Only up since July, Luke McKernan’s Picturegoing already boasts enough irresistible content to drain away too many hours of any cinephile’s day. As the title suggests, the site collects accounts of going to the movies, but the joy of McKernan’s archivist inclusiveness is that everything is here: Peter O’Toole encountering fascism for the first time via newsreels; literary critic Edward Wagenknecht suggesting the devil was the first movie star; novelist Dorothy Richardson wishing the audiences of 1928 would learn to keep quiet; an unidentified “Negro male student in High School. Age 17,” quoted in a 1930s sociological study, offering the most evocative description I’ve ever read of trying to live your life by the example set on movie screens. And this isn’t even getting into the poems, the excerpts from diaries and oral histories, the fiction excerpts…. McKernan has provided a wealth of tags to navigate his selections, but I’d follow the example of so many of the earliest movie watchers quoted: go in blind, not knowing what to expect, and a little miracle is bound to pop up before your eyes. Via John Wyver.
The best essays about living up to the example set on movie screens I’ve ever seen, of course, come courtesy of the films of Howard Hawks. Imogen Sara Smith is quite marvelous on Hawks’s always amazing use of performance, and how that feeds into “the strange connection in his films between the most polished artifice and the deepest authenticity,” at Moving Image Source.
“After dinner we’ll see a movie. It’ll give me ideas.” “Use your own ideas instead of stealing them from everyone else.” Also inspired by MOMI’s Hawks retrospective, Richard Brody declares Contempt Godard’s most Hawksian film.
“He said, ‘What is this?’ And I said, ‘This is a spaceship with tits.’ And he says, ‘Yes, that’s exactly what it is. You build it.’ So suddenly, I was the guy in the model shop that everyone hated.” Two excerpts from Chris Nashawaty’s new book Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen, and Candy Stripe Nurses supports my belief that there’s not a dull story to be told about working on a Roger Corman production. At RogerEbert.com Bruce Dern, Peter Fonda, Peter Bogdanovich and others talk about the making of The Wild Angels; while at Grantland John Sayles, James Cameron (quoted above), Gale Ann Hurd, Sybil Danning, and Bill Paxton describe some of the low-rent, hard-work inventiveness behind Battle Beyond the Stars and Galaxy of Terror.
Welles.net offers an excerpt of its own, from this year’s acclaimed book of taped Orson Welles conversations. No, not that one; Todd Tarbox’s Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts. A lovely ramble between two dear old soulmates about the various stupidities of dancing, New Year’s celebrations (“Too much drunkenness and not enough thought”), and our attitudes toward death.
As film lovers throughout the land lie awake in their beds, fearful tales running through their heads of Harvey Scissorhands once again rampaging the land, David Bordwell reminds us that not every interference is ruinous and even producers can (inadvertently, true) stumble upon a good idea. Specifically he looks at two movies—Sturges’s The Great Moment and Mankiewicz’s All About Eve—where flashback structures meticulously set up by their directors were altered by heavy-handed producers; to simplify things, of course, but each leading to a structure in some ways richer and stranger than originally intended.
In a previously unpublished 2009 exchange, intended for a book that never materialized, Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore talk over Kubrick’s first four features. The best insights come when each plunks down for their favorite of the quartet, Rosenbaum for Fear and Desire, Naremore for Killer’s Kiss.
“Oh, what do you know? It’s morning already. Come around and tell me the story of your life sometime.” Discovered by Charlie Chaplin; immortalized by Orson Welles; once brutally punished by studio heads during a Three Stooges short by being tossed into a swimming pool for 97 takes; ultimately ruined—possibly even framed for solicitation—by HUAC. Kathleen Sharp relates the story of Dorothy Comingore.
“We rode our bikes around the [hospital] grounds and flew kites on the lawn in front of the canteen. We would sit and wait for a pushcart to buy chewing gum or sail metal boats on the pond in front of the walkway. Another thing we liked to do was sit in front of the morgue to see the corpses when they were wheeled out on gurneys with their feet sticking out from under the white sheets.” Apichatpong Weerasethakul recollects a childhood surrounded by the beauty, hidden desires, and stalking ghosts that would come to populate his films. Also at This Long Century, David Lowery revisits his first feature, finding more to be proud of than he’d feared.
