Beginning March 4, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) will host a retrospective of pioneering filmmaker Nina Menkes. The exhibition arrives just after Menkes debuted her latest documentary “Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power” at 2022 Sundance. Exclusive to IndieWire, watch the trailer for the retrospective below.
The week-long BAM retrospective, “Cinema Is Sorcery: The Films of Nina Menkes,” features new restorations of “The Bloody Child” (4K by by The Academy Film Archive and The Film Foundation) which premiered at NYFF last fall, and “Magdalena Viraga,” (2K by Arbelos Films) which makes its New York City premiere with the museum.
“Magdalena Viraga” was filmed in bars and hotels in East Los Angeles, following the inner life of a prostitute, played by Tinka Menkes, who is imprisoned for killing her pimp. The 1986 film won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association award for Best Independent/Experimental Film of the Year, and went on to be featured in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Biennial as well as in over 40 other film festivals worldwide.
“The Bloody Child” was released a decade later in 1996, and was inspired by a real-life event involving a young U.S. Marine who was found digging a grave for his murdered wife in the Mojave desert, after returning from the Gulf War. Shot in North Africa and 29 Palms, California, “The Bloody Child” combines “actual Desert Storm marines, playing themselves, text from Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth,’ and wife-murder…creating a wild witch’s brew,” according to the official synopsis.
Like 2022’s “Brainwashed,” Menkes’ early works unpacks themes, including Hollywood power structures, female subjectivity and isolation, alienated labor, misogynist violence, and the landscape of the American West, per the BAM press statement.
Menkes’ eye for the experimental led IndieWire’s Kate Erbland to recently hail “Brainwashed” as a documentary that will change how audiences consume cinema.
“A longtime filmmaker who has consistently bucked the status quo to make films her way, Menkes long ago hit upon some uncomfortable truths, the kind that impacted her both as a woman and a director,” Erbland wrote. “Per its own synopsis, ‘Brainwashed’ attempts ‘to show how the visual grammar of cinema contributes to conditions that create discriminatory hiring practice, pay inequity and a pervasive environment of sexual harassment in the film industry and beyond.’ In short, Menkes aims to walk her audience through a bevy of film clips to illustrate how the very language of films is gendered, much to the detriment of women both on- and off-screen. The results are startling, destined to forever change how its audience watches films.”
BAM’s Nina Menkes retrospective runs March 4–10.