Photo: Kelly Akashi, "Feel Me" (detail) / KYLE KNODELL
There is an eerie loveliness, a troubled elegance, to the work of Los Angeles–based artist Kelly Akashi. Insides and outsides are defined, then confused; materials behave as themselves, then pose as something else; objects look familiar, but perform strangely. In other words, she’s a sculptor in the classic California tradition that celebrates eccentricity as a kind of instinctive intelligence. (Akashi completed her MFA at the University of Southern California in 2014; her BFA at Otis College of Art and Design in 2006.) An exhibition at SculptureCenter, her first solo institutional show, is formally tight, conceptually brainy, and materially astute — not to mention appealingly weird.
Philadelphia-based rapper Lil Uzi Vert skyrocketed to fame off his hit “XO TOUR Llif3,” which featured the nihilistic chorus “Push me to the edge/All my friends are dead.” In the two years of his short career, Uzi has become a reference point for a new generation of Soundcloud kids, who are drawn to his dark subject matter and unique delivery. This is the first of his two nights at Terminal 5 with similarly hot young rapper Playboi Carti. The next Lil Uzi Vert will almost certainly be in the audience.
Photo: Kino Lorber / Photofest
Jonas Mekas needs about as much introduction in these pages as George Martin needs to be explained during a radio block of the Beatles. His association with just about every major figure of American and European avant-garde cinema during the 20th century — the dual professional-social character of his polyvalent network with these titans — makes him a walking superbrain of a cinema that was, even in the early ’60s, still an infant form. If that isn’t enough, Mekas’s own films are as good as anyone’s, and unlike everyone’s. His landmark Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (1971) mixes thoughts and images of Mekas’s birthplace with present-day observations collected in New York and Vienna. The film’s style — a home-movie deluge of jittery impatience, imitating the sensation of one’s mind grabbing at memories as they drift away — coupled with his diaristic musings, gives the feeling of a movie being reinvented every few frames. (Fans of The Tree of Life will have a running start.) Quicksilvery and undemonstrative, Reminiscences comes across like a series of idle sketches, but it’s an engrossing, enthralling trip.
—Jaime N. Christley
Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point (1970) looks at an America in the throes of upheaval. Today, it feels like a monumental film, one that expertly captures the surreal chaos of America in the 1960s with scenes of revolutionary meetings, police crackdowns, Death Valley orgies, and that sublime, unforgettable climax — in which the eye-popping detonation of an elegant mountain home is replayed and replayed and eventually replaced by the slow-motion explosion of all sorts of material goods, from refrigerators to clothing racks to TVs to books. There’s something primordial about Zabriskie Point and its resistance to narrative and dialogue and character, suggesting the death of a civilization but also perhaps the beginnings of one — year zero in movie form. Antonioni sees both the terror and grandeur of this destruction and rebirth. And, as always, he presents it to us in a way that indulges its infinite beauties and meanings.
The first of two stand-out shows during Ches Smith’s Stone residency (December 19–23) features the drummer-percussionist’s understatedly intense trio with Craig Taborn (piano) and Mat Maneri (viola), who joined him last year on The Bell for the (understatedly intense) ECM label. Smith, who’s somewhat better-known as a whip-smart avant-basher for the likes of guitarist Mary Halvorson and saxophonist Tim Berne, has also been studying Haitian Vodou music and culture for the past fifteen years. At the Friday show he unveils We All Break, a fiery new quartet in which Smith’s drums serve as bridge between a pair of traditional Vodou drummers (Daniel Brevil and Markus Schwartz) and pianist Matt Mitchell, who fully exploits his instrument’s percussive potential. Their music is conversational, polyrhythmically intense, and, when you think about it, long overdue.
Photo: Katherine Liberovskaya
At age 84, minimalist composer and filmmaker Phill Niblock maintains a relatively hectic schedule producing music and images motivated by the notion of extending time. His annual Winter Solstice concert will blanket Roulette in six hours of very slow, dense, and microtonally calibrated sound clouds, along with videos projected onto three screens for nearly total immersion. In the past, Niblock’s looping images have often documented work: shoe-making, butchering, logging, carpentry, and so on. Whatever minimal tension arises derives from the contradiction inherent in soaking leisurely in a warm sonic bath while contemplating the labor of others. Niblock’s more recent videos, however, omit people and movement entirely, and instead stretch out images to several times their original duration.
Following the Second World War, American interest in life across the Atlantic (coupled with generous tax breaks and poorly regulated unions) inspired dozens of Hollywood filmmakers to pack their bags and set up shop at Cinecittà Studios in Rome. Film Forum’s “Roman Hollywood” celebrates this particular era of co-production, in which ancient architecture and landscapes butted up against the faces of unmatched screen stars — whether Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday or Italian icons like Gina Lollobrigida in Beat the Devil. The focus on glitz and glamour of Europe soon morphed into the historical epics on the order Ben-Hur, complete with gargantuan sets and even bigger personalities, but the genre was later almost entirely sunk by the colossus Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Film Forum’s series then ventures on forward to demonstrate how the age of auteurism has continued the tradition, with Italian-American filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola embarking on their own Roman adventures in later years.
It began with “Freestyle,” back in 2001. Since then, every few years the Studio Museum in Harlem has held a series of influential exhibitions that are specifically intended to bring a fresh crop of noteworthy Black American artists to the attention of a broad audience. An alliterative conceit binds together what have become known as the “F shows”: “Frequency” in 2005, “Flow” in 2008, “Fore” in 2012. Now, the museum has decided the climate is right to release a new batch of talent from the continual prospecting that is part of its mission. “Fictions,” featuring work by nineteen artists from around the country, and with a strong proportion of installation and work in unorthodox materials, began in September and runs through early January.
Photo: My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) / Mike Laye / Channel Four Films / Photofest
What is the star persona of Daniel Day-Lewis, an actor, we’re told repeatedly, who “disappears” into his parts? Maybe it’s not so much an onscreen persona as it is a professional one — that of the daring, profoundly accomplished, go-for-broke actor. And yet, I’d argue that something revealing does come through in his performances, a unified sense of the man beneath the mask. That might even be his essence: He’s not afraid to jar us, and to reveal the process to a degree. For all his prodigious talent, what comes across most when we watch his performances is the effort he puts into them. He doesn’t just do the work; he shows us the work. Watching him — as you can at the Quad’s ten-day, fifteen-film series “All or Nothing: The Fearless Performances of Daniel Day-Lewis” — can be exhausting, and exhilarating.
Photo: Lev Radin
Michelle Dorrance, a world-class North Carolina hoofer with sharp elbows and skinny legs, was granted a MacArthur “genius” award in 2015. She holds down the holiday season at the Joyce with her fascinating and diverse tap ensemble, performing two dances. The program opens with the world premiere of Until the Real Thing Comes Along (a letter to ourselves), which features improvisatory turns by guest artists Jillian Meyers, Melinda Sullivan, and Josette Wiggan. Also on view is a reworking of her two-year-old Myelination, made in collaboration with her dancers and Ephrat “Bounce” and Asherie and Matthew “Megawatt” West. The latter, first seen at the 2015 Fall for Dance festival and now 45 minutes long, has original music by her brother Donovan Dorrance, Gregory Richardson, and soul vocalist Aaron Marcellus.