The first wave of the new Lola—each issue being released piecemeal, more is still to come—is devoted to Brian De Palma. Alain Bergala’s semiotic reading of Obsession does well by De Palma’s magpie cinephilia, and Helen Grace reminds you how the director’s always political in her account of feminist protests she supported and (in the case of Dressed to Kill) found misguided. But it’s Adrian Martin’s superb breakdown of the action in Carlito’s Way’s poolhall sequence that you don’t want to miss; Martin never lets the rigor of his analysis muffle the contagious giddiness (count the exclamation marks) De Palma generates when he’s on fire.
“We made trees and shrubs. We helped make all this.” “Whew! That’s not bad.” “Yeah. But did we get a thimbleful of credit for it? No!” An excerpt from Robert Sellers’s new bookVery Naughty Boys: The Amazing Story of HandMade Films details the making of Time Bandits, which like the movie involves petty squabbles, major players in over their head, and Sean Connery saving the day.
“You started out with this artsy-craftsy reality crap and what did you end up with? The news, the goddamned news! People get that for free! You think somebody’s gonna hire a babysitter, take a taxicab, go all the way the hell downtown, walk to the box office, shell out four bucks, and say, ‘Here, here—here’s my four dollars. What time does the news go on?’” The latest movie of the week at The Dissolve is Real Life. The introduction by Nathan Rabin and the roundtable may hit a bit much on the film’s prescience about reality television (like any great comedian, Brooks just imagines the worst that could happen and gets to look a natural-born prophet when it inevitably rolls around), but Scott Tobias has good thoughts on Albert Brooks’s most daring creation, “Albert Brooks.”
Only up since July, Luke McKernan’s Picturegoing already boasts enough irresistible content to drain away too many hours of any cinephile’s day. As the title suggests, the site collects accounts of going to the movies, but the joy of McKernan’s archivist inclusiveness is that everything is here: Peter O’Toole encountering fascism for the first time via newsreels; literary critic Edward Wagenknecht suggesting the devil was the first movie star; novelist Dorothy Richardson wishing the audiences of 1928 would learn to keep quiet; an unidentified “Negro male student in High School. Age 17,” quoted in a 1930s sociological study, offering the most evocative description I’ve ever read of trying to live your life by the example set on movie screens. And this isn’t even getting into the poems, the excerpts from diaries and oral histories, the fiction excerpts…. McKernan has provided a wealth of tags to navigate his selections, but I’d follow the example of so many of the earliest movie watchers quoted: go in blind, not knowing what to expect, and a little miracle is bound to pop up before your eyes. Via John Wyver.
The best essays about living up to the example set on movie screens I’ve ever seen, of course, come courtesy of the films of Howard Hawks. Imogen Sara Smith is quite marvelous on Hawks’s always amazing use of performance, and how that feeds into “the strange connection in his films between the most polished artifice and the deepest authenticity,” at Moving Image Source.
“After dinner we’ll see a movie. It’ll give me ideas.” “Use your own ideas instead of stealing them from everyone else.” Also inspired by MOMI’s Hawks retrospective, Richard Brody declaresContempt Godard’s most Hawksian film.
“He said, ‘What is this?’ And I said, ‘This is a spaceship with tits.’ And he says, ‘Yes, that’s exactly what it is. You build it.’ So suddenly, I was the guy in the model shop that everyone hated.” Two excerpts from Chris Nashawaty’s new book Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen, and Candy Stripe Nurses supports my belief that there’s not a dull story to be told about working on a Roger Corman production. At RogerEbert.com Bruce Dern, Peter Fonda, Peter Bogdanovich and others talk about the making of The Wild Angels; while at Grantland John Sayles, James Cameron (quoted above), Gale Ann Hurd, Sybil Danning, and Bill Paxton describe some of the low-rent, hard-work inventiveness behind Battle Beyond the Stars and Galaxy of Terror.
Welles.net offers an excerpt of its own, from this year’s acclaimed book of taped Orson Welles conversations. No, not that one; Todd Tarbox’s Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts. A lovely ramble between two dear old soulmates about the various stupidities of dancing, New Year’s celebrations (“Too much drunkenness and not enough thought”), and our attitudes toward death.
