There are filmmakers so effortless, with careers unruffled by the type of obstacles and struggles that make for compelling narratives in their own right, that their reputations must be constantly shored up against those willing to airily dismiss them. Consider Claude Chabrol, in whose late, little-discussed films, a string from The Color of Lies to Inspector Bellamy, Jonathan Kirshner finds so much to admire and marvel at, well, why not call them masterpieces?
“If we are to understand Legrand’s canonization of Hajji Baba, we must understand it as championing an intoxicant, imagist cinema over a sober, responsible cinema. Because films like I Love Melvin and Hajji Baba have no redeeming social value beyond their cinematic brio, they are ideal rallying points for anyone championing “movies for movies’ sake,” as Hoberman and Rosenbaum identify the MacMahonist creed in Midnight Movies.” And then there are reputations that were ever burnished only by a cult, and have faded to obscurity. Nick Pinkerton can’t call himself a full convert to the cinema of Don Weis—he admits there’s so much to go through, especially if you count the TV work—but a screening of the director’s two iconic oddities has him understanding the fascination he held for a small band of ‘50s film critics.
Certain incidents on the set of Passion of the Christ—including dangerous lightning strikes—were taken by the more devout members of cast and crew as literal Satanic efforts to prevent the film from being made. If there’s any truth to that, the saga of Passion screenwriter Benedict Fitzgerald’s attempt to make a prequel on the life of Mary, which as Luke Dittrich relates includes lawsuits, extortion, and prison terms, has to be chalked up a clear victory for Mr. Scratch. Via Matt Singer.
“Though Mark has the coordinates of success—a career, a new family, a house, a working car—while Kurt has weed and the free time to smoke it, both men find themselves floundering in this next stage of their lives. What exactly is missing remains unspoken, and that’s likely because it is not an acute lack of something, but an intangible unease with the question of how a person should be.” Julia Cooper does a fine job conveying the restlessness and need for contact in Reichardt’s Old Joy.
“The western, like the men it depicts, must follow its ‘gut’ rather than extraneous and unnecessary dialogue connected to a spider web of whys and wherefores. Likewise, the men in a western must help to ground it. Ironically, the one thing men get blamed for never doing in real life must be at the heart of the western performance: listening.” Hell on Wheels actor and acting teacher Anson Mount may not have the deepest grounding in the history of the western—he just caught up with My Darling Clementine a few years ago—but he has some interesting thoughts on the performances they demand.
“Not long ago,” she recounted, “I was listening to some old interviews and I heard Alain Robbe-Grillet talking about Hiroshima… He said that Marguerite Duras had sent out cassettes of the text. I must have listened to them—and there was nothing left for me to do but mimic her. And he laughed and laughed. Well, I never heard these cassettes,” she attested. “It’s totally untrue. And I’m very glad to have the chance to tell you this! I didn’t have to imitate. That doesn’t interest me at all. I like to create.” The Nitrate Diva translates some of Emmanuelle Riva’s comments before a recent screening of Hiroshima Mon Amour. Via Movie City News.
Also from Movie City News, and not so wildly unrelated, Nippon.com looks back at the filming of Godzilla with Haruo Nakajima, wearer of the rubber suit from day one to 1972’s Godzilla vs. Gigan.
“It’ll never work. Never.” “What, you afraid it won’t come off?” David Kalat recounts how Richard Pryor’s balking at a punchline on Silver Streak allowed them to arguably pull off a blackface gag, or as Kalat terms it, “the third-rail of American comedy.”
Since 2006, Kodak’s sale of film stock hasn’t plummeted, it’s crashed, down a remarkable 96% in the past nine years. Even the most ardent of partisans in the film vs. video debate wouldn’t deny there’s all the logic in the world behind the company shuttering its sole remaining plant manufacturing 35mm film. Good thing directors aren’t generally the most rigidly logical thinkers, then, as a group including such expected names as Tarantino, Nolan, and Abrams apparently lobbied for a deal, now nearing completion, where the studios agree to buy a set amount of film each year, keeping the plant in business and grain not just a memory to tell uncomprehending, indifferent young’uns. Ben Fritz has the story, along with a short interview with J. J. Abrams and a slideshow of Nick Brandreth photographs from the possibly saved facility.
