This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

GLOBAL LENS, 2010: THE SHAFT

The local mine dominates a family's life in Zhang Chi's mesmerizing debut

The local mine dominates a family’s life in Zhang Chi’s mesmerizing debut

DIXIA DE TIANKONG (THE SHAFT) (Zhang Chi, 2008)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
January 21-27
Tickets: $10, in person only, may be applied to museum admission within thirty days, same-day screenings free with museum admission, available at Film and Media Desk
212-708-9400
www.moma.org

Not to be confused with Li Yang’s 2003 film, BLIND SHAFT (MANG JING), which was also set in a rural Chinese coal-mining town, THE SHAFT (DIXIA DE TIANKONG) is a beautifully shot, mesmerizingly slow-paced debut feature from writer-director Zhang Chi. The story is told in three sections: In the first, Song Daming (Li Chen) overhears that his girlfriend, Ding Jingshui (Zheng Luoqian), might have slept with the boss to get a promotion, forcing him to reconsider their relationship. In the second, Ding Jingsheng (Huang Xuan), Jingshui’s brother, is a lazy slacker who is not smart enough to go to university, refuses to work in the mine, and instead thinks he could become a pop singer. And in the third, Ding Baogen (Luo Deyuan), Jingsheng and Jingshui’s father, has reached retirement age and is not sure what to do with the rest of his life, as the only thing he knows is the mine. THE SHAFT moves at a snail’s pace, reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch’s STRANGER THAN PARADISE but without any humor, a meditative examination of the decaying social and economic structure in rural China. Cinematographer Liu Shumi’s camera lingers on scenes long after they appear to be over, as characters just stand and stare out at the dim gray and black countryside, occasionally saturated in lush blues and reds; out there somewhere is Beijing, more than a dream away, but the big city doesn’t necessarily hold any answers either. Dialogue is kept to a bare minimum, with no musical soundtrack, just natural sound that often borders on complete silence. THE SHAFT, which is screening at MoMA January 21-27 as part of the Global Lens festival, is an intense, rewarding, uneasy experience from an extremely talented young filmmaker.

CARSTEN HÖLLER: EXPERIENCE

The line for the slide can wrap completely around the carousel at New Museum’s Carsten Höller retrospective (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

New Museum of Contemporary Art
235 Bowery at Prince St.
Wednesday - Sunday through January 15, $12-$16 (free Thursdays 7:00 - 9:00 pm)
212-219-1222
www.newmuseum.org
experience slideshow

Just because Carsten Höller’s first-ever New York City retrospective, “Experience,” includes the optional “Upside-Down Goggles,” an optical device that flips everything you see, doesn’t mean the German artist is trying to turn the art world upside down. A former scientist who was born in Brussels and lives and works in Stockholm, Höller has transformed the New Museum into a laboratory / amusement park, complete with merry-go-round, slide, aviary, and wave pool, each with a sly twist. Examining doubt and duality, disorientation and displacement, confusion and confrontation, and, perhaps most critically, perception and participation, Höller has created a mind-bending interactive, experimental journey that requires viewer involvement in order to be successful. If you’re just interested in looking at weird things, then this show might not be quite what you expect. “Höller has provided stimulus to erotic encounters and to hallucinatory or intoxicating experiments,” Lynne Cooke writes in “Amanita Blue,” her essay in the exhibition catalog. “Bliss, ecstasy, and transport are equally subject to his curiosity and appreciation, and, ultimately, come to seem less altruistic than necessary.” Gary Carrion-Murayari puts it even more succinctly in his catalog contribution, “Entertainment”: “Carsten Höller creates works that can provide joy or terror in equal measure,” while in “Panic” Massimiliano Gioni explains, “Carsten Höller’s work brings on attacks of the heebie-jeebies and moments of panic.” But don’t worry; there’s really no need to be frightened of Höller. “Experience” turns out to be a helluva lot of fun.

