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Forrest Gump, the Movie Loved by Everyone’s Grandma

Forrest Gump was a fable without a moral, the key to its maddening success. At the end of the movie, the idiot-who-always-failed-up tried to make sense of the story himself.

Was his life a tribute to destiny or accidents, he wondered, in a moment of striving depth. Then he shrugged off the question: “Maybe it’s both.” But dumb ol’ Forrest was right. (Like always.) Both theories boil down to fate, and Forrest Gump may be the most curiously fated film in modern history.

Now rereleased in IMAX, this sweet-as-mass-produced-chocolate mega-hit is adored by everyone’s grandma but was based on a novel about a mentally challenged giant who lived with cannibals, blasted off into space, and was great in the sack. For every blessing that falls at movie Forrest’s feet like a feather from the sky, karma punishes his loved ones, not that he notices. (And the film can’t look them in the eye either.)

They live complicated lives we only glimpse in the margins beyond Forrest’s myopia. His jilted mom prostitutes herself to get her boy into a better school. His crush sleeps her way through the era where misogyny cloaked itself in peace and love, all while being stalked with Jason Voorhees relentlessness by her flat-topped childhood playmate.

At war, Forrest doesn’t kill anyone. He doesn’t get PTSD. He doesn’t even have a clue why he’s there. The film is so afraid to dredge up debate that when Abbie Hoffman hands Forrest the microphone at an anti-war rally, someone unplugs the speakers so we can’t hear him — fitting for a movie with nothing to say.

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Indiana Jones and the Perils of Humanistic Decency

The story goes that while filming in Tunisia in the summer of 1980, Steven Spielberg avoided the dysentery that afflicted most of the cast and crew of Raiders of the Lost Ark by holing up in his hotel room with a suitcase full of SpaghettiOs. Like most studio-approved behind-the-scenes errata, that anecdote’s edges have been worn off, and it’s probably more cute than true in the first place. Still, something in it smacks of truth: the gee-whiz everykid of the Arizona suburbs stuck in the kind of locale white folks used to call “exotic,” gritting his way through it with good ol’ American junk culture. Indiana Jones manages something similar, just with two-fisted comic book scrappiness rather than crappy canned dinners. The results, though, are the same: The not-especially-curious Westerner braves the East, gets what he came for, and emerges untouched by the cultures he outwits.

This is an observation, not a complaint. The colonial assumptions of the first two Indiana Jones pictures have not aged well, of course. (If you want to argue that those movies aren’t full of, um, racial insensitivities, I urge you to check out online the transcript of early story conferences between Spielberg, George Lucas, and Lawrence Kasdan wherein the young Lucas calls the non-Nazi bad guys “Third World local sleazos, whether they’re Mexicans or Arabs or whatever.”)

But Raiders and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom at least somewhat send up the xenophobia at the heart of so much adventure literature, and they serve as playful, perhaps even self-aware, records of how the world was so often dreamed of by young Americans and Western Europeans back before everyone grew up and read Orientalism: as full of great treasures and wild places whose natives might benefit from a spot of lashing.

In short, there’s something disreputable about Raiders, which returns this week to theaters, blown up to IMAX proportions. (Because the original is a comparatively humble-size 35mm movie, and because the IMAX version was not screened for critics, we’re taking their word for it that it looks good.) For all its bravura chases, just a bit grittier than it needs to be violence, and fully immersive mise-en-scène—has any haunted house on-screen ever been as perfectly shadowed and booby-trapped and clearly laid out as the cave of the opening reel?—all of Spielberg’s top-flight technique is still in the service of the adventures of a grave robber, one introduced in shadows himself, and one just as sneaky and lethal as the poison darts he dances past.

This is a film made by a kid eating SpaghettiOs, a kid who knows it’s hilarious for the pragmatic American hero to just cold pop the Arab swordsman still enamored of ritual and time-wasting displays of grace. The latter two Jones pictures, in which the grave robber has become a gently unpleasant preserver of trinkets, were made by a grown-up, a serious artist, a good liberal, a citizen of the world, an ambassador of his culture, and a good-hearted boomer bonhomie. Just as it’s hard to picture the Spielberg who made the tony, undervalued War Horse hunkering down with some Chef Boyardee, it’s impossible to picture the Indiana Jones of the tepid Kingdom of the Crystal Skull willy-nilly murdering Lucas’s sleazos.

