Tonight Spectacle pays tribute to the late, prolific film theorist Kim Jong-Il, a curious omission from this year’s Oscar telecast “In Memoriam” montage. A Night of Juche Cinema features Jim Finn‘s deadpan, heady, semi-non-fiction film The Juche Idea along with a program of DPRK shorts at 7:30, which will be followed at 9:30 by Urban Girl Comes to Get Married, an avowed favorite of the dear departed Leader.
However jaded one’s expectations may be of the actual hand an authoritarian leader has in works ascribed to him, Kim Jong-Il is by all accounts a legendary cinephile who did in fact author the volumes of film criticism published under his byline. Perhaps most famously, at one point he had successfully launched a complicated and nefarious plot to kidnap South Korea’s leading film artist and his estranged wife. After their forced ceremonial remarriage to commemorate Kim Il Sung’s birthday, Kim Jong-Il put the pair to work as his personal film watching companions and critical sounding boards. When Shin Sang-ok escaped nearly a decade later, he described Kim Jong-Il’s personal film library of 15,000 international titles filling the entirety of a three-story building staffed by 250 employees.
This kidnapping is the loose basis for The Juche Idea, which is, in the most general sense, a mockumentary of sorts about a South Korean video artist undergoing a residency in the North. One sees footage of the artist at work on a communal farm, studying North Korean and creating her own work; the film is on some level a pastiche of these convincingly fictive components. The artist engages directly with the concept of juche, a particularly North Korean form of Marxism-Leninism generally revolving around the idea of total, homegrown self-reliance; in the senior Kim Il Sung’s words: “having the attitude of master toward revolution and construction in one’s own country . . . refraining from dependence on others . . . using your own brains, believing your own strength and displaying the revolutionary spirit of self-reliance, and thus solving your own problems for yourself on your own responsibility under all circumstances.” Initially working as department director of propaganda and agitation, the young Kim Jong Il institute wide-sweeping reforms in the North Korean film industry, mandating artists avoid both art-for-arts sake on one extreme and stiff, dogmatic films that neglect form and artistry on the other. Aiming to surpass the technical and artistic standards of Moscow, he weeded out potential counter-revolutionaries, destroyed the notes of previous annual filmmakers’ conventions, and organized workshops for the studies of Kim Il Sung’s theories of juche culture. He then actively encouraged people to emulate the heroes from films: “Day after day, leading characters in the works of art become real in each factory and each workshop,” he wrote.
Hence Urban Girl Comes to Get Married‘s alternately sweet melodrama, lavish set-pieces alternated with blatantly propagandistic social realism. Total Cinema, for Kim Jong-Il, isn’t simply a matter of telling stories through consummate cinematic technique, but furthermore encompassing every dramatic and ideological possibility. One gets the sense of the lovingly aspirational, we-can-do-it-team, bootstraps appeal of something like the DIY Hollywood remakes of Be Kind Rewind if all movies were mushed into one and directed by a deluded maniac who understands so much, yet so little, about Marxism and Cinema alike. Strangely, the metaphors open in unexpected ways, and the intended messages can nearly always be read as the exact opposite. It’s as if there’s a latent, sub-conscious self-criticism embedded in all the films the micro-managing Kim Jong-Il lorded over. In aspiring to make each film all things to all people, and alternately proudly insular as well as pretending to the artistic achievements of great Russian filmmakers and the magic of Hollywood, North Korean film is a singularly baffling, enrapturing, inspiring and unsettling. It’s this legacy, and the films it produced, upon which The Juche Idea is founded. In any case—this will be an unmissable night at the movies.
- The Last Days of Disco (Whit Stillman). Details. Q&A with Stillman, Dunham and Chris Eigeman at 6:50 show. 35mm. 1998. 113 min. 4:30, 6:50 and 9:30 pm.
- Palombella Rossa. Details. 35mm. 1989. 89 min. 7:00 pm.
- Bianca. Details. 35mm. 1984. 96 min. 9:00 pm.
- Hu Enigma (Pedro Urano). Q&A follows. 2011. 72 min. 7:30 pm.
- Tatsumi (Eric Khoo). Details. 2011. 94 min. 4:00 pm.
- Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman). Details. Stillman in attendance for introduction. 2011. 99 min. 7:00 pm.
- The Juche Idea (Jim Finn) with DPRK Shorts. 2010. 92 min. 7:30 pm.
- Urban Girl Comes to Get Married and DPRK Shorts. 1994. 80+ min. 9:30 pm.
- Los Angeles Plays Itself. Details. Beta SP. 2003. 169 min. Noon.
- Get Out of the Car. 16mm. 2010. 35 min. 4:00 and 5:00 pm.
The Good Fairy (William Wyler) at 92YTribeca. Details. The Daily Show’s Elliott Kalan, John Hodgman and Kristen Schaal in attendance for discussion. 35mm. 1935. 98 min. 7:30 pm.
Taylor Mead: On Film, In Person at Anthology Film Archives. Details. Work by Robert Wade Chatterton and Vernon Zimmerman. 1961-1962. 16mm. 90 min. 7:30 pm.