Slide zooms past “Psycho Tank” at interactive exhibit at New Museum (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

The survey begins just past the lobby with “Giant Triple Mushrooms,” a series of colorful large-scale fungi that reference both Alice in Wonderland as well as psychedelic shrooms, especially since some of them have already had bites taken out of them, hinting toward an oncoming acid trip. You’ll want to continue your journey on the fourth floor, where you might have to wait as long as an hour and a half to go through “Untitled (Slide),” a stainless-steel pneumatic tube that will send you twisting down to the second floor. While waiting on line, take an excruciatingly slow spin on “Mirror Carousel,” a horseless merry-go-round with swings as seats, Höller toying with your expectations since swings usually rise up high and carousels generally move significantly faster. You can also pick up one of the three phones on the wall and make a long-distance call, which will be reused as an answering-machine message as part of “What Is Love, Art, Money?,” and listen to the live birds flitting around in cages dangling from above in “Singing Canaries Mobile.” Stop off in the Shaft Project Space on the stairs between the third and fourth floors for a cup of water and a gelatin capsule from “Pill Clock” as you make your way to “Giant Psycho Tank,” a calming, meditative sensory deprivation tank in which you float on a few inches of heavily salted water and let the slight current carry you away. If you didn’t bring a bathing suit, you’ll have to go in naked, and if you’re extremely shy, you should know that your privacy is not completely guaranteed, despite the presence of a security guard monitoring the proceedings. When we sat down on the bench in the back of the pool, we could clearly see two guys outside staring in at us, and later, while we were floating so beautifully, the woman on line after us started talking to us from the doorway, not seeming to mind that we were in nothing but our birthday suit. “Psycho Tank” was originally meant for more people at one time, but the Board of Health said no; in other countries, as many as six can join in together, so just shed your American Puritan inhibitions and let it all hang out. Also be on the lookout for the two-monitor video “One Minute of Doubt,” the funhouse-mirror-like “Infrared Room,” videos in each elevator, “Aquarium” (in which you lie down and place your head inside a viewing tank), and other works that make “Experience” as entertaining and involving an experience as you want it to be.

ROBIN HOOD

Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett can’t believe where the script is taking them in Ridley Scott’s ROBIN HOOD

ROBIN HOOD (Ridley Scott, 2010)
Opens Friday, May 14
www.robinhoodthemovie.com

Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett join the long line of illustrious acting duos that have teamed up as Robin Hood and Maid Marion (or Marian), following in the footsteps of Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland (THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD), Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn (ROBIN AND MARIAN), Kevin Costner and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES), Cary Elwes and Amy Yasbeck (ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS), and even Brian Bedford and Monica Evans (Disney’s animated ROBIN HOOD) in Ridley Scott’s potential franchise starter, ROBIN HOOD. Although they do generate some heat, the Aussies are led astray by vastly overrated screenwriter Brian Helgeland (THE POSTMAN, THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3) and the game but misguided Scott (ALIEN, BLADE RUNNER, GLADIATOR), who tinker way too much with the tale in the first half of the film and then devolve into a boring retread of TROY meets BRAVEHEART in the second. Their version is the superhero origin story of the man who will later steal from the rich and give to the poor, seen here first marching with King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston), who seeks to reclaim his throne after ten years of fighting in the Crusades. But his immature brother, Prince John (Oscar Isaac), has other plans, enlisting the villainous Godfrey (Mark Strong) to do his dirty work for him. The movie has all the pomp and circumstance associated with such adventure flicks, with swordfights, expert archery, heavy chainmail, a raucous, mead-filled celebration, and lusty romance, but it loses itself halfway through, leading up to an epic battle that gets just plain ridiculous. This ROBIN HOOD steals too much from previous films while ultimately giving audiences the shaft.

