“At times, he spontaneously pulls over to the side of the road for a good five or ten minutes to finish a train of thought—about life or death or demons or fears or his favorite soccer team in Argentina, San Lorenzo. About the time in the wilds of New Zealand when he skinned, cooked, and ate his own roadkill. (“It was there.”) […] We could’ve gone straight to Watertown and stayed there, and we could’ve gotten there a hell of a lot faster, but Mortensen, his two hands resting gently on the bottom of the steering wheel, doesn’t like to drive too fast. He doesn’t want to miss a thing.” Viggo Mortensen does everything his own way, even the celebrity profile, which has him picking up writer Lisa DePaulo at the airport near the small town where he’s sitting deathwatch over his ailing father.
The journal Awotele, which profiles underseen African cinema from the perspective of underheard African critics, has a new issue on the challenges and rewards of multi-lingual cinema and new filmmaking technologies. Among the highlights (check the issue’s table of contents to learn what page to flip to), Martial E. Nguea considers “the reality of a certain conflict between the popular appreciation of filmmaker and professional distinctions awarded in different countries by different juries”; Michel Amarger recounts the multifaceted career (fictions, documentaries, gallery installations) of the “ambitious utopian” Jean-Pierre Bekolo Obama (“It is easy to believe him shen, from behind his round glasses, he defies his critics saying: ‘if it’s not mission impossible, I’m not interested.”); Claire Diao explores the hazards of a distribution system so indebted to French culture (“How can anyone fall so quickly from the spotlight and into the shadows…. It doubtless has much to do with the Francophone system of promoting African filmmakers.); Oumy Régina Sambou takes a more critical looks at the promise of new technologies than some of her fellow writers (“the new modes of distribution have led to changes in filmmaking and film distribution, but not to the point of democratizing their fabrication, and especially not their quality”); and Domoina Ratsara offers a specific cautionary tale looking at how the rise of distribution of Madagascar television has led to the proliferation of ads interrupting even cinematic endeavors. Via Tambay Obenson, himself via David Hudson.
“Before I knew anything about Polanski, Repulsion was already important to me as a film that represented certain uncomfortable aspects of being female, and learning that its creator is a rapist only served to make it even more emblematic of that experience. Thanks to its context, Repulsion is more than a movie to me; but, as the movie it is, it’s also more than a painful emblem of the horror of being female.” Elsie Moore kicks off her intriguing read on Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy”—Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Tenant—addressing “the elephant in the room” not for shock value or to shore up her p.c. cred, but as the first and most troubling of the many paradoxes of identification and subjectivity that give these films their disturbing elusiveness. Staying at Bright Lights, Mervyn Nicholson takes a semiotic tour—riveting and overreaching by turn—through the coincidences that link The 39 Steps, North by North West [sic throughout, though at least the photo captioner gets it right], and Blow-Up. (“The coincidence is the point where what is in front of the screen of appearances coincides with what is inside that screen, behind it, hidden from view. It is the point at which we glimpse what is behind the screen of appearances. A pattern becomes visible that was invisible before: the pattern was in that picture, yet not visible, until now. The coincidence signifies a shift in perception. It is a metaphor for insight. It is insight that dispels an illusion, and it requires a coincidence to make this shift happen.”)
“The portrait is the thing. The flesh-and-blood woman is a complication, a set of contradictions that threaten to overturn the “Lauras” presented or created by her mentor, her lovers, her rivals. But that painting that rests above the mantelpiece, a swoony, romantic provocation—it offers no argument. Its power is not only the movie’s thematic fixation but also played out in the film’s creation, reception, and enduring legacy. The famous still of detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews), collapsed in a chair in front of the portrait, half-drunk and mesmerized, is the stand-in for scores of viewers of the film, haunted by its power to reflect back our own dreams and desires—for a past or imagined love, for the return of something lost, for anything at all.” Megan Abbot is terrific on the ferocious subversions of Preminger’s Laura, the way it urges us to fill in the negative space of its presumptive dead heroine with not just necrophilia but “our own longings, our own subversive desires.”
“Never call Griffith quaint, either. If he was quaint at all, he was far-sightedly quaint. The naive excitement of grasping that all this fakery is genuine—meaning the way “How’d they do that?” used to play leapfrog in viewers’ minds with “Wow, they must’ve actually done that”—stayed part of the appeal of Hollywood spectaculars up through the late 1960s.” Starting with Griffith’s Babylon, with stops along the way for Tara, Metropolis, James Bond’s globetrotting, DeMille’s (and Las Vegas’s) Egypt and Harold Lloyd hanging from a skyscraper, Tom Carson takes a witty, oddly moving tour through Hollywood’s many fake worlds, and how they made so much more vivid an impression than the real one. Via David Hudson.
“Its hero might stumble over his words, but he does so in a Jimmy Stewart-like fashion, so full of gee-whiz energy that he sometime forgets himself before zooming off to the next crazy coincidence. The film is full of daytime shots and bright light, of reflections off the cars and planes, checkerboard dance floors, sequined dresses and metal helmets that make up its mise-en-scène. Most crucially, the movie’s spirit is deeply optimistic—it uses its satire not just to poke fun at old-time serial clichés, but to cast a light back on the present, and remind us of what we might have lost in the 53 intervening years.” Now that Marvel movies have proven the economic viability of upbeat superhero flicks, Brian Doan looks back to notorious flop The Rocketeer as a bright charmer ahead of its time.
