Magazine article Artforum International

Matthew Porterfield

Magazine article Artforum International

Matthew Porterfield

Article excerpt

1 KENNETH ANGER, PUCE MOMENT (1949) Named for the elusive color of flea blood (red-violet to dark, purplish brown), this six-minute sketch for Anger's imagined feature Puce Women began as a lovely, gossamer trifle featuring Yvonne Marquis as a silent-movie-era LA starlet lost in a daydream with her four borzois. In the late 1960s, Anger rereleased the film, replacing the original Puccini score with a strangely expository psychedelic sound track by Jonathan Halper, and created a bohemian masterpiece. I've watched this short more than any other movie, each time hoping I'll find some magic door to the rest of the film.

2 JAMES BALDWIN. ANOTHER COUNTRY (1962) A tragic novel full of unparalleled empathy for the modern human experience and our failure to communicate--much less love--beyond the limits of our fear, Baldwin's take on Greenwich Village circa 1948 reaches for the heart of the American psyche, circling and exploding the taboos that threaten us no less today.

3 LUCIEN CASTAING-TAYLOR AND VERENA PARAVEL. LEVIATHAN (2012) A product of Harvard's Sensory Ethnography Lab, Leviathan is an anarchic documentary about the life of a commercial fishing vessel integrating images and sounds with brutal precision, this film eclipses the standard terms of its genre to offer us a new kind of "pure cinema." Giving no didactic cues, Castaing-Taylor and Paravel invite us to get lost, only to keep us tethered to this world--requiring that we share responsibility for the horrors that play out on-screen. As the filmmakers forged through more than 250 hours of footage, they discovered that their dozen or so cameras (several more were lost at sea) had miraculously captured the likenesses of phantoms from the deep. A selection of this material (titled Canst Thou Draw Out Leviathan with a (Hook?) screened in extreme slow motion in a former West German crematorium as part of this year's Berlinale film festival.

4 JAMES AGEE AND WALKER EVANS. LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS MEN (1941) In 1936, James Agee and Walker Evans were sent on assignment to document rural lite in the American South and the positive effects of FDR's New Deal. -Ulm famous result--containing Forty-three photographs by Evans followed by some five hundred pages of Agee's prose--offers an exhaustive portrait of three tenant-farmer families and represented the birth of a new form of journalism. Rejecting the creative, artistic, or reportorial voice they were likely expected to assume, and wary of the limits of memory, subjectivity, and representation, Agee and Evans set out to evince a near-scientific objectivity. Agee wrote that he had aimed to tell "everything possible as accurately as possible: and to invent nothing," his perspective perfectly in sync with the clarity of Evans's austere, respectful gaze.

5 ANTHOLOGY FILM ARCHIVES, NEW YORK In 1998, I dropped out of New York University and placed my film education in the hands of this storied East Village institution. Founded in 1969 by Stan Brakhage, Jerome Hill, Peter Kubeika, Jonas Mekas, and P. Adams Sitney, Anthology has for more than four decades featured an annual cycle of "Essential Cinema," which, from Robert Bresson's Une Femme douce (1969) to Paul Sharits's S:TREAM:S:S:ECTION:S:ECTION:S:S:ECTIONED (1971), represents as fine a film canon as, you will ever find. …

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