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Bruce Reid

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of March 24

Like so many other film sites, the new Senses of Cinema is in a Golden Anniversary mood, looking back at the films of 1967. Unlike most, it casts the net well beyond the expected subjects. There’s the expected pieces on Accident and PlayTime, but also Alexia Kannas on Branded to Kill (“Suzuki’s explosive treatment of the crime genre assumes you understand the formula’s conventions already: it dispenses with clear narrative continuity in favour of fragmentary impressions that are electrified by the film’s formal style”); Kat Ellinger on This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (“As he gnashes his teeth, delivering diatribe after diatribe—all strongly aligned with Nietzsche’s philosophy on The Superman–it becomes clear [Coffin Joe’s] anger stems from a hatred of the human race in its present form, regardless of gender”); and Anton Bitel and Emma Westwood on, respectively, student films by Lynch (“And so a filmmaker was born, and the sick men of this debut would lead inexorably—after an even more elaborate short, The Grandmother (1970)—to the sick baby in his extraordinary first feature Eraserhead (1977), revealed under its swaddling bandages to be all insides”) and Cronenberg (“According to Mr Silent Type, they need not be concerned about what goes down the drain but what will come up from it. Given Cronenberg’s forthcoming propensity for the viscerally morbid, this serves as possibly the first instance of ‘Cronenbergian’ horror….”). In addition, Dean Brandum crunches the numbers from Chicago exhibitions to get a sense of why British cinema couldn’t sustain its popular momentum after that annus mirabilis.

Elsewhere in the issue Jeremi Szaniawski traces the connections between Sukurov’s “power tetralogy” and Serra’s The Death of Louis XIV (“In both Sokurov’s tetralogy and Serra’s unofficial sequel, the details (costumes and set design) are highly realistic, and serious research has gone toward documenting the facts portrayed (famous sources are quoted in the dialogues, etc.). But both directors also take poetic license in creating a universe of their own, giving us at once a compelling historiographic account, a pure work of auteurist vision, and a playful historical recreation, with touches of bizarre humour and an ineffable absurdist spirit interspersed throughout.”), Andrea Grunert salutes Toshiro Mifune (“Deeply rooted in the tragic hero narrative, Mifune’s heroes lack the general positivism of their Hollywood counterparts such as John Wayne, James Stewart or Gary Cooper. As Isolde Standish demonstrates, the tragic hero narrative, a well-known cultural pattern, provided Japanese cinema with a figurative context by means of which war and defeat and subsequent feelings of powerlessness and guilt could be explained.”), and Ventura Pons, Julien Duvivier, and Dennis Hopper get added to the journal’s Great Directors.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of March 17

“St. Stephen’s is known as the Hill, both for its steep topography and its aspiration to be an enlightened beacon (as in the biblical “city on a hill”), and Malick thrived in a culture that emphasized spirituality, intellectualism, and rugged individualism. ‘When I first got there, it was made known that he was the local genius,’ [longtime friend Jim] Lynch told me. Malick had the highest standing in the class his junior and senior years, served in student leadership positions like dorm council, played forward on the basketball team, and, with Romberg, co-captained the football team, playing both offensive and defensive tackle, an accomplishment of which he’s still proud. (‘He says that in football he was ‘the sixty-minute man,’’ Linklater told me. ‘[Malick’s wife] Ecky says that the only time he boasts is when he talks about his high school athletic prowess.’)” Terrence Malick’s increased presence in the public eye is one of the main themes of Eric Benson’s profile—and even the steps portrayed in the article were outstripped recently by the director’s willingness to participate in a public Q&A at the SXSW festival—but another is how large a presence he’s always had in his favorite city of Austin—a town he loves not least for the boarding school that allowed his voracious intellectual curiosity to flourish without his father’s heavy-handed demands.

