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  • March 13, 2017

    Staff Pick: Agnès Varda takes New York

    Agnès Varda. Photo courtesy: French Institute Alliance Française

    Agnès Varda. Photo courtesy: French Institute Alliance Française

    By Brittany Stigler

    Agnès Varda is a gleaner. Like the potato-collecting subjects of her documentary The Gleaners and I (2000), Varda takes notice of otherwise discarded material and infuses it with a second life by casting her gaze toward the unobserved. What wasn’t captured in the frame of a photograph or a film? How does the very material of film—the stock on which images rest—change in purpose over time as the reels become increasingly unused? From a three panel video triptyque to a miniature greenhouse constructed from strips of super 8 film, these questions fill the gallery space of Blum & Poe, where a selection of her work from 1949 to the present is on exhibit for the first time in New York City until April 15th.

    But as much as Varda is a gleaner, she is also a potato, as she declared recently at the French Institute and the Alliance Française de New York (FIAF) during a discussion of her work as a visual artist. Likening herself to the heart-shaped potatoes she collected and observed in Gleaners—watching with her characteristic curiosity as they aged, budding eyes and taking on the promise of a new life—Varda, too, continues to sprout. “People like definition, and this or that. I like to feel like I’m everything. I have three lives: as a photographer, a filmmaker, a visual artist.”

    Considered to be the “grandmother”—or as Varda joked, the dinosaur—of the French New Wave, her foray into the visual arts is a relatively new adventure for the director. And, yet, the move seems fitting for the artist who, after all, began her career as a photographer. Calling attention to this history, the photographs on display at her Blum & Poe show represent a selection of images from an exhibition Varda held in the courtyard of her Paris home in 1954. Their current configuration, arranged in a straight line that wraps around the room, prompts the viewer to circle around the photographs—some of which include familiar images found in her films. Purposeful or not, the effect replicates the precise cyclical feeling that resonates through her depiction of time in other works.

    Evocation d'une exposition de 1954, 1949-1954. Photo Courtesy: Genevieve Hanson

    Evocation d’une exposition de 1954, 1949-1954. Photo Courtesy: Genevieve Hanson

    This understanding of the past as it relates to and makes up the present marks a defining quality found in Varda’s films and visual art alike. “I’ve been crossing the time for years,” she said when asked about her use of time as a theme. To be sure, however, her relationship to the past is not born out of nostalgia. “The past doesn’t mean too much to me because it’s always there. Not as a memory thing. As making it alive again,” she clarified. “The past is there. You take it and bring it on the table. It’s still alive.” For Varda, the past is always present.

    Cinema, she explained, lends itself to this rearranging of time. “In film, the cinema language accepts that you go from one place to another…Sometimes, you can put the time, shut the time together and say, ‘hey, that went before’ and install…and it’s still alive” This is demonstrated in her film, Jacquot de Nantes (1991), which focuses on the life and work of her late husband and fellow Left Bank director Jacques Demy. Screening at FIAF on March 14th, the film blends documentary footage of an elderly Demy with clips from his films and reimagined footage about his childhood shot by Varda, showing that the past can come before and after footage from the present and still create a reality that makes sense—even if the parts are out of order. Her films, in this way, replicate how life is actually experienced: a constant blend of what has happened and what is happening.

    Le Triptyque de Noirmoutier, 2004-2005. Photo Courtesy: Genevieve Hanson

    Le Triptyque de Noirmoutier, 2004-2005. Photo Courtesy: Genevieve Hanson

    Now, in her visual art, Varda expands her concept of time along a new axis to include moments that happen simultaneously in the present. Take, as an example, her current triptyque video installation at Blum & Poe, Le Triptyque de Noirmoutier, which features a central video flanked on either side by two separate videos that seem, at first, unrelated to the centerpiece. Projected onto three independent wooden panels, the triptyque can be closed down to show only the central image—what you would see at the cinema—or opened up to enlarge the frame of reference to include the two other panels. As the piece progresses, figures from the main video come in and out of the center panel, emerging or leaving the scenes on the side panels. Here, Varda grapples with the question of what lies beyond of the privileged space of the traditional cinema screen. What do you miss when you restrict the field of vision? What can’t cinema show?