As film lovers throughout the land lie awake in their beds, fearful tales running through their heads of Harvey Scissorhands once again rampaging the land, David Bordwell reminds us that not every interference is ruinous and even producers can (inadvertently, true) stumble upon a good idea. Specifically he looks at two movies—Sturges’s The Great Moment and Mankiewicz’s All About Eve—where flashback structures meticulously set up by their directors were altered by heavy-handed producers; to simplify things, of course, but each leading to a structure in some ways richer and stranger than originally intended.
“Oh, what do you know? It’s morning already. Come around and tell me the story of your life sometime.” Discovered by Charlie Chaplin; immortalized by Orson Welles; once brutally punished by studio heads during a Three Stooges short by being tossed into a swimming pool for 97 takes; ultimately ruined—possibly even framed for solicitation—by HUAC. Kathleen Sharp relates the story of Dorothy Comingore.
“We rode our bikes around the [hospital] grounds and flew kites on the lawn in front of the canteen. We would sit and wait for a pushcart to buy chewing gum or sail metal boats on the pond in front of the walkway. Another thing we liked to do was sit in front of the morgue to see the corpses when they were wheeled out on gurneys with their feet sticking out from under the white sheets.” Apichatpong Weerasethakul recollects a childhood surrounded by the beauty, hidden desires, and stalking ghosts that would come to populate his films. Also at This Long Century, David Lowery revisits his first feature, finding more to be proud of than he’d feared.
John Bailey breaks down the aesthetic and philosophic differences between Primary and Chronicle of a Summer as a way to emphasize their similar technical breakthroughs: the employment of groundbreaking lightweight cameras—a modified Auricon for the Americans; “the prototype of the camera that was soon to become the most sought after 16mm camera in the world, the Éclair NPR” for the French—that allowed unprecedented freedom of movement.
Howard Hampton’s life with his father—a former stuntman dissolutely attempting a comeback in scuzzy late-60s Los Angeles—predetermined many of his reactions to films yet unseen. Thunderball was flat and fake compared to the Caribbean waters Hampton had swum, just as Cassavetes was to the harrowing domestic scenes he’d witnessed. Lynch and Peckinpah, however, felt right at home.
“But this character’s literally in every scene in the movie, so we realized we were going the wrong direction, and we just started seeing actors who could play, as opposed to musicians who could act. And there are more of those, by the way.” “And we’ve been doing this like, 30 years. You’d think we know something as basic as this, that you need an actor.” One defense against the Coens’ detractors, that has been apparent in every interview from their first to this sitdown with Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott, is that however much they laugh at their characters, they’re always willing to turn the joke on themselves.
“Around the age of eight, Danes, exasperated by a boy in her class, was spooked by the pleasure she got from her revenge fantasies about him. ‘Can people read your thoughts?’ she asked her mother. ‘Your imagination is your own. You can do whatever you like with it,’ Carla answered. The knowledge that ‘you could be a good person and host lavishly violent acts in your imagination’ was, Danes said, a kind of liberation. ‘I was so happy,’ she added.” John Lahr’s profile of Claire Danes suggests many possible wellsprings for her mercurial genius—an early love of mimicry; a lifelong (and acclaimed) interest in dance; her confrontational but playful intelligence—but like most lovely things, it’s probably past understanding.
Fiction: Gabriel Blackwell’s An Excerpt from Madeleine E. may tick every box on the promo ledger, including copious quotations and what I take to be autobiographical interpolations which connect in only the most tangential fashion. But its spine is a pretty observant reading of the many layers of performance and artificiality in Vertigo. Via Longform.
Steve Cook presents some snapshots of his visit to the London College of Communication’s Stanley Kubrick Archive, where everything from multilingual versions of Jack Torrance’s single-sentence manuscript to Kubrick’s own Nikon camera are stored in an atmosphere controlled environment designed to echo the space station in 2001. Via Cinephelia & Beyond.
There’s an unaffected air to Richard Schroeder’s portraits, at everyday_i_show, which helps capture, say, the ethereal quality of Maggie Cheung or John C. Reilly’s surprising courtliness. Quentin Tarantino, of course, holds a blade to the camera.
