Browse Category

by Bruce Reid

Vertigo

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

“He tails Madeleine quite efficiently, to be sure, but he also displays a casual awareness of his surroundings. He pauses to look at a gravestone or two in Mission Dolores. He bends over to examine a painting (Allegories of the Arts: Architecture, by Charles-Andre van Loo) in the gallery. When he sets off to the McKittrick Hotel, he turns his head to look behind in one swift move, although his prey is well ahead of him. What on earth is he looking at? What can be more interesting than Madeleine? Many things, one might respond—and correctly. Scottie is falling under Madeleine’s spell, but he still retains control over his attention, where it might linger, and where retreat. She remains at the center of his vision, but also occasionally recedes. All is well. It is in the post-Madeleine phase that things go wrong.” Paroma Chatterjee, sticking up for the poor, defenseless necklace thrust into the role of plot point, finds in Vertigo more than a hint that the titular affliction is, for Scottie and Judy’s well-being, very much a good thing, and Scottie’s “cure” by the end cause mostly for regret.

At Criterion, the wages of sin, Euro arthouse and Hollywood camp (both intentional and otherwise). Paul Coates shows how Kie?lowski’s weaning himself from documentary informed the content and means of production of Dekalog. (“[After] the brief visit of a philatelist living in another apartment, Zofia’s translator, El?bieta, says, “‘Interesting block’; Zofia’s response is ‘Like any other. Everyone has a story to tell, and so on.’ ‘And so on’ abbreviates the script’s ‘and so on and so on and so on . . .’ Ten films cannot possibly tell all the stories the block contains, as its multiple windows remind one continually. Even one story may not necessarily be taken in all at once—so we see Magda viewing her own life from another angle at the end of A Short Film About Love.”) While Glenn Kenney does the honors for both Valley of the Dolls and its out-of-the-blue, up-from-the-underground nonsequel Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. (“A longtime fan of the comic strip Li’l Abner, [Meyer] was making live-action cartoons, but it is clear that he didn’t feel intellectually superior to his own product. Ebert, while possessing some of the qualities of a Chicago wise guy at the time, was also a young and eager Hollywood outsider. The latter’s account of the creation of the movie describes an attitude of anything-goes exuberance, not calculated mean-spiritedness.”)

Dekalog
Dekalog

“Lynch is an avant-garde filmmaker who has always been fairly accessible, and yet his one early attempt at a mainstream hit qualifies as one of his most esoteric films. The proverbial average viewer understands that movies like Eraserhead and Lost Highway are meant to evoke a state of nightmare. But what the hell is going on in Dune?” A lot more in common with Lynch’s other films than has generally been given credit, according to Ignatiy Vishnevetsky.

American Gigolo is the second incarnation of a story that Schrader essentially told four times, that of an emotionally detached man cut off from society even as he works in a job that thrusts him into that society…. All four approaches are equally valid and provocative, but American Gigolo is, by virtue of its setting and style, the most fun—it’s the one that makes you work the least for its rewards. Yet it’s every bit as rigorous and singular as the others; Schrader doesn’t soften his voice for the masses, but when the movie was released in 1980, they came in droves—and I think they came partly because of Schrader’s riskier and more unusual choices, not in spite of them.” For Jim Hemphill, American Gigolo remains the most balanced of Schrader’s films; an important word of praise for a filmmaker who embodies so many contradictions.

American Gigolo
American Gigolo

“Even though the social actors of Cocksucker Blues are constantly on the move, through airport terminals, hotel rooms, and backstage dressing rooms, their uniform institutional blandness morphs them into one big, perpetual waiting room that feels like they are not moving anywhere at all. Occasionally, we are given impressions of movement – a casual reference to a well-known Los Angeles road, visuals that signify the American South – but that is all Frank gives. His film is a map that goes out of its way to deliberately disorient the viewer.” Frank Verano breaks down how Cocksucker Blues—through deliberate means such as editing and happy accidents like the blurred, washed-out state of most bootlegs—constantly denies what would seem the most crucial element of a documentary film: a concrete sense of place and time. Via John Wyver.

“First of all… you must ask yourself: can China accept this movie? We are different in Hong Kong, we are free, we can do and say what we want. Not them. So, you must be prepared to accept their point of view. But you cannot escape this fact: today, if you want to make a big budget movie, you can no longer make it only for Hong Kong.” Illaria Maria Sala hears some of the compromises Hong Kong filmmakers are navigating as they are increasingly forced to rely on the mainland for financing, from Johnnie To (quoted above), Mabel Cheung, and others.

Ten Years
Ten Years

“At this moment, more than anything else in the world – even the Palme d’Or or his wife Hope’s estranged affections—Daniel wanted to urinate. This would become a dilemma in the next few minutes because the applause, sitting or standing, its intensity and duration, would be carefully measured and noted, and affect the fate of the film. He would urge it to go on, but for the sake of his bladder, he needed it to be over. He regretted his lack of restraint at the champagne reception before the screening, where all those whose fortunes rested on shadow of a smile had gathered to fortify themselves for the ordeal.” Even this brief excerpt from John Boorman’s novel Crime of Passion shows how well the director knows the movie business, from the public rituals at Cannes to the antagonistic relationships that can blossom between a director and an insufficient star.

“I think it’s stupid when [critics describe Elle] as a “rape comedy.” That suggests that the rape is comic. It’s a movie about life, and where things are happening simultaneously, or one after the other. There is violence everywhere. There is sexual abuse everywhere, 1,800 times a day in the US. These things happen. And then at the same time people are going to parties and to restaurants, and they have fun with each other, and they make love, and they’re basically amoral. It all happens together. So the movie is about the rape, but it’s also about how people live. I think i look at it in a critical way, or maybe in an amused way. But i don’t ever look at the rape in an amused way. The rape is extremely harsh, direct, and violent. There’s nothing comical about it!” Interviewed by Adam Nayman, Paul Verhoeven discusses his latest provocation, from the time wasted in preproduction trying to Americanize the script to being so blown away by Huppert on set he’d forget to say cut.

