic magnitude came to be and a loving portrait of an artist whose integrity and sense of humanity remains undiminished. Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah premieres on HBO on Monday, May 2, at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

The following are excerpts from an interview conducted on Feb. 27, the eve of the 88th Academy Awards that Lanzmann attended. Continue reading

Albert Serra’s Liberté

Liberté Serra

Originally published by frieze, March 8, 2018

Shapeshifting in both form and function, the work of Catalan filmmaker Albert Serra extends far beyond the cinema. A frequent disrupter of the medium’s prescribed models, Serra has long moved fluidly between the screen and the gallery, but his recent work in each field has evinced an increasing interest in the stage-bound dimensions of the theatre that was barely suggested in such early, folksy pastoral films as Honor of the Knights (2006) and Birdsong (2008). Bringing this preoccupation to what, for a lesser artist, would seem a logical endpoint, Serra set his most recent feature, the ravishingly macabre historical drama The Death of Louis XIV (2016), entirely in the bedchamber of the slowly withering French patriarch. If, in light of this progression, it seemed inevitable that Serra would one day try his hand at theatre proper, then Liberté, the director’s first large-scale work for the stage, confirms less a disciplinary reappraisal than a formal reallocation by other means.  Continue reading

Ben Rivers: Ways of Worldmaking


Originally published in Sight & Sound, November 2017

Concerned as much with its subjects and their surroundings as it is the material and aesthetic constituents of its presentation, the work of British artist and filmmaker Ben Rivers conjures highly tactile worlds of objects and ephemera. That Ben Rivers: Ways of Worldmaking, a new hardbound collection of Rivers-related art, essays and ephemera is itself a beautiful object should come as no surprise: all of Rivers’s films exist at once as audiovisual indices of largely anonymous people existing in vivid yet anonymous places, and as physical manifestations (i.e. documents) of their highly unique means and modes of production. Lest we forget, Rivers once titled one of his films Things (2014).  Continue reading

The Story So Far: Wavelengths 2016


Originally published in Sight & Sound, December 2016

Wavelengths, the Toronto International Film Festival’s annual programme of “daring, visionary, and autonomous” cinema, is never in thrall to traditional components of film, but it’s generally narrative that is first to be cast aside. Even by these standards, the best of this year’s selection of Wavelengths features, shorts, and installations seemed particularly intrigued by different narrative strategies and reimagining how one might go about telling a story through moving images. Continue reading

Era Extraña: Lewis Klahr on Sixty Six


Originally published in Cinema Scope 66, Spring 2016

“I’ve been listening to all the dissension/ I’ve been listening to all the pain/ And I feel that no matter what I do for you/ It’s going to come back again”—Leonard Cohen, “Minute Prologue”

An anthology film in 12 chapters, Lewis Klahr’s animated mosaic Sixty Six is both greater than the sum of its parts and grander than the scope of its one-dimensional decoupage. Any attempt to describe the film leads to a maze of contradictions. Largely a work of stop-motion collage (a term the filmmaker favours to distinguish his practice from traditional animation), it is at once Klahr’s latest feature and a compendium compiled from years of short-form experimentation. Beginning in 2013 as the attempted reimagining of an unreleased 16mm film, the project soon expanded to encompass a multitude of digital miniatures ranging from three to 20-plus minutes in length. Combining outré visual sources—comic books, newsprint ads, pulp literature, and all manner of Pop-Art ephemera—with classical music cues and allusions to Greek mythology, this composite feature is the strangest of hybrids: a personal work of universal provenance. Continue reading