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In Conversation

P. Adams Sitney with Brian L. Frye

Thirty-odd years after P. Adams Sitney wrote Visionary Film, it remains the definitive account of American avant-garde film. Not least because it set a standard of critical excellence that no other scholar or critic since has even approached. Sure, as a co-founder of Anthology Film Archives and the editor of seminal journals Filmwise and Film Comment, Sitney drew on a far deeper well of first-hand knowledge than most critics. But still, it was Sitney’s careful observations, penetrating insights, and ready wit that made

The Absolute Cool of Death and Horses

Finally spaghetti westerns are getting a little respect. BAM Cinematek features the subgenre this month with their, “Spaghetti for Thanksgiving” series, the title reflecting the often tongue in cheek nature of these films. The Italians, who have a history of producing genre films if not with finesse, then at least an unbridled sense of showmanship, helped rid this American mythology of its cornball sentimentality, reestablishing the importance of cool.

Cracking Movie Gromit!

It was some time early 1994 my brother Mark mailed me this ‘brilliant’ short he’d taped from BBC Ireland. From his description it was a Hitchcockian tale of double identities, sweet-mad inventors, intellectual pets and jewel-thieving penguins – all made in Plastecine. I thought he was daft. Anyway, I couldn’t play the thing – it was PAL.

Pointless Pyrotechnics & Shomin Geki

Just before the closing credits, after about seventeen minutes of mind-numbing, soul-rotting, pointless, boring, badly-rendered, unending kaleidoscopic ultraviolence (over really bad screaming guitar {or was it really bad mock gangsta?}), our heroine Domino tells us, via voice-over: “How much is true? Fuck you! I’ll never tell.” The preceding two hours have been a memoir, sort of. With her ‘fuck you’, Domino avoids clarifying any of the conflicting story-lines. She claims that memoir and fantasy have been artistically blurred and that the sacred truth of her on-screen life is privileged.

Docs In Sight

Nature and Society

For many growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s the nature documentary often meant soporific shows on birds and the African plain narrated by an upper-crust Englishman that you were forced to watch as “good for you” TV. In retrospect, it’s now easier to appreciate these meditative and sober films when compared to newer classics like Fox’s When Animals Attack! and the kinds of series that have crowded cable channels in a pointed attempt to energize the form. These new takes on the nature show often include lots of danger, slick graphics, and shocking video of bad weather and gross-out nature—but not much analysis of anything. Yet while Winged Migration and The March of the Penguins has certainly elevated the nature film to a narrative and aesthetic suitable for theatrical release, thankfully the last decade has also brought several epic TV nature series that build on classics such as David Attenborough’s The Shape of Life and The Blue Planet.


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2005

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