Love is the Message, the Message is Death (2016)

Watching the Alsarabi youtube bootleg since this is only playing in museums. It’s a news and history dance video to a Kanye West song, footage sourced from all over, some with TV station and Getty Images watermarks. Lots of new-to-me clips with some very familiar images interspersed. Really great, powerful montage though (and I don’t call movies “powerful” often, search the blog and see).


Ms. Hillsonga (2017)

A minute of still images set to a fast beat by Jeff Mills, cut almost too quickly to be identifiable (including the shot my letterboxd avatar is from), then the images repeat but motion video footage is added, then it repeats again with new clips or stills substituted to keep things lively. More great montage, again full of imagery of Black freedom and oppression, the footage replacement reminding me of Zorns Lemma in a good way.


Deshotten 1.0 (2009)

Another one with repetition and variations. Young man gets shot in a busy street scene, ends up in hospital with friends and family, then it keeps rewinding and playing out differently, maybe just in his own mind. I love the music, sounds like a Squarepusher song heard from a couple blocks away. Codirected with his TNEG film studio partner Malik Sayeed (TNEG has a lofty mission statement)


Dreams are Colder Than Death (2013)

Artists comment in voiceover about the risk of losing black culture and connection… where things stand on “the goals and ambitions of the civil rights movement in the United States… does the dream live on?”

Statements range from the personal to the academic – I liked the bit comparing jazz musicians to the tension between legality and criminality – a low, constant doom-rumble on the soundtrack beneath the words.

Much more calmly paced than his other work. His most Khalik Allah-like movie, what with the street photography and unsynced sound. Stock photography (that red-sun image I’ve seen in all his films, MLK, war and slavery scenes) and slow-mo shots of the speakers (who include Charles Burnett).


One gallery says Jafa’s artworks “question prevailing cultural assumptions about identity and race,” which is pretty generic – they also say “he is a filmmaker with a unique understanding of how to cut and juxtapose a sequence to draw out maximum visceral effect,” which sounds right. Aha, he has shot Spike Lee movies and Daughters of the Dust and some music videos. I was just the 26 millionth person to watch Solange’s “Don’t Touch My Hair” video, and all those people are onto something, this is good.


I tried listening to the ICP panel discussion, but academics are hard to listen to while at work, so I skipped ahead to Jafa shitting on 12 Years a Slave, haha. He outlines a script he’s written tying together the Birmingham church bombing, Coretta Scott and Michael Jackson through alternate timelines.

On Daughters of the Dust: “There’s an alternate universe in which Julie Dash is the Toni Morrison of film. It’s not this one, cuz this one is kinda fucked up.”

“We have to transform the understanding of the real” through film.

Funniest movie I saw all year. Excitable white boy Adam is “studying” battle rap for a thesis (Anthony Michael Hall is his professor, also his dad), starts to hang out with the participants, including Behn Grymm (Jackie Long of Idlewild). Adam rhymes with mixed results, until he goes full-racist, destroying the competition in battles, drunk with power and success, alienating all his new friends. Ends with a crushing/triumphant battle against Behn then a jaw-dropping cut from homeless Adam to credits, implicating both Kahn and producer Eminem.

Adam’s soon-to-be-ex girlfriend: “Do you really want to be another white guy shamelessly appropriating African-American culture? I mean, we don’t need Macklemore, we need Mackle-less.”
Kahn has been a music video director for 20 years, has also made a high-school horror and a biker-gang action movie, both with Dane Cook. Writer Alex Larsen works on battle-rap series Drop the Mic. Adam is Calum Worthy (a former Disney TV star), and most of the supporting cast is composed of celebrated battle rappers, including violent villain rapper Megaton (Dizaster).

Devine, Prospek, Behn, Che, Adam:

Adam Nayman:

It’s almost beside the point to say that Kahn’s direction and staging are wonderfully fluid (like Edgar Wright, if he gave a shit about anything beyond his own iPod), or that the actors are all great, or that the raps are dazzling and appalling, but all the provocation in the world is worthless if it isn’t put across with some skill. In this case, it is…

Steven Shaviro, in the Cinema Scope cover story that made me track this down:

His self-imposed formal challenge in Bodied is how to make a kinetic and dynamic movie from a screenplay that is word-heavy, largely composed of one-on-one verbal exchanges. I have never seen a movie that does so much with that old staple of narrative cinema, the basic shot-reverse-shot setup … these sequences also feature flips of perspective (often by the deliberate flouting of the 180-degree rule), confusions of address (when trying to hold two conversations at the same time), expressionist camera movements used as emotional punctuation, and textual and sonic interpolations (words appearing on the screen, or voices booming within a character’s head). All these devices are sometimes deployed for comedic effect; at other times, they underline the rappers’ strategic moves during the battles; at still other times, they work to amplify the stakes of everything the characters say and do.

