by Victor Serge, translated from the French and with an introduction by Richard Greeman
Singular and solitary, the novelist Victor Serge (1890–1947) appears as an orphan of history, a chance survivor improbably clinging to the coffin of the Bolshevik Revolution. The main characters of Unforgiving Years, Serge’s final novel, written in Mexico, the place of his own final exile, are his fictional brothers—disillusioned Soviet …
For the most part, “Age of Terror: Art since 9/11” is sobering, serious stuff. Still, the British press does not seem have been especially impressed. More than one review has criticized the show and even its premise as trite or banal. Some have argued that art is simply unequal to the magnitude of the event. But isn’t that a given? Who can forget Karlheinz Stockhausen’s shocking observation, six days after the Twin Towers fell, that the attack was “the greatest work of art imaginable for the whole cosmos”?
The camera, just by its presence, altered human behavior. The motion picture camera changed the nature of acting. Among other things, it created that apparent oxymoron, the non-actor, the subject of an unusually rich and stimulating series now at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Programmed by Dennis Lim and Thomas Beard, “The Non-Actor” is predicated on the idea that all camera-based movies are documents and that filmed acting is perhaps synonymous with behavior. In this sense, the first movie actors—the workers filmed leaving the Lumière factory or the family that the Lumière brothers documented in Feeding the Baby in the mid-1890s—were the also the first non-actors.
The Florida Project is a snapshot of chaos, focused on a heedlessly dissolute young mother and her rambunctious six-year-old daughter. Each wonderfully inventive in her way, the two are living week to week during summer vacation in a shabby $38-a-night motel on a strip just beyond the perimeter of Disney’s Magic Kingdom. The film is not hallucinatory but, for almost its entirety, Disney World can only be sensed as something that has irradiated the local landscape.
Donald Trump has the most recognizable profile of any American president since Richard Nixon. Yet, as a cartoonist of my acquaintance has complained, artists are having a hard time caricaturing Trump, mostly likely because he already is a caricature—one reflected in mass culture’s fun-house mirror for close to forty years. We’re sick of Trump and we’re sick of being sick of him. Well-populated by images of the president, Peter Saul’s new show “Fake News” is hardly a palliative, but it does illustrate the crass absurdity of the current moment.
A shabby-chic cadre of photogenic young Parisians coordinate a series of terrorist attacks, blowing up or setting fire to buildings and monuments throughout the city, then take refuge after nightfall in an empty department store. Nocturama, the French filmmaker Bertrand Bonello’s daring and controversial follow-up to his 2014 Yves Saint Laurent biopic, is at once timely and timeless. It sets the aftermath of two centuries of French history to a hypnotic, trancelike beat.
Don Siegel’s 1971 The Beguiled, starring Clint Eastwood, is a masterpiece of misogyny. Sofia Coppola has remade it, and where Siegel’s Beguiled was an expression of male hysteria, Coppola’s version is a dark comedy of manners. In Siegel’s movie the women are vivid types; in Coppola’s they are humanized.
January brings us films by Guy Maddin and Wang Bing; 1960’s cinéma verité; experimental hybrid forms, including film-based performances and audio documentaries; and MoMA’s annual festival of newly restored films.
December brings us the complete work of Michelango Antonioni, including his little-seen travelogue of Mao’s China; films by Aki Kaurismäki and Dario Argento; a rare retrospective of the Moscow-born animator Ladislas Starewitch; and an immense survey of melodramas from around the world.
November brings us 1945; The Terminator; adaptations both classic and obscure of Stanisław Lem and the Strugatsky Brothers; black soldiers in the fight against fascism; and the lost films of postwar Germany.