Nollywood, Nigeria’s booming film industry, remains a fascinating lesson in how a film industry emerging today looks so different from the ones that grew in past decades. The latest wrinkle, Tomi Oladipo reports, is the streaming service iRokoTV, an alternative distribution method for a country of 160 million people with only “about 14 functional cinemas.” Via Vadim Rizov.
Anne Helen Petersen’s history of TMZ finds the new face of gossip a lot like an old one: Richard Harrison’s scandal sheet Confidential, always willing to hold back harmful stories in exchange for a steady stream of exclusives, and fully conscious they were rewriting the playbook on the presses dealings with celebrity.
“Well, you can do no-budget movies up to a certain point, but in order for it to really be sustainable and to work in a truly, artist-friendly sort of way, at the point when your work is commercial, you need to pay people. Otherwise it’s exploitation. If I have four movies in a row that make money, it’s going to be really hard on the fifth movie to say to everybody, ‘Hey, show up. I’m not going to pay you anything.’” Love or hate his films, there’s no denying the prolific Joe Swanberg is one of the success stories of independent films, working on his own terms till he’s now within hailing distance of the mainstream. He explains the nuts and bolts of his method to Esther B. Robinson in a detailed interview about the economics of independent filmmaking.
“I know what makes me happy, if I’m feeling down…. Doing things that make your friends jealous. It really works! I just say, ‘I’m working with David Cronenberg,’ and they go, ‘Oh really?’ I love that.” Who’d have guessed Robert Pattinson would have ended up a heavy-hitter in auteurist cinema, racking up roles for Cronenberg, Herzog, Assayas, with Korine and Gray possibly down the pike? Frankly anyone who’d paid attention to his interviews, such as with Sanjiv Bhattacharya, whose offbeat humor clearly showed a personality never to be satisfied with the safe and predictable. Via David Hudson.
Cinephilia and Beyond, who are still out there, offers some detailed storyboards drawn by Martin Scorsese for his unfilmed Roman epic The Eternal City. 11-year-old Martin Scorsese, that is.
Actor and singer James Shigeta made his big screen debut in Sam Fuller’s The Crimson Kimono (1959) and starred in Flower Drum Song (1961) and the 1973 Lost Horizon, but is probably best remembered by contemporary American audiences as Joseph Takagi, the corporate president whose boardroom is invaded by Alan Rickman in the opening scenes of Die Hard (1988). He was also Elvis Presley’s buddy and business partner in Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966), appeared in The Yakuza (1975) and Takeshi Kitano’s Brother (2000), and guest starred in scores of TV shows from the 1960s through the 1990s. He passed away at the age of 81. Matt Zoller Seitz writes an appreciation for RogerEbert.com.
Documentary filmmaker Robert Drew, who has been called the father of cinéma verité, helped change the way we understood non-fiction filmmaking with Primary (1960), a film that also served as an apprenticeship to D.A. Pennebaker, Albert Maysles, and Richard Leacock. The former Life magazine correspondent and editor made over 100 films since that debut. He died this week at the age of 90. More from Variety.
Oscar-winning make-up artist Dick Smith made Dustin Hoffman into a 121-year-old man, turned Linda Blair into a vomit-spewing, demon-possessed victim of Satan, aged Marlon Brando in Vito Corleone and F. Murray Abraham into a wizened old Saliari, and turend Travis Bickle’s climactic rampage into a startling crimson bloodbath at the end of Taxi Driver, just a few of his accomplishments in a career spanning 50 years. In a film culture that celebrated the most flamboyant effects, Smith was a master of the subtle, but he also knew how to wow and startle (Altered States, 1980, Scanners, 1981). Rick Baker, who apprenticed under Smith, tweeted the news on Thursday that Smith passed away this week. He was 92. More from Variety. Gilbert Cruz includes some embedded video with the master showing how it is done.
German filmmaker, artist, and educator Harun Farocki directed close to 90 films, collaborated on the screenplays of Christian Petzold’s best films (Yella, 2007, Barbara, 2012), edited the film journal Filmcritik, and taught film classes all over the world, just a few of his accomplishments in a career spanning more than 40 years. He died this week at the age of 70. David Hudson collects the remembrances at Keyframe Daily.
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.