Category Archives: Film

James Baldwin as Prophet

By Sophie Browner

In one of the opening scenes of Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, we are shown a clip of James Baldwin as a guest on The Dick Cavett Show. Cavett is asking Baldwin about whether he is hopeful or despairing for the future. Baldwin breaks into that dazzling gap-toothed smile of his and takes a breath before beginning. It is a particular skill of Baldwin’s that remains uniquely his own: to rain down thunderous truth with such measured grace. In Notes of a Native Son, Baldwin writes of living in a white world, “One is always in the position of having to decide between amputation and gangrene.” Neither option is particularly enticing: either one lives as a cripple or suffers the “equally unbearable…risk of swelling up slowly, in agony, with poison.” To throw a glass of water at the owner of a diner who refused to serve him — something Baldwin writes about in his book — is amputation. To smile through the ignorant questions of white folks, that’s surely gangrene. To tell the truth, Baldwin concedes to Cavett, he doesn’t have much hope. Does that make Baldwin a pessimist or a fortune-teller? Continue reading

The Subtle Brilliance of Mr. Donkey

By Josh Freedman

Moviegoers in China pull no punches skewering the big-budget, low-quality offerings that dominate at the country’s theaters. Famed director Zhang Yimou, known for socially critical films, “has already died,” according to the top review of his widely-panned epic The Great Wall on the popular site Douban. Nearly all of the most-liked user reviews are similarly unforgiving: “Zhang Yimou finally unloaded the burden of being an artist, glamorously turned around, and told his former self, ‘goodbye!’” Continue reading

On “Traditional Ecological Knowledge” for the 21st Century

By Jon Christensen

There are different stories to be told about our relationship with nature, different understandings, different knowledge, still.

Tending the Wild, a new documentary on the traditional ecological knowledge of California Indians produced by KCET and Link TV, makes this abundantly clear. The documentary builds on the work of ethno-ecologist M. Kat Anderson and her book of the same title Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of Californian’s Natural Resources (University of California Press, 2005) through in-depth, personal, on-the-ground stories from around California about indigenous management of the essential trinity of fire, water, and food. Continue reading

Blade Runner 2049 and Los Angeles’ Korean Future

By Colin Marshall

“LOS ANGELES NOVEMBER, 2019.” So, with that stark title card, begins the film that presented the most fully realized vision of the city’s future in cinema history to that point — and maybe still to this day. It also fixed its setting in the Western imagination as the go-to image of urban dystopia, though when Blade Runner premiered almost three and a half decades ago, that date must have felt comfortably distant. Now, a week before the year 2017 begins, Los Angeles may have got on track to become a densely built metropolis with high-rise-lined streets filled night and day with activity (and not just of the vehicular kind) later than Ridley Scott and company imagined, but the transformation looks well underway nevertheless. Continue reading

When Reality was a Joke: The Making of Albert Brooks’ Real Life

By Tom Teicholz

Today, reality TV is a genre for which they award Emmys, from which careers are born, love is found, and fortunes are made. Reality TV represents a huge share of the television industry, and we accept that these shows are cast, produced, and edited to enhance their drama. Yet if we see humor in the self-seriousness of the participants and delight in the outrageousness of their antics, if we see the irony in the genre’s ability to produce stars (and even presidential candidates!) and acknowledge it as part of “show business” — then we’d do well to recall that these insights have already been abundantly elucidated in Albert Brooks’ prescient 1979 debut feature film, Real Life. Continue reading