“Like other actress who didn’t suggest pampered debutantes, Clarke got hard-luck roles: hoofers, hookers and gang molls. At the lowest point of the Depression, there was a lot of hard luck to go around.” Taking in Mae Clarke’s rush of pre-code films, Imogen Smith marvels at Clarke’s adaptability to the breakneck pace (19 films in three years)—and wonders at how often she’s the vessel for some of the era’s most darkly misogynist impulses.
“In France we visited a location at which they were shooting a scene of a French film. There were at least ten cine-mobiles there, while we don’t even have one of them in Iran and we don’t need them. To make The Mirror, I had a crew of six, and I didn’t need an inefficient seventh one.” For Fandor, Ehsan Khoshbakht translates several excerpts from Jafar Panahi’s Iranian interviews.
Roland-François Lack charts the chronology of Le petit soldat; as slippery and uncertain an effort as you’d expect, given Godard’s use of allusions to drag events of the recent past into the then-present day. A present day that wound up delayed for two years by French censors, anyways.
“Hedren isn’t remotely interested in how beautiful Miller is in the film [about the making of The Birds] (which she is). What she cares about is that Sienna plays her ‘strong’. ‘And not shy,’ she says. ‘Because I was not, not at all.'” Nor is she now, as Rosie Millard’s visit to Tippi Hedren’s Shambala proves. Link via Movie City News.
David Bordwell reminds you it’s not just red-state schoolboards that plunk down for creationism over evolution despite all evidence to the contrary; it’s also film lovers obsessed with proclaiming what they deem the first instances of a technique while disregarding the context that led to it. Returned from his latest visit to the Royal Film Archives in Brussels, Bordwell provides several lovely examples of deep-focus blocking from mostly forgotten German and Italian silents. In a subsequent post, he rhapsodizes over a magnificent shot of passengers fleeing a sinking ship from the 1918 Italian serial I Topi Grigi, and provides a link to Joseph North’s fine thesis paper on the film’s Fantomasian antihero, the mostly forgotten Za La Mort.
“The broad panorama will now give way to separate action on each of the three screens, making possible extraordinary juxtapositions of images. Every symbol becomes palpable. The cinema enters a new era; from the melodic, it becomes the symphonic.” Jon Boorstin does what he can with those feeble substitutes, words, to capture the sweep of images and “pure emotion” of Abel Gance’s Napoleon. Also at the LA Review of Books, Jacob Mikanowski leaps off from a review of Geoff Dyer’s Zona to marvel at the career of Tarkovsky, an oeuvre “both extremely diverse and radically consistent. His films span a number of genres, and belong to none.”
“Meanwhile, Tim took me over to his car, opened the trunk, and pulled out a bottle of vodka and a Styrofoam cup. He poured the vodka to the very top. Keep in mind I was 14 and a total lightweight. I was not a big drinker. I downed the cup, just gulped it right down. Then he poured another cup, a second one, and I gulped that one down. Tim then got me a beer from the crew and said, ‘Drink this as fast as you can.'” “I don’t remember doing that, but it sounds possible.” The great Over the Edge gets the oral history treatment from Vice’s Mike Sacks.
“Stylization suits film noir, is even necessary to it, because noir is about subjective, interior states. Expressionism literally brings the inside to the surface; as in dreams, people in film noir move through worlds distorted by their own fears and desires.” Imogen Sara Smith on how Robert Siodmak found the perfect genre for his unabashed flourishes to become the hallmarks of a master filmmaker.
Bologna’s Il Cinema Ritrovato having wrapped, the festival dedicated to rediscovery is now itself the subject of retrospectives. Girish Shambu (along with his typically fine selection of links) and Sight & Sound’s Geoff Andrew eloquently repeat much of what’s been praised elsewhere—Walsh, Grémillon—while Kristin Thompson charts her own path, hunting down screenings of Ivan Pyr’ev and sketching out some intriguing thematic connections among a disparate collection of post-Wall-Street-crash movies.
Rounding up some recent blog posts and Variety columns, Andrew O’Hehir suggests that the movies’ long adolescent phase may finally be drawing to a close. Which willfully optimistic tea-reading perhaps only shows you how strong the lure of happy endings can be.
Peter Cook’s marvelous selection of cinema’s 50 greatest matte paintings reminds you how many histories there are in an art as collaborative as the movies, and that however many masters’ names you’ve memorized there’s always more—Albert Whitlock, Matthew Yuricich, Walter Percy Day, Emil Kosa—to be learned. First posted in May, but just spotted and passed along by Movie City News.
“It’s somehow…modest…and personal, intimate…and there’s something that I can’t quite put my finger on…that somehow connects it perfectly to an ineffable component of the Right Stuff.” Philip Kaufman, ever astute in his musical selections, fills in The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen on his use of “The Red River Valley” in his HBO film Hemingway & Gellhorn, and explains how he’d first thought of using the song years earlier to underscore John Glenn.