John Bailey breaks down the aesthetic and philosophic differences between Primary and Chronicle of a Summer as a way to emphasize their similar technical breakthroughs: the employment of groundbreaking lightweight cameras—a modified Auricon for the Americans; “the prototype of the camera that was soon to become the most sought after 16mm camera in the world, the Éclair NPR” for the French—that allowed unprecedented freedom of movement.
Howard Hampton’s life with his father—a former stuntman dissolutely attempting a comeback in scuzzy late-60s Los Angeles—predetermined many of his reactions to films yet unseen. Thunderball was flat and fake compared to the Caribbean waters Hampton had swum, just as Cassavetes was to the harrowing domestic scenes he’d witnessed. Lynch and Peckinpah, however, felt right at home.
“But this character’s literally in every scene in the movie, so we realized we were going the wrong direction, and we just started seeing actors who could play, as opposed to musicians who could act. And there are more of those, by the way.” “And we’ve been doing this like, 30 years. You’d think we know something as basic as this, that you need an actor.” One defense against the Coens’ detractors, that has been apparent in every interview from their first to this sitdown with Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott, is that however much they laugh at their characters, they’re always willing to turn the joke on themselves.
“Around the age of eight, Danes, exasperated by a boy in her class, was spooked by the pleasure she got from her revenge fantasies about him. ‘Can people read your thoughts?’ she asked her mother. ‘Your imagination is your own. You can do whatever you like with it,’ Carla answered. The knowledge that ‘you could be a good person and host lavishly violent acts in your imagination’ was, Danes said, a kind of liberation. ‘I was so happy,’ she added.” John Lahr’s profile of Claire Danes suggests many possible wellsprings for her mercurial genius—an early love of mimicry; a lifelong (and acclaimed) interest in dance; her confrontational but playful intelligence—but like most lovely things, it’s probably past understanding.
Fiction: Gabriel Blackwell’s An Excerpt from Madeleine E. may tick every box on the promo ledger, including copious quotations and what I take to be autobiographical interpolations which connect in only the most tangential fashion. But its spine is a pretty observant reading of the many layers of performance and artificiality in Vertigo. Via Longform.
Steve Cook presents some snapshots of his visit to the London College of Communication’s Stanley Kubrick Archive, where everything from multilingual versions of Jack Torrance’s single-sentence manuscript to Kubrick’s own Nikon camera are stored in an atmosphere controlled environment designed to echo the space station in 2001. Via Cinephelia & Beyond.
There’s an unaffected air to Richard Schroeder’s portraits, at everyday_i_show, which helps capture, say, the ethereal quality of Maggie Cheung or John C. Reilly’s surprising courtliness. Quentin Tarantino, of course, holds a blade to the camera.
Video: The Venice Film Festival celebrated its 70th anniversary by commissioning short films (90 seconds was the requested maximum, not always adhered to) from 70 filmmakers, including such luminaries as Bertolucci, Weerasethakul, Hellman, Denis, Kiarostami, Jia, Olmi…. Even the presence of James Franco can’t diminish this bounty. Spotted by Vadim Rizov, who passes along some of his favorites to get you started.
From Berlin-based blogger David Hudson (of Fandor’s Keyframe Daily) came the news that Otto Sander, best known as the angel Cassiel in Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire (1987) and Faraway, So Close! (1993), passed away this week at the age of 72. The German actor was a giant in German theater from the late 1960s through the 1990s and appeared in such films Eric Rohmer’s The Marquise of O (1976), Volker Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum (1979), Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot (1981), and Margarethe von Trotta’s Rosa Luxemburg (1986). More from Hugh Rorrison at The Guardian.
Ray Dolby, the audio engineer who transformed the recording industry and brought a new level of high-fidelity sound into homes and movie theaters with the invention of the Dolby noise-reduction system, died this week at the age of 80. More from Natasha Singer at The New York Times.
José Ramón Larraz, the Spanish horror director of the cult Euro-horror Vampyres (1974) and many other films, passed away last week at the age of 84. Pete Tombs remember his legacy at Fangoria.
The weekly links page is compiled and curated by Bruce Reid, with obituaries curated by Sean Axmaker, and other contributions from friends of Parallax View.