That Spielberg is now above such nastiness is a net gain for his soul but a serious a loss for adventure movies. An Indiana Jones who plays by our rules of humanistic multiculturalism is like a James Bond who isn’t a misogynist—what’s the point?

Fortunately, whatever they might have done to enlarge its frames, Raiders will always be Raiders: two hours of the finest possible kids’ stuff, boasting Harrison Ford at the peak of his curly charisma; Karen Allen out-drinking the heavy in ravishing silks; serious contenders for Hollywood’s best car chase and fistfight; the wicked and witty cave adventure and snake pit sequences; a score butchered every summer at every pops concert; Paul Freeman soldiering through a scene in the desert even as an errant fly buzzes right into his mouth; that incomparable gag—cut from Spielberg’s 1941—where Ronald Lacey’s coat hanger at first appears to be an instrument of torture; and some charmingly risible impossibilities, like the fact that Indy and his retainers troop for what seems like days through the jungle to get to that cave, but then he has a buddy in a seaplane waiting to pick him up within jogging distance. Oh, and a literal deus ex machina, frying up Nazis Old Testament–style. At some point, even the truly noble-spirited viewer must admit: This shit’s too awesome to worry about its politics while it’s on. And because 2016: Obama’s America is still out, it’s not even this week’s least-charitable on-screen depiction of the Middle East.

The also-undervalued The Adventures of Tintin exhibits the brio and inventiveness absent from much of The Last Crusade and all but the opening reels of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Tintin feels not like the work of a kid but of a nostalgic adult, which means it’s mostly safe, and it never dares the darker fantasies that adults know to hide. It’s the work of a lauded chef, free to create anything in the world he might want to, blowing a kabillion dollars to whip up some SpaghettiOs.

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THE GREAT BATSBY

When everyone else is queuing up to see The Dark Knight Rises in IMAX, Joe’s Pub is offering a more intimate view of the caped crusader. Taking its form from Elevator Repair Service’s Gatz, Batz is set in a similar cube farm, replacing Fitzgerald’s stylish, secretive millionaire with another mysterious member of the 1 Percent—this one dedicated to striking fear into the hearts of evildoers. The bored office drones take turns acting out the events (and playing with the context) of eight vintage Batman stories, using makeshift props and costumes to become the Joker, Robin, and the Dark Knight himself.

Fri., July 20, 11:30 p.m., 2012

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To the Arctic 3D

Making up for its 40-minute run time in turgidity and sheer size, To the Arctic, whose 70mm IMAX presentation stretches postcard hokum to JumboTron size, is a travelogue doubling as an eco guilt-trip. Director Greg MacGillivray (Everest) buries the viewer in an avalanche of helicopter-view majesty, while narrator Meryl Streep petitions for the preservation of the receding North Pole ice and anthropomorphizes the animal stars in a fashion associated with Morgan Freeman. The cast of To the Arctic are the region’s walruses, migratory caribou, and, most of all, the polar bears—particularly mama bears and cubs, for the film is a paean to maternal resilience and fortitude in these times of thinning sea ice and scarce seal meat. (In order to preserve its sentimental view of the natural order, G-rated To the Arctic is tactful about the reality of carnivorous existence—we must infer that mama seals do not love their children as much as mama polar bears do.) The fatal cloying is abetted by Steve Wood’s soundtrack compositions and selections from Sir Paul McCartney’s catalog, a combination syrupy enough to glue one’s feet to the theater floor. Arguably a good lesson for kids about preserving our environment, To the Arctic is definitely a threat to our equally endangered good taste.

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A Handsome but Cursory Portrait of Animal Rescue in Born to Be Wild 3D

Gigantic form, diminutive content: Born to Be Wild 3D, presented in expansive IMAX, offers a visually arresting, kid-friendly, but cursory portrait of the altruistic efforts of two women not only to rescue orphaned baby animals but to then raise and ultimately release them back into their natural habitats. Narrated with stock stateliness by Morgan Freeman, David Lickley’s reverential documentary splits its focus between Kenya’s Dr. Daphne Sheldrick, who has spent her life caring for the country’s orphan elephants, and Borneo’s world-renowned primatologist Dr. Biruté Galdikas, a career Mother Teresa to the island’s stray orangutan tykes. Lickley’s vistas of the African plains and Southeast Asian jungles exhibit a regal grandeur, and his up-close snapshots of his mammal subjects, though often staged for maximum cuteness, exude an endearing intimacy. Clocking in at only 40 minutes, however, the film has no time to thoroughly explore the issues at the heart of its bifurcated tale, consequently delivering only a meager collection of adorable imagery and sentimental messages about love, selflessness, surrogate parent–child bonds, and the similarities between humans and beasts. If not for its outsize IMAX presentation, this handsome nonfiction film would be little more than an uplifting episode of PBS’s Nature.