Video: The Venice Film Festival celebrated its 70th anniversary by commissioning short films (90 seconds was the requested maximum, not always adhered to) from 70 filmmakers, including such luminaries as Bertolucci, Weerasethakul, Hellman, Denis, Kiarostami, Jia, Olmi…. Even the presence of James Franco can’t diminish this bounty. Spotted by Vadim Rizov, who passes along some of his favorites to get you started.
From Berlin-based blogger David Hudson (of Fandor’s Keyframe Daily) came the news that Otto Sander, best known as the angel Cassiel in Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire (1987) and Faraway, So Close! (1993), passed away this week at the age of 72. The German actor was a giant in German theater from the late 1960s through the 1990s and appeared in such films Eric Rohmer’s The Marquise of O (1976), Volker Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum (1979), Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot (1981), and Margarethe von Trotta’s Rosa Luxemburg (1986). More from Hugh Rorrison at The Guardian.
Ray Dolby, the audio engineer who transformed the recording industry and brought a new level of high-fidelity sound into homes and movie theaters with the invention of the Dolby noise-reduction system, died this week at the age of 80. More from Natasha Singer at The New York Times.
“We can trace a similar theme through the highpoints of most of Ford’s hundred-and-more films: characters staring into space, after people who have gone, or are leaving, or are right in front of them. These are beautiful images, compelling. Always there is alternation of community and privacy, and the intolerance, the racism, the nonrecognition of our neighbor.” One of the best of all articles on John Ford has turned up on the web: Tag Gallagher’s 1993 “Angels Gambol Where They Will: John Ford’s Indians,” which magisterially explains, without excusing, the director’s racist limitations as part and parcel of his devotion to myth. Via Girish Shambu.
“To regret not seeing a horse break its leg while all the dramatic tension on the verge of breaking a moment later is concentrated right before our eyes between Cotton and Bergman is a very infantile conception of cinema.” Kino Slang hosts Ted Fendt’s translation of a 1950 article about Under Capricorn written by Jacques Rivette. Needless to say, his thoughts on the long, roaming camera takes are of particular interest.
In 1927 Alla Nazimova added publicly available apartments to her private estate the Garden of Alla; only a year later, fortunes diminished, the actress sold them to a company that slightly altered the name. For years the Garden of Allah was a favorite site for assignations both sexual (“Photographs of female stars wearing trousers or in athletic poses, or of male stars like Cary Grant and Ronald Coleman in their pyjamas breakfasting together, suggested, to those who were paying attention, that there was more than one way to live, one way to be.”) and political (“here, too, that Frederic March gathered its residents to watch a screening of The Spanish Earth…and solicited $1,000 towards the cost of ambulances in Spain from each of the guests”); making it for Kate Webb the perfect embodiment of the emigrant-driven louche cosmopolitanism of ‘30s and ‘40s Hollywood, till you-know-what came along and shut the whole damned party down. Via Anne Helen Petersen.
Eleven years after what was arguably the first mumblecore film, eight years after the movement was ironically named, and several years after many seemed to stop caring (remember Paul Schrader praising Lena Dunham for the grand innovation of using a tripod?), mumblecore seems to have finally found its breakout moment. At least enough to prompt two attempts to track the connections of a group of filmmakers who actually have far less in common than their many collaborations would indicate. At Grantland Karina Longworth uses Drinking Buddies’s Joe Swanberg as her nexus; while EW’s Clark Collins, inspired by Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, draws his web via mumblecore horror films.
In his usual method of examining three contemporaneous films and then extracting from them the larger picture of the period, Michael Koresky looks back to 2017, and finds a trio of underrated masterpieces—Tarantino’s Stonewalled!, the Wachowski siblings’ Orlando-meets-the-digital-age mashup Big Magenta, and of course James Franco’s shot-for-shot remake of The Sixth Sense—from a year often dismissed as weak for movies.
“As for compensation—he cut me off: ‘Let us not sully art with talk of money. I count on you to do the right thing. You will do that, won’t you?’” The summer of Welles revelations continue apace at the LA Review of Books, where Steve Wasserman tells the story of getting the great man to write the Los Angeles Times obituary for Jean Renoir.