Elle
Elle

“But I personally think that in this day and age, whether it’s a digitally or analog way, shooting a movie itself is becoming an anachronism. It’s almost to the point that I consider making a movie at the same level as making a myth, as a daguerrotype. I would like to expand on this, how I see moviemaking as a daguerrotype-type of process. Because if you think about it, a lot of directors, not just me, even though we are shooting digitally, just to make one cut—how much time we devote! We don’t really ask the actors to be fixed in one of those contraptions [in the movie], but we ask them to stand there and do this, do that, pose; and we spend sometimes over two hours to make a ten second shot. So in that sense, every time we do that, we’re believing—we have to trust ourselves—that something miraculous is going to happen and we’re going to be able to capture that.” Kiyoshi Kurosawa discusses his latest film, and the break he’s been making recently from straight horror to ghostly love stories, with Daniel Kasman.

Adrian Curry rounds up a collection of Marx Brothers posters that confirm how the greasepaint moustache, angel’s-curl wig, and emotive eyebrows were a great boon to caricaturist poster designers the world over.

Obituary

Herschell Gordon Lewis
Herschell Gordon Lewis

Herschell Gordon Lewis was an advertising man who turned to filmmaking and made his name as the “Godfather of Gore” with two cheaply-produced exploitation films he made with producing partner David Friedman: Blood Feast (1963) and Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964). The grotesque effects, with buckets of fake blood and animal parts standing in for human organs pulled out and presented to the camera, were crude but shocked audiences and basically launched a new genre. Lewis turned to filmmaking simply as a business opportunity, starting with softcore “nudie cuties” like Living Venus (1961) and the memorably-titled Boin-n-g (1963) before turning to splatter movies. After Color Me Blood Red (1965), he and Friedman parted ways and Lewis continued making film on his own. He branched out into other exploitation genres—family movies (Jimmy, the Boy Wonder, 1966, The Magic Land of Mother Goose, 1967), motorcycle rebellion (She-Devils on Wheels, 1968), drugspoitation (Something Weird, 1967), sexploitation (Suburban Roulette, 1968), and blaxploitation (Black Love, 1971)—but he kept returning to splatter in such films as The Gruesome Twosome (1967) and The Wizard of Gore (1970). He directed over three dozen movies but was really more of a producer and promotor than a filmmaker and left filmmaking in the early seventies and returned to advertising, getting involved in direct marketing, writing dozens of books and becoming a popular speaker on marketing. He directed one more movie, Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat (2002) thirty years after his last feature but his reputation as a cult filmmaker has only solidified over the years. His films were never good but they were often memorable. He passed away at the age of 87. Simon Abrams and Matt Zoller Seitz celebrate his legacy for RogerEbert.com.

“My dear friend, My dear Morehouse brother – Da great actor Bill Nunn as most of you know him as Radio Raheem passed away this morning in his hometown Of Pittsburgh,” wrote Spike Lee last week. Lee cast Nunn, who he met at Morehouse College, in School Daze (1988) and then gave him the role he’s still best remembered for: Radio Raheem in Do the Right Thing (1989). He also appeared in Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues (1990) and He Got Game (1998), he was Duh Duh Duh Man in New Jack City (1991), and was featured in Regarding Henry (1991), Sister Act (1992), The Last Seduction (1994), and Kiss the Girls (1997), and for another generation he’s best known as newspaper editor Robbie Robertson in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) and its two sequels. On TV he starred opposite Denis Leary in The Job (2001-2002) and co-starred in the comedy Sirens. He died at the age of 62. Daniel Kreps for Rolling Stone.

Bobby Breen sang his way to becoming one of the biggest child stars of the 1930s with a high, clear, angelic voice. He first made his name on Broadway and sang on the radio and then went to Hollywood to make Let’s Sing Again (1936), where he sang three songs and became a national sensation. He made eight films as a child actor with that soprano voice and one final feature, Johnny Doughboy (1942), with fellow aging child stars Carl Switzer and George McFarland at age 14. His childlike soprano was gone and he retired from the movies but he continued singing in nightclubs and other venues. He passed away at age 87. William Grimes for The New York Times.

Seattle Screens survey is on Parallax View here.

The weekly links page is compiled and curated by Bruce Reid, with obituaries and Seattle Screens curated by Sean Axmaker, and other contributions from friends of Parallax View.

Jean Gabin in 'Touchez pas au grisbi'

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

“Every country inflects noir with its own accent, adapts the form to its own climate. In American noir, people are undone by ambition and desire, convinced that they can have what they want if they grab hard enough and run fast enough. In French films, people often succumb instead to exhaustion, melancholy, nihilism: most poetic realist films contain some version of the line “living is hard,” or “life’s a bitch.”” Imogen Sarah Smith reminds us the French didn’t only name film noir, they contributed mightily to it; not least by gracing us with one of the genre’s iconic actors, Jean Gabin. Also at Criterion, Geoffrey O’Brien praises Cat People as a film of more than just some memorable scenes, but one steeped in the uncanny. (“Fans and commentators have sifted every shot and every situation of this seventy-three-minute feature, pondering each line of dialogue and taking note of each editing gimmick and trick of lighting, speculating on the implications of every archetypal motif and psychosexual frisson. Yet a fundamental mysteriousness remains, a slippery unwillingness to submit to final explanation. Cat People’s most famous gesture—keeping the object of dread concealed in the shadows, and trusting to the human impulse to people the dark with the most unspeakable fears—is only the most blatant of the many ways in which the film leaves spaces deliberately blank. It presents us with a series of unforgettable moments and obliges us to imagine connections among them.”)

“William Dean Howells famously remarked, ‘What the American public wants is a tragedy with a happy ending.’ In his version of The Natural, Levinson made that a good thing—and ultimately, Malamud agreed with him. This son of Jewish immigrants and serial portraitist of social outsiders frequently got lumped with Saul Bellow and Philip Roth as “Jewish novelists.” According to his daughter, Janna Malamud Smith, when the author left the movie theater after seeing The Natural, he turned to his wife and said, ‘Now I’m an American writer.’” How Levinson and his collaborators pulled that off is why Carrie Rickey feels The Natural is only now getting its critical due, being dismissed at the time as an unacceptable softening of a great novel.

