Max Goldberg

Cat's cradle

Ben Rivers' short films at Other Cinema and SF Cinematheque seek out overgrown paths
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Independent, slyly defiant, and given to zigzags, the cat is the spirit animal for a certain breed of cinematic gleaners. The films of Warren Sonbert and Chris Marker are packed with the feline kind. A kitty or two shows through the lucid abstractions of Nathaniel Dorsky's recent work, and Agnès Varda's La Pointe-Courte (1954) uses the animal as a structural device. Accordingly, Ben Rivers' This is My Land (2006) opens with a lithe creature snapping its head to face the camera. Read more »

Talk about the passion

Slumberland Records turns 20
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There's an argument to be made that record love really begins when you start noticing the labels. Slumberland was one of my earliest such epiphanies. I was bit by one of the label's groups, Velocity Girl, because, as much as anything, I felt I had come to them on my own. This secret knowledge kept me satisfied until an older friend made me a cassette mix heavy on the Slumberland set: pastel guitar music by Rocketship, the Softies, Lilys, Black Tambourine, the Ropers, and Amy Linton's much-missed Bay Area groups, Henry's Dress and the Aislers Set. Read more »

Another blue world

Noise Pop 09: Odawas scores a synth-pop beauty with The Blue Depths
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"Cinematic" is one the most overused adjectives in the music reviewer's lexicon, practically guaranteed to appear at the first sign of a Morricone-like expanse of sound. Read more »

Lost Angeles

The Savage Eye finds fear and loathing in the City of Angels
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Like some unholy combination of The Man with a Movie Camera (1929) and The Day of the Locust (1975), The Savage Eye (1959) is a kino-essay on American desolation penned by three directors (Joseph Strick, Sidney Meyers, and blacklisted Ben Maddow) and as many cinematographers (Jack Couffer, Helen Levitt, and a young Haskell Wexler). The 65-minute feature's thin fictional frame story of a spurred Los Angeles woman, Judith X, is no story at all, but rather a vehicle for disembodied anomie. Read more »

Welles well

A master's late-career phantoms at the Pacific Film Archive
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Many years before the word got sullied on the campaign trail, Orson Welles took up the maverick badge during his acceptance speech for the 1975 AFI Lifetime Achievement Award. Welles used the platform to show clips from The Other Side of the Wind, his comic portrait of an old-time director (played by John Huston) making the rounds in the "New Hollywood" of the 1960s and '70s. Read more »

The wayward west

America is not a freeway in Jon Raymond's Livability
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The world falls away again and again in Jon Raymond's short stories. The 10 pieces comprising Livability (Bloomsbury, 272 pages, $15), the Portland, Ore., author's first such collection, are introspective ellipses enshrouded in the march of everyday life. We may hear about a job or spouse in passing, but Raymond submerges his characters into stunned states of contingency. Read more »

Don't look back

The Year in Film 2008: Movies that saw hard times coming
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Cinephilia is a malady that affects the imagination above all. As 2008's year-end pieces roll across the blogosphere, one encounters the alluring titles and stills of films which won't reach the Bay Area for months. Against this tempting tide, I turn to the faint echoes of those undistributed movies which lingered in mind long enough after their festival screenings to become pliable to memory. Read more »

Daughters of the drone

The Year in Music 2008: Celebrating a different kind of singer-songwriter
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Whether it was the Numero Group's 2006 Ladies from the Canyon compilation, the Water reissues of Judee Sill and Anne Briggs, Vashti Bunyan's return, Devendra Banhart's heroine-worship of Karen Dalton, or Sheila Weller's Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon — and the Journey of a Generation (Atria) — the history of female singer-songwriters has received welcome revisions over the past few years. Read more »

Boot up

PFA series traces the long arc of Italian neorealism
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Writing about Umberto D (1952), André Bazin located the intrepid beauty of Italian neorealism in its accumulation of small slivers: "The narrative unit is not the episode, the event, the sudden turn of events, or the character of its protagonists; it is the succession of concrete instants of life, no one of which can be said to be more important than another, for their ontological equality destroys drama at its very basis."

The sentence's movement from careful observation to impassioned ethos is typical of Bazin's noble endeavor to Read more »

Cinemascope baroque

Lola Montès remains an exquisite treatise on visual pleasure
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"You give your body and you keep your soul." This is the Faustian bargain a circus promoter offers Lola Montès (Martine Carol) in Max Ophüls' reimagining of the Victorian courtesan's life. Ophüls, himself something of a ringmaster, inscribes his enchantress in a ravishing purgatory; the film skates complex figure-eights of flashback and reenactment, seduction and spectacle, voyeurism and exhibitionism. Ophüls was known for his 19th century élan, but his swan song is the work of a consummate modernist. Read more »