Max Nelson, a former member of the editorial staff of The New York Review, studies English at Yale.
 (April 2020)

Follow Max Nelson on Twitter: @elusivecorporal.


‘Don’t Write on Here, Bad Girl’

Yvonne Rainer (left) performing ‘Corridor Solo’ and ‘Crawling Through’ from Parts of Some Sextets at the Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford, Connecticut, 1965

Work 1961–73

by Yvonne Rainer

Parts of Some Sextets, 1965/2019

a performance by Yvonne Rainer at the Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center, New York City, November 15–17, 2019
In March 1965 the choreographer and filmmaker Yvonne Rainer went to the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, to premiere what she described as “a dance for ten people and twelve mattresses.” It was called Parts of Some Sextets. In the performance, she and nine other participants moved at thirty-second intervals …

Wild, Blooming Facts

Patricia Patterson: The Conversation (Manny and Steve at the Table), 1990

Manny Farber: Paintings and Writings

edited by Michael Almereyda, Jonathan Lethem, and Robert Polito

One Day at a Time: Manny Farber and Termite Art

an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, October 14, 2018–March 11, 2019
In the early 1990s the French director Maurice Pialat made a strange, absorbing film that reimagined the last three months of Vincent van Gogh’s life. Rather than concentrate on his painting—only a few brief scenes show the artist at work—Pialat emphasized the grinding discomfort of his relationships, the luminous faces …

Chris Marker, Always Moving

Chris Marker, 1990s

Chris Marker, les 7 vies d’un cinéaste

an exhibition at the Cinémathèque française, Paris, May 3–July 29, 2018; and the Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels, September 19, 2018–January 6, 2019
Chris Marker kept returning, across the vast body of films, writings, photographs, and multimedia projects he produced between the 1940s and his death in 2012, to the matter of what it meant to live a happy life. In an early essay about the novelist and playwright Jean Giraudoux, he quoted Sartre’s insistence that at certain moments the streets of Paris turn “fixed and clear” and offer up “an instant of happiness, an eternity of happiness.” The challenge, Marker thought, was to put such instants in a pattern, “to make the feeling of those privileged moments into a permanent conviction.” Sans Soleil—the dense, majestic essay film in which he overlaid footage from his many travels with the voice of an unseen woman reading letters from an unknown man—begins with a shot of three serene-looking young girls walking up a road in Iceland. “He said that for him it was the image of happiness,” the narrator tells us, “and also that he had tried several times to link it to other images, but it never worked.”

A Hard Road Home

Chantal Akerman in her film Je tu il elle, 1974

Chantal Akerman

a series of forty-five films at the Cinémathèque Française, Paris, January 31–March 2, 2018
“I don’t have an idea,” the Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman told Gary Indiana in a 1983 interview. “I have a feeling that I try to express.” But to be expressed in her films, feelings often had to first be chiseled down or left to chill.


‘A Compelling Power’: When Mesmerism Came to America

Between 1836 and the late 1850s, mesmerizing another person—or seeing someone get mesmerized, or denouncing mesmerists as charlatans—became a way of stockpiling control for one’s own use. The direct encounters between clairvoyants and the men who mesmerized them seem less like collaborations than like competitions over who would set the terms of the session and whose interests it would serve. The subjects’ flashes of insight have a sharp-edged, glinting tone. They become ambushes against the mesmerist’s authority, ways of struggling for dependencies that gave the somnambulist’s mind more room to move.

Claire Denis’s Chemical Reactions

Juliette Binoche in Claire Denis's Let the Sunshine In, 2017

Desire is both a source of momentum for Claire Denis’s characters and a wellspring of confusion and instability. “There’s a chemical reaction between men and women,” says a baker’s wife to the young man who lusts after her in Nénette et Boni (1996), and the people in Denis’s movies often seem linked by invisible channels of longing. They smell one another, admire one another from afar, dance around one another, and in the process lose their footing in the worlds they occupy. To want to get close to another person, for Denis, is to venture into strange and unknown territory.

Brakhage: When Light Meets Life

To describe the thinking behind his films, Stan Brakhage often quoted a saying attributed to the ninth-century Irish theologian John Scotus Erigena: “All things that are, are light.” This is not a sensibility that would seem to lend itself to making home movies, and there is a disquieting tension in many of the films Brakhage made about his family during his first marriage.

Born to Sing the Gospel

Washington Phillips, circa 1950

A tone often emerges in Washington Phillips’s songs—a sense of vulnerability that undercuts the confidence his sermons project. The figures in his songs, as in many prewar gospel recordings, tend to be persecuted and burdened, doomed to roam a world of “sin and woe.” Phillips’s 78s would have been distributed specifically among black listeners, and one wonders to what extent the woeful worlds he described would have suggested the pervasively segregated and threatening one in which those listeners lived.