Criterion offers three looks at collaborations, fruitful but strained, frustrated by external forces, and consummate. Stephen Prince reflects on screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto’s career, which was stimulated by Kurosawa’s unique method of setting his screenwriters off against one another, though Hashimoto ultimately focused his complicated relationship with Japan’s military history on screenplays for other directors. (“Hashimoto had joined the front rank of screenwriters with the flashback structure of Rashomon and had surpassed that design in Harakiri. Though a screenplay furnishes a film with its scaffolding and a completed film necessarily goes beyond the script, it remains true, as Mansaku Itami and Kurosawa knew, that to make a good film one must have a good script. Hashimoto’s passionate writing helped burnish Japanese cinema with the golden luster it enjoyed for two decades after the war. He believed that a good script was self-sufficient, that it was like a musical score in its written form, and he felt when writing as if he was composing a symphony. Although he grew rueful about the possibility that his collaborative training in Kurosawa’s inner circle of writers might have inhibited him from developing a robust and distinctive authorial voice, the wonderful movies that resulted from his writing give us the best measure of his literary talent and its enduring contributions.”) Elvira Lindo’s acknowledgement of how central to Spanish culture Victor Erice’s El Sur has remained can’t help but compare the director’s ambitions for the film to the final product, whose producer pulled the financing, thereby truncating the film before the ending found in its source material (written by Erice’s then-wife Adelaida García Morales). (“Some of the aura of mystery surrounding the film might have been dispelled if the production had lasted the agreed-upon eighty-one days, instead of the forty-eight days of shooting that actually took place. Even knowing how consistently Erice has expressed frustration over the truncation of his project (and in fact, those who have had the opportunity to read the script in its entirety have proclaimed it a jewel of screenwriting), the reality is that the viewer does not experience the film as incomplete, because the South, so different from the North of Spain, is contained in El Sur as though it were a dream, inside the boxes where the girl keeps the postcards she has received from that region, signed by her grandmother and the woman who was her father’s nanny, Milagros.”) And even if you’re convinced there’s nothing new to be said about the von Sternberg-Marlene Dietrich collaboration, Imogen Sara Smith manages to say it beautifully. (“Over the course of the six films they made together in Hollywood, von Sternberg took Dietrich out of the smoke and sweat of The Blue Angel’s waterfront dive and put her in ever more exotic and lavish settings—his versions of Morocco, China, Russia, Spain, with a single detour to contemporary America (Blonde Venus). Between angel and devil, he cast her as goddess, empress, adventuress. The amoral, blithely destructive Lola Lola made way for romantic martyrs in their first four American films, then fatal temptresses in the last two. But the impassivity and cool insolence remained throughout and beyond the von Sternberg films, from the nonchalant poise with which Dietrich faces a firing squad in her second American film with him, Dishonored (1931), to her seen-it-all, sibylline detachment in Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil (1958). With these qualities lingers an ambiguity distilled by that dressing-room scene from Morocco: she seems above and beyond caring yet takes infinite care with everything she does.”)
“To see him in his early roles is to know that those demons were at least part of his appeal; his working-class bravado was underpinned by vulnerability. He seemed both masculine and feminine in the mold of most of the great screen idols—Rudolph Valentino, James Dean. Stardom demands actors to be broad enough for the audience’s projections, but also to be startlingly specific in their humanity. Mickey’s combination of the sensitively effeminate and the pointedly macho opened him up to all kinds of readings. Over the years, he has phoned it in and loused it up, and the quality of the films he’s starred in have ebbed and flowed. But when it’s right—as in Rumble Fish, Angel Heart, Diner, Barfly, The Pope of Greenwich Village—it’s very right.” Christina Newland traces Mickey Rourke’s inability to capitalize on the comeback The Wrestler afforded him partly on his self-destructive streak and partly, and more intriguingly, on how feminine the hulked-out actor can read to audiences. Via Mubi.