Picking some highlights from MOMA’s ongoing retrospective of Universal pictures from the ’30s, Imogen Sara Smith looks at three films apiece from a pair of directors deserving greater attention. The cinematic flair of Edward L. Cahn enlivens three explosive portraits of society collapsing: Law and Order, Afraid to Talk, and Laughter in Hell. (“In these films it’s as though people are so consumed by the fight to survive, or by the determination to forget their worries, that they have no time for private emotions. Society itself is so anxious, so hysterical, so compulsively bitter, that it takes the place of individual psyches. Everyone is part of one big nervous breakdown.”) While Seed, Back Street, and Only Yesterday have Smith marveling at John M. Stahl’s invisible manipulation of emotions and his facility with shifting empathy among his characters. The female ones at least; John Boles remains mostly a dull cad in all three. (“The three rarely screened Stahl films form a set of variations on a theme, female devotion and self-sacrifice. They treat this theme with unusual nuance and ambivalence, both accepting the great loves—whether maternal or romantic—to which the women give their lives, and looking with a cool and even cynical eye at how little they get in return.”
“What’s established in a film like Au Hasard Balthazar is a teeter-totter rhythm, an oscillation between the film you’re watching and another taking place over your shoulder, sliding into view with a lithe camera movement, or a cut that elides the passage of time. In short, what often comes across in reviews as stiff, boring art movies are exactly the opposite: not empty but teeming, not cold but visceral, not dry but saturated.“ With Au Hasard Balthazar hitting 50, Jamie N. Christley praises how Bresson’s total command keeps slipping the film’s message, and even its ostensible ever-enduring protagonist, out of our grasp. And Leigh Singer compiles a gallery of Bresson’s key techniques, screenshots of potent dissolves, blank faces, and so many expressive hands. Via Movie City News.
With a new collection of their writings and MOMA mounting the first complete retrospective of their films, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet are the subjects of a pair of pieces at Artforum. P. Adams Sitney offers the overview on a career that never compromised or offered an easy way in for the viewer. (“One sometimes gets the impression that they were forever challenging themselves to find texts that made complacent resolutions less and less amenable, and then to offer them up to cinema so nakedly that their skeletal structure could not be eluded.”) And James Quandt tries to fitSicilia! in with the couple’s musical films. (“Aside from a folk song and the Beethoven string quartet that introduces and ends Sicilia!, the film avoids nondiegetic music, but it is itself structured as a chamber work in four movements, and the idiosyncratic delivery of the baroque dialogue often hits the ear as discordant ariettas and semi-recitatives.”) Film Comment, meanwhile, offers an excerpt from the aforementioned collection, a letter from Huillet to Nuances magazine on the impossibility of viewing artpieces at museums hanging them up behind occluded glass. (“It was horrible: each painting was now under armored glass, and often damaged in the process (new little cracks, etc.). When we protested this madness, saying that it’s better to risk a—rare—act of madness than to make the paintings invisible—reflections, etc.—and surely damage them, we were told, grudgingly: It was a requirement of the insurance….”)
“Canon City is an art film made on the terms of an unpretentious hardboiled procedural—a breathless true-crime piece in which Hadley’s delivery of the word “dreaming” lands perfectly on a dissolve from a real cell block to a prison cell set.” Ignatiy Vishnevetsky plunks for Crane Wilbur’s prison-escape film, which, with the invaluable help of John Alton, straddles blunt docudrama and the heightened use of “spaces that double as metaphors,” as one of Poverty Row’s great triumphs.
“Maybe even more than MGM anticipated, it was perfect Depression-era escapism: one of those thirties movies that take place in drawing rooms where the ceilings are about twenty feet high, where men are always in formal wear and women, even in the afternoon, wear floor-length lounge gowns and speak in that bright, quick, affected accent that no real American ever used.” Charles McGrath recounts how Van Dyke’s brisk engagement, a script that expanded upon Hammett’s witticisms, and impeccable casting (including a change in Asta’s breed) made The Thin Man less a whodunit than a classic screwball comedy of marriage draped around a murder mystery.
David Bordwell’s two most recent blog entries celebrate a pair of filmmakers who take their undeniable influences and transform them into something so distinct and personal they seem utterly original. By now it’s accepted that Citizen Kane didn’t innovate so much as synthesize with an until then unreached purpose and power; Bordwell does a fine job showing the precedents for Kane’s low-angled, long-take compositions and zig-zagging flashback structure even as it transcends them all. (“Most filmmakers who used these depth schemas inserted them into passages of orthodox scene dissection. The depth shots might establish a locale, or they might be inserted into a series of analytical cuts, or they might be part of a shot/ reverse shot pattern. But in Kane you’re forced to notice the Baroque plunge of space because the lengthy take rubs your nose in the flashy composition.”) While reacquainting himself with the movies of Terence Davies has him rapturous over the director’s unique amalgam of autobiographical detail and Hollywood memories. (“Davies understood, as so many postwar critics of mass culture didn’t, that Hollywood, for all its formulas and conventions, captured genuine feeling; indeed, those very formulas and conventions released that feeling. In Davies’ hands, however, the feelings gain a rougher texture. In tales of patriarchal power and everyday betrayals, echoes of the yearning of Judy Garland and the vibrato of Doris Day seem distant and distorted. Davies finds the evanescence hidden in Yankee exuberance, and he takes it very personally.”)
“Dix constantly views life as though it were a script he was writing—one wonders if he notices the echoes of Althea Bruce’s silly plot in his own relationship with Laurel—and Ray uses the character’s shoptalk as a scalpel with which to probe the gap between movies and reality. Fixing breakfast for Laurel after they have become lovers, Dix explains that “a good love scene should be about something else besides love.” To illustrate this, he uses the scene at hand: he clumsily hacking away at a grapefruit, she half-asleep in her negligee: “Anyone looking at us could tell we were in love,” he says, but doubt edges into his voice. Laurel is not dopey with sleep, she’s paralyzed by fear of this unpredictably violent man. The scene is indeed about something besides love: it’s about love strained to the breaking point by lack of trust.” Imogen Sara Smith is as perceptive and persuasive as ever tackling that darkest, most downbeat of noirs, In a Lonely Place.