“You Nexus, huh? I design your eyes.” “Chew, if only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes.” In honor of the movie’s 30th anniversary, Tom Shone posts an excerpt from his book Blockbuster on the making and commercial unmaking of Blade Runner.
“A written description is always and forever the point of view, more or less biased, of the correspondent. But the biograph camera does not lie, and we form our own judgment of this and that as we watch the magic screen.” I’ve only read the first quarter or so of Stephen Bottomore’s Filming, faking, and propaganda: The origins of the war film, 1897-1902. But since the document itself (a 2007 thesis, posted online by the author) is over 550 pages, that’s a hefty enough chunk to recommend this as a magnificent read. Tracing his subject from the 1897 Greco-Turkish War—which British correspondent Frederic Villiers rode through on a bicycle, movie camera in tow—to the Boxer uprising, Bottomore establishes his history as a crucial one for the public understanding of cinema. After so many war films turned out staged, censored, reenacted (Villiers returned home to find his footage worthless, already overshadowed by the “artificially arranged scenes” shot in Méliès’s Paris studio), or dishonestly promoted, the early audience’s naive trust of cinema, embodied in the historical quote above, was as shattered as any victim of the battlefield. Recommended, and introduced more informatively than I could ever manage, by The Bioscope.
David Bordwell is such a natural born teacher that he even takes the opportunity to educate while passing along news that his and Kristin Thompson’s seminal textbook Film Art is getting a new edition. And he’s such a perceptive observer that as always his thoughts—about Kubrick’s use of limited POV in a scene from Spartacus, and Vidor’s unconventional sound mix of a phone call in H. M. Pullman, Esq.—smack your brainpan like someone just flipped your Common Sense switch to ON.
“I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners, I don’t like them myself. They are pretty bad. I grieve over them on long winter evenings.” Joel Bocko looks at the very different codes of honor that drive Hammett’s cynical Sam Spade and Chandler’s romantic Philip Marlowe—and praises Bogart (and the very different concerns for fidelity driving Huston and Hawks) for subtly capturing the distinctions.
“Douglass had an elongated kind of pretty face and an eager-to-please manner that could make him seem very brittle. Whenever he spoke, it always seemed that he was trying to force his voice down lower than it naturally was.” Dan Callahan on the odd, desperate appeal of Douglass Montgomery, too indecisive to settle on a stage name let alone a persona, but who was captivating nevertheless on more than one occasion.
Jim Emerson recalls the formation of his cinema-love, and how it emerged hand-in-glove with a need to explain and communicate the wonders, as if that would let him possess the ephemeral, in a beautifully illustrated entry at his blog.
“I like that my characters’ heads don’t bump against the top of the frame. I like to show the sky, the trees, the mountains, even the roofs of houses, so much so that I only feel at ease in rooms with high ceilings.” Ted Fendt translates a brief article from a 2001 Cahiers du cinéma wherein Eric Rohmer declares his utter fidelity to 1:33 and lays the “expressive poverty of the image today” at the stretched-out feet of scope.
Stumbling across some Joseph Pevney movies, and half-remembering some others (“Splendidly lurid…. He has a single tone to offer, one that stretches to fit all but is, nonetheless, alluringly negative.”), has Richard Brody contemplating the merits of “good bad directors” over “bad good directors.”
“‘The Third Generation is fascinating. It’s also worrying. I keep wondering how long Mr. Fassbinder can continue this remarkable pace.’ Not much longer.” At Moving Image Source J. Hoberman tracks the reception Fassbinder’s films received from the New York critics, managing to eulogize not just the director but also the ’70s as a time when movies mattered.
Admitting he’s only seen four of Olmi’s films, Jonathan Rosenbaum ponders what buried auteurist links (some fine thoughts on Olmi’s distinctive use of sound stand out in particular) might connect the director’s autobiographical, staunchly neorealist films and his conventionally cast literary adaptation Legend of the Holy Drinker.
“Her daydreams are all real…. Each one was dreamt by a woman we spoke to. But the character’s life with her husband–that is artificial. So the reality is unreal. That’s part of the mystery of Belle de Jour. It’s a very strange film.” Jean-Claude Carrière looks back on his collaboration with Buñuel—and others, briefly—with the Guardian’s Ryan Gilbey.
Science and art, ever uneasy bedfellows, meet in eye-pleasingly gradated fashion over at Vijay Pandurangan’s blog, where the engineer hunkered down, scanned the web for data from 1914 to 2012, wrote some computer code, and presents the best proof yet for what many have suspected: Movie posters are getting bluer as the years go by. Link via Mubi.
