For a long time we’ve heard that analog film formats– for both making and viewing– are on the verge of mass extinction and very soon will be swallowed up by digital photography and filmmaking, never to be seen again. Recent events seem to confirm this prediction– in July, the last manufacturer of VHS players announced that it was quitting the game and shortly after, the Chinese factory where the clunky, black plastic boxes were made for Sanyo ceased production. The end came quietly, and some people were surprised that VHS consoles were still being made at all, since it had been nearly a decade since Eragon, an elf/fantasy movie, was the last ever to be released on VHS. Even before that, Fujifilm had stopped manufacturing motion picture film. As somebody once (pretentiously) told me, books, which are a lot like film in this context, are “nothing more than fetish objects” nowadays.
Elizabeth Wood may be a young filmmaker, still soaking up directorial lessons and figuring it all out, but she knew exactly what she was doing when she decided to call her first full-length feature, a semi-biographical film set in Ridgewood, White Girl. The label is alluring, gnawing, and sorta yucky all at once. Hilton Als wrote an entire collection of essays, White Girls, devoted to decoding the concept, which he determines is somewhere between an actual state of being and a mirage, both an all-powerful fantasy and the ideal object to be controlled : “Once I lived in a perpetual state of disbelief: How could one be a white girl and hate it? Wasn’t she— whoever she was— everything the world saw and wanted?”
It’s a pejorative, a term commonly attached to catcalls that’s less poetic than, say, “snowflake.” It’s “white girl wasted.” It’s a spoiled, naive little girl. It’s complaining too much. It’s traveling abroad and refusing to eat a stew made with chicken broth. It’s infantilizing, condescending, and rarely a compliment. It’s also a nickname for cocaine.
Friday September 16 to Thursday September 22 at IFC Center: $14
This film follows the illustrious but fraught career of Sergei Polunin, aka the “James Dean of the ballet world,” and his progress from child prodigy to a top-dancer wunderkind. I mean, you couldn’t really call anyone the James Dean of interpretive dance, because that would just be a dumb joke. It actually makes sense with Polunin though, as a figure who’s equally as intense, if not more so, than ballet itself, a sport that demands self-torture of its devotees, legit from the very first step.
Thursday September 8, 7:45 pm at Metrograph: $15
This one’s been held over at the Metrograph again and it looks like this is finally, actually, literally the last time you can catch Spa Night within the stylish confines of the Lower East Side’s newest art house theater and perhaps the only ciné in the whole wide city with a concession stand that looks like it was designed by a serial killer. You’ll find that Spa Night is replete with that very same understated but stylish weirdness. It’s a quiet, crawling film fraught by teeth-gritting tension so overwhelming you get the feeling everything’s about to come crashing down if you breathe too loudly.
Strawberries Need Rain
Friday September 2, Friday September 9, Saturday September 17, Saturday September 24, midnight at Spectacle: $5
Throughout September, Spectacle is screening a whole slew of films by midnight master, Texas filmmaker, and self-proclaimed “schlockmeister” Larry Buchanan. Old photos of the dude could easily fool you into thinking he’s a jolly pediatrician who makes house calls and checks your pulse with the aid of a pocket watch. Best known for his schlocky sci-fi/horror B-movies like Mars Needs Women and the 1969 original of It’s Alive! (not to be confused with the 1974 cult classic written/directed by Larry Cohen), Buchanan made some super awful and yet somehow successful films, as the story goes. The Times put it best after Buchanan died in 2004 at the age of 81: “It was not so much that his films were bad; they were deeply, dazzlingly, unrepentantly bad.”
Kate Plays Christine
Friday August 26 through Thursday September 1 at IFC Center: $15
This year at Sundance, there were two films focused on Christine Chubbuck, the Florida news reporter who killed herself live on the air in the summer of 1974 during the broadcast of her talk show– although the filmmakers in each case took a wildly different approach to exploring not only the story of Chubbuck’s death but our own unrelenting fascination with her suicide and how knowing that it was caught on film makes the whole situation strangely titillating.
Some of us have the distinct memory of weaving up and down the aisles of Kim’s Video– or really, any old-school place of a similar disposition with B-film and cult-movie analogue tapes galore– while an endless stream of campy horror flicks played on the junky old TV set. Did you ever feel a burning desire to run your fingers up and down the spines of those dusty VHS tapes? Then use those same gritty fingers to grab handfuls of mushy bananas and stuff them into your face?
If somehow the answer to this twisted fantasy is “yes,” then you best get over to Terra Firma tonight, because believe it or not all these things will be available to you there, coz lord knows the days of the video store (it’s kind of like Netflix, only IRL) are over and done with. This is where your people are now.
Wild Combination: a Portrait of Arthur Russell
Thursday August 18, 9:30 pm at the Metrograph:$15
It seems like the perfect moment to revisit this 2008 documentary about Arthur Russell, the eccentric experimental musician whose disco dance records are seeing a serious resurgence more than 20 years after his death– what with a sampled homage to Russell’s “Answers Me” on Kanye’s new one, Life of Pablo, and Eric Copeland’s “self-described Arthur Russell-influenced album” Black Bubblegum.
Wild Combination: a Portrait of Arthur Russell reflects on the late musician’s wide ranging talent as a classically-trained cellist, steeped in traditional Indian music, who had a knack for meditative dance tracks and even a bit of rock music under his belt from his time in a power pop group called the Necessaries.
A quick hypothetical for you: if real people host film festivals with “real films,” then wouldn’t it make sense that an animated film festival should be hosted by animated people? Crazy, I know, but filmmaker Morgan Miller seems to think it’s worth a shot.
After completing an animated short starring the characters Jeff Twiller and Randy—two coarse guys who enjoy the simple things in life and “like to hang out at the dump” in a place “kind of like Queens”—Miller decided that they’d be perfect hosts for their own film festival.
Tonight, a new documentary about the life and death of a legendary Lower East Side arcade, Chinatown Fair, will be screened at The Metrograph, kicking off The Lost Arcade‘s first theatrical run. We first told you about the film– the passion project of Kurt Vincent (director) and Irene Chin (producer) who raised money through a Kickstarter campaign– when it premiered at the NYC DOC festival last fall. To celebrate the theatrical arrival of The Lost Arcade, we’ve got exclusives from the filmmakers: a clip from the doc (see above) and shots taken inside the otherworldly Chinatown Fair by photographer Chris Bernabeo.
Wednesday August 10, 6 pm, 8:15 pm, and 10:30 pm at Syndicated: $3
There’s a Wes Anderson retrospective happening this week at Syndicated which is… something. If celebrating Wes Anderson’s particularly noxious brand of twee makes you want to pour cyanide in your cereal, then feel free to move on to our next pick. But if you’re something of a masochist, read away.
Dinner theater is often regarded as cheesy, and not in a good way. Cinemas serving food with flicks can be pricey (and let’s be honest, sometimes a little too air conditioned)– also, where’s that food even coming from? One of those Wolfgang Puck airport terminal franchises? Let’s be real, the answer’s probably much worse than that. So what is one to do when they want to enjoy the blissful multitasking of watching moving pictures with their eyes while shoving deliciousness into their mouths?