    When I attended the Blum & Poe show on a chilly Saturday afternoon following its opening, I stumbled upon Varda in the gallery, speaking to patrons about her work. In the room containing Le Triptyque de Noirmoutier, she demonstrated to us how to properly open and close the triptyque, noting at what point the “action really comes”—which happened to, of course, be when the characters take on lives both outside and inside the center panel. As she opened the panels of the triptyque, she extended the horizon of the film to reveal a beach and a china cabinet, expanding up the lives of her characters in the process. In that moment, the action seemed to echo her promise in The Beach of Agnes (2008): If we opened people up, we’d find landscapes. If we opened me up, we’d find beaches.”

    Upcoming Screenings:

    FIAF: Agnès Varda: Life as Art
    Jacquot de Nantes: Tue, Mar 14 at 4 & 7:30pm

    FIAF: Agnès Varda: Life as Art
    Lola: Tue, Mar 21 at 4 & 7:30pm
    Jacques Demy’s first film,

    Exhibition Info:

    Blum & Poe: Agnès Varda 

    March 2 through April 15

  • March 2, 2017

    Staff Pick: Stèphanie Di Giusto’s The Dancer at Film Society of Lincoln Center

    Soko as Loïe Fuller in Stèphanie Di Giusto’s biopic The Dancer (Photo © Shanna Besson-Wild Bunch Distribution)

    Soko as Loïe Fuller in Stèphanie Di Giusto’s biopic The Dancer (Photo © Shanna Besson-Wild Bunch Distribution)

    By Meredith Coleman

    If you go on YouTube and type in “serpentine dance” in the search bar, films from the late 1800s appear, featuring dancers dancing against darkened backdrops. They move their arms as they hold onto sticks attached to the undulating fabric of their costumes. The fabric begins to rise and fall, swirl in circular motions. It becomes infused with a variety of colors. It comes to life. A few weeks ago, I watched the film Annabelle Serpentine Dance (1895) and was first introduced to this distinct dance. I couldn’t help but be captivated by the rippling quality of the costume worn by the dancer Annabelle Moore in the film. I also couldn’t help but be captivated by the hand-tinted frames that came together to allow this outfit to be full of such transformations in color, with yellows becoming pinks, purples, and reds.

    I wondered, who created the serpentine dance, something so full of energy?

    Her name is Loie Fuller, an innovative dancer of the late 1800s who helped develop modern dance—and who is the focus of the film The Dancer (2016), playing at the Film Society of Lincoln Center during their Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series. Loie Fuller demonstrated not only dance’s ability to be a form of entertainment, but also an art form. She established the power of light, color, and projection. Little did I know that the hand-tinted color transformations in serpentine dance films of the late 1800s attempted to replicate the multi-colored electric lights that appeared on stage when Fuller performed, which allowed a variety of colors to materialize and change on her costume.

    Songwriter/Actor Soko performing Loïe Fuller's legendary Serpentine Dance in Stèphanie Di Giusto’s biopic The Dancer (Photo © Shanna Besson-Wild Bunch Distribution)

    Songwriter/Actor Soko performing Loïe Fuller’s legendary Serpentine Dance in Stèphanie Di Giusto’s biopic The Dancer (Photo © Shanna Besson-Wild Bunch Distribution)

    The Dancer, directed by Stéphanie Di Giusto and starring Soko as Loie Fuller, explores Fuller’s fascinating life. From her early years in the United States to becoming a star performer at the Folies Bergère in Paris, from a dance that started from sketches and became a performance, an art, the film gives you the opportunity to see who this woman was, maybe encounter her for the first time, and understand why many films tried to capture her unique, inventive movements.

    The film allows you to view her serpentine dance as if you were in the audience of the Folies Bergère, watching her perform on the stage. In a particularly memorable moment, Soko (as Fuller) stands in the middle of a sea of darkness bathed in light as the electric, multi-colored hues travel upon the blank canvas of the silk fabric she wears. The colors go through a kind of metamorphosis, transforming into reds, blues, and greens. Through long shots and close-ups, you get to see the motion of her arms as she holds the bamboo sticks attached to the fabric, as she spins and twirls, allowing the material to live and breathe. The effect is magical.

    The Dancer is playing at Film Society of Lincoln Center on March 2nd and March 6th, with the director and choreographer, Jody Sperling, giving a Q&A during the screening on the 6th. Soko gives a wonderful, emotional performance as Loie Fuller and the film gives you the opportunity to learn about Loie Fuller and recognize why she should continue to be thought of and admired in the 21st century.

