The Story So Far: Wavelengths 2016

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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

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Era Extraña: Lewis Klahr on Sixty Six

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Originally published in Cinema Scope 66

“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

Strange Geometry: The Films of Björn Kämmerer

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Originally published by Reverse Shot, January 19, 2016

It’s been 120 years since The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station (1896), and it can feel more than a little redundant to note that one of cinema’s foremost capabilities lies in its freedom to manipulate perspective. That said, if one were to outline the chief innovations in modern filmmaking, they would likely situate around a number of advances made in the arena of visual proficiency—namely, in what viewers see and how they see it. As expertly as any artist of his generation, the German-born, Austria-based filmmaker Björn Kämmerer—subject of a nine-film program at the Museum of the Moving Image’s fifth annual First Look Festival—exemplifies the avant-garde’s fundamental interest in this phenomenon, in cinema’s unique ability to negotiate the complexities of optical intrigue. Utilizing the medium as a means to investigate material reality and the manner by which we conceive of the physical relationship between form and the spaces in which these figural manifestations reside, Kämmerer has, over ten years and as many films, established himself as one of Europe’s most exciting and formally economic young filmmakers. Continue reading

Tremors and Transformations: Masterworks of American Avant-Garde Experimental Film, 1920-1970

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Originally published in Sight & Sound, January 2016

Given the sheer number of histories one might prescribe to a given field of cinematic practice, any attempt, no matter how valiant, at cataloging an entire era of creativity or period of productivity can only reasonably be said to offer a single interpretation of said events. To their credit, Flicker Alley do not attempt to annotate a half-century’s worth of non-industrial cinema with their new Blu-ray/DVD box set, “Masterworks of American Avant-Garde Experimental Film, 1920-1970,” so much as outline one rough trajectory of noteworthy accomplishments in interdisciplinary visual art over its most evolutionary span. Curated by filmmaker and preservationist Bruce Posner, the four-disc, region-free collection resurrects 37 works (many of them restored and new to digital) of experimental and non-commercial Stateside cinema, allowing the films themselves to navigate a course through the past rather than imposing an ahistorical lineage through which to view their attributes. Continue reading

Art of the Real 2016

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Originally published by Brooklyn Magazine, April 6, 2016

José Luis Guerín’s The Academy of Muses, the highlight of the third annual edition of Art of the Real, casually yet thrillingly embodies much of what drives the nonfiction showcase’s unique curatorial initiative. Indicative of co-programmers Dennis Lim and Rachael Rakes’s liberal programming ideology and predilection for works of shapeshifting provenance, Guerín’s film is likewise exemplary of a primary theme coursing through many of this year’s best selections. One of the oldest and most fruitful of creative gambits, the muse—as vague, elusive, and oft-intangible a conception as it may be—nonetheless continues to motivate many an artistic pursuit; it follows that filmmakers should frequently extol the virtue of such sources. Continue reading

Neither/Nor 2016: Mondo Cinema and Beyond

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Originally published by Filmmaker Magazine, March 23, 2016

Throughout this year’s Neither/Neither program at the 13th annual True/False Film Festival, I found myself frequently calling to mind storied Los Angeles film curator John Fles’ concept of “analytic programming.” Far less pedantic than the label suggests, Fles’ directive calls, quite simply, for the curatorial consideration of films with “subjects usually tabooed” — works of artistic merit that, when investigated at all, are generally “dealt with a kind of academic-aesthetic paternalism which robs these often wild films of their real content: as blasters of the traditional mores.” Continue reading

Cannes Film Festival 2016: Part Two

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Originally published by Reverse Shot, June 6, 2016