“While Stevens may have wanted to assure Paramount a hit, it also seems that he was tugged by some strong, if inchoate, emotional need to reshape the story. His take was starkly Manichean, and he stubbornly resisted objections from cast members and others that he was unbalancing the plot by creating the strongest possible contrast between the story’s two women. Where Sternberg cast a cold eye on Clyde Griffiths, Stevens loaded the dice in favor of the antihero he renamed George Eastman, making him a victim rather than a fumbling, would-be villain. Ultimately, the director’s emotional connection to the romance and the impassioned filmmaking it inspired give A Place in the Sun its power, outweighing the sometimes heavy-handed and over-determined storytelling.” Imogen Sara Smith considers two adaptations of Drier’s An American Tragedy, both of which manage a fidelity to aspects of the novel despite massive changes, Sternberg’s by observing all with an eye even more jaundiced than the writer’s, Stevens’s by surrendering his film to a love powerful enough to lead to murder.
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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.”)

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of March 3

High Noon had a lot going against it. Foreman had never written a Western. Zinnemann had never directed one. Foreman’s screenplay, inspired by a short story in Collier’s magazine called “The Tin Star,” by John W. Cunningham, had no beautiful vistas, no Indian raids, no cattle stampedes.” And then there were the H.U.A.C. hearings, writer Carl Foreman’s insistence on defying the committee, and producer Stanley Kramer’s more cautious, cover-my-bases approach. Glenn Frankel follows up the story of The Searchers with a look at another classic western of the period, and the politics surrounding it.

“Given this manic productivity, there might be an attendant assumption that more than a few of the films are fuzzy-headed experiments or sly conceptual jests in the style of those early movies from Warhol’s Factory, but all are masterful productions, moving at a stately pace and totally inimitable in their mixture of artifice, raw cruelty, and chill dispassion. He had a system nobody else possessed and taxed it to its limits. ‘There’s this strange compulsion to work which is certainly a strength and a weakness,’ as he admitted in an interview two months before his death, ‘I’d say I’m a manic depressive and I just try to be depressive as seldom as possible.’ His mother adduced a different kind of desperate energy at work: ‘Rainer,’ she said, ‘simply didn’t count on growing old.’” In an excerpt from This Young Monster, his biography of the director, Charlie Fox does a dazzling job connecting Fassbinder’s legendary output and equally prodigious intake—of drugs, acolytes, prostitutes, and scandals—with his innate rebelliousness and his queering of mainstream cinematic tropes. Via Criterion.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of February 24

We’ve been MIA for a couple of weeks due to various reasons and we’re a little late getting up today (due to the editor spending much of the day in bed fighting a cold) but we’re back now.

“When we settle into her hotel lobby, Heckerling—who has an encyclopedic knowledge of film history—tells me the story of the Jewish cinematographer Karl Freund. When he was living in Berlin in the 1920s, Freund shot two of the most visually iconic German films of all time, F.W. Murnau’s The Last Laugh and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. He then fled to the United States at the end of the decade, and he spent the final years of his career shooting I Love Lucy, among other projects, for which he designed an innovative lighting setup that some sitcoms still use to this day. Heckerling wonders, though, if someone as entrenched in the glamour of early film as Freund ever could have been satisfied working in the emerging medium of TV. ‘Who knows how he was feeling,’ she says. ‘But I look at IMDb and see what people started doing and where they ended, and you go, well, it’s a different game. And that’s how it’s happening now…. I don’t know,’ she says, speaking as much of herself as Freund. ‘You gotta, like, bob and weave and figure it out.’” Even being one of the most successful women directors of all time hasn’t shielded Amy Heckerling from the sexism of the industry, from producers rejecting scripts because they don’t believe women could have decades-long friendships to her lengthy stay in “director jail” following some ill-fated films. But as Lindsay Zoladz reports, she’s still out their bobbing and weaving.

