REVIEWS OF NEW
RELEASES SEEN, JULY 2007
All films from U.S.A. unless
(- seen on video; [v] video
piece; [s] short, under 30 minutes; [m] medium length, 30-69 min; * grade
changed upon repeat viewing)
-State Legislature (Frederick Wiseman)
Or, C-SPAN: The Movie. This is the first "real" Wiseman I've checked in with for quite some time (The Last Letter doesn't seem to count, somehow), and it clarified for me everything I find both maddening and indispensable about what he does. State Legislature is a three hour and forty minute examination of the three month session of the Idaho State Legislature in 2006, and as the prologue helpfully explains, Idaho's state house is a "citizen's legislature," filled out by non-professional politicians from all walks of life. (And note, this is not a prologue in the conventional sense. Wiseman simply begins with the Speaker of the House explaining this particularity to a group of yawning school kids under the rotunda.) As usual, Wiseman's ability to capture unselfconscious bureaucratic functioning, like the proverbial"fly on the wall," is stunning, even if it sends up red flags. (What is involved in eliciting such unawareness of Wiseman's presence from his subjects? Is it simply that he's always there, and so he eventually blends in? This is the great truism of Direct Cinema, and its ugly stepchild, Reality TV, and in both cases, I'm just not entirely buying it.) Wiseman's camerawork is agile but functional, flat and never so much as inching in the direction of aestheticism. And, as odd and even uncharitable as it feels to say this, Wiseman's subject matter in this film exponentially amplifies this sense of downcast, institutional ugliness. From the brown-and-beige, 1970s decor in the caucus rooms, to the senators and congressmen themselves, State Legislature is a pasty, doughy affair, as though Idaho were actually run by descendants of the potato. But all kidding aside, seeing these middle-aged men in their hornrims and cheap suits, or the women in their forties with lacquered, beauty-shop hair and shoulder-padded Talbots dresses, really came as a shock to my cinematic sensibility. These are the people I see around me day to day, but not in the world of cinema -- that is, the world where I go to avoid them, their conservatism, and their blinding whiteness. Wiseman delivers an unnervingly eye-opening portrait of humble, sincere red-state politics, from both sides of the aisle, and in so doing shows urbanite viewers the sort of environment we typically see only in bit roles by Stephen Tobolowsky, or sneeringly approximated in most of Alexander Payne's films, or when we go home for the holidays.
As for the politics itself, Wiseman shows us, in no uncertain terms, that government is hard. (Ever the pedagogue, the filmmaker includes a Democratic senator expounding on this very issue near the end of the film.) Since Wiseman's images possess a studied flatness, it's clear that his artistry and rhetoric comes about through editing and selection, and in this regard State Legislature is often masterful. The first 45 minutes or so move at a jarring and fascinating clip, as Wiseman cuts quickly from session to session, allowing us to kibitz on discussions of issues we never knew we cared about -- laws declaring who is eligible to lodge protests as hearings on the building of new waste sites, for example, or the need to redefine voyeurism laws to combat cellphone users taking surreptitious upskirt photos of women in the checkout line. By darting from issue to issue, Wiseman not only provides a kaleidoscopic introduction to the work going on the Idaho state house. He offers just enough to entice our interest in the issue, and then moves on, coaxing us into the film and its subject. In time, Wiseman spends greater spans on far less scintillating topics (one lengthy meeting about table water safety standards is particularly grueling), as well as surprisingly comic ones (an angry senator squaring off against a radical Libertarian, forcing him to publicly acknowledge, for example, that he feels acupuncturists or locksmiths should be subject to no licensing or regulation). As a kind of protracted conclusion, Wiseman takes us into a chamber where a parliamentary drama is unfolding. Committee chairpeople have the power to decide which bills are brought up for a vote, but in this case one senator attempts to override the chair in a rare maneuver. It's clear the issue is a divisive one, but Wiseman and the senators themselves withhold the information until the middle of the debate. (It's a motion to offer Idahoans a ballot initiative banning gay marriage.) Coming as it does after so many other, more nuts-and-bolts actions necessary to make the state of Idaho function on a basic level -- traffic laws, banning cigarettes from restaurants, deciding whether to form an oversight body that will license building contractors -- Wiseman's point is clear. Not only is the initiative hateful; it's a waste of time and money.
