Top 10 Moving-Image Events of 2011

Bradford Nordeen


1.    Community Action Center, A.K. Burns, A.L. Steiner, 2011

Community Action Center is a 69-minute long “sociosexual… womyn-centric” erotic video that packs every imaginable kind of sexual behavior into its trim (but hilarious) run time. Filmmakers A.L. Steiner and A.K. Burns set up a rigorous series of rules for the project in order for it to break from the standard pornographic format that creates products out of sexuality and objects out of the men and women who engage with and within it. The film is made in and by a community and, as such, it is only played in similar spaces. No DVD will ever exist of the work, nor is it intended to be shown in fragments. Instead, this duo will mount a cross-county tour to exhibit CAC at GLBT centers and other spaces of queer communion, where it shows in its entirety. When I saw the work earlier this year, the room of our alternative art space became hot, soaked in the vibes and the smells of heated arousal. It was thrilling. With politics so forward thinking and lucid, I’m inclined to argue that Community Action Center is the most important film of its kind this decade.

2.    Melancholia, Lars Von Trier, 2011

Oh Lars. As its being characterized in many other synopsizing year-in-reviews, this was the year of the end of time. With more apocalypse films packed into 2011 than any in recent memory, it takes a distinct voice like Lars Von Trier to come careening through the muck. And did he ever. Von Trier’s use of posture––the prim performance of the socially capable––is the tongue that seals his searing love letter to nihilism. Where chaos reigned over Trier’s last laughingstock, Antichrist, here, a crippling rigidity wracks the gaggle of wedding guests assembled for Kirsten Dunst’s ill-fated nuptials. Her face lilts so softly from blushing bride into purveyor of doom and the film’s similar dither between interiority and the planet-sized physical manifestations of these engrossing sensations spins every line of dialogue into a philosophical quandary. This is melodrama of the epic scale, where feelings take the plastic form of planets that black out the entire human race with one fell swoop.

3.    Weekend, Andrew Haigh, 2011

Here’s to the directorial breakthrough of the year! Andrew Haigh’s sumptuous British kitchen sink drama Weekend breathed life into the floundering market of gay narrative cinema-going. And critics worked overtime, too, to ensure that not just gay folks attended but straight folks too saw this pitch-perfect love story that lasts only, you got it, a weekend. Gloriously photographed (in Nottingham, UK) the film is frank in its depiction of a contemporary gay lifestyle. These lovebirds have coke binges, because, well, that’s what you do on the weekends in stifling small towns.  The leads, Tom Cullen and Chris New, have a chemistry that is beyond electric, and yet their inevitable parting doesn’t seem mawkish or tragic. Just beautiful.

4.    Jungle Island, Jack Smith, 1967

As much as I could hem or haw about the politics surrounding the recent legal debacles and purchasing of the Jack Smith estate from The Plaster Foundation (J. Hoberman and Penny Arcade) by Barbara Gladstone Gallery, the truth is some really gorgeous prints were struck from the ordeal and a few titles were made available for the first time in decades. Jungle Island was such a film––a dazzling double exposure rooftop epic, shot (presumably) in Jack’s infamous apartment. Jungle gets as close as Jack ever would to recreating the lurid Technicolor playland of his favored Maria Montez, with his glamorous costar, Mario Montez, caught in the rapture of his wobbly camera.

5.    A Dangerous Method, David Cronenberg, 2011

While director David Cronenberg has not quite thrown-back to the uteral monsters and anal typewriters of his B-horror past, A Dangerous Method does at least contain some equally terrifying Acting by Keira Knightley and enough bubbling resentment between the complex daddies of Psychoanalytic thought to rival his earlier, body horror films. That master of shock is now in on the yearly Oscar race, making respectable and restrained pictures to match those loftier accolades. And in so doing, Cronenberg is showing us what an astute student he is of the great parlour pictures of yesteryear. From the 1950s noir atmosphere of his last, Eastern Promises, to this taut, exquisitely edited and riveting talky. It could have been a dull flick, to watch this psychosexual ménage a trois engage in little more than talking cures, but instead it’s beyond a pleasure.