Fiction: “The surgeon with a cigarette dangling from his lips gives the escaped con a new face, and if there’s a knock on the door, the chances are that a man with a gun will enter the room and shoot first, ask questions later. What do you want me to do, count to three like they do in the movies?” Before settling in to a parody of academic publishing and Oulipian constraints, the first half of David Lehman’s amusing short story “No R” consists of an extended survey of noir, in that breathlessly condensed fashion the genre so often prompts from writers.
In what seems to be the start of a series, and an invaluable one at that, B. Kite and Kent Jones have put up a pair of fascinating articles at Film Comment’s blog on Robert Bresson (part one and part two). Each tries to clear away the clutter surrounding the director—Kite by praising his hard-boiled fascination with process; Jones asserting the primacy of his Christianity, however uncomfortable that makes some modern critics—and both are enraptured by the gleaming sensuality that radiates from such purportedly austere films, prompting affinities from Astaire to Huston to Webb.
“My ball-grabbing opening had young Balzac and his mother in a runaway stagecoach, hurtling along a treacherous road next to a cliff, the future novelist struggling with the reins of the startled horses and finally saving the day. Hell, Balzac was going to be a sexy adventure picture with plenty of action!” Also at Film Comment, their recent list of the best movies never made has been expanded to a two-part, still-growing rundown of projects abandoned over the years, not least a literary biopic à la Fuller (a through k here, l through z here).
Movie lists can be an easy, tossed-off way to drive hits to a website; and they can still be a labor of love, as proven by Film Comment above and by Popmatters’s latest addition to their collection of Essential Film Performances, last updated in 2010. Halfway through a promised 50 selections, and several choices already veer admirably from the beaten path: most such lists, arranged alphabetically, would hit the midpoint with Charles Laughton, but how many would be praising his turn in This Land Is Mine?
“But if you had kept on, if you’d loved it enough to keep on fighting and struggling, why that fight would show in your face today—in your eyes, in your whole being.” David Bordwell’s anatomy of film acting reaches the putative windows to the soul, and proves it’s not the eyes themselves that communicate, but the lids and brows. Which very, very few have wielded so expressively at Bette Davis.
“Where there’s revolution there’s confusion and when there’s confusion a man who knows what he wants stands a good chance of getting it.” Introducing a Film Forum retrospective, J. Hoberman offers a political reading of the Spaghetti Western, a genre inspired by Fanon and Gramsci as much as Ford, and traces its left-leaning sentiments to some key Hollywood westerns of the previous decade. (A brief note in the comments from Dave Kehr intriguingly suggests the lineage stretches back even further, to ’30s Bs.)
At Artforum, photographer Taryn Simon and Brian De Palma talk about their all-consuming passion: the perfect image, the focus necessary to achieve it, and the efforts of governments to censor it once it’s made. Yes, the pair met collaborating on Redacted; but don’t hold that against them, it’s a rather interesting discussion.
“In a zombie apocalypse (Night of the Living Dead) or a secret alien takeover (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), you fall asleep one evening and when you wake up in the morning the world has changed. Your relatives and your friends, your neighbors and the friendly folks who run the dry cleaners reveal themselves as the monsters they’ve always been, beneath the lie of civilization, of affection. They look the same, but now they want to destroy you, to consume you. And you have to keep running.” Colson Whitehead sums up the lessons learned—some silly, some transcendent—from an adolescence steeped in horror and sci-fi flicks.
“The newspaper mogul and moral crusader Martin Quigley called Greed ‘the filthiest, vilest, most putrid picture in the history of motion pictures.’ Stroheim retorted, ‘You Americans are living on baby-food.'” Prompted by a Film Forum retrospective, Imogen Smith assesses what one can of the mangled filmography of Erich von Stroheim, finding a moral absolutist who knew how to please a crowd, a hyper-realist less interested in realism than in truth, and an actor forced into a series of self-parodying roles who kept finding the dignity buried therein.
Among other fine links, Girish Shambu notes Here & Now, an intriguing new blog project from Michael Koresky. Picking a year, then three representative films, Koresky is attempting to parse out his own understanding of a given era by skidding backwards and forwards in time with the movies. (1948, for instance, offers the “marvelous images of Manhattan” from Portrait of Jennie, the “fixed and inescapable” frozen time of Rope, and the “desperate moment” captured in Germany Year Zero.) A nifty idea for cinema-as-time-machine, and one so far worth riding along with.
David Cairns uses two 1948 mermaid movies—the British Miranda and America’s Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid—to point out some differences between the two nations. Though it’s hardly fair to praise England for a healthier, more forthright eroticism when their nymph was played by Glynis Johns.
