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“Cinema Seems To Me Above All Inexhaustibly Generous”

Melvin Van Peebles in Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971)

The results of Film Comment’s critics poll are in, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria has come out on top of the list of the best twenty films of 2021. “While watching Memoria,” writes 4Columns film editor Melissa Anderson, “a word I recently learned popped into my head: anoesis, defined as ‘a state of mind consisting of pure sensation or emotion without cognitive content.’ To be a spectator of one of Weerasethakul’s films, with their strange yet affecting digressions, is to blissfully inhabit this condition.”

At #2 we find Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car, which tops the Screen Slate poll guest-edited by Nicolas Rapold. Along with the individual ballots, we can scan lists of first viewings and discoveries submitted by Screen Slate contributors, friends, critics, and filmmakers, including Michael Almereyda, Jessica Beshir, Jim Jarmusch, Radu Jude, Guy Maddin, Alex Ross Perry, Josh Safdie, Sandi Tan, and Amalia Ulman.

Even with all the year-end listing, polling, nominating, and awarding going on, we’ve begun to look ahead to the winter festival season. The Sundance lineup is set. Rotterdam has confirmed that its 2022 edition will be an in-person event and will open with the world premiere of Mijke de Jong’s Along the Way, the story of nineteen-year-old Afghan twins who have lost their family while fleeing to Europe.

The Berlinale, in the meantime, has announced a first round of titles, including Laurent Larivière’s About Joan, starring Isabelle Huppert and Lars Eidinger; Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power, in which Nina Menkes interrogates the male gaze in cinema; Tim Sutton’s Taurus, starring Colson Baker, aka Machine Gun Kelly, as a self-destructive rapper; and The United States of America, in which James Benning explores not only the country but also his own oeuvre. The postponed retrospective of films featuring Mae West, Rosalind Russell, and Carole Lombard is back on the program, and Berlinale Classics will present a new restoration of Werner Hochbaum’s Brothers (1929), which is set against the backdrop of the dockworkers strike in Hamburg in 1896.

Before turning to this week’s highlights, we need to note that just days after we lost Greg Tate, writer, teacher, and activist bell hooks passed away at the age of sixty-nine. “In lush, elegant prose, hooks combined theory and poetry, the personal and the political, and academic and vernacular language,” writes ARTnews senior editor Alex Greenberger. In more than forty books, beginning with Ain’t I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism (1981), hooks “advocated for an understanding that race, gender, and class could not be viewed apart from one another, and that ‘the struggle to end racism and the struggle to end sexism were intertwined,’ as she wrote.”

Appearing in several documentaries, including Marlon Riggs’s Black Is . . . Black Ain’t (1994) and Isaac Julien’s BaadAsssss Cinema (2004), hooks gathered her essays on cinema and conversations with such filmmakers as Charles Burnett and Julie Dash in the 1996 collection Reel to Real: Race, Class, and Sex at the Movies. She notably ran hot and cold on Spike Lee. “There is nothing visual in Malcolm X to indicate that a white director could not have made it,” she wrote in Artforum. “This seems especially tragic since Lee’s brilliance has surfaced most when he has combined aspects of real events with fictive dramas, as in Do the Right Thing, providing insightful representations of blackness that emerge from familiarity and have never before been seen on screen.”

  • This coming Thursday, film historian and scholar Nicole Brenez, who teaches at the New Sorbonne University and curates for the Cinémathèque française, will deliver Sabzian’s annual State of Cinema address. The Belgian magazine has put together a dossier gathering Brenez’s writing on Theodor Adorno, Harun Farocki, Marylène Negro, Forough Farrokhzad, Jonas Mekas and José Luis Guérin, and René Vautier. In her introduction, Violeta Kovacsics notes that when a student once asked how to analyze a film, Brenez offered a series of categories such as the film “that ‘runs through your head like a popular song,’ ‘those you can’t watch again because you’ve loved them too much’ (a beautiful category: Brenez mentions Godard’s [Contempt]), the ones ‘you hope to understand one day,’ those that you hope ‘will strengthen you,’ or those that ‘suddenly offer you everything you needed.’” Brenez “concludes on an affectionate note: ‘Cinema seems to me above all inexhaustibly generous.’”

