All films from U.S.A. unless otherwise specified.

([v] video piece; [s] short, under 30 minutes; [m] medium length, 30-69 min; * grade changed upon repeat viewing)





Circle In The Sand (Michael Robinson) [v/m]

In a number of ways, Robinson's recent work has been implying a move toward longer, more performance-oriented works.If There Be Thorns (2009), for example, seemed to hinge as much on the intangible relationships between its human figures -- some unspoken desires or possibly a secret pact or ritual -- as it did on its more formal elements. Those elements, such as the way that the performers moved, the figures they cut in space, and especially their interaction with the enveloping landscape, certainly overwhelmed any sense of story. But there was also no doubt that Robinson was harnessing his customary control of those purely filmic elements to create not just forms but mood, something shared between the bodies onscreen as well as between filmmaker and viewer. In some sense, Thorns was Robinson's most Maya Deren-like film, and like Deren's work, any story values were poetic and "vertical" in nature, the result of image condensation and suggestive ambiguity. Although Circle In The Sand is much more frank in its use of performance values -- groups of actors, costuming, and blocking organizing the primary trajectory of the film -- Robinson remains elusive in establishing anything resembling a concrete story. What he gives us, rather, are shards: behavioral fragments of temporary mini-tribal coagulations of beings who remain in the wake of some form of post-civilization. That is, we the viewers are placed in a spectatorial position wholly analogous to the subjects' own survival conditions. What separates us from them, however, is that our remove from their immediate circumstances of crisis (that is, our safety) comes at a price. The tribal camp-warriors dig for chintzy gold jewelry, mince about, and explore the pleasures of gender instability. Their sift through the ruins is also a search for an identity, long after the very concept has ceased to obtain. We can only witness their pleasures at a remove. Robinson conjures various cine-spirits here (Sternberg, Antonioni, Anger) but the presiding ghost is that of Jack Smith. We are observing the decadent and delicious world after the fall of the landlords, after both commodity and genital fetishism. You remain on one side, or the other, of this two-way glass, trying to decide whether to call security or dive through, happily abandoning your name.


Vic + Flo Saw a Bear (Denis Côté, Canada)

Here's my feature review for Cinema Scope. Personally, I was worried that this piece was too gimmicky, but I've gotten some positive feedback on it, so you can be the judge. The important thing is, Vic + Flo is a deceptively simple film that truly reveals layers of -- maybe not "complexity," exactly -- it's very forthright in its themes and preoccupations -- but resonances, the more you look at it. I have had my qualms about Côté's work in the past. I wasn't sure how to parse (or if to parse) the developmentally challenged backpackers in Carcasses. And I was part of the minority that thought that the touches of black comedy in Curling resulted in just a couple of ingredients too much, essentially turning the stew into a muddle of indistinct flavo(u)rs. But damn it, Vic + Flo should go the distance. It's weird, and focused, and open, and sinister, and fresh. I think you should see it when you can.




The Freethinker (Peter Watkins, Sweden, 1994) [v]

I've decided to break with format and include my monthly Fandor columns on long-ass films on my month-by-month pages. Here's an oldie but a good-enoughie from Britain's Crankiest Leftist Filmmaker (Ret.), which I think was ultimately more edifying for the participants than for any potential viewer. Not that there's anything wrong with that! But some films by master auteurs are, shall we say, "for the scholars only," and in my humble opinion The Freethinker is just such a film. If you're just starting out on Watkins Road, you'll be wanting either Edvard Munch or Punishment Park.