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The Problem With 3-D

Is this the year? Are we finally witnessing Total Cinema, the first stirrings of Huxley’s feelies, the apotheosis and—as suggested by the “Classic 3-D” show opening Friday at Film Forum—the Second Coming of Stereo Movies? (Or is it more like the third, the fourth, or the fifth coming?)

Last year’s Avatar, of course, is the top-grossing movie in world history. Midway through summer, six of 2010’s top 10 grossing movies—Toy Story 3, Alice in Wonderland, Shrek Forever After, How to Train Your Dragon, Despicable Me, and Clash of the Titans—were released in 3-D. Two, Alice and Titans, were shot flat and then converted to 3-D to catch the wave. Citing the lack of enthusiasm for last week’s Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, some are predicting that wave has crested. Still, 60 3-D movies are currently in the works, including one by Martin Scorsese.

First the movies, then the talkies, now the 3-Dzies? As posited by the French film theorist André Bazin, all were imagined simultaneously (as “a re-creation of the world in its own image”) in the aftermath of photography. Motion-picture pioneers Thomas Alva Edison and the Lumière brothers mulled the possibility of 3-D; Edwin Porter developed an anaglyphic system based on superimposed green and orange images. D.W. Griffith defended 3-D. So did Russian montage-master Sergei Eisenstein, in an essay celebrating the 1946 color Stereokino production Robinzon Kruzo.

Eisenstein deemed 3-D inherently progressive (“Mankind has for centuries been moving toward stereoscopic cinema”) and hence naturally Soviet: “The bourgeois West is either indifferent or even hostilely ironical toward the problems of stereoscopic cinema.” Indeed, when bourgeois Hollywood turned its attention to stereoscopic cinema—along with wide-screen formats and enhanced sound—it was not for art’s sake but following the logic of the capitalist system, an effort to reverse declining market share in the post-TV era.

The independent jungle adventure Bwana Devil (1952) led the way, and, before the craze fizzled in 1954, two of Hollywood’s greatest artists—Alfred Hitchcock and Douglas Sirk—made 3-D features, while one-eyed directors Raoul Walsh and André De Toth demonstrated that stereo vision was unnecessary to grasp the essence of stereo cinema, and, using extensive underwater photography, Jack Arnold’s two Creature films gave early evidence of 3-D’s affinity for thick, viscous space. (Since negative space is recorded on film to the same degree as positive, aerial and aquatic landscapes take on a tangible emptiness in 3-D.)

The boom was international, including Hungary (which actually preceded Hollywood with two 3-D features in 1952), Spain (one feature), Mexico (two features), and Italy (five 3-D features in 1953 and 1954). Mysteriously dormant during 3-D’s brief efflorescence, the U.S.S.R. proletarian stereoscopic cinema returned in the late ’50s, averaging one production every other year for the next three decades. But then, 3-D itself came back as regularly as Halley’s Comet: The Stewardesses triggered an early-’70s porn cycle; a dozen years later, the stereo spaghetti western Comin’ at Ya inspired a number of Hollywood 3-D-quels (Amity 3-D, Jaws 3-D); and a decade after that, IMAX 3-D added the dimension of size.

Film artist Ken Jacobs, whose 3-D projections (movies, slideshows, shadow plays) date back to the late ’60s, praised IMAX 3-D’s Wings of Courage in these pages for its capacity to promote perceptual reorientation: “Instead of caring about the fate of the crashed airman pulling himself up from the snow, I’m enraptured with the thick planes of his greatcoat and the thin sheathing of snow clinging to it. Atmospheres steal the show.” In other words, 3-D is an attraction that has little to do with, and may even detract from, narrative.

This was especially true of the most powerful IMAX production, James Cameron’s Ghosts of the Abyss (2003). But Cameron’s voyage to the bottom of the sea was also something else—namely, the avatar of Avatar in announcing the advent of digital 3-D. The only thing that distinguishes this current wave of stereo cinema from that of 1953, 1970, and 1982 is the technology. The profit motive is a constant. Just as in the ’50s, Hollywood must again compete with new forms of home entertainment, and there’s no 3-D YouTube or TV (yet). But box office grosses are not the only revenue stream. As pointed out by Dave Kehr in Film Comment and vigorously reiterated in Roger Ebert’s manifesto “Why I Hate 3-D (And You Should Too),” the studios are acting like 3-Dzies are the new talkies, using 3-D to sell exhibitors an expensive new delivery system and, not coincidentally, slapping a hefty surcharge on ticket prices. Crass, for sure, but there’s another issue—the underwhelming, mediocre quality of most current 3-D.

