Daily Postings
film : review

Laurie Simmons's My Art

by Judith Hudson

Taking cinema's portrayal of artists personally

We all lose eventually. In the meantime, we fight as hard as we can. Art, and especially movies can make us forget we will ever grow old, be poor, or get rejected. Laurie Simmons confronts age and loneliness head-on in her film My Art, which has its North American premiere at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, April 22–30. No one is spared, but everyone has a good time with the struggle.

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film : interview

Salomé Lamas

by Matt Turner

"Questions that once belonged to the cinematic institution have been set upon the world of spectacle we live in today. These questions belong to all of us now."

Though less than thirty years old, Portuguese filmmaker Salomé Lamas has already developed an impressive, diverse portfolio of films that fit loosely into the ever-widening bracket of non-fiction. Produced for different purposes and at varying lengths, these films have had her travel around the world, visiting increasingly marginal geographies to produce reflexive, experimental portraits of peoples and places at the fringes of existence. The location for her second feature, Eldorado XXI, must surely be the most extreme yet. Set 5500 meters up in the Peruvian Andes, the film investigates the mining community of La Rinconada y Cerro Lunar, the highest elevation permanent settlement in the world. Beautiful and tragic in equal measure, it's an atmospheric, vivid document of a struggling society; but also maybe the most fully realized example of the methodology of converting theory into practice, or experimenting practically upon conceptual ideas, that connects all of Lamas's films.

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film : interview

Kevin Jerome Everson

by Jordan Cronk

"I don't make films for the audience, I make them for the subjects, and I try to position those subjects and the camera so that there's a element of generosity between the two."

Ohio-born, Virginia-based Kevin Jerome Everson is one of America's most prolific and unpredictable filmmakers. Over a span of fifteen years and upward of 100 films, Everson has worked at a near tireless pace, framing largely anonymous images of working-class African Americans through an impressionistic aesthetic palette that is equally informed by street portraiture and observational nonfiction. From his early work with found footage to the vividly rendered suburban and inner-city social vignettes, Everson—who's currently a professor at the University of Virginia—has continued to move nimbly between academia and the avant-garde.

In typically industrious fashion, he has this year brought new and recent work to the Rotterdam and Courtisane film festivals, New York's Whitney Biennial, and the film program at Knoxville's Big Ears Festival, where a selection of shorts were shown alongside a new installation that cast four otherwise unrelated films in something like a study of twentieth-century American consciousness, linking both industrial evolution with corporeal decline, and traces of early cinema with unknown reaches of a medium in flux. Shortly after Big Ears, I spoke with Everson about these wide-ranging programs, his ever-restless practice, and the nuances of the artist-audience relationship.

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film : review

On Digital Sand

by Rachel Ellis Neyra

Agnès Varda's aesthetic tides change, inviting us to switch positions of viewing, knowing, and feeling, for old narratives to wash away and new portals of sensation to open up.

A trio of self-portraits hang in a hallway at Blum & Poe Gallery's solo exhibition Agnès Varda: a silver print mosaic (1949/2012), from when the artist was twenty-one; a silver print of the artist's profile in the foreground of a Gentile Bellini painting, where a row of men's caps mime Varda's signature Dutch-boy haircut (1962/2015); and a digital photograph Autoportrait morcelé (2009), the artist's face in pieces, reflected in square shards of mirror. When Varda cracks herself open, there are beaches.

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film : interview

Thomas White

by Nicholas Elliott

"If someone hands over their repertory theater group to you, what are you going to do with them?"

Perhaps the craziest thing about Thomas White's sole feature Who's Crazy?, a freewheeling 1966 film starring actors of the legendary New York experimental theater company The Living Theatre and set to a roiling, ecstatic original score by Ornette Coleman, is that a film with its pedigree was basically invisible for half a century. True, it was neither a commercial proposition in 1966 nor is it today: practically without dialogue, Who's Crazy? functions as a 73-minute assault on the senses and, especially, the viewer's interpretive faculties, with music and a sea of faces filling the screen from start to finish in an ever-playful progression from slapstick to ritual. The story features a gang of asylum inmates escaping from a bus in the Belgian countryside and retreating to an isolated farmhouse where they go about recreating society with White's camera apparently floating freely among them.

