Credit: Signature Entertainment

If box-office receipts are anything to go by, we are living in the post-theatrical world. One can watch the vast majority of the year’s films, notable or not, online and perfectly legally. The question of where film conversation should exist is a pertinent one for those who are preoccupied with the ongoing existence of the medium. But it is rarely a happy one. Physical spaces are often institutionalised and dominated by cliques. The myth of a friendly cinema will be laughed at by film-going heretics who see through the grift of the post-film Q&A. The cinephile turns then, to online, where one can share undeveloped thoughts alongside copyrighted images, and feel like the film is a part of the self, a personality trait. In this way Twitter’s dominance as a pithy melting pot was rattled when Elon Musk purchased the site. At least the shady Saudi firm that he bought it from had been quiet. 

Musk has sold himself as a visionary, but we suspect he doesn’t care for cinema. Images soar at us, like dreams they say. Senses stimulated. Film criticism, in its efforts to make sense of what the writer has witnessed, is often an act of hope. But on the timeline, that hope is often drained by ignorance or hatred. It can be reduced to a list.

I was going to write this introduction anyway, and then the list dropped. Following Sight & Sound magazine’s once-a-decade poll of the greatest, the onslaught of whether Jeanne Dielmann is woke, contrarian, or erasing history gave way to something even more numbing: the ballots. A top ten list is a cry for recognition. A data cache of a person’s momentary thoughts on the day they wrote it. It was interesting to see the humble top ten list swallowed into ‘S&S list but for Westerns/Albums/Books’. One must hand it to Britain’s leading film magazine, they’ve got the brand on lock. The most interesting thing about lists, as we all know, is what they leave off. But the notional effort to combat exclusion leads to an overabundance. Brevity is king, but it runs the risk of usurpation by the glib. The low stakes of Twitter are fine when your timeline shares the dream – otherwise, you’re fried.  

With our final 2022 volume, Cinema Year Zero turns those dreams into wishes for the future, in an effort to keep the dream alive, and to feel cosy through the holidays. Our contributors have each chosen an aspect of film and cinema culture that they would like to see change in the coming year. Some of these essays search for a nostalgic and utopic whole. Some point to incremental change. Others still ask for the world. Our 2022 poll is canon. 

In this issue:

Esmé Holden explores how the precision of Minnelli’s mise-en-scène creates a platonic formula for nostalgia in Meet Me in St. Louis.

Kirsty Asher’s Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World retrospective calls for a blockbuster cycle driven by physical production and visionary leaders. 

Nadira Begum points out the dearth of stars that can move mountains, and argues that the resurrection of the romantic-comedy from the streaming dustbin is the only way to save an actor’s face: beautiful, huge.  

Digby Houghton wades through the mire of ‘awards season’ to ask if there is any room for the mid-budget drama amongst the streaming and blockbuster landscape of American film.  

Orla Smith casts an eye across the current state of UK film production and distribution, to ask how the humble emerging filmmaker can get their foot in the door. 

Cathy Brennan turns the attention back onto the critics: why do we watch the films we do, and what happens to the films we don’t? 

2022 Poll and Ballots

Meet Me in St. Louis

Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Don’t Tell Me The Light Are Shining Any Place But There

Esmé Holden

To me, there is no warmer, more cosy genre than the musical, especially ones from the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood. The technical perfection cleaning off all the rough edges and open artifice of the performances, both in the style of acting and the fact they start singing, create a sense of familiarity and distance; a kind of nostalgia. That’s why Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and The Wizard of Oz (1938) feel like Christmas films even though they really have nothing to do with the season. Because they are films from a time gone by: in the early post-war period musicals made up about a sixth of all Hollywood productions, but now they seldom produce more than two a year. Their escapism is no longer about absorbing you in, sincerity must always be diffused with self-aware humour, pointing to its artifice before the audience can. So it’s not surprising that people’s feelings bursting out into songs is seen as silly. It’s an idea that has clearly taken far too much of a hold when a film like La La Land (2016) thinks that “what if there was a Hollywood musical where the performers couldn’t sing or dance?” is an interesting question to ask. As if some added realism would offset–or at best allow–the genre’s supposed excesses, rather than neuter them with irony. At least Mamma Mia! (2008) and its sequel are straightforward in their boozy sing-along intentions. But both show that the Golden Age of musicals is awfully far away. 

Perhaps that’s what makes them more appealing, more nostalgic, but I think there is much that their warmth could bring to a time in Hollywood when textures have become so icy and cold, and fantasy has moved away from emotions and enclosed itself into unrelated universes. I think movies, in general, would be better if they were more like Meet Me in St Louis (1944), perhaps the warmest and greatest musical of its time. Before he became interested in the illusions and the irony of escapist filmmaking, Vincente Minnelli adapted Sally Benson’s sentimental short stories which look back nostalgically at the life of the Missouri-based Smith family over a year at the very beginning of the 20th century. It’s a simple and incidental film, and so the musical numbers expand the emotions of daily life, without ever feeling the urge to explode them out into melodrama. When Esther (Judy Garland) sings longingly about the boy next door (in the fittingly titled “The Boy Next Door”) she takes a moment to look in the mirror and dance with herself, it’s those little moments, those private joys, that the film thinks are most worth capturing. The scene is shot simply, as all the musical numbers are, mostly through the window Esther is looking out of, because Minnelli sees the lives of the women who make up the majority of the family as interesting and valuable in and of themselves. 

In another scene, Garland is comically resisting as she’s squeezed into a corset by her sister Rose (Lucille Bremer), and the things off-screen that we have to ignore become all too obvious. Garland is sparkling and brilliant in the film, but she had a terrible time making it, or at least while making it. According to the daily production reports, she was chronically late and occasionally didn’t show up at all, when on set she would delay shooting for any number of reasons. As insecure as she was about her juvenile screen persona, she struggled to see herself as a leading lady next to all the women she had been told were much more beautiful than her, MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer called her his “little hunchback”. Maybe some of that insecurity bleeds into the performance, into the way that Esther is desperate to grow up, imitating the kind of way an adult talks, even though underneath she’s already so tender and so strong. But that feels distasteful to say. It doesn’t matter if it’s true at all because it comes far too close to justifying her cruel treatment. At first MGM forced her onto a strict diet and then gave her amphetamines to control her weight. By 1944 she was completely addicted, she had been for years. These addictions would follow her for the rest of her short life. She might have found a brief love on this set, she and Minnelli were married for six years, but ultimately, Hollywood killed her. She died of an accidental overdose at 47. 

Old Hollywood movies are designed to make you forget. They were supposed to be escapist after all. Part of what makes Minnelli so interesting is that he made his films in harmony with the system, rather than in opposition to it: in his films art and escapism seem harmonious, even though the studio’s factory line production methods should stand between them. His style is elegant and decorative, but fundamentally simple: he moves the camera as little as possible so that the meaning, the emotion it’s trying to create, is felt but not quite seen. It makes those feelings seem bigger and like they are a totally natural response, rather than something you’re being told, I think that’s the essence of Old Hollywood style and Minnelli was the very best at it. Even the highly specific production design of St Louis–the sets cost $497,000 of the 1.5 million budget–work in a similar way. Every detail of the Smith family’s second empire Victorian house is integrated into the movie, like when Rose is trying to have a private call with her family sitting a few feet away at the dinner table, but she has to shout down the old phone to be heard. Or, when Esther asks the boy next door, John Truett (Tom Drake), if he could help her turn down the lamps, so she can hold close to him in the fading light, the lamps become an inextricable part of the aching romance. It makes the nostalgic memories of this time and place seem like your own, you remember the little things in a way that only someone who lived with them would. 

Although both of these are a part of what makes the movie so rich and affecting, the sense of naturalness allows it to carry in other ideas quietly. Think of the scene when the family patriarch (Leon Ames) decides that the whole family is moving to New York. At first, everyone is upset and goes off to their rooms, but when he starts to sing a sentimental song with his wife (Mary Astor) at the piano, they all slowly return. It’s a moving scene perfectly executed, the slow build from the bare sound of just voice and piano to the warm hum of everyone together again, silently forgiving and returning to normal. But nothing has actually changed, the Father’s unfair and arbitrary use of his patriarchal authority still stands. Nostalgia smudges memories, and it softens them. Escapism makes us look away entirely. So perhaps this genre which embodies these things the most, even in a period so defined by them, only serves to convince us to go back downstairs and listen to our father’s voice. 

But in many ways Meet Me in St Louis is an exception, even with the exceptional time that it was made. Though the studio system continued into the sixties, as Thomas Schatz argues in The Genius of the System (1988), the decline started as early as 1947, with the introduction of television and the Paramount Agreement amongst other things. Even within this brief boom, no musical was as incidental. Neither a back-stage story nor melodrama, it stands mostly alone. The system can only take so much credit for its exceptions and miracles, as much as it would like to. Even though its surfaces seem so perfect, it’s a complicated and contradictory film, an individual one. Its view of the future isn’t simply sadness that the beautiful past is being left behind, in fact, that sense is mostly brought on by the Father’s active decision. It’s not inevitable at all, it can be undone and is by the end of the film. The future can als be joyous, as in the opening song (“Meet Me in St Louis”) where characters young and old pine for the upcoming St Louis World’s Fair, which even in 1903 was a symbol of the future; “Don’t tell me the rights are shining any place but there” they sing. Minnelli doesn’t feel the need to bridge these contradictions, the future can simply be both. 

The modern Hollywood musical can only look back, and to these movies they don’t even take seriously; there is no world’s fair on the horizon, it sees no future for the genre. Meet Me in St Louis is as nostalgic as any of them, but it’s also looking forward, and to find a future for musicals we must follow its gaze. Now that the studio system has fallen, with its control of both production and distribution, there is much more freedom to look outside of it. Now film history doesn’t have to be so linear, we can build on films from far-reaching places and time. Western cinephiles have started to explore the huge amount of musicals coming from India, and there are no doubt other places with as deep of a well, maybe the future is already there. But to find exceptions like St Louis requires a deeper understanding of these cultures, both in terms of filmmaking and politics, which seems awfully far away. Eventually we will get there and find a new place for the musical, hopefully at a faster pace than we’ve looked so far, but until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow. 

  1. The Genius of the System by Thomas Schatz.
  2. Get Happy by Gerald Clarke (pg 82). 


Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Don’t Forget Your Old Shipmate

Kirsty Asher

Since my day job now consists of post-production work, my idealised cosiness of the industry has become more informed by the comradeship I find there. In the time of cookie-cutter blockbusters and Taika Waititi framing the failures of his own direction as gainful publicity, the days of actors and crew reminiscing about the sheer joy and creativity of a major project seems doomed to become a fleeting thing of the past. Just recently I was lucky enough to hear Ian McShane regale the audience about his times getting pissed with Ava Gardner on the Scottish borders for the filming of The Ballad of Tam-Lin (1971) at its Hallowe’en screening and Q&A. It proved a soothing antidote to clips of celebrities peeling back velcro on Google predictive searches and asking each other inane ‘would-you-rathers’ (Negroni Sbagliato obviously gets a free pass here). But the one film which I return to for that comfort of camaraderie; for what felt like the 21st century’s last grasping attempt at a major blockbuster action film made with all the finesse and dedication of a Bach cello suite is Peter Weir’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003).

Master and Commander was made with the intention of kickstarting a franchise (the original Aubrey-Maturin book series by Patrick O’Brian spans twenty novels), but Weir had always been cautious to create a cinematic adaptation, despite being a fan of and reliable authority on the books. When the production eventually took place, he decided on adapting the tenth book, The Far Side of the World (1984). The premise as adapted for screen concerns Captain “Lucky” Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) being charged with intercepting a French heavy frigate far bigger and faster than his own HMS Surprise (a real frigate which was broken up in 1802). An inter-oceanic chase begins, peppered with shanties, superstition, and stories told amongst friends and officers. The ship’s surgeon Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) offers a cerebral view of warfare which, when combined with his keen naturalist knowledge, leads to innovative tactics for capturing the bigger vessel. 

As detailed in the making-of film Behind the Seas: A Filmmaker’s Journey (2004) the deftness of Master and Commander’s production design, the rigorous immersion of the cast in the period setting, and the lengths this production went to to achieve historical accuracy was nothing short of extraordinary. Not only did they buy a replica frigate the HMS Rose at auction in Canada and make suitable adjustments, but when they realised they needed a second ship for static shots, they constructed their own HMS Surprise using the original plans kept at the Admiralty House in Whitehall since the 18th century. Weir, at this point a charismatic figurehead of filmmaking and, described in the Behind the Seas as “film’s pied piper”, constructed a boot camp for the cast, or “crew” as they were to become. With colour-coded t-shirts connoting their rank (this was actually Russell Crowe’s idea) the midshipmen and able seamen were taught the ways of cannon fire, in lessons that also acted as rehearsals for blocking the scenes. Weir also created a break room to boost morale for a cast a long way from home and family, which reflected a gentleman’s club of the early 19th century “designed for the express purpose of developing friendships and camaraderie”. While directors have often been compared to a ship’s captain, there’s no denying Weir took the notion to heart with these additions. Devoid of television, the cast were encouraged to chat and play chess or snooker, or read books. What was being crafted in Baja California under the meditative watch of Peter Weir wasn’t just a film, but a once-in-a-lifetime experience of historical immersion. The cast, from the extras playing ordinary sailors to the officer class, consented to taking part in a unique cinematic experiment. The dedication to historical accuracy, to production design brim with artisanal skill, to costumes which sealed the actors into their characters, all contributed towards a film that totally immerses the viewer into the Napoleonic era. 

Sadly, 2003 turned out to be the worst year for an Antipodean-led blockbuster to attempt both award and box office supremacy with Peter Jackson’s Return of the King looming large. Master and Commander was a stately maritime venture that came out the same year as a rollicking, deeply silly maritime adventure in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. While Return of the King won for all its nominations, Master and Commander limped home with just two wins. On a $150 million budget, it barely scraped a profit with $211 million internationally. Operating within the framework of cinema as big business and the art crafted therein as capital, it seemed at the time as if the painstaking craftwork, attention to detail and historical accuracy was little deserved. Why continue with this dated filmmaking style when the new reality of blockbuster filmmaking was on the horizon: bloated projects with misaligned budget priorities, consistent abuse of VFX workers’ rights, films and shows further destined to streaming debuts in lieu of theatre premiers, social media calcifying in the arteries of daily life leading to films and shows more frequently framed and written with a subtitled screenshot in mind.   

Yet a small but dedicated core of fans have remained loyal to the film. Like ‘Brazil mentioned’, it only takes one person posting something related to Master and Commander’s opening text “OCEANS ARE NOW BATTLEFIELDS” on Twitter for a legion of devoted fans to respond with their undying adoration for the film. The great efforts that went into crafting this dedication to the Age of Sail and its camaraderie has itself inspired a camaraderie amongst those who hold this film dear.

Concerned as we are at CYZ with being perched on the edge of history, we are nevertheless always looking forward to ask how on earth anything can progress from here. We who indulge in cinema, and by extension Film Twitter, are always concerned that juggernaut profit-machines and social media’s relentless dynamism will metastasise into a dreaded ouroboros, gorging on nostalgia and profit in a never-ending cycle. But I see reason for hope. Eschewing the Coca-Cola Christmas fantasy, I look instead to a pagan vision of winter hope for cinema’s future – that from the moment the darkest night has fallen, we have not long to await the green shoots of spring. After years of languishing in the bilge water of development, it looks as though a sequel to Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is finally in the works for those of us who have stood unfalteringly by Weir’s maligned masterpiece. Perhaps, after the unbearable glut of Marvel supremacy this will herald the return of the action-drama film, and with it the return of legendary productions that both cast and crew can take genuine pride in.

Pretty Woman

Credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Less Action, More Romance

Nadira Begum

In a recent cover interview with Allure magazine, Jennifer Aniston lamented the dearth of ‘movie stars’ nowadays. “I feel like it’s dying,” she said. “There’s no more glamour.” While the mouthpiece of such a claim feels somewhat dubious, the sentiment is no less true – she’s right to say that there aren’t any real definitive ‘movie stars’ of this generation, at least not any like the movie stars of the past. If someone were to ask you to name a movie star, it would be easy – names like Cary Grant, Julia Roberts, and Tom Hanks would roll off your tongue without a second thought. The star power of these figures was undoubtable, each of them easily drawing in a crowd of movie-goers with the pull of their names alone. When promoting a film, they were the star attraction, not the production company or the studio.

Now, it seems as though Hollywood is so focussed on franchise building and IP-driven projects that very little thought is given to the stars themselves. Many of Hollywood’s ‘bigger’ names have built a portfolio of almost exclusively action roles for themselves, breaking box office records but not necessarily capturing audience’s hearts. In doing so, these actors are failing to really establish themselves in the public consciousness as ‘movie stars’. In a recent podcast interview, Quentin Tarantino commented that the issue with the ‘Marvelisation’ of Hollywood was that the actors themselves weren’t the stars of the show – the characters were. Heart-breaking: the worst person you know just made a great point. During Marvel’s prime years, it wasn’t Chris Evans or Chris Hemsworth or whichever other Chris that drew in audiences, it was Captain America and Thor. Despite an actor like Evans possessing the kind of charm needed to be a lead, audiences were never really tuning in to see his performance, they were tuning in to keep up with an overfamiliar fictional character. In fact, the actors’ inability to establish themselves as stars and draw in crowds with their names alone is proven by their lacklustre filmography outside of Marvel projects. Just look at the (non)success of The Gray Man (2022).

This reliance on easy, big-budget franchise films puts limitations on what our understanding of the modern movie star is. Charismatic actors like Jonathan Majors and Tom Holland would easily thrive in a romantic setting, so why isn’t a rom-com on the cards for them? Daniel Kaluuya, one of our generation’s most magnetic actors, once expressed his desire to make a rom-com, but it seems that no filmmakers have taken him up on this offer. This complete disregard for romance as a genre is robbing us of the delight of watching someone like Kaluuya let his natural charm and charisma play out on screen. We are suffering because studios seem more intent on reaching targets and making unfathomable amounts of money than actually connecting with an audience, which would, ironically, make them more money in the long term. And if money must remain the end goal for these productions, then surely it would make sense to cash in on cult followings and capitalise on the online stan culture that surrounds actors like Holland and Kaluuya. In a tragic twist of fate even the pioneer of modern blockbusters, Steven Spielberg, struggles to find space among the superhero-saturated multiplexes for his personal project The Fabelmans (2022). And, in a cinematic landscape that seems to prioritise franchise-building above all else, the desire for real connection has never been more potent amongst audiences that seem fatigued by such an onslaught of unfeeling action films, as showcased by Marvel Studios’ inability to cross their usual billion pound threshold at the box office in recent years. Action blockbusters like those within thenever-ending behemoth that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe are great films to switch your brain off to, but they are so far detached from genuine emotional depth that they feel unbearably cold. The onslaught of endless superhero films and extended universes has left a romance-shaped hole in the heart of audiences, and it goes without saying that an action-heavy industry can only last so long before inevitably self-destructing, taking their biggest talents out along with it. If we are to return to a cinema of feeling once more, then we need the talent of today to get behind these films wholeheartedly and bring audiences along with them.

