While most of us greeted Mo Yan’s Nobel Prize by promising ourselves to get around to reading him someday, Richard Brody’s already ferreted out a movie connection beyond Red Sorghum, translating excerpts from a 2005 Le Monde article by the writer on the emotional devastation with which Chinese audiences greeted the North Korean film The Flower Girl (written, of course, by Kim Jong-il), spurred by the national nightmare from which they were still emerging.
In his counterpart article to David Denby’s lamenting the death of movies (posted last week), David Thomson rejoins no, not at all. They’re only dying, and have been for decades now.
“And in the way Americans have of acting out their dreams, it came to be.” David Bordwell looks back at Cinerama, with an interesting discussion of the limitations three distorting screens forced upon filmmakers and how John Ford managed to effortlessly transcend them.
“I admire your courage, miss, er?” “Trench. Sylvia Trench. I admire your luck, Mr…?” “Bond. James Bond.” With the 007 movies now 50 years old, Vanity Fair’s David Kamp recounts the long route Ian Fleming’s novels took to get to that iconic introduction.
“It’s almost as if he has discovered a new part of himself: every good character has an evil double lurking out there, and vice-versa. After years of being corseted as Warner Brothers good lounge lizard…and unthreatening refugee roles, he can finally kick up his heels.” Mark Rappaport, finding more examples of evil twins and duplicitous doppelgangers in his career than you’d think, praises the postwar wildness of Paul Henreid.
Jon Jost has a follow-up post on the Mark Rappaport-Ray Carney contretemps, featuring a Q-and-A with Rappaport nailing down the timeline and other details. A further installment is promised (threatened, really) if Carney doesn’t come out of the woodwork soon; no one’s really holding their breath for that.
David Denby puts his inability to string together three sentences without sighing in Olympian disdain to good use for The New Republic, laying the hollow corpse of modern movie making at the feet of a Hollywood indifferent to any considerations beyond profits.
The snarky, superior laughter that marred a recent screening of From Russia with Love led Matt Zoller Seitz to consider the inability of audiences to reach out to movies from the past, and remember a despairing admonition from one of his film professors. The piece generated so much comment Seitz expanded and clarified some of his thoughts in a follow-up post.
“From Finis Terrae (1929) on, Epstein returned again and again to the subjects of lighthouses, storms, boats setting out, boats in peril, islanders waiting for boats to return. It’s a matter of life and death, but it’s also a matter of rhythm and composition, of drama that builds like weather or music.” Imogen Smith on two of Jean Epstein’s portraits of the sea.
“Thurber himself seemed a bit puzzled at the conclusion of the prevue. ‘Anybody catch the name of this picture?’ he asked.” With the upcoming Secret Life of Walter Mitty remake sure to get written up in some corners as dishonoring its classic predecessor, Maria Bustillos reminds you how very much Thurber fans, and Thurber himself, hated Danny Kaye’s version.
“We do not know how big the crowd is, and what opposition it is, until we get out of step with it.” Ben Sachs is out of step with most views of Vidor’s The Crowd; Sachs has it as sneeringly misanthropic, the Randian leanings that would culminate in The Fountainhead already in situ. Passed along by Adam Cook.
Also via Cook: Christopher Moloney’s FILMography tumblr, in which movie stills are held up over their shooting locations, is charmingly low-tech yet inspired in its layered now-and-then creations. As a bonus, Moloney’s the first I’ve seen to spot a commonality between The Dark Knight Rises and The 10th Victim.
A father who skidded between absent and demanding; half-siblings introduced out of nowhere; a disturbing propensity for accidents (involving lawn mowers, clothes wringers, automobiles) that maimed and disfigured. Ellen Copperfield recounts the childhood that formed Anjelica Huston.
Reviewing Kevin Hatch’s Looking for Bruce Conner for The Nation, Barry Schwabsky recounts the myriad artistic careers (painter, sculptor, filmmaker) and multiple feints at vanishing acts (one gallery showing was cancelled when he prankishly decided to accredit the work to his friend Dennis Hopper) that Conner pursued.
