The Brooklyn 100: Melissa Anderson, Film Critic

There is a Great Man history of the Village Voice film section—Mekas to Sarris to Hoberman—that doesn’t do justice to the plurality of, well, voices that have used their alt-press column inches to speak up for diverse (better not say “marginal”) subject matter, style, even ways of seeing and writing. Continuing that tradition, longtime contributor and now senior film critic Anderson keeps a gimlet eye on the sensory pleasures and sexual politics of cinema in her reader-friendly reviews, with a brief covering everything from Hollywood to repertory and experimental fare.
What’s your favorite place in Brooklyn to go to the movies?
BAM Rose Cinemas—which includes the indispensable BAMcinématek—is a leisurely 15-minute stroll from my house and has provided me countless hours of ecstasy. An evening spent at Light Industry, farther out on the G line, is always worth the extra commuting time.
What are some films you’ve watched that you can point to and say, “That’s my New York”—films where what’s on-screen (visually, culturally, thematically) resonates with your experience of life in the city?
Though it was filmed in 1976—20 years before I moved to the city—Chantal Akerman’s News from Home, her majestic, doleful salute to New York, captures like no other movie both the enormous sense of possibility and the extreme isolation I felt upon first arriving here. Roughly contemporaneous with Akerman’s film is Rosa von Praunheim’s Tally Brown, New York (1979), a wonderful portrait of the inimitable song stylist and raconteur. In a series of off-screen conversations with the director, Brown says, “This is my city.…Its soul comes from the fact of its difficulty.” Her declaration sums up the complicated, maybe even masochistic attachment I have to New York, a city with which I am still completely besotted.
In what ways is living in Brooklyn a benefit to a career in and around the arts? In what ways is it a drawback?
I live just a walk or a MetroCard swipe away from an enormous number of repertory cinemas, museums, and other cultural redoubts; I am also surrounded by people with exceptionally feverish ideas and ever-alert minds. I can think of no downsides to this situation.
Would you say that you have a specific critical “project,” an ethos behind why you write the way you write about movies?
I am incredibly fortunate that the Village Voice, where I’ve been on staff since late November of last year, has given me an official berth to call attention to the city’s bounty of repertory offerings. Whether I’m writing about older works or new releases, my goal is always the same: to avoid hectoring, to puncture received wisdom, and to become more precise in expressing my pleasure or displeasure.
What critics, current or historical, demand a wider readership than they currently possess?
I’d known Boyd McDonald’s name for at least a decade, but it wasn’t until last year that I finally read his sensational Cruising the Movies, first published in 1985 and recently reissued by Semiotext(e). It is a model critical text, distinguished by beautifully articulated bawdiness and a radical, yet nondidactic, political view. In one sentence, McDonald, a gay man, perfectly distills the essence of cinephilia, or at least one strain of it, mine especially: “Motion pictures are for people who like to watch women.”


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