The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of March 10

“These tropes cumulatively function as what philosopher Robert Pfaller has termed “interpassivity”: they cynically perform our annoyance at seeing the same old thing again for us. We can walk out of these films feeling satisfied, refreshed, and maybe even a little superior for seeing how the mechanics of movies work. And yet, this facsimiled dissent does not result in movies with original ideas, but instead in things like The LEGO Batman Movie, or, say, Miller and Lord helming the forthcoming Han Solo movie. Not unlike a punk buying a T-shirt with an anarchy symbol on it from Hot Topic, we fool ourselves if we believe this humor to be as subversive as it pretends to be.” Along with the death of cinema itself, the death of comedy is a constant in the world of criticism; Violet Lucca offers the latest iteration, with at least some words of praise thrown in for those modern directors who know how to build a joke.

“Once united, Phelps and O’Gaffney propel a series of semi-discrete set-pieces, starting with an inevitable Great Escape from the camp, facilitated by the white-on-white camouflage of wearing the Arabic prisoners’ white robes in the German snow. From there, Two Arabian Knights features high-speed train stunts, a second adventure for our hapless protagonists as naval stowaways, a romance with a shipwrecked Arabian princess (who else but Mary Astor?), a palace invasion, a gun duel, and a third and final getaway. However discontinuous in action and ambience, these rarely feel like loosely strung vignettes, mostly because Milestone’s hold on tone and his connection with his game, jovial actors tie things together.” Staying at Film Comment, praise for one forgotten comedy comes from Nick Davis’s appreciation of Milestone’s Two Arabian Knights. While Mark Harris doesn’t exactly excavate a forgotten film, he does remind us that Persona played so badly commercially in its ’67 release at least in part from Bergman fatigue, however much a break the film made with his past efforts. (“As Variety’s critic succinctly put it when he got his first view of Bergman’s Opus 1, ‘big themes are still his forte.’ The severity and rigor with which Bergman attacked these issues and his complete lack of interest in packaging them ingratiatingly for his audience both dates the movie and makes it enduringly fascinating.”)

Persona

“However, the signs of life the viewer might see cannot be encapsulated by the vocabulary of urban planning. More faithfully, it can be said that the streets are noisy with people. The car’s route takes it past children playing, and folks congregating and crowding, laboring and lounging. Of the people who walk, the viewer might conjecture that some have a destination in mind, others are merely drifting about. The tour, then, is a vibrant reflection of social rather than intimate life.” Samuel Adelaar explores the city-tour-cum-political-document that is Straub and Huillet’s History Lesson.

“There’s something that I’d like to say/That he’s too modest to relay/The Captain is a moral man/Sometimes he finds it trying.” Martin Schneider dusts off an old reference, revealing Captain Spaulding’s name, and his ability to liven up any party, to be quite the inside joke for 1930 movie audiences (and the Broadway crowds that preceded).

“When you discuss ghosts, it’s always about what we do with our dead. We live in a society that has very little to tell us on that level. We are kind of left with questions, issues, and it’s kind of deep and everyone has to confront it. Before, it was the reference world of religion. Now that’s pretty much gone, and we are left unknowing with how we relate to the disappearance of someone. It’s a very deep and intimate question; I think what you are saying is only one aspect of it. It’s everywhere. What do we do with the dead, how do we relate to the dead? It’s just like we turn out the light and it’s gone?” Olivier Assayas talks with Artur Zaborski about working with Kristen Stewart and other advantages of filming in English, our need for rituals to deal with death post-religion, and, speaking of the next subject in this week’s offering, offers an insightful interpretation of I, Daniel Blake that Loach would likely reject.

“We’ve got all this new technology, we should be able to share out the work, we should be able to share out the benefits of it, but in fact it is used to extract profit for a few and to impoverish the vast majority. So I think it’s not a surprise [that things are worse], but what is shocking is the public debate as it were, doesn’t point out this absurdity. We’ve had all this new technology, all these new inventions—we can feed everyone on the planet, we have the resources to live with all our problems solved, yet we’re locked into a system which cannot do that, which actually makes this worse, so there’s that paradox and that is the most shocking of all.” Ken Loach, interviewed by Elizabeth Aubrey, talks about the research (and the obstacles set up by the government) that went into making I, Daniel Blake, the tyranny of “posh” accents, and, being Ken Loach, calls for the criminal persecution of members of parliament belonging to the Conservative Party.

Ken Loach

“At the risk of sounding pretentious, I think I’ve learned a lot about how to make movies, and particularly about how to edit movies by thinking about how similar problems are resolved in other forms. The issues in all forms are the same in an abstract sense, aren’t they? Characterization, abstraction, metaphor, passage of time … Whether it’s a movie, a novel, a play, or a poem, those issues exist. And each person resolves them differently. Of course, the way you resolve them is in part dependent on the form that you’re working in. My job as a film editor is to construct a dramatic narrative because otherwise it’s just a chaotic arrangement of sequences.” Frederick Wiseman talks with Kent Jones about telling a story through editing, uniting the specific and the abstract, the inspiration of Emily Dickinson and Anton Chekhov, and, sure, Donald Trump.

The gallery Blum & Poe offers a collection of photographs from its Agnès Varda exhibit, many predating her film work but marked already by her sharp, self-reflective eye.

Adrian Curry rounds up a series of international posters for Ugetsu, with a wide variety of styles and approaches, though most are understandably built around the bewitching image of Machiko Kyo.

Ugestsu

[Fiction] “It wasn’t Guadalajara that we’d moved to; it was the twentieth century. Even so, it wasn’t until I learned that there were four movie houses in town with daily showings of different pictures that I was convinced that there really was some benefit to living in the state capital.” In Álvaro Enrigue’s “Moviescapes”, a young man in revolutionary Mexico discovers the thrill of international films subversively narrated by the theater owner as all proclaiming the glory of the coming socialist paradise—till the provocations go “too far” and he’s reminded he’s not living in a glittering celluloid fantasy, but a war-torn state threatening to collapse.

Obituary

Miriam Colón

Puerto Rico-born actress Miriam Colón earned a scholarship to study at the Dramatic Workshop and Technical Institute and became the first Puerto Rican member of The Actor’s Studio in 1953. She was a busy actress on TV, where she appeared in scores of TV shows over the years, and on stage, and she founded The Puerto Rican Traveling Theater company in the late 1960s, where she served as the company director for decades. On the big screen she had small roles in Marlon Brando’s One-Eyed Jacks (1961) and The Outsider (1961) but her film career opened up after playing Al Pacino’s Cuban mother in Brian De Palma’s remake of Scarface (1983). She appeared in John Sayles’s City of Hope (1991) and Lone Star (1996), Bille August’s The House of the Spirits (1993), the remakes of Sabrina (1995) and Gloria (1999), All the Pretty Horses (2000), Top Five (2014), and the title character in Bless Me, Ultima (2013). She passed away at the age of 80. Anita Gates for The New York Times.

Robert Osbourne began as an actor but his knowledge of and passion for movies led to writing books and landed him a position as a reporter, reviewer, and columnist for The Hollywood Reporter columnist and then as the face of Turner Classic Movies as the network’s prime time host from its launch in 1994. He died at the age of 84 after a long bout with ill health. More from Mike Barnes for The Hollywood Reporter.

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.


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