  • February 23, 2017

    Bulletin Board: Wuthering Heights adaptations, Rebecca, early travelogues by women, and more…

    By Meredith Coleman

    Luis Buñuel’s Wuthering Heights / Abismos de Pasión

    Luis Buñuel’s Wuthering Heights / Abismos de Pasión

    Staff Favorite: Heathcliff, It’s Me: Adapting Wuthering Heights
    Film Society of Lincoln Center
    February 24th—27th (various films and times)

    It’s always interesting to see how a book is adapted to the screen, how the characters, settings, and themes are taken out of the pages and visually depicted through the medium of film. Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights is a powerful literary work that explores passion, identity, social class, nature, and the supernatural. It is a work that is worth reading not only once, but multiple times. And from February 24th—27th the Film Society of Lincoln Center is presenting a series of film adaptations of this memorable story. How did Luis Buñuel interpret it? William Wyler? Jacques Rivette? This series cannot be missed.

    Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca

    Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca

    Rebecca
    Metrograph
    February 26th at 4:30PM

    Speaking of film adaptations, on February 26th Metrograph is showing Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation of the widely known novel Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I mean, who can forget that first line… “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” With a story like Daphne du Maurier’s and actors like Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier starring in the film, it is definitely worth seeing.

    Agnieszka Smoczynska’s The Lure

    Agnieszka Smoczynska’s The Lure

    The Lure
    IFC Center
    February 23rd at 9:30PM

    A pair of mermaid sisters turn up in Poland in the 1980s and enter into the world of human-beings…what can be more interesting than that? The Lure, directed by Agnieszka Smoczynska, is a film that delves into the lives of these mermaids on land. Oh, and did I forget to mention that it’s also a musical? Be sure to check out this film at the IFC Center to experience something unforgettable.

    travelogue

    Terra Femme: Early Travelogues by Women
    UnionDocs Center for Documentary Art
    February 23rd at 7:30PM

    On February 23rd, starting at 7:30PM the UnionDocs Center for Documentary Art is presenting a selection of “home travelogues” from the 1920s—40s on 16mm, concentrating on amateur films shot by women. These films were captured by American travelers abroad, women who traveled to a variety of places and filmed them through their point of view. What did these women choose to focus on? And what does this reveal to us about these filmmakers of the early 1900s?

    oscars

    The Oscars
    ABC
    February 26th at 8:30PM

    Sure, the ceremony is a few hours long, but with so many incredible films being nominated this year, like La La Land, Moonlight, Fences, Arrival, and Hidden Figures, and so many incredible actors like Emma Stone, Denzel Washington, Isabelle Huppert, and Viola Davis, how can you not watch it? The ceremony starts at 8:30PM Eastern Standard Time.

  • February 10, 2017

    Bulletin Board: Valentine’s Day Massacre 2017, Mr. Gaga, Kedi, and more

    blog

    Staff favorite: Valentine’s Day Massacre 2017  
    Anthology Film Archives
    February 10th-14th (various times)

    Sure, one could spend Valentine’s Day, and the weekend leading up to it, snuggled up on the couch, watching old romantic classics like Casablanca and When Harry Met Sally. But that’s not the only option for these days full of endless red roses and chocolate kisses. Why not go see something a little more anti Valentine’s Day? From February 10-14th, Anthology Film Archives continues its entertaining series “Valentine’s Day Massacre,” where they show works of film that are so wonderfully anti-romance.

    This year, see films such as Maurice Pialat’s We Won’t Grow Old Together and Albert Brooks’s Modern Romance, in addition to films by Andrzej Zulawski and Elaine May. And all the films are on 35mm! Sure, the couch at home is tempting, but it will always be there tomorrow!

