The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of January 20

“The widespread tendency to unambiguously reject Jew Suss is surely rooted in an assumption that its surface antisemitism was unambiguously accepted by German cinemagoers, who supposedly took Faber at face value. But is audience response ever so crudely schematic? Although one might have expected Harlan to at least go through the motions of making Faber an identification figure, there is little onscreen evidence to suggest we should regard him as anything other than a tedious snob. Emotionally, the film is entirely committed to Süß, whose passion and energy provide a welcome relief from the dull conventionality of Faber’s romance with Dorothea. The camera frequently adopts Süß’s viewpoint, swooping forward to show us exactly what he is seeing as he spies on the Duke through a concealed hole.” As a rule, the effort involved in overthrowing a conventional wisdom should be proportional to the rock-solid unanimity with which the position is held. So Brad Stevens’s attempt to rehabilitate Veit Harlan’s Jew Suss and Opfergang are ultimately too roughly sketched and half-formed to blast apart the monolithic reception to the Nazi’s second favorite director; but as introductory salvos they make for provocative reading.

“To make the performance of a tedious, exacting, time-consuming task riveting to watch, it is only necessary for the activity to be illegal. This is the lesson of heist movies, in which rigorous attention to process and stripped-down purity of focus are wedded to crowd-pleasing elements of suspense, violence, and hard-boiled patter. The caper film typically takes the audience step by step through the planning and execution of a crime that is at once a military-style campaign, a mechanical puzzle, a work of art, and a job. The crowning irony, and the link to film noir, is the way the three P’s of a successful heist—precision, patience, professionalism—are inevitably swamped by messy human failings: greed, distrust, panic, sloppiness, spite.” Imogen Sara Smith surveys some of the great (and, given the article’s sponsor, appropriately Criterion-released) examples of noir’s near-cousin, the heist film. While Criterion’s most recent rediscovery, Jack Garfein’s ahead-of-its-time-for-1961-and-still-daring-today rape melodrama Something Wild, is saluted by Sheila O’Malley. (“[Schüfftan’s] street photography in the film captures New York in a way that had not been done before. There are times when the city seems frighteningly empty, an eerie landscape void of humanity. At others, the crush of crowds presses in so insistently that it’s a claustrophobic nightmare. Something Wild, among its many other merits, is a great New York movie, capturing the city—and its different neighborhoods—at a certain moment in time. The second half of the film, however, takes place almost entirely on the one set that was built—Mike’s basement apartment—and Schüfftan is equally brilliant at utilizing the cramped space, its bars of light and shadow, its one mostly empty room, its depressing little kitchen.”)

Carroll Baker and Jack Garfein

“The studios took notice—with interest, alarm, and ultimately a desire to co-opt these renegades as their own. By the time Blow-Up arrived, Universal had already paid for Truffaut to shoot his first (and, it turned out, only) English-language picture, Fahrenheit 451, and Roman Polanski would shortly start work on Rosemary’s Baby for Paramount. As for Antonioni’s film, it was not an import or an acquisition, but the first entry in a three-picture deal the director had made with MGM after the success of 1960’s L’Avventura and 1964’s Red Desert, a commitment the studio would fulfill over the next decade with Zabriskie Point and The Passenger. A truce between art and commerce seemed on the verge of being signed, even if it was not clear which side was changing its ways.” Launching a series that aims to capture the critical and popular reception of many key films from 1967, Mark Harris traces the varied reactions to Blow-up, and the reasons MGM had to be happy about their gamble (till the second film of the contract was delivered, of course).

“A consideration of outer space quickly engenders a sense of the eerie because of the questions about agency that contemplating it cannot but pose. Is there anything out there at all—and if there are agents, what is their nature? It is therefore surprising that the eerie is disappointingly absent from so much science fiction.” An excerpt from the late cultural critic Mark Fisher’s final book has him celebrating some key exceptions, sci-fi intimations of the eerie from Kubrick, Tarkovsky, and Nolan. Via David Hudson.

Gene Tierney

“Tierney was emblematic of a new kind of woman emerging in the movies in the 1940s. A woman who seizes her prey with her eyes and not with words, tempting men to become hunters. A female icon, sure of herself but also trapped in her role. Unfailingly elegant, even when playing the daughter of a humble taxi driver (Where the Sidewalk Ends, 1951); fragile, even when her social status is assured (Whirlpool, 1949), perfidious, as if her beauty were its own punishment (Leave Her to Heaven, 1945).”  Carlo Chatrian, like so many before him, falls under the spell of Gene Tierney.