In part, this has to do with the listlessness of retrofitted 3-D, but mainly it’s an issue rooted in the distinction between photographic and CGI imagery. The images in Toy Story 3 and Shrek Forever After are computer-generated. For these movies, the physical world need not exist—at least, it need not exist to be photographed. But the beauty of photographically produced 3-D arises from its novel stylization of that world. That is why, however digitally sweetened, Henry Selick’s uncanny puppet animation Coraline has a tension beyond that of even the most visually dynamic computer animations. Something actually happened in depth, in the world, in front of the camera—3-D restores the dimension that Selick’s puppets actually possessed.

Whereas 3-D digital animation normalizes the fantastic, the “unreal” depth of photographic 3-D defamiliarizes the ordinary. (The great lost 3-D films are documentaries like Paramount’s feature-length Korean War newsreel Cease Fire and Albert Zugsmith’s straightforward recording of the Phil Silvers Broadway musical Top Banana.) A succession of paper-thin, pop-out book planes, stereo-photographic depth is a thing in itself. Bazin was disappointed, writing that “stereoscopic relief” created not a heightened sense of reality, but its opposite, “the impression of an unreal, unapproachable world.” But in fact, stereo photography created a new sort of naturalism.

Another issue arises out of 3-D’s alliance with Pixar-style CGI “solid animation.” It’s the dialectic between actual flatness and reconstituted depth (which one is more “real”?) that underwrites 3-D’s visual drama. But, unlike flat, cel animation, solid animation already provides the illusion of deep space. Day & Night, the short Pixar released with Toy Story 3, made more engaging use of the third dimension than the main feature by creating the illusion of depth in a cartoonishly flat universe. Toy Story 3 imbues virtual depth with virtual depth. It’s redundant.

Eisenstein noted stereo’s two most evident tendencies—its capacity to pierce “the depth of the screen,” and, alternately, its ability to create a “palpably three-dimensional” image that “‘pours out of the screen.” He naturally thought the latter was stereo’s “most devastating effect.” But it’s the deep focus that allows for the more rarefied spacial experience. Wide-screen action and CGI extras tend to squeeze out the third dimension and mitigate this effect, as in Avatar‘s final blowout, when an overabundance of visual information serves to flatten the space. The most primitive 3-D can be the most powerful. The little-known Man in the Dark, which opens “Classic 3-D,” is truly classical.

Cheapness works. For all its comin’-atcha antics, Man in the Dark gets far more from simply drawing attention into the deep space created by its compact frame and accentuated with black-and-white photography. Nondescript locations become impossibly exotic: A shabby barroom seems as monumental as the Parthenon; tracking past flat shop-window reflections on a 3-D street creates a cubist wonderland. The movie’s climactic roller coaster fight, scaffolding popping out against bargain basement back projection, is an even more kinetic riot of flatness and depth. (Roller coasters are good 3-D, as demonstrated by the sequence in the digital Despicable Me.)

With 3-D, less is often more. As in the first motion pictures, small sensations dominate. In the three decades since its first Film Forum revival in its original format, Dial M for Murder has garnered a deserved reputation for its restrained use of stereo. (The movie’s lone example of proscenium-breaking projectile effect is reserved for the attempted murder—as she’s being throttled, Grace Kelly pelts the camera with one shapely, supplicating arm.) And when 3-D is based on photography, nature speaks for itself. Inferno—another Film Forum find—is a survival story set in the Mojave’s desert void, where every ordinary object seems like an asteroid lost in space. The vista in Raoul Walsh’s Gun Fury, also at Film Forum, is deep rather than wide, and the perspective is continually forced, encouraging one to savor each piece of sagebrush in the canyon or marvel at the spectacle of horses kicking up clouds of 3-D dust.

Movies privilege action; 3-Dzies induce optical awareness. The purest examples serve to remind us that our eye-brains create the stereoscopic world. The best thing about Wings of Courage, Jacobs thought, could be the “free show” the viewer encountered upon leaving the theater, passing through ordinary surroundings “with depth perception turned blazingly on.”

