From The AWFJ Archive: MoMA’s Sally Potter Retrospective – Jennifer Merin comments

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Let’s praise Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) curator Sally Berger for putting together a remarkable and well-deserved retrospective (July 7 to 24) of the films and video of Sally Potter, the brilliant British feminist moviemaker with a genuinely unique and fascinating vision.

Potter‘s films are never easy escapes, and she’s often had mixed reviews, but as director, writer, actress, dancer, choreographer and composer, Potter is a rare entity: the complete cinematic artist. She invites you to profound emotional insights and transports you to uncharted realms of imagination and intellect.

The retrospective’s opening offering is a digitally remastered, high-definition version of Orlando (1992), one of Potter‘s best known films. Based on Virginia Woolf‘s novel of the same title (which is based on the life of Vita Sackville-West), “Orlando” stars Tilda Swinton as the poet who, ordered by Queen Elizabeth to remain young forever, lives for over four centuries — first as a man, and then as a women. The film is beautiful and evocative and, fortunately for those who can‘t get to MoMA to see it, the new version will be released on July 23 in select theaters nationwide.

Also featured in the retrospective, Potter’s first feature, “Gold Diggers” (1983) is a strange, surrealistic and difficult-to-decipher avant-garde interpretation of Busby Berkeley’s “Gold Diggers of 1933,” in which Julie Christie stars as one of the ‘golden women,’ among a flock of unappreciative male ‘diggers’ — and the black and white cinematography is starkly exquisite.

Jump to “Rage” (2009), Potter’s most recent film, is a complex crime thriller set at a New York fashion show. The scenario unfolds as characters — played by Judi Dench, Dianne Wiest, Lily Cole, Adriana Barraza, Bob Balaban, Steve Buscemi, Jude Law, John Leguizamo and others — record what they know on a schoolboy’s cell phone. Again, Potter marks new territory in storytelling.

In “The Tango Lesson” (1997), Potter stars as herself, a filmmaker who discovers tango and through it — and Pablo Veron, her dynamic instructor — explores her identity, idiosyncrasies and independence. Choreographed by Veron, the sexually-charged dance in the film is breathtaking. “The Tango Lesson” is both a fascinatingly introspective character study and a classic dance film.

Potter’s retrospective includes screenings of fourteen films reflecting the range of her cinematic art, including “I Am an Ox, I Am a Horse, I Am a Man, I Am a Woman: Women in Russian Cinema” (1990), a 60-minute documentary about women in Russian cinema, a filmed version of the production of Bizet’s “Carmen” (2007) that Potter directed for the English National Opera, and experimental five shorts (1969-1986) presented as a single program.

If you can’t get to MoMA, you‘ll miss the post-screening Q&As with Potter, but you can follow the retrospective by watching the films on DVD — but, view them on a large screen. The films are too gorgeous to minimize.

Originally published July 1, 2010

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).