Which brings me to my major reservation about State Legislature, and Wiseman's project overall. This near-final sequence, and many others that precede it, would have considerably more impact if Wiseman hadn't stuck so much nominally enlightening minutia in between. As a piece of cinema, State Legislature dulls its own impact, not because of its length per se, but because of Wiseman's porous, loping organization of time. Granted, all that "down time" tells us something fundamental about how state government works, its procedures, lobbies, reliance on canned talking points, and the like. Government is dynamic on the ground, but institutionally glacial. Still, Wiseman's commitment to adjuring most aspects of film aesthetics, and his willingness to sacrifice the power even of those elements upon which he relies, sums up the conundrum around his work, and why I have a hard time with it. Is it "cinema"? Is it more akin to ethnographic film, but of a sociological variety? Is Wiseman's work a kind of documentary subset of academic scholarship, or, in essence, the Platonic ideal which all PBS programming tries and fails to achieve? Is Wiseman a "director"? Has his method become another kind of institution in itself, such that one day an acolyte could observe his inner workings in a five-hour epic entitled simply Wiseman? And would such a hypothetical project explore the ramifications of Wiseman's cinema, or, like State Legislature, would it restrict itself to observation, the laying out of problems in their state of seemingly perpetual insolubility, and then quietly file itself away in the archive? Maybe it doesn't matter all that much that State Legislature airs from 1 to 3:40 am on select PBS affiliates, since Wiseman's real audience consists of post-apocalyptic time-capsule excavators, and possibly space aliens. With Wiseman's help, they'll be able to reconstruct their own private Idaho.
-Ten Canoes (Rolf de Heer and Peter Djigirr, Australia)
Near the beginning of Ten Canoes, we see the canoemen walking single file through the bush on their way to the woods to hunt. One of the men notes that someone in the group has farted, a series of rowdy chuckles and adamant disavowals ensues, and finally one guy cops to having dealt it. The other guys razz him and instruct him to go to the end of the line where his flatulence will pose no further threat. This, in a way, is de Heer and Djigirr's opening salvo, and it's a pretty fair litmus test for whether one will ultimately respond to the challenges posed Ten Canoes or just walk away in frustration. After all, this fart joke shouldn't be (and really isn't) any funnier than one you might hear in, say, Shrek 2. But then, these Australian Aboriginals, with their minimal clothing and hardy manner, can probably get away with it, since they are earthier and more comfortable with their bodies, right? Of course, the second you catch yourself thinking this, you realize it's a patronizing, quasi-racist idea that must be discarded immediately. And then, it hits you that this is precisely the trap that Ten Canoes has laid for the Western viewer. Do we reject its Yolngu subjects as too "other" to relate to, or do we find that otherness fascinating enough in itself to provide a kind of guilty ethno-spectacle? Or does the film hold the promise of a third way? By this point, a viewer might reasonably be put off by finding him- or herself so implicated in questions of the "colonial gaze" and select an altogether different "third way" by simply dismissing Ten Canoes as cinematic pedagogy which, regrettably, is too often unfairly equated with pedantry.
What you find, however, if you stick with de Heer and Djigirr's project, is the creation of a radically unconventional cinematic grammar, and a very warm, open-hearted invitation to gather around Ten Canoes as a kind of virtual campfire, allowing it to tell (in narrator David Gulpilil's words) "a story not of your people, but of my people." Gulpilil's narration, which guides us through the aboriginal world with a mixture of sincerity and irony and is not above kicking things off with a Star Wars joke, operates as a different position from the presumed listener, but occupies the listener's "now" and situates the multiple timeframes of Ten Canoes in our shared present. From within this present tense, the film delivers two other times, an historical one detailing a hunting expedition (shown in black and white) and, narrated from within this historical moment, a mythic time in which a man covets his brother's wife, that same brother commits a misplaced act of vengeance, and the tribe as a whole struggles to maintain the rule of law in the face of encroachment and sorcery. De Heer and Djigirr are employing modernist narrative structures, it seems, but in fact they are doing something more radical. They're demonstrating the proto-modernist temporal layering and narrative decentralization at work within the Yolngu tradition, and by simply following this tradition without any unnecessary argument on its behalf, the filmmakers show that in some respects this culture has been light years ahead of the West.
