Vision Quest

Get your avant-garde fix with plenty of experimental cinema this season

Bucking the gallery trend for picking kids fresh from MFA programs, the moving-image portion of this spring's Whitney Biennial (Whitney Museum of Art, 945 Madison Avenue, 800-WHITNEY) focuses more on established names rather than promoting lesser-knowns, perhaps on the logic that even the most celebrated avant-garde filmmakers remain relative outsiders to the art world. So while the Biennial is usually the place to catch a glimpse of hot young artists, its 2006 film and video program will be showcasing the other end of the age spectrum: The slate includes more than a few avant-garde moviemakers who were already stirring things up during the Johnson administration. Along with Kenneth Anger's magical classics Invocation of My Demon Brother and Lucifer Rising (April 22), the museum screens one of his newest works, the video Mouse Heaven (May 13), a fantastically perverse look at Mickey through the artifacts of one overweeningly accomplished collector of Disneyana. Even rarer is a reading by poet Ira Cohen, who will show his 20-minute psychedelic "maximalist" thrift-store costumer The Invasion of the Thunderbolt Pagoda (March 17, May 12), an all-but-lost lysergic "alchemical journey" starring Tony Conrad and Angus Maclise that promises a glimpse of "Heavenly Blue Mylar Pavilions." Michael Snow speeds up his own 1968 pad-trip Wavelength with a DVD re-do, WVLNT (Wavelength for Those Who Don't Have the Time. Originally 45 Minutes, Now 15!) (March 18, April 23), which, as its name suggests, compacts his 1968 film by superimposing its beginning, middle, and end. Out of the younger filmmakers on view—the under-60 set—Jennifer Reeves's masterful post–9-11 psychodrama The Time We Killed (March 25, May 7) screens again for those who missed its run last fall. Short works by Martha Colburn, Joe Gibbons, Lewis Klahr, and others unspool at the Whitney's film and video gallery throughout the season; ongoing video installations by Ryan Trecartin and Cameron Jamie will reward the sit-through viewer.

Of course, aficionados of experimental cinema in New York don't have to make do with the Biennial to get their visionary fix: Institutions like Anthology (32 Second Avenue, 212-864-1760) and MOMA (11 West 53rd Street, 212-708-9400) serve it up year-round. Spring highlights at Anthology include an all-April tribute to one-man film lab BB Optics, run by filmmaker Bill Brand; the series includes films restored or otherwise tweaked by Brand, ranging from works by Saul Levine, Amy Taubin, and Bradley Eros to a collection of Super 8 films by Nixon's White House staff, confiscated by the FBI in 1973. Anthology also hosts a program of new video art from Shanghai and Beijing (May 19–21). Notable Anthology one-off shows include new work by auto-portraitist identity-shifter Shannon Plumb (April 1) and a selection of films by and featuring Buster Keatonesque performer Stuart Sherman (April 2). Meanwhile, MOMA offers an expansive memorial tribute to video art pioneer Nam June Paik (May 1–22), and the world premiere of Marcel Dzama's short The Lotus Eaters (April 22). Gaining white cube notoriety for his spooky-twee ink drawings, Dzama makes films in the neo-antique vein of fellow Winnipegger Guy Maddin; also screening is Dzama's Spike Jonze collaboration Sad Ghost. The tail end of May brings MOMA's massive Tommorrowland (May 25–August 31), a series devoted to the students and faculty of CalArts' film and video program, whose work often evinces a scrappy materialism and soulful sense of landscape, including redoubtable experimentalists Deborah Stratman, Travis Wilkerson, and Naomi Uman, as well as a slew of enticing lesser-knowns.

Beyond the institutions, spring brings a number of promising gallery shows and micro-cinematic screenings displaying the work of a younger generation. Williamsburg's Ocularis (70 North 6th Street, Brooklyn, 718-388-8713) programs a one-woman show (March 20) by Texas hotshot Eileen Maxson, a transmedia Cindy Sherman for the MySpace generation; Foxy Production (617 West 27th Street, 212-239-2758) premieres new videos by Michael Bell-Smith that play with '80s video games and '90s pop (April 27–May 27); and John Connolly Presents (625 West 27th Street, 212-337-9563) installs a neo-psychedelic work by former Forcefield clanner Ara Peterson (April 1–May 6). Art space Participant Inc (95 Rivington, 212-254-4334) mounts "Xanadu" (April 9–May 14), a four-channel installation by Robert Boyd, remixing apocalyptic footage of the Mansons, Heaven's Gate, and other bits of suicide, homicide, and genocide. Sounds like something Hollywood Babylon author Kenneth Anger might be heading downtown to check out when he's in New York.