In the age of video streaming, Ocular Rift, and Sean Parker’s proposed day-and-date VOD service Screening Room, what remains about movies that demands theater attendance? A. O. Scot and Manohla Dargis hash out the latest death notice the movies have received, Scott playing up the cautiously optimistic angle (Without wanting to play the devil’s advocate—or Sean Parker’s—I’m not entirely sure that streaming is necessarily an existential threat to moviegoing…. And also, not to be completely heretical, what’s so sacred about “the darkened cinema” anyway?”), Dargis the, I’m going to say realistic, viewpoint that industries being what they are, little good will come from letting them have their way (“It’s nice that we can pay five bucks to stream a crummy studio movie that looked too awful to leave the house for, I suppose, but I had superior, more interesting choices at my local video stores than I do with Netflix streaming (no Douglas Sirk!) or even Amazon. If you want to stream nonindustrial product, you often need to do time-consuming digging online”).
“Shortly after her death in 1977, Crawford’s adopted daughter Christina published “Mommie Dearest,” a memoir detailing her mother’s alleged abusive nature, alcoholism and neuroses. Katharine Hepburn, Myrna Loy, her first husband Douglas Fairbanks Jr., her two youngest daughters and others close to her denounced the book. But with Frank Perry’s 1981 film adaptation, featuring Faye Dunaway’s shrieking, hollow, larger-than-life performance, the damage was done. In just 129 minutes the film unravels what Crawford had been building for herself since first gracing the screen in the late 1920s. It turned the image of Crawford in the cultural imagination into a monstress, a soulless camp icon to be mocked and reviled but rarely respected, and a cautionary tale of what happens when women put their careers first.” Angelica Jade Bastien sets the record right; whatever the veracity of Christina Crawford’s charges, her mother should be remembered first as a daring, surprisingly mercurial actor who only ever let her staunch professionalism tamp down an energy that could overwhelm any of her co-stars.
‘Tis the season, apparently, for new issues of film journals, which are arriving at a fast clip. The new issue of Alphaville, focused on women and media in the twenty-first century, Gina Marchetti considers the portrait of Hong Kong prostitution in a pair of collaborations between director Herman Yau and writer Elsa Chan (“Chan and Yau, in fact, gravitate toward the salacious with an eye toward social change and political critique”); Fiona Handyside finds unacknowledged trilogies on the themes of girls coming of age in the first three films apiece by Sofia Coppola and Mia Hansen-Løve (“Coppola and Hansen-Løve’s respective decisions to envisage their explorations of girls growing up as trilogies enable the films to take their time exploring the subtleties of girlhood, as the directors have the luxury of cinematic duration”); and Amy Heckerling’s two most recent, neglected films get sympathetic readings from Frances Smith (“Both I Could Never Be Your Woman and Vamps retain a playful ambivalence towards the two primary attitudes to the ageing process, namely acceptance and manipulation”). Among other highlights in the issue, Fiona Clancy analyses Sylvia Martel’s use of sound and image to portray a “crisis [that] is less one of biological motherhood than of its spirit—of motherliness”) and Beti Ellerson reports on the various options African women have before them to make themselves presences on screens that have heretofore failed to represent them (“the digital age is indeed a turning point for African women working in film and screen media”).
The new Offscreen is devoted to Theo Angelopoulos, with fittingly long articles analyzing the director’s tracking shots as moral choices from Elie Castiel (“The Angelopoulosian long take, then, encompasses the idea of integration, logical assembly of many visual and narrative elements in a single shot; a unity of thought. Is this choice not ideological?”) and as time machines opening up history for Olivier Bélanger (“The long take allows him to extract “pure time” from his film, and to return the past to the present”). Alain Chouinard considers howUlysses’ Gaze avoids the pitfalls of stereotypical attitudes usually imposed upon its Balkan subjects (“the film’s very specific representation of historical cyclicality, and its original presentation of involuntary memory re-historicize the Balkans by foregrounding an indivisible conception of temporality and historical continuity”); Donato Totaro has more measured praise for Angelopoulos while considering The Suspended Step of the Stork (“In any case, Angelopolous belongs to a once rare breed of film stylists that has grown considerably over the last thirty or so years: directors whose pacing and sense of movement is appreciably slower than most (and in some cases, slower than life as we feel it)”); and Betty Kaklamanidou dusts off an interview conducted with Willem Dafoe after working with Angelopoulos on The Dust of Time (“I love this thing about the little story next to the big story. When I watch his movies I experience things in a profound way. People walking through mud, people in the most simple chaste embrace, people running for a train, things like that… boats coming to you very slowly. You experience those in a way that you take it on personally because you get in the context and you identify with how these people are dealing with the big history and how they’re influenced by it. And that’s exhilarating to me. It philosophically engages me in a kind of dialogue about how strange and beautiful life is.”)
The new issue of Comparative Cinema explores the engagement of cinematic auteurs with television, wondering whether the results work as cinema, TV, or some new beast. A selection of historical documents and interview excerpts sets the scene, with figures such as Rossellini plugging for the pedagogical advantages of the younger medium, Chris Marker tracing the spiritual origins of television back to Medvedkin (“shoot during the day, print and edit at night, show it the next day to the people you filmed”), Fassbinder admitting that Berlin Alexanderplatz would have been completely different as a movie, where its audience would be more primed for a challenge, and Peter Watkins complaining the medium’s industrial structure automatically forecloses any dissenting voice.
