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Right Things

Giancarlo Esposito in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989)

Writing for art-agenda, Erika Balsom explains why “the huge number of moving image artworks that have been made available to stream online in the past few months stresses me out.” For one thing, many of the works she’s drawn to are being presented outside of the contexts for which they were intended. The other thing, of course, is the sheer volume. At this point in the lockdown, many of us are turning to lists of suggestions for home viewing not so much for new titles to add to our own watch lists but for guidance on how to prioritize.

Two excellent articles this week have taken Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, in which the police killing of a black man sparks a riot in Brooklyn, as inspiration for annotated lists of recommendations for further viewing. In the Atlantic, Samantha N. Sheppard reminds us that when the film was released in 1989, “many white critics were more concerned with the depiction of property damage than the state-sanctioned racist killing they saw portrayed on-screen just moments before.” She then turns to films whose “representations of unrest not only show black insurgency as a militant response to exploitative capitalism, but also frame urban uprisings as just actions against brutality and as catalysts for change.” Vanity Fair, in the meantime, has posted the first of two lists from K. Austin Collins: “Black defiance (including but not limited to outright protest), Black anger, Black art: These are vast territories. Let’s mine them.”

Starting today, Le Cinéma Club is presenting—for free—Madeline Anderson’s Integration Report 1 (1960), “the first known documentary by an African American female director. With tenacity, empathy, and skill, Anderson assembles a vital record of desegregation efforts around the country in 1959 and 1960, featuring footage by documentary legends Albert Maysles and Richard Leacock and early Black cameraman Robert Puello, singing by Maya Angelou, and narration by playwright Loften Mitchell.” Integration Report 1 will remain online for one week, and then, next Friday, the Club will present Anderson’s I Am Somebody (1970), a chronicle of a hundred-day strike by black female hospital workers in 1969 in Charleston.

On to this week’s highlights, and we begin with yet another list:

  • Will DiGravio, Cydnii Wilde Harris, and Kevin B. Lee have been putting together a list of video essays—with links, of course—entitled simply “Black Lives Matter.” Two works on that list come from Arthur Jafa, who shot Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust (1991) and worked with Spike Lee and Stanley Kubrick before concentrating on his own moving image art—and winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale last year. “I have a script for this film I want to make about Robert Johnson, and there’s a scene in it where he actually confronts a two-hundred-foot sentient rogue wave at midnight in the woods,” Jafa tells Ross Simonini in the new issue of the Believer. “There’s now some kind of unspoken anticipation of desire or hunger for a real Black film. I believe that to be the case because I think there is a kind of internal pushing toward, attraction to, repulsion at the very idea of cinema by Black people.”

  • On Wednesday, friends and colleagues of Lynn Shelton, the accomplished and beloved filmmaker who passed away last month, presented an evening of film and music celebrating her life and work. Produced by Mark and Jay Duplass, Her Effortless Brilliance is directed by Megan Griffiths. At the Talkhouse, Griffiths introduces Shelton’s The Clouds That Touch Us Out of Clear Skies (2000), “a short documentary composed of abstract visuals intercut with audio interviews of women, including Lynn, talking about their miscarriage experiences.” Watching it for the first time recently, Griffiths “felt the clear imprint of Lynn Shelton: her insatiable curiosity about the intimacies of humanity and how people work, her ability to push her way into a question and explore it from the inside out.”

  • Contributors to In Review Online are currently working their way through the oeuvre of Tsai Ming-liang, reviewing every work the Taiwanese filmmaker has directed, from the early episodes of television miniseries through his debut feature, Rebels of the Neon God (1992), to his latest, Days (2020), the first feature from Tsai in seven years. All of these films star Lee Kang-sheng, and as Greg Cwik writes in his introduction to the series, all of them “are in some way concerned with the act of looking—at arcade screens, at secret murals, in darkened movie theaters, and out windows on rainy afternoons.”

  • Profiling Josephine Decker for Vulture, Lila Shapiro talks with the “actress, performance artist, and one of the most daring directors in the world of independent cinema” about how growing up in Texas may have shaped the ambivalence she still feels about performing in an explicit scene in Art History (2011), a film she cowrote with director Joe Swanberg; about working with her close friend Miranda July on Madeline’s Madeline (2018); and of course, about her fourth and latest feature, Shirley, which won a special jury award at Sundance in January. Elisabeth Moss—who has recently chatted with the great Merritt Wever in Interview, by the way—plays the writer Shirley Jackson, and one of the finest pieces yet on this “woozy and witchy psychodrama” comes from Philippa Snow in the New Republic.

  • Film Forum is currently presenting a virtual exclusive, Bill Duke’s debut feature, The Killing Floor (1985), starring Damien Leake and Alfre Woodard. Last Friday, Angelica Jade Bastién revisited Duke’s 1992 neonoir Deep Cover, which “takes the familiar attributes of the genre and uses them to confront questions about black masculinity, the reach of state-enacted violence, and the futility of trying to fix a decaying system from the inside. It’s a journey through the dark recesses of black male identity that proves searing in its understanding of how police have been depicted throughout Hollywood history.”

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