Of the Making of Books, There Is No End

So said Koheleth (also known as Solomon, the putative author of Ecclesiastes).

The selling of books is another story, almost as endless, although if you watch a couple of recent movies that touch on the subject, you might think the end is nigh. 

D.W. Young's The Booksellers is an affectionate, sprawling look at the rare book business as seen through the eyes of many of its stalwart participants. Books, as someone says early in the film, are "a way of being fully human." (What does it say if we note that the current occupant of the White House is a man who never reads books? Or the warnings on bottles of bleach?) Jumping off from the annual New York Book Fair, Young offers a slightly unguided tour of the history of U.S. antiquarian bookselling, depicted by Hollywood in "a wonderful romanticized vision," as one bookseller puts it, a quick profile of a few of the more famous participants (Rosenbach, Rosenberg and Stern), then quickly leaps to profiles of several con…

Symphony in Acid Green

Beanpole, currently streamableon Film Forum's Virtual Cinema, was on many film people's radar before it was selected for "Un Certain Regard" at the 2019 Cannes festival, where the film won the not for best direction. The film's director, Kantemir Balagov, was the product of a directing workshop headed by Alexander Sokurov, and his first feature, Closeness, had also played the sidebar at Cannes in 2017. I'm not sure, however, if anyone was prepared for how strikingly individual and unusual Balagov's vision turned out to be.

When I'm teaching screenwriting I always tell my students not to worry about that elusive goal, "originality." There are only 36 or 7 or 6 stories in the world and you are not likely to increase that number, but you can paralyze yourself with too much knowledge of what came before you. I hesitate to say that I've never seen anything like Beanpole; its story is certainly a brilliant example of how one can re-mix story e…

Polarization as an Excuse for Assassination?

Making a fact-based historical film might look easy. The facts are there, the events are often common knowledge, all the filmmakers have to do is provide a dramatic structure.
Yaron Zilberman, director of Incitement, the new film about Yigal Amir and the 1995 assassination of Israel’s prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, begs to differ. You will be able to be able to stream the film at  Film Forum's virtual theater later today, April 10.
“It’s a minefield, and you don’t have a map,” he said in a phone interview in January. “When we made Incitement’ I realized that it’s much harder to do than to make something up from your own imagination.”
The problem, he said, is that “life doesn’t follow screenplays.”
Zilberman, whose two previous directorial efforts were the chamber-music drama A Late Quartet (2012) and the documentary Watermarks (2004), had never undertaken such a complex project before. He found the metaphorical minefield seeded with questions that kept nagging at him throughout the fil…

More Goodies on the Way

If I were a real shut-in (God forbid), the COVID-19 pandemic would seem like manna from heaven. Those of us who are used to indulging a passion for cinema under normal circumstances probably have never thought about the homebound for whom keeping up with contemporary film matters used to be a hit-or-miss phenomenon. Of course the advent of VOD and streaming channels has changed that quite a bit, but the current state of affairs, with theaters shuttered across the globe, has now upt us all on an even footing.

Homebound or self-quarantining or "safe at home," whatever your status, there's a lot of new and new-ish cinema at your fingertips. Here's a quick run-through of stuff that's crossed my virtual desk n the past couple of days.

Bela Tarr's gigantic, ironic, iconic tome on the rather dubious joys of post-Communist, mud-soaked rural Hungary, Satantango, is coming out in a new 4K restored print. This wry seven-and-a-half hour masterpiece epitomizes the genuine…

My Dream Job (or Answered Prayers)

I know for a fact that there are people who dream of having my job. I'll resist the basic urge to offer it to them, dirt cheap. I know there are many harder jobs than watching movies and then writing or teaching about them. And I really do enjoy what I do most of the time. This is never more true than when I'm interviewing documentarians. For the most part they are grateful for some attention and, despite the hype that non-fiction film is the "new" rock-and-roll or stand-up comedy or whatever your idea of cool hipness (or hip coolness?) is these days, the vast majority of non-fiction filmmakers don't make much money, don't get much attention and, with the exception of Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock, don't get recognized on the street.

Talking to documentary filmmakers is usually a pleasure. If you want to sample some of that particular pleasure, you should definitely check out Westdoc On Line. The current featured interview, with the estimable Alex G…

History Is a Place in Time and Space

A few weeks (and a lifetime) ago, I wrote about Heimat Is a Place in Time, the latest film from German documentarian Thomas Heise. It is a dazzlingly beautiful black-and-white meditation on the impact of the past century on one German family. Of course, "one German family" encompasses many families and touches on the lives of hundreds of others with whom they came in contact. If that weren't clear from Heise's film, it certainly is now for those of us sitting at home glumly waiting for something to change globally and locally.

One thing that is happening at home is that Heise's film is available for streaming through Sunday, April 5, at

At the time, here is what I said about the film for Jewish Week:

History moves slowly on the macro level. Yet, history is composed of those thousand tiny moments that, as individuals, we experience as fleeting, ephemeral. This tension is nearly impossible …