“If the film is a come-dressed-as-the-sick-soul-of-showbiz party, it’s also genuinely interested and perceptive about what lies behind the disguise. As superbly played by Davis, who only got the part after Claudette Colbert dropped out, Margo is a tragic figure not in spite of her coruscating wit but partially because of it: she’s smart enough to articulate her anxieties about her waning desirability and professional obsolescence, which doesn’t mean she has the first idea of what to do about it.” Adam Nayman enjoys the “intricate bitchery” of Mankiewicz’s All About Eve as much as anyone, but finds the emotional tug of the film as underrated as the director’s impeccable visual style.
“Using loneliness and isolation as both aesthetic and political tactics, the overwhelmingly intimate Buddies scrupulously keeps its cast at two: Robert (Geoff Edholm), a hospitalized young man dying of AIDS, and David (David Schachter), the volunteer “buddy” from a local gay help center who has been assigned to take care of him. Everyone else in the film—nurse, gym instructor, reporter, David’s lover—are relegated to being either offscreen voices or somehow obscured in the shot so we cannot see their faces. This approach makes the film’s big location, New York City, seem sadly small, a place where there are only two kinds of people: the sick and the healthy. And the latter cannot afford to be complacent because this pandemic, this catastrophe, is not just a gay problem but a human problem, one that affects all of us.” Michael Koresky’s survey of queer cinema hits 1985 with a near-forgotten milestone that speaks from the whirlwind of the era, Arthur J. Bressan’s Buddies, minimal in its staging and budget but enormous in being the first dramatic portrayal of AIDS.
““Who is this movie for?” promotes the commercial and cultural tyranny of the Hollywood blockbuster, strategically crafted for maximum four-quadrant appeal, and minimizes the potential of non-English-language films with the temerity to tell their own stories and move to their own narrative rhythms. “Who is this movie for?” leaves no room for an experience that every movie lover has had, of wandering into a theater and being utterly transported by a picture that looks, sounds, moves and feels like nothing she might have experienced before.” The latest round in the perennial sideshow of filmmakers vs. critics has Justin Chang saluting Brie Larson’s welcome call for more diversity among film critics while justifiably chastising Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett’s extrapolation of the idea that movies should only be commented upon by their predetermined target audience.
“[Blade Runner] was my first time in Hollywood and I was no fool! I was no child, I was 42 or 43 at that point and I was already quite a successful businessman. I was way too experienced! I was 40 before I did a movie, but I had wanted to do a film from when I was 30 and had just never gotten an opportunity then. But I didn’t care because I was having an inordinate success with advertising and loving every minute of it… What I didn’t realise was that I was on a learning curve, right? When a guy comes in at 25 or 26 and gets a huge amount of money to make a movie and it fails then people kill him! You can’t jump a person from doing a $3 million movie to a $150 million movie. You have got to be stupid to do that, it just simply doesn’t make sense.” Even in a brief interview with Kaleem Aftab Ridley Scott manages to be charismatically chipper as he tosses off dollar amounts, assurances of his own profitability margins, and the occasional idea about art.
The surviving installments of Dziga Vertov’s newsreel series Kino-Pravda have been made available to view online by the Austrian Film Museum, showing a fascinating evolution from the plainspoken “you are there” naturalism of the early installments to a later expressionistic frenzy that begins to suggest what a man with a movie camera could do. Via Film Comment.
Producer Martin Bregman nurtured the film careers of Al Pacino and Alan Alda, who he managed, by Serpico (1973) and Dog Day Afternoon (1975) for Pacino and The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979) and The Four Seasons (1981) for Alda. Bregman also produced Brain DePalma’s 1983 remake of Scarface, Sea of Love (1989), and Carlito’s Way (1993) with Pacino and Sweet Liberty (1986) and A New Life (1998) with director/actor Alda, plus The Shadow (1994) with Alec Baldwin, The Bone Collector (1999) with Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie, and the notorious flop The Adventures of Pluto Nash (1999). He passed away at the age of 92. More from Anita Gates for The New York Times.
Stanley Cavell taught philosophy at Harvard University for more than three decades, bringing philosophy to bear on art and literature, aesthetics and popular culture, including the movies. Among his many works are the books The World Viewed (1979), Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage (1984), and Contesting Tears: The Hollywood Melodrama of the Unknown Woman (1997). He died this week at the age of 91. Neil Genzlinger for The New York Times.
The weekly links page is compiled and curated by Bruce Reid, with obituaries curated by Sean Axmaker.