Yes, I’m stealing twice from Cinema Scope, but somehow they’re the only publication that noticed this movie? Guess it doesn’t help that it got no distribution and after playing fests in 2017 it showed up on the paid version of Youtube for a year before finally coming out on blu-ray a couple months ago. Also watched Swiped, Kahn’s short from the same year. It’s a one-joke premise about a guy who matched himself on a dating app, but only three minutes long with lots of fx, so it doesn’t get tiresome.

It’s a good thing Criterion is releasing the slow-moving serious-art early Dumont films on blu-ray, because I need to catch up, and this also gives me auteurist justification for absolutely loving this goony miniseries where aliens visit the town of Lil Quinquin and start duplicating the residents. The twitchy racist cop is given more screen time than ever, but I’m into it this time. Random resident Mr. Leleu gets copied, then Coincoin’s brother Dany, his ex-girl Eve, D’nis, then the captain himself. The Captain and Carpentier find out about the clones, are on the case, guns drawn, with the kids at their side, and then instead of solving the alien mystery, the “Cause I Knew” girl returns as a zombie and the series ends with a full-cast singalong.

John “son of Denzel” Washington is Ron, a rookie cop who gets himself invited to a Klan meeting by being friendly with David Duke (Topher Grace) over the phone, and has to send his white (ahem, Jewish) coworker Adam Driver to the in-person meetings while working behind the scenes to bust these guys, which they kinda manage to do when a Klan wife accidentally bombs her husband while trying to murder Ron’s girlfriend. Spike has righteous cop protagonists but doesn’t entirely let the police department off the hook. His main point is made clear by the Charlottesville news footage closing the film, and even if he changes no modern minds, the movie is fun and inspired a good article about “the cruel sucking nullity of whiteness” in the dying days of the Village Voice.

Our second Black Audio Film Collective film after Testament, this one a collage-style doc about the 1985 Handsworth riots – with at least one scene from the 1977 Handsworth riots, the country having failed to solve racism during the intervening years. A good mix of music and sounds, collaged like the visuals. Interviews with community members about mistrust of cops because of bad policing, combined with the story of an innocent woman shot by police in her own home give the sense that nothing has changed between Handsworth Songs and Crime + Punishment. Racism remains unsolved.

I’d been wanting to see this for ages, it having appeared on some list somewhere of great films, and am glad I held off on the bootleg VHS copies to see it properly projected in a theater. Not that there are such splendid visuals – it’s mostly news and interview footage – but there’s at least one innovative move in here: lit photographs hung in a dark room, the camera slowly moving through the room in 3D like an early version of the Ken Burns effect.

Vikram Murthi:

Akomfrah sought to redefine blackness in British culture for a new generation as a reaction against conservative Thatcherite policies along with the respectability politics of their immigrant parents. In turn, the Collective demonstrated that the best way to examine the noxious ideologies in the culture was to trace their historical lineage. As a middle-aged black woman tells a British reporter, “There are no stories in the riots. Only the ghosts of other stories.”

After Whose Streets and Kinshasa Makambo and so many others, it was hard to get used to the police being the good guys again. Fortunately, the majority of them are still portrayed as racist villains destroying the lives of poor people, which is very in-character, but our heroes are the NYPD 12, whistleblowers calling out the force for continuing to require arrest quotas after the practice had been banned. At the same time we’re following an ex-cop, a loud, personable P.I. fighting to free Pedro Hernandez, who was arrested on sketchy evidence. It’s easy to undervalue an issues doc with slick visuals following a big news story in the boundary-pushing environment of True/False, but this is a great primer on the issues the NYPD 12 raise, well-paced and informative without ever resorting to narration or interview footage, which seems hard to pull off. It covers why good policing matters, how retaliation silences other cops and keeps the stinking system running (featuring damning hidden-camera footage of the retaliation), and who it benefits: $1 billion of the city budget comes from arrests. The NYPD 12 case is still unresolved at the end, but Pedro was released from Rikers (and in attendance at the festival). This and one of the secret screenings were both about fighting within the system to stand up for the oppressed, both maybe more “useful” than artistic, but important.