“Director Michael Curtiz often clashed with Crawford during shooting, complaining that she insisted on glamorizing the woman whose daughter calls her a “common frump.” But the veneer of gentility and obsessive care for her looks that clung to the actress—born into miserable poverty as Lucille LeSueur—perfectly suits Mildred Pierce, who sells cakes and pies out of her kitchen to pay for her daughters’ piano and ballet lessons, even when her husband is out of work. True, Crawford is never quite convincing as an ordinary, downtrodden housewife, but could a woman who builds a chain restaurant empire, makes a fortune, and marries the scion of a fallen old-money clan, all out of desperation to please a snobbish daughter, ever be described as ordinary?” Imogen Sara Smith praises Mildred Pierce as a triumph for Crawford, and as one of several films upending the “false assumption” that noir was inherently misogynist, while the genre was always willing to root for women like Mildred who were ready and willing to work.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of January 27

“Men, and the occasional group of women, are consistently on the move in The Red and the White, and are just as frequently prevented a full and complete escape. Such a teasing freedom is part of the film’s caustically cruel wargame, and it is indicative of Jancsó’s stance on the futility and specious systematization of wartime methodology.” Jeremy Carr runs the gambit in his two articles for Mubi, praising the high-art antiwar formalism of Jancsó’s The Red and the White on the one hand, and the genre stylings of Jack Hill’s Spider Baby and Pit Stop on the other. (“On the surface, Spider Baby and Pit Stop appear to situate themselves comfortably within their rudimentary genre zones, primarily through keynote visuals. Spider Baby has its house of horrors infested with cobwebs, creepy critters, skeletons, shadow play, and the always menacing proliferation of taxidermy, while Pit Stop is a gearhead’s delight, with motor part close-ups and dynamic images of spinning tires, tightly-gripped steering wheels, and junkyard montages. But then, these films become something else. The people begin to matter, the eccentric stories become engaging, and the situations, though alien to the average audience, become so fully realized they achieve widespread application.”)

“This is the greatest yarn in journalism since Livingstone discovered Stanley.” “It’s the other way around.” “Oh, well, don’t get technical at a time like this.” David Bordwell gets highly, and entertainingly, technical on His Girl Friday, breaking down the behind-the-scenes matter of where the title comes from and the onscreen brilliance of Hawks’s deep focus and selective editing continuity.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of January 20

“The widespread tendency to unambiguously reject Jew Suss is surely rooted in an assumption that its surface antisemitism was unambiguously accepted by German cinemagoers, who supposedly took Faber at face value. But is audience response ever so crudely schematic? Although one might have expected Harlan to at least go through the motions of making Faber an identification figure, there is little onscreen evidence to suggest we should regard him as anything other than a tedious snob. Emotionally, the film is entirely committed to Süß, whose passion and energy provide a welcome relief from the dull conventionality of Faber’s romance with Dorothea. The camera frequently adopts Süß’s viewpoint, swooping forward to show us exactly what he is seeing as he spies on the Duke through a concealed hole.” As a rule, the effort involved in overthrowing a conventional wisdom should be proportional to the rock-solid unanimity with which the position is held. So Brad Stevens’s attempt to rehabilitate Veit Harlan’s Jew Suss and Opfergang are ultimately too roughly sketched and half-formed to blast apart the monolithic reception to the Nazi’s second favorite director; but as introductory salvos they make for provocative reading.

