Traffic between the worlds of art and cinema has always been brisk. Artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray dabbled with film during the medium’s infancy, while commercial filmmakers like Germaine Dulac edged into impressionism and surrealism. And the back-and-forth has rarely been livelier or more provocative than it is right now. One measure of the rising status of moving images in the art world is the selection of finalists for this year’s Turner Prize. For the first time ever, all four of them work with video. And Tacita Dean, whose commitment to celluloid has practically become a crusade, has seen an unprecedented series of concurrent exhibitions this year at three of London’s top galleries.
There are showcases of new and innovative moving image work throughout the year, of course, but each fall, two programs at major festivals offer a sort of annual report from the front lines. In Toronto, Wavelengths is programmed by Andréa Picard, who recently told Mónica Delgado and José Sarmiento Hinojosa at desistfilm that “there is a greater appetite for experimental film, nourished perhaps from the art world and the Internet, which paradoxically bathes in moving images but also drives people back into the cinema for a collective experience.” Projections, the New York Film Festival program formerly known as Views from the Avant-Garde, has wrapped its first weekend but returns with three features on Saturday.
Working on his virtual reality project The Deserted last year, Taiwanese artist and filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang discovered that the format deprived him of what he considers to be an essential element of cinema, the close-up. His response is Your Face, a series of close-ups of around a dozen subjects, men and women ranging in age from nearly fifty—actor Lee Kang-sheng, for example, who’s appeared in all of Tsai’s films—to the elderly. Some speak, while others peer into the camera in silence. “Some of the shots are funny,” notes Giovanni Marchini Camia at Filmmaker, “as when an old man, clearly bored with the exercise, gradually falls asleep and then starts snoring; in others, painful memories of familial strife and economic hardship are related to the camera. . . . Amongst the structural experiments Tsai has been undertaking since supposedly retiring from feature filmmaking—others include Afternoon and the Walker series—Your Face belongs to the more modest efforts. Nevertheless, as a gentle invitation to slow down and take in the pleasures of extended contemplation, it proves extremely restorative.”
At the Film Stage, Zhuo-Ning Su asks Tsai about his decision to work with composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. “Obviously I broke some of my own rules by using music but I think it adds a sense of presentness to the film,” says Tsai. “When you watch it, it’s like Ryuichi himself is conducting the pieces right next to you. In that sense it’s less than a score to a film than a performance of imagery and sound.”
Five years in the making and shot in over twice as many countries, Jodie Mack’s The Grand Bizarre juxtaposes designs in textiles and a wide array of printed materials to comprise an around-the-world tour of the artistic imagination. “In Mack’s dazzling montage,” writes Jordan Cronk before segueing into an interview with Mack for Film Comment, “everyday sources—maps, globes, plane tickets, even back tattoos—reveal both cross-cultural codes and universal truths, bringing this eclectic cinematic travelogue into seamless dialogue with each viewer’s unique worldview. Driven by a homemade soundtrack that locates a heretofore unrealized intersection between hip-hop, chiptune, and synth-pop, The Grand Bizarre tackles lofty themes at an intimate scale, imbuing familiar forms with a subtle but incisive sociopolitical force.”
“As in her meticulously hand-animated short films, each frame becomes part of a vast and wildly frenetic whole, which, in this film, forms a global symphony of strange codes and hidden patterns,” writes Leo Goldsmith at the top of his interview with Mack for the Brooklyn Rail. Introducing his interview in the current issue of Cinema Scope, Blake Williams suggests that “whether we assign the work to the tradition of animation, anti-animation, hyper-vertical montage, or the present wave of abstract film collage (where we also find key figures such as Janie Geiser and Lewis Klahr), Mack’s ethics always trend toward foregrounding unity—the mitigation of individualism, annihilating barriers tangible and intangible.” And in the Notebook, Michael Sicinski argues that “the fact that it may be the most purely pleasurable film of the year shouldn’t prevent us from appreciating its exigency. The Grand Bizarre is a film about embracing all the colors and patterns of the wide, wide world, and in that regard, it’s exactly the film we need right now.”
Diamantino, in which the Portuguese Secret Service plans to clone the titular soccer star and do away with the original, won the top award when it premiered in the Critics’ Week program in Cannes. “Pitched halfway between the candy-colored nihilism of Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales (2006) and the absurdist hijinks of queer classics by John Waters, [Gabriel] Abrantes and [Daniel] Schmidt’s genre- (and gender-) bending film takes place in a 2018 dystopia where everything—decadence and poverty, mass migration and high-stakes football—is reduced to formal values like color, texture, and tone,” writes Josh Cabrita for Cinema Scope. But for Chris Feil at the Film Experience, it’s “an absolute gas,” and in his overview of this year’s Projections for Artforum, Tony Pipolo succumbs to “the dizzy charm of this film’s endlessly antic, weirdly relevant plot.”
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