This attitude saturates every element in Ten Canoes. Early on, we see highly stylized, frontal tracking shots through the tribal village, lending the thatched huts an architectural rigor and spatial clarity that recalls Trinh T. Minh-ha's Reassemblage or Naked Spaces: Living is Round. But de Heer and Djigirr are far more playful than Trinh (although, as a tradeoff, far more invested in assumptions about the culture's masculinism), and the austere elegance of Canoes' visual approach is frequently operating in counterpoint to the loose, playful narrative. De Heer and Djigirr introduce us to the members of the tribe with flat, frontal close-ups, the performers usually staring directly into the camera. This not only provides a riposte to Western assumptions about proper cinematic representation ("Close the diegesis! Were you raised in a barn?"), but helps to thwart conventional ethnographic codes as well. A visual anthropologist would offer us something akin to these mugshot portraits, but would certainly fail to afford them adequate space for individuation. (Learning, for instance, that one of the tribal elders is a layabout and a honey fiend provides little in the way of general cultural knowledge.) As Ten Canoes weaves its triply-embedded story, and Westerners like me get lost here and there, the scattershot narrative structure allows for digressions and surface pleasures. Some of these are strictly filmic, like the amber light glistening through sparse foliage, but others are merely anecdotal, the scrappy bits of business most films hurtle past. Eventually, the plot of the mythic tale ends up quite far from where it began, taking a tragic turn. But oddly enough, this scenario of sacrifice for the common good is all the more potent because most of the film wasn't leading up to it. Unlike classical tragedy, nothing in Ten Canoes is preordained, which means that from moment to moment, much more is at stake.
-Drama/Mex (Gerardo Naranjo, Mexico)
[SOME SPOILERS] A very fine debut film, Drama/Mex has good bones and lovely skin, but I'm not so sure about its musculature. Comprised mostly of a set of semi-intersecting stories of ne'er-do-well young people in Acapulco, the film successfully avoids many pitfalls of the subgenre and often manages to infuse borrowed gestures and minor clichés with fresh, unexpected ideas. Acapulco, as you may know, is a once-swinging Mexican coastal resort now fallen on hard times. I remember my aunt and grandma taking a "jet" to Acapulco for a "tropical vacation" (yeah, I know) back in the mid-70s, so that gives you a sense of its heyday. Naranjo provides small glimpses of the beachfront, mostly as a place where luckless young girls (including Miriana Moro's cherubic, blithely soulful Jennifer, one of our putative protagonists) offer the stray beachcombers "massage with relaxation." As a backdrop, however, Acapulco serves mainly as a set of circumstances for restless youth to kick against, if not exactly overcome. Fernanda (Diana Garcia), an apparent upper-middle-class daddy's girl, strings along lovestruck, none-too-bright Gonzalo (Juan Pablo Castaneda), but is so mentally disheveled she takes back her petty-thief ex Chano (Emilio Valdés) after he shinnies down her back patio and rapes her. Meanwhile Jaime (noted Mexican character actor Fernando Becerril), a graying middle-manager type, plans to hunker down in a bungalow to off himself, only Jennifer befriends him and intercedes. And that's it, really, although Naranjo and DP Tobias Datum are extremely deft with the handheld cinematography, miraculously avoiding both reality-TV and Dogme 95 reflexes and instead adopting an almost instinctual visual sense, dodging and weaving into the action in the heat of confusion and ending most shots with a sturdy, clarifying composition. In its camera-stylo gymnastics and the all-over, fit-of-pique attitude of its characters, Drama/Mex vaguely recalls certain works by Olivier Assayas, Cold Water and Clean in particular.
But I doubt Assayas would risk alienating nearly half his audience in the first ten minutes the way Naranjo does. I'll admit, watching Chano self-consciously rape Fernanda (he mutters something like, "shut up, I'm raping you"), then seeing how Naranjo quickly and imperceptibly morphs the situation into either mutual rough sex or, more disturbing, a rape that Fernanda finds herself enjoying, very nearly set me off Drama/Mex for good. But the sheer undecidability of this scenario, and the guts it takes for a film to plunge into the frequently un-PC messiness of post-relationship hook-ups (even certain aspects of sex more generally), cannot be easily dismissed. Unfortunately, Drama/Mex is not without its problems, and they are almost all at the scripting level. Minor coincidences and little instances of unexplained behavior frequently allow Naranjo to keep his machine in motion. Act by act, much of Drama/Mex doesn't make dramatic sense, and at times I thought the film would benefit by embracing its melodramatic telenovela aspects, rather than hewing to stylistic realism. However, its moods and surfaces more than compensate. What's more, the film as a whole implies a deep structure -- Acapulco functioning "as a character," as the arthouse cliché goes -- and even seems to operate on a broader allegorical level -- rundown, past-its-prime Acapulco as a microcosm of the Mexican nation -- without ever climsily impressing such readings on the viewer. In fact, only the title really announces such intentions. "Drama/Mex" pretty obviously calls to mind nationalized and formerly-nationalized industries like Pemex and Telmex, and the comparison is economically apposite, since, like most non-U.S. art cinema, Drama/Mex is partially funded by governmental subsidy. What's more, inasmuch as such federal arts subsidies are intended at least in part as a showcase for Mexican culture, Naranjo's film undercuts that project. ("Acapulco? Why not Cabo, or Cancun?") So in this respect, Drama/Mex "fails" to bolster the national image just as substantively as any other PRI hangover.