“To make the performance of a tedious, exacting, time-consuming task riveting to watch, it is only necessary for the activity to be illegal. This is the lesson of heist movies, in which rigorous attention to process and stripped-down purity of focus are wedded to crowd-pleasing elements of suspense, violence, and hard-boiled patter. The caper film typically takes the audience step by step through the planning and execution of a crime that is at once a military-style campaign, a mechanical puzzle, a work of art, and a job. The crowning irony, and the link to film noir, is the way the three P’s of a successful heist—precision, patience, professionalism—are inevitably swamped by messy human failings: greed, distrust, panic, sloppiness, spite.” Imogen Sara Smith surveys some of the great (and, given the article’s sponsor, appropriately Criterion-released) examples of noir’s near-cousin, the heist film. While Criterion’s most recent rediscovery, Jack Garfein’s ahead-of-its-time-for-1961-and-still-daring-today rape melodrama Something Wild, is saluted by Sheila O’Malley. (“[Schüfftan’s] street photography in the film captures New York in a way that had not been done before. There are times when the city seems frighteningly empty, an eerie landscape void of humanity. At others, the crush of crowds presses in so insistently that it’s a claustrophobic nightmare. Something Wild, among its many other merits, is a great New York movie, capturing the city—and its different neighborhoods—at a certain moment in time. The second half of the film, however, takes place almost entirely on the one set that was built—Mike’s basement apartment—and Schüfftan is equally brilliant at utilizing the cramped space, its bars of light and shadow, its one mostly empty room, its depressing little kitchen.”)

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of January 13

“Mark Twain said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.” The same goes for visual compositions. In this Front Page, the right shots take the place of the almost right shots—and the result is galvanizing. When the lens takes in a two-shot of opposing journalists instead of a wide shot of the entire company, or when a star reporter who’s “going New York” spits out his new address to his colleagues, then writes it on the wall in one unbroken move—instead of delivering his speech in a flat profile—it’s not just great “filmed theater,” it’s also a real live movie.” Criterion’s latest double-feature redeems the entire notion of remakes, while restoring luster to the never-really-seen original. Michael Sragow reports on how Milestone’s The Front Page is finally seen anew thanks to the recent discovery of the director’s preferred American release cut; while Farran Smith Nehme reminds us that His Girl Friday has never needed such building-up, regardless of how Hawks came by the idea of the gender flip. (“Remarriage plots are the most grown-up variation [in the screwball comedy toolkit], because these are the movies that say two people can be perfectly suited and still louse it up. Matching (or, if you will, marrying) this device to The Front Page, so famous for its bite and cynicism, resulted in the most bracingly adult screwball comedy (and romance) of them all. Hawks and Lederer found a fresh spin on the remarriage comedy, making the question not how the wandering spouse will find her way home but how she’ll get back to work.”)

“I suggested earlier that one has to cut through layers of superimposed cultural meaning to get down to what The Witch is. And this interlude in which I’ve described Eggers’ fastidious focus on craft might make it sound like I’m about to assert that The Witch is a tightly controlled aesthetic exercise rather than an ideological statement—a painting rather than a thesis paper. But I don’t think Eggers is a “formalist,” if we’re defining formalism as privileging the aesthetic over the thematic. He uses craft as a conduit for empathy. It’s telling that Eggers praises Bergman’s technique in the same breath as he praises Bergman’s compassion—and Sven Nyqvist’s. To call a cinematographer “compassionate” is to assert that the camera’s gaze can be loving, dignifying; it is to assert that the act of photographing people, and portraying them honestly and generously, carries moral weight.” For Lauren Wilford, once the inevitably over-simplified political and feminist readings of The Witch have faded away, the movie can be taken for what it is: a debut promising a great, idiosyncratic career.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of January 6

“Pagnol’s roots as a novelist and a playwright show in his intricate understanding of networks, of crosscurrents that whisk the characters away from seemingly nearby finish lines. He has an astonishing grasp of destiny, not as a sentimentally celestial branch of predetermination, but as a series of prisms fashioned by the push and pull between emotion and human-contrived social structures.” A restoration of Marcel Pagnol’s Marseilles Trilogy (for he is clearly the prime author, if only the director of the final installment) has Chuck Bowen marveling at the novelistic richness of the films; while Jeremy Carr is astonished by the lifelike, quotidian detail. (“[These] films take their time, making sure to supplant in the drama properly ample space for joking digressions and an informal laze-away-the-day realism. César’s boisterously high emotions are capricious, sometimes in the span of the same outburst, but that variability mirrors the gracefully juxtaposed outrage of the series in general; characters will get angry and breathlessly passionate, but the film itself—grounded, cautious, unflappable—refuses a wholly agitated tone.”