6.    The video diary room of Pagan Rhapsodies: George Kuchar at MOMA PS1

Press materials for the MOMA PS1 show Pagan Rhapsodies: George Kuchar claim that the exhibition was planned before the artist’s premature passing in September of this year, but the show feels a bit slapped together in many ways. Even this room sports some horribly incorrect title dates (who knew color video was available in the late 60s!?). To watch the free-associative antics unfold, however, on the dozen-or-so monitors scattered about the room––not over a singular title, as is typically the case with Kuchar’s magnificent video tapes, but to breathe and expand over time––almost feels like stepping inside that great man’s brain. It’s a consumer grade world of fart jokes, kitties, severe weather and boiled sausages but also one of breathtaking sadness and an alarmingly economic control of metaphor. RIP dearest George.

7.    Drive, Nicholas Winding Refn, 2011

I saw Drive at a new theater in Brooklyn where they serve you posh burgers during the screening. That combination––50s drive-in-cum-artisanal aloofness (these were $12 patties meant to mimic the west coast brand In-N-Out’s Double Double)––characterizes the film to a T. Sure, Drive is porn for genre geeks, but it’s got its eyes fixed on a higher ground, too. Immediately after my Double Double––and to an assortment of folks who left the theater in contempt––I argued in favor of a film that felt like “Lost Highway directed by someone less capable. It plays like a really expensive perfume commercial.” I still feel that way, and I mean it as the best of compliments.

8.    Kaboom, Gregg Araki, 2010

Gregg Araki said this one was for the kids––but wasn’t that really his 2007 stoner comedy, Smiley Face? Kaboom, on the other hand, felt like a much-needed rehash for the maestro of Teen Apocalypse in a year that ranged from Von Trier’s epic collision to Britney Spears “dancing till the world ends.” This is Araki for the Lady Gaga generation and he’s never seemed so happy. There’s an earnest smile here, a utopian impulse where his pat nihilism used to glimmer. And while there are some third act miscalculations, the candy-colored cherry bomb of a movie that ultimately goes kaboom sure is one hell of a ride.

9.    Drive Angry, Patrick Lussier, 2011 / Hobo With A Shotgun, Jason Eisener, 2011 (Trailers)

As if picks 7 and 8 didn’t clue you in, genre is still alive and well. Nothing proves that better than these unrelenting works of grindhouse pastiche. Hobo’s seeds were sewn in Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s epic fail, Grindhouse, appearing as one of the fictitous trailers sandwiched between Planet Terror and Death Proof. Remade with Rutger Hauer four years later, the film was a follow-up to the afterlife breathed into another Grindhouse trailer, Machete, in 2011. More bewildering, perhaps, is Nicolas Cage’s Drive Angry, which was never posited in any kind of libidinal canon other than that of Cage’s own histrionic career. Drive Angry is literally the tale of a man who escapes from hell in order to avenge his daughter who was killed by a Peoples Temple-surrogate Jim Jones-esque figure. Both films are a tad greater in theory than in their feature-run practice, but as trailers, these were easy bets in a somewhat meager year of movies.

10.    “Chloë Sevigny,” Jim Hansen, 2010 – 2011

Good evening, America. This year gave birth to a new kind of postmodern star. “Chloë Sevigny” is the drag persona of Drew Droege. Over the course of the year, Droege’s minute-long youtube clips have surged on, beating out competitor Sienna D’Enima’s Jiz and the Mammograms for the crown of greatest dying breath of queer, postmodern hilarity. Mixing his wry comic timing with the irony of his pretentious and style-minded subject, “Chloë Sevigny” ricochets out into orbit with his post-celebrity pastiche. How does Chloë make toast (well, first, you pronounce it to’ast): “Take your [King’s Hawaiian] sweet bread out of the sweet sack and place it in a small clay oven or wood-fire grill. While waiting, call up a good friend like Gaby Hoffman, DJ Frankie Knuckles, or Charlotte Rampling. Have a conversation about irony, the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, or Proenza Schouler.” See for yourself; watch “Chloë” expand on a variety of topics such as birthdays, barbecue, accessories, Hallowe’en, manners, Memorial Day, Oscar season, and fr33dom. You can learn a lot from a meme.