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film : review

The Human Surge

by Danielle Burgos

Eduardo Williams's debut feature takes us around the world on an ethnographic tour of labor, leisure, and logins.

Barely conscious, stumbling through dark warrens, a young man lit only by his glowing smartphone suddenly reveals a natural force startling to the viewer, mundane to himself. This opening shot of Eduardo Williams's The Human Surge not only sets up the film to come, but encapsulates the young filmmaker's working method. With minimal preparation, cross-language collaboration with non-actors, and spontaneous incorporation, Williams operates semi-consciously—call it automatic filmmaking. Rhythm and environment supersede conventional narrative, with dialogue an additional layer of texture rather than propellant.

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film : interview

Beth B

by Coleen Fitzgibbon

"My work is so much about breaking that cycle of trauma, abuse, violence, and disturbance. It brings it out into the open so we can have a dialogue."

Artist and filmmaker Beth B came into her own in the downtown New York arts scene of the early '80s, creating large-scale installations and Super-8 films. Since then, she has released numerous documentaries and features for screen and television. Her non-fiction feature, Exposed, premiered in the Panorama section at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival, and her most recent film, Call Her Applebroog, chronicles the life and work of her mother—renowned visual artist Ida Applebroog. It premiered at MOMA's Doc Fortnight in February 2016. Voyeur, an installation of her videos, photography, and sculpture, opens at Howl! Happening in New York on February 18, 2017. I've known Beth since the late 1970s, when we helped co-found the radical artist's collective Colab.

Beth B I've made over thirty films, some of them shorts, some features, some hour-long docs. I did eight-hour docs for television, then came back to independent filmmaking. I continue to move from one genre to another in film because the most important thing is the subject matter. I figure out what form it's going to take afterward. I approach studio art in much the same way, looking to the idea to dictate the medium. Sometimes the work is thematic and an installation may take on various mediums, like this exhibition at HOWL! Arts. I'm showing sculpture, photography, video, and publishing a book—Nudes. The show dislocates the concept of voyeurism, which has been described as a psychosexual disorder. But look at the world today. We're living at a time when boundaries surrounding privacy are questioned everyday, and so the show challenges the convention of this secret vantage point, allowing the viewer to choose their engagement.

Coleen Fitzgibbon Let's back up a bit. How did you start making films?

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film : review

Call to Witness

by Nico Wheadon

Raoul Peck's I Am Not Your Negro testifies that James Baldwin's embattled America is still our own.

I Am Not Your Negro is a documentary feat that draws much of its complexity from corralling the all-too-obscure history of race in the United States. A brilliant translator of this narrative, Haitian filmmaker and activist Raoul Peck adapts the unfinished, final novel by James Baldwin—provisionally titled Remember This House—as a framing device to unpack broader issues of power and privilege. Peck—to whom the few pages of the original manuscript were entrusted by the writer's estate—expertly matches Baldwin's prophetic lyricism with his own highly innovative approach. He juxtaposes images of today's political movements with Baldwin's manifestos and archival clips from the civil rights era, employing film's ability to collapse time and space to challenge the truth of American progress.

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film : review

Auteur Gone Wild

by Elina Alter

On the risqué drawings of Sergei Eisenstein

At the top of a narrow white staircase off 26th Street, a film shoot is taking place. Two make-up artists daub an actor with rouge; a harried costume designer straps a prosthesis to a toga-clad Nero in a French production; der Regisseur [the director] fusses while his cameraman naps. This affair is polyglot as well as pornographic: the German is chastising a naked couple, the prosthesis is a penis, and one can figure just where the rouge is being applied. Such is the imagery of these captioned drawings, made in 1941, culled from the prodigious paper works of the Soviet film director and theoretician Sergei Eisenstein. Historian Joan Neuberger puts the "conservative estimate" at 5,000; a judicious eighty-four drawings, held in a private collection, are now on view as "Sergei Eisenstein: Drawings 1931–1948," at Alexander Gray Associates. In graphite or pencil, with accents in blue and red, the drawings are cleanly contoured, skillful variations on verboten activities. Couplings and positions include bull athwart man, priest atop steeple, and woman occupied by candelabrum—the latter sporting little martyrs from its seven candlesticks. The woman seems deeply pleased; the martyrs, being martyrs, less so.