Classic actors like the aforementioned Cary Grant and Julia Roberts became household names with careers that spanned decades due to the sheer range they were able to display in their early film roles. There would be no North by Northwest (1959) without Bringing Up Baby (1938), and there would be no Erin Brockovich (2000) without Pretty Woman (1990). In fact, if you go beyond Hollywood and look to foreign cinema, some of the biggest stars are those who are known for their ability to carry romantic roles. The clearest example is Bollywood, where you cannot be a movie star if you cannot charm an audience as easily as you can intimidate them. Romance is part and parcel of these films, so much so that some of the biggest and most iconic names in Indian cinema are actors who are most well-known for their romantic roles. Films like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) served to establish the long-lasting careers of Bollywood icons Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, forging them into an era-defining duo; they’re like Bollywood’s Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, if you need a derivative Western comparison. These actors knew that on some level, the key to winning an audience’s support was to first win their hearts, and what easier way to do that than with the magic of romantic comedy?

When presented with that much revered title of ‘movie star’, the only relatively new name that comes to mind is Timothée Chalamet, and that is no doubt due to his ability to be as captivating as a romantic lead as he is a compelling dramatic lead. Many of his roles thus far have hinged on this charm. In Call Me By Your Name (2017) he is mesmerising as a young boy discovering himself, in Little Women (2019) he embodies the perfect pining Laurie, and his most recent turn in Bones & All (2022)showcases his ability to capture the desperation of young love with admirable ease. Equally intriguing is his refusal to take on a superhero role thus far. Since heeding the advice of Leonardo DiCaprio (another actor who initially won audiences over with his romantic roles), Chalamet has not been afraid to embrace romance in his search for a fulfilling acting career, and his penchant for the more tender roles gives him an edge that his peers lack.

There are no real movie stars for this generation because audiences simply aren’t being encouraged to fall in love with them anymore. Everything is sterile and neatly fits into a box — the superhero leads are symbols of patriotism and nothing more, the franchise leads are clean-cut heroes and nothing more. There is no nuance or grey area involved in the kinds of stars we are being offered now, and there certainly isn’t much room for charisma. The superstardom of someone like Robert Pattinson is proof of the power of romance and charisma. After shooting to global fame with his role in Twilight (2008), a teen vampire romance, Pattinson spent the better part of the next decade seeking out the creative and artistic fulfilment of arthouse films, working with a range of indie directors. His roles ranged from the terrifying to the absurd, and when he finally returned to the blockbuster earlier this year in Matt Reeves’ The Batman (2022), he brought along his legion of devoted fans and their ‘Team Edward’ t-shirts. Pattinson is testament to the fact that movie stars can be forged when you don’t disregard romance as a starting point. Cinema is suffering from a famine of romance; in the rat race to the top of the box office, love is a mere afterthought that has no place in this game. Perhaps this is symbolic of a society in decline, though it’s more likely the product of a regurgitative money-making machine. This current trend of emotionless American blockbusters is one of the most heart-breaking aspects of modern cinema.

That is why I think Hollywood would benefit from a return to its romantic roots, and my one wish this holiday season is for cinema to embrace romantic comedies once more. I encourage studios and directors to find their most charming actors – the Daniel Kaluuyas and the Keke Palmers of this generation – and allow them free reign with a genre that thrives off of audience connection. Invest in stories that value human emotions like love and heartbreak, and trust that audiences will be invested too. Romance has never really been respected as a genre, but it seems that even modern attempts to revive the rom-com don’t fully believe in the trusted mechanics of the genre in the way they used to, and that is exactly what holds them back. I implore Hollywood to indulge in the most clichéd aspects of the romance genre and take a leap of faith on films that care more about matters of the heart than they do saving the world from an imaginary foreign invasion. After all, is love not the most trusted saviour of all?


Credit: Netflix

Digby Houghton

If The Buggles had written “Video Killed The Radio Star” today, it may have read more like, “high concept television killed the mid-budget film”. However, mid-budget cinema comprises a large portion of what makes Christmas the cosiest time of the year, because these films are predominantly released during this period. My own seasonal nostalgia for the time of year is evoked when I recollect the slick polish of Carol and I, Tonya. This festival season may be no different. It’s already proving to be bountiful for mid-budget movies with Cate Blanchett hopefully winning another Oscar for her performance as the eponymous Lydia Tár in Todd Field’s Tár and the fateful bromance of Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell in The Banshees of Inisherin. Although the meme potential of both films has been potent, box office numbers have not as contemporary audiences find themselves inundated with the glut known as the prestige age of television. The fate of the mid-budget film rests less in the hands of film-goers than media moguls who are gleefully pivoting to streaming.

Mid-budget cinema loosely encompasses films whose budgets fall within the range of $15 to $60 million and is indebted to genres like drama, biopic, and courtroom films, all of which have plummetted in demand since the 1990s. Films of this calibre tend to gravitate around a tight cast of three or four main characters and an even tighter screenplay. This formulaic approach reached its zenith through the ripple effects of the rise of indie darlings in the late 1980s like Gus Van Sant, Steven Soderbergh and the Coen Brothers, who would go on to make mainstream films in the 1990s including Good Will Hunting, The Limey, and Barton Fink respectively. These films exemplified the benefits of an economical screenplay and a handful of acting talent could favour box office success. But in the decades hence, this kind of American cinema has become diluted and lost in the mainstream vanguard.

 American author Ben Fritz reverses the traditional maxim in his 2019 book The Big Picture, “it used to be that television, the home of endlessly recycled sitcoms and cop shows, was the medium of the familiar and cinema the medium of originality,” in order to prove that television has replaced cinema as the beacon of artistic showmanship. He charts the decline of the mid-budget film concurrent with the rise of fêted television productions like The Sopranos and The Wire. However, the new era of streaming has encouraged a binge-watching model which sustains itself on a never-ending consumption of televisual content. And it is endorsed through the platforms, which provide a ten-second countdown before the next episode begins to play, shown in Netflix series like House of Cards. Television may offer an effective (potentially endless) product, but the importance of mid-tier cinema is that it keeps film culture, and cinema-going, alive.

Blockbusters may provide limitless escapism for audiences during the festive season, but thanks to the media circus of awards ceremonies, it’s also a period for cinema that nominally attempts to deal with adult themes to receive attention outside of the main metropolises. These kinds of films have slowly been corroded since the dominance of streaming television. If Christmas isn’t a time to unfurl in the cinemas and watch the latest new releases of Black Adam and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, then you also have the opportunity to see some auteur-driven autofictional recreations. Old Hollywood legends like Steven Spielberg push this agenda in his latest outfit The Fabelmans, as well as a slew of other 20–50-million-dollar films like Glass Onion and Bones and All (all of which will hit streaming before they end up in a cinema near you). This is a slate of films which have attempted to resonate with the blockbuster market, but there have been few signs of encouragement from the results thus far

Global streaming giants like Netflix, who distribute, produce, and exhibit their own films, continue to relegate the position of art cinema to televisions and other streaming devices. This is evident in the recent Netflix releases: Andrew Dominik’s Blonde was made for $22 million and provides a ghastly intrusion into Marilyn Monroe’s turbulent life. The saddest part of this film’s production predominantly lies in the puppet distribution approach, which meant it barely played in theatres, even in my hometown of Melbourne, where Dominik graduated university. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, which was acquired during the Venice Film Festival, tells the surrealist life of a documentary filmmaker whose life uncannily resembles Iñárritu’s own. Bardo’s short-lived release in Melbourne meant that it was gone from theatres in a fortnight. Netflix’s production model relies on mid-scale movies but the distribution and exhibition creates an issue for audiences because they’re in cinemas for a mere moment. Therefore, Fritz’s earlier remarks couldn’t be any closer to the truth as Netflix usurps the market for mid-budget cinema by producing and distributing its own products for our television screens, leaving the cinema relatively desolate. 

Fritz also paraphrases Ted Sarandos, the chief content officer of Netflix, who has argued that “movies are simply stories made of moving images that you consume in one night, whereas TV shows are ones that take several nights.” Netflix’s chief priority towards providing a limitless experience of entertainment that only a medium like television can provide is daunting for the future of mid-budget entertainment films which don’t necessarily breed off the likelihood of sequels and the construction of cinema franchises. Hollywood competes on an ever-expanding global market, from China to Brazil, and therefore its stories and narratives need to appeal to as many demographics as possible, which has led to the proliferation of the franchise movie.  

However, mid-budget films are affected by ever-increasing costs, because a studio can quite reliably return their money on investment by producing fewer films if one of them is a hit.  They are also seen to be a bigger gamble than in previous years. Fritz reiterates, “today, anything that’s not a big-budget franchise film or a low-cost, ultra-low-risk comedy or horror movie is an endangered species at Hollywood’s six major studios.” Thus, as time passes perhaps the cosiest time of the year will no longer be fixated on the latest art house concept, masterminded by some kind of European auteur, but rather mindless consumption around a television alongside family and friends.  Bardo and Blonde may justify our cravings for art cinema, but given its self-mutilative model which prioritises clicks, hits, and quantity over quality, this shouldn’t be considered a long-term goal for sustaining independent production. 

If audiences desire the trend of mindless consumption in which mid-tier budget films are relegated to streaming platforms, losing credibility and popularity as an art form, then there is not much more which can be done. There needs to be a drive from producers, directors and distributors to bring audiences back to the cinema. Mid-budget films are an important part of the ecology of film and they rely on components of film production like a tight screenplay, whereas big-budget films prioritise special effects and ensemble casts of A-list actors. The recent reception to Banshees of Inishiren and Tár prove that there is still an audience for these films. However, the dominance of streaming models is hard to overcome. Hopefully, in the new year there will be greater demand for the mid-budget movie, and we will be rescued from the plight of ‘mid-budget streaming’.

The L-Shaped Room

Credit: British Lion Films

Orla Smith

In a recent talk at the BFI Southbank, Danny Boyle made the bold claim: “I am not sure that we [the British] are great filmmakers.” This quote set off two warring factions in my brain. One is the side that’s been writing about film for over five years — and watching it voraciously for even longer. It’s the side that grimly sighs and remembers the dozens of recent fanatically hyped up British debut features that turned out to elicit a series of homogenous shrugs. 

Then there’s the side of me that’s a fledgling filmmaker, one short film deep and terrified at the prospect of building a career in the increasingly hostile British film industry. There’s so much to say about Britain right now, and so few means by which to say it (at least in the medium of film). Yes, our homegrown box office hits are Fisherman’s Friends (2019) and Downton Abbey: A New Era (2022), and you might watch one of our government-funded independent films and find you’ve forgotten about it by breakfast the next morning. But it hasn’t always been like this, and my Christmas wish (for the sake of my future filmmaking as well as my own viewing pleasure) is that it won’t be like this for much longer. Consider this a Christmas card to Danny Boyle (with the British government cc’d), asking him to consider whether British filmmakers are the problem, or if Britain itself is shielding artists from their own potential.

This year, our press cohort has fallen over itself to praise directorial debuts Aftersun (Charlotte Wells) and Blue Jean (Georgia Oakley), with both of them triumphing at the British Independent Film Awards (BIFAs) over titles directed by more established filmmakers. (I’d like to throw in some support for the less-discussed and BIFA-ignored Pretty Red Dress by Dionne Edwards, which I slightly prefer to both, for its energetic filmmaking and its lived-in portrait of a Black South London family messily grappling with gender nonconformity.) Last year it was After Love (Aleem Khan), Boiling Point (Philip Barantini), and Censor (Prano Bailey-Bond). Stretch a little further back and you’ll remember the beloved His House (Remi Weekes, 2020), Saint Maud (Rose Glass, 2019), Ray & Liz (Richard Billingham, 2018), Apostasy (Daniel Kokotajlo, 2017), I Am Not a Witch (Rungano Nyoni, 2017), Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd, 2016)… the list could go on further than you care to read. All have their merits, some I like more than others, but each of these are films that scream “POTENTIAL” without fully delivering on it. Because of course they don’t. What is a first feature if not a place from which to grow?

But what else ties all those films together, besides their debut feature status? All of their directors are yet to make a second film.

We are setting our emerging filmmakers up to fail; the UK film industry is currently little more than a constant stream of empty promises. Plenty of programmes exist to support first features, such as iFeatures, which has aided the development of films like Blue Jean, Perfect 10 (Eva Riley, 2020), Make Up (Claire Oakley, 2020), Pin Cushion (Deborah Haywood, 2017), God’s Own Country (Francis Lee, 2017), Apostasy, Lady Macbeth, The Levelling (Hope Dickson-Leach, 2016), and more. And yet, of that list, Francis Lee is the only filmmaker to have made a second film — and only with the support of American company Neon.

When we’re not hanging them out to dry completely, we are driving promising talent out of the country to seek funding elsewhere. In rare cases, this means Americans funding British-set projects, like Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir/Eternal Daughter trilogy (2019-2022), or Lee’s Ammonite. More commonly, this means artists leaving the country to tell American stories. Around half of Andrew Haigh’s creative output has been US-centric, and he’s now based in LA, which is a loss of one of Britain’s most thoughtful writers of character, and one of few contemporary filmmakers who really know how to block a scene. Lynne Ramsay and Andrea Arnold are two of the most stylistically distinct filmmakers to emerge in the 21st-century, certainly in Britain, both of them bringing poetry to marginal lives in ways that are very much their own. Still their careers seems to have shifted toward stateside storytelling with Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) and You Were Never Really Here (2017), and Arnold’s American Honey (2016). (Perhaps we’ll win Arnold back after her catastrophic experience on Big Little Lies Season 2, but it’s too early to tell if her documentary Cow is a homecoming or a brief digression.) And it took Steve McQueen three American features (one a Best Picture winner) to be able to come back to Britain and make his opus Small Axe (2020). Even still, that watershed work that chronicles the stories of London’s West Indian community could only exist on TV, and never got its day in movie theatres.

In one of the most politically fraught times in recent British history — it certainly feels like we’re teetering on the brink of collapse — we need British cinema about Britain that is political, sharp, urgent, and compelling. The current moment should inspire a new wave of politically-charged films, and yet the waters are shallow and tepid. Sure, it’s encouraging that projects from diverse voices are increasingly being greenlit: more women are making films in Britain, and more people of colour, although certainly not enough. More queer stories are being told (although trans directors are conspicously absent from the list of filmmakers above, perhaps because the transphobia of British institutions outweighs their desire to appear progressive). 

But what use is providing one-off funding to the next generation when you have no interest in cultivating artists, and allowing them to have a career? It takes skill and practice to make a film that speaks meaningfully to the current moment, discussing political systems and personal plights in a way that’s poetic rather than trite. There’s a multitude of reasons that we aren’t seeing that in our national cinema, but it’s certainly partly because we aren’t allowing filmmakers to grow into the kinds of artists that can achieve something that profound. We aren’t providing them the freedom to work in an unconventional way, if that’s what they need to achieve results. Hell, even an old hand like Mike Leigh is struggling to get a project off the ground, even though it’s hard to think of a film more resonant to contemporary London than his nearly thirty-year-old film Naked (perhaps double billed with his 2008 film Happy-Go-Lucky, to compare and contrast a nihilist’s and optimist’s views of the city). It amounts to nothing more than good PR for the arts sector, rather than actually equalising the cinematic voice of the nation.


In my state of depression about the country’s myriad legislative clusterfucks, the lack of political conviction and poetry in our filmmaking, and my own depressing career prospects, I found myself drawn back over half a century to the British New Wave. These films, which were predominantly produced in the early 1960s, massively shaped how British cinema is thought of and talked about, particularly since it originated the term ‘kitchen sink drama’, still hurled around today, and sometimes in a derogatory context. Watching Tony Richardson’s A Taste of Honey (1962) was a shock to the system. Somehow, cultural memory has marked these films as oppressive and traumatic, when some of them are filled with life, youthful energy, and visual beauty — if also accompanied by harsh truths.

These were films primarily concerned with working class lives, particularly in the North of England, responding to a lack of those stories in the British cinema landscape. They treated their characters as complex, thorny people; at turns bitter, humorous, sexy, and mad as hell (another label attached to the movement is ‘angry young men’). These were progressive films for their time, discussing class, misogyny, and various taboo subjects with more frankness than you’d find in most other contemporaneous films. And most importantly of all, they were largely compelling and exquisitely crafted.

The L-Shaped Room (1962) is a personal favourite of mine, and despite being an outlier as one of the few films in the movement to centre on a female protagonist, I think it represents a lot of the strengths of the New Wave. Directed by Bryan Forbes (Whistle Down the Wind, Seance on a Wet Afternoon, The Stepford Wives), the film follows a French woman named Jane (Leslie Caron) who moves into a rundown Notting Hill boarding house and grows to know and love its residents. Here we have an expertly directed ensemble drama with a strong sense of place (it is named after its setting, after all), that is matter-of-fact about the difficulties faced by working class people, but still holds so much compassion and warmth for its characters. The way The L-Shaped Room depicts outsiders on the fringes of society feels surprisingly modern: it’s primarily about the stigma surrounding single motherhood, and the film discusses abortion; it also features multiple queer characters, including a Black immigrant who Jane befriends when she moves next door to him. It’s much less of a difficult watch than something like the blisteringly rageful Look Back in Anger (1959), because the angry young man here (Tom Bell’s Toby) isn’t the lead character, but supporting to Jane (and he’s not nearly as awful as Richard Burton’s Jimmy Porter in Anger, because who is). But The L-Shaped Room still ends on an achingly melancholy note that provokes anger at the system that has left its characters with no good or easy choices. 

Crucially, this New Wave, which had ripple effects that are still felt in British cinema today, was not achieved by waiting patiently for the establishment to act. In fact, you can trace a lot of its films back to one production company: Woodfall Film Productions, founded by Tony Richardson, John Osborne, and Harry Saltzman, who wanted to create a film adaptation of Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger. They were artists frustrated by the lack of opportunities to tell the kinds of stories they wanted to tell, and get them screened, so they created those opportunities independently. In the ‘60s alone, Woodfall produced eight of Tony Richardson’s own films. Other significant filmmakers of the British New Wave, several of which were supported by Woodfall at some point, worked frequently throughout the late ‘50s and early ‘60s: Karel Reisz, Richard Lester, Desmond Davis, Lindsay Anderson, Ken Loach, Jack Clayton, Bryan Forbes, etc. Today’s cohort is significantly less white and male — but it’s hard to pat the BFI on the back for that progress when they’ll never offer contemporary filmmakers the chance to practise and hone their craft (and thus shape and enrich our film culture) as frequently as the New Wave directors got to.

I don’t think the BFI, Film4, or the British government’s (lack of) arts money generosity is going to save British film any time soon. There are models for government arts funding that support rich and varied works — there’s plenty wrong with the French film industry, but you can’t deny that they hungrily cultivate auteurs and greenlight risk-taking films. It’s hard to imagine the BFI ever funding a debut fiction film as challenging as Alice Diop’s patience-demanding, morally murky Saint Omer (2022). Or even any film, debut or not, as challenging as Saint Omer or Julia Ducournau’s car-fucking spectacular Titane (2021) or Justine Triet’s exquisitely strange Sibyl (2020). It’s a goal to strive for, but we’re a long way from having a government-funded infrastructure that supports the regular creation of daring works.

My wish for the new year is that filmmakers in this country find canny ways to make and exhibit work within Britain — about life in Britain — without having to wait to be sanctioned by our arts funding overlords, and that we (as viewers) shift our attention to what artists on the fringes are creating. That might mean independent production companies, or it might mean experimenting with modes of filmmaking that don’t require tons of money, or any money at all (they do exist!). Whatever it is, it will require collaboration, ingenuity, and a little bit more hope for our cinematic potential than that possessed by Danny Boyle.

