Lots of Good Things Coming Up

Goodness. Where to begin?

How about this? Playboy is now going to publish a Hebrew-language edition. Perfect for the khevre who read it for the articles.

On a more serious but very pleasant note, some new and recent films worth your attention.

Hava Nagila: The Movie, a new documentary by Roberta Grossman, starts out in the smart-alecky tone that seems to have become de rigeur for lightweight docs these days. Certainly the song is the epitome as kitsch Judaica, although it didn't start out that way, as the film makes clear. Slowly, though, Grossman reveals a refreshingly serious agenda as she touches on the battle for the hearts and minds of Jewish-Americans between Zionists and Yiddishists. Anyone who has read my music writing in Jewish Week knows which side of that fight I come down on, at least musically. (Politically, it's a lot more complicated.) The result is a film that is both sprightly and amusing but with a serious subtext that gives it some heft.

The magnificent Mr. B, splendidly ageless

 At the very least, it's worth it just to see Harry Belafonte, who still looks downright God-like at 86. You can find current showings here.

On the DVD front, I have three quick recommendations to pass along.

Ross McElwee, as some readers know, is a great favorite in our house. The BW and I are fond of his casual, slightly self-deprecating tone, his honesty and his seemingly offhand but actually quite rigorous filmmaking practice. His most recent film, last year's Photographic Memory, was shorter than usual at a mere 87 minutes and, perhaps as a result, felt a little like a throwaway. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine two narrative threads that could possibly be closer to McElwee's (right-on-his-sleeve) heart than a his differences with his son, and a return to the scene of first loves in Brittany. As usual, he manages to integrate the seemingly unconnected materials in inventive and satisfying ways, making fine use of older footage and offering mordant commentary throughout. Photographic Memory isn't a major achievement on a par with Sherman's March or Time Indefinite, his masterpieces, but it's full of lovely grace notes and certainly deserves to find a wider audience. You can find it here.

Pip Chodorov is one of the unsung heroes of independent film. I don't mean the crap that Indiewire spends too much of its time extolling, films that are basically smarter versions of studio stuff with smaller budgets. I mean films that you are not likely to see at all unless you are fortunate enough to live somewhere that there's a venue where experimental film is regularly programmed. The people whose work he supports through 
various film co-ops in his adopted home of Paris are the ones I'm talking about. He pays homage to those folks in his recent documentary, Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Film, which is coming out on DVD this month. It's a delightful, warm and funny piece of filmmaking, focussing on filmmakers who have influenced Chodorov's own thinking about cinema, including some of the usual suspects like Ken Jacobs, Stan Brakhage and Jonas Mekas, but also some less expected ones, like Hans Richter and Maurice Lemaitre. I did an interview with Chodorov when the film played Anthology last summer, which you can read here. And you can find the DVD here. Highly recommended.

When Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow, Sophie Fiennes's film about Anselm Kiefer, came out last year, I wrote of it:

Anselm Kiefer’s enormous canvases, sculptures and installations are considerably better known in the United States than Svetlana Geier’s translations [subject of another documentary released at the same time]. Born in Germany a month before the end of the Second World War, he has been exploring images redolent of, and frequently inspired by, the poetry of Paul Celan, stark works of art that evoke the ashes of the Shoah, haunted by echoes of Lurianic kabbalah, of which he speaks elegantly during Over Your Cities. In 1993, Kiefer left Germany and settled in the French town of Barjac, where he bought an abandoned silk factory and its considerable grounds. Since then he has transformed the place into a huge, complex art space housing his gigantic works. But more than that Barjac is itself an environmental art piece, an intricate collection of tunnels, underground passages, corridors and bunkers, eerily echoing the half-remembered images of the camps and the Reichsbunker, and the poetic images of shattered and buried cities of the prophetic writings.

Sophie Fiennes (sister of Ralph and Joseph, who clearly has a very different artistic agenda) reveals this quite frankly astonishing site in a series of hypnotically rigorous camera movements through these spaces, calling on viewers to drink in the range of textures and materials, forms and spaces and, most tellingly, Kiefer’s subdued palette of grays and browns. These sections, brilliantly scored by sound designer Ranko Paukovic using the music of Gyorgy Ligeti and Jorg Widmann, are sharply contrasted by equally absorbing footage of Kiefer and his team of artisans crafting the exhibits that fill the many buildings on the location. The film also features a long, fascinating interview with Kiefer by a visiting German journalist in which he invokes the broken vessels of the Creation (via Luria) and speaks affectionately of kabbalistic numerology: “they count the letters of the words, they lose their original meaning, and it becomes completely religious.”

Above all else, though, Over Your Cities is a visually lush experience that must be seen on a big screen, with a big sound system and none of the distractions of a living room and DVD player. I doubt if there will be a more dazzling and beautiful-looking film released this year.

I must confess that the DVD is quite lovely and having it merely firms up my resolve to upgrade our home media center pronto. If you already have state-of-the-art equipment, you need this DVD. If not, you need to buy better tech and then get this DVD. You won't regret it. 

Finally, the estimable Agnes Varda will be in my town with a bunch of her films on Sunday, March 9. I received an e-mail to that effect earlier today and pass it along for your information:


March 05, 2013



Download the e-flux iPad AppShare thisShare this on
                  FacebookShare this on

Agnès Varda at e-flux
Saturday March 9, 7pm

311 East Broadway
NY 10002
T  212 619 3356


Join us for a special evening of screenings and conversation with the legendary filmmaker Agnès Varda, introduced by Molly Nesbit.
As the only female director of the French New Wave and a key member of the Rive Gauche (Left Bank) cinema movement, Agnès Varda became a force in art cinema. She describes her style as cinécriture (writing on film), and conceived many of her films as political and feminist statements, often crossing genres as she proceeded, always formally daring her viewer to look where before they had only overlooked. The results, whether fictional or actual, produce radical documents of unforgettable people. Her most well-known works include: Cléo from 5 to 7Happiness (Le Bonheur – Silver Bear at Berlin Film Festival), Vagabond (Sans Toit Ni Loi – Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival), Jacquot (Jacquot de Nantes), and the autobiographical documentaries; The Gleaners and I (Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse – Golden Prize Chicago) and The Beaches of Agnès (Les Plages d'Agnès). In the past decade she has turned as well to installation work and has been exhibited widely.

Molly Nesbit is Chair and Professor in the Department of Art at Vassar College as well as a contributing editor of Artforum. She has written the books Atget's Seven Albums (1992) and Their Common Sense (2000), and since 2002, together with Hans Ulrich Obrist and Rirkrit Tiravanija, Molly Nesbit has tri-curated Utopia Station, an ongoing book, exhibition, seminar, website and street project. Her new book, The Pragmatism in the History of Art, will be published this spring by Periscope Press.