“The moral is: don’t write a comedy that makes an audience laugh.” At Letters of Note, Groucho apologizes to frequent correspondent Woody Allen for not having written in too long.
“I hope I can live up to your high standards.” The Retronaut presents a photo gallery of the auditions for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; Lazenby and four other ruggedly handsome Englishmen strapping on their PPKs, pinning Bond girls to the wall, and cocking eyebrows toward the camera.
“For the first time in 5,000 years the Sphinx opened her mouth, and said, ‘don’t expect too much. Don’t expect too much from a teacher.'” In 1973 Nicolas Ray holed up at the Chateau Marmont, ignoring illnesses and addictions to edit his final feature We Can’t Go Home Again. Ray’s assistant Andy Romanoff presents a series of photographs he’d thought lost, images of a sad, withered, but stubbornly abiding man in a lonely place.
By Sean Axmaker
Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master is the first Hollywood feature shot in 70mm in years. It opens in Seattle this weekend (a weeks after its New York and L.A. debut) in multiple theaters, but only Cinerama is showing the film on an honest-to-God 70mm film print. Making Seattle one of six cities on the country with a 70mm showing.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo famously was stamped with the new “Greatest Movie Ever Made” imprint in the new Sight and Sound critics poll, but in the director’s poll, the top film was Ozu Yasujiro’s Tokyo Story (number three on critic’s poll). Never seen it? Grand Illusion is screening a 35mm print of the film this week.
After New York’s legendary Kim’s Video sold their 55,000 titles to the mayor of Salemi, Italy, in a deal meant to keep the collection intact and available to the public, the movies seemed to have vanished off the face of the earth. Trying to hunt them down in a small town that had no idea what she was talking about, Karina Longworth discovered bureaucratic malaise, Mafia connections, and a surprisingly happy ending.
Professor Ray Carney’s career hasn’t been without controversy (ask Gena Rowlands), but his conflict with Mark Rappaport has the makings of a full-blown scandal. Briefly, Carney offered several years ago to store the filmmaker’s video masters at BU with “the understanding that he would return them to me upon request”; when Rappaport made that request, hoping to stream the movies, Carney refused to hand them over, ultimately demanding a $27,000 payout for their release. Jon Jost has Rappaport’s open letter, along with a chronicle of his own attempts to contact a now incommunicado Carney, and a pained condemnation of his “unconscionable” behavior.
Catherine Grant and Russell Pearce’s new film journal Sequence aims to grow in a modular style, with contributions designed in response to previous entries. However this turns out, they launch with a marvel: Steven Shaviro’s superb reading of von Trier’s Melancholia. The article is academic, yes (for Shaviro the film’s primary message is “profoundly anti-Nietzschean”), but I’m as anti-theory as it gets and my eyes only glazed over a paragraph or three along the way.
Michael Sicinski launches a series of articles dedicated to long movies—and how their reception changes now that we most often view them at home rather than rapt in a theater—with a look at Greenaway’sThe Falls. Via Criterion.
While considering the opening credits of Twin Peaks, Art of the Title’s Shaun Mir references an Anglo-Saxon myth to draw an intertextual link between the series and Blue Velvet that I’d never suspected.
“Framing Pictures,” the monthly discussion with film critics Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy, and Bruce Reid (sitting in for Robert Horton, currently on a fellowship in Europe), takes place next week Friday, September 14, at NWFF. The event begins at 5pm and is free. Jameson suggests some topics for discussion at Straight Shooting.
Grand Illusion is showing Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday as a special gala presentation for their annual fundraiser (they’re currently raising funds to upgrade their sound system) on Saturday, September 15. Shows at 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., from what they promise is a beautiful 35mm print. Get your tickets online here.
A new 4K (digital) restoration of Otto Preminger’s Bonjour Tristesse plays for a week at The Uptown.