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film : interview

Kristi Zea & Jacki Ochs

by Coleen Fitzgibbon

"I wanted to do a movie about a woman I respect—a woman artist."

Everybody Knows… Elizabeth Murray is a new documentary film about the life, groundbreaking work, and legacy of the renowned artist. Notable for her shaped canvases and bold colors, Murray's dynamic career was cut short by cancer in 2007, just a few years after her retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (an opportunity seldom afforded to women at the time). Director Kristi Zea—the Oscar-nominated production designer for films by Jonathan Demme, James L. Brooks, and Martin Scorsese—debuts with this intimate portrait of her friend, making use of candid footage, home video, and personal journals. Producer Jacki Ochs, also an experimental and documentary filmmaker (Letters Not About Love and Vietnam: The Secret Agent), joins in for this conversation.

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film : interview

Ognjen Glavonić

by Pamela Cohn

"It's really important that my colleagues, the filmmakers from all Yugoslav countries, turn their cameras toward themselves, so as to dissect and question what really constitutes our recent history."

In his brief filmmaking career, Ognjen Glavonić has made not one, but two works of nonfiction that defy categorization. This is an artist who never planned on making documentaries at all. In fact, his latest work started out as a fiction script about a truck driver who becomes an unwitting participant in the cover-up of a mass murder. But Glavonić, flooded with articles, documents, and tribunal transcripts from The Hague and Belgrade Special Court that recount the discovery of mass graves in Serbia was compelled to dig much deeper into how that discovery came about, in the process creating a profoundly moving ode to the silenced victims.

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film : review

The Villian Is the 20th Century

by William Corwin

With I Had Nowhere to Go, director Douglas Gordon brings the diary of filmmaker and poet Jonas Mekas into contact with our own reveries.

Douglas Gordon's film I Had Nowhere to Go—an adaptation of Jonas Mekas's diaries—is akin to the experience of pulling a sleeping mask over one's eyes on a long-haul flight or train ride. The enforced blackness plunges the viewer into a dream-state and even a nightmare at times, both actually lived by one of the most resilient and enigmatic poets and filmmakers of the last fifty years. I Had Nowhere to Go is chiefly about the word: Mekas's voice is the only constant in this complicated, polynomial equation, and Gordon has accomplished a tremendous feat in generating a riveting work of art on the back of another artist's work without stepping on his toes. While it's definitely a biography, it's a hypnotic work of visual poetry as well—a portrait that could only be effected through the film medium, and with the able editing of Ninot Lotet and sound editing by Frank Kruse.

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film : review

Foreign Exchange

by Elina Alter

European Cinema at the 54th New York Film Festival

This October, forty-nine years after its first appearance, The Battle of Algiers returns to the New York Film Festival. It's not a difficult film to see these days—it's on Hulu—but back in 2003, several months into the invasion of Iraq, somebody at the Pentagon thought it merited a special screening. Gille Pontecorvo's 1966 documentary-style account of the Algerian struggle for independence offered, according to a flyer advertising the screening, an excellent case study in "how to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas."

Battle's first American screening, at the 1967 NYFF, was the work of not a Pentagonian but of Amos Vogel, the Festival's founding co-director. The teenage Vogel had fled Austria with his family just before the Anschluss, and through a lifetime of film programming in the U.S., he remained dedicated to "a more liberated cinema"—not a hierarchical project, but one of "constant transformation of all forms and systems." The Festival Vogel helped to start is also, at least nominally, not hierarchical—the films are not in competition for prizes. However, for reasons of merit as well as market, its Main Slate is rarely short on European prize-winners, which this year concern themselves less with winning wars of ideas than with surveying the carnage of those wars.

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film : interview

Kirsten Johnson

by Alex Zafiris

The cinematographer and director on her memoir, Cameraperson.

Over a twenty-five-year career, Kirsten Johnson has captured difficult, hidden images and brought them into the world. Sensitivity and courage inform her instincts and aesthetic, and her frames are deeply intimate, politically charged, and cinematic. She is best known for her work with Laura Poitras on The Oath (2010), Citizenfour (2014), and Risk (2016); with Michael Moore on Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004); and with Ted Braun on Darfur Now (2007).