“He is the exile director: a Latin American who made most of his movies in English, French, or Portuguese—and whose aesthetic inhabits an absolute alien territory. His films are drifting, fantastical, introspective, melancholy, erudite, raucous—sometimes telling no story at all, sometimes telling too many. He made so many films, and they so consistently refuse to obey whatever formal rules we’ve come to expect from cinema, that they tend to develop into a blurry whole in your mind.” Adam Thirwell on Raúl Ruiz, of course, flush from a retrospective so partial it doesn’t even feature the movie it was named after, discussing how Ruiz’s narrative tangents and love of tableau vivant open cinema up to stories and visions unapproachable by more conventional means.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of Friday, December 30

The new issue of Lola has finished rolling out, with Laura Mulvey on Lola Montès (“In one remarkable scene at the centre of Lola Montès, Ophüls plainly lays out the film’s key theme, while his mise en scène and the characters’ choreography present, equally explicitly, a formal statement on cinema and on CinemaScope”), Yusef Sayed on Tony Conrad (“Across the … years, Conrad would continue to jam signals, change the tonic, boost the contrast wherever his own practices directed him—with a view to renegotiating the terms on which the individual, media and society might intersect.”), Susan Felleman on the artistic nods (to painters and sculptors, natch) in David Lynch (“Twin Peaks’ Venuses are part of a dreamscape…. Thus, these are images that can float free of material culture; if they can be said to ground their respective scenes at all, finally they ground them in fantasy.”), and Girish Shambu on the A to Z of James Gray (“E for Emotion:  A word that crops up frequently in interviews with Gray—and one that clearly carries an enormous personal weight for him”).

“Curled over a table in an upscale Mexico City restaurant recently, the 55-year-old director gets a little irritated when I laud the film’s imaginative prescience. ‘This thing was not imagination,’ he says, jabbing his index finger into the tablecloth. By Cuarón’s estimation, anyone surprised at the accuracy of his movie’s predictions was either uninformed or willfully ignorant about the way the world already was by 2006. ‘People were talking about those things, just not in the mainstream!’ he says.” As Children of Men reaches the decade mark—and the world apparently decides to celebrate by rushing to live up to its vision—Abraham Riesman looks back at its making with Alfonso Cuarón, who insists the film wasn’t prescient, but rather utterly contemporary.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of Friday, December 23

The new issue of cléo arrives, with a focus on firsts. The theme is treated variously by the contributors, from Erin Delaney’s appreciation of the assault on heteronormality in the Wachowski’s Bound, particularly in contrast with other lesbian-themed noirs of the period (“While Basic Instinct is preoccupied by the fear that sexual performance may indeed be just a performance, Bound ultimately finds a profound power in Violet’s ability to deceive men both socially and sexually”); Clara Miranda Scherffig’s placing of Heaven Knows What (based on the writings of its first-time actor Arielle Holmes) in the tradition of The Panic in Needle Park and Christiane F. (“In casting actual drug users and soliciting their input, the Safdies were able create a narrative that conveys the attractions of drug use and street life—since getting sober, Holmes has spoken about missing “the adventure” of living on the street[iv]—without romanticizing addiction and homelessness”); a look at the one-take Uruguayan horror film La Casa Muda and its American remake Silent House by Nadya Sarah Domingo (“As Laura’s terror and confusion intensifies, the camera seldom breaks from her perspective, and the viewer sees the events of the night through her experience as a survivor of abuse and other unforgivably violent acts. The single take here is intimate and uncomfortably so.”); and a roundtable on women’s sports movies (“I think the thing that is really striking about movies that feature women in sports is that the women are always “not like other girls.” […] [I love these] movies, but I hate how our heroine is defined by the fact that she hates traditionally “feminine” things.”).