Programmed by J Hoberman for the Museum of the Moving Image, the film series Fun City: New York in the Movies 1966-1974 shines a light on the productions, ranging from Lumet’s idealistic Serpico to the more pragmatic hero cops of Cotton Comes to Harlem, from Little Murders to The Landlord, made under the aegis of John Lindsay, who loosened up filming regulations even as the city he oversaw slid into some its roughest years. Tough times that Hoberman, in his introductory notes, finds seeping into all these films in a way that distinguishes them from their more brutal successors: “Disillusionment in [the] Koch-era movies is a condition; in the movies that preceded them, made in the High Sixties during the collapse of the Great Society and the period of “telling-it-like-it-is,” when the Knicks were on top and New York’s baseball team was not the Yankees but the Mets, disillusionment was a process.” Hoberman also provides brief but typically perceptive comments on each film in the series; the first two installments of these are up now (here and here), with more to come.
Reverse Shot’s writers are wending their way through the films of Wong Kar-wai. A hit-and-miss series of encounters, of course, but each confirming Michael Koresky’s assertion (while writing of Chungking Express) that a “main reason for the continued freshness of [Wong’s] films is that they never seem entirely settled.” An accidentally complimentary pair of highlights: Aliza Ma on the ‘60s nostalgia underpinning Days of Being Wild and Kristi Mitsuda’s appreciation of the unique “enveloping warmth” of the red tones in 2046, a surprising contrast to the chilly, distancing blue most movies use to envision the future.
In all the hope springs eternal conversations I’ve had over the years with Welles fans about the possibility of some day finally seeing fill-in-the-blank-here, Too Much Johnson never once came up, so sadly assured everyone was of its destruction. But Providence can be capricious even at her most kind, and that turns out to be the one that’s been rediscovered. (In another of fate’s little amusements, it was found in Pordenone, fostering the beguiling image of years of pilgrims to the city’s Silent Film Festival walking past the warehouse storing the treasure.) World and American premieres will be held in October, with the National Film Registry hoping for an online debut shortly after. Dave Kehr has the story and the best take on what can be gleaned from the available stills; the NFR itself has a fine article by Scott Simmon on the stage production for which the shorts were made (.pdf warning) and a series of images including the greatest photo of Orson Welles directing that you will ever see.
“Made when his acting career was in decline, these are self-lacerating works in which Stevens casts himself as a physically and morally disfigured criminal, as if doing penance for his Hollywood failures.” R. Emmet Sweeney looks back at the two films directed by Mark Stevens; which, as the second article on the subject in about six months, can’t compare to the recent wealth of writing on Dwan, say, but is a positive flood compared to what came before. Also at Movie Morlocks, Kimberly Lindbergs looks back at one of the more obscure entries in Steven Spielberg’s filmography, the TV movie Something Evil.
“I’ve got hormones. And they may make me butt-ugly, but they don’t make me a monster.” “So you got bit by a giant hormone?” Alice Bolin offers a wonderful reading of Ginger Snaps, examining how the film’s successful escape of some patriarchal traps can’t help it from getting snared in others: “The transgression is always shocking, always exactly what we expect.”
Hollywood, a viper’s nest of competitors each hard scrapping for the top of the heap, has nevertheless managed to work in marvelous concert when their interests are mutual. One such extended period of cooperation has come under more scrutiny of late: the deferential attitude shown to Nazi Germany throughout the 1930s, when the country might have been descending into madness but was still first and foremost a market for films. The Hollywood Reporter offers an excerpt from Ben Urwand’s new book on the subject, The Collaboration, describing some of the projects cancelled or bowdlerized by the team of studio heads, Will Hays, and Georg Gyssling, the Los Angeles-based German consul to the United States. The Reporter also provides some dissent from Urwand’s portrait (“slanderous and ahistorical”) from Thomas Doherty, author of this year’s earlier book on the subject, Hollywood and Hitler.
“Over the years, the Lumières and Méliès have been consistently portrayed as opposites—the idea is that one filmed reality and the other created special effects. Of course this kind of distinction is made all the time—it’s a way of simplifying history. But in essence they were both heading in the same direction, just taking different roads—they were taking reality and interpreting it, reshaping it, and trying to find meaning in it.” In The New York Review Martin Scorsese offers a slightly modified version of his marvelous Jefferson Lecture of a few months back, roaming through cinema’s history to make an argument for its centrality in terms both catholic (“We have to look beyond the officially honored, recognized, and enshrined, and preserve everything systematically.”) and Catholic (“First of all, there’s light.”).