“Right now, I’m revolting against the conventions of movies. Who says a film has to cost a million dollars and be safe and innocuous enough to satisfy every 12-year-old in America?” Fifty years after her debut feature screened, fifteen years—sadly—after her death, Shirley Clarke and The Connection are making headlines again, courtesy of a restoration and return to theaters. Manohla Dargis offers a career retrospective, shot through with disbelief that such a game-changer remains a marginal figure in the histories. At Indiewire, Ann Hornaday and David Sterritt discuss how forward-thinking, and mischievous, the director truly was. Glenn Kenny takes exception to the glibness of that latter description in a fine appreciation. Milestone Films, for whom this is merely the first step in restoring many of Clarke’s films, also deserve a nod for their informative press kit, source of the opening quote and well worth a read. [this last link is a .pdf]
That last link above was spotted by David Hudson, as all of them are eventually. Hudson’s film roundups, which render efforts by others (yes, even Your Humble Aggregator) superfluous, have a new home at Fandor, which partnership is kicked off with a marvelous find: Trevor Stark’s history, from October Magazine, of Chris Marker and the SLON film cooperative’s partnership with workers from the Rhodiaceta textile factory in France. A revolutionary effort—admirable in its intentions, stymied by fractionalism and mistrust—that Marker, inevitably, viewed through the lens of the cinematic past, in this case Medvedkin’s ciné-trains. [.pdf]
“She knows the score…She’s someone who was abused. I could identify with her. I never could identify with any other white movie star. They were always white people doing white things.” Jacqueline Rose, in a beautifully written article that sniffs out more connections than most books on the subject, finds Marilyn Monroe the perfect embodiment of mid-century America—not the one we dreamt on movie screens, but the sometime cruel, confused one most pretended wasn’t happening.
Onscreen, Saba Sahar is “a kind of superhero, doing kung fu high-kicks in traditional dress, carrying victims to safety over her shoulder or riding a motorbike with no hands while firing a gun.” Behind the scenes, Afghanistan’s first woman director is far more impressive, as Jenny Kleeman’s profile attests.
“I always presume every movie I make is my last. My career is very smoothly in decline, each movie making half as much as the prior one.” Todd Solondz, interviewed at the Sarasota Film Festival by David Carr, on the business end of things, working with actors, and how he stole a key scene in Welcome to the Dollhouse from North by Northwest. Link via Movie City News.
Time Out didn’t fool around compiling their list of the 100 best horror films, polling a murderer’s row of 126 experts (the Cs alone offer up Roger Corman, Antonio Campos, Alice Cooper and Coffin Joe) and writing up the results with good observations and considerable brio. Which allows for some admirably off kilter selections, though lest you think this lineup differs radically from other such, the accompanying interview is still with William Friedkin. Noted by David Hudson.
Revisiting The Devil, Probably, Dennis Lim assigns the same uncompromising nihilism that ensured the film’s relative obscurity to the draw it has on its partisans. Link, one of several of interest, via Girish Shambu.
“She Who Is Called Feathers manifests the most dazzling changes in raiment.” David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson’s mock exegesis on Rio Bravo isn’t just a delightfully sustained gag, but a vessel for several profound interpretations of the film, including a deconstruction of some song lyrics that is, keeping with their conceit, revelatory.
The article above opens with a discussion of Christopher Nolan’s recent screening for fellow filmmakers of a sequence from The Dark Knight Rises, in an attempt to proselytize for the benefits of 35mm over video. Nolan discusses the subject, as well as his directing style (which, surprise, is highly pragmatic and orderly) with the DGA’s Jeffrey Ressner. Link via Movie City News.
“A few years ago, I thought I might open a chain of eulogy stores where you could go in off the street and, for twenty bucks, they’ll tell you all the nice things they’re going to say about you after you croak. But I don’t want people to say wonderful things about me when I can’t hear them. Tell me now, while I’m still here.” The multilingual journal La Furia Umana takes Jerry Lewis at his word, making him the subject of their latest issue. Plenty of good stuff here even for those of you currently rolling your eyes, from Sadarshan Ramani’s tracing Lewis (and Tahslin) as inspiration for King of Comedy‘s Rupert Pupkin; Steven Shaviro’s closely observed defense of Smorgasbord‘s (aka Cracking Up) “therapeutically purging” humor; and if you missed it the first time around (2003, in The Believer), B. Kite’s magisterial The Jerriad: A Clown Painting, one of the finest bits of writing ever done on Lewis, not least for its succinct delineation of an essential opposition: “Buster makes extraordinary feats look incredibly easy. Jerry makes mundane activities seem extremely difficult.”
The timing for such celebration, of course, is that The Kid just celebrated his 86th Birthday. Publicly, in fact, with Richard Belzer as MC and an audience Q&A that went pretty much the way you think it did. J. Hoberman fills in the details.