“Weber doesn’t lavish a lot of close-ups on Pavlova, preferring instead to show the dancer-star in longer shots. This may have had to do with Pavlova’s age (she was in her 30s and not remotely girlish, at least here), but it also comes across as a shrewd directorial choice that serves both the story and the star.” Speaking of feminism and firsts, Manohla Dargis catches up with the restoration of 1916’s The Dumb Girl of Portici, and the other groundbreaking works of its director Lois Weber.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of Friday, December 16

“Chronicling the inception, rise, and demise of Augusto Pinochet’s 17-year dictatorship in the director’s home country, Pablo Larraín’s Chile Trilogy announced the emergence of a major auteur. In contrast to his countryman Patricio Guzmán’s mournful, poetic approach to the same territory, Larraín — who hails from a wealthy right-wing family once associated with the Pinochet regime — treats his country’s tragic history with an acidulous irony that turns his character studies into unnerving allegories of predation and submission.” For TIFF, James Quandt introduces Larrain’s Tony Manero, Post Mortem, and No, all vicious in their satire and despairing in their humanism, though each marked by a distinct visual style essential to their meaning.

“Huston’s is always an art of characterization. Plot for him is never more than the anecdotal circumstance that allows individuals to become fully visible. This applies as much to his first movie, 1941’s The Maltese Falcon, as to his last, 1987’s The Dead. Whatever their literary origins, movies as different as The Night of the Iguana, Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Kremlin Letter, Fat City, and Wise Blood are driven not by the suspense of their stories but by the palpable presence of the people caught up, often stumblingly, in those stories. Huston said once that his notion of what directing was about came from observing his father, the actor Walter Huston, developing a role in rehearsals. The visual power of his films comes in general not from effects of architecture or landscape—master though he was of such effects—but from the way he watches humans making their way, or failing to make their way, through those surroundings.” For Geoffrey O’Brien, that’s no less true of Huston’s heist classic The Asphalt Jungle—however much the robbery got remade in later picture, it’s the characters that keep us in suspense.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of Friday, November 18, plus Seattle Screens

“And do not, please do not, get him started on the people who approach him after the show with a Sling Blade DVD to sign. You just watched him perform his heart out for you and you are going to present him with a Sling Blade DVD? ‘Sure, I’ll sign your Sling Blade DVD,’ he says now. ‘And you can go home and fuck missionary like a metronome and never have an original creative idea in your life.’” Taffy Brodesser-Akner spends four days on tour with Billy Bob Thornton’s band, and with acidic comic precision captures the pretension and solipsism of the frustrated actor and swears-he’s-never-doing-that-again director, while making clear how under that remains a unique, untamable talent—and right under that, the survivor of horrible abuse trying to make a life for himself that works. Via Longform.

“Though Dreams received some appreciative reviews, many critics knocked it for what they saw as overt didacticism and stasis. They found the main character (played as a child by Toshihiko Nakano and Mitsunori Isaki and as an adult by Akira Terao), to be frustratingly passive, and the director’s themes—his fears about humanity and nature—to be mired in simplistic moralizing. Such criticisms, however, fail to appreciate the layers of meaning in Dreams, not to mention its stylistic strangeness. The film’s surfaces may be gentle; the experience of watching it is anything but.” Bilge Ebiri considers the autobiographical elements and experiments in stylization that make Dreams—not surprisingly—arguably Kurosawa’s most personal film.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of Friday, November 4

“Who makes movies like this? And why aren’t more movies like this? Like Tarantino’s direction itself—stylish, cool, tight, but also relaxed, taking its time, in profile close-up, to show Ordell thinking, or Robert De Niro’s hilarious but deadly Louis, trying to figure out the phone, or Bridget Fonda’s stoner beach bunny sweetness mixed with amusingly acerbic shit talking, or Michael Keaton’s ATF agent chomping his gum, a little bit of a douchebag but not a terrible guy. There’s also the fantastic soundtrack adding heft and emotion to actors already doing the same. All of this surrounding Pam Grier who is, in a word, complex.” Kim Morgan’s notes for Jackie Brown are almost as much a (deserved) love letter to Pam Grier as the film itself. Via David Hudson.