Make the choice to check out Bill Brand's 1979 
Split Decision
photo: Anthology Film Archives
Make the choice to check out Bill Brand's 1979 Split Decision

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  • A Mechanized Culture and its Equally Mechanical Population Meet
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  • Tweaking Their Legacies: Composers Reinvent Themselves
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  • A selective preview compiled and written by Leo Goldsmith, Pete L'Official, Jaime Mastromonica, Matt Singer, and Drew Tillman.


    Don't Come Knocking
    March 17

    Wim Wenders's latest Teutonic reading of the American West re-teams him with writer-star Sam Shepard for the first time since their 1984 masterpiece, Paris, Texas. Touting a soundtrack featuring guitarist Marc Ribot (filling in for Ry Cooder), Don't Come Knocking follows a Broken Flowers premise that fits snugly with Wenders's theme of lusty men on the road to ruin (and back).


    Find Me Guilty
    March 17

    Vin Diesel (now with 50 percent more hair!) stars in this true story of a gangster who refuses to turn state's evidence and acts as his own attorney at trial. The film is directed by the prodigiously litigious Sidney Lumet; he's made four films and one television series about lawyers and the law since 1990.


    Thank You for Smoking
    March 17

    Jason Reitman (son of Ivan) makes his feature debut with a funny if glib satire of the big tobacco lobby. A stellar cast (Aaron Eckhart, Robert Duvall, William H. Macy, Maria Bello, and more) should make this adaptation of Christopher Buckley's novel worth a look.


    V for Vendetta
    March 17

    Advance word is very strong about this dystopian thriller based on a brilliant graphic novel by Alan Moore (From Hell) and David Lloyd. Longtime Wachowski brothers associate James McTeigue directs their screenplay, in which a lone terrorist (or patriot, if you prefer) attempts to destroy England's totalitarian regime by, among other things, blowing up Big Ben.


    Brick
    March 31

    Those confident of Veronica Mars's status as best teen chick private-dick drama on TV will be excited for writer-director Rian Johnson's debut feature, a noirish SoCal HS mystery starring the newly excellent Joseph Gordon-Levitt, last seen pining for his perverted Little League coach in Gregg Araki's well-crafted Mysterious Skin.


    Inside Man
    March 24

    Spike Lee re-ups with Denzel Washington for a fourth time to brush the amorphous disappointment that was She Hate Me off his shoulders with a twisty police procedural that basks in Denzel's post– Training Day roguishness. The ever exceptional Clive Owen will surely do what he can with the rote role of dapper bank robber, matching wits with Washington's detective and, um, Jodie Foster, who apparently enjoys confined spaces.


    Lady Vengeance
    March 24

    The concluding chapter of Park Chanwook's "revenge trilogy," Lady Vengeance is sure to be in grisly keeping with its predecessors, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy.


    L'Enfant
    March 24

    Belgian Bresson-fanciers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne palmed another Palme d'Or with this gray little tale of a petty thief (Jérémie Renier) who doesn't exactly take his daddy duties to heart.


    Lonesome Jim
    March 24

    Indie godhead Steve Buscemi directs Casey Affleck in this tale of a troubled slacker who returns to his dysfunctional family and is redeemed by the love of a good woman. But it's totally different from Garden State. This one is set in Indiana.


    Drawing Restraint 9
    March 29

    For some, the prospect of a new Matthew Barney film may be as alluring as, well, dental surgery, but for others, the release of another gooey Barney mash-up (this time: Bj throat-singing, whaling, Will Oldham, amputation, and, of course, Vaseline) will whet the appetite for at least eight more films.


    ATL
    March 31

    From Drumline and TLC–Boyz II Men producer Dallas Austin comes this match made in heaven: hip-hop and roller-skating. C'mon, you'd have been this excited even if the film kept its working (and better?) title, Jellybeans. Tip Harris, whom you may know as rap's Rubberband Man —the self-professed King of the South, T.I.—stars; feature debutant Chris Robinson directs.


    Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That!
    March 31

    At a stop on their 2004 tour, the Beastie Boys gave 50 of their fans cameras and told them to shoot the concert however they saw fit. Audiences will have to decide if the result is a radical new take on the classic concert film or merely an invitation to a wicked case of motion sickness.


    Basic Instinct 2
    March 31

    Fourteen years after her legs uncrossed their way into America's heart, Sharon Stone's nether regions are back in the role that made them a star. This time Stone's Catherine Tramell is scheming and screwing her way across Europe, where David Morrissey's psychiatrist falls under her spell. Stone, who turns 48 this month, must know a good physical trainer or a great airbrush artist.


    Slither
    March 31

    If anyone can reinvigorate the horror-comedy genre, it's writer-director James Gunn (Tromeo and Juliet) and star Nathan Fillion, who brought a devil-may-care charisma and subtle comic timing to last year's Serenity. Here he plays a small-town sheriff battling alien slugs that turns people into hideous monsters. Those poor alien slugs, they really need to get a better publicist.


    The Benchwarmers
    April 7

    If you're a Rob Schneider fan we've got good news and bad news. The good news is Schneider stars in The Benchwarmers, a losers-make-good sports comedy co-starring David Spade andNapoleon Dynamite's Jon Heder. The bad news? You're a Rob Schneider fan.


    Free Zone
    April 7

    Now infamous for the controversy that attended Natalie Portman's canoodling with co-star Aki Avni near Jerusalem's Western Wall, Amos Gitai's Free Zone might be more notable as the first Israeli film shot in Jordan. The film follows a young Jewish American woman's aimless cab ride into Jordan's "free zone," with a middle-aged Israeli woman (Hanna Laszlo) at the helm.


    Friends With Money
    April 7

    Writer-director Nicole Holofcener's first film in five years sports a veritable Murderers' Row of indie actresses: Joan Cusack, Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand, and, batting cleanup, Jennifer Aniston, as the sole directionless single among a group of married, successful friends.


    Lucky You
    April 7

    From Eminem (8 Mile) to chicks 'n' heels (In Her Shoes) to his latest, a drama set in the world of high-stakes poker, Curtis Hanson continues his quest to be the most desultory director in Hollywood. Eric Bana stars as an emotionally troubled professional gambler who bumps into his estranged dad (Robert Duvall) at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Awkward!


    Take the Lead
    April 7

    The still caliente Antonio Banderas stars in this twice-told tale (featured in last year's documentary Mad Hot Ballroom) about a dancer who teaches ballroom to NYC students. This time around, the kids have been changed from 11 year olds to teenagers (to up the sex factor, presumably) and the teacher changed from French to Spanish (ditto).


    Hard Candy
    April 14

    With a titular euphemism that only a pedophile could love, music video director David Slade makes his foray into the arena of the full-length feature, naturally with a thriller about a thirtysomething trolling for teens on the Internet. Concession stand sales of "Tiny Tarts" should plummet.


    Look Both Ways
    April 14

    Veteran animator Sarah Watt has been making her hand-painted shorts for 15 years, but this part-live-action, part-animated dramedy about love and death in contemporary Australia is her feature debut. Train crashes, surprise pregnancies, testicular cancer, and man-eating sharks abound, but none is more traumatic than love.


    The Notorious Bettie Page
    April 14

    Before she was enshrined as a national treasure at Hot Topics all over this great land, Bettie Page was a scandalous pinup model, the topic (hot, or otherwise) of this new biopic by director Mary Harron (American Psycho).


    Scary Movie 4
    April 14

    Airplane! and Top Secret! director David Zucker took over for the Wayans Brothers with the series' third installment and, for this entry, he reteams with old writing partner Jim Abrahams for this first time since 1988's The Naked Gun. This horror spoof also introduces a new comedy team to rival greats like Abbott and Costello and Martin and Lewis: Dr. Phil and Shaq.


    American Dreamz
    April 21

    Writer-director Paul Weitz follows his underrated corporate culture comedy In Good Company with an even more ambitious social satire, in which a dim-witted President of the United States (Dennis Quaid) looks to up his approval ratings by appearing as a guest judge on the titular (and blatantly American Idol–like) television singing competition.


    The Sentinel
    April 21

    In a movie that was almost certainly pitched as In the Line of Fire meets The Fugitive, Michael Douglas does his best Clint Eastwood as a loyal Secret Service agent framed for a crime he didn't commit, while Kiefer Sutherland is the Tommy Lee Jones forced to track him down when he cheeses it and goes on the lam.