Purple Sea

Credit: Amel Alzakout, Khaled Abdulwahed

Cathy Brennan

When I think of British film culture in the present moment, the word cosy is pretty fucking far from my mind. To be cosy is to be contented and being in such a state makes one vulnerable. It’s also not very exciting. My holiday wish would be for a new British film culture where screenings become riots, industry assholes are exposed, and institutions crumble into dust. All that may be too much to ask, so for the purposes of this piece I’ll simply wish for more curiosity from film criticism.

In a cocktail-laden conversation with fellow CYZ contributor and denpa queen Ellisha Izumi, she told me about her annual tradition of watching every Best Picture nominee ahead of the Oscars; an oftentimes gruelling task we both agreed. What I came to realise is that I don’t actually watch a lot of the tongue-waggiest films, whether they be blockbusters, award-winners or indie darlings. I still haven’t seen The Shape of Water (2017), nor Top Gun: Maverick (2022). The release of a second Avatar stirs no excitement in my breast, and the fulsome response to Aftersun (2022) has rained off most of my interest. This prompts an existential questioning over my cinephilic credentials. Am I so out of touch? And just like a certain school principal, the conclusion I come to is no, it’s the broadsheets who are wrong.

My critical practice is far better rewarded by seeking out the extraordinary in the margins. If everybody watches the same films, then you’ll get a lot of flat opinions, regardless of whether the thumb directs a film towards the heavens, or condemns it to the dirt. Going off-piste has served me and my friends well. Back in the 2019 edition of London Film Festival (LFF), I was among the early championing cries for Isabel Sandoval’s Lingua Franca (2019). My friend Paul Farrell still talks about his experience of LFF 2018 where he spurned Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria (2018) for the Black Country-set Ray & Liz (2018), and skipped the raucous 8am press screening for The Favourite (2018) to see a firecracker in the form of Diamantino (2018). A crazy-eyed Paul coming up to me that morning in Leicester Square and saying “mate, I’ve just seen Diamantino” remains a cherished memory.

Even as festival programmers take great effort to platform underrepresented voices in filmmaking, that energy isn’t matched when it comes to promoting these films beyond festival audiences. As of writing, Miryam Charles’ unbearably personal Cette Maison (2022) only has 2 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, one from The Guardian and another from Little White Lies. Scratch around and you will find reviews in Sight & Sound and Hackney Citizen, but otherwise this is a mouse squeak from the realm of film criticism. Cette Maison is perhaps one of the finest examples of film as a personal art form to be released this year. It’s a probing expression of Charles’ grief over the horrific death of her teenage cousin Tessa in 2008. Shot on woozy 16mm film, Cette Maison functions as a fictional biography for Tessa as well as a reflection on her family’s Haitian roots. There is a sustained commitment to hybridity in the film by eliminating distinctions between fiction and documentary, the use of both French and Haitian Creole, and even the boundary between memory and fantasy. All this serves to transport you into a specific headspace, submerging you in the grasping thought processes of grief. A genuine work of art.

Another film that’s just as personal is Purple Sea (2020). Directed by Syrian artist Amel Alzakout and Khaled Abdulwahed, the film is comprised of footage taken from a GoPro camera attached to Azakout’s wrist, when the boat she and other refugees were on sank off the coast of Lesbos in 2015. 42 of those refugees died. When I first saw Purple Sea it was being screened as part of the Open City Documentary Festival in September 2020. Around this time there was a shift in British media coverage as months of COVID’s domination of the newscycle gave way to a resurgence of xenophobic reporting on people crossing the English Channel in small boats seeking asylum in the UK. Some have drowned attempting to cross the channel including children. As I write this sentence at midday on 14th December 2022, BBC News is updating on an incident in which at least three people are thought to have died crossing the channel in the early hours of the morning. The reason why people make such a perilous crossing is because their lives are held with such xenophobic indifference by the French and British governments that no safer routes are made available to them.

Purple Sea depicts a rare perspective in our media landscape: that of a refugee during a crossing. A Sky News report from August 2020 demonstrates the mainstream media point of view. A posh white woman calls out to a group of Black men packed onto an inflatable dinghy for comment. On more than one occasion she refers to such sights as “unsettling” without elaboration. The people making the crossing are othered, viewed at a distance. They don’t speak like the reporter whose own voice exudes an imperial authority. A spectatorial relationship is established through such reporting. We, the presumed white British viewer, are able to project whatever we like onto these people. In Purple Sea, Alazakout’s voiceover (recorded after the boat sinking) wonders whether people in a hovering helicopter were filming the disaster and who they saw drowning: “Refugees? Criminals? Victims? Or just numbers? Fuck you all!”

Purple Sea was released on Mubi in August 2021. More desperate people had drowned trying to cross England’s moat. It was a rare and real opportunity for film critics to draw attention to a small film about an ongoing humanitarian crisis that has defined the character of 21st century Europe. Instead, it passed by with next-to-no coverage. One brief review in The Guardian, plus my review for We Love Cinema. In November that year, 27 out of 30 people on an inflatable dinghy, similar to the one seen in that Sky News report, drowned in the English Channel. It was the largest loss of life on the Channel since the International Organization for Migration started collecting data in 2014.

It would be offensive to blame film critics for such a disaster. More extensive coverage of Purple Sea on its release would not have had any impact on this crisis. But I think Purple Sea’s neglect by publications and critics is indicative of an incurious character that is dominant within film culture, one that can only engage with the political realities of our time in superficial “eat the rich, buy our shit”-style sloganeering.

Such short-sightedness is the product of a norm where we as critics try to get ahead of predetermined festival favourites, and pre-selected award show contenders, which leaves truly small films with nobody in their corner. I am just as guilty of this. While Paul was enraptured by Ray and Liz, I subjected myself to Luca Guadagnino’s self-important reimagining of Suspiria, and tried to pretend it was a work worthy of serious consideration because it seemed to be the film of the moment. Of course responsibility shouldn’t fall solely on the shoulders of underpaid critics. Editors for traffic-hungry publications ensure priority is given to films which have the big bucks backing them. PR companies also hold a tighter grip on a film’s narrative as it goes from festival favourite to Letterboxd classic. Critics do not matter in this environment and so there’s little material incentive to seek out the unfamiliar. We therefore get sucked into the money-driven machinations of a film industry that we should keep at arm’s length, and disingenuously puff ourselves up as artistic taste-makers or, dare I say, influencers.

The reluctance to meaningfully engage with the political and emotional dimensions of a film can at times come across as revulsion, instead prioritising some nebulously defined formal quality that make films with little buzz vulnerable to cold disregard. In Girish Shambu’s 2019 manifesto For a New Cinephilia, he characterises the old cinephilia as an insular attitude towards culture that “privileges aesthetic pleasure.” The context in which Alazakout’s footage was captured morally rules out any possibility for aesthetic pleasure. Indeed that’s what makes it such a vital film. However one review of Purple Sea casually dismissed it as an “arthouse trifle.”

Film culture would not be made more cosy if more critics seriously engaged with films so personal they cut right down to the marrow like Cette Maison and Purple Sea. But it would be far less alienating than it is now. I don’t want to read a dozen reviews about how relatable The Worst Person in the World (2021) is to millennial women, or how much of a badass dude James Cameron is for overworking VFX teams to produce his white saviour fantasy land. For Shambu, the new cinephilia should be “fully in contact with its present global moment.” I don’t think film criticism is there yet.

When thinking about this, an experience my mind keeps coming back to is queuing for an early morning press screening at that 2018 edition of LFF. The film was Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk (2018), and it was being held at Picturehouse Central. At the beginning of the year, the cinema staff had called off a strike demanding a living wage because they had been threatened with losing even more pay that the workers could not afford to endure. Waiting outside the cinema on that chilly October morning meant standing over sleeping homeless people. I remember looking around and seeing my fellow critics and cinephiles chirpily chatting away about the films they’d seen, seemingly unconcerned about the people lying next to them or whether such chatter would disturb their sleep. We were eventually let in to watch If Beale Street Could Talk and were moved by the film’s portrayal of racist inequity in 1970s Harlem, while shutting ourselves off from the reality just outside. My Christmas wish is not just for critics to show more curiosity in the films we choose to watch, but also more curiosity in how the films we watch inform our understanding of the world around us.

2022 POLL

Credit: Neon

Each year, we ask our contributors for their favourite films of 2022, alongside their best discoveries. The lists are aggregated to compile Cinema Year Zero’s films of the year:

  1. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (Laura Poitras)
  2. Nope (Jordan Peele)
  3. Saint Omer (Alice Diop)
  4. Crimes of the Future (David Cronenberg) 
  5. The Banshees of Inisherin (Martin McDonagh)
  6. Aftersun (Charlotte Wells) 
  7. Top Gun: Maverick (Joseph Kosinski) 
  8. Vortex (Gaspar Noé)
  9. The Quiet Girl/An Cailín Ciúin (Colm Bairéad)
  10. Benediction (Terence Davies) 

-The Ballots-

Ben Flanagan


  1. The Munsters (Zombie)
  2. RRR (Rajamouli)
  3. Elvis (Luhrman)
  4. All My Friends Hate Me (Gaynord) 
  5. Dry Ground Burning (Pimenta, Queirós)
  6. Saint Omer (Diop)
  7. Stars at Noon / Both Sides of the Blade (Denis)
  8. The Plains (Easteal)
  9. Avatar: The Way of Water (Cameron)
  10. Irma Vep (Assayas)


  • Hellraiser (1987 – 2022) 
  • 3D rep screenings: Dial M For Murder, The Mask, Avatar, Creature From the Black Lagoon
  • Dawn of an Evil Millennium (Packard, 1988) 
  • Saint Jack (Bogdanovich, 1979) & The Dead (Huston 1987) (via Badlands Film Collective
  • Bones (Dickerson, 2001)
  • FIlms of Takashi Ito
  • Green Snake (Tsui, 1993)
  • The Channel Awesome Trilogy: Kickassia, Suburban Knights, To Boldly Flee (2010 – 2012)
  • The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Pasolini, 1964)
  • Les Sièges de l’Alcazar (Moullet, 1989)
  • King Lear (Godard, 1987) 

Kirsty Asher 


  • All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (Laura Poitras)
  • The Banshees of Inisherin (Martin McDonagh)
  • Benediction (Terence Davies)
  • Kanaval: A People’s History of Haiti in Six Chapters (Leah Gordon, Eddie Hutton-Mills)
  • Red Rocket (Sean Baker)
  • Nope (Jordan Peele)
  • Three Thousand Years of Longing (George Miller)
  • Fire of Love (Sara Dosa)
  • Utama (Alejandro Loayza Grisi)
  • Boiling Point (Philip Barantini)


  • The Ballad of Tam-Lin (Roddy McDowell, 1970)
  • Penda’s Fen (Alan Clarke, 1974)
  • Memories of Matsuko (Tetsuya Nakashima, 2006)
  • Green Snake (Tsui Hark, 1993)
  • La Chiesa (Dario Argento, 1989)
  • Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
  • Q (Larry Cohen, 1982)
  • Tommy (Ken Russell,1975)
  • Crossing Delancey (Joan Micklin Silver, 1988)
  • Dr Heckyl and Mr Hype (Charles B. Griffith, 1980)

Cathy Brennan


  1. Benediction (Terence Davies)
  2. Our Bodies Are Your Battlefields (Isabelle Solas)
  3. Cette Maison (Miryam Charles)
  4. Robe of Gems (Natalia López)
  5. Next Sohee (July Jung)
  6. The Quiet Girl (Colm Bairéad)
  7. Till (Chinonye Chukwu)
  8. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (Laura Poitras)
  9. Three Minutes: A Lengthening (Bianca Stigter)
  10. Man vs Bee (David Kerr)

The order of this list is unimportant. Benediction is my personal favourite. Danielle Deadwyler in Till gave the single best performance. Robe of Gems was formally incredible. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed left me in a terrible state, which was exacerbated by the vulnerability that comes with being in a crowded British press screening. Went into Three Minutes not knowing what to expect and came out shattered. Next Sohee ticked my boxes in terms of slow-burning social critique and personal relatability.

The Quiet Girl is emotion-driven film-making which is something I try to prioritise in these lists. Our Bodies Are Your Battlefields was an underseen documentary about trans rights activism in Argentina that I loved. My other priority for these lists is to uplift films that other critics neglected.

Some films that were seriously considered for this list were Funny Pages, Ali & Ava, Jeong-sun, 1976, Our Lady of the Chinese Shop and The Banshees of Inisherin.


  1. Finding Christa (Camille Billops, James Hatch)
  2. Maangamizi: The Ancient One (Martin Mhando, Ron Mulvihill)
  3. Dessert for Constance (Sarah Maldoror)
  4. Schmoedipus (Barry Davis)
  5. Sex, Lies, Religion (Annette Kennedy)
  6. Outlaw Poverty, Not Prostitution (Carol Leigh)
  7. Is This Fate? (Helga Reidemeister)
  8. The Joycean Society (Dora García)
  9. Green Snake (Tsui Hark)
  10. Tri (Aleksander Petrović

Order is also not important here. First three films were seen at Cinema Rediscovered in July. Thank you to everyone who brought those films (and more) to Bristol. In particular, thanks to those who worked on the bell hooks: Reel to Real and the Women’s Stories from the Global South (& To Whom They Belong) strands. Two films (Sex, Lies, Religion and Is This Fate?) were seen thanks to the team at Another Screen, so thank you to them for their work. The Joycean Society was seen as part of the Takeover program on e-flux. Thank you to Julian Ross for his work on that. Tri was seen because of Fedor Tot’s emphatic recommendation. Thank you to him and Ehsan Khoshbakht for screening it at Close-Up this summer. Green Snake was watched with fellow CYZ editors past and present  with Paul Farrell. Thank you to Paul, the ultimate Tsui Hark fan, for finally getting us to watch Maggie Cheung defeat an incel by making him spunk his pants. Schmoedipus and Outlaw Poverty, Not Prosititution were seen because of my own personal curiosity. Thank you to me and thank you to Carol Leigh for uploading your work onto the Internet Archive, may you rest in peace.

Alonso Aguilar


  1. L’Envol, dir. Pietro Marcello
  2. Mato Seco Em Chamas, dir. Joana Pimenta & Adirley Queirós
  3. Elvis, dir. Baz Luhrmann
  4. Pacifiction, dir. Albert Serra
  5. Coma, dir. Bertrand Bonello
  6. Jackass forever, dir. Jeff Tremaine
  7. Fogo-fátuo, dir. Joao Pedro Rodrigues
  8. The Munsters, dir. Rob Zombie
  9. Answering The Sun, dir. Rainer Kohlberger
  10. AmbuLAnce, dir. Michael Bay 


  1. Los Inundados (1962), dir. Fernando Birri
  2. A Night To Dismember (1983), dir. Doris Wishman
  3. The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926), dir. Henry King
  4. Walker (1987), dir. Alex Cox
  5. Cien Niños Esperando un Tren (1988), dir. Ignacio Agüero
  6. The Sea Wolf (1941), dir. Michael Curtiz
  7. Bang Bang (1971), dir. Andrea Tonacci
  8. Hudutların Kanunu (1966), dir. Lufti Akad
  9. Naufragio (1978), dir. Jaime Humberto Hermosillo
  10. Muna Moto (1975), dir. Jean-Pierre Dikongue-Pipa 

Thomas Atkinson 

  • The Grid: Ambulance (Bay)/Los (Benning)
  • Blood of my Blood: Avatar: The Way of Water (Cameron)/Kannathil Muthamittal (Ratnam)
  • When They Go High: Cold Wind Blowing (Copland)/Shocker (Craven)
  • A Woman Becoming: Coma (Bonello)/Esther Kahn (Desplechin)/Blue Sky Maiden (Masumura)
  • Mind Map: Crimes of the Future (Cronenberg)/Liberté et Patrie (Godard)/Autofiction (Lertxundi)
  • The Void Gazes Back: Pacifiction (Serra)/Watch the K Foundation Burn a Million Quid (Gimpo)
  • Moves Slow: The Plains (Easteal)/Roadgames (Franklin)/Ghost Comb (Knight)
  • Watch Him Work: Rewind and Play (Gomis)/Dirty Ho (Lau)
  • Knowing Me, Knowing You: Saint Omer (Diop)/Spacy (Ito)
  • Mosaic: The United States of America (Benning)/Radioactive Dreams (Pyun)/June 17th, 1994 (Morgen)

I’m flaunting the rules; sue me. One new film per spot on the list, but each is twinned with a discovery that felt just as invigorating. This is a picture of my year, less complete than full. Godard gets a spot; so does Pyun. I plan to spend at least a bit of the holidays catching up on the Holy Spirit of that 2022 Memoriam Trinity, Jean-Marie Straub. I cheated even by my own rules – there’s several triple-bills on here, which puts me 4 spots over on my discoveries list – but let that not seem like the work of a glutton struggling to fit the best of the best in. Perhaps the one great lesson I learned in 2022 was the treasure of time. After leaving Cinema Year Zero as an editor, for the simple reason that I did not have the time to spare for a project that deserved it, I have attempted to give back to the universe in some sense. 

These are 24 films to which I wholeheartedly gave my attention, and want none of it back. I’m paring down, curating more, deciding what really interests me, where I want to keep digging. How fitting that the only director to appear twice, in both the new and old categories, is that great shaman of time and attention, James Benning. 

Nadira Begum 


1. One Fine Morning

2. Bones & All

3. White Noise

4. The Banshees of Inisherin

5. Nope

6. Bodies Bodies Bodies

7. The Quiet Girl

8. The Batman

9. Emily

10. Enola Holmes 2 (very serious)


1. Dead Poets Society (1989)

2. Paterson (2016)

3. Sweet Charity (1969)

4. The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)

5. Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

6. The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)

7. Casino Royale (2006)

9. My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)

10. Unbreakable (2000)

If you had asked me this question a year ago, you would’ve received a much more interesting new discoveries list. It seems that I spent this year rewatching Twilight every two months and fixing my Daniel Craig/James Bond knowledge instead of venturing out.