Whether it was the result of an unusually strong and diverse Competition or sheer coincidence, the number of quality films spread throughout the rest of the various sidebars at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival was noticeably few. Even accounting for a pair of pleasing, if very different, features by established veterans in Directors’ Fortnight (Marco Bellocchio’s Sweet Dreams and Paul Schrader’s Dog Eat Dog), and a typically agreeable work by Hirokazu Kore-eda in a curiously depleted Un Certain Regard (After the Storm), there wasn’t much on offer in the festival’s two most prominent sidebars that simply met expectations—let alone turned heads in a manner comparable to that of other recent Fortnight or UCR highlights (such as Miguel Gomes’s Arabian Nights or Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja). Instead the best of this year’s parallel selections came largely from the Critics’ Week and Special Screenings sections of the festival. Between the two strands this ran the age gamut from 86-year-old Paul Vecchiali’s death’s doorstep mediation Le Cancre, to 33-year-old Julia Ducournau’s well-received coming-of-age horror chronicle Raw—as well as across a formal spectrum broad enough to include Alessandro Comodin’s fractured lovers-on-the-lam fable Happy Times Will Come Soon to Cambodian director Rithy Panh’s latest nonfiction memoir, Exile. Continue reading

Cannes Film Festival 2016: Part One

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Originally published by Reverse Shot, May 18, 2016

With its programmers’ predilection for marquee auteurs and icons of international renown, the annual Cannes Competition lineup isn’t traditionally given to touting young or emerging filmmakers beyond a single token selection. After all, the Critics’ Week and Un Certain Regard sections of the festivals are ostensibly designed to provide platforms for directors of such cachet, who may be too green or, more often, too willfully difficult to represent the world’s most famous film festival. Which is all to say that the 2016 Competition stands out amongst recent iterations for its refreshingly youthful complexion. Save for a few requisite standbys (Ken Loach, Pedro Almodóvar, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, among them), this year’s selection features a number of burgeoning talents as well as notable critical darlings, resulting in an uncommonly stimulating first week. Continue reading

A Diaspora of Desire: Gabriel Abrantes, Daniel Schmidt, Benjamin Crotty and Alexander Carver

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Originally published in Senses of Cinema 79

When Gabriel Abrantes’ Taprobana screened at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival as part of a three-film program of new Portuguese cinema, there was little to suggest what perverse wonder lay in store for the unsuspecting viewer. As one such Abrantes neophyte, the work of the prolific 31 year-old provocateur having somehow eluding me despite a half-decade of relatively high profile festival berths, I can certainly speak to the bewildering rush elicited throughout the film’s brief 24-minute runtime. What transpired was at once beautiful and grotesque, quaint and indulgent, serene and surreal – a far cry from the program’s other two films, The Figures Carved into the Knife by the Sap of the Banana Trees, by Joana Pimenta, and the late Manoel de Oliveira’s last completed work, The Old Man of Belem, neither of which could otherwise reasonably be described as ordinary. No matter individual notions as to the film’s artistic merit (or lack thereof), it’s safe to say that what we witnessed from Abrantes that afternoon was genuinely original, a burst of cinematic ingenuity so unapologetically strange that one couldn’t help but take notice. Continue reading

“Alternative Projections” and the History of Los Angeles Filmforum

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Originally published by the Los Angeles Review of Books, February 26, 2016

In the fall of 1975, Terry Cannon, a young man newly returned to Southern California from San Francisco State University, launched Pasadena Filmforum: a nonprofit film society that aimed to further the legacy of experimental cinema in Los Angeles. As various forms of risqué cinema (soft- and hardcore pornography, European sex films, etc.) rose to unprecedented levels of mainstream acceptance, Cannon took it upon himself to reestablish a sense of truly autonomous, non-industrial filmmaking in the shadow of Hollywood. Over the next eight years, under Cannon’s guidance, Pasadena Filmforum would dedicate itself to highlighting work from the margins of cinema, extending the 1960s’s experiments in underground and outré art culture into a less recognized but more self-sufficient entity. Four decades later, the since-rechristened Los Angeles Filmforum celebrated its 40th anniversary with the publication of Alternative Projections: Experimental Film in Los Angeles, 1945-1980, a collection of essays and historical texts concerning this most fruitful of epochs in Los Angeles avant-garde cinema. Continue reading