GLOBAL LENS, 2010: DIOSES (GODS)

(courtesy Global Film Initiative)

DIOSES is a biting slice-of-life portrait of the Peruvian upper class (courtesy Global Film Initiative)

DIOSES (GODS) (Josué Méndez, 2008)
MoMA Film
Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Thursday, January 14, 4:00 & Saturday, January 23, 1:30
Series runs January 14-29
Tickets: $10, in person only, may be applied to museum admission within thirty days, same-day screenings free with museum admission, available at Film and Media Desk
212-708-9400
www.moma.org

www.diosesthemovie.com

Named Best Peruvian Feature at the 2008 Lima Film Festival and Best Film at the Biarritz Film Festival, DIOSES (GODS) opens the seventh annual Global Lens series at MoMA, which promotes socially relevant works from developing nations. Written and directed by Josué Méndez (DÍAS DE SANTIAGO), DIOSES takes a biting look at the exclusive Peruvian upper class. While wealthy industrialist Agustín (Edgar Saba) is introducing his young fiancée, Elisa (Maricielo Effio), to snooty society people spending the summer at a fancy beach retreat, his daughter, Andrea (Anahí de Cárdenas), is drinking and drugging herself to sleep every night at wild parties, not remembering whom she slept with, as her tortured brother, Diego (Sergio Gjurinovic), pines away for her physical love. Elisa, from a poor family, studies to try to fit in, reading books on gardening and mythology to keep up with the other women and refusing to allow her mother and grandmother to visit for fear that her lower-class roots will spoil her entrée. Meanwhile, Agustín is trying to prepare his son to join him at the factory, but Diego seems more concerned with peeking at and touching his sister’s body as she sleeps off another crazy night. Featuring beautiful cinematography by Mario Bassino, DIOSES is an intelligent slice-of-life portrait of the shallow, materialistic relationships among the Peruvian upper class, a socially conscious depiction of the vapid emptiness of connection they have with each other, themselves, and the real world.

The Global Lens series also includes Bui Thac Chuyen’s Vietnamese drama CHOI VOI (ADRIFT), Lyes Salem’s Algerian tale MASCARADES (MASQUERADES), Alejandro Gerber Bicecci’s Mexican story VAHO (BECLOUD), Granaz Moussavi’s MY TEHRAN FOR SALE from Iran, Enrique Buchichio’s EL CUARTO DE LEO (LEO’S ROOM) from Mexico, Rajesh Shera’s Indian tragedy OCEAN OF AN OLD MAN, and Zang Chi’s highly regarded Chinese film DIXIA DE TIANKONG (THE SHAFT).

FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD — NEW YORK IN THE 70s: THE LANDLORD

Young Elgar Winthrop Julius Enders’s (Beau Bridges) spoiled life of privilege is about to dramatically change in THE LANDLORD

Young Elgar Winthrop Julius Enders’s (Beau Bridges) spoiled life of privilege is about to dramatically change in The Landlord

THE LANDLORD (Hal Ashby, 1970)
Film Forum
209 West Houston St.
Sunday, July 23, 12:30, 4:30, and 8:30
Series runs through July 27
212-727-8110
filmforum.org

When rich kid Elgar Winthrop Julius Enders (Beau Bridges) finally decides to do something with his spoiled life of privilege, he takes a rather curious turn, buying a dilapidated tenement in a pregentrified Park Slope that resembles the South Bronx in Hal Ashby’s poignant directorial debut, The Landlord. At first, the less-than-worldly Elgar doesn’t quite know what he’s gotten himself into, believing it will be easy to kick out the current residents and then replace the decrepit building with luxury apartments. He pulls up to the place in his VW bug convertible, thinking he can just waltz in and do whatever he wants, but just as his car is vandalized, so is his previously charmed existence, as he gets to know wise house mother Marge (Pearl Bailey), the sexy Francine (Diana Sands), her activist husband, Copee (Louis Gossett Jr.), and Black Power professor Duboise (Melvin Stewart), none of whom is up-to-date with the rent. Meanwhile, Elgar starts dating Lanie (Marki Bey), a light-skinned half-black club dancer he assumed was white, infuriating his father, William (Walter Brooke), and mother, Joyce (a delightful, Oscar-nominated Lee Grant), who are in the process of setting up their daughter, Susan (Susan Anspach), with the white-bread Peter Coots (Robert Klein).