Cameraperson presents outtakes from over twenty documentaries—moments that have stayed with Johnson: a Christian family preparing dinner in postwar Bosnia, a boxer's humiliation after losing a match in Brooklyn, men praying at a mosque in Afghanistan, and a newborn struggling for life in a Nigerian hospital. The film confronts the nature of seeing, being present, and dealing with memory and trauma. There's also personal footage of her mother's decline with Alzheimer's, her father, and young twins, drawing together seemingly disparate scenes with profound humanity. Johnson demonstrates that truth and objectivity are constantly shifting. [ Read More ]

film : review

Rendezvous in the Alps

by Ratik Asokan

With The Seasons in Quincy, filmmakers Tilda Swinton, Colin MacCabe, and Christopher Roth produce portraits of art critic and novelist John Berger.

Invited to his friend John Berger's house for dinner, Geoff Dyer once found himself seated between very different houseguests. On one side was a local plumber; on the other, Henri Cartier-Bresson. It's an image that neatly captures the two abiding interests of Berger's career. Ever since he began publishing provocative Marxist art criticism in the 1950s, he has written with unparalleled insight about both aesthetics and politics, about the most refined artists and most marginalized communities, about, as he himself put it, "the enduring mystery of great art and the lived experience of the oppressed."

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film : review

Disconnection Notice

by Jon Dieringer

Werner Herzog’s phoned-in tech film, Lo and Behold, is an ad in disguise.

From Walter Rutmann to Hou-Hsao Hsien, there's a rich vein of unlikely sponsored works by esteemed film and video artists. A survey could begin with abstract artists who used commercial patronage as a platform to dodge Nazi censorship, such as Oskar Fischinger, who licensed canonical works of experimental animation like Kreise to ad agencies, and Hans Richter, whose subversive mercantile histories for the Swiss stock exchange represent a leftist chronicle of capital ensconced in heady surrealist montage. In the 1950s, Eyes Without a Face filmmaker Georges Franju twisted a commission from the Army Museum into a grotesque anti-war critique in Hôtel des Invalides, succeeded by Alain Resnais and Oulipo poet Raymond Queneau's blissful and absurd paean to plastics, Le Chant du Styrène. Across the pond, Night of the Living Dead director George A. Romero created a bone chilling PSA about the mortality rate of impoverished African-American youth in Pittsburgh's Hill District, and Dara Birnbaum's iconoclastic "MTV: Artbreak" spot presented a dialectical feminist history of animation in thirty seconds. But Werner Herzog's Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World marks the first time a feature film conceived and developed by a modern advertising agency and its client has landed in theaters, where critics and audiences alike are expected to accord it the dignity of a real movie.

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film : interview

Bingham Bryant & Kyle Molzan

by Nicholas Elliott

"It was meant to kink your head."

In Bingham Bryant and Kyle Molzan's directorial debut For the Plasma, Charlie (Annabelle LeMieux) joins her childhood friend Helen (Rosalie Lowe) in a remote house on the coast of Maine to help repair the surveillance cameras she uses as a fire lookout. Helen informs Charlie she's also been interpreting the CCTV images of the woods to accurately forecast global economic trends. Charlie tells her about the shit-eating bug featured in the Kobo Abe novel she's reading. Then things get weirder.

Skirting genre conventions to develop its own allusive (and elusive) tone, For the Plasma has the kind of highly specific, confident direction that inspires viewers to sit back and let their brains be scrambled. As I looked at a digital projection of Bryant and Molzan's 16 mm footage of CCTV images of a forest in Maine, I found myself acutely aware of the act of watching and by extension of myself, inside and outside the film. That rare heady experience encouraged me to invite these young New York directors to sit down and talk about the tension between narrative and interpretation, their film's offbeat soundtrack, and Korean filmmaker Hong Sang Soo's art of simultaneity.

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film : interview

Zachary Treitz

by Hannah Holden

Men Go to Battle is the story of two brothers who live in a cabin on the remnants of their family's once-grand Kentucky estate, which they sell piecemeal to survive. The year is 1861, and rumors about the Union Army are a hot topic in the parlor of the town's wealthiest family, the Smalls. When younger brother Henry (David Maloney) is romantically spurned by Betsy Small (Rachel Korine), he enlists in the Union Army without telling Francis (Tim Morton). The brothers' lives diverge for the first time, and they are forced to confront the world alone precisely as the Civil War transforms it forever.

