The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for week of November 8

Interviewing visual effects supervisor Tim Webber and others, fxguide’s Mike Seymour provides the best look yet at the myriad of effects work that had to be developed, perfected, and integrated to make Gravity. As with all the best special effects, some details are dazzling feats of engineering (that famous light box in which the actors hung contains almost 2 million individual LEDs), some still proudly human (Bullock’s zero-g movement was puppeteered by veterans of the War Horse stage production). Via David Hudson.

Creating ‘Gravity’

“Moral seriousness has always been film noir’s dirty little secret.” Imogen Sarah Smith argues the applicability of her memorable opening line to three lesser-known noirs recently screened at MOMA: a moral seriousness revealed in outrage at the “vulgarity and callousness” of the consumerist society in Try and Get Me!; horror at the atavistic brutality of the “modern cave men” squabbling over the cash in Crashout, and by letting the devil himself come in and spell it out in the genre-bending Alias Nick Beal.

Tom Charity provides the great good service of a catalogue of Cassavetes’s stock acting troupe. While I’d hope Timothy Carey needs no introduction, fellow nonspecialists will probably appreciate learning which of Cassavetes’s regulars were old friends or acting classmates. By far the biggest connection? Bit parts on Johnny Staccato.

Also at Criterion, Peter Cowie recalls three encounters with Otto Preminger where the notorious director in fact proved solicitous, but never without his demanding, even sinister side; and the site reprints a 1961 article by Antonioni on how long he struggled with the script of La Notte, till his realization that the female lead could be beautiful (thus allowing him the brave artistic choice of hiring Jeanne Moreau).

John Alton shoots Wally Cox in ‘Mission: Impossible’

“I hope it’s welcome back, Dan. It’s been a while.” Six years after his last credited feature, Elmer Gantry, and five after he’d been replaced on the set of Birdman of Alcatraz, John Alton came out of early retirement and received his final credit as the Director of Photography on the Mission: Impossible pilot. That’s always been a footnote to a great career, but John Bailey finds the noir master’s fingerprints all over the episode, and provides the still to prove it.

Apologies for having missed these: Over the summer John Bengtson posted three articles on the alternate version of Keaton’s The Blacksmith recently found in Europe, and does a heroic job scouring the footage for insights into Keaton’s studio setup and providing the evidence that filming was resumed after at least a nine-month gap; leading to his apparently sound suggestion that the edit we’ve had all these years was in fact unsatisfactory to the filmmaker, and thoroughly reshot for an official release version we’ve only now rediscovered. Via Dave Kehr.

Devoted to the propositions that art’s great calling “is to interface with, augment, and complicate life” and that coolness is overrated, Nick Pinkerton finds a lot to discuss in Abel Ferrara’s ragged, willfully uncool exploration of real life spilling into cinema (and vice versa), Dangerous Game.

“No sequel for you.” Ignatiy Vishnevetsky’s appreciation of Last Action Hero not only does a good job with the film’s refusal to make any of its layers of artifice “real,” he also offers a marvelously concise distinction between the “rooted in classicism” genre directors of the ‘70s and their ‘80s successors, including McTiernan, who “had developed visual sensibilities before developing narrative ones.” (Part of the A.V. Club’s series of looks back to 1993, which also, amusingly, includes Vishnevestky’s brief take on the heretofore underdiscussed Dangerous Game.)

At his website, Steven Soderbergh releases his viewing/reading list for the first 3/4ths of 2009 (this when he was ramping up to direct Moneyball, baseball tomes predominate, but interestingly not baseball films) and offers a spirited defense of his favorite Bond film, though he admits the filmmakers botched their handling of George Lazenby’s “certain kind of gravitas.”

“One of the themes in the film, is no matter how many times you get shot, you gotta keep getting up. That[’]s Cliff Robertson’s character, at the end of the film he has 19 bullets in him, blood is coming out of him but he has to keep getting up. That’s Hollywood!” Philip Kaufman discusses his formative years, his beloved San Francisco, and the hazards of working with polar bears (still preferable to most studio execs) in a lengthy, fascinating interview with Neil McGlone. Via Movie City News.

Owen Wilson, Takayuki Kubota, James Caan, Jim Ponds and Kumar Pallana

“It wasn’t so much, ‘Who do we know who’s an actor?’ It was, ‘Who do we know? Who do we know who’s an interesting, memorable person we love—and is willing to do this?’ It was more about geographical radius. Cosmic Cup was three blocks away from our apartment.” In another terrific excerpt from Matt Zoller Seitz’s book The Wes Anderson Collection, Anderson looks back at his school days and the filming of Bottle Rocket, both short and feature. Related: Matt Singer passes along a fascinating technical breakdown of Anderson’s visual style, as DP Alex Buono relates how SNL recreated many of its signatures for their splendid parody trailer The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders.

“I believe that a sense of humor is vital to deal with everything. It is the best way to get away from heaviness and to reconnect with lightheartedness. And it is a formidable tool to focus on people’s characteristics and unveil their secrets, and get in touch with truth and beauty.” Interviewed by David Gregory Lawson about his new film The Great Beauty, Paolo Sorrentino shuffles between the concisely epigrammatic and the playfully dismissive.

“I mean, I didn’t even write a theme for Jack Sparrow until the second movie—that seems like a bit of an oversight! […] But we sort of got away with it. A lot of the motifs in Pirates literally came from Jerry and Gore sitting here with me, and it was like a silent movie: I would just play whatever came to mind.” Hans Zimmer talks about a handful of his famous scores with Kyle Buchanan, always finding delight in those moments that allowed him to experiment. (Until Malick asked him to edit a portion of The Thin Red Line, that is.)

I can’t pretend I get everything that Gina Telaroli’s wordless photo-essay Stop Making Sens(ory Ethnographic Films) is up to (it might help if I’d seen its inspiration, Manakamana), but its pleasingly vibrant waves of bananas from The Gang’s All Here alternating with stills from the likes of Dawn Patrol and Shadow of a Doubt make for an attractive, intriguing little artifact.

“You’ll be carrying the stink of the streets with you for the rest of your life!” Ming Hui, a Beijing poetry scholar in New York to translate Allen Ginsberg into Mandarin (an irrelevant but evocative background), has taken a terrific set of then-and-now photos of locations from his favorite movie, Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America. Posted to the Dissolve by a commentator.

George Pfau’s Zombiescapes, limpid, colorful works that transform stills from famous zombie films into impressionistic landscapes equal parts humorous and unsettling, deserve a look no matter how burnt out you might be on high/low art mashups or even zombies in particular. Via Andrew Sullivan.

Seattle Screens

Visit the film review pages at The Seattle TimesSeattle Weekly, and The Stranger for more releases.

View complete screening schedules through IMDbMSNYahoo, or Fandango, pick the interface of your choice.

The weekly links page is compiled and curated by Bruce Reid with other contributions from friends of Parallax View.