Rose Dymock


  • Athena – a petrol bomb to the sense, the best constructed first ten minutes of a film I’ve seen.
  • Aftersun 
  • Decision to leave 
  • Boiling point – a film that transported me back to waitressing and joys and anxieties that come with it. 
  • Venetian men – a short film seen at Women X  Film Festival about the effortless adventures of teenage girls and their Venice holiday in the 1990s.
  • A room of my own – how to make a unique pandemic film
  • Unrest
  • Compartment no 6
  • Paris 13th district 
  • The lost city 


  • Umbrellas of Cheurborg 
  • Om shanti om
  • Bad lieutenant 
  • Labyrinth (Armenian)

Anna Devereux 


  • An Cailín Ciúin (Bairéad)
  • Elvis (Luhrmann)
  • All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (Poitras)
  • The Banshees of Inisherin (McDonagh)
  • Aftersun (Wells)
  • Licorice Pizza (Anderson)
  • Top Gun: Maverick (Kosinski)
  • Nope (Peele)
  • All My Friends Hate Me (Gaynord)
  • Confess, Fletch (Mottola)


  • Bones (2001, Dickerson)
  • Meet Me in St. Louis (1944, Minnelli)
  • Friday Foster (1975, Marks)
  • Miami Vice (2006, Mann)
  • All That Jazz (1979, Fosse)
  • Bringing Out the Dead (1999, Scorsese)
  • Margaret (2011, Lonergan)
  • Holiday (1938, Cukor)
  • Michael Clayton (2007, Gilroy)
  • The Dead (1987, Huston)

Paul Farrell


=1. The Quiet Girl (Bairéad) 

=1. Crimes of the Future (Cronenberg) 

3. Water Gate Bridge AKA The Battle at Lake Changjin II (Lam/Chen/Tsui) 

4. Memoria (Apichatpong) 

5. The Munsters (Zombie) 

6. Cold Wind Blowing (Copland) 

7. Ambulance (Bay) 

8. Dark Glasses (Argento) 

9. Vikram (Lokesh) 

10. Ali & Ava (Barnard)


  1. Deadbeat at Dawn (Van Bebber)
  2. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Lee)
  3. My Dinner with Andre (Malle)
  4. In Order Not to Be Here (Stratman)
  5. 5. Violence at Noon (Oshima)
  6. Godzilla vs. Hedorah (Banno)
  7. North by Northwest (Hitchcock)
  8. The Boys of Summer (Haddad)
  9. Jacaranda Joe (Romero) 
  10. Too Old to Die Young (Refn)

Digby Houghton 

  1. One Fine Morning (Mia Hansen-Løve)
  2. Licorice Pizza (Paul Thomas Anderson)
  3. The Stranger (Thomas Wright)
  4. Holy Spider (Ali Abbasi)
  5. Wanda (Barbara Loden, 1970)
  6. Vortex (Gaspar Noé)
  7. Innocence (Lucile Hadžihalilović, 2004)
  8. The Afterlight (Charlie Shackleton)
  9. Franklin (Kasimir Burgess)
  10. Top Gun: Maverick

Esmé Holden


  1. Crimes of the Future (David Cronenberg)
    • At the end of his career, David Cronenberg looks back at the reactionary elements of his work with regret and pain. It’s his funniest and most relaxed movie, but in it he finds a dramatic redemption, an acceptance of the changing of the body (which has resonated with just about every trans person I know). In doing this, the ardently atheistic filmmaker can only look to the transcendent, ending on a visual quote from The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
  2. In Front of your Face / The Novelist’s Film (Hong Sang-soo)
    • A diptych about finding beauty in the face of death. In Front of Your Face shows how it can only be found in impermanence, because that’s what all things in life are; any hint of eternity is only a delusion. After it’s been found, The Novelist’s Film is about creating a life that can sustain it, spending time only with people you care about and doing things you find inspiring. Hoping to keep a hold of it, of beauty, for as long as you can. As long as you have left. 
  3. Cordillera of Dreams (Patricio Guzmán)
    • The final film in Patricio Guzmán’s trilogy connecting the geography and political history of Chile wanders into the abstraction of poetry without ever allowing it to get in the way of precise analysis. When Guzmán asks what the Cordillera would say after all the horrors it’s watched over, it answers: on a path made from the mountains’ stone we see the carved names of the people murdered on it. Rather than mythologising history, which the film is explicitly fighting against, poetry shows it more clearly; it gives life to what might become cold and abstract facts. 
  4. Section 1 (Jon Bois)
    • Jon Bois continues with the theme of randomness in his most suspenseful film where the best outcome of this American Football game is a totally boring loss, so that everyone will leave the stadium before a plane crashes into it. Bois shows us how all the chaos of the world can align perfectly, it’s all the more moving because it happened for no good reason; it was a secular miracle. 
  5. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (Jane Schoenbrun)
    • The Internet might seem like a free space to express yourself in whatever way you want, but its quiet structures inform that expression; the medium gives the message shape. Jane Schoenbrun’s debut feature quite bracingly shows how artificial and silly the results of this can be, but never doubts that the feelings underneath are genuine and true. The ambiguity of the internet might seem an apt conduit for teenage (or transgender) feelings not yet understood, but it only serves to obscure them more, in a kind of self-absorption that only alienates people from themselves.
  6. No Bears (Jafar Panahi)
    • A film made on the edges, literally on the border of a country that’s about to collapse in on itself, it’s Jafar Panahi’s darkest movie. Instead of finding complexity within a simple premise, No Bears is dense, complicated and sometimes hard to follow; it feels like a lot of detail is lost watching it as a foreigner. If its focus seems scattershot, it comes together in an incredibly powerful final act with echoes of Sansho the Bailiff (1954), feeling similarly huge and bleak, uncomfortably foreshadowing what was about to come in Panahi’s country and personal life. 
  7. Benediction (Terence Davies)
    • Quite similar to Terence Davies’ previous film, A Quiet Passion (2018), but is richer because the two parts—one of hyper-articulate wit and one facing the bleakness of death—aren’t neatly segmented. It slips back and forth through memory, managing to have morbid and sexy scenes work right next to each other, even if the joy in Siegfried Sassoon’s life, and by proxy Davies’, slowly fades to basically nothing. 
  8. Three Thousand Years of Longing (George Miller)
    • The biggest surprise of the year, George Miller’s passion project and inevitable box office failure looked lame and cornball. And maybe it is, but its core feels so true that it imbues the rest with its light, that the obsession with stories and art, whether you’re an artist, an academic or an audience member, speak to a deep loneliness and melancholy. A desire to escape into another world—into a fanatical world with Djinn or into your own head with something intellectually engaging—or maybe it’s just to get away from your life for a little while, it doesn’t really matter where to. 
  9. The Tsugua Diaries (Maureen Fazendeiro & Miguel Gomes)
    • Maureen Fazendeiro and Miguel Gomes’ first film together is a celebration of collaboration and all the little highs and lows of living together. From squabbles about who drank whose milk to the building of a butterfly house, or rather, the opposite, as the days are shown in reverse order. Much like with Hong Sang-soo, the narrative then comes from the structure rather than the action, from the gaps in context slowly filled in. The way this allows the film to loop around on itself is quite beautiful: as it shows the film within the film and the butterfly house being unmade, it shows itself being made; it invites us into that creation. 
  10. Saint Omer (Alice Diop)
    • Movies that like to think of themselves as emphatic often only look for it in places comfortable and familiar, flattening everyone together as having a lot more in common than we think. But in Saint Omer, Alice Diop looks at people who have done things beyond comprehension and doesn’t try to judge nor explain them. Any explanation can only seem half-formed because all people can only be partly understood. To make a finer point of that, to imagine someone as totally alien from you, is therefore a choice, something the film directly challenges. If it’s striking to meet the eyes of the woman in the trial at the film’s centre it’s not because you’re looking into a void, but because you aren’t. 


  1. Election Campaign 1932 (1933, Ella Bergmann-Michel)
  2. The Harvey Girls (1946, George Sidney)
  3. The Big Snooze (1946, Robert Clampett) 
  4. Aag (1948, Raj Kapoor)
  5. Monkey Business (1952, Howard Hawks)
  6. Alphaville (1965, Jean-Luc Godard)
  7. Trafic (1971, Jacques Tati)
  8. Green Snake (1993, Tsui Hark)
  9. Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou (1998, Takashi Annō)
  10. The Gleaners & I (2000, Agnes Varda)

Ellisha Izumi


  1. Resolving ‘Your Biggest Fan’ (Stef Aranas)
  2. Do Revenge (Jennifer Kaytin Robinson)
  3. Decision to Leave (Park Chan-wook)
  4. Bergman Island (Mia Hansen-Løve)
  5. TÁR (Todd Field)
  6. After Yang (Kogonada)
  7. Deep Water (Adrian Lyne)
  8. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (Sophie Hyde)
  9. Not Okay (Quinn Shephard)
  10. Funny Pages (Owen Kline)

Sadly, there are no clear favourite features for me in 2022 so I decided to give the number 1

spot to a short that I love that got me excited about the future of filmmaking: Resolving

‘Your Biggest Fan’ a brilliant meta-doc by a trans filmmaker trying to finish her graduate film

during a COVID lockdown. Similarly, Funny Pages snuck in at number 10 despite its third act

problems as its visceral comedy promises an exciting future from writer/director Owen


Several films on this list also impressed me with deft scripts that I kept returning to long

after watching: the exploration of diaspora through sci-fi metaphor in After Yang, of

sexuality in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, and a thorough examination of privilege in the

underrated Not Okay.

Honourable mentions go to Sharp Stick (Lena Dunham), Bones and All (Luca Guadagnino),

and Austin Butler for a great performance in a mixed bag film (Elvis), which had dazzling

highs in sea of lows. Filmmakers I’m eager to see more from include Jane Schoenbrun

(We’re All Going to the World’s Fair) and Monia Chokri (Babysitter).

best discoveries of 2022

1. And So We Put Goldfish in the Pool. (2017, Makoto Nagahisa)

2. Turksib (1929, Victor Turin)

3. Something’s Gotta Give (2003, Nancy Meyers)

4. Trust (1990, Hal Hartley)

5. Lost in London (2017, Woody Harrelson)

6. Boogiepop and Others (2000, Ryu Kaneda)

7. Tokyo Blood (1993, Gakuryu Ishii)

8. Keane (2004, Lodge Kerrigan)

9. Fury (1936, Fritz Lang)

10. Queen of Diamonds (1991, Nina Menkes)

Honourable mentions for phenomenal repertory cinema experiences:

A. The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962, George Pal, Henry Levin) in Cinerama

at Widescreen Weekend

B. Forever a Woman (1955, Kinuyo Tanaka) at Cinema Rediscovered

C. Unstoppable (2010, Tony Scott) in 35mm at The Prince Charles Cinema

Ioanna Micha 


  1. Decision to Leave by Park Chan-wook
  2. Tár by Todd Field
  3. The Fabelmans by Steven Spielberg 
  4. After Yang by Kogonada
  5. Everything Everywhere All at Once by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
  6. The Eternal Daughter by Joanna Hogg 
  7. The Banshees of Inisherin by Martin McDonagh
  8. Magnetic Fields by Giorgos Gousis
  9. Barbarian by Zach Cregger
  10. Athena by Romain Gavras


  1. La Paloma (1974) by Daniel Schmid
  2. Lola Montès (1955) by Max Ophüls
  3. My Night at Maud’s (1969) by Éric Rohmer
  4. How Green Was My Valley (1941) by John Ford 
  5. The Trial (1962) by Orson Welles 
  6. Taste of Cherry (1997) by Abbas Kiarostami
  7. Le Bonheur (1965) by Agnès Varda
  8. Force Majeure (2014) by Ruben Östlund
  9. Our Little Sister (2015) by Hirokazu Koreeda
  10. Murder on the Orient Express (1974) by Sidney Lumet

Sam Moore


10 – Top Gun: Maverick

A swansong for Tom Cruise, the last movie star on the planet, all wrapped up in what’s

wonderful and frustrating about the blockbuster. Legitimately breathtaking and visceral

action sequences; the jingoistic relationship to the military; and the prevailing, but tenuous

grasp of the status quo on the rest of world. Not a nostalgic sequel to a decades-old

original film, but a moving, sobering comment on what’s become of cinema – and one of its

most famous, full-throated exponents – since the 80s.

9 – Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Another sequel, but this one much more contemporary. And capital-c Contemporary might

be the best way to describe Glass Onion, a film that wears its layers – and its own love with

and fascination for them – on its impeccably tailored sleeve. The man-child billionaire who

invites old friends to his private island is exactly the type of person who would buy Twitter

and run it into the ground. But the terminally online politics of this film – something it shares

with its predecessor, even if they’re less blunt here – aren’t the appeal: its the joy of a great

cast peeling back the layers of a classic mystery. A puzzle box to relish in solving.

8 – All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

Nan Goldin tells the story of her life and work with the help of Laura Poitras. Goldin refuses

to look away, which means that the film makes us look on, unblinking, with her. A

testament on the power of art and activism; the need for political engagement and

challenging institutions; and the small tragedies and triumphs that build up to a life worth

living, fighting for, and saving.

7 – Crimes of the Future

David Cronenberg at his most explicitly romantic. Not a body-horror, or even a horror at all,

but instead a delightfully perverse love story about what our bodies – and the stories we tell

with them, the art that they help us to make – might be heading next. While it might be a

simplification to add that David Cronenberg said trans rights, he dd, and that still feels like

it matters.

6 – The Banshees of Inisherin

No man is an island in this tragicomedy, no matter how much one of them might want to

be. What begins as a platonic breakup becomes a kind of philosophical showdown on

what makes life worthwhile. Career best work from both leading men, and a final sequence

that’s unshakeable. These banshees might not be screaming, but their words will burrow

into you all the same.

5 – Aftersun

The film I’ve spent the most time thinking about since I initially saw it this year, and every

time I sit with it, I come away thinking that it was even better. Magical and wondrous in a

way that only cinema can be; it cuts deep in a way that doesn’t even become clear until

long after the end, when all those old wounds open up again.

4 – White Noise

The scariest film of the year, wringing out every possible drop of horror from a laundry list

of contemporary anxieties that range from the mundane to the existential, what’s most

surprising about White Noise is just how effortlessly it fits into Baumbach’s filmography. At

its heart – and it has a big one – is a marriage; two people who are almost desperately in

love with each other, and all of the power, fear, and joy that comes with it.

3 – Nope

Cinema of the spectacle as a funhouse mirror; daring you to look away. Possibly Peele’s

best work yet; full of mystery and nuance. Steven Yeun gives one of the most underrated,

heartbreaking performances of the year and does more in a single scene – talking about an

SNL sketch in a kitschy room of career merchandise – than most actors do with entire


2 – Decision to Leave

Total cinema: all aspects of the medium working at full force to create something that’s

dazzling in a way that feels almost impossible. Breathtaking in its visual storytelling, and

obsessive in its details as a way to fit the shapeshifting story at the centre of it.

1 – You Won’t Be Alone

The mute, body-swapping witch at the centre of You Won’t Be Along is constantly asking

themself about what kind of place the world is: if its frightening, rotten, broken, beautiful. It

becomes all of these things and more in the most singular cinematic achievement of the

year. There’s nothing else like it.


All Male Mashup / V.O.

Immediately cheating by putting two films in my ten slot – a pair of archival excavations by

artist and writer William E. Jones that explore the narrative beats of adult cinema. From

pulsing, fragmented cruising narratives; to the contrast between erotic image and

intellectual dialogue, Jones understands what gets cinema hot under the collar.


Bleak, relentless, and hypnotic. Makes other philosophically driven crime thrillers look

pedestrian and dreary, through both its construction of an increasingly barren Tokyo, to the

ease with which it pries open doors to the darkest, most morbidly inviting corridors. Gets

under the skin and doesn’t leave.


An experimental horror of light and darkness, both visually and thematically. From its first

moments the images are arresting, and the stop-start structure is a dark, absurdist delight.

Doesn’t so much hurtle towards the inevitability of tragedy as walk towards it in a daze,

always looking for something to illuminate an unforgiving world until the last moment.


The best “shouting at the screen in surprise” movie that I saw this year – never goes where

you expect, and never stops moving. There are a few puzzle boxes and mysteries across

these lists, and this is the one that’s most likely to grab you and not let go.


The last time I did a CYZ discovery list, I had Interstellar on it, and this feels like it occupies

that same space: something that’s surprising for me not to have seen. Spielberg is the

great cinematic humanist; offering the audience the ability to see the world anew every



Deconstructing the samurai – as a historical figure and cinematic one – and daring to call

every tradition that came before it hollow and meaningless. There are moments of brutal

violence, and visual serenity here. They’re not running against each other, but existing in a

strange harmony.

The Living Dead Girl

There are two tragedies in life: the first is not getting what you want. The second is getting

it. Jean Rollin knocks on the door of cinematic perfection with a story of love lost that

becomes something monstrous when it’s found once again.

The Public Enemy

Queerness finds a lonely, violent avatar in James Cagney’s Tom Powers, a man who is

constantly raging against the world around him, even as he tries to ascend the ladder of it

with blood on his hands. For all of the heavy-handed moralising that bookends the film,

and the societal problem of a “public enemy,” Wellamn’s film offers something much more

than a morality play: a character study of a man whose ghost still walks among us.


All of the queer films on this list are weird and violent. The most obviously unbalanced

woman in the history of gothic cinema invites a “friend” to her secluded manor. But the

Rollin-esque set-up is anything but: Symptoms is slow to reveal its hand, and creates

something legitimately unsettling in the emptiness of this grand house, and the women that

wander around it.

To Be Or Not To Be

It’s tempting to talk about the politics of the film: the limits of art-as-activism. But in the end,

when I think about To Be Or Not To Be, I think about the fact that it has one of the best

punchlines in a film that I’ve ever heard.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

“I know what gold does to men’s souls.” A tale of distrust and disintegration; of desperate,

cowardly men reaching out for the the thing they want the most, at any cost. Bogart is

fascinating for his cowardice more than anything else; a fool looking for fool’s gold which,

in the end, is all gold.

S Paul 

(Editor’s Note: Paul declined to continue, citing Gorfinkel’s Against Lists and a desire to abolish the Gregorian calendar)

Paddy Mulholland


  • Benediction (Terence Davies)
  • Blonde (Andrew Dominik)
  • Crimes of the Future (David Cronenberg)
  • EO (Jerzy Skolimowski)
  • Mad God (Phil Tippett)
  • Nelly & Nadine (Magnus Gertten)
  • Pacifiction (Albert Serra)
  • Rimini (Ulrich Seidl)
  • Robe of Gems (Natalia Lopez)
  • What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? (Alexandre Koberidze)


  • Ah Pook Is Here. (Philip Hunt)
  • Flamenco (Carlos Saura)
  • Hen, His Wife (Igor Kovalyov)
  • The House of Small Cubes (Katou Kunio)
  • The Muppet Movie (James Frawley)
  • Peking Opera Blues (Tsui Hark)
  • Phantoms of Nabua (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
  • Rejuvenique Video Manual 
  • Still in Cosmos (Makino Takashi)
  • Tungrus (Rishi Chandna)

Joseph Owen

  1. Human Flowers of Flesh (dir. Wittmann)
  2. Fairytale (dir. Sokurov)
  3. Astrakan (dir. Depesseville)
  4. Vortex (dir. Noé)
  5. Benediction (dir. Davies)
  6. Top Gun: Maverick (dir. Kosinski)
  7. The Girl and the Spider (Zürchers)
  8. Licorice Pizza (Anderson)
  9. Introduction (Hong)
  10. Benedetta (Verhoeven)

Maximilien Luc Proctor 

8 new features:

  • Darkness, Darkness, Burning Bright — Prelude & Oraison (Rouard)
  • The Dream and the Radio (Després-Larose & Rousiouk)
  • Vortex (Noé)
  • Hole in the Head (Kavanagh)
  • Crimes of the Future (Cronenberg)
  • The United States of America (Benning)
  • Tár (Field)
  • Nobody’s Hero (Guiraudie)

Every year I am faced with the same dilemma: first, determining if I exposed my eyeballs to enough new feature-length films that I enjoyed to make a list. Coming up with a short list of great experimental shorts is never a problem. Darkness, Darkness… was a very special treat which I am well aware most people have not yet had a chance to see. I include it in the hopes that it will generate some interest. Ideally even push some to book the film for screenings. With only one existing print that must be projected by the filmmaker herself, it’s not a simple prospect. But in time I don’t doubt it will get out there a bit more. 

