Four films by acclaimed independent filmmaker and School of Film/Video faculty Nina Menkes are now streaming on the Criterion Channel. The lineup includes feature films Queen of Diamonds (1991), Phantom Love (2007), Dissolution (2010), as well as the 40-minute featurette “The Great Sadness of Zohara” (1983).
Though the collection has been available for streaming since Feb. 1, the Criterion Channel launches the series to the public on Wednesday, Feb. 24 with Menkes delivering a new video introduction to her films on the channel.
The Criterion Channel commented on Menkes’ collection:
One of American independent cinema’s most sui generis voices, Nina Menkes doesn’t so much direct films as, in her own words, “conjure” them. Imbued with a trancelike power, her cinematic spells combine surrealist imagery that has been compared to David Lynch’s with the hypnotic formal rigor of Chantal Akerman to create a wholly original film language, through which she explores themes of alienation, violence, sexuality, and the search for a nonpatriarchal spirituality. Featuring the recently restored 1990s landmark Queen of Diamonds—a glimmering hallucination set on the margins of Las Vegas—these selections from Menkes’s potent body of work reveal an uncompromising artist who gives radical form to the raw materials of her unconscious.
Menkes’ works have received numerous distinctions over the years. In 2017, The Film Foundation—established by Martin Scorsese—awarded a grant to The Academy’ Film Archive to photochemically restore and digitize Queen of Diamonds. The Film Foundation grants are awarded to works deemed “culturally and historically significant.” The feature was also named a New York Times’ Critics Pick, characterized by Glenn Kenny as “not an easy film,” but “an essential one.”
Independent film director Allison Anders (Gas Food Lodging, Mi Vida Loca) praised “The Great Sadness of Zohara” as “some of cinema’s most insanely beautiful landscapes,” and called it “one of the decade’s best films.” Of Phantom Love and Dissolution, Keyframe’s Mark Rappaport described the works as “electrifying, defining what cinema is all about—or should be.”
Menkes is currently working on her documentary BRAINWASHED, slated for release in summer 2021. The film is based on her cinematic lecture series Sex and Power, the Visual Language of Cinema, which illustrates how cinema’s visual language and common filmmaking techniques (lighting, framing, camera movement, angles) disempower women, girls, and others by dissecting key scenes from A-list directors from 1896 to the present. In 2018, Menkes took her Sex and Power series to the Sundance Film Festival’s EOS World Fund Launch, a global initiative to support boundary-pushing female filmmakers.