    Wassup Rockers
    April 21

    Kids, get those fake ID's ready for your local art house: Larry Clark's back. In truth, the word from the Toronto FF (where Rockers premiered) is that Clark scaled back his characteristically icky kiddie-porn tendencies and crafted a heartfelt mash note to iconoclastic South Central Latino teens who skew punk rather than G-funk.


    Art School Confidential
    April 28

    In this highlight of the spring, Ghost World collaborators Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes reunite for a hilariously brutal excoriation of the art world. The standout among the thoroughly superb ensemble is John Malkovich, who plays a mealymouthed art professor who's spent decades refining his circular (i.e., he draws circles) technique.


    Clean
    April 28

    Olivier Assayas's new film finds the Irma Vep director reunited with his ex-wife and Vep vixen Maggie Cheung in a story of drugs, rock 'n' roll and redemption. Cheung gives a potent performance as a Courtney Love–like widow struggling to get clean and a surprisingly not-deranged Nick Nolte plays her conflicted father-in-law.


    Flight 93
    April 28

    This real-time account of the events on the only plane hijacked on 9-11 that didn't reach its intended target comes from Brit Paul Greengrass, who has made several docudramas and one of the smartest American action films in recent memory, The Bourne Supremacy.


    Changing Times
    May 5

    Resisting the temptation to find the latest nubile French ingenue, match her with a rakish, undiscovered garçon, strip them down, and let them frolic among the hyacinths, André Téchiné reunites Gérard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve for the seventh time, with Depardieu's character looking to rekindle a 30-year-old romance with a now married Deneuve.


    Mission: Impossible III
    May 5

    Is it a new movie or the code name of Tom Cruise's publicists' attempts to alleviate his dude-is-crazy persona? Probably both, but if anything can revitalize this stalled franchise it's the writing and direction of J.J. Abrams, whose Alias is probably the best spy show on television since the original Mission: Impossible.


    The Proposition
    May 5

    Nick Cave and longtime cinematic collaborator John Hillcoat reunite for this grisly tale of outback outlaws that's straight out of Cave's Murder Ballads. The full-throated troubadour pens and scores this sun-soaked horse opera about two barbarous brothers (Guy Pearce and Danny Huston) pitted against each other in the Australian badlands by lawman Ray Winstone.


    Wah-Wah
    May 5

    Richard E. Grant, character actor and author of the hilarious memoir With Nails, makes his debut as writer-director with an autobiographical drama that deals with divorce, alcoholism, and Swaziland gaining its independence from England. Could be good, if Grant paid attention while on set with Scorsese, Coppola, or Altman.


    Goal!
    May 12

    With the fake World Cup a foregone conclusion (Dominican Republic wins every game in the "World Baseball Classic" by 843 runs, watch), real sports fans will be hankering for some cinematic excitement before the real deal in June. The dream of a movie about soccer better that Stallone's Victory begins here, or maybe with Arsenal striker Thierry Henry's cameo in Spike Lee's Inside Man.


    Just My Luck May 12

    After a year that found Lindsay Lohan battling allegations of drug use and bulimia, the actress selected the role of a woman who finds her lifelong string of great luck broken after a single kiss. Wilmer Valderrama, you have a lot to answer for.


    Poseidon May 12

    No stranger to boat movies, Wolfgang Petersen floats this remake of the 1972 disaster "classic" about a capsized cruise ship. Josh Lucas and Kurt Russell are no Hackman and Borgnine, but the cast does boast the auspicious return of Richard Dreyfuss.


    The Da Vinci Code
    May 19

    If you need us to tell you what this one is about, you've been secluded in a cave for the last three years (or you're dead, in which case, you're not reading this). If you have been living in exile recently, you're probably also wondering what happened to Tom Hanks's hair. Your guess is as good as ours.


    See No Evil
    May 19

    Kane is the latest professional wrestler to follow Hulk Hogan and the Rock to Hollywood, in this Saw-ish slasher from the gorehounds at Lions Gate. Keep your fingers crossed for an Undertaker cameo.


    X-Men: The Last Stand
    May 26

    With Bryan Singer, the director of the first two X-stallments, busy with Superman Returns, this comic book series soldiers on with Brett Ratner at the helm. Kelsey Grammer joins the cast as Beast, a brilliant and acrobatic mutant with even worse hair than Halle Berry's Storm.

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