The View Beyond Parallax… the Best Reads of 2014

Orson Welles directing ‘Too Much Johnson’

Joseph McBride provided the best writing of the year on Too Much Johnson, showing how the footage looks back to Welles’s love of silent film and forward to the sexual frankness of his later films. His speculation on how the film went “missing” all those years, considering McBride’s the one who rediscovered The Hearts of Age and saw first-hand Welles’s reaction to the news, is probably closer to the truth than most theories.

It’s reached the point where almost the best part of any film noir revival is reading what Imogen Sara Smith had to say about it afterwards. Whether writing on the Central and South American contributions to the genre featured in the latest round of Noir City; the evolution of Anthony Mann from steely policiers through noir to the blasted, desperate westerns; or running through a series dedicated to the genre’s screenwriters (part two here), she’s never less than poetic and, in the best noir tradition, dangerous.

As offshoot from a book he’s writing on Hollywood in the 1940s, David Bordwell crafted a series of excellent posts on the three great American film critics of the era (“pop-culture rhapsodes, writing in a divine frenzy”), James Agee (part two and part threeManny Farber (part two), and Parker Tyler (plus a postscript). Being Bordwell, even his ancillary projects prove more enjoyable—wittier, better observed, and more revelatory—than most critics’ main efforts.

Matthew Dessem did a grand job as both researcher and wordsmith filling out our knowledge on a pair of subjects too little understood: The career of gagman Clyde Bruckman, revealing a life sufficiently fatalistic and doom-laden even Keaton might have blanched to contemplate it; and the working relationship between Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. And nothing took the piss out of spectacularly obtuse cries for “objectivity” from reviewers like his po-faced review of Citizen Kane.

Terence Davies’ ‘The Long Day Closes’

A terrific excerpt from his book on Terence Davies has Michael Koresky exploring the metacinematic and queer subtexts behind the carpet shot that will forever be the dividing line between the director’s detractors and admirers.

David Cairns, co-director of a film on Bernard Natan, relates the tragic story of the pioneering film producer who oversaw Pathé’s transition to the sound era and the development of what would become CinemaScope, among other accomplishments, but whose reputation since has been sullied by accusations of his creating and starring in pornographic films; near- (but not entirely) baseless claims whipped to a lethal fury in the ‘30s by France’s rising anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant forces.

In a year that saw a lot of writing on Agnès Varda, the best was easily Sasha Archibald’s chronicle of the director’s first sojourn in L.A., placing it within the context of an industry always willing to snatch and chew up intellectual heavyweights and finding Varda one of the few to come out the other side with a handful of distinguished films made on her own terms.

Without tumbling into embittered manifestos or windy self-pity, Pawel Pawlikowski’s account of the making of Ida presents a clear-eyed assessment of how to scam the moneymen into paying for art. (Part two here.)

Two great filmmakers on art that moved them outside the movie theater: as he reached 70 David Cronenberg links his changed circumstances (a dilemma hopefully to be shared by the rest of us) to Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and in a newly-translated 2001 article, Chris Marker responds to a question about music that “marked him the most” with a lovely short text about harmonica player Dany Kane.

‘Resident Evil: Afterlife’

In the one-two punch of the year, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky dedicated successive weeks to his personal hunt for the most obscure of Godard films and an appreciative survey of the Resident Evil movies.

Of all the film stories of the year, the one that most cries out to be a movie itself (a dark, comic, and mysterious one): Raphael Rubinstein on the critic/filmmaker/arguably con artist/possibly gun runner Yves (ne Edouard) de Laurot (ne Lada Laudanski), who first fell into Rubinstein’s orbit in 1974 San Francisco, then reappeared—maybe?—as a downstairs neighbor in 1980s New York, confined to a wheelchair and in the company of Ms. 45 star and future Bad Lieutenant screenwriter Zoë Lund.

For the latest captivating, mercurial swerve in a career delightfully full of them, John Malkovich stepped in front of Sandro Miller’s camera to recreate iconic portraits, from dust bowl mothers to Arbus twins, with a heap of spot on celebrity impressions to boot. (His Bette Davis is particularly striking.)

