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Hossein Sabzian stars as himself in Abbas Kiarostami’s Close Up (1990).

Abbas Kiarostami’s Close Up (1990) opens with a reporter in a Tehran taxicab, on the way to the residence of a middle-class family. He tells the driver — and us — about the big story he’s about to break. A con man with a passing resemblance to the Iranian film director Mohsen Machmalbaf is being arrested for defrauding the family whose home we are speeding toward, posing as the famous director and ingratiating himself into their lives, likely with criminal intentions, the reporter thinks. Then we arrive at the house, and the reporter dashes in. …


As a student I missed a test question about one of my favorite artists, and it led me on a weird journey.

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Untitled (Self-Portrait with Sun Tan), 2003, by Cindy Sherman

When I was a student at Portland State University, I took a course in the history of photography. It was a class that perfectly linked my twin loves, film and art history. It was also the sort of class with weekly multiple choice quizzes. One week, after exploring the work of Cindy Sherman — hero, icon, genius! — I came across a perplexing multiple-choice question about her. The question asked us to classify Sherman’s photographs as one of the following: portraits, self-portraits, stereotypes, or constructions. …


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David and Albert Maysles’ documentary film Grey Gardens (1975), a portrait of “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” Beale — a mother and daughter with high-society connections living in a squalid mansion in the Hamptons — is recognized as a crowning achievement of the direct cinema movement. Rather than deal in unmitigated reality, however, the film is in fact heavily reliant on our familiarity with two fictional genres, both of which focus on the family home as the site of anxiety and strife: gothic horror and melodrama. On the one hand, the Beales’ crumbling, animal-infested home with its ghosts of eras past engages a gothic sensibility. The camera frequently lingers on Big Edie’s nasty bed, with its myriad unidentified stains, inviting us to share in the filmmakers’ revulsion and fascination. Yet the film also operates in a highly melodramatic mode, chiefly embodied by the mother-daughter relationship. The film’s portrayal of the many quarrels between Big and Little Edie (especially the women’s frequent sighing tales of the loves that could have been) relies heavily on our familiarity with domestic melodramas. Little Edie’s histrionics in particular call to mind Tennessee Williams’ fading, mentally fragile belles — recall her insistence that one of the workers at the home is in love with her. (In this light, the fact that Grey Gardens has been adapted as both a narrative film and a Broadway musical seems particularly fitting.) In this essay, I intend to explore the ways in which these historically low-brow genres play out in both the construction and reception of the Maysles’ documentary. I am particularly interested in linking the role of the family home in Grey Gardens with the role it plays in the gothic and melodramatic modes. …

About

Anna Weltner

Non-fiction filmmaker, writer, and editor.

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