In New York Today, Seattle This Spring

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Birdsong, and Examined Life, two films opening today in New York will make their Seattle premieres April 24th at Northwest Film Forum.

From David Hudson at IFC’s The Daily

On Birdsong

“‘Birdsong‘ (‘El Cant dels Ocells‘), a lovely and strange new film by the Catalan director Albert Serra, is less a retelling of the Nativity story than a dream about it, filtered in lovely black and white through a sensibility that recalls Luis Buñuel and Samuel Beckett.” AO Scott in the New York Times.

“An intractable practitioner of droll minimalism, Serra is somewhat more absurdist than such fellow film-fest uncompromisers as Portugal’s Pedro Costa or Argentina’s Lisandro Alonso,” writes in the Voice. “Or, perhaps, as ‘Birdsong’ is a mechanism built to ensure that the spectators share the protagonists’ faith, he’s more religious. Shot in rich, almost gorgeous black-and-white, ‘Birdsong’ is less about the gifts of the magi than the play of light over barren, nearly lunar, landscapes.”

You might also want to see (or revisit) Robert Koehler‘s review for Cinema Scope, the magazine edited by Mark Peranson, who appears in “Birdsong” and who has made “a kind of experimental ‘making of'” called “Waiting for Sancho.”

Opens today for a week-long run at Anthology Film Archives in New York.

And Examined Life

Examined Life” is “very much a follow-up to Astra Taylor‘s ‘Zizek!,’ a 2005 documentary that allowed the Lacanian cultural theorist to hold forth on a variety of topics,” writes Louis Proyect, self-described “Unrepentant Marxist” and no fan of Slavoj Zizek, nor, for that matter, the other seven philosophers featured in the doc: “Despite the underwhelming character of their reflections, I have nothing but admiration for Taylor’s movie-making skills and urge others to see the movie, whatever their feelings about ‘theory’ and its postmodernist abuses.”

“Taylor’s emphasis is on moral philosophy and, although her film’s structure is not exactly dialectical, it’s been assembled so that, without ever meeting face-to-face, the philosophers appear to critique each other’s ideas.” J Hoberman in the Voice: “Thus, after [Cornel] West convenes the symposium by invoking Socrates‘ defense of self-reflection (‘The unexamined life is not worth living’), [Avital] Ronell pops up to interrogate the nature of self-reflection, questioning the filmmaker as to the nature of her project and slyly invoking Heidegger‘s ‘path to nowhere’ as she strides purposefully through a Manhattan park as filled with layabouts as any Greek agora.”

Peter Singer, responding to the luxury emporiums of Fifth Avenue, riffs on how we spend money and, ultimately, on his signature topic of animal rights,” notes Arthur C Danto in Artforum. “Slavoj Zizek, in an orange vest, declaims, in a London dump, that ecology is garbage. Michael Hardt cannot help smirking in his skiff as he paddles about a Central Park lake, ringed by luxury condominiums, talking about revolution.”

“Part of the fun of ‘Examined Life’ comes from watching these very intelligent people try to make themselves intelligible,” writes AO Scott. “And the movie is fun, within certain limits. For some reason, Ms Taylor has drawn her subjects from a narrow intellectual precinct, where the work of philosophical speculation and the agendas of progressive politics are assumed to be congruent.”
Examined Life
Also in the New York Times, Dennis Lim talks with Taylor about the moment it “occurred to her that her talking heads should walk and talk. She had just read ‘Wanderlust,’ a discursive study of the history of walking by Rebecca Solnit, and was reminded of the figure of the peripatetic philosopher, from Aristotle (who paced the Lyceum while teaching) to Kierkegaard (a proponent of thinking while walking, which he frequently did in the Copenhagen streets) to Walter Benjamin (the embodiment of the Paris flâneur). She realized that putting her subjects in motion would elicit a different kind of interview than if they were seated behind their desks in offices. This conceit became a guiding principle for a film that would attempt to take philosophy out of the ivory tower and affirm its place in the flux of everyday life.”

“Early on, Martha Nussbaum discusses the oft-ignored concept of physical disability and impairment and how when we discuss these issues, we don’t factor these limitations into the equation,” writes Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail. “Later, we meet the wheelchair-bound Sunaura Taylor and acclaimed professor and author Judith Butler as they go for a ‘walk’ and shop. Watching Taylor go through the exhausting process of trying on a sweater and then buying it is a welcome punch to the gut. As she explains to the cashier that she must be handed the bills and coins separately, this one scene doesn’t just work as a visceral representation of Nussbaum’s point. It brings a sobering reality to the entire film.”

“When Taylor and I met up over coffee in Williamsburg, Brooklyn,” notes Aaron Hillis, introducing his interview for IFC, “we discussed the possibility of chatting in the car in which West was filmed, but it was unfortunately being used to sing in by her husband, Jeff Mangum (reclusive frontman of the influential 90s indie-pop band Neutral Milk Hotel), who also contributed some sounds to the film’s score.

And for Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with her “about the challenges of making philosophy cinematic, following in Ari Folman‘s footsteps at Hot Docs, and why she always skips the previews at movies.”

Slant is having server problems at the moment, but when it comes back up again, you’ll find a review by Andrew Schenker.

“Examined Life” opens at the IFC Center tonight; Taylor will be on hand along with Avital Ronell. Tomorrow night, she’ll be accompanied by Kwame Anthony Appiah and on March 5 by Cornel West. Then the film begins its tour across the country; see the Zeitgeist Films site for cities and dates.

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