Elgar has a whole lot of learning to do in Hal Ashby’s New York City-set black comedy

Elgar has a whole lot of learning to do in Hal Ashby’s New York City–set black comedy

Based on the novel by Kristin Hunter, The Landlord is a telling microcosm of race relations and class conflict in a tumultuous period in the nation’s history, as well as that of New York City, coming shortly after the civil rights movement and the free-love late ’60s. The film is masterfully shot by Astoria-born cinematographer Gordon Willis (Klute, Annie Hall, Manhattan, all three Godfather movies), who sets the bright, open spaces of the Enderses’ massive estate against the dark, claustrophobic rooms of the dank tenement. Screenwriter Bill Gunn (Ganja and Hess) and Ashby avoid getting overly preachy in this at-times outrageous black comedy, incorporating slapstick along with some more tender moments; the scene in which Joyce meets Marge is a marvel of both. And just wait till you see Coots’s costume at a fancy fundraiser. The Landlord began quite a string for Ashby, who followed it up with Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Bound for Glory, Coming Home, and Being There in a remarkable decade for the former film editor (In the Heat of the Night) who died in 1988 at the age of fifty-nine. The Landlord is screening July 23 at 12:30, 4:30, and 8:30 in Film Forum’s terrific “Ford to City: Drop Dead — New York in the 70s” series, which continues through July 27 with such other Gotham favorites as Taxi Driver, Midnight Cowboy, Saturday Night Fever, and Marathon Man and such inspired double features as Shaft and Super Fly, Across 110th Street and Cops and Robbers, Dressed to Kill and Death Wish, Three Days of the Condor and The Eyes of Laura Mars, and The Warriors and Escape from New York.

FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD — NEW YORK IN THE 70s: NEWS FROM HOME

NEWS FROM HOME

Chantal Akerman combines footage of 1970s New York with letters from her mother in News from Home

NEWS FROM HOME (Chantal Akerman, 1977)
Film Forum
209 West Houston St.
Wednesday, July 19, 8:30, and Tuesday, July 25, 5:40
Series runs through July 27
212-727-8110
filmforum.org

In 1971, twenty-year-old Chantal Akerman moved to New York City from her native Belgium, determined to become a filmmaker. Teaming up with cinematographer Babette Mangolte, she made several experimental films, including Hotel Monterey and La Chambre, before moving back to Belgium in 1973. But in 1976 she returned to New York City to make News from Home, a mesmerizing work about family and dislocation, themes that would be prevalent throughout her career. The film consists of long, mostly static shots, using natural sound and light, depicting a gray, dismal New York City as cars move slowly down narrow, seemingly abandoned streets, people ride the graffiti-laden subway, workers and tourists pack Fifth Ave., and the Staten Island Ferry leaves Lower Manhattan. The only spoken words occur when Akerman, in voice-over, reads letters from her mother, Natalia (Nelly) Akerman, sent during Chantal’s previous time in New York, concerned about her daughter’s welfare and safety. “I’m glad you don’t have that job anymore and that you’re liking New York,” Akerman reads in one letter. “People here are surprised. They say New York is terrible, inhuman. Perhaps they don’t really know it and are too quick to judge.” Her mother’s missives often chastise her for not writing back more often while also filling her in on the details of her family’s life, including her mother, father, and sister, Sylviane, as well as local gossip.