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Hubble 3D As Gripping as Plumbers Snaking a Drain

Nasa’s famous space telescope was carried by shuttle into Earth’s orbit 20 years ago next month, and within weeks of that launch, it was discovered that this huge and hugely expensive bastard had a flawed optical system—Hubble was a real lemon. Still, it took some amazing pictures. If there’s one thing that Space Station 3D producer/director Toni Myers’s new Imax doc achieves, it’s making audiences feel like insignificant specks in the universe, as when “zooming in” to the tiny, newly forming galaxies hiding in the gaseous clouds of each star in Orion’s Belt. More futility may be found in the film’s primary agenda, a first-person snapshot of 2009’s final rescue mission, in which seven astronauts risked their necks to manually fix the telescope yet again, making it the most dangerous job in tech-support history. Even at 43 minutes short, with earnest but marketable narration by Leonardo DiCaprio and one amusing zero-gravity taco preparation scene, Hubble 3D‘s perilous endeavors are about as thrilling to watch as plumbers snaking a drain . . . in spacesuits! If you want an eye-popping cosmic epic, rent Star Trek. If you want interactivity, take the kids to the planetarium.

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U2 3D

Three dimensions seem scarcely enough to contain the messianic impulses of the world’s hardest-rocking humanitarian aid project, and in this concert extravaganza U2 finally gets a format scaled to their ambitions: the four-story IMAX screen, with 3D technology tossed in to boot. Except for the eerie moment when Bono pleads “Wipe your tears away” directly into the camera—an unsettling gesture of simulated intimacy—directors Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington seldom use 3D to create the illusion of physical proximity: the filmmaking rarely synchs up with the innate tension and release in the songs (one reason: The directors favor dissolves, which look more impressive than cuts in 3D but dissipate excitement.) But the performances, culled from seven shows on the “Vertigo” tour from Mexico City to Buenos Aires, burn with the old unforgettable fire. The supernova choruses of “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” can still stand your hair on end, and the band—guitarist The Edge, bassist Adam Clayton, drummer Larry Mullen Jr. and their ramparts-storming frontman—proves it doesn’t need a giant lemon to dominate a stage. Oddly, the Hubbell Telescoping of the IMAX 3D somewhat diminishes the group’s visual presence, as the format forces them to share the spotlight with every dust speck and heightened detail. (Hey, Mullen’s drumming—whoa, is that a Kleenex box?) The crowd scenes, though, are astonishing, even moving, in their egalitarian pinpoint clarity. Here band and audience are indivisible—with visual proof that cell phones have officially replaced the lofted lighter.

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I Lost It at the Guggenheim

There is a cinematic thrill to the jump-cutting between five centuries of imagery in this splendid, sprawling show, as if the Guggenheim’s vertiginous spiral is now an IMAX screen. Here’s Goya’s unsparing 1812 meditation on violent death—a sheep’s carcass, all red and white diagonals of ribs and meat beside the baleful, skinned head. Nearby is a 1939 Picasso, chockablock with bloody sheep’s skulls stacked like cannonballs, an apt metaphor for Europe’s just-declared war. Painters have always stolen from their predecessors (one early Velazquez of diners at a still-life-laden table nabs everything but the kitchen sink from Caravaggio), and this exhibition’s simplest pleasures come from watching modern mavericks advance pictorial forms by joyfully ransacking old masters. But as good as Miro, Gris, and Picasso are (plus Dali, who comes off here as inquisitorially dark and serious instead of bleatingly melodramatic), they can’t outdistance El Greco. His
Adoration of the Name of Jesus includes distant crowd scenes, full-length shots of rapturous saints, and portraits of nobles bathed in bolts of orange light amid roiling skies, with wildly painted red cloaks and abstract slabs of black leading the eye to a gargantuan shark gorging upon the damned. The Greek beat Spielberg by 400 years.

‘The Building Show’
Featuring more than two-dozen artists, this exhibition channels the public’s love-hate affair with architectural design. Heidi Neilson’s sundial drawings document the long shadow the Citibank tower casts over Long Island City, both literally and metaphorically, as more artists are forced out of yet another rapidly gentrifying area. Emily Katrencik’s curtain of lollipops (made with flakes of “food-grade marble similar to the calcium used in vitamin supplements”—who knew?) is an homage to 2 Columbus Circle, known derisively as the “Lollipop Building.” Tim Spelios constructed his
Leaning Tower of Bass Drums as a tribute to what he terms “the well-deserved screw you to gravity” manifested by the leaning tower of Pisa. Seth Weiner’s life-size reconstruction of Ted Kaczynski’s tiny, rough-hewn cabin sits atop powerful speakers, causing the Unabomber’s abode to shake from a synthesized recording of the words of another famous American hermit, Henry David Thoreau. Exit Art, 475 Tenth Avenue, 212-966-7745. Through March 31.