Béla Tarr’s Film Factory, the three-year workshop currently running at the Sarajevo Film Academy, was greeted with some confusion when it was announced; was this an academic program, a workshop, the director’s own private folly? After his stint as a guest lecturer, which overlapped with two “remarkable classes” by Tilda Swinton on the Bressonian nature of acting and a four-and-a-half hour “shot by shot and take by take” analysis of Sátántangó by Tarr himself, Jonathan Rosenbaum has another definition: utopian community.
From the study of film to films that study themselves: also at Sight & Sound, Kevin B. Lee examines the essay film, arguing against the limitations some would place on the form in both text and an accompanying video essay. Both are as thought-provoking and wide-ranging as you’d expect from Lee; Indiewire’s Sam Adams can help you out on the latter, rounding up the movies referenced in Lee’s video, a tour of images ranging from Ivens’s Valparaiso to Andersen’s L.A.
It’s not one of the cinema’s acknowledged holy grails, but let’s call it a miraculous discovery nonetheless: there’s now five to six minutes of Buster Keaton footage previously unknown. “Discovery” and “unknown” in the technical sense; it was found by historian Fernando Pena on a French print of The Blacksmith intended for home projection, and so Pena admits might have been on all such reels had anyone ever bothered to look, a fatalistic twist to the tale I like to think Keaton would have enjoyed. The story, and a minute-and-a-half of as-yet unrestored footage, courtesy of Variety’s Scott Foundas.
Advance press for what is very much the movie of the moment, Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, can’t help but explore the relationship between fact and fiction that drives the film itself, albeit from some widely divergent angles. Thus, in an article for Slate, executive producer Errol Morris examines the contemporary US response to the slaughter of one million in Indonesia—which wasn’t to bury the news, but hold it up as a marvelous example of blocking communist insurgency in Asia. While in an interview with Fandor’s Jonathan Marlow, the name Oppenheimer himself drops most frequently isn’t Morris’s go-to George Kennan but Dušan Makavejev, who taught him to “[use] film as a way of making things that are invisible in the world visible.”
This week saw the launch of The Dissolve, even at its inauguration an admirably wide-ranging film site you’ll surely want to visit often. And with no disrespect to the roster of fine writers, many drafted from The A.V. Club, the best bit of criticism they’ve published so far comes courtesy of John Hodgman, who in conversation with Scott Tobias breaks down the formal structures and surprisingly long-lasting cultural influence of Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. (And tosses in a nifty defense of Stephen King as an uncompromising auteur of his own to boot.)
The unofficial campaign to make Allan Dwan the most written-about director on the internet in 2013 gets a fresh push at Movie Morlocks, where R. Emmet Sweeney presents the first of a series celebrating his work with actors in the silent era, from staging one of the cinema’s first tracking shots to record William H. Crane’s waddle to celebrating Douglas Fairbank’s “easy athleticism.”
Michael Glover Smith gathers a few good reasons to agree with his selection of Richard Linklater as the director of his generation; the most quietly compelling being that Linklater displays all the necessary cinephile bone fides while making films enthralled by the vagaries of life, not just other movies. Via Adam Cook.
Much excellent reading of late in the LA Review of Books. In the latest of his autobiographical essays, John Kaye tells the story of his selling the script for Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins—as well as the story of his marriage, and of the madness that was seeping through all of Los Angeles at the time, so omnipresent that inspiration could take the form of two Mansonite hippies with Xs carved in their foreheads hopping into the front seat of his car. Also, a new series on Poets at the Movies gets a strong start with the first two entries: Rebecca Morgan Frank offers a lovely survey of cinematic adaptations of poems, finding silent movies offer the only real chance for the two media to successfully intermarry, where “images and text have been brought together to make something new.” And in a deeply moving essay, Tom Sleigh recalls the magical nights spent watching movies at his family’s drive-in, a business his Northern transplant parents reluctantly acquiesced to running by Jim Crow laws; remembers how mysterious and compelling his eight-year-old self found the film of To Kill a Mockingbird; and regrets that James Baldwin was right, the camera (of Hollywood, of memory) can only lie because it only “sees what you point it at: the camera sees what you want it to see.”