-Music and Lyrics (Marc Lawrence)
There's actually a sly, daring little comedy lurking in the corners and byways of Music and Lyrics, and even the majority of the film manages to be a charmingly modest, foot-shuffling rom-com despite its self-imposed limits. It's really sort of remarkable that no one thought of pairing Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore until now, since each of them possesses a unique brand of neurosis that plays quite beautifully against the other. (Both of them have a knack for taking self-deprecation right to the edge of preciousness, without falling into the drink.) The 80's music-industry has-been stuff wavers between cheap laughs and spot-on parody (just try and get "Pop Goes My Heart" out of your head; it's the best ABC song Martin Fry never wrote), but the real action is in the muttered, throwaway lines and fast but mumbled repartee. As formula pictures go, this one's got a surprising soulful streak, and is usually quite a lot of fun. In the end, though, Lawrence and company adhere to the usual genre conventions. But to my eyes, they make it all that much worse because the film seems to be telegraphing a kind of blasé contempt for rom-com logic, self-consciously copping out but not even going so far as to summon up any real animus about it. Like Grant's Andrew Ridgeley figure, Music and Lyrics bunts when it ought to be swinging, almost as if it were a bodily reflex.
La Vie en Rose [La Môme] (Olivier Dahan, France / U.K. / Czech Republic)
As many other reviews of this film have already noted, it and Dahan hew a lot more closely to the tried-and-true "great events" biopic structure than it might appear at first blush. Rose's primary deviation from the standard template is its semi-scrambled, interlacing chronology, wherein we simultaneously witness the Little Sparrow's rise from the gutter and her drug-and-booze-fueled implosion, with bits of seismic melodrama spiking the needle in between. At first it struck me as noteworthy, and maybe even a bit remarkable, that mainstream French cinema is so infused with the vocabulary of Godard and Resnais that a solidly middlebrow entry like this could employ such tricks, and still maintain complete legibility. But looking a little closer, I realized that Dahan aligned his leaps in time with Piaf's sickbed flashbacks, her grief-stricken mental breakdowns, her psychological extremity, all of which makes Rose a much more comprehensible cultural product. The gestures of modernism are not only watered down here, but diegetically "justified" as the warped hallucinations of a troubled mind. (So, when Piaf stumbles through a doorway in her apartment and finds herself suddenly on stage, it's as though Buñuel's formal experimentation has been reduced to something purely chemical, Surrealism as formulated by Eli Lilly.) In light of this, it's all the more annoying that Rose as a production is so thoroughly pleased with itself, confident that it's bringing us a legend so big the screen can barely contain its energy. How else to explain the final reel interview on the beach, with a willowy blonde asking Piaf questions so inane ("What's your favorite color?") that the scene can only by Dahan's snorting reproach to the sort of banal biographical portrait he's positive he and Marion Cotillard have scrupulously avoided? But in truth, Rose can't even hold itself together in classical terms. The final twist of "Marcelline," for instance, at first looks like a bizarre lurch into "Rosebud" territory (a beloved doll from childhood), but in fact is just a major fact of Piaf's life that Dahan opted to throw in, with no rhyme or reason, at the very last moment. Again, the trauma of the deathbed is the formal and emotional "excuse" for this sub-Proustian timeshifting. But enough about the film. What of Cotillard's headline-grabbing performance as Piaf? I'm afraid it's more a case of "Most Acting" than "Best Actress," with nearly every single scene constructed as a new bit of scenery for Cotillard to chew, working through the set-pieces in the most systematically brassy manner possible. In fact, the decision to scramble the chronology, juxtaposing Cotillard as Piaf at twenty, then at forty, then at death's door, and then young and sassy again, only serves to heighten the sense of stuntsmanship in the role as she inhabits it. Granted, you can't really do Piaf small. But Cotillard's Edith veered a little too close to an unwieldy campiness that frequently undercut any genuine emotional engagement. It's significant that the finest and most affecting scene, when Piaf meets Marlene Dietrich (Caroline Sihol), finds La Môme with a lump in her throat.
