Nihilism for Oligarchs
What is the state of Russian culture today, and what is its standing on the world stage? The multi-media extravaganza of Ilya Khrzhanovsky’s DAU—a controversy-courting product of the largesse of Russia’s oligarchic class—provides an instructive case study.
Tehran’s Universal Studios
A political history of Iranian film, tracing the origin of its plural genres through New Wave minimalism, war documentaries and cosmopolitan montage. In a society often caricatured as closed and backward, censorship and market pressures have unintentionally produced a world-class film culture—but how will it fare under the us sanctions regime?
A New Proletkino?
Is it possible to detect the contours of a new genre of proletarian cinema operating across the widely contrasted films of Ken Loach, the Dardenne brothers, Robert Guédiguian, Aki Kaurismäki and Pedro Costa? What does this body of work say about contemporary working-class experience and its representations on the silver screen?
An Aphorist of the Cinema
Emma Fajgenbaum on Robert Bresson, Notes on the Cinematograph and Bresson on Bresson. The lapidary sayings and injunctions to the self, admiring interviews and guarded replies, of the most auratic and least documented director of post-war French cinema.
Fine-grained reading of the films of Andrei Zvyagintsev, from the abstract allegories of his earlier work to the unsparing portrayals of contemporary Russia in Elena and Leviathan, exemplary of a new social turn in post-Soviet cinema. Reflections of class polarization and fables of power, with Orthodoxy as its prop.
A Traveller’s Glance
Object of fierce controversy when first shown, Antonioni’s documentary Chung Kuo—filmed in the PRC during the Cultural Revolution—has since been largely overlooked within his oeuvre. The director of L’avventura as failed Marco Polo, whose patient, humanizing gaze left a record of China’s past that is belatedly being rediscovered.
The Three-Headed Horse
Echoes and parallels between the work of Eisenstein, Picasso and Orozco in the late 1930s. The recurring spectres of war, conquest and destruction stalking the world from Moscow to Guadalajara to Guernica, travelling back and forth between film, wall and canvas.
A screenplay from 1935, previously unpublished in English, by arguably the greatest Soviet writer. Amid far-reaching social transformation, notions of love, family and desire are also recast—with serious consequences for the simultaneously innocent and world-weary protagonists.
Suspense and . . . Surprise
Media projections of the ‘war on terror’ as manipulations of shock and time, purveyed through a perpetual present of 24-hour coverage and on-line news. Lessons from Hitchcock, Conrad and Benjamin on the poetics of suspense and possibilities for a rehistoricization of the attentat.
Cinema, Dream, Existence
With City of Sadness and The Puppetmaster, Hou Hsiao-Hsien established the landmarks of Taiwan’s New Cinema—distinguished by aesthetic distance and break with political taboo. Chen traces the origins of Hou’s achievement to a mixture of an apprenticeship in commercial film, a unique synthesis of islander and high-modern culture, and impartial sympathy for those caught up in history’s storm.
Liberation from bourgeois marriage, central radical demand from Sand and Kollontai to Piercy, is subsumed in the age of global capital by calls for same-sex property rights. Wollen’s unmade film treatment celebrates loves unsanctified by church or state—de Beauvoir’s relationships with Sartre and Algren.
Ruins of the Future
West of the Tracks, Wang Bing’s stupendous documentary on the collapse of heavy industry and the fate of workers in China’s North-East, viewed in comparative perspective by a film-critic compatriot. Memories of the battlegrounds of Manchuria, and echoes of Lukács, Benjamin and Hobsbawm, amid the debris of an epoch and its human fall-out.
Formal rigour, social interrogation, poetic intensity: Jean-Luc Godard stands in the premier rank of contemporary artists. In this striking reconceptualization of his work, the movies take their place among sound compositions, TV, texts, videotape and graphic art, as elements of an ongoing multimedia installation.
The Camera Possessed
Extraordinary career of Jean Rouch—surrealist, engineer, anthropologist, cinéaste—synthesizing the gains of Vertov and Flaherty, to take his camera inside the taboo. In Abidjan and Paris, ethnographical films appropriated by their subjects as springboard for the New Wave.
On Cultural Markets
The ‘culture industry’ has typically been conceived as a unified, twentieth-century branch of production. Donald Sassoon reveals older, more variegated patterns of development, tracing international relations of cultural dominance from Scott and Verdi to the action movie.
The Frustrated Architect: The Cinema of Edward Yang
The Taiwanese New Wave has been described by Fredric Jameson as offering the finest cycle of any national cinema since the French. Leo Chanjen Chen explores the achievement of Edward Yang, one of its two greatest masters.
Time Unfrozen: The Films of Aleksei German
Virtually unknown in the West, Aleksei German is regarded by Russians as their most radical and original film director. Tony Wood considers his techniques of disorientation, and the craft of induced paranoia in his latest movie about the Doctors’ Plot of 1953—its title taken from Beria’s triumphant shout to his chauffeur.