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

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

Strange Geometry: The Films of Björn Kämmerer


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


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


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