-Hannah Takes the Stairs (Joe Swanberg)
There is a small voice in the back of my mind that does wonder if my antipathy for Hannah Takes the Stairs is a micro-generational misunderstanding, since it, like the films of Andrew Bujalski, represents such a specific time and place -- one's 20's, spent hanging out in cheap apartments -- that it's possible I cannot allow these films to take me back there without feeling a certain resentment, as though I turned a corner and walked right into a bad recurring dream. But even if I acknowledge this possibility -- that this substratum of American indie cinema drives me away because it's too close for comfort -- that still doesn't change certain fundamental failures of Hannah Takes the Stairs as an aesthetic object. First, Swanberg's film has less than zero in the way of visual style. It aims for fly-on-the-wall naturalism but attains only a nonchalance with the cinematic medium bordering on open contempt. Swanberg's cinematographic non-style, I must say, did me the favor of clarifying the subtle textures and open framings of Bujalski's films, his use of light and film grain and the almost-imperceptible ways he can tweak the emotional tenor of a scene by shifting the space around his actors. Swanberg is content to point and shoot with consumer-grade video, in no way adapting to the limitations of his chosen medium. At first, Hannah's fumbling visual inscription struck me as incompetence, but after sitting with it for a few days I realize that there's really no way to evaluate it, since it's not readily apparent that it's "trying" to do anything in particular.
This leads to my second point. Hannah is one of the most pathologically passive-aggressive films I've ever seen. One often reads about the "critic-proof" film these days, but this can mean lots of different things. A movie like Transformers, for example, is clearly going to appeal to an audience that has no interest in the views of critics in the first place. A movie like Sicko will score certain political points, or not, regardless of the fact that critics can and will expose its faulty argumentation. It's not for eggheads, but for The People, right? But Hannah is critic-proof in an entirely different way. For example, one scene finds Matt (Kent Osborne) telling Hannah (Greta Gerwig) about the wonders of Lexapro and Wellbutrin, sounding pretty much like a TV commercial. "Hey, I sound like a commercial, don't I?" he immediately says. Hannah is full of moments like this, wherein the characters' neurotic inability to simply make a non-qualified, non-ironic statement dovetails with the film's agitated proleptic desire to cover all bases, defuse any potential criticism, and essentially parse itself. (It's worth noting in this regard that the single most interesting moment in Hannah is a discussion of the origin of the handshake and the custom of clinking glasses. Both are attributed to paranoia and the need to display one's own harmlessness as a means of self-preservation. This seems remarkably pertinent, as if aiming low were some sort of defense mechanism in a hostile world.) Third, for a film whose visual and performance style clearly intend to telegraph some sort of raw, unmediated reality, as if the actors forgot the camera was even there, Swanberg's characters are completely homogeneous. They all talk the same, move the same, react the same, with the possible exception of Hannah who, as the designated flighty heartbreaker, conveys a particular kind of pissy childishness. Could everyone in this milieu really speak just like this, all the time? These characters are placeholders for the peculiarities of Swanberg's writing style just as much as the people in Kevin Smith or Quentin Tarantino films.
