Did You See This?

Kara Walker, TikTok, and Jump Cut

On Film / The Daily — Oct 4, 2019
Kara Walker’s . . . calling to me from the angry surface of some grey and threatening sea. I was transported. (2007)

While festivals roll on in New York, London, Sitges, Zurich, Vancouver, and Mill Valley, here are a few other items from this past week to know about.

  • On Wednesday in Tate Modern’s vast Turbine Hall, Kara Walker unveiled Fons Americanus, a fountain that towers over forty feet high. The Guardian’s Adrian Searle calls it “a monument not to the beneficiaries of the British empire, but to its victims, and to the hypocrisies and accommodations to evil that led to slavery.” Today sees the opening, also in London, of From Black and White to Living Color: The Collected Motion Pictures and Accompanying Documents of Kara E. Walker, Artist at Sprüth Magers. Hilton Als, who has curated this exhibition of short works that set Walker’s haunting and haunted silhouettes into motion, writes in frieze about how her work revived his moribund interest in art back in the late 1990s. “Kara’s work was a new reality, a turning point in the history of art, because her art was about society without being social realism,” he writes. An “admixture of true and false, care and carelessness, dreams and history, sex and domination frames the films in ways that encourage Kara to step in from time to time to show us just what manipulation looks like and what the artist’s role in manipulation looks like, too.”
  • Critic and filmmaker Charlie Lyne was invited to the Melbourne International Film Festival in August to mentor a group of slightly younger Australian critics. They flipped the tables on him, though, introducing him to TikTok, the video app primarily used by teens to exchange clips of themselves showing off a range of  talents that often involve goofy gags and lip-synching. In a seven-and-a-half-minute video essay for Sight & Sound, Lyne suggests that there’s an unexploited potential here: “This whole sampling framework is crying out to be used in the service of criticism with each new video an opportunity to deconstruct the sample underpinning it.”
  • Writing about four films that actress-turned-independent director Ida Lupino made between 1949 and 1953, all of them now out on DVD and Blu-ray from Kino Lorber and streaming on the Criterion Channel, Vanity Fair’s K. Austin Collins observes that Lupino’s career “gave her a clear view of her limited options, and opportunity to act accordingly.” The new restorations join recent revivals of work by such filmmakers as Shirley Clarke, Julie Dash, Elaine May, and Cheryl Dunye. “These releases make it impossible to keep telling the same stories about Hollywood history,” writes Collins, “and counterbalance the relative dearth of women behind the camera in studio productions with the long history of women working independently, since the silent era, to make movies on their own terms.”
  • TIFF Cinematheque has been rolling out its fall program, and fortunately for those of us not in Toronto, it’s also been making its programmers’ notes freely available. Andréa Picard writes about Chantal Akerman, whose work “probed the patterns and textures of everyday life, revealing what is imperceptible to most—not least of which was the potential for violence lurking within the quotidian.” James Quandt argues that Nagisa Oshima’s films “exhibit such wit, beauty, furious invention, and profound feeling that their conceptual gambits take on sensual and emotional force.” And Euzhan Palcy, whose work is also being celebrated in London and Manchester, “employs the inherently creolized nature of her Franco-Caribbean identity to engage with and comment upon ideas of Negritude, feminism, French colonialism, and pan-Africanism,” writes Lydia Ogwang. You’ll find more at the Review.
  • Finally for now, one of last week’s bullet points hailed the new searchable database at the Internet Archive collecting all fifty-eight issues of Jump Cut, an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the evolution of film and media criticism over the past four decades. At the time, I didn’t know that a fifty-ninth issue was in the works, but here it is, a bountiful and varied offering of essays on topics ranging from Indian cinema to sexploitation in the 1960s to global superheroes. In an extraordinarily moving endnote, editor Julia Lesage writes about pressing on after losing her husband and cofounding editor Chuck Kleinhans nearly two years ago now. “Chuck was a packrat,” she writes, “a trait hard to live with but incredibly valuable in terms of his library and papers, which now give a rich, internationally oriented, sexually queer, and theoretically sophisticated overview of film scholarship, especially from the 1970s on. And Marxism, and cultural studies, and theater, and the avant-garde across the arts, etc. . . . Keeping Jump Cut functioning is a way of staying sane, so we’ll go for at least one more issue, with luck, and maybe another after that.”

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