“We don’t see Rio in prison, but we see how it changes him. He starts out as a carefree young bandit who perches on the counter during a bank holdup eating bananas and playfully weighing the peels on a scale, then steals a woman’s ring and uses it in his attempted seduction of an aristocratic señorita. After his time in the pen, though he still sports rakish scarves and a dazzling scarlet poncho, he has become sullen and withdrawn, brooding obsessively on revenge. When he finds his old partner in the coast town of Monterey, now a respectable sheriff with a family, he mirrors Dad’s hypocrisy, pretending to accept his lie about what happened while scheming to destroy everything he has. “A man can’t stay angry for five years, can he?” Rio asks with a wickedly disingenuous grin. Ask Ethan Edwards in The Searchers about that.” Imogen Sara Smith’s essay on One-Eyed Jacks begins by tracing the lineage of films that married the shadowed terrors of noir with the sunbaked vistas and haunted men’s-men of the western.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of Friday, October 28

“In retrospect, the authentic set of the film looks mostly unreal, and in spite of minute attention to details, even by the 1920s standards, it is a décor which looks like décor. It has an MGM quality to it. The camera never makes any attempt to hide the fresh paint on the walls (in reality, when Joan of Arc was on trial the castle was already 200 years old and ravaged by wars and natural elements). In fact, the sets were painted pink to look grey in the final film—more Frank Tashlin than “transcendental.” But was Dreyer looking for any sort of realism at the first place?” A tour of the models and photos at the Danish Film Institute has Ehsan Khoshbakht considering anew the full-scale set built for Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, whose every carefully researched detail was radically fragmented, deconstructed, and “ignored” in the filming and editing.

The new issue of La Furia Umana contains a dossier on Jack Smith, including Marc Siegel’s career overviews of both the filmmaker (“While Smith found redeeming social and aesthetic qualities in all of these undervalued genre films that allowed visual spectacle and exotic settings to trump narrative and character development, he reserved a special place in his personal pantheon for the films of director Josef von Sternberg and actress María Montez.”) and one of his stars, Mario Montez (“At that point they were releasing Cleopatra [Joseph Mankiewicz, 1963] with Elizabeth Taylor. And there were these wide-screen posters in the subways in New York City. (I stole one. I used to steal posters and things like that.) I said, ‘Jack, why don’t we do a version of Cleopatra. And we’ll title it Cleo Pot Roast.’”). Andrea Lissoni argues his centrality in American underground art (“How could I summarize the essential traits of such a dense body of work, spanning film, theatre, performance, photography, visual art and life? It could all be wrapped up in one word: authenticity.”), while J. Hoberman recounts Smith’s live performances of the later years. (”At the performance [of Smith’s staging of Ibsen’s Ghosts] I attended, Regina was played by a large pink plush hippo suspended in a pulley-operated basket, Engstrand and Pastor Manders by a pair of toy monkeys, each placed on a little wagon, while Mrs. Alving had a human interpreter (NYU drama professor Ron Argelander) who sat inside a supermarket shopping cart, swathed in scarves and a thick, black veil.”) There’s an essential interview (by Renaldo Censi) with Jerry Tartaglia, the restorer of Smith’s film archive (“There never was any Normal Love movie in a complete form that he preordered. His life and his art were an ongoing process of mixture and reinvention. That is the point. The “restoration” was not a scientifically ordered procedure. It was a preservation of the works in the state that they were in at the time of his death.”), and some short, rancorous personal anecdotes from Ken Jacobs and David E. James that testify to the affronted paranoia almost inevitable when an artist as personal and rapturous as Smith is greeted mostly with censorship and harassment.

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