The new Senses of Cinema has dropped, featuring an admitted “relatively limited dossier” consisting of a trio of articles on Abel Ferrara’s recent films: James Slaymaker on Welcome to New York (“Like most of Ferrara’s recent work, [the film] has the aura of a modern day parable, and achieves a sense of grand universality despite its minimalist design. The majority of its action unfolds over a couple of days, and is restricted to a few claustrophobic interiors. “); Rowan Righelato tracing the growing spiritual calmness that has infused the films of this former Catholic and Buddhist convert (“Pre-Mary—Ferrara’s multi-layered exploration of faith centered around the hidden Gospel of Mary Magdalene—the films burn with the existential fire that rages in the soul of their protagonists, Ferrara consumed by the redemption narrative. The subsequent films cling less violently to the dynamics of internal psycho-drama, as if the obsessive need to confront the protagonists’ bad faith has been assuaged. “); and Tim O’Farrell casts an eye on Ferrara’s little-seen and less-discussed documentary work (“This content and the unconventional approach to narrative structure connects these films to Ferrara’s fictional work, as does the Little Italy location and many of the characters who appear in Mulberry St. Ferrara has himself tackled critics of his ‘mixed media’ approach by way of a sly auto-critique: ‘We were entertaining this style of incorporating fictional scenes into documentaries … so for all these brilliant critics, we’re working on that, we’ll get it right one of these days.'”).
A second dossier explores British experimental film, a title “which has its drawbacks but also signals something important: primarily the fact that something of the medium (meaning everything from the particular characteristics of the technology through to the spectator’s engagement) is put to the test in some way.” Elsewhere in the issue, Sam Dickson considers the metatextual use of video and film in Zodiac (“The historical drift depicted in Zodiac corresponds to this uncanny cinematography [wherein digital cinematography is made to look like film] , a transitional hybrid of a film whose digital images go to painstaking lengths to conceal their own immateriality.”); Eleanora Raspi interviews Enrica Fico on working with her late husband Antonioni (” Whilst being very close to his directing style, I had a different, crowd-oriented, emotional connection. My gaze was that of a young woman who was seeing the outside world—and Michelangelo—for the first time. We had different experiences: I was 19 years old and could eat anything on the streets [of China], yet he did not.”); and Hong Sang-soo is welcomed into the journal’s collection of great directors.
“Yet, especially for viewers who recall the Eisenhower/Kennedy era, there’s also an almost dreamlike uncanniness to the ways Yang summons a time when surly young rebels were wild for American rock and roll, Japanese comic books, and John Wayne movies. Perhaps more vividly than any other movie, A Brighter Summer Day immortalizes the moment when teen pop culture went global, forging an effervescent but lasting bridge between East and West.” Now that the long wait is over and Criterion’s finally released A Brighter Summer Day, Godfrey Chesire has the honor of introducing it; while Andrew Chan interviews screenwriter Hung Hung about working with Edward Yang (“A lot of it came not just from Edward’s experience but from what he had observed in the lives of his family and friends. Although the film was based on an actual youth murder that took place in Taipei, that incident served merely as the shell of the story, a container for Edward’s own reminiscences.”).
“In the better-known 1938 remake of Holiday starring Katharine Hepburn, Ned is played by Lew Ayres as dissolute but still very beautiful and poetic, whereas Owsley is a sour, nasty character barely able to contain his disgust with himself and his life. ‘We don’t need any saints in this family,’ he tells his sister Julia (Mary Astor) when she is talking up her fiancé Johnny Case (Robert Ames). He has a real flair for ratty maliciousness here, for vitriol, and for heavy self-pity.” Dan Callahan’s sympathetic eye for Hollywood outsiders almost reaches a breaking point when considering the sneering, “resolutely unappealing” Monroe Owsley.
“I went through my own period of life with sort of everything turning upside down, and wondering, why is it this way? I went from being unafraid at the beginning of my career, in my late twenties, [to] being like the Roadrunner; I looked down and I didn’t see anything. You don’t wake up one day and say, “Earth ain’t the best place to be.” That’s a brewing type of feeling.” Albert Brooks, in comments filtered through Jennifer Wood, describes the inspiration behind and making of Defending Your Life, a film so dredged in existential fear it’s all the more amusing that it’s the closest this brilliant filmmaker has come to a crowd-pleaser.
“Like Alcott, Hepburn came from an old and progressive New England family, and she fit the part of Jo as no other actress ever has or perhaps ever will. “Christopher Columbus!” bellows Hepburn’s Jo, her hair flying around her as though she’s the lookout for the Santa Maria. Tall, lanky, with a chiseled face that could look plain one moment and stunningly gorgeous the next, Hepburn has a rangy physicality that seems to push against the very walls of the March house.” Sizing up three versions of Little Women, Farran Smith Nehme makes a strong case for what’s always been the conventional wisdom: they rise and fall on the strength of their Jos, and sorry, Winona, you’re fine but no Kate.
“She talks about starring in the remake of one of Disney’s biggest movies, The Little Mermaid, with more intelligence and excitement than anxiety; she books a six-figure deal during the photo shoot with the ease of sending a text message. This is basic for her—she’s never scared, never unhinged, never unfocused. Because you have to realize: She’s been working her entire life for this.” Andrew Gruttadaro profiles Chloë Grace Moretz, at 19 as outspoken about feminism and Hollywood hangers-on as she is mum about her private life.