The Dream and the Radio is the kind of ‘first film’ that makes all the festival digging feel worthwhile —finally, further proof of young people out there somewhere in the world who really want to try to do things differently, unafraid of failure, willing to challenge viewers, to challenge themselves, to challenge the general state of festival filmmaking and still make it through the cracks. It is rare, and Renaud Després-Larose & Ana Tapia Rousiouk are absolutely a duo to keep an eye on.

With Vortex, Noé surprised me again. After Climax (2018) (which I appreciated but did not enjoy), I was taken aback by the compassion for his characters here. It’s not exactly pioneering on a formal level, but it is fascinating. Noé’s formal schtick often threatens to fall into ‘why bother who cares’ territory, but here it works far better than expected (as was the case in Enter the Void (2009)). If nothing else one must admire his unceasing dedication to the bit. Of course he couldn’t help himself with that last shot, and the dialogue and plot more than once slips into overly silly territory, yet overall its a level-headed entry that truly tickled the fear-of-death nerve like no other.

Hole in the Head is another promising new work by a lesser-known filmmaker. As per his website, Dean Kavanagh has made 70 short films and 6 features. The theatrical unrolling of his new picture in his native Ireland is a touching success story. The film itself—complete with a handy blog about its making—concerns the mining of a mysterious personal history via various moving image formats. There are tedious moments, but the whole of the film is a satisfying and exploratory bizarro aesthetic adventure which thrills beyond the surface obsessions of, say, a Peter Strickland picture.

Crimes of the Future sees Cronenberg senior up to his usual. What is new here is the way it blends the best of his late style narratives (A History of Violence, Eastern Promises) into his fascination with gore. A logical endpoint. The body reigns supreme in his filmography and here it is once again the locus of control and reckless abandon. Not a return to but a furthering of form.

Similarly, The United States of America sees Benning continuing to hold static shots for extended periods with little to no action. It is a strategy which has allowed him to continue releasing work at a steady clip. Apparently he has already made two new features since this one premiered in February. Here we stare at nature. We stare at the ruins of the American dream. We hear ghosts of the past through recorded speeches and echoes of distant music. We meditate on the injustices the nation was built upon (as is always his wont). 

Tár was a pleasant surprise. Nobody’s Hero was a clever absurdist satire.  I don’t have much else to say about either except to recommend them.

5 new shorts:

  • Ashes by Name is Man (Rosinska)
  • Tigre del Carbon (aZuLosa)
  • Lungta (Cuesta)
  • Notes on Connection III (Franco)
  • All The Best (Proctor)

Tigre del Carbon and Notes on Connection III were two of the many excellent films in the ‘Persistent Visions’ program of MoMI’s First Look festival in March. 

Lungta is the newest work by Alexandra Cuesta, whose Notes, Imprints (On Love): Part I (2020) left an impression for its subtle and sensitive imagery. Lungta however, is composed of ghostly images, nothing concrete, everything based around the fact of its inability to be perceived concretely. 

Ashes by Name is Man is the latest work by Ewelina Rosinska, which will play IFFR in January, and which displays a technical proficiency which has furthered since her last (already quite good) film, Erde im Mund (2020). While both films were shot illustriously on 16mm and edited digitally, her next is slated to be an all-analog endeavor. If Ashes… is anything to go by, her next will be a masterwork of montage. 

All the Best is the first film (a single roll) shot on my Bolex, which was surprise-gifted to me by six of my closest friends in October, and it is incredible the degree to which having my own personal camera has altered my working methodology. 

17 discoveries:

  • Eniaios (I-III and XII-XIV) (1947-1991, Markopoulos)
  • Bouquets 11-20 (2009, Lowder)
  • 17 Reasons Why (1987, Dorsky)
  • Stare (1991, Kels)
  • Women I Love (1979, Hammer)
  • Meditations on Revolution Part V: Foreign City (2003, Fenz)
  • Working Class (1976, Wong)
  • Fog Line (1970, Gottheim)
  • Untitled 77-A (1977, Han)
  • La Region Centrale (1971, Snow)
  • Hand Held Day (1975, Beydler)
  • Heat Shimmer (1978, the Cantrills)
  • Fishs Eddy (1978, Shatavsky)
  • What the Water Said (Nos. 1-6) (1998 & 2007, Gatten)
  • The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo (1955, Tait)
  • Belly (1998, Williams)
  • Sotiros (2000, Beavers)

Each of these viewings taught me to see again, which is the reason I continue to watch films. 

Fedor Tot


  • No Bears (Jafar Panahi)
  • Petrov’s Flu (Kiril Serebrenikov)
  • You Won’t Be Alone (Goran Stolevski)
  • Vortex (Gaspar Noe)
  • This Much I Know To Be True (Andrew Dominik)
  • Jackass Forever (Jeff Tremaine)
  • Saint Omer (Alice Diop)
  • All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (Laura Poitras)
  • Murina (Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović)
  • Dark Glasses (Dario Argento)


  • The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman, USA, 1973)
  • All that Money Can Buy (William Dieterle, USA, 1941)
  • Hard to Be a God (Aleksei German, Russia, 2013)
  • The Swordsman of All Swordsmen (Joseph Kuo, Taiwan, 1969)
  • Execution in Autumn (Lee Hsing, Taiwan, 1972)
  • Ganja and Hess (Bill Gunn, USA 1973)
  • Coach to Vienna (Karel Kachyňa, Czechoslovakia, 1966)
  • The Enemy (Živojin Pavlović, Yugoslavia, 1965)
  • Boxer from Shantung( Chang Cheh/Pao Hsueh-Li, Hong Kong, 1972)
  • The Lady from Constantinople (Judit Elek, Hungary, 1969)

Best Discoveries of Il Cinema Ritrovato

  • Canoa: A Shameful Memory (Felipe Cazals, Mexico, 1976)
  • A Fire (Ebrahim Golestan, Iran, 1961)
  • Zaseda/The Ambush (Živojin Pavlović, Yugoslavia, 1969)
  • The Raid (Huge Fregonese, USA, 1954)
  • Cheshmeh (Arby Ovanessian, Iran, 1972)
  • The Ninth Circle (France Štiglic, Yugoslavia, 1960)
  • Black Tuesday (Huge Fregonese, USA, 1954)
  • The Long Farewell (Kira Muratova, USSR, 1971)
  • Tony Arzenta/No Way Out (Duccio Tessari, Italy, 1973)
  • Don’t Look Back, My Son (Branko Bauer, Yugoslavia, 1956)

Alistair Ryder


  1. Aftersun
  2. The Eternal Daughter
  3. All The Beauty And The Bloodshed
  4. RRR
  5. The Banshees of Inisherin
  6. Turning Red
  7. Bones and All
  8. Funny Pages
  9. Nope
  10. Mrs Harris Goes to Paris


  1. Julia (Erick Zonca, 2008)
  2. Malcolm X (Spike Lee, 1992)
  3. Terms of Endearment (James L. Brooks, 1983)
  4. Notes on a Scandal (Richard Eyre, 2006)
  5. Police Story (Jackie Chan, 1985)
  6. Quiz Show (Robert Redford, 1996)
  7. Elevator to the Gallows (Louis Malle, 1958)
  8. The Housemaid (Kim Ki-young, 1960)
  9. Asako I & II (Ryusuke Hamaguchi, 2018)
  10. Ali (Michael Mann, 2001)

Orla Smith 

  1. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (Laura Poitras)
  2. The Eternal Daughter (Joanna Hogg)
  3. Mr. Bachmann and His Class (Maria Speth)
  4. Nope (Jordan Peele)
  5. Saint Omer (Alice Diop)
  6. Ahed’s Knee (Nadav Lapid)
  7. Anais in Love (Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet)
  8. All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen)
  9. Ali & Ava (Clio Barnard)
  10. Eo (Jerzy Skolimowski)

Laura Venning 


  1. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
  2. Aftersun
  3. The Fabelmans
  4. Blue Jean
  5. Top Gun Maverick
  6. The Eternal Daughter
  7. Armageddon Time 
  8. Flee
  9. Ali and Ava
  10. Enys Men


  1. The Owl Service (1969)
  2. Viy (1967)
  3. Working Girls (1986), Lizzie Borden
  4. We Don’t Need a Map (2017), Warwick Thornton
  5. Caprice (1986), Joanna Hogg
  6. Portrait of Kaye (2021), Ben Reed
  7. Eyes of Fire (1983), Avery Crounse
  8. The Spirit of the Beehive (1973), Víctor Erice
  9. My First Film (2018), Zia Anger
  10. 3 Women (1977), Robert Altman

Volume 11: Death + Resurrection

Credit: WhyHow

In the suspicious, anxiety-riddled world of cinephilia, there may be no phrase that captures the zeitgeist more aptly than Late Style. It is the new Vulgar Auteurism: a catchphrase for the cinematically dispossessed. Its prevalence as a turn of phrase in reviews and essays is no great breakthrough, but a symptom of a film culture that venerates the old, while the Young Turks suffer and fail. 

Late Style is a crutch for those who wish to describe a certain fluency in form, an ability in the old masters to do away with the BS and cut-to-the-quick. This should be a Cinema of Dread then, but in the tossed-off cinematic aphorisms becomes a Cinema of Acceptance. Cry Macho, Crimes of the Future, The Master Gardner, Parallel Mothers. All critical behemoths, all given the tag, films of resurrection to signal the last gasp of a declining empire. In his posthumous On Late Style, itself an example of the form, Edward Said stresses proximity to death as a quirk of this category. He quotes Adorno, ‘Touched by death, the hand of the master sets free the masses of material that he used to form’ From Clint’s sweet face to the mass grave Penelope Cruz uncovers, these aren’t just films made by old people, but are works preoccupied with mortality. Their sprightliness masks emotional frailty.  

We don’t see film as dead (outside of the British sphere), but it’s always approaching a breaking point. If this sounds like making up a guy to be mad at, remember that in late style Cinema Year Zero we don’t get mad, we get back. After months of something approaching death, we are pleased to announce that Cinema Year Zero has been resurrected. 

Since our last issue, the British film culture has been in a particularly bilious state. Cineworld bit off more than it could chew and has now filed for bankruptcy. Meanwhile, Massive Cinema, a sinister puppet site for a PR agency, polled critics on the 100 best British films of the 21st century, setting the parameters so wide that now films like Cold War and Inside Llewyn Davis are to be considered British classics. Bemused cinephiles were left puzzled by the absence of lads hit each other with chair. Of course, that didn’t stop the campaign from being nominated for a national industry award. Considerably less laughable is the sudden collapse of the Edinburgh International Film Festival along with the closure of several independent cinemas in Scotland. The cruelty of making over a hundred workers so suddenly redundant was compounded by the concurrent excess of the London Film Festival. In keeping with the current trajectory of British life: the tale of the country’s film culture is told through smiley marketing and stomach-turning balance sheets. 

Across the channel, the passing of Godard prompted worldwide reflection on the future of the medium. Godard’s life work was a broadly enjoyed but singular language, which paradoxically defied language. With him gone, the medium feels all that closer to extinction. Film has been in its late style since Avatar and 2009’s major shift from film to digital projection. It’s been in late style since the television. It’s been in late style since we abandoned the kinetoscope. As features are for the large part shot not onto film but captured by a digital camera to reside on a hard drive or server, and are never experienced projected on a physical format, the medium that cinephiles concern themselves with may be an entirely different one to that which Godard fancied. Criticism is always trying to convince the reader that there is meaning in language. That’s why Godard the critic was such an effective and exploratory filmmaker. 

On Twitter, Letterboxd, the places where film conversation really swims and where film culture turns on a dime, memories are short, replaced by an archive of screenshots. In shirking the quick-take culture that motors film publications, our mission is not simply to venerate cinema’s past, but to resurrect the snarling quality of the contemporary.

In Cinema Year Zero’s own brush with mortality – a 6 month hiatus, a change in personnel – we declare this issue the first in the publication’s own late style. And yet we’ve never felt so alive.  

Cinema Year Zero is volunteer run. Our goal is to pay writers a fair fee for their work. So if you like what you find at Cinema Year Zero, please consider subscribing to our Patreon!

August in the Water

Credit: Hill Villa

Ellisha Izumi

Hazuki Izumi (Reno Komine) stands on the edge of a rooftop looking out at the city beneath her. A clutter of competing architecture styles and buildings at various points of development: scaffolding, newly-built, maturing, declining, abandoned, condemned. Traffic lights glow, cars drone, and roads curve. A web of powerlines connects every part of the city. Hazuki is deep in thought, contemplating something or other, almost as if she’s listening to something we can’t quite hear. Her friend Mao (Shinsuke Aoki) notices the rooftop figure and approaches her as he becomes concerned that she might jump. 

This scene takes place in August in the Water (1995) but variations of it can be found in a number of Japanese films and anime of the late 1990s to early 2000s. At the time of release these films and series belonged to different genres and production cycles yet retrospectively we can identify a fascinating pattern of imagery, themes, characters and even locations that recur to form an enigmatic genre called denpa. Little has been written about it in English, so allow me to venture forward.

‘Denpa’ is a Japanese word that means electromagnetic wave or radio wave. Within the genre, characters tune into these waves and feel their effects: they sense things, hear voices and see spectres, indeed the stories of Chiaki J. Konaka begin this way, including his Lovecraft-inspired psychological horror Serial Experiments Lain (1998) and Marebito (2004). The characters are susceptible to the waves due to alienation caused by their oppressive surroundings which is depicted through a distinct, industrial aesthetic: antennas, chain link fences, telephone poles, a web of powerlines across the sky, trains, manholes and sewers, grainy and distorted footage, a muted colour palette. This imagery reoccurs across denpa fiction, from the visionary anime of Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue 1997, Paranoia Agent 2004) to the live-action poetry Shunji Iwai crafts out of adolescent cruelty (Picnic 1996, All About Lily Chou-Chou, 2001). 

These bleak,alienated urban settings raise questions of tradition vs modernisation, mass-communication and a critical look at new technologies. Denpa situates these themes amongst references to folklore and the paranormal such as ESP, hauntings, aliens and spirits a combination explored by both the cult horror favourite Boogiepop Phantom (2000) and influential franchise starter Ring (1998). These supernatural beings are known to inhabit different realms and through electromagnetic waves these beings can cross over to our world, and humans can cross over to their worlds. The blurred lines between these spaces are illustrated with surreal imagery and experimental filmmaking. Such creative innovation can be found in the surreal psychological torment of Hideaki Anno (Neon Genesis Evangelion 1995-7, Love & Pop 1998, Ritual 2000) and in the breath-taking urban dreamscapes woven by Gakuryu Ishii (August in The Water, 1993’s Tokyo Blood). Within this cocktail of urban alienation and supernatural forces are plot points such as rumours, conspiracy, mental illness, and delusion often with cosmic and apocalyptic consequences, best embodied by the hypnotic horror of Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Cure 1997, Pulse 2001).

So far, denpa has only appeared as a loosely defined genre label on English-language databases for anime and videogames, on the occasional blog post, a handful of letterboxd lists and one lone essay [1]. It is at once both recognisable yet hard to define. I understand it on an emotional level, I can identify it as a vibe, yet I want to tease out the details and define it in more concrete terms: what makes something ‘denpa’?

The genre derives from ‘denpa-san’ or ‘denpa-kei’ a name for a type of person that emerged in the late 20th century. Think of denpa-san as analogous to ‘tin foil hatter’ – someone vulnerable to paranoia, conspiracy theories and delusions hoping that the foil will block out those invasive electromagnetic waves. Or maybe they’re already at their mercy, following instructions heard via the waves and doing unsavoury or even dangerous things. The term initially hit the mainstream consciousness in association with the 1981 ‘Fukugawa Street Murders’ where a 29-year-old man indiscriminately stabbed passers-by, killing several people and injuring more. The highly-publicised trial hinged on the controversial defence of insanity: the perpetrator argued that they were driven to murder after years of torment from electromagnetic waves [2]. Over time the term expanded to become associated with creepy, unpopular people in general, those on the fringes of society with unusual quirks and obsessions. 

It is here that the term overlaps with another: ‘otaku’. A social outcast who obsesses over a hobby to the detriment of their social life. Think ‘geek’ but usually uttered with more contempt. Otaku is typically associated with anime, but contrary to popular belief can be about many subjects from videogames to cars. What ties them together is the negative effect it has on the self. Much like denpa, the term otaku gained traction in association with a horrific crime; in the 1990s it was elevated from merely a pejorative label to the centre of a moral panic in relation to the years-long trial of a serial killer nicknamed by the media as ‘the otaku killer’ for his extensive video collection of pornography and horror films [3]. In the years since, the collective otaku have shaken off the worst of these associations and become a phenomenon as they developed a distinct culture and became a major economic force that has been embraced by the media they obsess over. On the darker end of the subculture some favour the fantasy world of their hobby over the real world and get lost in it, which in itself has become a common denpa narrative with an iconic example being the idol otaku in Perfect Blue.

Critics ascribe the emergence of denpa-san and otaku to society at the time. The Japanese economic bubble burst in 1991 and the decade that followed became known as ‘The Lost Decade’. The population faced a recession which stunted young people as they came of working age. And yet Japan was known on the global stage to be at the forefront of home electronics and new technology. This was in tension with traditions of the past and complicated their national identity as new cultural connotations outpaced traditional ones posing the question: can an old culture survive as a new one emerges?

The development of these new technologies also introduced new issues as they quickly became part of everyday life. Camcorders in every hand, phones in every pocket, so easy to use that soon everyone had one without knowing how they really worked. Life was changing as there was now constant recording, growing access and intimate conversations were now held not in person but via phones and on internet forums. As people became increasingly reliant on these technologies, people began to wonder, what is the existential cost of these new conveniences? 

From moral-panics and national identity crises to new technologies denpa fiction responds to this new cultural landscape. 

The war between tradition and modernization often forms the backdrop of denpa fiction in urban spaces where a dedicated few keep old customs alive, while others push on for progress. Gakuryu Ishii (previously known as Sogo Ishii) depicts the tension of this conflict well in August in the Water where participants of the centuries-old festival in Hakata pulse through the city in historical costumes with traditional matsuri floats surrounded by modern buildings and stopped traffic; Ishii finds strange beauty in the cityscapes that engulf and imprison his characters. Investigations lead Detective Takabe (Koji Yakusho) in Cure to abandoned buildings and disused factories which signal the failure of a once-promising industry. In Love & Pop and Tokyo Blood, supporting characters are construction workers who signify this changing landscape as they meet on noisy building sites that are the eyesore we must endure for another dubious future.  

The rooftop is a recurring location for these films. It can be a place for a clandestine conversation with a confidante, or a place for solo contemplation. The sight of a lone person on a rooftop can be startling to passers-by: the threat of suicide looms and in denpa often does happen. Cinematographically speaking it’s an opportunity to view an urban vista: the buildings, antennas and powerlines that populate the skyline. Again and again characters are drawn to the rooftop where they can get the clearest signal to the electromagnetic waves that mesmerise and influence them. 