John Garfield in 'Four Daughters'
John Garfield in ‘Four Daughters’

“With alternate casting this might play as comical—the streetwise city boy lampooning the Norman Rockwellian small town virtue. But Garfield makes it the opposite: call it dramatic relief. Seated at the piano, a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, he manifests the pain behind his derision, the defense mechanism of mocking what he’s never known and is unlikely to have.” Steven Mears praises the debut of John Garfield in Four Daughters as one of those performances after which nothing is the same—and his saluted turn in The Postman Always Rings Twice as the moment everyone knew it.

“I’d always felt cut in two horizontally across, I mean to say my head was separated from my body, my head came first and the rest afterwards. Now I’m cut vertically down the middle–it’s no better or worse. Lying down as I am, I feel the exact boundary between my dead body and my living body, a line from the top of my skull to the ends of my feet cuts me in two, like the wire that cuts butter.” Dennis Cooper presents a powerful excerpt from Catherine Breillat’s Abus de Faiblesse chronicling the morning of her stroke; and her first encounter, on television, of swindler Christophe Rocancourt. Via David Hudson.

Catherine Breillat
Catherine Breillat

“Here is what the death of “our cinema” might really look like. Theatre admissions fall 45% over six years. Studio profits fall 80% over the same period. One-sixth of theatres close. Major overseas markets refuse to remit the earnings of Hollywood films. Audiences turn increasingly to other leisure activities. This was the state of the American film industry in 1953. The prosperous war years, culminating in the all-time admissions high of 1946, were over and the studios went into sharp decline. Thanks to the 1948 Supreme Court “Divorcement Decree,” the studios lost control of their theatres, relinquishing not only valuable showcases for their product but also millions of dollars of prime real estate. Yet as we know, 1953 didn’t end cinema, not even American cinema.” The Death-of-Cinema brigade is at it again; fortunately David Bordwell’s around to set them straight.

“But look, I understand the concern. Is it lurid? Yes. Is it lowbrow? Well, maybe. Is it offensive? No. I’m just trying to honor the B movies that we grew up with.” With (Re)Assignment turning out the most controversial film of his career since The Warriors, Walter Hill explains his motivations and inspirations to David Fear—I mean, as much as you’d expect for a guy so famously adverse to backstory.

Judy Davis
Judy Davis

“You can be on eggshells, really, because some actors are so hypersensitive. You say just one little thing and then see them bristle, and you think, “Ah, I’ve lost them. At least for today. Now I’ve got to try and get back their trust.” And with me, as an actress, over the years, some directors have lost my trust. I’d also say some of them deserved losing. But there is nothing quite as wonderful as having a rich, collaborative, fruitful relationship with a director, and a director-writer even better. I’ve had many of those as well, but sometimes the relationship can just go off-kilter, and it can be difficult to recover.” Whatever fresh perspective having done some (theater) direction has given her, Judy Davis remains a delightfully blunt interview, as here talking with Bilge Ebiri about disagreeing with Gillian Armstrong, taking comedy advice from Woody Allen, and trying to sing along with Judy Garland.

“Gatekeepers have a lot less hold. I sit and talk with Julie Dash or Charles Burnett, and all these heroes of mine who did the exact same thing that i do—tell stories, really gorgeous stories, far beyond anything that i could ever think of doing. And yet were not able to move freely and easily. You could really only make a film if you were black or a woman if you were also independently wealthy or in school. All those L.A. Rebellion filmmakers—Haile Gerima and Burnett and Dash—were at UCLA, that’s how they got the film stock and the film camera, 35-mm. film. Where’s the black Coppola, where’s the black Spielberg? Folks didn’t have access. Now you can use your beautiful iPhone, or you can edit it, and you can not only do that but you can distribute it yourself on the web. You can amplify it yourself.” Ava DuVernay discusses her small-budget, politically provocative documentary The 13th and her big-budget Wrinkle in Time adaptation for Disney with Rebecca Traister.

Ava DuVernay shooting 'The 13th'
Ava DuVernay shooting ‘The 13th’

“The main thing is we were appealing to a young audience. Something i noticed with major studios is that you had a 50-year-old leading man with a 40-year-old leading lady. They were stars, and it had taken them years, and they would sell the picture, but the audience was young and the people playing the leads were the age of their parents. So i made a specific attempt to appeal to a young audience. I had a choice, particularly with actors, of going with older actors who weren’t really stars because i really couldn’t afford them, or go with young actors who were unknown because i thought they would appeal to the audience.” Discussing the many facets of his career with Nick Pinkerton—though distributor, oddly, not so much—Roger Corman at 90 remains as pragmatic as ever.

Obituary

Curtis Hanson
Curtis Hanson

Curtis Hanson earned an Academy Award for his screenplay adaptation of James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential (1997), which he also directed to great success and an Oscar nomination. He got his start as a screenwriter for Roger Corman on The Dunwich Horror (1970) and made his directorial debut on the AIP horror film Sweet Kill (1972). He wrote the screenplays for The Silent Partner (1978) and Sam Fuller’s White Dog (1982) and co-wrote Never Cry Wolf (1983) before making his breakthrough writer and directing the Hitchcockian thriller The Bedroom Window (1987). He was pegged as a thriller specialist and made Bad Influence (1990), The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992), and The River Wild (1994) before L.A. Confidential (1997) gave him the clout to explore other genres. He directed Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys (2000), adapted from the novel by Michael Chabon, and Eminem in his feature debut in the gritty 8 Mile 92002), loosely based on Eminem’s own life, and then switched gears once more for In Her Shoes (2005) with Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette, and Shirley MacLaine. He was forced to drop out of his final feature, Chasing Mavericks (2012), for health reasons. Though not widely discussed, he suffered from Alzheimer’s and his death at the age of 71 was related to the illness. Duane Byrge and Mike Barnes for The Hollywood Reporter.

