Finding Vivian Maier
by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel

July 9 2014
3:00 PM

“Anybody doesn’t like these pitchers don’t like poetry, see? Robert Frank, with that little camera that he raises and snaps with one hand he sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film, taking rank among the tragic poets of the world. To Robert Frank I now give this message: You got eyes.” Jack Kerouac’s introduction to The Americans, the 1959 book collecting Frank’s iconic and now historic body of work, comes to mind with regard to a recent documentary film, Finding Vivian Maier, which presented the newest entry to the great tradition of American street photography. The plot, as the title suggests, is one of an unbelievable finding: at a thrift auction house in Chicago, a young filmmaker, John Maloof, buys for 300-odd dollars a bunch of storage lockers filled with negatives, discovering an extraordinary body of work by what he finds out to be an unknown, unmarried, eccentric, female amateur photographer who made a living as a nanny. It’s the beginning of a fascinating search to piece together Maier’s oeuvre and life story, consecrate her to her deserved place among masters such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus, Walker Evans and Weegee, and pin down her uniqueness and conceptual complexity. Now that the story is out there and Maloof has established an estate for Vivian’s archive, books and exhibitions are in the making and the rest is, or will soon be, history. (Cristina Travaglini)

Jellyfish Eyes
by Takashi Murakami

May 20 2014
3:00 PM

Takashi Murakami’s first film was the result of a challenge set by friend and filmmaker Yoshihiro Nishimura. Jellyfish Eyes, a project over ten years in the making, had stalled and Nishimura encouraged the Japanese artist to make the film he wanted to make, as David Lynch did with Eraserhead. Re-energized, Murakami turned what began as animation into a live-action film. The story follows Masashi as he moves to a small town following a natural disaster. Upon discovering a mysterious flying jellyfish Masashi soon realizes that all of his classmates also have similarly magical pets, known as F.R.I.E.N.D.s. As the origin of the creature is revealed, a plot unravels that threatens both the safety of Masashi’s surviving family and the entire town. A story set in a world post-Fukushima, its real impetuous is one of social change and empowerment. Jellyfish Eyes [Mememe no kurage] (2013) moves beyond Murakami’s Superflat celebration and critique of popular culture, focusing instead on the after-effect of disaster and inspiring change. On 22 May, The Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C. will host a screening of the film, accompanied by a special talk with Murakami, as part of a US screening tour that will take place in May and June. (Stuart Munro)

Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy
by Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit

May 8 2014
3:00 PM

While his debut, 36 (2012), consisted of just thirty-six shots in 68 minutes, Thai writer-director Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit describes his latest experiment in film-making as a search into new ways of storytelling. He chose a section of 410 consecutive Tweets from the Twitter stream of someone he has never met: @marylony. Thamrongrattanarit used all Tweets as they were written, without skipping any or changing their order. The challenge was to shape this series of random, often meaningless daily events into a coherent narrative and film. The result is Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy (2013), a jumpy, two-hour film about the Thai schoolgirl Mary, her best friend Suri and their many female classmates. The video is interrupted roughly every two minutes with a Tweet that relays us schoolgirl bickering, the progress of the yearbook Mary and Suri are compiling, an unplanned trip to Paris as well as Mary’s crush on the mysterious M. The story and jittery Twitter format meet in their unpredictability and echo one another. With her imminent graduation only a few months away, Mary is faced with sudden and abrupt changes in life, love and friendship. The strange events that begin to happen to her seem completely random and without reason—as, needless to say, her Twitter feed shows. While Mary struggles to make sense of her life as it threatens to spin out of control, Thamrongrattanarit delves deeper into the emotional life of these teenage girls. (Maaike Lauwaert)

Sign of the Times in Kensington Market, 1990
Photo by Jeremy Deller; Courtesy of Fiona Cartledge

“Music Nation” series

April 30 2014
3:00 PM

Club-related subcultures are beasts that documentarians must handle with care: the situated “here and now” modulated by the crowd mix, the dance, the ambient and recreational chemicals—along with club culture’s lack of the stage performativity that marks rock and roll—make these subcultures an impalpable creature, the victims of blatant mythologizing or an ever-rejuvenating source of moral panic for the press. Channel 4 has teamed up with Dazed and Confused to realize “Music Nation,” a five-part documentary series on the scenes that made the UK the undisputed epicenter of clubland. In Brandy & Coke, Ewen Spencer stylized an efficient report on the evolution of UK garage from break-neck jungle intricacy into a normalized, bass-heavy sound inspired by the soulful house danced to by a Versace and Moschino-worshipping crowd. Tabitha Denhom recounts the phenomenal season of Balearic sound and the MDMA-enhanced dance sessions at Ibiza’s Amnesia that kick-started the so-called “Second Summer of Love” via Schoom and Boy’s Own parties in Berkshire Goes Balearic. Director Jamie Jesset delivered perhaps the most formally accomplished installment with Bristol Bass Oddity, the tale of the marriage between the reggae and the new ‘80s rap craze that formed the unique Bristol sound. After Soap The Stamps by Jim Demuth, about the tale of late ‘80s UK hardcore, the last episode by Ollie Evans, Jungle Fever, premieres tonight at 12.05am on Channel 4. (Francesco Tenaglia)