Men Go to Battle eschews the extravagance of conventional period pieces in favor of intimacy and naturalism. The camera lingers on Henry's face as he marches into the Battle of Perryville, and outdoor scenes are scored by cicadas and rustling wind. Contrary to expectations, Men Go to Battle is also very funny. Much of the humor arises from longtime pals Maloney and Morton's prankish brotherly dynamic, which vacillates between hostility and affection. Korine also kills as a romantic, well-bred young woman who gently humors her hapless suitors—that is, until Henry makes the wrong move.

I sat down with director Zachary Treitz to discuss the film, which he co-wrote with Kate Lyn Sheil and for which he was awarded Best New Narrative Director at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. Men Go to Battle plays at Anthology Film Archives in New York City through July 14 and opens in Los Angles on July 15, 2016.

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film : comment

Remembering Peter Hutton (1944–2016)

by Joan Retallack

Peter Hutton was an American filmmaker who spent many years of his youth at sea in the US Merchant Marine. His celebrated films, widely acclaimed for their luminous integrity, blurred the divide between still photography and cinema. Lingering, contemplative shots of water, sky, land, and cityscape opened camera and eye to the unexpected thrill of minute changes in stillness, making both seem as wondrously improbable as they actually are. Beloved by his students, he taught for three decades at Bard College in the Hudson Valley—subject of many of his films. Poet and essayist Joan Retallack remembers her colleague with the text below, which consists of lines from Lucretius's poem De Rerum Natura in transvariation from the Latin and the W.H.D. Rouse translation.

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film : review

Bound by Cinema

by Daniel Bird

On the fiery filmmaker Andrzej Żuławski and his final work—Cosmos.

Five years ago in Copenhagen.

A hotel restaurant.

Breakfast.

Polish director Andrzej Żuławski has a dramatic announcement to make: "There are no real directors at this festival."

"Why?" I ask.

"Look!" A young girl, bored senseless, stacking plates loaded with breakfast remains.

"A real director would stop stuffing his face and cast her in a movie."

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film : interview

Athina Rachel Tsangari

by Giovanni Marchini Camia

"It's not really subversion, it's catching something before it becomes what we're accustomed to."

The 2010 release of Attenberg, Athina Rachel Tsangari's second feature, marked the high point of the Greek Weird Wave set off the previous year by Yorgos Lanthimos's Dogtooth. With Tsangari producing Dogtooth and Lanthimos producing as well as acting in Attenberg, the pair became the wave's de facto poster children—even if, as is the case with most such categorizations, the filmmakers themselves vehemently opposed the idea of a movement. Lanthimos went on to direct increasingly large-scale films with relative regularity—his latest, The Lobster, features international stars like Colin Farrell, John C. Reilly, and Rachel Weisz—whereas Tsangari disappeared from the spotlight to some degree. Apart from her short film The Capsule, which made the festival rounds in 2012, she mostly collaborated on others' projects, for example co-producing Richard Linklater's Before Midnight, where she also appeared in a minor acting role.

It was a very welcome surprise when last year's Locarno Film Festival announced that Tsangari's Chevalier would screen in the main competition. Very little information was revealed prior to the premiere and the press kit only consisted of a rulebook for "a fantastic strategic game for two or more male players," containing cryptic guidelines like: "Excessive use of adverbs, -5 points. Stiff hard-on, +2 points. Overblinking, -40 points." As it transpired, these pertained to the game invented and played by Chevalier's protagonists, six wealthy men vacationing on a yacht out at sea. The boat functions as a huis clos within which the men engage in a series of absurd contests, exposing and exploiting each other's insecurities and vulnerabilities as they try to ascertain who amongst them is "The Best At Everything In General."

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film : interview

Brent Green

by Chris Chang

“Like holding hands with a stranger—for kind of a long time.”

