Rushes: Biennial | Gehr | Sternberg

5.March.2012: The 2012 Whitney Biennial opened last week with a strong notice from Roberta Smith in The New York Times, who singled out the exhibition’s film and video program in her review, citing Frederick Wiseman’s Boxing Gym and Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself as two of the show’s major works (though her description of Wiseman’s film as an “excursion into unnarrated documentary” makes you wonder if she’s seen any of his other films). Biennial curators Elisabeth Sussman and Jay Sanders teamed with Light Industry curators Thomas Beard and Ed Halter on cinema-related programming, and WNYC spoke with Beard and Halter about their choices last week. Tom McCormack surveys the Biennial’s avant-garde offerings in his preview for Alt Screen before drawing attention to the Occupy Wall Street subset Arts & Labor’s open letter objecting to the Whitney’s perpetuation the art market. “If the people in charge at the Whitney can’t be bothered to notice the protesters standing outside the Biennial,” McCormack writes, “they should check out the Luther Price films upstairs, as to reminded of an important fact about which they seem oblivious: nothing lasts forever.”

Avant-garde filmmaker Ernie Gehr, who’s teaching at Harvard this term, will be at the Harvard Film Archive tonight to present early films from his own private collection. The Making Light of It blog recently collected several documents pertaining to Gehr’s work, including J. Hoberman’s 1979 essay, “Ernie Gehr’s Geography.”

Also in Boston tonight, Viggo Mortensen will be awarded this year’s Coolidge Award at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. Peter Keough interviews Mortensen for The Boston Phoenix, asking the actor if after playing Sigmund Freud in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method he thinks that “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” “I think a cigar is always a cigar,” the actor responds.” Just like a gun is always a gun. But all kinds of things can happen with cigars and guns. Sometimes a cigar tastes terrible and sometimes it tastes great.”

Peter Knegt reports for Indiewire that among various post-Oscar box office boosts, A Separation’s stands out with weekend grosses of over a million dollars: “The uptick is the highest for any foreign language film winner in recent memory, and suggests A Separation could be headed for a final gross well beyond any sort of expectation.”

Dave Kehr opens his Times column Turner Classic Movies’ new double-DVD set of Dishonored and Shanghai Express by extolling the Josef von Sternberg-Marlene Dietrich collaboration: “The seven films in which Josef von Sternberg directed [Dietrich] constitute one of the most dazzling runs of creativity in the history of the movies.” But then he sets in with his brief: “In an ideal world the von Sternberg-Dietrich films would all be available in impeccably restored prints, transferred to Blu-ray and offered with an anthology of some of the extensive critical writing they have inspired over the years. But in this world they have been released haphazardly and even carelessly.” He describes the TCM transfers as acceptable but not superlative (“what these extraordinary light paintings merit”) and bemoans lost footage from Shanghai Express. “It’s one thing to skimp on restoration budgets during these difficult times for home video,” Kehr writes, “but to sell an incomplete film simply seems negligent.”

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