2019 in Review: January - February

2019 in Review: January – February

Posted in 2019 Updates by - March 01, 2019
2019 in Review: January – February

Stream 15 Independent Chinese Documentaries Selected by Ai Weiwei

After drawing both plaudits and controversy over its run at the Guggenheim in 2017, the exhibition Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World has come to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where it will be on view until February 24. Collecting works made in China between the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 and the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the exhibition surveys the massive scope of changes in the country with the onset of the globalized age and its economic ascendance. The museum will also host selections from the film series which accompanied its run at the Guggenheim, Turn It On: China on Film, 2000–2017.

‘Fyre’ Director Chris Smith Reveals How He Got the Inside Scoop on the Island Festival Disaster

We played with different ideas, but for me, it’s always about letting the story be the central focus, instead of making it about the form. And I was interested in putting a human face on this story, because I felt like it was so sensationalized in the press. I wanted to look at the people involved, how they got wrapped up in this mess, and the effect it had on them.

Netflix and Hulu Release Contrasting Documentaries on the Fyre Festival Scandal

Now, streaming giants Netflix and Hulu both have documentaries about the Fyre Festival scandal coming out. Hulu got out of the gate early, dropping Fyre Fraud as a surprise one week ahead of Netflix’s planned release of FyreWatching the films, an interesting contrast emerges. Both tell the same story, of course. And both have their own behind-the-scenes issues with possible conflicts of interest — Fyre was co-produced by Jerry Media, which also promoted Fyre Festival, and Fyre Fraud paid Billy McFarland an undisclosed sum in order to interview him. But there’s much less overlap in the movies’ characters and artistic approaches.

A YouTuber Illuminates the History of American Urban Development

Donoteat, aka Justin Roczniak, noticed something about all those Cities: Skylines videos. Each one builds a modern metropolis from the ground up, which has little basis in reality. Coming from a background in civil engineering, Roczniak knew that most big cities have complicated histories going back hundreds of years, if not longer. As a corrective, he started the series Franklin, in which he builds a city not all at once but over time, beginning centuries back and then evolving it in a way which mirrors the growth of many real American cities.


You’re not merely trying to piece together the murder mystery, but actively participating in shaping your own knowledge of the events through your choices. Even though nothing you can do alters how the plot actually flows, the user’s own, personalized input is vital to the overall experience. It is for this reason that one could easily categorize the app as a video game.

The game’s look is an expert flex of minimalism, using heavily pixelated art to suggest time’s relentless march in some extremely clever ways. Your avatar’s gradual aging is expressed via elements like an increasing hunch in posture, as well as a graying and recession of hair. One subtle aspect you won’t notice at first is that your character’s position on the screen changes as the clock runs out, starting on the far left and ending up on the right. At the same time, what’s either before or behind you (your entire life, essentially) is represented as a mashed-together blur. At the beginning it’s potential, at the end it represents memory.
The feminist movement of the 1970s spurred massive societal upheavals, but some segments of the culture were slower to respond than others. During that decade, Hollywood gradually began employing women as movie directors. Gender disparities continue to persist in the film industry today, but that time marked a turning point. This is the subject of Liberating Hollywood: Women Directors and the Feminist Reform of 1970s American Cinema, a new book by Maya Montañez Smukler, who heads the research and study center at the UCLA Film & Television Archive. The Archive is also presenting a screening series, “Liberating Hollywood,” inspired by the book, beginning January 25. I sat down with Smukler to talk about both the book and accompanying film program.
“I think about Mulholland Drive, the scene with the smaller gentleman in a soundproof room—that’s the person running Hollywood.” Were “he” to be eliminated, she sees the entertainment industry as a very different landscape. “Without that shadow network, what would you make? If you weren’t getting notes that your female protagonist is unlikable, or that this isn’t a linear narrative, or that they need more of whatever the flavor of the month is, then what would you create? And I think Finding the Asshole is one answer to that question.”

At this juncture, a good portion of the visual media we consume in the daily course of our lives was shot on a cellphone. Much of the raw footage that emerges from the ongoing international migrant crisis comes from such sources, and is then disseminated both by social and traditional media. In Midnight Traveler, this mobile aesthetic is processed through migrants who happen to be professionals. Fatima is a filmmaker as well, and their older daughter Nargis is not just as comfortable with a cellphone as any child today but also has acting experience. They instinctively know when and how to pull out their phones, and what makes for a captivating shot. This is a first-person account of statelessness made with an eye for striking scenes — not something that could have been put together by anyone who cribbed material from publicly available news sources.