“I want to know what are you shooting here.” “Cinema.” “You should’ve called before. I understand that you’re shooting but… Is it over or what?” “No, it is still the same film.” “Haven’t you finished yet?” Filmmaker Salomé Lamas presents the transcript of an encounter with some guards near the Transnistria/Ukraine border, that fulfills every cliché of the encounter even before devolving into a discussion of European vs. local cigarettes.

The Salesman

“The most important thing for me is that my films look like documentaries. They have to feel like real life, not cinema. All of the actors have to collaborate in a way that makes their interactions feel real. It’s like theatre in that their movement and their words are precise, but they must perform them in a way that feels natural, as if they came up with them on their own. When people in Iran ask me, ‘Have you written those lines or did the actors improvise?’, it makes me very happy because that’s how it should feel. These are their words, not something that I wrote.” Asghar Farhadi talks with Matt Fagerholm about The Salesman, the influence on his work of Miller and Billy Wilder, and his intent to blur the lines between theater and documentary.

“[The scene you mention] wasn’t in the theatrical, but it had to be there; it should have been there. That’s why I restored it. The film is a very ambitious undertaking. Some people will say it wasn’t that successful, but it’s still a very ambitious undertaking: I wanted to put you in the shoes, looking through the eyes, in the skin of Muhammad Ali in 1964, of Cassius Clay in ’63, ‘64. Obviously, there’s no point in doing this expositionally. I wanted to do it experientially, to get people to feel what it is to be a colonized people in their own country, living under the yoke of a white value system.” With a new edit of Ali just released on Blu-ray, Michael Mann talks with Bilge Ebiri about why he felt compelled to recut the film fifteen years on. (Besides what has become the obvious fact that Mann would happily tinker with his films’ edits till the end of time.)

Obituary

Miguel Ferrer

Miguel Ferrer, the son of actor Jose Ferrer and singer Rosemary Clooney and cousin of George Clooney, had his first credited screen role in 1981 (an episode of Magnum, P.I.) but first made his name as the ruthless Bob Morton in RoboCop (1987). He stood in a cast of stand-outs in a recurring role as the aggressively rude but defiantly pacifist FBI Agent Albert Rosenfield in Twin Peaks, a role he reprised in Fire Walk With Me (1992), and in the mini-series The Stand (1994) and co-starred in six seasons of Crossing Jordan with Jill Hennessy and six seasons of NCIS: Los Angeles. In between he remained busy on TV in the short-lived shows Shannon’s Deal, Broken Badges, On the Air (again for David Lynch), LateLine, the 2007 reboot of The Bionic Woman, and The Protector, and in such movies as Revenge (1990), Point of No Return (1993), Hot Shots! Part Deux (1993), Traffic (2000), and was a busy voice actor for animated movies and TV shows and video games. He most recently completed shooting David Lynch’s revival of Twin Peaks. He died of cancer at the age of 61. Chris Barton for Los Angeles Times.

William Peter Blatty is famed around the world as the author of The Exorcist, both the novel and screenplay to the film directed by William Friedkin. In fact, Blatty was a veteran screenwriter and author whose specialty was comedy—he scripted The Man from the Diner’s Club (1963) for Frank Tashlin, Promise Her Anything (1966) for Arthur Hiller, and four films for Blake Edwards, including the second Clouseau comedy A Shot in the Dark (1964)—when he published the horror novel. It changed the course of his career for good and when he turned to directing he was back in the darkness with The Ninth Configuration (1980) and The Exorcist III (1990), both adapted from his own novels. He passed away at the age of 89. Michael Carlson for The Guardian.

Comedian and comic actor Dick Gautier was the original Conrad Birdie in the Broadway musical Bye Bye Birdie, Hymie the Robot in Get Smart, and Robin Hood in Mel Brooks’s short-lived When Things Were Rotten, but he was constantly in demand as a guest star on TV shows, appearing in Bewitched, Love American Style, The Rockford Files, Mary Tyler Moore, Charlie’s Angels, The Love Boat, Quincy M.E., Fantasy Island, and Murder She Wrote among the scores of credits. He had roles in the movies Divorce American Style (1967) and Fun with Dick and Jane (1977) and for was a busy voice artist for animated TV shows of the 1980s and 1990s. He was 86. Peter Keepnews for The New York 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.