Past the historical material, Jordi Balló and Xavier Pérez run through ten key artists who tackled serial television production in their varied ways (“The hidden objective is to use the small screen as a platform to radicalize one of the central strategies of Hitchcockian art: the control of the audience”); Surveying the television work of Renoir, Pialat, Lynch, and Welles, Fran Benavente and Glòria Salvadó argue for a serialized utopia that was never realized, where the “filmmaker as a television author sees a possible experimentation space and rehearses a way of adapting his writing on the basis of the specific strengths of the medium”; Carolina Sourdis looks at Godard and Miéville’s Sonimage TV productions, finding in them Godard’s use of the medium as a “vehicle and a base to question aspects of cinema from its margins: of cinema transformed into the audiovisual”; and the unique pop energy of Spanish director Iván Zulueta—perfectly suited to television, exported to cinema when his series were cancelled—are explored by Miguel Fernández Labayen (“Zulueta used television in his films during the 70’s in two main ways: as a social and aesthetic escape mechanism, but also as an object capable of abducting the mind and the boy [sic] of anyone watching in front of the screen”). Then much of the preceding theorizing gets scuttled by the optimistic pragmatism of Lodge Kerrigan, interviewed by Gerard Casau and Manuel Garin on making the transition from film to television directing (“And I think the trick is: can you structure something that works in the thirty-minute or the hour but then can also point to one continuous piece? So I think of it just more like another dimension to the problem or to the puzzle. If you can solve that, which is slightly more complicated than just writing a feature, or just writing a TV show, if you can actually solve that so it can play as an episode but also play all together, then I think it’s completely free”).
“The deaths of her brother and close friend in her twenties, of course, had a profound effect on Kusama—including how she perceived her studio flops staining her career. The Invitation resonated with how she dealt with all those losses. ‘The trauma around my creative endeavors and around this sense of self collapsing…without perspective or enlightenment, failure can be a kind of death,’ she said, with a laugh. ‘I’ve had both death and perceived death in relative abundance.’” After she was the success story of Sundance 2000, Karyn Kusama’s career took a familiar route: a big-budget effort doomed to failure by studio interference, and a smaller film stabbed in the back by marketers who didn’t know what they had on their hands; now redemption with a well-acclaimed, independent thriller. And, as Adam B. Vary’s profile makes clear, the added black mark of being a woman in the industry meant the gaps between these stumbling blocks lasted as long as other directors take to complete the entire arc. Via Matt Fagerholm.
“The bare bones of the plot are so simple that L’Herbier can proceed at a remarkably leisurely pace through individual decors. “ Kristin Thompson takes her own “leisurely stroll” through L’Herbier’s L’Inhumaine, which she admits is not much for story but its multiple contributing designers make for a fascinating look at “the world of arts and crafts in 1920s Paris.”
The Hollywood Reporter this week features the behind-the-scenes stories of two of the ’70s most iconic films, however little else they have in common. Gregg Kilday compiles an oral history on the making of Taxi Driver, from Paul Schrader’s sleepless, haunted nights of inspiration to a box office that wound up surprising the studio so much Scorsese won a bet. (“Bob called me and said, ‘Well, in the script, it says that he pulls out the gun, looks at himself, talks to himself. Well, what’s he saying?’ I said, ‘He’s just a kid in front of a mirror playing with his gun. Just make up stuff.’ I figured whatever he made up would be better than writing those kind of lines.”) While Stephen Galloway gets the story of Superman straight from the horse’s—i.e., Richard Donner’s—mouth. (“I had to go back to London, and I flew Chris back, which was so far from his life. When he told his father, who was a professor at Princeton, that he was doing Superman, his father said, ‘Man and Superman?’ […] That’s the world Chris came from. He came over, we did this test in costume, the one I had in L.A. He was just wonderful as Clark Kent and as Superman. He really got the idea of a terribly pained individual living a dual life.”)
“What you will not find [in Tay Garnett’s autobiography] is anything about the film’s dazzling tracking shots through the dives of waterfront Havana, nor the swooping crane shots in the Thalia clip joint where most action takes place, nor any other quality that makes Her Man such an exhilarating discovery. Garnett seems to realize the movie is good, but not that it is “a forgotten masterwork,” as the Museum of Modern Art billed its pristine restoration during a recent run. Adjunct curator Dave Kehr is not given to hyperbole, so when he describes a film that way, you’d best find time to see it.” Farran Smith Nehme is appropriately bowled over by her discovery of Garnett’s “brawling, sleazy pre-Code… [that is] more romantic than it may seem.”
“But Ustinov’s Billy Budd is a hardy sea story, not a religious parable. It’s unusual among literary adaptations for the way it strengthens rather than diffuses the poetry and moral arguments of the original with heaps of invented action and fresh dialogue (some, like Claggart’s speech above, taken from Louis O. Coxe and Robert Chapman’s 1951 play). It builds to a heartrending climax that also functions as a provocation. Billy Budd is a prime example of the kind of film that gets audiences arguing on their way home from the theater.” Michael Sragow praises Ustinov’s Melville adaptation as a triumph of intelligent, daring filmmaking—and of casting, even beyond the perfection of Terence Stamp and Robert Ryan.
“For me, as a teenage movie lover, it was transformative. It captured the sensory feel of Northern Ireland in the 1980s—languorous, then panicked. Hollywood thrillers don’t do torpid. In Angel, our world wasn’t only a problem, it was a place. It wasn’t only using Northern Ireland for generic ends; it was making art out of it. Often great art is made out of anger, but once adrenaline was removed from the portrayals of Belfast on screen, a world opened up.” Mark Cousins remembers growing up with the portrayals of Belfast on screen—from pumped-up Hollywood features that always got it wrong to the small, observant miracles from Reed, Clarke, O’Connor, Jordan, and others that managed to get so much right.
