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“Collectivity, Joy, Defiance”

Awoye Timpo’s Black Picture Show (2021)

Tragedies are doubly hard to bear when they are as preventable as the fire that tore through a São Paulo warehouse owned by the Cinemateca Brasileira last night. Just two months ago, Ela Bittencourt wrote in a piece for Frieze about the dangers facing Brazilian cultural institutions due to conscious neglect on the part of the government—“complicated by the fact that Bolsonaro’s ultra-conservative party disbanded the Ministry of Culture in 2019.” Bittencourt even specified that many feared at the time that the Cinemateca, “the country’s most significant archive for film and television, and the largest audiovisual archive in Latin America, will be next to burn.”

More than fifty firefighters spent over two hours battling the flames that threatened thousands of reels of highly flammable 35 mm and 16 mm films, projection equipment, and artifacts. In her latest update on Twitter, Bittencourt reports that “four tons of various historical documents on Brazilian cinema likely perished in the fire.”

Cultural institutions everywhere have been hurting because of the pandemic; local demonstrators in California are circulating a petition arguing that the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is slimming its budget in all the wrong places. On the block are the film program; the online publication, Open Space; and the Artists Gallery, an art lending and sales program that, according to KQED’s Nastia Voynovskaya, “two hundred artists currently rely upon for income.”

Lindsey White, an artist who teaches at the San Francisco Art Institute, tells Emily Wilson at Hyperallergic that SFMOMA “has spent the last year and a half having conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion. These programs address all of those conversations.” Wilson notes that the museum’s director, Neal Benezra, has admitted that the savings these cuts will deliver are “minimal at best.”

Canyon Cinema, the legendary nonprofit distributor, issued a public statement at the end of last week that has since spread far and wide across social media. “When a museum self-described as ‘of Modern Art’ scraps its Cinema program, it is betraying the entire historical arc of art as grand cultural expression and technologic investigation,” writes the staff. “It is forsaking an evolutionary pattern that not only summarizes tendencies in art but ignores the primacy of the moving image in culture-at-large . . . How can the story of modern and contemporary art be told without cinema?”

Before we turn to the highlights of the week, we need to note the passing of Jean-François Stévenin, the director of three films—Passe montagne (1978), Double messieurs (1986), and Mischka (2002)—that earned him an honorary Prix Jean Vigo handed to him in 2018 by Agnès Varda. As an actor, Stévenin worked frequently with Jacques Rivette and François Truffaut and appeared in films by Jean-Luc Godard, John Huston, Jacques Demy, Catherine Breillat, André Téchiné, Jean-Pierre Mocky, Bertrand Blier, Jim Jarmusch, Raúl Ruiz, and Guy Maddin.

  • The new issue of Senses of Cinema is out, boasting features on Haile Gerima’s Bush Mama (1979) and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s The Truth (2019); a celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Collectif Jeune Cinéma, the oldest film co-op in Europe; interviews with Bill Morrison, Han Shuai, and the late Monte Hellman; program notes on five films by Apichatpong Weerasethakul; and a dossier on Australian autofiction, which, as the editors explain, is “a tradition within Australian independent filmmaking that came into its own during the ’70s, particularly among the Sydney Women’s Film Group. The rise of personal filmmaking at this time was part of a broader political movement that resisted patriarchal and colonial discourses.”

  • For the past two years, Maggie Hennefeld, Laura Horak, and Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi have been working on Cinema’s First Nasty Women, a collection of ninety-nine films that “celebrates the most volatile, defiant, messy, willful, and obstreperous women of the silent screen—at least those who’ve survived the ravages of archival disappearance.” As Kino Lorber prepares to release a four-disc set early next year, the three curators write at Modernism/modernity about six “volcanic affects” these women have on the patriarchy, flipping it “on its head by weaponizing catastrophe against endemic misogyny to make way for something better: collectivity, joy, defiance, solidarity, hopeful rupture, and social uprising.”

  • In her piece for Artforum on the exhibition Till They Listen: Bill Gunn Directs America, currently on view at New York’s Artists Space through August 15, Yasmina Price writes about Gunn’s novels and theater work, but her primary focus is on the “truncated filmography,” Stop (1970), Ganja & Hess (1973), and Personal Problems (1980). “While this is not the language he used,” she writes, “Gunn’s preoccupation was with Black art in the frame of racial capitalism: contending with the demands of profit, marketability, and tokenization in a classed sphere governed by the interests of white supremacy.” Writing for Frieze about Awoye Timpo’s reimagining of Gunn’s play Black Picture Show, which Metrograph is presenting through August 6, Beatrice Loayza notes that André Holland and Jason Bowen “continuously and unpredictably reverse their roles, blurring the lines between the characters and artistic attitudes to demonstrate the double consciousness of the Black artist, forced to perpetually reconcile with an internalized vision of success that denies autonomy and identity.”

  • Chris Poggiali’s new piece for the Notebook, “The Samurai Cinema Slaughter of ‘74,” is a careening joy ride through the rise of Japanese adventure movies in the U.S. from Honolulu to New York by way of Los Angeles. Key drivers include the managing director of the Daiei Film Company, a Tokyo-based distributor of Italian films, a Hollywood director putting in a long-distance call to Columbia to pitch Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954), and Paul Schrader. It’s enough to make you look forward to the book Poggiali and Grady Hendrix will have coming out in September, These Fists Break Bricks: How Kung Fu Movies Swept America and Changed the World.

  • David Lowery’s The Green Knight opens today, and in her superb review for Slate, Dana Stevens notes that an early chapter “introduces one of the movie’s main themes and one of its director’s obsessions in this and other movies, especially his meditative A Ghost Story: the inexorable and weirdly subjective human experience of the passage of time.” This brings us to the movie still generating memes a week after its release, M. Night Shyamalan’s Old. “There’s really little one can say about the majority of the plot that can’t be summed up in the title,” writes K. Austin Collins in Rolling Stone. “What’s luminous and effective are the psychological demands that arise in the process. This is what’s useful about the obviousness.” For Adam Nayman at the Ringer, Old is “a grisly, invigorating mix of exploitation and empathy which suggests persuasively that Shyamalan knows precisely what he’s doing: using clichés and contrivance to explore and exorcise collective anxieties, with near-total sincerity and at the very real risk of appearing ridiculous.”

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