Alternatively, the clearest signal can be found by going right to the source. In Serial Experiments Lain we meet Lain’s father (Ryusuke Obayashi) at his impressive 6 monitor desktop and over the course of the series Lain’s (Kaori Shimizu) simple computer set-up evolves to be larger and larger. A soundscape is built from keyboard tapping, mouse clicking and monitors gently beeping. Denpa characters are often found hunched over a desk or workstation in the dark, the only light source being the glow of a screen or the small bulbs of a switchboard that gently whir as a pen scratches while detailed notes are being made. It’s an image with unhealthy connotations indicating obsession and someone losing touch with the outside world. In Boogiepop Phantom, the deskbound character is a videogame otaku finding solace in a fictional fantasy world. In Cure they’re a detective and in Ring a journalist whose respective investigations turn fanatical as they uncover disturbing histories. In each instance the foundations of their worldview will soon be shaken and their mental health questioned as conspiracies and paranormal explanations become more and more likely. Are the characters’ paranoid, or are they seeing things clearly for the first time? 

These paranoid thoughts or deteriorating mental states are often heard through voice-over narration. Depending on the film the voice-over could be the trademark psychological introspection of Neon Genesis Evangelion, or the expansive philosophical musings of August in the Water or even the sinister and somewhat incoherent rambling of Marebito. Though superficially different, what they share is a painfully personal and poetic type of soliloquy.  

Alongside narration, different psychological states are expressed through surreal imagery and experimental filmmaking, which often leads to a striking use of mixed-media with live-action moments in anime. In Boogiepop Phantom, a drug-addled videogame otaku experiences visions which are depicted by heavily edited live-action footage in a break from the traditional animation of the series. In Serial Experiments Lain there are animated character figures over live-action backgrounds which has the uncanny effect of blurring the lines between the different worlds that Lain traverses. In the case of Neon Genesis Evangelion: End of Evangelion, the sequence of live-action footage breaks the diegetic barrier between the text and audience, seeming to directly address not only the delusions of its’ characters but its own otaku fandom. 

This subtle sense of self-awareness can be seen in the eerie experience of watching characters watching screens. Frames within frames or looking at a picture within a picture, voyeurism becomes infinite. New technologies allow people to see people through a thick glass lens or a pixelated screen. Distant yet paradoxically seeing each other more intimately than ever. In Perfect Blue this newfound intimacy fuels the obsessions and delusions of both Mima and her otaku fan.

The spectre of denpa is not limited to Japan. The same themes and same motifs can be found in English-language films from around the same time. There is Donnie Darko (2001), Richard Kelly’s film about a schizophrenic teenager who is told to commit crimes by a phantom in a rabbit suit and whose survival of a near-death-experience has apocalyptic consequences. You can find denpa in the films of M. Night Shyamalan: from the delusion of Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense (1999), to the haunting image of mass rooftop suicides in The Happening (2008) and to the potent mix of aliens and religion in Signs (2002). Even in the music video of Eminem’s Stan (2000)– in which a disturbed otaku hunches over a desk under a perpetual raincloud. When I recognise denpa motifs in films made outside Japan, I begin to think of denpa less as a genre and more as a zeitgeist. A restless, nihilistic gen x moan of exasperation. That feeling of living in The Matrix (1999); groaning at the end of the century and looking to the new one with only pessimism. Yes, there are new technologies but there are as many negative possible outcomes as there are positive ones. It seems inevitable that people will succumb to their worst impulses. 

This essay is limited to cinema and anime but that is not to say these are the limits of denpa, for there are denpa videogames [4], denpa music [5] and denpa manga. While not yet written about, I believe that there is denpa photography [6] and that there are denpa novels as a number of the films I have already mentioned are based on books (Ring, Love & Pop, Perfect Blue). But I will leave those to experts and fans of those media. In the case of moving image, I have often run myself in circles with my definition of denpa fiction, hunched over a desk while I collect and compare screenshots [7], muttering to myself, and scribbling notes when a connection becomes clear. With tabs upon tabs, I try to connect the dots between antennas, filmmakers, and social contexts. Sometimes the nuances of definitions contradict themselves but that is because that is the nature of genres: they are messy with blurred edges and they mutate. They can be splintered into a dozen subgenres, take for example horror – there are slashers, torture porn, haunted house, the polarising post-horror, and now denpa horror. But I say let us be inclusive, not exclusive. Let’s dive deep and watch the lesser-known films of celebrated Japanese auteurs. Let’s watch the films of Japanese filmmakers that didn’t make it into the canon and crossover to the west. Let us celebrate what unites them and how they enrich our understanding of the genre as we journey into the denpa realm. 

Cinema Year Zero is volunteer run. Our goal is to pay writers a fair fee for their work. So if you like what you find at Cinema Year Zero, please consider subscribing to our Patreon!

[1] The first comprehensive essay I found on denpa fiction: https://ontheones.wordpress.com/2019/06/29/on-denpa-a-guest-article-by-kenji-the-engi/

[2] Fukugawa Street Murders https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%B7%B1%E5%B7%9D%E9%80%9A%E3%82%8A%E9%AD%94%E6%AE%BA%E4%BA%BA%E4%BA%8B%E4%BB%B6 

[3] The ‘Otaku Killer’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsutomu_Miyazaki 

[4] On denpa videogames: https://warudochaos.wordpress.com/2022/02/05/what-are-denpa-dempa-%e9%9b%bb%e6%b3%a2-visual-novels-an-introduction-to-the-weird-world-of-denpa-games/ 

[5] On denpa music: https://altairandvega.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/denpa-bigaku-riron-the-rise-of-the-radio-aesthetic-in-japanese-subculture-in-the-21st-century/ 

[6] Resource for potential denpa photography: https://www.instagram.com/japanese.neo.noir/ 
to note: this instagram account posts a range of 20th Century Japanese photography, so not all of their posts are denpa but I consider some of them to fit the denpa aesthetic and themes well

[7] An instagram account where I post screenshots of denpa film and anime: https://www.instagram.com/denpa_diary/ 

Further reading:

A blog post with a good description of denpa that brings together denpa music and denpa videogames in an analysis of the anime series Boogiepop Phantom: https://artificialnightsky.wordpress.com/2021/03/25/denpa-fever-dream/ 

Letterboxd list of denpa films and anime: https://letterboxd.com/izumi/list/denpa-on-screen/ 

Letterboxd list of films made outside Japan that could be considered denpa: https://letterboxd.com/izumi/list/denpa-ish/    

The Earrings of Madame De…

Credit: Janus Films

Esmé Holden

We always follow the earrings. At first a wedding gift from the unnamed General (Charles Boyer) to his unnamed wife (Danielle Darrieux), they move from person to person, finding their way in and out of people’s lives in ways at first fortuitous, but increasingly, destructive. In The Earrings of Madame de… (1953) Max Ophuls’ camera glides elegantly, but it doesn’t move with an all-knowing certainty, it always follows, whether a person, an object, or a look. Far more concerned with the material than the emotional, it keeps enough of a distance to give a great sense of the opulent milieu that surrounds the tragic and ironic lives of his characters. But the first shot holds close, moving through furs and jewellery and coats and hats, a world of objects that Madame lives in as she struggles to find a single thing she’s willing to sell in order to pay off the debts she’s accrued, eventually deciding on the earrings she’s half-forgotten. The opening shot ends with her perfectly framed in an ornate mirror. She’s not trapped in this world, she’s a part of it; what we see isn’t Madame but a reflection on another beautiful surface. As the film increasingly explores the spiritual that is at first so casually dismissed—Madame drolly notes that she needs her bible more than ever as it falls from the shelf it’s been carelessly thrown onto—perhaps we see even less, a reflection of a reflection; the body is just another object, only briefly filled with a spirit. 

For all her selfishness, her materialism, her manipulations, Madame remains very likeable; self-assured, and at enough of a distance to be composed amongst the absurd pettiness of the supposedly sophisticated Belle Époque. When the General is wandering around the theatre looking for the supposedly lost earrings, a man accuses him of simply looking at his wife in a way that might suggest suspicion. Hardly a polemicist, Ophuls is most critical of the things he loves. He gives so much room to luxuriate in every draping curtain, every extravagantly detailed painting and every flickering candle reflected in the mirrored walls; it’s a beautiful world of beautiful things, but that never obscures how silly it is, or how dull. Madame is something of a performer—before pretending to lose her earrings, she pretends to faint at the jewellers—because she’s an ironist, she has to be, most of the characters are. All of these supposedly material things are glittering and suggestive: of taste, of gender, of class.

Unlike his contemporary, and a more obviously religious director, Robert Bresson, who finds the material world endlessly burdensome and heavy, the only reprieve coming in the lightness of the spiritual. The two cannot connect without a miracle, which only seems to come at the end of a long life of suffering; maybe then you’ll hear the quiet ringing of bells. For Ophuls the spiritual is the only thing with any weight at all, the literal world is as light as air; immaterial and diffuse, and he finds much pleasure in that. The film spins on the axis of the earrings’ amusingly serendipitous journey. After the General buys them back from the jeweller, he gives them to his mistress (Lia Di Leo), who sells them, later to be bought by Donati (Vittoria De Sica), a diplomat who will become Madame’s lover and returns them to her. Some life is even revived in Madame and the General’s dying marriage when he decides not to tell her that he knows about the earrings. When they’re both lying to one another sparks can flicker again, they flirt, if only with raised voices from their distant beds. For Bresson there aren’t even flickers of harmony with the cruel material world, but for Ophuls there is something freeing in its distance from the gravity of religion, irony is a fittingly frivolous lens. 

Even Ophuls’ role as director is infused with irony, he’s someone who suggests rather than shows. The long dances between Madame and Donati, moving to and from the camera, at one point surrounded by paintings, quotations of dance, echo the scene in his earlier La Ronde (1950), where the mysterious master of ceremonies—a kind of demigod lightly guiding, directing, another series of coincidences—bemoans the censors as he cuts out a sex scene. As Madame and Donati’s relationship grows more intense, irony transforms from pleasurable to evasive, becoming the only way for Madame and Donati to not look their situation in the face. There are limits to indirectness because it leaves enough space for other impulses to come in and take over; an empty worldview for an empty world. But those feelings feel so much stronger from their lack of articulation, Ophuls argues that suggestion is so much richer. Twice we see the General walk a woman to the train, the first time to send off his mistress for good with only a meaningless gift, the second, after he’s ended Madame’s affair, sending her away from Donati to recoup; to be trapped. But it’s not a simple juxtaposition between letting go and holding on, the solemn look on his face as he watches Madame’s train leave suggests that he knows he’s already lost her. He’s just emptily repeating rituals of a control he once had, in a different time with a different woman. 

Despite Ophuls’ love for the signifiers of extreme wealth, he does give some moments to the workers lower down the class ladder, those who instead of leading pointless lives, just have pointless jobs. A Doorman huffs to his colleague that he won’t open the door the next time the General rushes in and out, but of course he does anyway. Ophuls prods at the social order, but no character has either any interest in changing it, or any idea that such a thing is possible. Despite the fact that both The General and Donati work in politics, their roles seem more ceremonial than anything else. (If the former represents conflict between nations and the latter harmony, one assumes the nations are Man and Woman.) It’s all taken as a given. Politics are more firmly formed than anything else in this world of illusive materialism. Meanwhile, politics and the material world become increasingly irrelevant to Madame. As her affair is collapsing, she tries to distract herself with an extravagant painting of the Battle of Waterloo, its import and drama feel deeply futile. But it’s those social forces that she has to distract herself from in the first place; its presence is clear even when its form is diffuse. It’s like a God reigning over, unseen in all its might.

In the world of Ophuls, politics might be stronger than the actual religion it is supposed to be informed by, in service of. Madame first goes to church to pray for her earrings to be sold, she pays for a prayer candle and quickly crosses herself on the way out; as empty a ritual duty as any other, like a marriage continuing long after all love has died out. Even when she returns to pray in sincerity that Donati survives the duel the General has challenged him to, she’s still only come in her time of need, though maybe it’s less cynical and more like her husband’s desperate reenactment. She doesn’t believe it will work, you can see that in her eyes, but what else is there to do? Either way her prayer goes unanswered. Maybe faith has no impact in this world, maybe God doesn’t exist. Or maybe she’s being punished by another patriarchal force; when she confesses to being guilty only in thoughts, perhaps that’s as guilty as she could possibly be. 

Despite how much passion fills Madame when she falls in love, she remains an empty character: emptied by materialism, emptied by love, and finally, emptied by despair. There is a limit to her transformations. When Donati dies it’s as if her feelings are too strong for this formless, insincere world. And so she has to leave it, though maybe she was already half-way there after they had been separated. But then, as we move closely through the church—the final shot showing the spiritual, as the first shot did the material—Ophuls pans down from a statue of a saint to the earrings. In a world where everything changes forms so fluidly, even abstract ideas like irony can turn from intimate to evasive. There has been a genuine and deep transformation; a true rebirth. As God came down to the Earth in human form, the earrings have connected the material and the spiritual, they’ve become more than simply an object, even more than one that accrued so much meaning. In the end, Ophuls, much like Bresson, reaches the spiritual only through the material, but instead of harshly contrasting blunt images of an empty and dead world, Ophuls shows emptiness in a long take. His camera is like the spirit that moves through this world, giving it the space to breathe and transform, but from a distance that cannot be crossed, except by a miracle.

Cinema Year Zero is volunteer run. Our goal is to pay writers a fair fee for their work. So if you like what you find at Cinema Year Zero, please consider subscribing to our Patreon!

Bullet Train

Credit: Fuenferfilm, Tita Productions

Joseph Owen

Notes from Locarno, 2022

This year Locarno Film Festival celebrated its diamond edition: 75 years of cinema in a small town tucked between Lake Maggiore and the Swiss Alps. It’s wet and warm, mostly at the same time. Stormy weather offers language. Dark and moody, like the sky. I’ve brought a thin, waterproof poncho, and a cap. The people are rich and the food is expensive. The festival’s artistic director, Giona A. Nazzaro, is two years into his premiership, and because he has written several books on Hong Kong action cinema, attendees speculate on the programme’s tilt towards genre moviemaking. A Coke Zero costs around five Swiss francs. 

The marriage between art and commerce forms part of the festival’s conundrum. David Leitch’s fists-and-banter epic Bullet Train opens Piazza Grande, the vast plein-air cinema in the main square. It stars Brad Pitt and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. No better time than to watch Fairytale (dir. Alexander Sokurov), an absurd CGI theatre that reanimates Churchill, Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin onto purgatorial ruins. None of these characters can die, Sokurov tells us, because they’ll always be alive, and because they’re already dead. 

Competition films Stone Turtle (dir. Ming Jin Woo) and Tommy Guns (dir. Carlos Conceição), one Malaysian and the other Portuguese, confront the nature of violence by appealing to the mode of revenge thriller. Stone Turtle is about how men hurt women; Tommy Guns is about how soldiers colonise countries. Both intersperse ethnographic scene-setting with category stylings: the former employs a Groundhog Day mystery; the latter evokes the horror latent in the return of the repressed. A critic I speak with suggests that these films illustrate a prevailing, even permanent, “gentrification of genre.” I wonder if this phrase is right, wary that the artistic predilections of directors, programmers, festivals and audiences generally tend to fluctuate and dissipate, so that in time they can be resurrected.  

A Perfect Day for Caribou (dir. Jeff Rutherford) concerns the misery handed from father to son: how intergenerational failure deepens and transforms as time passes. A middle-aged man, Herman (Jeb Berrier), balding but otherwise hirsute, sits in his pick-up truck, recording a suicide note for his estranged son, Nate (Charlie Plummer). Nate calls to reconnect, setting in motion a subsequent two-hander of “remember when,” held across a sprawling backdrop of Oregon hills, peaks, and plains. Shot in black and white, the screen appears in a cramped 4:3 ratio, shading with irony the wide expanses of terrain and jagged rises. The concentrated, tasteful framing of situations, objects, and characters is distracting: the bisected cemetery where Nate arrives in his car; the display of household goods tied to Herman’s truck. The inarticulate dialogue insinuates authentic portrayal but is novelistic. Plummer has a difficult role as a young man struggling to reconcile with his wounded patriarch: his strained, tilted head, his self-conscious mumbling, and the inevitable moment of his climactic anger. This sad, lonely outsider is a classic figure illustrating the film’s own derivative nature. To derive is no bad thing, but the inspired moments in this work are purely imaginative. One abrupt shot of a family unit—Nate, Herman, and a woman whom they briefly encounter—offers a striking alternative reality of lives redeemed, or at least not yet destroyed.

Medusa Deluxe (dir. Thomas Hardiman) is a slick, shallow, serpentine debut feature high on bombast and short on plausibility. This is filmmaking as elevator pitch: a murder mystery set during a regional hairdressing competition, suddenly capsized by a gruesome scalping, igniting a carnival of restless, bickering grotesques. These wretched souls point fingers and elude interrogation, slinging blame into a cyclone-whip of opprobrium. This movie is not a polite retread of the static, classic whodunnit; rather it is a roving visual slalom, an ostensibly “one-take” showcase for prominent cinematographer Robbie Ryan. The cast is without household names, so Ryan’s bravura camerawork is the star performer, tagging his lens onto rival stylists and their coiffured models. The technical work is impressive, the acting haphazard, and the plot nonsensical. The film likes to insist on how fun it is: this tendency culminates in an encore dance number that’s valedictory and unearned. The snippy, quickfire dialogue is generally overengineered, thwarting the viewer’s amateur-detective efforts to decipher the killer or understand motivations of the accused and accusers. 

Human Flowers of Flesh (dir. Helena Wittmann) is a work heavy on images and light on exposition, harbouring a tendency to meditate rather than explicate. The story (as much as it is revealed) concerns Ida (Angeliki Papoulia) and her polylingual crew as they sail from Marseille to Corsica to Sidi-Bel-Abbes, following the trail of the French Foreign Legion. Their motivation for this trip is not just historical; it is spontaneous. The six-strong group possess an occasional curiosity: bodies of water constitute a stage upon which to wander and contemplate, the promise of an endless horizon. These people embody the romantic attitude, quoting poetic passages from Marguerite Duras, offering sparse narration to life on deck and onshore.

This is a film about looking. Ida leads the troop of five men (an ironic comparison Wittmann insinuates) across a rocky cliff-face. They observe the boat from afar, established within a glorious seascape. When the viewer sees them, we are afforded an abridged perspective. Wittmann, as cinematographer, deploys severe styles of framing: her camera follows only the succession of feet as they negotiate the coastal terrain. Elsewhere, the filmmaker tends to abstract picture-making, showing comparably small organisms on separate trajectories: a snail on its sticky path towards some watermelon; a spider cocooning a fly in its web; nebulous bacteria gestating under a microscope. Other shots are more conventional: white buoys are match-cut to nautical portholes.

Wittmann hangs her captain’s hat on a homage to Claire Denis’ 1999 film, Beau Travail, whose direct and literal influence extends to the port of Marseille, shadowboxing on the sand, and pedantic bed-making. Denis Lavant’s character, Galoup, is extraordinarily reintroduced. His short scenes—standout, comic, kinetic—break the formal austerity, reimagining the film’s unhurried treatise on colonial power, mythic legacy, and histories of extraction and conflict. These themes find a vessel in the figure of Galoup, presumed lost to a cinematic past, now juggling three eggs and acting the clown. This belated revelation expresses a kind of beauty, and it is even more striking given the meticulous, undulating visual grammar that preceded it. Galoup never died, I suppose, because he’ll always be alive, and because he’s already dead.