Finally (and really I suppose this is a kind of synthesis of the previous objections), what exactly does this attempt at a completely transparent, unmediated realism actually accomplish? In terms of aesthetics, Swanberg scrupulously erases any distance (any apparent work on the material, really) that would allow us to witness the emergence of a shape or a form. Only the actors' somewhat rote improv gestures, all of a piece, are allowed to stand forth as deliberate creative decisions, and those tend to veer into indulgence without evincing any real risk. Or, from a sociological standpoint, even if Swanberg truly is "capturing a generation's voice" or what have you, what's to be gained by showcasing these petulant, blinkered souls? And how does Swanberg's art allow for judgment, for a shift in the viewer's perception? (If Day Night Day Night can be dismissed as a mere "stunt," what does that make Hannah Takes the Stairs? It's as if the mere capturing of the alleged textures of a particular subculture should result in points awarded for difficulty, the achievement of a sort of lo-fi "special effect.") Certainly not every work of art needs to have an agenda (woe unto us all if that were the case), but Hannah seems unwilling even to articulate itself as a fully formed artistic gesture of any kind. But here's what really gets me. A retreat from the political into the aesthetic is comprehensible, and even logical at this historical moment. But a retreat from both the political and the aesthetic, into a semi-communicative, members-only argot whose "statement" is its reflexive unwillingness to take any stand or evince any clear desire, or even to form complete thoughts -- this is deeply troubling, but also quite revealing, and I'll certainly need to see more films from this "movement" to try to figure it out.
-Notes on Marie Menken (Martina Kudlácek, Austria / U.S.) [v]
I had been thinking for quite some time about working up an essay that addressed the recent and oddly plentiful spate of documentaries on avant-garde filmmakers, but as luck would have it, Paul Arthur stepped up and saved me the trouble. In the May / June issue of Film Comment he looks at the trend while focusing on two recent examples, Mary Jordan's Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis and Kudlácek's Notes on Marie Menken, and like me, he isn't all that impressed. Jordan's film, along with earlier examples such as Jim Shedden's Brakhage and Michael Snow: Up Close, and Kudlácek's last film, In the Mirror of Maya Deren, basically hit their marks, rounding up the requisite talking heads and film clips in order to convince the neophyte of the film-historical importance of their subjects. None of them was particularly ambitious in terms of form, and if they had any lasting value beyond audio-visual Cliffs Notes for the "cultural literacy" set, it was the fact that the research behind the films allowed the documentaries to serve as bounded repositories for archival footage that would otherwise remain scattered, accessible to scholars only. Besides, unless the documentaries were doing their subjects any great harm, what's the downside in affording these masters some additional exposure? (The Kenneth Anger doc, Anger Me, is already slated for release, and films about George Kuchar and Arthur Lipsett have made the festival rounds. How far will the trendlet go? Nervous Energy: The Whirled of Ken Jacobs? Bruce Conner Times Five? Framptons Lemma? Film About Yvonne Rainer Who . . .? I could go on all day, but I'll spare you, gentle reader.)
Sadly, Kudlácek's film about Marie Menken, one of the truly underrated greats of the experimental film world, represents something more than a squandered opportunity. It's more like a vote of no confidence, evincing such a fundamental distrust in both the power of Menken's work and the ability of an audience to seriously grapple with it that Menken would have been better served by the documentary's nonexistence. (Menken's small but dynamic filmography, with its in-camera condensations of time and space and its offhanded, casual rigor, has been phenomenally influential, particularly for European film artists like Rose Lowder and Ute Aurand, but you'd never know it from this documentary profile.) First of all, Kudlácek desecrates Menken's silent film clips with "new scores" by John Zorn, music that in itself is quite substandard, a sort of mellow-jazz version of his usual downtown skronk. But when slathered across a pulsating, rhythmic Menken work like Go Go Go, it's a travesty, undercutting the visual music and precision of Menken's framing and editing to such a degree that the film becomes illegible. But it's hard to know whether this matters, since Kudlácek seems much more interested in the gossip around Menken's life, her matronly place in the Warhol circle, her marriage to Willard Maas, who was gay, and the couple's intense fights which may -- may -- have inspired Edward Albee to write Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? With E! Channel tidbits like this, who'd bother to actually grapple with the tonal subtleties of 1957's Glimpse of the Garden? What's more, Kudlácek's talking heads eventually hijack the documentary altogether. The final twenty minutes of Notes on Marie Menken is dominated by Gerard Malanga's present-day reactions to old footage of Menken cavorting with Warhol, and then a trip to the cemetery where both Menken and Malanga's father are interred. By this point, Menken and her work have been completely sidelined in favor of a focus on rumor, anecdote, and minor celebrity. This, along with Kudlácek's frequent decision to dub clips of Menken's films with voiceover commentary, indicated to me that Notes might possibly be seen as a harbinger of things to come as the avant-garde lumbers into the digital age. The thing is, we have all the "notes" surrounding Menken, but none of the work itself. Kudlácek's film resembles a DVD extra or a commentary track for a Menken disc that, in the shuffle, someone forgot to actually produce.