From the advertising this looked like an amoral violent comedy with the funniest dialogue of the year, but it turned out to be a deep story about forgiveness with the funniest dialogue of the year. According to the Internet, the movie is actually racist, anti-feminist, and not deep at all, so I am wrong, but I had a great time.

Frances McDormand wants to shame sheriff Woody Harrelson into continuing the search for her daughter’s killer, but Woody is dying of cancer and finally kills himself, causing the town to turn on Frances. Sam Rockwell, a horrible racist cop working for Woody, who badly beats Caleb Landry Jones (playing a nice guy for once), is fired by new chief Clarke Peters, then tries to do the right thing for once by helping Frances. Lucas Hedges, having a big year, is Frances’s son, John Hawkes her ex, Peter Dinklage her partner in crime, and Abbie Cornish Woody’s wife.

I didn’t enjoy Heaven Knows What, but this Safdie follow-up is splashed across the covers of all three film magazines I subscribe to, so I went out all by myself (does nobody else in this town read the magazines?) to sit too close to the screen and watch a movie where everything is shot too close-up. Felt like maybe a bad idea, and I’m not always a fan of electro music scores, and I was already aware of certain accusations against the movie, but against all odds, it’s… extremely good. The nervous energy from the close camerawork and pulsing electro plus all the lurid colors and frantic performances add up to a… not a good time exactly, but a hell of a ride.

The only time the title is spoken in the movie is by Nick’s psychiatrist. The doctor is a white-haired nemesis to Connie, conspiring to restrict his brother’s freedom, appearing early in the movie’s trailer as Connie talks about “the program [Nick] is forced to attend and how he shouldn’t be there.” We see Nick going to prison in the trailer, getting beaten as his brother races against time to rescue him, then as images of violence flicker across the screen faster and faster the psychiatrist reappears: “This place where we are now can be a lot of fun if you let it. You’re gonna have a good time,” then the title sears across the screen. It feels like this wicked psychiatrist is taking advantage of helpless Nick, the title a bitterly ironic reference to the bad time Nick is gonna have in his evil institution. In the movie itself, it took me a couple scenes to shake this idea, since the psychiatrist seems harmless and Nick is the one getting his brother into trouble then trying to get him back out, in a rapidly escalating series of near-successes. Connie is (argh) a con-man, an expert manipulator, and we follow him as our would-be protagonist, the movie barely giving us time to contemplate the havoc he’s leaving behind him, until the deep-breath relief of the ending. In fact, the title is supposed to be a reference to getting reduced prison sentence for good behavior (Connie and Nick are both fresh out of prison) and the end of the film shows the psychiatrist actually helping Nick after his villain brother is sent away.

The first thing we see after Connie “rescues” his brother from the institute is a bank robbery, wearing dark-skin masks and getting hilariously foiled by a dye pack. In the ensuing chase, Nick smashes through a window and gets busted, and Connie fails to bail him out with Jennifer Jason Leigh’s cancelled credit card. Connie then breaks the wrong guy out of the hospital – a plot twist I saw coming but dismissed as too ludicrous-obvious – then teams up with him (Ray: Buddy Duress, Holmes’s buddy in Heaven Knows What) to make quick cash for bail money. Ray was busted at an amusement park, and stashed a sprite bottle full of pure liquid LSD and possibly some money, so they trick underage Crystal into giving them a ride there, fuck with the security guard, and everyone gets arrested except Connie and Ray, who escape with the LSD-soda to the guard’s apartment, where Ray calls his dealer and finally things go wrong.

J. Safdie on the controvery:

I don’t think Connie is a racist. I think that he just knows how society functions. He knows that society is racist.

Brian Tallerico:

Connie makes choices instantly, and one gets the impression that it’s an instinctual ability that has helped him at times but will only prove his downfall on this particular night … Pattinson perfectly conveys the nervous energy of being essentially hunted by your own bad decisions without ever feeling like he’s chewing scenery.

Quiet, lumpy Joel Edgerton (fourth movie I’ve seen him in, maybe I’ll recognize him next time?) marries sweet Ruth Negga (Ethiopian, of World War Z), they just want to be left alone with their kids and their auto repairs and home building and what not, but they’re arrested because they live in a racist Virginia shithole, and forced to move out of town. The NAACP hears about this and decides to use their case to challenge federal law, hires a shaky-looking local lawyer (comedian Nick Kroll), and Life sends photographer Michael Shannon, who gets them national attention. A slow-paced, good-natured movie with a happy ending – what’s not to like?