“But would you like to know how much time I’ve spent explaining to an innumerable number of whites why Chameleon Street has been banned from global broadcast television? That one I can answer: 25 years. A full quarter of a century. And if you want to know the reason why it’s been banned and blacklisted from being broadcast in every country on the planet since 1994, don’t ask Werner Herzog, Quentin Tarantino, or Bill O’Reilly. Ask me. Or ask my Mom. Or ask Evelyn Keyes.” Wendell B. Harris, Jr., recounts the silencing of his debut, Chameleon Street, while treasuring the real impact it has made and lives it’s touched—Gone with the Wind star Keyes among them. Via David Hudson.
“Louise Brooks worked with Menjou in this period and learned a valuable lesson about screen acting versus screen presence, which she always trusted to. ‘Look at Adolphe Menjou,’ Brooks said. ‘He never felt anything. He used to say, “Now I do Lubitsch number one.” “Now I do Lubitsch number two.” And that’s exactly what he did. You felt nothing, working with him, and yet see him on the screen—and he was a great actor.’ A great actor? Maybe not, but an essential screen player of his period, and ideally suited for rotters, dandies, and unsympathetic seducers.” The nastiness of Adolphe Menjou’s HUAC testimony is all over his performances from the ’20s and ’30s—and they’re better for it, Dan Callahan argues.
“Until recently, vain actors were limited to makeup, flattering lighting, corsets, plastic surgery, Botox, crash diets, personal trainers, steroids, muscle suits, color grading, lenses and filters, body doubles, and spray-on abs. Now they also have software: Zits vanish with a click. Wrinkles disappear. Abs harden. Jawlines sharpen. Cellulite vanishes. ‘In postproduction, if they want your nose to be a little smaller or a little bigger, that’s up to them, man,’ says actor Michael Shannon. ‘Some attractive person gets out of a swimming pool dripping wet? Nobody wants to see how they really look: It’s fantasy.'” Hollywood’s always been about putting a prettier face on reality, but the new era of digital make-up, as Logan Hill reports, is rapidly approaching the level of ontological crisis.
“Given that the business already has a small, niche consumer base, it becomes even trickier predicting what the niches within the niches might buy. Over the years, [Amy] Heller has noticed that films made by women have definitely resulted in less-than-enthusiastic reactions. When Milestone puts out a film by a woman, ‘we’re definitely swimming upstream,’ she says. ‘Misogyny is not limited to production or distribution,’ Heller explains. ‘But let me tell you, if you want to find a film that won’t make money, you should go after a film made by a woman. People won’t book them. People won’t buy them.'” Surveying the home video market, Tina Hassannia finds that Criterion might deserve its pride of place, but when it comes to promoting films made by women, some other companies deserve mention and a place in the canon. Criterion’s Peter Becker was given space to respond.
“I think maybe the smaller budget allows me to feel a little more relaxed and a little more willing to blow days and make stupid decisions. Usually the stupid decisions are some of the best things I do. Although I’ve gotten so immune to the process that now, even on Godfather II which is costing a lot, I’ll do something even though it may be crazy and jeopardize a lot of money. So I think that, in a sense, the two poles of my so-called career are coming closer together, and what I hope to do in the future is make only personal films—but in such a way that even my big projects will be what you would call personal films.” Cinephilia & Beyond has tracked down a terrific document, a 1974 interview from Filmmakers Newsletter where Francis Coppola discusses The Conversation with Brian De Palma—who, in addition to making some remarkably observant comments on Harry Caul’s character, spends his role as interviewer plugging for the influence of Hitchcock that Coppola mostly denies. Via Mubi.
“But what happens as an actor is that you’re really trained to listen and to be open and have empathy. It’s such a natural consequence that you end up being more political. You can empathize with the mother whose kids are going to be sent to Iraq, or you can emphasize with the mother who is losing their child to a disease. How could you not then be active? So you’re automatically drawn to that aspect in the rest of your life. Most of the people I really admire bring that attitude toward their life.” Interviewed by George Saunders, Susan Sarandon talks about growing up Catholic, her almost accidental, completely untrained beginnings as an actor, and the need to trust your collaborators.
“We were different in age, but we had something in common. We were women, we had been affected by the fact that the film world was a man’s world in Europe as much as here, actually. Now, I would have never gone to Hollywood. I was not interested in the film industry, frankly. The experimental film scene was very much misogynistic as well…. It was coming from the general environment. I think both Chantal and I shared that. We wanted to find a language, which was the language of women”. Staying at Interview, Colleen Kelsey talks with filmmaker and cinematographer Babette Mangolte about the experimental film scene in ’70s New York and her collaborations with Chantal Akerman.
Barbara Turner began acting for the screen in 1955 but her greater legacy was as a screenwriter. Beginning in B-movies like Two-Gun Lady (1955) and Monster from Green Hell (1957) and appearance in TV shows including Medic and The Lineup, she wrote her first script, an adaptation of Jean Genet’s Deathwatch (1966), for her then-husband Vic Morrow to direct. She went on to script Petulia (1968) for Richard Lester, which earned her Writers’ Guild of America nomination, earned an Emmy nomination for the TV movie The War Between the Tates (1977), wrote and co-produced Georgia (1995) with her daughter Jennifer Jason Leigh, who starred in the film, and scripted Pollock (2000) for Ed Harris and The Company (2003), developed with Neve Campbell, for director Robert Altman. Her screenplay for the made-for-cable feature Hemingway & Gellhorn (2012) earned her her second Emmy and Writers’ Guild nominations. She passed away at the age of 79. Carmel Dagan for Variety.