And a few picks from the editor:

Kim Morgan’s love of performers and performances and the alchemy created when come together in front of a lens transformed two otherwise unrelated profiles into unique celebrations of the art of being on camera: Warren Oates (“Grizzled, furrow-browed, full-lipped, toothy, sensual, goofy; laser-eyed and softly observing. Empathetic, angry, insane, proud, humble, stupid, intelligent; sexy, uniquely handsome and sometimes ugly, but ugly in a way that made him more beautiful.”), for Criterion’s release of Monte Hellman’s The Shooting, and Lindsey Lohan (“This doesn’t make her so much a diva, but more a dizzy movie star, a screwball who taxes everyone’s patience. She’s charming and also really fucking annoying.) on her reality show. Just as rhapsodic is her excited, live-wire write-up of the staged reading of Tarantino’s Hateful Eight script, and she ended the year with an entertaining, winding ramble among old friends Elliott Gould, George Segal, and screenwriter Joseph Walsh about the making of California Split for the L.A. Review of Books (parts two and three here).

Jimmy Wong Yu in ‘The One-Armed Swordsman’

The glory days of Hong Cinema are long over but Grady Hendrix has kept the history and the excitement alive, along with genre cinema across Asia, with his Kaiju Shakedown column at Film Comment. Highlights this year include his discussion with David Bordwell about the great, still undervalued master of Hong Kong cinema, Lau Kar-leung, highlights of unrealized projects found in the archives of the Hong Kong Asia Financing Forum, a rundown of Takashi Miike’s cinematic endeavors outside of movies and TV, and his revealing profile of Jimmy Wong Yu.

John Carpenter had no new projects in 2014 but he was busy providing some great interviews—here he is with Jen Yamato for Deadline, Simon Abrams for Vulture, and Miles Raymer for Esquire—and Clark Collis finds him consistently cited as a primary influence on the most interesting genre films of 2014 in a piece for Entertainment Weekly.

A good year for film history in fiction: excerpts from Farran Smith Nehme’s Missing Reel (plus she’s interviewed by Molly Haskell about the influences) and Nicholas Rombes’s The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing, China Miéville’s short story “Trailer—’The Crawl’,” and Chris Okum’s instructions on making French toast for Stanley Kubrick

Joseph Sargent

Obituary

American director Joseph Sargent was a prolific and talented director of TV shows (including Gunsmoke, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and one episode of the original Star Trek) and TV movies, winning four Emmys (for the pilot episode of Kojak, 1973; Love is Never Silent, 1985; Caroline?, 1990; and Miss Rose White, 1992) and three DGA awards (Kojak, Something the Lord Made, 2004; Warm Springs, 2005) for his work. But he also directed some memorable feature films, such as the original man-vs.-computer thriller Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970) and the original The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1975), one of the great urban crime capers of the seventies. Not quite as successful was Jaws the Revenge (1987), his final theatrical feature before returning exclusively to TV and more interesting subject matter and intelligent scripts. He passed away at age 89 of complications from heart disease. Dave McNarey at Variety.

Billie Whitelaw, one of Samuel Beckett’s favorite actresses, was a sharp, savvy British actress of radio, stage and screen for over 60 years. She was a regular presence on British TV since her small screen debut in 1952 with The Secret Garden and was memorable in John Boorman’s Leo the Last (1970), Stephen Frear’s big screen debut Gumshoe (1971), and Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972), and the 1976 hit The Omen, where she was the sinister Mrs. Blaylock. Her last credited screen performance was for Hot Fuzz (2007), where she was one of the colorful murder suspects in a picturesque little British town with an alarmingly high rate of murder. She died at age 82. More from Michael Coveney at The Guardian.

Jim Hillier was a longtime film educator at the BFI and the University of Reading, but his impact reached beyond his students thanks to his two-volume anthology of articles from Cahier du Cinema translated into English. He passed away at age 73. Alastair Phillips remembers the man and his legacy at The Guardian.

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.