Best Of

Best New York City Documentary


No portrait of New York captures both the majesty and the sorrow of the city quite like Chantal Akerman’s News From Home, which she shot in the summer of 1976, the year after the premiere of her epochal anti-melodrama Jeanne Dielman. As we listen to the ambient cacophony of the metropolis and an off-screen Akerman reading aloud from letters sent by her mother from Brussels during the filmmaker’s first stay in Manhattan, from 1971 to ’72, we luxuriate in the long takes of the meatpacking district, Tribeca, and Hell’s Kitchen, shown here decades before their gentrification. As Akerman mère‘s dispatches grow needier and more importunate, the camera rests on the fantastic choreography unfolding at the Times Square subway station: bodies, resplendent in Bicentennial summer ready-to-wear, exiting and entering the graffiti-bombed trains. Akerman, who committed suicide at age 65 last fall, ends her contemplation of Gotham with a foreboding shot of the World Trade Center enshrouded in mist and fog. It’s the perfect conclusion to this extraordinary archive of the city — as distant and strange to us now as it must have seemed to a penniless young European filmmaker who came to New York guided solely by this conviction: “I had a strange but realistic feeling that things were happening here.” 

Available on Chantal Akerman in the Seventies from the Criterion Collection’s Eclipse series, and streaming on Hulu Plus