Arthouse Flicks

Arthouse Flicks

Bad news: Criterion Cinemas, New Haven’s only commercial movie theater, is shutting down.

Good news: The city’s galleries are picking up the slack.

The Yale University Art Gallery is screening a movie across three walls, one act per wall, as part of the exhibition Mickalene Thomas / Portrait of an Unlikely Space. Hidden beyond a curtained portal, the short black-and-white film begins with a long view of a lighthouse on a small rocky island, its lamp spinning calmly on a stormy night. Amid roiling sea and rumbling sky, ethereal voices speak in an unknown language. The camera draws slowly toward the island, and as you search the approaching rocks for some important detail, the wall goes dark, and the next one flickers to life. The sounds of the storm continue, only quieter now that we’re inside. And because I want you to experience the same sense of wonder and discovery I did (before reading the exhibition’s program, where everything is explained), that’s all I’m going to say.

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The screens are smaller but the screenings more numerous at the Ely Center of Contemporary Art, where the exhibition eMOTION demonstrates a fitting interest in the moving image. I found myself homing in on co-curator Xinyi Liu’s Hot Dinner, a zippy short film produced using cutout animation. Charmingly conveyed on a vintage Quasar TV sized for a kitchen counter, the plot is easy to pick up: After two young brothers come to blows over a prized possession, the thing that reunites them, aside from a parent pulling their ears, is dinner. Trumpet-led jazz and cartoonish sound effects round out the picture. (By the way, upstairs at ECOCA, video is the crux of a forthcoming exhibition of work by Kit Young, in which Young points the camera at you and shows you the feed, creating a digital mirror drenched in a kind of thermal fuzz.)

At NXTHVN, as at the YUAG, the cinema hides behind a tidy black curtain you have to be adventurous enough to breach. Part of Saya Woolfalk: Field Notes from the Empathic Universe, the five projected animations, aided by music, make up in color, scale and mantric quality what they lack in clear story. My gaze was drawn in particular to a kind of crystal ball terrarium, its bobbing, drifting, spinning flora giving body to the face of a blinking humanoid crowned with a kind of color-wheel halo turned on its edge. The figure must be one of Woolfalk’s Empathics, “fictional futuristic beings who time-travel and shape-shift across the multiverse.”

Somewhere in that multiverse, in an alternate New Haven, city residents might still have a thriving commercial cinema to enjoy. But they might not have the kind of thriving, movie-friendly arthouses enjoyed by this universe’s New Haveners.

Written and photographed by Dan Mims. Image features a reduced-quality still from Xinyi Liu’s Hot Dinner (2020) at ECOCA. To view video clips of the artwork, check out the email edition.

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