news from home

Although it was not meant to be a straightforward documentary, News from Home now stands as a mesmerizing time capsule of downtrodden 1970s New York, sometimes nearly unrecognizable when compared to the city of today. The film also casts another light on the relationship between mother and daughter, which was recently highlighted in Akerman’s final film, No Home Movie, in which Chantal attempts to get her mother, a Holocaust survivor, to open up about her experiences in Auschwitz. Nelly died shortly after filming, and Akerman committed suicide the following year, only a few months after No Home Movie played at several film festivals (and was booed at Locarno). News from Home takes on new meaning in light of Akerman’s end, a unique love letter to city and family and to how we maintained connections in a pre-internet world. News from Home is screening July 19 at 8:30 and July 25 at 5:40 in Film Forum’s terrific “Ford to City: Drop Dead — New York in the 70s” series, which continues through July 27 with such other Gotham favorites as Mean Streets, Gloria, All That Jazz, and Marathon Man and such inspired double features as Shaft and Super Fly, Across 110th Street and Cops and Robbers, Dressed to Kill and Death Wish, Three Days of the Condor and The Eyes of Laura Mars, and The Warriors and Escape from New York.

FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD — NEW YORK IN THE 70s: THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE

Walter Matthau tries to get to the bottom of a bizarre subway heist in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE (Joseph Sargent, 1974)
Film Forum
209 West Houston St.
Saturday, July 8, 4:45, Sunday, July 16, 6:20, Friday, July 21, 5:00 & 10:00
Series runs through July 27
212-727-8110
filmforum.orgg

On October 29, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford refused to grant a federal bailout of New York, resulting in one of the all-time-great headlines in the Daily News: “Ford to City: Drop Dead.” Film Forum is looking back at that rather unique decade in Big Apple history in the fab series “Ford to City: Drop Dead — New York in the 70s.” Running through July 27, the festival features more than three dozen Gotham classics, beginning with Midnight Cowboy and Taking Off and continuing with such favorites as Mean Streets (shown with Film Forum master programmer Bruce Goldstein’s Les Rues de Mean Streets), Serpico, Saturday Night Fever, Network, Klute, and Marathon Man. With all the recent problems with the subway system, it’s definitely time to revisit Joseph Sargent’s underground thriller, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. Loosely adapted from the book by John Godey, the film wonderfully captures the cynicism of New York City in the 1970s. Four heavily armed and mustached men — Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw), Mr. Green (Martin Balsam), Mr. Gray (Hector Elizondo), and Mr. Brown (Earl Hindman), colorful pseudonyms that influenced Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs — hijack an uptown 4 train, demanding one million dollars in one hour from a nearly bankrupt city or else they will kill all eighteen passengers, one at a time, minute by minute. The hapless mayor (Lee Wallace) is in bed with the flu, so Deputy Mayor Warren LaSalle (Tony Roberts) takes charge on the political end while transit detective Lt. Zachary Garber (a great Walter Matthau) and Inspector Daniels (Julius Harris) of the NYPD team up to try to figure out just how in the world the criminals expect to get away with the seemingly impossible heist. Sargent (Sybil) offers a nostalgic look back at a bygone era, before technology radically changed the way trains are run and police work is handled.

The film also features a very funny, laconic Jerry Stiller as Lt. Rico Patrone and the beloved Kenneth McMillan as the borough commander. It was remade as a television movie in 1998, starring Edward James Olmos, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Lorraine Bracco, and as an embarrassingly bad big-budget bomb in 2009 by Tony Scott. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is screening on July 8 (introduced by Goldstein), 16, and 21; the Film Forum series also includes such inspired double features as Shaft and Super Fly, Across 110th Street and Cops and Robbers, Dressed to Kill and Death Wish, Three Days of the Condor and The Eyes of Laura Mars, and The Warriors and Escape from New York. In addition, director Jerry Schatzberg will introduce The Panic in Needle Park on July 7, William Friedkin will introduce The French Connection via Skype on July 8, and New York Times media editor Bill Brink — whose father, William, wrote the infamous Daily News headline — will introduce Dog Day Afternoon on July 9.