Charmian Carr portrayed Liesl, the eldest von Trapp daughter, in the film version of The Sound of Music (1965), where she sang “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” It was her feature film role. She starred opposite Anthony Perkins in the TV musical Evening Primrose (1966) and then retired from acting, appearing in occasional TV commercials and at The Sound of Music sing-along events. She passed away at the age of 73. Emily Langer for The Washington Post.

Seattle Screens listings are on Parallax View here.

The weekly links page is compiled and curated by Bruce Reid, with obituaries and Seattle Screens curated by Sean Axmaker, and other contributions from friends of Parallax View.

manwhofell

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

With a restoration of The Man Who Fell to Earth playing England, the film has become quite the hot topic for discussion. Candy Clark talks with Neil Armstrong about the charms of working with David Bowie, who was always more straight-laced than he appeared (“Does [Bowie in the film] look like someone on heavy cocaine? No. His eyes are clear, his skin is clear, he is very relaxed. He had vowed to Nic Roeg that he would not do drugs while doing this film. I believe he kept his word. I think he made up all that other stuff just to be controversial, which he liked to do.”); while drugs—and sleeping around with Bianca Jagger—do make an appearance in Chris Campion’s account of how John Phillips came to make the film’s score. (“‘Those kind of episodes with Nic were relatively … I wouldn’t say frequent but they were not infrequent,’ says Graeme Clifford, who edited The Man Who Fell to Earth. ‘Everybody who knows Nic, at one point or another, has got into a rolling around on the floor fight with him. If John Phillips had not had a fight with him, I’d say, Oh really?’”) And cinematographer Tony Richmond shares some behind-the-scenes tales—including how his own blood made an on-camera appearance—with Leigh Singer. (“The spinning in the air—“aliens having orgasms”! We did that at Shepperton Studios afterwards. We built two towers and were up there with a camera, about 20 feet up. And we bought a huge trampoline and brought a trampoline specialist in, and the prop men were on another tower. And as they jumped up, they threw buckets of wallpaper paste all over them. And that’s what’s coming off them! Although quite frankly what I hate nowadays, is all these ‘how-they-did-this’ [features]. There’s no magic in movies anymore.”) Via David Hudson.

“It’s very hard for me to talk about the backlash because for me it was so directly personal. It was my mother getting sympathy cards, it was people coming up to me on the street telling me that they wished I was dead, saying they want their money back. It was me in my 84 Toyota Celica breaking down in LA in La Cienega underneath a billboard with my own face on it. It was a profoundly surreal experience.” As the new Blair Witch film hits theaters, Emalie Marthe talks to filmmakers Eduardo Sanchez and Dan Myrick and actors Heather Donohue and Joshua Leonard about the making of the say-what-you-will-but-it-was-certainly-influential original, and the downside to having the most hyped film of your career marketed on your supposed death.

Keep Reading

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of Friday, September 9

Oscar Isaac in 'Inside Llewyn Davis'
Oscar Isaac in ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’

“While cooler styles have always been with us, from Greta Garbo and Cary Grant to Steve McQueen and Charlotte Rampling, those actors communicate that they are above or outside of emotion, either aristocratically detached or winningly unflappable. In contrast, the thread of resistance to and evasion of spectacular emotionality among many in today’s new generation of stars doesn’t evoke emotional detachment or indifference but rather a tortured mistrust of expression itself—one that, in its understated way, clearly forms its own kind of emotional appeal to the audience at the same time as it dramatizes why the actor must resist making one. In fact, many of today’s most popular young actors communicate to us, in various ways, that they don’t want to perform.” Shonni Enelow traces a new trend in American acting, a withdrawal from expression, and suggests there’s no paradox that audiences happily embrace stars who embody such stand-offishness. Staying at Film Comment, whatever your method (or lack of it), some actors are just going to be better at it than others; Steven Mears writes up two less celebrated but typically fine turns—in The Gypsy Moths and I Never Sang for My Father—by one of the best, Gene Hackman. (“It’s difficult to imagine, let alone recall, an inauthentic moment from Hackman—a reading that isn’t at once perfectly judged and erupting with surprise. Paired with an antithesis of vanity, Hackman was a star both of and outside his time.”)

A Movie is set to excerpts from Respighi’s Pines of Rome (it, too, sampled from another movie, Kenneth Anger’s 1947 debut short, Fireworks). In the first two-thirds of the film, the music is in sync with the tone and tempo of the pictures, but as the images spiral downward, the music rises in triumph. The juxtaposition heightens the horror—surely horror is at the very heart of “It’s All True”—and also sharpens Conner’s critique of our (and his) pleasure and fascination. What exactly have we all been enjoying?” Observant, thoughtful, and alive to the different ways the films, photographs, and artpieces speak to one another, Amy Taubin offers much the best walkthrough I’ve read of MoMA’s Bruce Conner exhibit. Via Mubi.

Keep Reading

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of Friday, September 2

Oliver Stone, Edward Snowden, Anatoly Kucherena and Kieran Fitzgerald
Oliver Stone, Edward Snowden, Anatoly Kucherena and Kieran Fitzgerald

“When someone else asked about Stone’s experience of making Snowden, his answer was despondent. ‘It was really a horrible experience in every way,’ he said. Everyone laughed except for Stone.” Irina Aleksander’s account of how Oliver Stone came to make Snowden involves opportunistic Russian lawyers, ACLU lawyers idealistic to a fault, shady Hollywood executives, and a director who finally found a story to match his own paranoia. (Which has always been there, if you check out the interview below.) Via Longform.

“So I’m editing in Montreal—we’d moved the film there—and [cinematographer Roger Racine] didn’t get paid and he locked me out of the editing room. I somehow legally “seized” the film back under Canadian law. I accompanied the bailiff and police to Racine’s office to get the work print; he was livid. But we couldn’t locate the sound masters. But we smuggled the workprint out through the Michigan border in the back of a rented car we hadn’t paid for. We had to “re-dub” the whole picture, all from lip-syncing. Motherfucker! That motherfucker!” In an excerpt from The Oliver Stone Experience, the director tells Matt Zoller Seitz about his surreal struggles to film Seizure, and going from nobody to the suddenly celebrated screenwriter of Midnight Express and (back when it was still bouncing from director to director) Platoon.