Rediscover One of the First Artists Who Choreographed Dance for Film

Arledge, who lived from 1911 to 1998 and spent most of her life in Pasadena and Santa Cruz, was an art professor, experimental filmmaker, and painter who primarily utilized glass and paper as mediums. Serene for the Moment presents all of her films, a digital slideshow of her glass paintings, and more than 80 of her paper paintings. Grouped by subjects (animals, dancing figures, sexuality), the painting descriptions also bear quotes from Arledge’s various notes and professional writings, sprinkling bits of her personality throughout the gallery.

How Jackie Chan’s Hair-Raising ‘Police Story’ Stunts Changed the Movie Industry

Police Story represents the culmination of this artistic progression, with multiple jaw-dropping set pieces. Each one comes packed with fights that are choreographed around increasingly complicated surroundings, with fists and feet and bodies flying at a dizzying rate. Chan and his fellow performers crash through countless windows and fall the collective height of a skyscraper. It all looks insanely dangerous… because it absolutely was. Behind-the-scenes footage of bloopers and prep work that plays over the credits includes shots of actors woozily getting medical attention. In the finale, capping off a massive fight that destroys a shopping mall, Chan slides several stories down a pole strung with lights, electricity arcing around him as he crashes through multiple panes of glass into a shop stall. He burned his hands, dislocated his pelvis, and injured his back getting that shot. No wonder he called this film his best work. The stunt industry has since had to work to achieve the Chan effect, while reducing the risks (the 1980s saw some of the worst stunt related accidents in the industry’s history).

Never Look Away Is a Reductive, Tedious Copy of Gerhard Richter’s Life

What’s more, the movie has some very basic ideas about the nature of art and the artistic process. There are other artists who factor into the plot — fictional versions of Joseph Bueys and Günther Uecker serve as Kurt’s teacher in Düsseldorf and best friend, respectively (Richter’s actual teacher was Karl Otto Götz). Beuys’s counterpart, Antonius van Verten (Oliver Masucci), is treated as mysterious because he never removes his hat and works only in felt and animal fat. He eventually explains to Kurt that he has burns on his scalp from a war injury, and that after his plane crashed, he was saved by villagers who wrapped him in felt and treated his wounds with animal fat. This was the same reason Beuys gave for his own use of felt and fat in his art, except that was a constructed mythology. In the film, it’s a true, sincere motivation — artistic ambiguity reduced to an easy-to-understand justification.

Velvet Buzzsaw Hacks Through Every Art World Cliché

Think of any given hacky stock joke about the contemporary art world, and you can be guaranteed that the new Los Angeles-set movie Velvet Buzzsawuses it. There’s a scene in which a bunch of characters crow over how supposedly brilliant a work is, and then it cuts to show that it’s actually a mundane painting. A character mistakes a heap of regular garbage for a work of art. Museum patrons mistake a crime scene as something that’s “part of the show.” Jake Gyllenhaal’s critic character describes everything in vague terms like “Critique is so limiting and emotionally draining,” or “No originality. No courage.” A bunch of high-society types gossip with limp wrists and cocked heads. There are not one, not two, but three sight gags which assume vaping is inherently funny. That writer and director Dan Gilroy tackles a subject so incredibly ripe for mockery but goes for the easiest, most tired clichés is quite disappointing.

A Few Gems Among This Year’s Bizarre Oscar-Nominated Shorts

For the 14th year, ShortsTV and Magnolia Pictures have teamed up to publicly screen the 15 films nominated for the Academy Awards’ three shorts categories: Best Live Action Short Film, Best Animated Short Film, and Best Documentary (Short Subject). With the Oscars ceremony in continual uncertainty, it’s possible some or all of these categories will be among the ones relegated to getting handed out during commercial breaks. The selections, though, are idiosyncratic, with a few gems mixed among some truly bizarre picks.

How Ruben Brandt, Collector turns fine art into an animated heist movie

I didn’t want Ruben to be haunted by some generic zombies or monsters. Goya or Hieronymus Bosch, for example, painted so many horrible creatures, but that wasn’t what I was interested in seeing. I wanted beautiful, innocent creatures and human beings, and then to dramatically reimagine them as something sinister.

This post was written by
Dan Schindel is a writer and editor. He lives and works in New York.
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