British actress Adrienne Corri is best known to film lovers for her breakthrough performance as Valerie, the fiery re-headed teenage girl of Jean Renoir’s The River (1951), and as the artist brutally raped and assaulted by Malcom McDowell in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971). She was a busy actress, appearing on stage and on the small screen as much as in movies, from the 1950s through the 1970s. She appeared opposite Boris Karloff in Corridors of Blood (1958) and Cornel Wilde in Sword of Lancelot (1963), played Julie Christie’s mother in Doctor Zhivago (1965), appeared in the Hammer films The Viking Queen (1967) and Vampire Circus (1972) and in Otto Preminger’s Bunny Lake is Missing (1965), Rosebud (1975), and The Human Factor (1979). She passed away at the age of 85. Ronald Bergan for The Guardian.
The weekly links page is compiled and curated by Bruce Reid, with obituaries and Seattle Screens (published separately here) curated by Sean Axmaker, and other contributions from friends of Parallax View.
A pair of profiles salutes a trio of academics whose insights and straightforward, punchy writing have deservedly brought them wider fame than most university types scribbling away on film theory. Before they leave Madison for New York (so that Thompson can expand her second career as an authority on Egyptian sculpture), David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson talk with Laura Jones about the love of movies that brought the couple together. (“At the core of their reputation is Bordwell and Thompson’s passion for the art of film. ‘The pleasure of moviegoing is not something that has gotten lost,’ says [Wisconsin Film Festival director of programming Jim] Healy. ‘You can talk to them for hours about movies. Then you want to go off and watch all the movies they’ve talked about. But they also give you the feeling that it’s mutual. They want to know what you’ve discovered; what you like. They have that unending curiosity.’)
While Peter Monaghan describes the crucial work Barbara Flueckiger has done in amassing a history of color film, which has made her an invaluable resource to recent restoration projects trying to determine what color, exactly, was originally intended—or even possible, given technologies of the time. (“Working in film production, she had become well acquainted with the differences among film stocks, and with the capabilities of modern-day, high-definition “digital image acquisition,” and saw how that could permit her to lend fresh perspectives not only to film history and aesthetics, but also to restoration practice—the science of how, among other things, the distinctive “look” of various films is faithfully reproduced. ‘All the digital technologies were very familiar to me,’ she says. Her “selling point,” she adds, has been that ‘I have a background in engineering, so now I’m trying to combine the two, with research in film colors.’”) Via Mubi.
“The shock of the new fades by definition, but if it has hardly done so in the case of Blue Velvet, that may be because its tone remains forever elusive. To peruse the early reviews is to sense the emergence of the slipperiest of sensibilities, one that no one quite knew how to talk about. To encounter or revisit the film now, decades later, is to realize that we still don’t.” On Blue Velvet’s 30th anniversary, an excerpt from Dennis Lim’s David Lynch: The Man from Another Place revisits the initial reception of this timeless film, even as he situates it firmly in its era as Reaganism gone gonzo; while also clearing up why that notorious robin wasn’t, in fact, “mechanical.” And Violet Lucca wonders how much this “powerful counternarrative to the usual [cinematic] homecomings” would have changed if its deleted scenes were included (while making the mechanical robin gaffe). (“By making these tendencies explicitly present before Jeffrey crosses paths with Frank and the wrong side of Lumberton’s tracks, his character seems more duplicitous than curious about or tortured by his sexual urges. This Jeffrey is someone who’s been willfully misrepresenting himself to everyone—meaning that there’d be no homecoming transformation.”)
“’I always wondered if Zebraman has any idea that he was famous,’ says former Nirvana roadie Mike Dalke, one of many rock and roll lifers who can recite lines from the movie the way David Koresh could quote Revelation. ‘Does he understand that he’s this epic superstar to so many people in rock and roll, that he’s the Olympic decathlon champ of teenage idiots, that he’s Zebraman, a legitimate superhero?’ We tracked down Zebraman, too—he’s a plumber outside Baltimore now—and asked those very questions. Spoiler alert to this Deadspin exclusive: Yeah, he kinda knows.” Also celebrating its 30th, and not entirely a world removed in its milieu and concerns, Jeff Krulik and John Heyn’s Heavy Metal Parking Lot, whose making and slow evolution to cult status is chronicled by Dave McKenna—and who also tracks down several participants who look back fondly on their silly teenage rowdiness under the setting Maryland sun.
“Pakula brought the best of the old school sensibility to the project. He pulled Redford away from his idea of copying the reality of a certain kind of documentary. This could never be a documentary, he said, and even if it could nobody’d want to watch it. Hollywood has made an art of elevating the mundane. That’s what movie stars do for a living, make the everyday transcendent. Grab what you’ve got. Don’t dye your hair. Use being Robert Redford. Watergate was an epochal moment for America. Let’s feel its importance in every frame. Yes, the audience had to believe. But it also had to be transported. That was Hollywood’s art form.” Jon Boorstin looks back on the making of All the President’s Men with the observant, exhaustive appreciation for every aspect of the process you’d expect from an ambitious young filmmaker who snatched on to the job of Pakula’s assistant as his toehold in the industry.
“You cowardly bastards ran away last night without facing the music on the mask and other ancillary nightmares connected with the Jupiter shot. Please brace yourselves for this, figure out what to do next and I’ll be calling you later in the morning. Thanks. Stanley.” Bruce Logan recalls his first major gig as an animation artist and cameraman on 2001, and remembers his boss a man with a “great sense of humor” and a filmmaker that was “intensely driven and ruthless”; a mix captured in some memos from Kubrick that Logan includes. Via Movie City News.