The following interview is culled from several encounters with artist/performer/filmmaker Brent Green, and it’s occasioned by (at least) three major things. First and foremost are his “outsider films,” and really, there’s no easy way to summarize the ragged beauty of the work. Second—from the fall of 2015 to early 2016 Green was an artist-in-residence at the Park Avenue Armory, where he performed animated works-in-progress with a live ten-piece band as part of the venue’s Under Construction Series. And third—in April, Green provided video projections and music for the first portion of Aaron Landsman’s Empathy School/Love Story, a theater diptych of individual yet perfectly paired monologues that deal with, in abstract sum, existential pleasures and terrors of both rural and urban varieties. Landsman might be called an “outsider dramaturge,” as he is best known for performances that can take place in private homes, public office buildings, moving buses, etc. But Empathy School took place in an actual theater, the Abrons Art Center, only the curtain remained closed. We, the audience, were seated behind the drapes, onstage, where the action took place.

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film : interview

Raam Reddy

by Daniel Kasman

“Freedom and bondage I find interesting. Or purity—and a contrast to that purity.”

This year’s edition of New Directors/New Films served as the perfect place for the North American premiere of Raam Reddy’s Thithi. To make this film, the crew—along with its 25-year-old director—immersed themselves in their south India location and built the narrative directly from the community. The story involves a modest saga of three generations of village men, each searching for their own kind of happiness. Their struggles and delights are seen as inextricable from their customs, which are effortlessly revealed in a manner suffused with generosity, understanding, and humor far wiser than the youth of its director might suggest. Here we are introduced to a town (Nodekoppalu), a language (Kannada), and an interconnected group of people—cast mainly from local non-professionals—rich and full of humanity. To watch Thithi is to be invited into a sprawling and diverse world—and to step through the cinema screen to explore a new place and meet new people. The film’s next stop on the festival circuit will be at the San Francisco International Film Festival, where screenings begin April 30, 2016.

Director Raam Reddy—who, incidentally, wrote his first novel at age 19—took home the First Feature and Cineasti del presente (Filmmakers of the Present) prizes at the Locarno Film Festival last year. I have no doubt he’ll be introducing more cinema to us soon. We began our conversation by talking about how Thithi might be received in his native India.

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film : interview

Adam Green, Alia Shawkat, & Francesco Clemente

“You’re looking at the human inverse of a technological idea.”

When I first learned that Adam Green—perhaps best known as the lead singer of the on-hiatus, indie stalwart band The Moldy Peaches—had made Aladdin, I thought the obvious: Macaulay Culkin should interview Green for BOMB. Reason? Culkin has a key role in this new film, and the Green-Culkin connection has already birthed several exasperating collaborations, plus it’s not often that the ex-star of Home Alone gets the space he deserves. But alas, it was not to be.

Miraculously, Francesco Clemente—who needs no introduction, and happens to play Aladdin’s Genie (WTF?)—was available. Even more surprising was the addition of another member of the cast, Alia Shawkat, who, among other things, is the actress who played the essential Maeby Fünke on Arrested Development. She turned the proposed one-on-one into a free-associative three-way.

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film : interview

Tom Sachs & Van Neistat

by Chris Chang

“I’ve always wanted to make something as good as an iPhone, and I never could, but Apple could never make anything as shitty as one of my sculptures or movies. And that’s a huge advantage.”

My intention at Tom Sachs’s Lower Manhattan art compound was to interview the artist and his longtime collaborator, the filmmaker Van Neistat. I wanted to talk about their new film, A Space Program, which chronicles the Sachs studio crew’s profoundly ambitious voyage to Mars as it was executed in a massive installation staged at the Park Avenue Armory back in 2012. That they actually complete this mission, albeit with plywood spaceships and hot glue, is a real tribute to their bulldog ingenuity.

NASA… Part of the original Eisenhower idea, in 1958, was that government research projects related to aeronautics or outer space need not necessarily focus on war and weaponization. The agency could, instead, set seemingly loftier, fantastic engineering goals, like the moon mission. The Sachs-brand NASA, with that same rigor, expands such a mission with excursions into zero-gravity opium cultivation and Japanese tea ceremony. Indeed, the Sachs studio could itself be described as a tea ceremony, or ritual, that—thanks to American innovation—has wonderfully lost its mind. (By all means, see Tom Sachs: Tea Ceremony at the Noguchi Museum; it runs through July 24, 2016.)
 
The Sachs studio’s creed, “Creativity is the Enemy,” is another way of saying, “Stay on Task.” It was my intention to speak with Neistat and Sachs about their new film. Which is another way of saying, “Epic Fail.”

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