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Thom Andersen (#110 of 11)

Viennale 2015 And If I Die, I Won’t Stay Dead, The Thoughts That Once We Had, and The Exquisite Corpus

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Viennale 2015: And If I Die, I Won’t Stay Dead, The Thoughts That Once We Had, and The Exquisite Corpus

Thom Andersen

Viennale 2015: And If I Die, I Won’t Stay Dead, The Thoughts That Once We Had, and The Exquisite Corpus

There are several reasons why the Viennale is the best film festival of its kind. The one most commonly cited by visiting filmmakers is that it’s invitation-only. There’s no regular submissions process: Every film in the program has been actively scouted and hand-selected, rather than watched through some substandard online platform. Another is that the Viennale is—but for a few local prizes and a FIPRESCI jury—competition-free, with its main program divided simply into fiction features and documentaries, in addition to special screenings and retrospectives. This means that the festival isn’t burdened by territorial quotas, which can often prove costly to quality control by including second-rate films in the name of diversity. It also allows the festival to be kept to a sensible size: Fourteen days isn’t especially short, but five daily screening slots across six auditoriums allows organizers to sustain that tricky logistical balance of appealing to a wide demographic.

DOC NYC 2014: Sex(Ed)

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DOC NYC 2014: <em>Sex(Ed)</em>
DOC NYC 2014: <em>Sex(Ed)</em>

Brenda Goodman’s documentary Sex(Ed), not to be confused with the recently released Haley Joel Osment vehicle Sex Ed, traces the history of sexual education films in America, from its first installment in 1893 to the 21st century’s hype of terroristic abstinence-only programs. The film mixes a plethora of entertaining clips from such “moral education” films throughout the decades (some of which are YouTube favorites, like the homosexuality-as-invisible-smallpox “Boys Beware” from 1961) with the usual talking heads, from college professors to what can sometimes feel like randomly selected, and not particularly insightful, college students who happened to bump into the documentary crew on their campus.

Toronto International Film Festival 2012: Room 237

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Toronto International Film Festival 2012: <em>Room 237</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2012: <em>Room 237</em>

The cinema of Stanley Kubrick is one of mystery, intrigue, narrative and thematic ellipses, and the overwhelming sense that meaning is encoded into every frame. In that regard, Kubrick’s 1980 horror classic The Shining may be his most cryptic, enigmatic work, the sort of film that inspires many readings and rewards repeat viewings with subtle hints toward a possibly more sinister subtext. Room 237, Rodney Ascher’s new oddball documentary on many of the theories and speculations built up around The Shining over the years, is likely to perpetuate such readings and perhaps convince those who continue to think the film is one of Kubrick’s most self-conscious larks, that there is, indeed, something beyond the empty ballrooms, winding corridors, and ominous landscapes of the Overlook Hotel.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Calum Marsh’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Calum Marsh’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Calum Marsh’s Top 10 Films of All Time

List-making is an exercise in futility, but as futile exercises go, it’s one of the best. Over 10 brief bullet points, one maps out a condensed history of personal taste, a cartography of the canon made one’s own. I found it taxing and, by the end, exhausting, struck at every moment with crippling self-doubt. I wondered: Is my list exhaustive? Am I a victim of my own myopia? My confidence in these choices—which, truly, I love with all my heart—began to crumble under the pressure of a (I think universal) desire to not only be, but to seem worldly and omnivorous, to appear to have taken in everything and to conclude, finally, that these 10 films are definitively the best of all time. Which isn’t to say, of course, that I felt compelled to trade out canonical classics for idiosyncratic curveballs (though in the end I included a couple of both), but that while thinking through my favorites I couldn’t help but criticize myself for what was surely missing. Doubt gnaws away at you always, often like so: How much did I know about African cinema? Why are none of these 10 films directed by women? (Vagabond was a late and regrettable cut.) Why are there no silent films on my list? Are these films generally too recent? Should I feel guilty—and I mean this seriously—that each of these 10 films is an English-language narrative feature directed by a white male? What does that say about me as a person? Should I trade one of these films out for, say, Close-up, Paris Is Burning, or A Brighter Summer Day, each of which came extremely close to making the final cut but, alas, did not? The truth is that I don’t know. Maybe it makes me a shitty white critic with blinders on. But what I do know is this: I love these 10 films more than any other films in the world. I hope that’s enough.

Toronto International Film Festival 2011: Twenty Cigarettes, Good Bye, Wavelengths 3: Serial Rhythms, & Elena

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Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>Twenty Cigarettes</em>, <em>Good Bye</em>, <em>Wavelengths 3: Serial Rhythms</em>, & <em>Elena</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>Twenty Cigarettes</em>, <em>Good Bye</em>, <em>Wavelengths 3: Serial Rhythms</em>, & <em>Elena</em>

Twenty Cigarettes: After pushing digital for its durational benefits in the extended shots of Ruhr, James Benning returns in HD to the theoretical ground of RR and modulates it to great effect: Where his examination of trains worked from a triangular relationship between object, time, and camera placement, Twenty Cigarettes shifts the framework by conflating the spatial and temporal elements; it’s no longer a question of length of train versus distance of camera, but of length of cigarette, which, because of the added variable of a human subject, is both a spatial and temporal measure. The effect of this mingling is a setup that, for all the feigned passivity of its production (Benning set the camera up, handed the subject a cigarette, hit record, and walked away), strikes a unique balance of agency between the camera and what’s in front of it, one which brings into questions the limits of control of both.