  • If you’ve seen the new trailer for Tom Gormican’s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, starring Nicolas Cage as Nicolas Cage, you’ll know that now is the perfect time for an essay from Nathan Lee on Color Out of Space, Richard Stanley’s 2019 film based on H. P. Lovecraft’s 1927 short story about a fallen meteor emanating a toxic color on a farm in rural Massachusetts. “The prospect of a Lovecraft adaptation starring Nicolas Cage is irresistible for enthusiasts of unhinged cinema and Color Out of Space does not disappoint,” writes Lee for Post45’s cluster of reflections on the actor. Cage takes on the role of the farmer and “proceeds to devour the scenery, emanating his own unfathomable miasma of restlessness and oppression, the unreal and the grotesque.” Color Out of Space is “a major contribution to the ongoing phenomenon of Late Cage, in which the actor appears to have gazed into the unspeakable depths of his art, contemplated the cosmic void of his persona, and emerged in the grip of some ineffable impulse, committed to a style of acting unburdened by any reality principle. Behold the Call of Cage-thulu.”

  • Melvin Van Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971) is a “picaresque caper” that “unfolds in the form of a vaudevillian mash-up of burlesque performances, gospel numbers, live sex shows, funk music, psychedelic visuals, and flamboyant agitprop aimed at American jurisprudence,” writes Matthew Tchepikova-Treon for the Los Angeles Review of Books. In the 1960s and ’70s, “the psychiatric language of schizophrenia soon coursing through American media and entertainment became a complex metaphor for race and violence,” and Sweetback is “animated by this historically specific dialectical tension between different cultural forms of paranoid expression and racist evolutionary theories of mental illness.”

  • After taking us on a dazzling tour of New York’s nightclub culture in the 1930s, Caroline Golum, writing for the Notebook, turns to a crucial pivot in movie history. “Released in May 1975, smack dab in the center of the ‘Me’ Decade, [John] Schlesinger’s The Day of the Locust marks the Grand Guignol climax of the 1930s-does-1970s genre,” she writes. “That same summer, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws would ring the first of many death-knells for studio-bred subversion, ushering in the blockbuster era proper and shifting Hollywood’s attention away from thoughtful experimentation and toward naked cash-grabbing. Fitting, then, that a sweeping adaptation of Nathanael West’s satirical 1939 novel would prove to be the swan song of this brief and beautiful moment.” Golum then turns her attention to Peter Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon (1973) and At Long Last Love (1975), George Roy Hill’s The Sting (1973), Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974), and Sidney J. Furie’s Lady Sings the Blues and Bob Fosse’s Cabaret, both from 1972.

  • Guillermo del Toro, whose Nightmare Alley opens today, and Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog) are on the cover of Variety’s current bumper issue featuring directors in conversation with other directors. Bradley Cooper and Ridley Scott talk about working with Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born and House of Gucci, respectively, and James Cameron takes a break from working on the Avatar sequels to tell Denis Villeneuve that, especially in Dune, he seems to “have the discipline, the vocabulary, of actual epic filmmaking.” Variety has also invited fifteen directors to contribute brief essays on films they’ve admired this year. In Passing, Rebecca Hall “exhibits such a mastery of craft that it is hard to believe she hasn’t been making films her whole life,” writes Antonio Campos, who directed Hall in Christine (2016). Florian Zeller (The Father) calls Pedro Almodóvar—profiled, by the way, by Marcela Valdes in the New York Times Magazine—“probably the European filmmaker who best filmed women.” He’s still at it, of course. Cate Blanchett is attached to Almodóvar’s forthcoming A Manual for Cleaning Women, based on stories by Lucia Berlin.

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