Tunga
Like an Ikea store gone goth, this dimly lit group of sculptures juxtaposes brass lamps and room-divider-style golden screens with massive curvilinear frames that mimic skeletal insect wings. The “Love me Knot” series suspends various animal skulls—crocodile, wolf, Siberian tiger—inside bags of braided wires, where they engage in jaw-clamping battle with human counterparts. This mix of polished home furnishings with bones and bugs lands the viewer inside a Brobdingnagian spider’s parlor. Luhring Augustine, 531 West 24th, 212-206-9100. Through March 24.


‘High Times, Hard Times’
Lynda Benglis’s Blatt (1969) lies on the floor like a massive novelty vomit. A gelatinous, 10-foot-wide slab of poured latex, its edges are shriveled, its bright rivulets of color diminished by the grime of time. Yet the gesture—taking painting off the wall, and indeed removing any sort of canvas or traditional support at all—captures the power of this show, which features 37 New York painters who worked during the hard-scrabble years of the late ’60s to mid-’70s. (A 1974 photo in the catalog depicts West Broadway in all its glorious decrepitude, before the ’80s gallery explosion and today’s pricey boutiques.) These artists grappled with abstraction’s past by going optical (as in Roy Colmer’s 102, which vibrates with contrasting stripes) or by seeking out new materials that worked as both content and supporting ground (Harmony Hammond salvaged knit fabrics from local dumpsters to make braided floor pieces). In 1967, Carolee Schneemann literally threw herself into her work, slathering paste onto her naked body and then rolling amid strips of paper. The tatters hang off her like flayed skin, a reference to the Vietnam War, but she is also clearly reveling in pure physicality as she dives, kicks, and struts. This three-and-a-half-minute video captures both the anger and the exhilaration of that period of feminist ferment.
National Academy Museum, 1083 Fifth Avenue, 212-369-4880. Through April 22.


Walid Raad
This Lebanese-born artist was 15 when Israel invaded Beirut, and he took black-and-white photos of the battles, soldiers, and weapons. These large digital prints from those 1982 negatives are so filled with scratches and color blotches that a fighter jet high in the sky is almost lost amid the visual noise, while an image of Israeli soldiers relaxing in the shadow of their tank takes on the feel of a battered family snapshot. On the opposite wall are prints featuring bullet-scarred buildings festooned with variously colored dots, which represent the international arms suppliers who produced each type of ammunition. Paula Cooper, 521 W 21st, 212-255-1105. Through March 24.


‘Paul Jenkins in the Fifties’
If at first you feel overwhelmed by a surfeit of painterly technique—energetic pouring, dripping, and staining amid wet-into-wet coagulations—take the time to find the raw beauty in a work such as
Black Dahlia (1956). At its center is a round maw of red and white surrounded by undulating curtains of blue and ochre; thin washes of drips spread and bend at angles like coral, dark swathes meld into yellow flares. This is nature—omnipresent, yet elusive—distilled down to pigment on canvas with bravura grace. D. Wigmore, 22 E 76th, 212-794-2128. Through April 14.

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Film

If you’re sad that Reagan Week is over and just can’t get enough of Americans with the darndest sense of optimism, hired-gun commercial and PSA cinematographer Louis Schwartzberg brings the balm with 24 regionally specific vignettes. Scanning like inspirational bios between Olympic events, his hodgepodge leaves no corner of Americana undusted. As platitudinous subjects jaw off and amber grain duly waves, ersatz cowboys, car decorators, salsa dancers, and steel workers praise tradition and values with Coke-ad fervor. Everybody here is getting their folksy on—so much so that a banjoed yuppie milk-farmer’s mention of his divorce seems scandalous. When ditching the mawk to follow his daredevil muse, the director delivers stunning shots of cliff dancing and stunt pilotry, but beyond these few IMAX thrills, syrupy appreciations and thudding intertitles hailing “freedom” suggest a de facto Why We Fight, veering somehow closer to the mythologies of bald hawks than the symbolism of bald eagles.