Keep Reading

Video: Framing Pictures – August 2016

Film critics Bruce Reid, Richard T. Jameson, and Robert Horton discuss the careers and legacies of actor Warren Oates and director Hector Babenco, praise Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s Our Little Sister (2016), and engage with Oscar Micheaux’s landmark race film Within Our Gates (1920) in the August 2016 edition of Framing Pictures, now available to stream via The Seattle Channel.

These discussions are held in the screening room of Scarecrow Video on the second Friday of every month and are free to attend. The video appears a few weeks later on the Seattle Channel.

The September edition will take place on Friday, September 9 at 7pm at the Scarecrow Video Screening Room. More information at the Framing Pictures Facebook page.

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of Friday, August 26

Kathleen Turner in 'Serial Mom'
Kathleen Turner in ‘Serial Mom’

Academic journals may not seem the most conducive forum for celebrations of comedy, but the new issue of cléo tackles the subject admirably, from Jovana Jankovic’s appreciation for why the compulsions played out by every character in Serial Mom makes its gleefully murderous lead so funny (“As she grins delightedly when surprising a victim in her bedroom closet with a pair of scissors, so do we. As she takes pleasure in doing whatever the hell she wants without concern for repercussions, so do we momentarily escape into a world where doing whatever the hell one wants (and looking good doing it) is a liberating and gratifyingly consequence-free option.”) to Erica Peplin’s song of praise for Jennifer Coolidge (“From which perfect cloud of pink convertibles, lip gloss and acrylic nails did you fall? You’ve been a staple in the film industry for over two decades. You have graced us with your presence in so many films that my finger gets tired scrolling through your IMDb page. In the war of the Jennifers—Lawrence, Aniston, Connelly, ad infinitum—you might be billed number two or three (or, like, six) but you’ve always held first place in my heart.”). Veronica Fitzpatrick’s interesting, and spoiler-filled, look at the destabilizing use of laughter in Mélanie Laurent’s Breathe leans a bit more on the jargon (“Laughter isn’t just decontextualized by the film’s editing; it has an increasingly arbitrary relation to affect, such that Sarah laughing in one moment doesn’t protect Charlie from being slapped across the face by her in the next.”), while Sarah Hagi drops it entirely chronicling her “hate watch” of the anti-feminist DTV religious film Christian Mingle (“At first, I wasn’t sure the first date would lead to anything, only because the two leads have zero chemistry and he’s a pair of khaki pants personified. For one date, they go out for sushi and he can barely eat it because he’s so American he can only eat chili-dogs. This is when Gwyneth starts falling hard…somehow.”).

“Reflecting the developing perception evident in most major cities circa the early 1930s, Henri and the others in Mauvaise Graine have bought into the increasingly fast-paced contemporary notion that personal transportation signifies innovative independence and a get-up-and-go social momentum. With this newfound mobility, however, as with any new technology, comes new professions and new opportunities for crime, and as seen in Mauvaise Graine, new avenues where the two intersect.” For Jeremy Carr, Wilder’s directorial debut, shot in Paris in 1934, has some hints of his future career; but even more, as Wilder himself claimed, can be found the first hints of the location staging and movie-mad self-aware protagonists that would define the New Wave.

Keep Reading

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of Friday, August 19

Joan Crawford

Via Criterion, a pair of tributes to iconic (in one case at least, for all the wrong reasons) actors. Bilge Ebiri salutes Jeff Bridges for having grown into the rugged outsider that was the promise and undercurrent of his career all along. (“Bridges has finally eased into the part of the western hero. But he’s still, somehow, that same questioning, restless kid. And it’s that quality that lends these roles a kind of otherworldly complexity—that takes them out of the realm of cliché or caricature. He’s still playing a man whom the times have passed by—a survivor who recognizes that there’s no place for him in this world.”) And Sheila O’Malley revisits Sudden Fear to remind us that dismissing Joan Crawford as camp or a perfectionist obscures how much emotional truth she could pack into her carefully planned bits of physical business. (“There is a sequence that is up there with the best work Crawford ever did: Myra hides in a closet, face drenched in sweat, hand clamped over her mouth to suppress the sound of her breathing. Even more astonishing, there is only a thin band of light illuminating just a portion of her face. Crawford does more within that thin band of light than most actors can do in full spotlight.”)

While at Criterion itself, an excerpt from Arthur Hiller’s autobiography recalls in breezy, conversational tones the making of The In-Laws (“As wonderful as Peter and Alan were in the firing squad scene, they were equally wonderful in so many others, whether it was an action scene or a normal one. I shouldn’t say “normal,” because each scene was offbeat. What I liked about the picture was that it was rooted in reality. As outrageous or off-the-wall as most of the scenes were, you felt they could happen. You even felt Peter was driving backward on the freeway into oncoming traffic.”); and Imogen Sara Smith tackles that eternal question of film criticism, What Makes a Film Noir a Noir?, by arguing for the inclusion of The Red Shoes into the canon. (“Don’t get me wrong: I love these iconic elements as much as the next noir addict, but I also see the essence of noir in films that look and sound very different. This essence lies below the surface of crime and violence, in an interior world of alienation, anxiety, obsession, disillusionment. Or as crime writer David Goodis sums it up in his novel Nightfall: ‘a certain amount of confusion, some despair mixed in, and some loneliness, and some bitterness, and topped with a dash of desperation.’”)