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Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Kirsty Asher

Dash Shaw’s animated adult film Cryptozoo (2021) opens as all films should: a naked hippie embalmed in post-coital bliss recounts a dream to his girlfriend. In the dream, visually reconstructed in a fractal kaleidoscope, the 1960s counterculture movement storms the United States Capitol, successfully breaking in and establishing an egalitarian utopia. The couple, Matthew and Amber, (voiced by Michael Cera and Louisa Krause) are psychedelic babes in the woods, as doomed as Adam and Eve were when their inquisitive commune with nature leads them to the boundaries of a hidden ‘cryptozoo’. A brief moment of connection with a unicorn, that most unpolluted of mythological beings, quickly unravels into the visceral death of both Matthew and the injured unicorn. Cryptozoo premiered at Sundance Festival 2021 a mere twenty two days after the Capitol was stormed by 2,000 Trump supporters. The first time the Capitol had been violently seized since the War of 1812. A prophetic scene, but not in the way Matthew envisioned. The interregnum of American politics would not herald a rebirth of decent-minded liberalism as many Blue voters hoped. 

“Now is the time of monsters.” 

That last phrase, attributed to Gramsci through a translation by Slavoj Zizek, can be interpreted as the systemic and direct violence which flourishes as long-established power structures begin to crumble, and populist thought arises across the political spectrum to confront this. Elements of this can be seen in the works of Hieronymous Bosch, which threaten the viewer with contorted figures of all beastliness in portraying humanity’s struggle to reach godliness. Bosch’s lurid work was created at a turning point in European history as feudalism gave way to market capitalism. Gramsci’s “time of monsters” referred to the political interregnum out of which fascism metastasised. And so Cryptozoo found itself premiering at the breaking point of US liberalism. With regards to Cryptozoo, it begs the question how much liberalism can assist in the birth of a better world, or whether we truly are poised at the edge of humanity.

The film concerns itself with a world in which cryptids – an umbrella term for beings enshrined in folklore, believed to exist by some but for which there is no scientific evidence – truly exist. They are rescued from trafficking and abuse by amazonian justice warrior Lauren Grey (voiced by Lake Bell), a veterinarian with a face reminiscent of Rossetti’s Proserpine who kicks bad guys’ asses armed only with her trusty catch pole. She then brings them back to the ‘safety’ of the Cryptozoo, another perceived hippie utopia which was brought to fruition by her boss Joan (Grace Zabriskie), the zoo’s architect. When Lauren was a child, an army brat growing up on countless military bases, she was tormented by nightmares about nuclear apocalypse, nightmares that were assuaged by a baku, a tapir-like Japanese cryptid which feasts on bad dreams. From an early age, Lauren associated the relief of her anxiety with the benign (though ultimately not altruistic) actions of a wild creature. 

It was through this formative first encounter with a cryptid that Lauren’s charge to become saviour and protector of such creatures took hold, which comes to a head when the US army, led by cryptid trafficker Nicholas (voiced by Thomas Jay Ryan), decides it can exploit the baku’s powers for its own purpose. Thus the liberal do-gooders represented by Lauren, who have built their dedication to a better world off a strong ethical standpoint are pitted as worthy protagonists against a powerful arm of the state. The problem with this is that throughout the first act, the narrative had seemed to be building to the idea that Lauren and Joan, well-meaning as they may be, are the (not so) secret villains of this tale. 

The Cryptozoo after all is not merely a sanctuary or wildlife park, but a full-blown consumerist package to entertain the masses. As Phoebe, the gorgon of Greek myth who assimilates to human culture with contact lenses and sedated snake hair, puts it: “It doesn’t look much like a sanctuary, more like a shopping mall.” Lauren’s response is one of pragmatism, that to keep the zoo going it must generate revenue. She also hails incremental change as key to the coming utopia: “The cryptozoo is going to change things gradually…people will learn to be more accepting”. With the commercialisation of the cryptids, so they are unceremoniously flung into the marketplace of ideas, with no attempts to promote autonomy or self-sustainability in sight. 

In this way the cryptozoo reeks of neo-imperialism and a homosapien saviour complex, imposed by two women who perceive themselves as at the apex of morality.  Lauren uses possessive language about the cryptids, argues that ‘she was there first’ when Nicholas takes a cryptid from her in an act of zoological colonialism. With every plot point that worsens the situation for the baku and other cryptids, it is always Lauren’s actions that are culpable. In her first rescue scene involving an alkonost, a woman-headed avian cryptid from Russian folklore, she bungles the attempt and Nicholas arrives to take her, having been led there by Lauren’s movements. She goes hunting for the baku and finds that a New-Age tarot reader has hidden her in her house, once again leading the US army directly to their location. This narrative rhythm of the protagonist being regularly scuppered by the antagonist is intended to create a clearer delineation between good and bad. However introducing Nicholas and the army as the film’s primary antagonists is a deflection from what would have been a more honest critique of liberalism than the film actually achieves, and having been made in the current political timeframe, it would have been a necessary critique to make. 

The defenders of neoliberalism to the left of centre often tend to inadvertently champion Thatcher in declaring that There Is No Viable Alternative. This can be seen in the Vote Blue No Matter Who movement during the 2020 US election, France’s battle to keep Macron in office, and the dismal attempts to rally around Sir Keith Starmer in the UK. It is reminiscent of the mainstream centre’s adherence to the Enlightenment, an era which saw colonialism and systemic white supremacy become endemic in global humanity and yet still is upheld as the most rational philosophy by which we should govern ourselves. The Cryptozoo, however progressive its foundational beliefs pertain to be, is what Jedediah Purdy coined as a Neoliberal ‘market utopianism’. Financed off the personal wealth of its founder on her own private property, it is not beholden to any rights organisations or government oversight. No matter what Lauren claims its impact will be, it was created as a commercialised venture to make income from the captivity of its inhabitants. It is exemplary of how all the social progressivism in the world will be inadequate without the additional attempt to recalibrate the systems which govern us. We cannot, it seems, marketise Be Kind until a better world is born. 

Lauren only learns a hard-driven lesson about her actions after bloodshed and tragedy decimates the Cryptozoo. Her adherence to a belief in utopia based on pragmatism leaves her with little to do other than baleful hand-wringing. It is testament to how the liberal desire to uphold late-stage capitalism even while decrying its most ghoulish side effects will inevitably lead to disaster. It renders the words attributed to Fredric Jameson by Mark Fisher that it’s “easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism” into mortifying vindication. 

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Boys Don’t Cry

A Revisitation

For Liz, Who Guards the Archive

Credit: Matt Kennedy

Matt Kennedy


When writing my master’s thesis on transness and death, the above scene acted as an archival object.

One that I was unsure existed.

I wrote through the uncertainty ‘of myself in the doorway of my uncle’s house’ and reflected on how I felt the scene had manifested in my mind as a memory, a photograph or as potentially fictitious. 

For the longest time this scene haunted me. 

Years later I found the photograph. 

Buried among insurance paperwork, birth certificates and mould in my parents’ attic there I was frozen in time, meeting my own eyes across multiple iterations of lived lives. 


Death and its relationship to loss was the conceptual backdrop to my initial engagement with queer theory. I was and remain interested in the intellectually generative insights death, loss and by extension archive, memory & haunting afford us in examining the complexity of trans life. My thesis at its heart wanted to understand why it felt like a version of me, an otherly gendered version of me, had died and why I was haunted by certain objects, photographs, documents and texts. 

Queer Autoethnography 

This pull to understand brought me into theoretical kinship with queer theory and rooted me in a deep appreciation for qualitative methods specifically autoethnography. Queer theory enticed me initially through its self-description as a form of ‘subjectiveless critique’ that could not be defined by its objective of study (Eng, Halberstam & Munoz, 2005, p10). Queer presented a dynamic modality of intellectual engagement that was uninterested in attending to existing ontologies and epistemes. Rather, queer insisted on facing away, ‘reading against the grain’ (Hall, 2003). As such, pairing the subjectiveless critique of queer theory with autoethnography provided me with an opportunity to engage a more muddled history of trans subjectivity that resisted narrative coherence. 

Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand socio-cultural experience. In a sense, autoethnography moves to capture lived experiences and place them in relation to broader social phenomena. Thus, queer autoethnography as a theoretic compound allows for the creation of narratives which bring together the ‘ideas, intentions, practices and affects of queer theory with the purposes and practice of autoethnography’ (Adams & Bolen, 2017). In this instance, I have a rare opportunity for revisitation through a queer autoethnography. Now knowing the scene that began my consideration of trans embodiment, memory and death is a photograph, I am drawn again into a reckoning. 


Photography has often been named as a medium with spectral characteristics, a form of capture that has something to do with loss, absence, death and pastness. This photograph haunts precisely because it presents a past that cannot be reconciled with the present. The child in the photograph is both me and not me. My younger self is heralded into being by a series of referents no longer of relevance to me. The spectre in the photograph knows only a sense of self named as she & her and her name; Clíodhna. She embodies a subjective position and experience of gender that is dead to me, dead in the Derridean sense of having one’s remains, not just one’s body, but everything one leaves behind, totally at the mercy of others, to be exposed. In this context, this photograph creates a contradiction between my embodiment now and my previous embodiment. 

The Violence of Inspection

Thinking with Sontag ‘to photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them they can never have’(1979, p.14). This conceptualising of the violation of photography names a certain discomfort that this photograph produces within me. The photograph disrupts the here and now of my identity. Presenting an otherly gendered version of myself to the world, the photograph has the power to destabilise the legitimacy of my manhood and point to inconsistencies in my embodiment, in my narrative, in my timeline. 

         In a way this photograph passes for incontrovertible proof that I existed for a period of time as a young girl. That I was not always Matt, not always hailed into being by he & him. This enacts what Jay Prosser has described as the fear ‘that the image is more real than the subject; that the photograph is the referent’ (1998, p.220). This fear is particularly relevant in relation to a scene in Kim Pierce’s Boy Don’t Cry (2000) in which Brandon Teena is depantsed in order to show his body to his girlfriend Lana with the aim of delegitimising his manhood. During this scene Brandon experiences an ‘out of body and out of time’ (Halberstam, 2005, p.86) moment which is captured through the positioning of him outside of his body watching the violence of inspection unfold.

Credit: Fox Searchlight

This moment in Boy Don’t Cry creates an incident of haunting which I can attest to feeling. Brandon is positioned as a ghostly figure outside of himself, othered by the ways in which people are viewing him and his gender. The camera in this moment functions as a cisnormative tool of violation, forcing the viewer to participate in this violence of inspection. When I look at the photograph of my former self, it invokes the violence of inspection in another form as it forces me to witness myself as something other than a man. This is a distinctly trans experience where ‘photographs of a pretransition self threaten to incarnate a “dead” self that one is not’ (Prosser, 1998, p.217). The power of this photograph to haunt lies in its ability to represent more than simply a past notion of self. The photograph is at once an archive of my previously gendered self but also a threat to my current embodiment. Photographs of trans people throughout the lifetime of our transitions (both social and medical) brush up against the limits of gendered representation. This photograph of me simultaneously evokes a gendered haunting where the referent (the me in the photograph) and the subject (me, presently) are given equal access to the potential of the “real”. How can this be reconciled? 


One project of reconciliation would require more nuanced accounts of transness which do not rely on narrative coherence. I continue to question in my work why and for whom trans people are expected to perform a narrative telling that resolves gendered incoherencies in our timelines. The expectation on trans people to maintain narrative coherence to conceal our transness ultimately can have detrimental physical and psychological implications. Throughout Boys Don’t Cry Brandon is forced into forms of retelling that legitimise his manhood while also preventing him from acknowledging the fullness of his experience and in the end the revelation that Brandon is trans results in his murder. In part we employ gendered narrative coherence for safety, as often acknowledging our otherly gendered pasts outs us leaving us open to hostility similarly to Brandon. However, many trans people find agency in reworking the past to reflect their current embodiments, genders and identities. I have always struggled with this. 

         There is no theory here, only to say that the actualisation of my transness was accompanied by so much loss, trauma and rejection that it really did feel like something, someone, died. This was the messaging I internalised from my family and rather than dismissing it, I leaned into it, I worked with it, I embraced it. I find agency in acknowledging an otherly gendered past. I look to Avery Gordon to name the ways in which haunting can be transformed into reconciliation. A meaningful reconciliation has always moved me to grief. How do you grieve yourself? My loss has always been ambiguous and creates a kind of disenfranchised grief. Because my loss does not produce the loss of a coherent, visible life, an entity, a person; because it is the loss of a life, the grief and the mourning required to resolve it, is just as ambiguous as the loss itself. Where is that loss and how does mourning take place? In part, it takes place here as a kind of textual mourning by acknowledging the loss, by making space for the ghost. More nuanced accounts of trans life imbued with complexity, paradox and contradiction facilitate a kind of reconciliation that looks like a willingness to be haunted, a willingness to revisit and acknowledge a past ‘which constantly diminishes but never vanishes’ (Doty, 1995, p.4). 

Cinema Year Zero is volunteer run. Our goal is to pay writers a fair fee for their work. So if you like what you find at Cinema Year Zero, please consider subscribing to our Patreon!


Adams, T. E. and Bolen, D. M. (2017) ‘Tragic Queer at the Urinal Stall, Who, Now, Is the Queerest One of All? Queer Theory | Autoethnography | Doing Queer Autoethnography’, QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking, 4(1), pp. 100-113.

Butler, J. (2004) Precarious life: The powers of mourning and violence. London, England:


Derrida, J. and Wills, D. (1996) The Gift of Death. University of Chicago Press.

Doty, M. (1995) My Alexandria. London: Cape Poetry.

Eng, D. L., Halberstam, J., & Muñoz, J. E. (2005). What’s queer about queer studies now? Durham, NC, Duke University Press.

Gordon, A. (2008) Ghostly matters: haunting and the sociological imagination. New University of Minnesota Press; New, Second; edn. Minneapolis, Minn;London: University of Minnesota Press.

Halberstam, J. (2005). In a queer time and place: Transgender bodies, subcultural lives. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Hall, D. E. (2003). Queer theories. Houndsmills, Basinstroke, Hampshire, Palgrave Macmillan.

Prosser, J. (1998) Second skins: The body narratives of transsexuality. New York: Columbia University Press.

Sontag, S. (1979) On photography. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Swank, H., Sevigny, C., Sarsgaard, P., Sexton, B., Sharp, J., Peirce, K., & Bienen, A. (2000). Boys don’t cry. Beverly Hills, Calif, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

New Fictions: Remote Control

Credit: RingRing Visuals

S. Paul

  1. “Is This A Film?”

The natural place for any story to start is the beginning. In the case of Justin Bieber, let’s rewind from the current moment of facial paralysis. Let’s skip past Hailey Baldwin and Selena Gomez, past the paparazzi and #CutForBieber, past the Christmas album and the pre-Monster Future collaboration. Let’s go all the way back to 100 Huntley Street, a Canadian Christian daily talk show that hosted Bieber’s first appearance on broadcast television in 2009. Bieber’s mother does all the talking — about how he’s the most subscribed musician on YouTube in Canada, and the 20th most subscribed in the world — while he sits quietly, showing the world the iconic Bieber haircut for the first time. In a time before algorithms, all you had to do was search “Justin singing” and he’d be the first thing you see. Mother Bieber talks more about how Justin Timberlake and Usher are courting him before the segment closes with a call for prayer to support Justin on his journey. It’s a seminal video document because it marks the rise of the internet-made music popstar, but also is indicative of television dominance in decline. Bieber came of age, and to stardom, at the same time as phone cameras exploded in numbers and the internet transformed the ways we live. Bieber was the first smartphone superstar.

We construct stories, just as we construct nature. Five years later, after this initial televisual prayer, TMZ leaked footage of a deposition given by Bieber. The crux of the issue revolves around Bieber allegedly instructing his security to beat up paparazzi photographers. We invent words, as things that are invented need names. Paparazzi emerged from Paparazzo, a character in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960). “Justin Bieber” emerged from Justin Bieber, his government name, creating a lifelong rift between the image of Bieber and the identity he maintained. Perhaps this is best seen through Lil B’s 2011 music video “Lil B – Justin Beiber MUSIC VIDEO COOKING MUSIC!!! OMG!!!”, in which Lil B repeats Bieber’s name over and over again, until emptied of meaning, reduced to pure signifier. At one moment, a lawyer instructs Bieber to watch a video on a television, saying “Can you look at the film?”, to which Bieber, ever-aware that this deposition would get leaked and, as such, performing for the camera, repeatedly asking “Is this a film?” in a tone that turns from innocent to mocking. The lawyer replies “Is there a difference between a film and something else?” Bieber warbles out an unsteady “Yes.” 

It remains important that we situate Bieber’s deposition in a brief but significant lineage of superstar celebrity deposition leaks of the 2010s, the other notable tape belonging to rapper Lil Wayne. The leak of this tape by TMZ established a precedent in which Bieber and his team would have expected their deposition to leak as well, creating a situation where Bieber was not just answering questions for lawyers, but performing “Justin Bieber” for the world to see. There are moments where he breaks — questions that encroach about his then-recent breakup with Selena Gomez being one — yet we can only imagine that Bieber was overwhelmed with emotion; La Dolce Vita and the paparazzi flashing through his mind when he insisted that the video the lawyers were showing him on the television screen was not a film. We create definitions, definitions which in turn outline the contours of our reality. The difference between “a film and something else” is a map. 

  1. Le Temps de L’Amour

Dimitris Panayiotatos’s Lovers Beyond Time (1990) is a softcore Greek love story, bathed in lush neon that heightens Panayiotatos’s erotic vision, and accompanied by a sensuous synth score that itself becomes a character in the film. Written by Petro Markaris, best known for his collaborations with Theo Angelopoulos, the film is a beautiful minor work that has now been predominantly relegated to the status of a file floating through P2P torrent networks and sites such as rarelust.com, an archive maintained by a single anonymous webmaster who states the site is a “personal project to keep rare flick rips alive freely and stop sellers who sell these movies at insane prices”; a few DVD copies remain on eBay and Amazon from a Mondo Macabro release. There is little material about the film published, and no interviews with Panayiotatos published in the Anglosphere, yet the director remains active on Facebook, posting musings and links to his writing authored in Greek

The story goes like this: a young beautiful couple, Sylvia (Christine Skaza) and Angelos (Benoît Rossel), are embroiled in a passionate, chaotic relationship. The sex is phenomenal, but it’s all too inundating for Sylvia, who breaks it off, frightened of what she’s experienced. A heartbroken Angelos stabs his hand at dinner, then Sylvia’s jacket is covered in blood as the couple has one last fuck in the restaurant bathroom. Before they part ways in the night, Angelos tells Sylvia about a musician, Zinos Flerianos, and how she needs to take a tape of his music to the record label she works at — he intends it as both a final gift to her, yet a curse if she refuses. The mysterious figure of Flerianos lingers throughout the film, and his music reflexively operates as the score of the film, a gorgeous accompaniment that heightens the sensuality of certain long takes, allowing the mysteries of love and time to penetrate deep. As elements of time travel warp into the story, we come to find out that the Angelos and Sylvia of that evening will never be together, though, as the title suggests, there is still love to be found between the Angelos’s and Sylvia’s of the past and future.  

Mati Diop’s Atlantics (2019) is another film whose dazzling score, a composition by Fatima Al Qadiri, plays an essential role in what is simultaneously a love story, a ghost story, and a detective thriller. The film speaks through a postcolonial lens about the impacts of globalization on migration and the precarity of laborers in developing nations. A young man, Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré), who after months of not receiving pay for construction labor on a new skyscraper in Senegal (which is depicted through one of the best deployments of CGI in recent years) decides to attempt to sail to Europe in search of better work to help provide for his family. Souleiman leaves with a group of young men – all of whom are leaving behind their girlfriends and wives -who tragically perish at sea. The souls of the young men then take control of their partners at night, as they work to seek retribution for those who forced them out to sea in search of money.

