The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of Friday, December 16

“Chronicling the inception, rise, and demise of Augusto Pinochet’s 17-year dictatorship in the director’s home country, Pablo Larraín’s Chile Trilogy announced the emergence of a major auteur. In contrast to his countryman Patricio Guzmán’s mournful, poetic approach to the same territory, Larraín — who hails from a wealthy right-wing family once associated with the Pinochet regime — treats his country’s tragic history with an acidulous irony that turns his character studies into unnerving allegories of predation and submission.” For TIFF, James Quandt introduces Larrain’s Tony Manero, Post Mortem, and No, all vicious in their satire and despairing in their humanism, though each marked by a distinct visual style essential to their meaning.

“Huston’s is always an art of characterization. Plot for him is never more than the anecdotal circumstance that allows individuals to become fully visible. This applies as much to his first movie, 1941’s The Maltese Falcon, as to his last, 1987’s The Dead. Whatever their literary origins, movies as different as The Night of the Iguana, Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Kremlin Letter, Fat City, and Wise Blood are driven not by the suspense of their stories but by the palpable presence of the people caught up, often stumblingly, in those stories. Huston said once that his notion of what directing was about came from observing his father, the actor Walter Huston, developing a role in rehearsals. The visual power of his films comes in general not from effects of architecture or landscape—master though he was of such effects—but from the way he watches humans making their way, or failing to make their way, through those surroundings.” For Geoffrey O’Brien, that’s no less true of Huston’s heist classic The Asphalt Jungle—however much the robbery got remade in later picture, it’s the characters that keep us in suspense.

The Asphalt Jungle

Staying at Criterion, they’re celebrating a program of spy films on their streaming service by presenting a pair of reviews from films in the series written by Graham Greene: Feyder’s Knight Without Honor (“The story, of course, is melodrama, but melodrama of the most engaging kind, the heroic wish-fulfillment dream of adolescence all the world over—rescues, escapes, discarnate embraces”) and about the only Hitchcock film Greene admired, Sabotage (“The happy ending, of course, has to be contrived: Mr. Verloc’s body is plausibly disposed of: a young detective is there to marry her:  but this is all managed with a minimum of offense”).

“Vitaphone’s heyday (1926-1930) was a transitional period, all adolescent gawkiness and energy, and this awkward age of “vaudeville in a can” sound shorts and silent films with recorded scores has been treated as little more than a footnote to The Jazz Singer, the Vitaphone part-talkie whose wildfire popularity sparked a panicked rush toward sound by the Hollywood studios.” But the Vitaphone archives are much more than that, Imogen Sara Smith notes; a record of the vibrant, brassy vaudeville performers in the very medium that was running them out of business.

George Burns and Gracie Allen

“The same thing can be said about Olive Trees: the truth is that when Tahereh sets off with her potted geraniums in the famous ending of the film, with Hossein in hot pursuit juggling a thermos and a blue bucket full of jangling teacups, navigating through the olive trees as with the grandmother before but now properly in their own film […]  it is clear that imagination, beauty and cinema have won out again over reality and (repressive) convention. As Hossein skips through the fields, returning from his pastoral encounter like a bucolic shepherd, the camera stays at a respectful distance with Keshavarz’s Senex figure watching through the olive trees. Their true intimacy is none of our business. That is also a truth.” In the first part of a longer essay, Tom Paulus looks at Close-Up and the Koker trilogy to show how Kiarostami’s games with truth and fiction aren’t postmodernist deconstructions asserting nothing is real, but a more Shakespearean (he also suggests Renoiresque) exploration of truths in parallel, each with its own justification. Via Mubi.

“We all became good friends and sometimes played tricks on one another. One day, while shooting Vanishing Point, we invented a story. We told Ruiz that in fact he wasn’t the fastest director on the planet; Fassbinder had shot 100 elaborate and different scenes in a single day and no one has been able to match it. The next day, we started early and went late into the evening; after the 101st scene, we all celebrated with a toast.” Director Joaquim Pinot recalls his start as a sound engineer working with de Oliveira and Ruiz.

Werner Herzog in ‘Into the Inferno’

“The movie’s trailer promotes Herzog’s narration, of course, but it also seems to embrace and emphasize the apocalyptic side of his persona, which frankly misrepresents not only him as a filmmaker but also this film specifically. (Then again, we’re dealing with volcanoes and not death-row inmates, so the footage is admittedly a lot more fun.)” Reviewing the trailers for Herzog’s recent documentaries (one of which he made), Stephen Garrett shows how the director’s persona and inimitable voice came to become an asset in their marketing, not something to hide from audiences.

“’How many people in this class want to be an actor?’” Davis remembers [her first acting teacher] saying. “We all raised our hands. He said, ‘You know you have to work fucking hard every fucking day.’ A fourth of the hands went down. ‘Every day.’ More hands down. ‘You can go on an audition every fricking day for six weeks and never, ever, get a job. You know that, right?’ More hands down. I remember thinking, Wow, that is awesome. My hand still was up. I was trying to reach the ceiling with my hand. ‘And you’re gonna get rejected time and time and time again.’ […] Pretty soon, I was the only one who had my hand up. He kept going at me. ‘You’re gonna get egg on your face. You’re gonna fail.’ I kept my hand up, staring at him. He stared at me. ‘O.K., let’s get back to class.’” John Lahr’s profile of Viola Davis shows the actor has overcome enough hardships in her life—and that acting was key to her transcending them—that an entire racist studio system can seem like the bug in her headlights.

“It took me out of this—how should I put it?—the everyday world, the practical world of my parents, my aunts, uncles, grandparents, and their lives in a way. That there was something beyond that too, and that somehow what I thought I had perceived in the church, or what I was trying to, applied to how we lived. Yet, I don’t recall if there was anything specific, in other words, my father being very specific about religion in any way. But they were working out how one lives a good life on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour basis, with responsibilities, and obligations and decency. It was very important in a world that was pretty indecent.” Interviewed by Father James Martin, S.J., Martin Scorsese describes what went into the making of Silence and, not at all unrelated, his own religious upbringing. Via David Hudson.

Let other sites compile endless links to endless lists of the top ten films of the year; here, we’re comfortable with leaving it at Adrian Curry’s salute to the top movie posters of the year. (And David Bordwell and Kristen Thompson’s annual list, but we’ll be getting to that in a week or two I presume.)

Obituary

Alan Thicke

Canadian actor Alan Thicke, best known to American audiences as the father on the sitcom Growing Pains, was also a talk show host, a game show host, a staff writer on a number of variety and comedy shows (including the fake talk shows Fernwood Tonight and American 2-Night), and a singer and songwriter who penned and recorded the memorable theme songs to The Facts of Life and Diff’rent Strokes, among other shows. He passed away at the age of 69. Ian Bailey and Mike Hager for The Globe and Mail.

Welsh-born actor Bernard Fox had a busy career for more than 45 years as a character actor in movies and television shows but he’s best known to many Americans for his recurring roles on the 1960s sitcoms Hogan’s Heroes (as the befuddled Colonel Crittendon) and Bewitched (as Dr. Bombay). An interesting footnote: he played crew members of The Titanic in both A Night to Remember (1958) and Titanic (1997). He died at age 89. Steve Marble for Los Angeles Times.

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.