The Red Shoes

“Utilizing characters and landscapes in such a way, Reichardt’s films resist an easily definable tone. Action is anecdotal rather than decisive, fragmentary rather than fluid: not quite gestural or symbolic, but a little too improvised or elliptical to seem fully realistic. Favoring the quotidian over the set-piece, the writer-director makes us work: at the beginning of Meek’s Cutoff, all we get in terms of exposition is Oregon, 1845—which appears on the title card—and one character etching “LOST” into a tree trunk. Dialogue is frequently off-screen: some exchanges unfold solely through reaction shots, which effectively frustrates our scene-to-scene orientation.” Michael Pattison stalks the mysteries and unspoken motivations that tie Kelly Reichardt’s films together in a “cinema of misfits and margins.”

“Nowadays this story might be taken by James Gray, casting Mark Wahlberg in the smooth-talking Bourke role and the more earnest Joaquin Phoenix as Kennedy, a quintessential 1930s brotherhood standing on each side of an urban moral divide. Except Gray would linger on the grave splendor in these men’s beings, the operatic challenge of being a cop, a husband, a man. Edward L. Cahn is no less serious but achieves a leanness which bares the emotion and the tenseness of these two lives, Kennedy’s and Bourke’s, without lingering for a single extra moment on something beyond themselves—or too deep within. When Kennedy sees himself in uniform in the mirror we don’t get a richer psychology, a flashing psychic charge, or a forceful, sculpted mythos. We see a man looking at himself in uniform.” Daniel Kasman argues the budget-dictated leanness of Radio Patrol—or rather Cahn’s ingenious employment of it—is one of its great strengths.

Group photo: ‘Tin Cup’

“When you do sports movies, it’s really a bummer to take fields of play away from people, so we hunted for new courses that people hadn’t played yet. That’s how we got Kingwood and Deerwood, in Houston, as our U.S. Open site. We had the USGA come in to lay out the course in real U.S. Open conditions. And we fell in love with Tubac Golf Resort and La Paloma, in Arizona, for Roy’s local driving range and for the qualifying-round scenes. We could’ve muscled our way into a lot of places, but you don’t want to shit on golf fans just to make a movie.” Chris Nashawaty’s oral history on the making of Tin Cup pales compared to previous such articles on Ron Shelton films, whose sports environs and themes of competition tend to inspire a fun, macho garrulousness when their makers look back. Though it is interesting to learn that out of all Shelton’s movies, the one explicitly designed to appeal to a female audience might have been the most hell-razing offset, thanks mostly to Don Johnson avoiding downtime boredom.

“One day, Marty announced that next week’s movie was Rear Window. This caused quite a stir. No one had seen Rear Window in years. Hitchcock refused to allow any public screenings. How was Marty going to pull it off? That Tuesday, the class was packed. People were sitting on the floor, in the aisles, and on the radiators when Marty entered the room wearing a cowboy hat and firing a cap gun into the air. Now that he had our attention, he had a confession to make. He had lied to us. We were not going to see Rear Window until next week. Groan. Instead we were going to see a John Wayne western in which the Duke plays a racist bastard. ‘If you leave the room, you fail the course,’” Marty said. Big groan. The Green Berets was in release, and only Richard Nixon was less popular than John Wayne. Is this what we had gone to the barricades for? Marty guarded the only exit with his cap gun. ‘This movie is called The Searchers and you will never see a better western.’” Leonard Maltin reprints a wonderful 1983 reminiscence by Allan Arkush of NYU film school in the ‘60s: from pretentious student films and porno films covertly shot on campus to the manic-talking teacher whose enthusiasm for American genre films proved so infectious; and who would later would wear these influences on his sleeve in the likes of Mean Streets, New York, New York, and Taxi Driver. Via Matt Fagerholm.

Three autobiographies

“We had only one moment of confrontation. There was a gorgeous picture of her on the front cover, and on the back I showed her with Bogart. Absolutely not, she exploded; this was her book, not his. That really pushed my buttons. ‘Listen, Bacall,’ I said, ‘people want to know about you and him, and you’ve written hundreds of pages about him. It’s my job to sell your book, he’s the major selling point, and he’s going on the back cover.’ ‘Fine,’ she said. Like most actors she responded positively to a strong directorial hand. By then, of course, we had developed a real . . . friendship? Not exactly, because I don’t think she had a talent for intimacy; she was too wary. But she was a good, loyal pal, so I suppose what we had was a real palship, and it lasted for decades.” In an excerpt from his autobiography, Robert Gottlieb recalls editing the memoirs of Lauren Bacall, Irene Selznick, and Selznick’s (ultimately Gottlieb’s as well) hated forced companion, Katherine Hepburn.

“In each case [of reaction to her successive films], it was too much. Too much love and then too much hate. The Artist was not the best film of its year, and The Search was not the worst. You realise you’re in the middle of something that has nothing to do with you.” Ryan Gilbey interviews Bérénice Bejo about how she deals with lack of control, whether over the critics turning on her and husband/director Michael Hazanavicius or dealing with the existential blow of terrorist attacks on French soil.

Bérénice Bejo

“The way I generally work is that I do try to leave as many decisions as I possibly can to the day of, because it feels like that’s where you’re most in tune to what’s going on. I sort of feel like my job is to be a conduit to opportunities, to maximize the creativity of the day itself—because that’s when the cameras are running. That’s the important thing to me. Some of these shots you need to think about it advance; you need to have some ideas for them. And some of them are things where you just go, ‘Well, let’s try that.’” Hell or High Water’s David Mackenzie talks with Ignatiy Vishnevestsky on the benefits of shooting quickly and on the cheap.

Obituary

Arthur Hiller

Director Arthur Hiller was part of the class of Playhouse 90, developing his craft directing live TV drama before moving to such TV shows as Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Rifleman, Naked City, and Route 66. He made his feature debut with the 1957 film The Careless Years but remained primarily a TV director until the mid-1960s and directed his biggest hit in 1970: Love Story, which earned Hiller his sole Academy Award nomination. He directed two Paddy Chayefsky scripts (The Americanization of Emily, 1964, The Hospital, 1971), brought two Neil Simon plays to the big screen (The Out-of-Towners, 1970, Plaza Suite, 1971), and directed Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder in Silver Streak (1976) and See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989). He directed a musical (Man of La Mancha, 1972), a horror film (Nightwing, 1979), and one of the first serious studio dramas to explore a gay relationship (Making Love, 1982), and was picked by Alan Arkin to direct The In-Laws (1979), considered by many (this writer included) to be one of the funniest American films of its era. He also served as president of the Director’s Guild of America and of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, and received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian award in 2002. He was 92. Dave Kehr for The New York Times.