Diop splices in gorgeous shots of the sea throughout the film, which also underscores, despite their tranquility, the violent potential to kill contained within them. The relation of these images to the score, which crescendos with the song “Body Double” during the film’s climax, a dance between lovers alone in a bar, is an essential part of the interlocking commentaries woven together by Diop. It is a film of rhythms, romance, and heartbreak, that shows us the realities hidden across our present globe and provides us with a way to think beyond the migration crisis into one of what it means to be human, yet also realizes the limitations of how language can convey this story. While commenting on Chris Marker’s Letter to Siberia (1958), André Bazin states “it might be said that the basic element is the beauty of what is said and heard, that intelligence flows from the audio element to the visual”. Al Qadiri’s score, in effect, takes the impossibility of visualizing the true impacts of colonialism and renders it into sound. 

Marguerite Duras’s India Song (1975) and Her Venetian Name in Deserted Calcutta (1976) present an extraordinary double feature in line with Bazin’s conceptualization of aural intelligence flowing into the visual elements. The latter film uses the entire soundtrack of India Song – itself a unique film in that the dialogue is never spoken by on-screen characters – while substituting in shots of colonial wealth in decay and ruins where we once saw extravagant furnishings and decadent couture in a house of opulence. Duras would continue to build a body of filmic work based on this cinema of aural intelligence. In her 1979 release Le Navire Night, a film that tells a story over telephones during the German occupation of France, there is a moment early in the film, where a female voice says “The love story. A story without images.” Indeed, through Lovers Beyond Time, Atlantics, and Le Navire Night, the moments at which cinema can convey the closest feeling towards ideals that can never be fully expressible, whether that of Love, Tragedy, or a combination of the two, is through the soundtrack. Is this a song? Is this a film? Is this a whisper? It is whispers and songs and songs of whispers that make the film. 


 “… sound is simultaneously ‘in’ the screen, in front, behind, around, and throughout the entire movie theatre… the language used by technicians and studios, without realizing it, conceptualizes sound in a way that makes sense only for the image. We claim that we are talking about sound, but we are actually thinking of the visual image of the sound’s source.”

Christian Metz, The Aural Objects (1980)

Vilém Flusser, ‘Chamber Music’ in  Into the Universe of Technical Images (1985)

“In a sounding image, the image does not mix with music; rather both are raised to a new level, the audiovisual, which could not realize its meaning until now because of its grounding in earlier levels… It will become pointless to try and distinguish between music and so-called visual arts because everyone will be a composer, will make images.” 

In tandem, Metz and Flusser bring us to a new function of how sound and image function today, with Flusser cheekily referencing the idea of “Chamber Music” being transformed into a synthetic and improvisational mode of music-making through computers and code. We see this today with DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation) like Ableton, FL Studio, and GarageBand creating ways to make music for individuals who might not even know how to read music, instead operating these interfaces in a manner of signal processing. This extends into digital image-making, as workflows on non-linear editing softwares transform the process once controlled by the Steenbeck. Image-generating software, whether simple tools like Microsoft Paint or AI tools like Midjourney and Dall-E, have the trajectory of image-making in the same way as analogue photography transformed painting. Sound and image are now composed magically, and the ease of creating compositions has enveloped us in a torrent of audiovisual media.   

As telematic societies emerged and transformed in the 1980s and onwards, we witnessed an unprecedented rise of types of electronic music that continues to sprawl towards infinity today. At first, it was house and techno created in Black communities in Detroit and Chicago and spreading to Europe, then it became hip-hop spreading from New York City to the rest of the world, and the transition from radio and physical media to streaming and the connections of the Internet resulted in the popular soundscape we have today. In a reading of her essay-poem METRO BOOMIN WANT SOME MORE NIGGA, poet Simone White examines the phenomenon of Trap music functions. This reading, delivered at Abrons Arts Center in New York City in September of 2017, occurs just as trap music was in the process of mutating into a new form — that of drill music. White reads:

“The trap music producer exhales a pervasive diffuse and dilute sonic affective atmosphere through the machines. Trap beat-making is a methodology of surround so that we find ourselves in a club that we have not chosen to enter, but we’ve paid. The club is everywhere and everyone is in it. It is put on the internet; it flies through the air. A cursory scroll through the discography of the producer Lex Luger bears out the extraordinary historical speed at which the trap surround has developed and spread. The numerosity and thickness that belong to its presence. A sub-bass drone accompanies words the rapper says, deftness, sleight-of-hand, with the limited discursive materials of consumable black life, more of which below. This is borrowed from the beat-making repertoire of electronic dance music, which thrives on investments in the pushy invasion that occurs when sine waves developed in vast open space make contact with bodies that intend to absorb them, bodies invested in turning toward the direction of the sound, catching the wave of bass between them as intimacy, sex, euphoria. To make much or everything of a single ambient tone, to throw it about a cavernous space… In rap music the open space of the club is the world space of the music industry, the anti-club, everywhere.”

  1. Make A Movie

In the summer of 2022, drill rappers Kay Flock and Fivio Foreign released their collaborative single and music video “Make A Movie”, a collaboration between the boroughs of Brooklyn, where Fivio Foreign is from, known for pioneering and developing drill music in New York City, and The Bronx, the birthplace of hip-hop in the late 70s and Kay Flock in the early 2000s, which took the sounds of Brooklyn drill that emerged in the late 2010s and reconfigured it even further. The video is a fascinating text – it doesn’t draw definitions, but instead creates worlds within worlds. The opening shot shows a couple walking into a theater with posters and the marquee advertising “Make A Movie” by Kay Flock and Fivio Foreign. Thenthe lights dim, and the song soundtracks images of a teenager with braids and a cracked iPhone going from recording songs in his bedroom to walking on stage to perform in front of a massive crowd. A later shot shows the teen with a new iPhone but the screen still shows the same image – a music player with Kay Flock’s 2021 song “Being Honest”. Spliced into all of this is Fivio Foreign and his friends, rapping and dancing inside and outside of the theater the couple walked into. The question of “Is this a film?” cedes to “Where is the film?” which is, as White read, “the open space of the club is the world space of the music industry, the anti-club, everywhere”. Like Lovers Beyond Time, like Atlantics, the film is its soundtrack, the flow from the audio to the visual.      

When White delivered her poem in 2017, rap was in the midst of another moment of its continual transformation, a defining aspect of its shape-shifting ability to escape definition. The trap music she describes comes from Atlanta, brought to popularity by rappers such as Gucci Mane, Young Jeezy, and Waka Flocka Flame during the late 2000s and early 2010s before a major fork in the sound emerged. In Atlanta, a new style of rap would be brought to the forefront – that of Young Thug’s delivery, which was inspired by and hyper-extended the patternings of New Orleans rapper Lil Wayne. Meanwhile, the trap production styles migrated to Chicago, forming the sonic backbones of what would eventually become known as drill music, with stars such as Chief Keef, Lil Durk, and the late King Von bringing it to the forefront of culture. Drill music was a virus, and aided by the access to the internet that came with the 2010s it traveled the globe. Chicago Drill traveled to London, where it underwent further transmutation, incorporating the sounds of grime and garage. In 2016 and 2017, rappers in Brooklyn such as 22Gz and Sheff G began rapping on UK drill instrumentals – Brooklyn drill, still a nascent genre at the time of White’s reading, rapidly ascended with Canarsie rapper Pop Smoke rising to stardom in 2019, before he was tragically shot dead in February 2020. 

“I’m talking about now, and about the future, about the beautiful and terrible new kind of consciousness this new black music surfaces… This is a sound of no hope, no futurity, black life is black death,” White continues in her reading. And indeed, both the sound-images of drill music and the music videos that accompany them are bleak reflections of the realities that produce these sounds. See Yus Gz’s Dead Loccs, a 2021 music video from the Bronx rapper, which samples the Macarena, that opens with a clip of paramedics performing CPR on a rival gang member, shot on a phone camera, before continuing to feature Yus Gz and a group of teenagers dancing and rapping along to his lyrics dissing rival gang members, both dead and alive. 

This visualization of street politics through both music and the internet is a phenomenon that lies at the center of O Block (2022), a Youtube documentary by independent journalist and filmmaker Andrew Callahan (best known for his All Gas No Brakes web series which later became Channel 5 News). The piece contains interviews with residents of “O Block”, the Chicago housing project where Michelle Obama grew up and where drill music was born. Callahan and Channel 5 go beyond speaking to the individuals on the street and also interview content creators DJ Akademiks — best known for his video series covering the early days of Chicago drill called “The War in Chiraq” — and Adam22, host of the No Jumper podcast, which frequently platforms and interviews active gang members.

The problem as Callahan sees it is when music about highly specific and localized gang disputes gets pushed by algorithms to gain millions of views. In turn, forums, such as the subreddits r/Chiraqology and r/NYStateofMind, and other forms of content emerge, sharing information about things that everyday civilians and suburban residents would never know about without the internet. This creates feedback loops that can amplify violence and also creates opportunities for content creators to make money by creating the type of content the algorithm rewards by creating narratives around the violence — like that of what DJ Akademiks and Adam22 have put out. Callahan specifically questions Akademiks, who had bestowed nicknames like “The Chicago Grim Reaper” on rappers who had allegedly committed multiple murders, on whether he feels responsibility for inciting tensions leading to violence, victims of which are often teenagers. Akademiks maintains that he is not at fault, that he isn’t the one pulling the trigger. All the world’s a stage, and he’s merely reading narration — which begs the question: who writes the script? 

Like any other blockbuster, there are profits to be taken. While O Block residents lament that they feel that the outside world views them only as characters, Lil Durk, one of the biggest rappers to make it out of the same projects, partnered with the video game Grand Theft Auto Online to create a custom role-playing server called ‘Trenches’. Durk appears in the game as a playable character, while the game also features a mural honoring the late King Von, an O Block rapper whose videos now boast hundreds of millions of views. And as rumors that the housing project itself has been sold and will undergo the cycle of redevelopment and gentrification that has come to define American cities in the 21st century, memory of the time and place will become consolidated from the physical to the digital. Near the end of his sprawling Livestream Follies, Nick Pinkerton briefly discusses the life and death of Pop Smoke, and how the visualization of both his youth and his rise to fame created a “Damn, my life a movie,” effect. And as Fivio Foreign frequently ad-libs “Viral!” and “Movie!” throughout his songs, it becomes clear that the magic of the movie theater has been compressed into the screen through which we access the world. 

  1. TV To The Internet

👨🏿🎨🇫🇷 (Or, “Man Artist: Dark Skin Tone Emoji”, “Flag from France Emoji”), a video uploaded by the YouTube channel denna frances glass on July 29, 2022, presents footage of American rappers arriving at Paris Fashion Week over the recent years. Kodak Black, Playboi Carti, Lil Baby, Pop Smoke, and Gunna, among others, emerge from their luxury vehicles, dripped out in designer — the images are cut to audio from Mike Dibb’s Channel 4 documentary The Miles Davis Story (2001). The narration explicitly ties the current trajectory of rappers, and the concept of the rapper-as-artist, to the jazz artists of the 60s and 70s who have now been institutionalized into the American academic systems: “It was his first trip to Europe and he was overwhelmed by the reception. Not only was jazz accepted on an equal basis with the other arts, but black musicians were accepted as equals by enthusiastic white audiences.” 

The situation is different now, and the 21st century will not be the 20th century. As academies crumble financially, neither Juilliard, Oberlin, nor NYU will teach rap, be it drill or “Soundcloud”, just as the academic funding that allowed theorists such as Fred Moten to produce works like Black and Blur (2017) will not be there for future generations of theorists to produce book-length studies on the works of Lil B, movements in Drill, or the future-music yet to come. Instead, these theorizations became subsumed into the practice of music-making itself. What makes rap a preeminent form in its ability to reinvent, transmutate, and ceaselessly evolve is that it isn’t hindered by these institutions. In Flusser’s Vampyroteuthis Infernalis (1993), which lies somewhere between a scientific study and theory-fiction – using the case of the vampire squid to comment on human society, art, and culture –  Flusser writes: 

“Society did not realise, at the time, the impact of the industrial revolution upon the creative process, because art in the restricted modern sense of the term continued to be crafted, untouched by the new methods of production since it was relegated to ghettos called “exhibitions and museums”.” 

And the video piece by denna frances glass escapes these constraints, while simultaneously recalling works that exist within these boundaries with similar themes. Arthur Jafa is perhaps the best inflection point to examine, with works like Love is the Message, The Message is Death (2016) which exists in Flusser’s ghettos and can only be seen in fragments and poor images, filmed in galleries on smartphones and uploaded to YouTube, and the music video for Ye (formerly Kanye) West’s Wash Us In The Blood (2020), which exists as an inversion – archival and cell phone footage compiled, reoriented, and sequenced for an intended broadcast through the internet. The latter work’s utilization of CGI and video game footage (from none other than Grand Theft Auto) add a further dimension to the work in which the “Realness” of the images seen is destabilized and undermined. As Ye raps “I know it’s fake if it’s in the news”, the words coalesce with the images of the riots of 2020, emphasizing how the media channels of the 20th century utterly fail to adequately capture the realities of our current situation. It’s a phenomenon that Lil B rapped about on the 2010 track “TV To The Internet”. 

 “…it’s like TV doesn’t show what’s real in life, but the Internet, you got the power to do whatever you wanna do and put it out there… I learned about the Internet around 15-16 really heavy, started getting on it heavy, but didn’t understand the power that it was beheading… it’s like TV, the Internet is real though, you watch TV and you can’t respond, the Internet you have a response, you have a voice, you can comment, you can move through different things, you can move through different channels and present yourself, so really the Internet is another world…”

Rapped is not the perfect word — perhaps there isn’t one to describe what Lil B does. In “METRO BOOMIN WANT SOME MORE NIGGA”, White talks about how her students say that the late XXXTentacion is not a rapper: “He just does this thing and puts it on the internet”. And Lil B pioneered “doing a thing and putting it on the internet”. “TV To The Internet” is closer to spoken word, the instrumental does not have drums, and Lil B’s stream of consciousness about television and the internet produces priceless gems with just as much if not more theoretical value than the tomes of Vilém Flusser.

The track, broadcast through the internet, becomes an exegesis of being on the Internet, an ekphrasis of the Internet, and effectively “doing” media theory. But rather than creating a volume of essays like Flusser’s Into the Universe of Technical Images, Lil B creates mixtapes – like Dior Paint (2010) – effectively essays of sound-images, some of which can be transcribed into linear text, parts of which remain ineffable within the bounds of linear writing and can only be furthered along in dialogue through more sound-images. Other Lil B tracks in this oeuvre include “Paint” and “The Canvas”, which orient themselves too as aural tracks with the intention to evoke sound-images. 

As beautiful and transcendental as some of these works can be, they also serve as a continual reminder of death. Barthes notes in Camera Lucida (1980) that every photograph of a person is an image containing death, and in the same way every recording of someone’s voice contains their eventual death as well. We witness this in how “Futura Free”, the penultimate track of Frank Ocean’s Blonde (2016), has transformed since the death of Ocean’s younger brother, whose vocals are heavily featured on the track and album’s outro, just as how drill music is transformed when it’s an archive of the slew of lives lost due to a preexisting system of violence, and Soundcloud rap has transformed when the voice behind the music has been lost to a system that perpetuates violence and an opioid epidemic. 

In the 1953 essay film Statues Also Die, the narration, authored by Chris Marker notes that “An object is dead when the living gaze that was once cast upon it has disappeared. And when we disappear, our objects will go where we send those of the Africans: to the museum.” Marshall McLuhan’s most famous statement “The medium is the message” echoes through the title of Jafa’s Love is the Message, The Message is Death. Everything that passes through the Internet and its world of images is marked by death – The Message is Death.

Refrain: “This Is A Film?” 

There was a second question. Before Justin Bieber asked “Is this a film?”, he began by repeating “This is a film?” twice. The words cut through the deposition tape itself, as the “this” shifts from the video pictured on the screen in the video to the experience of watching the video on your screen: This is a film?

In 2021, the late Jean-Luc Godard joined the International Film Festival of Kerala for a conversation about film, that is, about a World created by Godard, that was hosted over Zoom. Televisual in essence, the discussion contains a crucial moment where Godard says:“I thought that production was the main aspect of cinema, and I realized that distribution was and today more than before. Distribution has choked production by pretending to be in service of the audience. Today distribution serves the audience but production does not.” As the conversation is transposes separate realities into digital image and sound, it enters a lineage with other cinematic essays of Godard, such as Letter to Jane (1972), a postscript film to Tout va bien (1972), that is now available on YouTube, just like the aforementioned conversation. Though his authorship in the presentation of this piece is limited, the question remains: This is a film?

The same morning news broke out that Godard had passed, electing to commit assisted suicide, a prominent snuff film circulated on Twitter – cell phone footage of rapper PnB Rock shot and dying in Los Angeles. The rapper’s biggest song on YouTube, Middle Child, has more than 80 million views and features XXXTentacion, whose murder was also filmed on smartphones and posted onto social media. Millions across the world have screen memories of the two bleeding out: This is a film?

Within hours of the news of PnB Rock’s death, DJ Akademics uploaded the video “PNB Rock Talks about How he Almost Got Lined and Robbed in Los Angeles while out with GF & Daughter”, a snippet of a conversation with the late rapper recorded a week and a half prior to the incident according to the description. Despite mostly bringing his coverage of “The War in Chiraq” to a halt, DJ Akademics posted this video, designed to bring in as much as much algorithmic traffic as possible through its title: This is a film? 

When Pop Smoke was shot and killed in the Hollywood Hills mansion he was staying at, much attention was put onto social media posts the rapper made that potentially exposed his location. When PnB Rock was shot and killed outside the Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, much attention went to an Instagram story his girlfriend had posted and then deleted, documenting their dinner out. The camera and the screen can make life a movie, but they can very well edit reality as well. When Souleimane and the other laborers decide to sail for Europe in Atlantics, they do it because they’ve heard of and seen it done before. Their deaths are never pictured on screen, only existing as aural images, told by a ghost possessing a woman’s body, spoken through whispers and songs: This is a film? 

To write about the internet is to critique a map with shifting contours, that is constantly drawing and redrawing itself, where the Borgesian 1:1 map that stretches across the entire territory is impossible to perceive, just as it is impossible to view every image and hear every sound. It is a beautiful graveyard full of the dead, undead, and the dying inching and accelerating towards their caskets, waiting to be lowered and buried, some of which will receive engravings on their headstones, others to be set into unmarked graves. Though just like flammable celluloid, the zeroes and ones behind the digital image are not forever. In Prophetic Culture: Recreation for Adolescents (2021), Italian philosopher Federico Campagna notes that “More fragile than the papyri of the ancient world, the immense wealth of digitized culture hangs to a thread, depending for its survival on the continuation of the techno-economic settings of this civilization. The treasure of this society, obsessed with data, will be the first victim of annihilation, once its historical body will have exhaled its last breath.” 

There is death in the image and voice of Justin Bieber – indeed the Justin Bieber who asked “This is a film?” is dead. We keep him undead, cryogenically preserved in that moment of questioning, through a medium and a technology that could at any moment break. This is a film.

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