Kent Jones is simply marvelous on the expressly cinematic power of Lanzmann’s Shoah, and how the director “achieved something that was not only unprecedented but was, and is, an astonishment: he returned the Shoah to the civilized world that had disowned it.”
David Bordwell considers both the Big Picture and the Small. First, partly in celebration of the new website launched for the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research (which some initial poking around suggests will be an invaluable resource), he celebrates some of his academic colleagues for spearheading a new understanding of how the movie industry, with its technological advancements and economic demands, influenced decisions previously thought strictly creative. And in a separate post focusing on Mildred Pierce, Bordwell considers flashbacks, “replays” (where previously viewed action, seen again with new footage and more information, changes its initial meaning), and how much filmmakers could get away with between the two in the days before home video and rewind buttons.
With a much appreciated lack of condescension, Film Comment’s Laura Kern selects a half-dozen off-the-radar but easily streamable films about female psychos that gain from the delight they take in their anti-heroines’ rampages. Starring, among others, Ava Gardner, Anik Borel, and of course Joan Crawford.
Despite being the formative works of a supreme master—as well as a string of engaging, entertaining films in their own right—the nine surviving silents of Alfred Hitchcock (excepting The Lodger) haven’t received nearly their due. A touring program of newly restored prints is finally beginning to draw some attention their way, with Dave Kehr noting such technical details as Hitchcock’s early reliance on subjective camera work “in contexts as benign as a simple conversation and as menacing as an attempted rape,” and Doug Cummings noting Los Angelenos can view the series in concert with a separate program dedicated to the director’s home movies. David Hudson rounds up other reactions, and generously collects some reviews of the movies from previous revivals.
Of course in his later years Welles was still putting that unmistakable voice to good use, regaling young admirers over lunch with marvelous yarns which were received with almost charming credulity. Henry Jaglom used to record them, and in advance of publication later this year, he and Peter Biskind offer excerpts from three of the sitdowns; eminently quotable at every line, and there’s maybe even a stray truth or two stirred in.
Video: Not that great stories are solely the provenance of Old Hollywood—or Hollywood at all for that matter. Such as the time Jackie Chan played up an injury to hang out with Bruce Lee.
As Jasper Sharp acknowledges, western knowledge of Japanese films is so auteur-driven that his recounting the story of Nikkatsu Studio is practically an alternate history, wherein a once-defunct brand roared back in the ‘50s and ‘60s on the back of gangster films, an insurgent, disaffected youth movement, and a string of pop stars. Till Seijun Suzuki’s Branded to Kill took all of that so far he was fired by the studio he’d helped grow, and the writing was on the wall.
So many collaborative projects on the internet come out piecemeal, dribbled out over several weeks and spread across half-a-dozen websites. None of that for Gina Telaroli and David Phelps, who have followed up their previous Dossier on Wellman with an equally exhaustive one dedicated to Allan Dwan, and present it to you in one glorious package. Free for download right now, 46 articles, with only five reprints, from writers such as Ted Fendt, Fernando F. Croce, R. Emmet Sweeney, Cullen Gallagher, and Farran Smith Nehme, exploring one of the finest and longest careers in Hollywood. Currently the articles are all in their writer’s original languages; English and (courtesy of project host LUMIÈRE) Spanish language editions are forthcoming.
But even with that bounty you can never get enough Dwan. Richard Brody has some good thoughts on how the density of the director’s social and psychological observations give his outbursts of violence a “strange, removed side.”
Speaking of great westerns, one of the genre’s best but relatively unheralded director/actor pairings gets some attention, as Nick Pinkerton salutes three marvelous films made by that two-man band of outsiders, Robert Aldrich and Burt Lancaster.
“His Oscar acceptance speech began: ‘If you ever wondered what reflected glory looks like, this is it!’ And it went on to remind the Academy of Hollywood’s wretched record, destroying 73% of pre-sound films: ‘By God, your predecessors did a terrible job of preserving the silent era!’” The Guardian’s Philip Home offers an introduction to Kevin Brownlow’s body of work.