Kenny Baker was the man in the R2-D2 suit in Star Wars (1977) and its next five sequels and prequels (as well as the notorious made-for-TV The Star Wars Holiday Special). The British actor, who measured 3’8″ high, spent his life in show business, skating in ice shows, performing stand-up comedy, and appearing in variety shows. On the big screen, his biggest role outside of the Star Wars universe was playing Fidgit in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits (1981). He had small roles in Flash Gordon (1980), Amadeus (1984), Mona Lisa (1986), and Labyrinth (1986) and co-starred in the BBC adaptation of Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1989). He passed away at the age of 86 after a long illness. Nicola Slawson for The Guardian.

Fyvush Finkel had a long career in Yiddish theater before he broke through to mainstream audiences with a featured role in the TV series Picket Fences and later on Boston Public, both from creator / producer David E. Kelley. On the big screen he appeared in Brighton Beach Memoirs (1986), Q & A (1990), For Love or Money (1993), Nixon (1995), and in the prologue of the Coen Bros.’s A Serious Man 92009). He died at the age of 92. Joseph Berger for The New York Times.

Seattle Screens is on Parallax View here.

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of Friday, August 12

La Jetée

“What kind of time machine is it that involves little more than covering the eyes? (To be precise, the hero was given some intravenous injections, too, but these served likewise to numb the senses, unraveling “the present and its certainties.”) My hunch is that covering the eyes and putting a record on may contain something of the time machine in and of itself.” The release of La Jetée’s soundtrack on a collector’s LP prompts Matthew H. Evans to a lovely exegesis of the bottomless philosophical meanings of memory in Marker’s half-hour short.

Wise Blood sticks exceptionally close to the incidents and dialogue of its source. Its great faithfulness to O’Connor lies elsewhere, though: in the actors’ tactile realization of her characters, in the uncanny sense of being in a place that exists both in real time and outside of it, and in Huston’s determination to preserve the inexplicable mystery of Hazel Motes.” Stuart Klawans finds John Huston made just about every right directorial choice you could hope in the impossible task of adapting Flannery O’Connor to the screen—especially the proverbial 90% of the job that’s casting.

Keep Reading

Video: Framing Pictures – July 2016

Film critics Bruce Reid, Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy, and Robert Horton debate and discuss the polarizing film The Neon Demon, the work of director Michael Cimino, and the unifying filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami in the July 2016 edition of Framing Pictures from Scarecrow Video.

These discussions are held in the screening room of Scarecrow Video on the second Friday of every month and are free to attend. The video appears a few weeks later on the Seattle Channel.

The August edition will take place on Friday, August 12 at 7pm at the Scarecrow Video Screening Room. More information at the Framing Pictures Facebook page.

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of August 5

“Herzog grins as he takes a seat in a conference room at UCLA, which has been set up for an event later this evening. His eyes droop, but his skin is remarkably smooth, like the surface of a slightly underinflated balloon. And then there’s that voice—silky, portentous—you can imagine it coming out of a GPS system giving driving directions to Valhalla. ‘I like to look back at the evolution of modern human beings,’ he says of his interest in the Internet. ‘Using fire or electricity was an enormous step for civilization, and this is one of those. And I think the poet must not avert his eyes.’” Jason Tanz’s profile of Werner Herzog makes a lot of hay over the meme-ification of its subject, the fun the Internet has mocking his somber philosophical ramblings. But almost accidentally the piece also shows what a level-headed hustler the director has to be to constantly keep working, convincing his backers to expand their plans for online advertisements and finance his latest documentary feature—Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World—the outtakes from which themselves are now lined up to be a television series.

“Luis Buñuel is usually regarded as quintessentially Spanish, yet he only made three films that fully qualify as Spanish — a short documentary called Land without Bread (1932) and two features, Viridiana (1961) and Tristana (1970). Furthermore, Viridiana created such a scandal in Franco Spain that when it was rejected by the censors there, it was identified exclusively as a Mexican feature, simply because it had a Mexican coproducer and by then all its Spanish credentials on paper had been destroyed (a tale told by one of its two Spanish producers, Catalan filmmaker Pere Portabella). Tristana, on the other hand, stars Catherine Deneuve in the title role, a French actress whose Spanish lines had to be dubbed by someone else. And every other film by the “most Spanish of Spanish directors” is either French or Mexican.” Jonathan Rosenbaum has posted an interesting 2008 article he wrote on expatriate filmmakers—both those who thrived and some (including Fuller and Makhmalbaf) whose filmmaking suffered outside their native lands as if they’d been cut off from their source. Via Criterion.

Keep Reading

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of July 29

Rio Bravo

“One cannot make films if he does not like life, if he does not believe, above all, that the physical manifestations are privileged. The body does not lie, nor does the human face: this is the strength of the cinema and its health as opposed to literature.” Kino Slang has provided translations of two rapturous appreciations by Alexandre Astruc on Howard Hawks—specifically on Rio Lobo (“Unlike so many young people whom we know only too well, this old, super-silvered fox, Howard Hawks, is not going to permit his action to slow down and spoil our pleasure under the pretext of philosophizing or of making crocodile tears flow by lingering on rows of corpses which are barely cold and which he just lined up”) and Rio Bravo (quoted above). Via Mubi.

“The thing about Brother is that it’s stubbornly linear, but so suggestive that it just begs for inconclusive allegorical readings: a plot as simple and elemental as dirt, seeded with Freudian overtones, unaddressed nationalist subtexts, and black humor. The good stuff, in other words. Everything looks salvaged or secondhand. In most cases, it was.” Ignatiy Vishnevetsky revisits Balabanov’s Brother and finds the film still so spare and ingenious it overcomes its budgetary and thematic limitations—and even its “deranged” sequel, so crude and nationalistic it smashes to rubble the former film’s ambiguities.

