Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 19, 2022 9:08 pm 
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MARTINE SYMS: THE AFRICAN DESPERATE (2021) - New Directors/New Films (FLC-MoMA) Apr. 30-May 1, 2022




Display of art-school cool and send-up of MFA completion

"There’s a certain kind of New York culture vulture," wrote Roisin Tapponi in Vogue, "who can distinguish a Rick Owens shopping bag from a standard brown tote. If you can spot the difference (and you carry the former), you might just occupy the same world as artist Martine Syms—or at least the one she’s lovingly portraying in her debut feature film, The African Desperate (2022). In this film, Syms captures all the subtle signifiers of upper-middle-class-liberal art culture, from Asai tops to Rimowa suitcases. If you know, you know—and you’re invited to the party.

In her central role as Syms' stand-in Palace, Diamond Stingily, with her screaming orange hair and low voice, is all attitude and confidence and has nothing to say during the highly satirical (I hope) MFA final oral that opens the film. But she doesn't have to. When they ask her what her plans for future work are she just says, "I don't know," and when she says it, it sounds like a wise remark. Palace says she's going to Chicago on the train the next morning, needs to tend to her sick parent, and that seems wise too, with everybody egging her on to come to the farewell part at this upstate New York art school venue that could be a stand-in for Bard.

But when she keeps being reminded she's supposed to DJ, and also that she's got work showing in the Venice Biennale, it becomes inevitable she''ll stop being coy and do some heavy partying to touch base with her fans. The bulk of the film is a psychedelic ramble through drugs and alcohol, and Palace's recovery from same. She loses her cookies more than once, and with all the drugs it's a good thing she does, but she never breaks attitude.

And that's about all there is to this film. But probably/maybe, if you know what you know as described in that Vogue excerpt cited earlier, that is enough as a calling card from this very hip "hazy, alluring send-up of the art world" and of the MFA world and what it's like at art grad school nowadays, through a jaundiced eye.

The African Desperate, 97 mins., debuted at Apr. 2022 New Directors/New Films as the Closing Night film.

Saturday, April 30
6:00pm, FLC Walter Reade Theater (Q&A with Martine Syms)
9:00pm, FLC Walter Reade Theater (Q&A with Martine Syms)
Sunday, May 1
2:45pm, MoMA T2 (Q&A with Martine Syms)

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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