“Hawks makes keen use of Morley’s derisive face and her grating, accusing voice and the entirely singular brand of toughness these things signaled, so much so that the paperback edition of Manny Farber’s classic book of film criticism Negative Space uses a photo of Morley frowning as Poppy as its cranky, disapproving emblem.” Dan Callahan celebrates Karen Morley, a striking, awkward fit in Hollywood movies even before her ban under the blacklist.
“Both sides of the Cold War often depicted the other’s citizenry as victimized, but the Soviet Union elevated it into an art, much in the way that the American mainstream developed the Soviet super-villain into a fetish object. Instead of portraying Americans as eroticized torturers, inhuman strongmen, or sinister ringleaders, the few Soviet movies that do pit Soviet and American characters against each other mostly portray Americans as misled or misinformed.” Ignatiy Vishnevetsky offers an intriguing take on why, anti-American as their movies could be, the cinema of the Soviet Union never offered up its equivalent of those flint-eyed, steel-jawed commies who murdered their way through low-rent American action pics.
“Dear Wheeler, you provide the prose poems I’ll provide the war.” “That’s fine, Mr. Kane.” “Yes I rather like it myself.” Orson Welles always believed that the Hearst papers’ attack on Citizen Kane was carried out by overzealous foot soldiers, Hearst himself barely even involved. As Dalya Alberge reports, new research shows the media baron was directly involved from the start, making this one instance where the director’s paranoia didn’t go far enough.
“LIKE: Bond has to escape on a motorcycle through the streets of Saigon while handcuffed to a beautiful woman? Excuse me while I cross my legs to hide my erection. DISLIKE: Pierce Brosnan dresses like a Holiday Inn hotel manager.” The get-an-expert-to-review-movies-in-his-profession trend reaches its zenith as the James Bond films are reviewed by Sterling Archer. Promotional fluff, sure, but with its fair share of laughs. Via Alex McCown.
“She had her hand in [the dog’s] mouth down its throat. Its tongue had wrapped itself around her fingers a number of times. Pretty soon I just put my hand in there too. It was so slippery and warm in there. I couldn’t even tell what was her fingers and what was the dog. I was sort of looking into her eyes and before we knew it, the dog and its owner were gone and she and I were just sitting there with our slobbery fingers interlocked. I said, ‘Isabella Rossellini, I’ve got a script for you.’ We went back to her place and watched some movies and now she’s in the movie.” At a recent screening of The Saddest Music in the World Guy Maddin recounted its making for the audience, and gave an interesting description of his hopes for his recent series of séance movies to boot. Paula Bernstein offers the highlights.
Even as a new generation of film composers emulate the icy, hypnotic grace of John Carpenter’s soundtracks, the old man shows up (again) to show them how it’s done, with his new album Lost Themes II. NPR has the whole thing up and streaming, from the tense rush of “Distant Dream” to the clanging echoes and strutting guitar—splitting the difference between ethereal and ominous—of “Real Xeno.”
Patty Duke became the youngest performer to win an Academy Award when she took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for playing the young Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker (1962) at age 16. A year later, she became a TV star playing two roles (“They’re cousins / Identical cousins!”) in The Patty Duke Show, for which she received an Emmy nomination, and the starred in the cult showbiz melodrama Valley of the Dolls (1967) in part to play against the sweet, squeaky-clean image of her TV work. As she aged into adulthood, most of her work was on TV but she was constantly busy, especially as a star of TV movies. She won Emmy Awards for the telefilm My Sweet Charlie (1970), the mini-series Captains and the Kings (1976), and for the TV movie revival of The Miracle Worker (1979), this time playing the role of teacher Annie Sullivan. She passed away at the age of 69. More from Margalit Fox at The York Times.
Earl Hamner Jr. drew on his own life to create the popular family drama The Waltons. His 1961 novel “Spencer’s Mountain” was made into a movie starring Henry Fonda, which could have been an initial rough sketch for the series, and he wrote scripts for The Twilight Zone, Wagon Train, and Gentle Ben, and screenplays for Palm Springs Weekend (1963), the animated Charlotte’s Web (1973), and Where the Lilies Bloom (1974). He died at age 92.
The glamorous Rita Gam was a founding member of The Actor’s Studio. She made her Broadway debut in 1946 in the Ben Hecth play A Flag is Born and appeared on television before making her big screen debut in a wordless performance oppositye Ray Milland (also unspeaking) in The Thief (1952). She co-starred in Saadia (1953) with Cornel Wilde, Night People (1954) with Gregory Peck, Sign of the Pagan (1954) with Jeff Chander, Edgar Ulmer’s Hannibal (1959) with Victor Mature, and Nicholas Ray’s King of Kings (1961), and she won the Silver Bear at the 1962 Berlin Film Festival for No Exit (1962), sharing the award for Best Actress with co-star Viveca Lindfors. She continued to appear on television and movies (including Klute, 1971) but was busier on the stage for the rest of her career. She passed away at age 88. Mike Barnes for The Hollywood Reporter.
Ronnie Corbett, one of the most beloved British TV entertainers for 50 years, made his TV debut on David Frost’s The Frost Report, where he collaborated with John Cleese and first worked with Ronnie Barker, who became his comedy partner in the long-running sketch comedy series The Two Ronnies. He died at the age of 85. Mark Brown at The Guardian.