Keep Reading

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of July 22

‘A Touch of Zen’

Among the new Criterion releases, a pair of films that engage history and/or national myth with radical, indelibly modern style. David Bordwell outlines many of the innovations that make King Hu’s A Touch of Zen so different from its supposedly less “classical” contemporaries. (“This long opening not only builds up curiosity but also asks us to enjoy the visual values of Hu’s sumptuous costuming, chiaroscuro sets, and widescreen compositions full of graceful character movement. In one shot, the mysterious stranger dodges out of sight. Why? The monks’ saffron robes ease into the frame as a subdued burst of color in the pale street landscape, setting up a motif that reaches fruition, ninety minutes later, when golden blood streaks down a sash.”) While James Quandt finds Muriel the culmination of Resnais’s denied but obvious fascination with time and memory. (“Like the man who asks where the center of the city is only to be told that he is already in it, Muriel’s viewer may be left grasping for narrative and temporal coordinates. The film’s anxious, shardlike editing—Resnais claimed that the cuts numbered close to a thousand, though others have subtracted a hundred or two from that total—detailed in Cayrol’s script and ostentatiously announced by that initial cubist fusillade, further confounds the sense of duration and chronology, despite the scenario’s linear, symmetrical five-act structure. With its disorienting ellipses, compressions, attenuations, and its obsessive repetitions, Muriel anticipates the “shattered time” of that other Resnais masterpiece 1968’s Je t’aime, je t’aime but, without the latter’s memory machine and use of flashbacks, can be all the more confounding.”)

If any question remained of Leo McCarey’s place in the pantheon, MoMA’s retrospective of the director should finally put paid to any respectful but ultimately dismissive appreciations of him as an impeccable craftsman. The series has Nick Pinkerton considering the contradictions of McCarey’s career, and the beautiful music he could coax, both out of his onset piano, played during down time, and his actors on the screen. (“McCarey was parochial and universal. His approach was, as the saying goes, “revolutionary,” though like more than a few revolutionary artists he found the prospect of actual revolution abhorrent. He was both devout Catholic and a right-winger—and a sharp satirist of the institutions which he held dear.”) For Aaron Cutler, the humanism he showed for all his characters is paramount. (“McCarey was fundamentally a comic filmmaker, and he used comedy to help create sympathy and compassion for basic human efforts. Humor often arises through the beautiful personal recognitions that take place for the characters in his films—the small, wordless instances of revelations in which peoples’ faces show realizations that their entire lives have changed.”) While a 2012 essay on Ruggles of Red Gap has Dan Sallitt tracing McCarey’s character-based, observational humor back to his silent days. (“It’s fascinating that McCarey sweats over a scene like this as if he were still building laughs for Laurel & Hardy, even as he fully exploits the benefits of dialogue to craft detailed and unusual characterisations. One doesn’t feel a clash between particularised observation and the universal language of gags and comic effects – perhaps because McCarey finds ways of placing even individualised traits in a universal context.”)

Keep Reading

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of July 15

The Big Mouth

The new Senses of Cinema arrives with dossiers on Twin Peaks, Rivette, and the topic I’m going to start with (so sue me), Jerry Lewis. There are articles on all of the twelve features Lewis directed, as well as pieces on The Day the Clown Cried and Robert Benayoun’s legendary six-hour collage documentary Bonjour Mr. Lewis (“Letting sketches run for four or five minutes at a stretch diffuses Benayoun’s line of reasoning so that what his series eventually proposes is less the illustration of a thesis about Lewis than a blossoming, exploratory drift through his career”). Some of the more interesting articles, as always, concern lesser-discussed films, like Steven Shaviro tracing the Lewisian slippages of identity within the Hitchcockian frame of The Big Mouth (“When Lewis himself plays someone who is boringly normal, his comedic mannerisms are all transmitted to others”) or Daniel Fairfax making the auteurist argument for the most critically ignored of Lewis’s features, One More Time (“If the plot description I gave earlier sounds rather conventional, this does not account for the numerous digressions, non sequiturs and extended gag-sequences that are scattered throughout the film—another aspect that betrays the Lewis touch”). Not that, say, Scott Bukatman on The Nutty Professor (“The surfeit of resolutions of the Kelp/Love dichotomy unsuccessfully masks the fact that there is no resolution at all”) or Murray Pomerance on The Ladies Man (“It is in this set revealed as itself that Herbert finally emerges to head downstairs, with the effect that Lewis’s character inhabits not—or not only—a fictive space but a practical one as well, and both simultaneously”) aren’t terrific reads on their own. And Chris Fujiwara has updated his nonpareil overview of Lewis’s filmography for the journal’s Great Directors section.

Keep Reading

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of July 8

Olivia de Havilland

“As soon as she filed suit, Jack Warner wrote to every studio in town to remind them that she was still effectively under contract. In court the studio didn’t hesitate to fight dirty, insinuating that an affair was the real reason the actress had turned down one movie. The Warner attorneys, however, hadn’t reckoned on the de Havilland sang-froid. She had spent years on set with Michael Curtiz, one of the most notorious yellers in the business; these guys were nothing. So when one lawyer thundered, ‘Is it not true, Miss de Havilland, that on the morning of January 16, you wantonly refused to show up for work on Stage 8?’ ‘Certainly not,’ came the reply in that musical de Havilland voice. ‘I declined.’” In this week that has seen cinema lose so much let’s begin with a tribute to one of its enduring survivors, Olivia de Havilland, whose 100th birthday is aptly celebrated by Farran Smith Nehme.

“But even character does not exist in isolation. It is formed by an environment. And the immediate environment for noir is the world of capitalism. Of course, the majority of American films made during this period were set in capitalist societies, but noir is notable for stripping its milieu of any features not directly related to the circulation of money.” Staying at Sight & Sound, Brad Stevens limns some of the narrative tropes of film noir as played out in that quintessential example, Out of the Past.

Keep Reading