"The cinema is cruel like a miracle." -Frank O'Hara

Martha Rosler Goes to the Movies

A photo I took of Martha Rosler giving a lecture in Shanghai. Fun fact: That back of the head belongs to Anton Vidokle.

Note: This past summer, Martha Rosler was kind enough to sit down with me for a profile in Joan’s Digest, a new feminist film journal. You can read the full piece and see what she’s been up to here. Anyway, we also gabbed about the movies, a topic I can’t resist. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:

When Martha Rosler was a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego, she was the teaching assistant to none other than Manny Farber. He was a profound influence on her thinking (“He taught me everything”) and brought a host of filmmakers to lecture to her cohorts, including Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin.

Anna Karina in Alphaville (Godard, 1965)

Favorite movies of all time: Alphaville and Kiss Me Deadly

On Luis Buñuel: “In one of the classes I TA’ed for Manny, we watched the entire filmmography of Buñuel. I loved many of his films; I despised Belle du Jour but loved Los Olvidados — it’s like Dragnet, but Surrealist.”

On Tree of Life: “I did like Terrence Malick until I saw Tree of Life, which I thought was hilarious…It was engrossing but weirdly grandiose and self-indulgent. My assistant told me that Malick is a Heideggerian…I thought he was simply a pantheist. Badlands is an incredible film, and so is The Thin Red Line but as his budgets get bigger, he gets worse.”

On Imitation of Life: “I love to what Sirk did with the myth of the natural woman…and the image of Hollywood as a completely vacuous and dangerous machine. He shows the raw edges of race and class privilege and pretension, but he understood that no matter how cynical and revelatory he meant his films to be, they were always taken as straightforward, as just what the characters are enacting. The Left reviles that film, but I’m always saying to them, ‘Watch the movie!’”

Imitation of Life (Sirk, 1959)

Category: art + video, film reviews

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