P. Adams Sitney Lecture: “Markopoulos’ Vision” at The Center for Humanities, CUNY Grad Center. Details. 6:30 pm.
Last Tango in Paris (Bernardo Bertolucci) at Film Society of Lincoln Center. Details. Alec Baldwin and James Toback in attendance (?). 35mm. 1972. 136 min. 6:15 pm.
A Little Closer (Matthew Petock) at Film Society of Lincoln Center. Details. Q&A with Petock, producer Zachary Shedd and cast members Sayra Player, Eric Baskerville, Chris Kies and Natalie Racoosin moderated by Ted Hope. Digital. 2011. 72 min. 8:00 pm.
The Lawless (Joseph Losey) at MoMA. Details. 1950. 81 min. 1:30 pm.
The Ruggles of Red Gap (Leo McCarey) at Film Forum. Details. 35mm. 1935. 92 min. 1:30, 3:30, 5:30, 7:30 and 9:30 pm.
The Island President (Jon Shenk) at Film Forum. Details. 2011. 101 min. 1:15, 3:15, 5:30, 7:50 and 10:00 pm.
Gerhard Richter Painting (Corinna Belz) at Film Forum. Details. 2011. 94 min. 1:00, 6:10 and 10:15 pm.
A Separation (Asghar Farhadi) at Film Forum. Details. 2011. 122 min. 3:00 and 8:00 pm.
- Shumona Goel & Shai heredia “I am micro” at The Guggenheim Museum, Upper East Side. Closed Thursdays. $18 general/$15 students and seniors/Children free. Free Saturdays 5:45 to 7:45 pm. Ends June 6.
- Media Lounge and Contemporary Galleries: 1980-Now at MoMA, Midtown. $20 general/$12 students/$16 seniors. Closed Tuesday/Wednesday. Ongoing.
- Mark Boulos “Projects 97” at MoMA, Midtown. $20 general/$12 students/$16 seniors. Closed Tuesday/Wednesday. Through July 16.
- “9 Scripts from a Nation at War” at MoMA, Midtown. Work by Andrea Geyer, Sharon Hayes, Ashley Hunt, Katya Sander and David Thorne. $20 general/$12 students/$16 seniors. Closed Tuesday/Wednesday. Through August 6.
- Frances Stark “My Best Thing” at MoMA P.S.1, Queens. $10 general/$5 students/$5 seniors. Closed Tuesday/Wednesday. Through April.
- Rania Stephan at MoMA P.S.1, Queens. $10 general/$5 students/$5 seniors. Closed Tuesday/Wednesday. Through April.
- Chim↑Pom at MoMA P.S.1, Queens. $10 general/$5 students/$5 seniors. Closed Tuesday/Wednesday. Through April 23.
- Clifford Owens “Anthology” at MoMA P.S.1, Queens. $10 general/$5 students/$5 seniors. Closed Tuesday/Wednesday. Through May 7.
- Julika Rudelius “What is on the Outside” at The Museum of Arts and Design, Columbus Circle. $15 general/$12 students and seniors. Open 7 days a week. Through July 5.
- Neil Goldberg “Stories the City Tells Itself” at Museum of the City of New York, Upper West Side. $10 general/$6 students and seniors. Open 7 days a week. Ends May 28.
- View all exhibitions at Museum of the Moving Image, Astoria, Queens. $12 general/$9 students and seniors/$6 ages 3 to 18. Free admission Friday 4-8 pm. Closed Monday.
- Whitney Biennial 2012 at The Whitney Museum. See screening schedule above. Ends May 27.
Below listed North-South
- David Lynch at Tilton Gallery, 8 East 76 Street. Open Tues-Sat 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Ends April 14.
- Notations: The Cage Effect Today at Hunter College Times Square Gallery, 450 West 41 Street. Open Tues-Sat 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm. Ends April 21.
- Beryl Korot “Selected Video Works: 1977 to Present” at bitforms gallery nyc, 529 West 20 Street. Open Tues-Sat 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. Ends May 5.
- Shannon Plumb & Marianna Rothen “Last Seduction” at Hendershot Gallery, 195 Chrystie Street. Open Tues-Sun 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. Ends May 3.
- Oded Hirsch “Nothing New” at Thierry Goldberg, 103 Norfolk Street. Open Wed-Sun, 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. Ends April 15.
- Jenny Perlin “Funes” at Simon Preston Gallery, 301 Broome Street. Open Wed-Sun, 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. Ends April 15.
- “Radical Localism: Art, Video and Culture from Pueblo Nuevo’s Mexicali Rose” at Artists Space. Curated by Chris Kraus and Mexicali Rose with Artists Space. Open Wed to Sun Noon to 6:00 pm. Ends May 27.
- Frank Heath “Post Holes” at Simone Subal, 131 Bowery, 2nd Floor. “Graffiti Report Form” begins on the hour. Open Wed to Sun Noon to 6:00 pm. Ends April 26.
- FG.Ft at Envoy Enterprises, 131 Chrystie Street. Open Wednesday-Sunday Noon to 6:00 pm. Ends April 8.
- Mary Ellen Carroll “Federal, State, Country and City” at Third Streaming, 10 Greene St. Open Wed-Sat Noon to 6:00 pm. Ends May 19.
- Adam Curits “The Desperate Edge of Now” at e-flux, 311 East Broadway 10002. Open Tue-Fri 1:00 to 6:00 pm. Ends April 14.