by Tim Sutton

April 8 2014
3:00 PM

This second effort from Brooklyn-based filmmaker Tim Sutton (Pavilion) stars “outsider” musician/artist Willis Earl Beal as Ezra Jack, a Tennessee-based soul singer whose struggle with the pressures of writer’s block and audience expectations drives him to the edge of mental instability and social withdrawal. Wandering alone through his hometown, Jack’s search for meaning leads to a series of dream-like encounters with local pastors, neighborhood hustlers, fellow drifters and new lovers. Shot on location and featuring a cast comprised almost entirely of non-professionals hired on-site, Memphis retains a sense of authenticity bordering on the documentary, with many scenes seeming to unfold naturally, even haphazardly, in real time. This embracing of the non-linear carries over to the film’s overall structure: as is quickly becoming a signature mode for Sutton’s work, the piece offers little in the way of exposition, transitions, or establishing shots, and instead delivers a fragmentary but carefully paced sequence of impromptu interactions and lyrical segues—a style that the director calls “ethereal authentic.” Falling somewhere between folk tale and tone poem, the resulting work is a hypnotic stream of haunted impressions which, in their blurring of fiction and reality, make for an enigmatic, willfully unresolved, but nonetheless affecting viewing experience. (Christopher Schreck)

by Matt Wolf

February 18 2014
3:00 PM

There’s always been a certain prestige to youth, but over the past twenty years age hasn’t mattered. Forty was the new thirty, which was the new twenty. In their new report “Youth Mode,” trend forecast group K-HOLE describes this phenomenon as “the death of age.” Generational conscience be damned. Youth is an attitude. Matt Wolf ’s new film examines the invention of the teenager as a powerful consumer class through the first half of the 20th century in America, England and Germany. Teenage (2013) collages archival footage, amateur movies, reenactment, striking photography, and diary entries to mime the overwhelming experience of adolescence. These materials compose specific portraits of emblematic teenagers from history, such as black Boy Scout Warren Wall, rebellious German Swing Kid Tommie Scheel, idealistic Hitler Youth Melita Maschmann, and self-destructive Bright Young Thing Brenda Dean Paul. These characters are interpreted by the young voices of Jena Malone, Ben Whishaw, Julia Hammer and Jessie Husher, and their story is put to by the music of Bradford Cox, the lead singer of alternative bands Deerhunter and Atlas Sound. Based on the book Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture 1875-1945 (2007) by punk author Jon Savage, Wolf gives voice to the unspeakable moments where subjectivity meets history, thus asking who is responsible for the future. (Martine Syms)

Wes Anderson, Castello Cavalcanti, 2013

“Castello Cavalcanti”
by Wes Anderson

December 20 2013
3:00 PM

Castello Cavalcanti (2013) is Wes Anderson in concentrated form. The auteur’s latest film—a short commissioned by Prada Classics—is an exquisite, slightly absurd eight-minute comic-drama that unfolds after Formula Racecar driver Jed Cavalcanti has a self-attested totally calamitous catastrophic disaster of a car crash. Cavalcanti, played by Anderson regular Jason Schwartzman, is the victim of a steering wheel installed backwards and a slow-leaking tire. By a stroke of Anderson storytelling, the American driver’s race is abruptly halted in an old Italian village he quickly discovers is his ancestral home. Cavalcanti joins ranks with the Tenenbaum siblings and the Whitman brothers, each fumbling through existential questions and negotiating fraught family relationships with a combination of charm, error and arrogance. Tightly directed, with a storyline that entices and intrigues, Castello Cavalcanti has an overall smooth seduction, and like Anderson’s others, it is visually sumptuous and stylistically spot-on, so its alliance with Prada feels like a match made in heaven.

The Re-Release of “Wake in Fright”

November 19 2013
6:32 PM

Directed by Ted Kotcheff (First Blood) and based on Kenneth Cook’s 1961 novel of the same name, Wake In Fright stars Gary Bond as John Grant, a schoolteacher whose 48-hour stay in a fictional mining town in the Outback quickly descends into a lost weekend of drinking, gambling and casual blood sport. Urged on by the town’s debauched inhabitants, Grant discovers within himself a startling capacity for degeneracy which, over the course of the film, he comes to embrace, actively and willingly. Upon its initial release in 1971, Wake In Fright enjoyed a brief and controversial domestic run, its depiction of rural Australia as a hotbed of depravity and wanton violence (culminating in an infamous, truly unnerving scene depicting a late-night kangaroo hunt) at once shocking and offending most of its native audience. After a similarly cold international reception, the film swiftly faded into obscurity, but has since been lauded as a seminal product of Australian New Wave cinema. Having recently been issued on Blu-ray/DVD by Drafthouse Films, the digitally-restored version of Wake In Fright was screened nationally in selected US cinemas in September, and it will be followed by a UK run in March 2014, thus giving contemporary audiences the opportunity to discover for themselves what Nick Cave once called “The best and most terrifying film about Australia in existence.” (Christopher Schreck)

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