    Mr. Gaga  
    Film Forum, Film Society of Lincoln Center
    Through February 16th (various times)
    Q&A with Mr. Gaga Producer Barak Heymann at Film Forum- Feb. 10th at 7:10 show, Feb. 11th at 12:30 show

    Just by watching the trailer of this film, one gets a sense of the energy and power housed within the movements choreographed by Ohad Naharin, the Israeli chorographer and artistic director of Tel Aviv’s Batsheva Dance Company. As the subject of the documentary, Mr. Gaga explores this influential, innovative figure who has made a strong impact in the dance world. Catch the film both at the Film Forum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

    Spraymasters  
    MoMA
    February 10th at 4:00PM

    Graffiti is an art. An expression of one’s beliefs, attitudes, criticisms, it has substance, and a unique, memorable style. It’s a movement that has spread all over the world in recent years, and become part of the mainstream. Playing at the MoMA on February 10th, Manfred Kirchheimer’s Spraymasters includes four ex-graffiti artists, Zephyr, Lee Quiñones, Lady Pink, and Futura 2000, who spent the early years of their lives enlivening New York City with their designs.

    Martin Scorsese Exhibition  
    Museum of the Moving Image
    Through April 23rd

    Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, The Last Waltz… the list goes on and on. Martin Scorsese is one of those director’s whose love of film (just watch Hugo) and immense talent know no bounds. Through April 23rd, the Museum of the Moving Image is honoring this incredible director in an exhibition that delves into both his life and work. Coinciding with the exhibition, the Museum will also be having screenings of some of his classic films.

    (And while there, make sure to check out the installation “HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US,” which will be livestreamed for the duration of Trump’s presidency.)

    Kedi 
    Metrograph
    Opens February 10th
    A Q&A with director/producer Ceyda Torun will accompany the following shows:
    Friday, February 10th at (7pm: SOLD OUT) and (9pm: SOLD OUT)
    Saturday, February 11th at 7pm and 9pm
    Sunday, February 12th at 3pm and 5pm

    Calling all cat lovers: Ceyda Torun’s new documentary, Kedi, is for you. Sure to warm winter blues, Kedi follows the dynamic relationships between the free-roaming cats of Istanbul and the humans that they choose. Focusing foremost on the friendlier aspects of Istanbul’s unique cat-human equilibrium, the film also touches on the shifting urban landscape of Istanbul and the resulting uncertainty that felines may face in the future.

  • January 19, 2017

    STAFF PICK: PIRANDELLO 150 at Film Forum

    Kaos

    Kaos

    Through questions of identity, illusion, and sanity, the works of  novelist and dramatist Luigi Pirandello create fertile dreamscapes in which the imagination can flourish—a quality that embeds itself in many of the adaptations that have followed. In honor of the 150th anniversary of Pirandello’s birth, Film Forum will join a city-wide celebration of the artist with a film festival of its own, running through January 19th.

    The centerpiece of the series is Kaos (1984), a cinematic adaptation of select Pirandello short stories by noted Italian filmmaking brothers, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani. Operatic in its duration and emotional reach, the film spans just over three hours and is divided into six distinct sections: A prelude, in which we are introduced to a raven turned herald; four short story adaptations (“L’altro figlio” (“The Other Son”), “Mal di luna” (“Moonsickness”), “La giara” (“The Jar”), and “Requiem”); and an epilogue, “Colloquio con la madre” (“Conversing with Mother”), in which Pirandello visits his childhood home, where he conjures his deceased mother.

    Filmed in Pirandello’s native land of Sicily, the landscape becomes a unifying theme in the film: White dust sticks to the feet and clothing of every character in the tales, connecting their narratives throughout the film’s disparate moments. The musical raven from the beginning of the film soars between storylines, a symbol of time’s circular quality and cinema’s ability to stitch it into a sequence. And, of course, the people of the land—the focus of both the Taviani brothers and Pirandello’s work—balance the more surreal elements of the stories with an earthiness that is somehow more realistic than the actual ground they stand on. In this way, the film captures the most thrilling aspect of Pirandello’s work—namely, his talent for blurring the fantastical with the routine.

    Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1934 for “his bold and ingenious revival of dramatic and scenic art,” Pirandello’s influence can be seen in literature, theater, and beyond. Those familiar with Pirandello through the theater will know very well of his revolutionary tearing down of the stage’s “fourth wall” in his experimental play, Six Characters in Search of an Author, and those who are unfamiliar have probably seen the technique at some point or another. A testament to the evocative quality of Pirandello’s material, the adaptations screening as part of Film Forum’s series are as inventive as the source, a true treat for both fans of Pirandello’s work and those who are coming to it fresh.

    Brittany Stigler

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