“Before I knew anything about Polanski, Repulsion was already important to me as a film that represented certain uncomfortable aspects of being female, and learning that its creator is a rapist only served to make it even more emblematic of that experience. Thanks to its context, Repulsion is more than a movie to me; but, as the movie it is, it’s also more than a painful emblem of the horror of being female.” Elsie Moore kicks off her intriguing read on Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy”—Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Tenant—addressing “the elephant in the room” not for shock value or to shore up her p.c. cred, but as the first and most troubling of the many paradoxes of identification and subjectivity that give these films their disturbing elusiveness. Staying at Bright Lights, Mervyn Nicholson takes a semiotic tour—riveting and overreaching by turn—through the coincidences that link The 39 Steps, North by North West [sic throughout, though at least the photo captioner gets it right], and Blow-Up. (“The coincidence is the point where what is in front of the screen of appearances coincides with what is inside that screen, behind it, hidden from view. It is the point at which we glimpse what is behind the screen of appearances. A pattern becomes visible that was invisible before: the pattern was in that picture, yet not visible, until now. The coincidence signifies a shift in perception. It is a metaphor for insight. It is insight that dispels an illusion, and it requires a coincidence to make this shift happen.”)
“The portrait is the thing. The flesh-and-blood woman is a complication, a set of contradictions that threaten to overturn the “Lauras” presented or created by her mentor, her lovers, her rivals. But that painting that rests above the mantelpiece, a swoony, romantic provocation—it offers no argument. Its power is not only the movie’s thematic fixation but also played out in the film’s creation, reception, and enduring legacy. The famous still of detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews), collapsed in a chair in front of the portrait, half-drunk and mesmerized, is the stand-in for scores of viewers of the film, haunted by its power to reflect back our own dreams and desires—for a past or imagined love, for the return of something lost, for anything at all.” Megan Abbot is terrific on the ferocious subversions of Preminger’s Laura, the way it urges us to fill in the negative space of its presumptive dead heroine with not just necrophilia but “our own longings, our own subversive desires.”
“Underlying the DreamWorks saga is what could be called a Rashomon question: Did Spielberg do everything for the company—as he thinks he did—or not enough? From the start, Spielberg exercised his prerogative, spelled out in the original DreamWorks deal, to make whatever movie he wanted. He brought DreamWorks in on several major movies developed at other studios, such as Minority Report at Fox. But some former colleagues think the Spielberg-directed movies that belonged entirely to his company were his more adult, less commercial efforts. ‘He tried to make it OK. It was not OK,’ says a company veteran. Citing a 2004 Spielberg-directed dramedy, this person continues, ‘The Terminal is not Jurassic Park. He created no franchises for DreamWorks.’” As DreamWorks dissolves back to Amblin and finds a new home at Universal, Kim Masters doesn’t try to hide how Steven Spielberg’s blithe optimism contradicts the narrative most Hollywood insiders see—and with two decades of doing whatever he wanted at the company and a $200 million payday from the new deal, it’s easy to see how Spielberg’s not exactly motivated to pierce the bubble that surrounds him. Via Movie City News.
“It was true for the original King Kong, Frankenstein and The Wolf Man, and most certainly true for the entire Black Lagoon franchise that the trick to understanding the films is to watch the story play out from the monster’s perspective. Despite all the standard crowd-pleasing horror trappings (the scaly claw reaching for the bare ankle, etc.), the idea of a sympathetic misunderstood monster was set up quite intentionally by screenwriter Arthur Ross, who had a major hand in both the original and Walks Among Us.” Instead of the usually ascribed decline, Jim Knipfel finds the three Creature from the Black Lagoon pictures growing from film to film as they increasingly focus attention on a monster who just wishes to be left alone, but keeps getting dragged into contact with the standard-bearers of civilization—who proceed to torture and humiliate him in the name of understanding.
“The path bordered with arums leads to a clinic where babies wail. My father, wearing his white coat, delivered them. He has black hair and very beautiful, brown eyes. I live in another part of the clinic and hear him talk through the walls. What he’s saying is still a mystery to me, but I know he obeys a very precise ritual that requires a needle. During the ritual, the baby cries. However, its tears are the tears of a baby freed through a brief and welcome pain.” I’ve no idea whether Lucile Hadžihalilovi?’s brief, unsettling “Arum Flowers” is intended as autobiography (it lines up with the scant details I know of her upbringing) or fiction, but from its evocative glimpses of sexual segregation and the charged air of transgression throughout, it’s so clearly the same worldview that generated Innocence and Evolution I doubt the distinction matters.
“Your mom was right when she told you about the merits of layering. And cool directors know just how to capture the right slouchy insouciance to get the job done. Do you think Stanley “50 Takes” Kubrick was ever going to set dressed in sweatpants? Do you think Brian DePalma doesn’t know how fly he looks in his monochromatic desert couture?” Chandler Levack conducts an amusing survey of director’s on-set sartorial choices, from Lynch’s stifling buttoned up look to Varda “[killing] it with that polka dot accent.” Via Criterion.
“The movie system is corrupt and I think we need to put our foot down, right now specifically in 2016, to put a stop to this new Ghostbusters movie as a signal that we’re done with all big hollywood blockbusters. And if you don’t agree with me, well, maybe you need to stop buying movie tickets with your vagina.” McSweeney’s Samuel Priest imagines the mental contortions some of those hating on the new Ghostbusters movie must go through to convince themselves their opposition has nothing to do with the icky thought of ladies ladying up a beloved franchise.
“I feel like if you are a true artist, you should be truthful first to your own audience. But if you don’t know how to find the balance between your audience and outside audiences, you end up failing, because if you don’t satisfy also the wider audience in the world, you can’t get that money back. But it’s at the risk of losing your home audience. You will become a kind of stranger to your own self. So, yeah, this is the biggest challenge for me as a filmmaker, how to find the balance between my [home] audience and a universal audience.” Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad talks with Ray Pride about the pressures of serving two audiences—a stress he admits is starting to defeat him. Via David Hudson.
“How was your trip to Mars?” “What trip?” Martin Schneider shares concept art from Ron and Judith Miller and Pierluigi Basile on what would have been David Cronenberg’s mainstream breakthrough, Total Recall, till the studios decided thanks, but we’re going another direction with this. Via Mubi.
Acknowledging the “overly familiar” nature of most domestic posters for De Palma films, Adrian Curry gathers an international collection that does offer fresh takes on films whose one-sheet designs most of us know by heart. Though you do wonder why the French, Spanish, and Yugoslavian designers for Blow Out all selected the same (of course) stylishly filmed but narratively incidental murder to illustrate.
The weekly links page is compiled and curated by Bruce Reid, with Seattle Screens curated by Sean Axmaker.