“And certainly, the decision to yoke a rule change that had been bruited about within the Academy for years to the issue of diversity conflated two problems: how to make the membership more diverse, and how to clean up a voting roster that reflected decades of lax, friend-of-a-friend admission policies from the 1950s through the 1990s, when you could get in because a couple of people liked you.” Mark Harris kicks off a new monthly article for Vulture with by far the most level-headed and fair-minded take on the controversy surrounding Oscar diversity, recognizing the uncertain ground to be tread even as the need for change is an unquestioned given.
A poem that starts by referencing Parmenides’s “duel between being and not-being,” and goes on to salute the “little boy from Rouen, having in the end taken back his mind from his movie life”? Yeah, pretty much only could be Godard’s tribute to Jacques Rivette, translated from Cahiers du cinema by Craig Keller.
Peter Strickland shares a bit of family memorabilia, a beautifully geometric (and lettered drawing of a military dugout designed to house a telescope; memento of WWI, among whose enemies Strickland’s ancestors faced were ironically the same Hungarians who so hospitably made his directorial debut possible.
“There was another scene with Adam Driver and the boy where I added some dialogue. It wasn’t a brand new scene, it was just a few extra lines. It was really funny, I was working with one of these executives at Warner Bros., and I called him up and said, ‘Hey, okay, I’ve got it. I’m gonna put some more information in that one scene.’ He’s like, ‘Thank goodness, that’s great!’ And I turned in the pages, and he’s like, ‘Jeff, this is about five lines.’ ‘Yeah, yeah, aren’t they great?’ ‘We were expecting like a monologue, like some paragraphs.’ ‘Oh, no, no, no, this is what I feel comfortable with.'” Jeff Nichols talks with Daniel Eagan about the usefulness of genre and how not to abuse the privilege of final cut, as he explains how he made Midnight Special, his studio debut, still thoroughly his own.
“There’s a problem with surrealism, people think it’s a go-to trope to make stuff that’s surreal, it’s almost kind of like the first place that students visit. But to do it intelligently and effortlessly, and without it feeling like it’s a put-on, it’s incredibly hard, and you have to go back to the people who invented it.” Ben Wheatley walks Ian Schultz through 13 of his favorite films with an enthusiast’s discursiveness. And anybody who, even in jest, can string Akira Kurosawa, Takeshi Kitano, and Jerry Lewis into the same sentence is okay by me.
Czech filmmaker Jan N?mec, one of the leading lights of the Czech New Wave and a dissident filmmaker whose career was curtailed by the Soviets after the Prague spring was suppressed, has passed away at the age of 79. His feature debut Diamonds of the Night (1964) brought him international attention, his satirical Report on the Party and Guests (1966) was banned by Communist censors, and Oratorio for Prague (1968), which featured footage of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, was smuggled out of the country to get shown internationally. He was banned from making films as a result. He was allowed to emigrate in 1974 and made worked on a variety of projects in Germany, France, Holland, Sweden, and the United States before returning to Czechoslovakia in 1989. He continued making films while teaching at FAMU film school. He never had the success of fellow Czech New Wave filmmaker and émigré Milos Forman outside of Czechoslovakia, but he never stopped exploring or experimenting. Michael Brooke for BFI.
American actor Ken Howard made his Broadway debut in the original production of Neil Simon’s “Promises, Promises” in 1968 and his screen debut opposite Liza Minnelli in Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (1970). He’s best known for playing Thomas Jefferson in both the original stage production and the 1972 film version of the musical 1776 and the high school basketball coach in the TV series The White Shadow, which was inspired by his high school experiences. He remained busier on TV than in film, starring in Dynasty and The Colbys and featured in Crossing Jordan and 30 Rock (among others) and winning an Emmy for the HBO production Grey Gardens (2009). On the big screen he appeared in Oscar (1991), Clear and Present Danger (1994), The Net (1995), At First Sight (1999), In Her Shoes (2005), Michael Clayton (2007), J. Edgar (2011), The Wedding Ringer (2015), and Joy (2015). He was serving as the national president of SAG-AFTRA when he died at the age of 71. Mike Barnes at The Hollywood Reporter.
Garry Shandling’s contribution to television comedy cannot be overestimated. To many he’s remembered as a comedian and a frequent guest-host for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show and at one time was a leading contender to take over for the retiring host. But his greatest legacy is as the creator and star of two of pioneering comedies of modern television. He once described It’s Garry Shandling’s Show—a Showtime original comedy where he played a self-aware protagonist of a sitcom who discusses the plot twists, TV conventions, and other elements as asides with the audience—as a stand-up sitcom. A few years later he created The Larry Sanders Show for HBO, playing a late night talk host in a show that combined behind-the-scenes drama (shot on film) and scenes from the show-within-the-show (which reverted to video and conventional TV talk show editing). Both series played with and upended TV conventions in ways that have since become embraced by numerous shows. For the big screen he wrote and starred in What Planet Are You From? (2000) and appeared in the 1994 remake of Love Affair (1994), Mixed Nuts (1994), Hurlyburly (1998), Town and Country (2001), Zoolander (2001), Iron Man 2 (2010), and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), and voiced the lead character in the animated Over the Hedge (2006). He passed away at the age of 66. Alex Stedman for Variety and an appreciation by Matt Zoller Seitz at Vulture.
The weekly links page is compiled and curated by Bruce Reid, with obituaries curated by Sean Axmaker.