“[The Wachowskis] once built an elevator shaft without any plans or previous experience, having projected unquestionable confidence to the people who’d hired them—not an unuseful talent in the film business.” Aleksandar Hemon’s profile of the siblings finds that courage and mutual respect in both their embrace of Lana’s transgender transition and their tenacity to pull off an adaptation of the seemingly unfilmable Cloud Atlas in the face of tenuous financing.
“You know what your fucking problem is, you think you’re better than people. Mister fucking clean, mister goddamn high and mighty. That’s what you think, but you grew up right here. Same rules that I did.” Contemplating the macho but decidedly unchiseled frame of Jeremy Renner and Channing Tatum’s Magic Mike (about “a man who yearns to work with his hands [who] is driven to exploit his body as stripper”), Anne Helen Petersen wonders if the working class hunk is making a resurgence. Passed along by The Cinetrix.
The cult Japanese site Midnight Eye returns after prolonged inactivity. Johannes Schönherr’s interview with producer (and Usual Suspects‘ villain namesake) Masao Kobayashi details some of the hurdles (not all one-sided) involved with producing films in North Korea; and in what’s advertised as a first installment, Tom Mes runs down the television incarnations of Lone Wolf and Cub—versions far better known in Japan, he claims, than the film series familiar to western audiences.
“His pencil mustache, slicked-back hair, and long, elegant nose gave him a distinguished profile not unlike Barrymore’s, and his perfect diction recalled Powell or Menjou. However, William excelled at playing heels whose polished appearance and smooth tones masked a cold heart or ruthless agenda.” The Movie Morlock’s Susan Doll praises Warren William, with emphasis on the pre-codes that let his nastiness rip.
“Henry, look at me! Look! You can’t see me or anyone as they are!” 22 years after its creation the X rating was retired and NC-17 took its place, to allow movies tackling adult themes a place in the mainstream without the market-damaging associations of pornography. Another 22 years along, Steven Zeitchik confirms, it hasn’t done a damned bit of good.
“Sometimes you have to lose yourself before you can find anything.” Sheila O’Malley, with her typical transportive empathy, marvels at the terrifying simplicity behind the acting choices of Ned Beatty and (especially) Bill McKinney in Deliverance‘s most notorious scene.
Reverse Shot’s Take Four series on the use of color adds several fine entries, including Adam Nayman’s appreciation for a sustained bit of desaturation in Twohy’s A Perfect Getaway and Caroline McKenzie tracking Cammell’s ominous use of blue throughout Demon Seed.
“There are fanciers of gold curls everywhere, in the theatre, on the streets and in the home, and one man’s innocence does not rid the world of guilt.” Michael Wood looks past his initial disappointment with Hitchcock’s The Lodger and finds a method and a horrible vision behind the seemingly creaky plot mechanics.
With Ruiz’s final film doing the festival circuit and his final script reaching the screen directed by his widow Valeria Sarmiento, Geoffrey Macnab recalls a director who fit in as comfortably at the University of Aberdeen as he did his every other port of call. Melvil Poupaud’s anecdote about one of Ruiz’s on-set traditions speaks marvelously to his uniqueness, and his sense of humor.
“Maybe the most bracingly masochistic comedy possible. Take ten parts pure unrequited love, let fester in heart for two decades, then shatter. The laughs may have a strange aftertaste.” The director’s poll will be put up by Sight & Sound next week; Kim Morgan offers a sneak peek, with commentary, at Guy Maddin’s selections. Not all of which are summarized so, let’s say idiosyncratically, as Letter from an Unknown Woman.
For Michael Sragow, part of Jaws‘s “unassuming greatness” is that it plays like Preston Sturges.
Levine and Meckler admit right up front their idea is borrowed from Nicolas Rombe’s similar breakdown of Blue Velvet for Filmmaker Magazine. This was mentioned back when the project started and seemed like it could go on forever; but in fact Rombe will be finishing up in just a couple of weeks, so if you’d missed it before, why not catch up before the home stretch?
Drew McIntosh has been finding much to savor in some late, generally dismissed Walsh. For instance, The King and Four Queens, “a very weird and kind of sad movie masquerading as an extremely jovial one.”
“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.