The new Senses of Cinema has dropped, featuring an admitted “relatively limited dossier” consisting of a trio of articles on Abel Ferrara’s recent films: James Slaymaker onWelcome to New York (“Like most of Ferrara’s recent work, [the film] has the aura of a modern day parable, and achieves a sense of grand universality despite its minimalist design. The majority of its action unfolds over a couple of days, and is restricted to a few claustrophobic interiors. “); Rowan Righelato tracing the growing spiritual calmness that has infused the films of this former Catholic and Buddhist convert (“Pre-Mary—Ferrara’s multi-layered exploration of faith centered around the hidden Gospel of Mary Magdalene—the films burn with the existential fire that rages in the soul of their protagonists, Ferrara consumed by the redemption narrative. The subsequent films cling less violently to the dynamics of internal psycho-drama, as if the obsessive need to confront the protagonists’ bad faith has been assuaged. “); and Tim O’Farrell casts an eye on Ferrara’s little-seen and less-discussed documentary work (“This content and the unconventional approach to narrative structure connects these films to Ferrara’s fictional work, as does the Little Italy location and many of the characters who appear in Mulberry St. Ferrara has himself tackled critics of his ‘mixed media’ approach by way of a sly auto-critique: ‘We were entertaining this style of incorporating fictional scenes into documentaries … so for all these brilliant critics, we’re working on that, we’ll get it right one of these days.'”).
A second dossier explores British experimental film, a title “which has its drawbacks but also signals something important: primarily the fact that something of the medium (meaning everything from the particular characteristics of the technology through to the spectator’s engagement) is put to the test in some way.” Elsewhere in the issue, Sam Dickson considers the metatextual use of video and film in Zodiac (“The historical drift depicted in Zodiac corresponds to this uncanny cinematography [wherein digital cinematography is made to look like film] , a transitional hybrid of a film whose digital images go to painstaking lengths to conceal their own immateriality.”); Eleanora Raspi interviews Enrica Fico on working with her late husband Antonioni (” Whilst being very close to his directing style, I had a different, crowd-oriented, emotional connection. My gaze was that of a young woman who was seeing the outside world—and Michelangelo—for the first time. We had different experiences: I was 19 years old and could eat anything on the streets [of China], yet he did not.”); and Hong Sang-soo is welcomed into the journal’s collection of great directors.
“The camera still sees something in me that even I do not see when I look in the mirror. It is a face designed for the camera. Whatever magic it is that happens between the skin and the lens, I fortunately had it. There are beautiful people who look like nothing at all when they are photographed, and then there are people like me, whom the camera transforms. I can’t explain it. I don’t want to explain it. And I don’t want it explained to me, either. Leave me my magic, let the camera keep its mystery. Whatever it is, let it be our secret, between me and the lens, the one thing a ravenous public and caviling critics can’t take away from me.” Mark Rappaport’s fiction/essay/whatsitI, Garbo has the actress detailing her failed attempt at a comeback with the same focused wit and illuminating digressions as his films.
“‘I got old the way women who aren’t actresses got old,’ said Simone Signoret, a onetime beauty who also let the wrinkles have their way. Davis knew how much Hollywood valued beauty, but she never set much store by her own looks, and never seems to have done much to preserve them. ‘Christ, I was always bitching about how I hated my face in those days,’ an elderly Davis once said of her early starlet years at Warner Brothers, in Whitney Stine’s Conversations with Bette Davis. ‘Compared to what I look like now, I was an absolute living doll!’” More rapturous assessment of a face transformed by the camera to something beyond itself at Film Comment, where Farran Smith Nehme finds Bette Davis an unimpeachable beauty, especially when she knowingly defied movie star expectations and let age have its way.
Between the articles from the new issue available online and the ever-expanding blog, Film Comment offers almost a week’s worth of good reads by itself. Michael Koresky takes in a Lincoln Center festival on early gay films and argues that, along with simplistic views of gender and sexuality, one false binary that needs to go is the notion that cinematic portraits of homosexuality come in two flavors: ashamed and fatalistic pre-Stonewall, liberated afterwards. (“If any single title could stand in for the sublimated yet radical titillation of all pre-Stonewall gay cinema, it’s the 26-minute Un chant d’amour (50), the one and only feature made by Jean Genet, and a complete sensual experience: film as erogenous zone.”) Paul Schrader then sets about constructing a binary of his own, dividing production design into an art cleanly demarcated between films before and after The Conformist. (“So here’s the radical importance of The Conformist: this to my mind is the first film shot entirely on location in which the locations are treated as sets. It has the same freedom with a location that you would have if you had designed your own room.”)
Farran Smith Nehme finds much to admire in Sirk’s Sleep, My Love, even if dampening Claudette Colbert of her usual “canny and commonsensical “ intelligence so she doesn’t spot the conspiracy against her isn’t among them. (“Ameche slithers around in heavy silk dressing gowns, smoking cigarettes and saying soothing things in a low-pitched, doctorly voice. If it weren’t for Brooks’s opiate presence, you could argue that he’s the one with the femme fatale role.”) And on the eve of Jerry Lewis’s 90th birthday, Violet Lucca dismantles the harmful myths about work in America that Lewis’s movies endorsed (“Being the utterly wonderful nouveau riche narcissist he is, Lewis would always portray these man-children while wearing a large gold pinky ring, giant wedding ring, and, sometimes, a gold watch, giving more than a touch of cognitive dissonance to his performances.”); while some highlights from last October’s sitdown at the Museum of the Moving Image between Lewis and Martin Scorsese are offered by an unidentified transcriber/editor. (“Sometime he [“Jerry”] gave me problems. When he got overly anxious, he would screw me up and I would yell to the crew, tea time! Get coffee or do something, cause I’ve got to have a talk with the star of the movie! I looked at the mirror and said, do you want to make this, or what’s your plan? And I would talk back to myself.”)