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Posts Tagged ‘filmmaking’

Lesbian Whale: An Interview with Barbara Hammer

December 14, 2015 | by

Installation view of Lesbian Whale. Courtesy Barbara Hammer and Company Gallery.

Barbara Hammer is something of a legend in queer feminist and experimental filmmaking circles. In the seventies, she was the first lesbian feminist to make open, celebratory films about her sexuality. In the eighties, her films took their inspiration from structuralism, using paint, animation, and optical printing to explore notions of embodied spectatorship. By the nineties, she’d helped to pioneer “essay films,” an attempt to produce “a genealogy of survival” amid the thrust of identity politics. Her work foregrounded important queer figures in history—Willa Cather, Alice Austen, and Hannah Höch among them—and their historical erasure.

Hammer’s forays into suppressed queer history have evolved into feature-length documentaries. Tellingly, the subjects of these films are early twentieth-century lesbians—artists and writers whose official biographies often elide their sexuality. Lover Other: The Story of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore (2006), for example, is a moving portrait of the couple’s lifelong collaboration and love affair. Hammer’s latest work, Welcome to This House, a Film on Elizabeth Bishop (2015) follows the poet’s life from her bleak New England childhood to her ten-year romance with the architect Maria Carlota Costallat de Macedo Soares. Elliptical and poignant, it runs counter to mainstream accounts of Bishop’s life, many of which—right down to her Wikipedia entry—still omit these relationships and their impact on Bishop’s work.

On the occasion of her recent exhibition, “Lesbian Whale: Early Drawings and Paintings,” I spoke with Hammer about the radical changes she made in the sixties and about her approach to film.

Most of the historical women artists you’ve made films about—Claude Cahun, Willa Cather, Elizabeth Bishop—predate you. Is there a drive, perhaps, to create a sort of record for future generations, a record that you were deprived of? Your generation was denied open lesbian role models, with a few potential exceptions.

My role models were male artists, who I learned about by reading their biographies. It’s a unique way to go to “art school,” reading the life choices of Vincent van Gogh and Emile Gauguin. I was redefining myself between the ages of twenty-seven and thirty, and I noted that these artists I admired had taken great social risks. Gauguin, in particular, had left his family and a bourgeois job. I could do it, too, I thought, just in a different way. I left my husband in April of 1970 and came out in August of that year. I had no idea before then that I desired women. Isn’t it Wittgenstein who says one needs the language before one can think of the concept? I hadn’t even heard the L word until the middle of that summer. Read More »

The Audience Is the Jury: An Interview with Rick Alverson

November 19, 2015 | by

Gregg Turkington in a still from Entertainment. Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Rick Alverson’s new film Entertainment follows a comedian (Gregg Turkington) on the verge of mental collapse. On tour in California, his routine is simplistic, crude, and lame, the venues are bleak and half-empty. Alone in hotel rooms, he stares blankly at telenovelas. Every night, he leaves a voice mail for his daughter, who never calls back. Alverson intertwines pain and humor, his camera lingering for painful lengths on Turkington’s pale features. The actor turns his popular persona, Neil Hamburger, on its head: an act intended to be ironically vile and loathsome threatens to become legitimately vile and loathsome, and Entertainment evolves into a disquieting portrait of modern-day disillusionment, manifesting in emotional disconnect, misogynist rants, and isolation. 

This experiment in discomfort is a continuation for Alverson, whose previous film, The Comedy (2012), starring Tim Heidecker, focused on a group of affluent, aging New York hipsters suffocating in their own riches and irony, a reversal of the mainstream feel-good blueprint that confused and angered many critics and viewers. I spoke to Alverson in Manhattan earlier this month about his thoughts on Entertainment, portrayals of masculinity in the media, and Teletubbies.

This film is very particularly constructed.

When we watch movies, we paste together these narrative threads that are completely inconsequential. I think that’s due to a restlessness in us. The first thing the mind goes to is the credibility of the narrative, and the content. A large part of what I ended up doing in the edit was thinking about what happens after that, with the viewer’s intellect. It became more and more exciting, because I’m an audience as much as anybody. We’re taught to be unaware, or think that these events are disposable or superfluous, but we’re really vulnerable when we watch media. Especially in dark rooms. Read More »

Gluey and Scissory

June 18, 2015 | by

Ashbery_Bingo Beethoven_2014_collage on vintage Bingo board_8.25x7.5in_300dpi

John Ashbery, Bingo Beethoven, 2014, collage on vintage bingo board, 8 1/4" x 7 1/2". Photo courtesy Tibor de Nagy

Our Spring 2009 issue featured eleven collages by John Ashbery, who’s been working in the medium since he was an undergrad at Harvard—roughly the same time he began to write poetry. “One thing he obviously values in collage is its implied anyone-can-do-it modesty, its lack of high-artiness, its resistance to monumentality,” the New York Times says of his art:

His own collages have this character. They’re light and slight. They feel more like keepsakes than like art objects, souvenirs of a life and career that gain interest primarily—some might say entirely—within the context of that life and career.

Read More »

Prince of Darkness

May 19, 2014 | by

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Willis, left, on the set of Annie Hall with Woody Allen.

Gordon Willis, the cinematographer Entertainment Weekly has called “the closest thing Hollywood had to a Rembrandt,” died yesterday, at eighty-two. Over the course of his remarkable career, Willis photographed Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather—parts one, two, and three—and many of Woody Allen’s most enduring films, such as Annie Hall, Manhattan, and The Purple Rose of Cairo. The A.V. Club writes, “His expressive use of warm-toned light and deep shadows—which led fellow cinematographer Conrad L. Hall to nickname him ‘The Prince of Darkness’—left an indelible mark on cinema.” And Variety quotes Roger Ebert’s astute observations on Manhattan:

All of these locations and all of these songs would not have the effect they do without the widescreen black and white cinematography of Gordon Willis. This is one of the best-photographed movies ever made … Some of the scenes are famous just because of Willis’ lighting. For example, the way Isaac and Mary walk through the observatory as if they’re strolling among the stars or on the surface of the moon. Later, as their conversation gets a little lost, Willis daringly lets them disappear into darkness, and then finds them again with just a sliver of side-lighting.

“People don’t understand the elegance of simplicity,” Willis said once. “If you take a sophisticated idea, reduce it to the simplest possible terms so that it’s accessible to everybody, and don’t get simple mixed up with simplistic, it’s how you mount and present something that makes it engaging.”

Here are Manhattan’s iconic bridge scene and an hour-long interview with Willis. Read More »

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