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by Bruce Reid

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of January 19

“My appreciation for his inspiring and innovative cinema grows deeper as the years go by. He had a unique vision in his films and in his artwork, that was deceptively simple yet hard to copy, like that of Parajanov. He always stayed true to himself, to his creative impulses, striving to fulfill his own artistic urges and curiosity rather than following certain modernist fashions in filmmaking. In this way, he challenged many stereotypes and clichés of conventional representations of people and their stories on screen.” Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa—who once (with Jonathan Rosenbaum, whose site hosts this essay) wrote the book on Kiarostami—considers some of the tropes of the director’s cinema, and the philosophy (and genuine humility) behind them.

“An unfortunate side effect of these [political] aspirations is that the aesthetics of Loach’s cinema have sometimes been undervalued by critics. “It has been said of Loach,” wrote Peter Bradshaw in his review of I, Daniel Blake, “that he would do without the camera if he could, and that doing-without aesthetic is absolutely right for the unfashionable, uncompromising seriousness of what he has to say.” While meant as a compliment, this sentiment nevertheless sells the director’s cinema short: it obscures the rigorous preparation and carefully worked-out production methods that Loach has gradually refined over decades. The feeling of authenticity that I, Daniel Blake exudes, seemingly without effort, is the result of a myriad of thoughtful decisions made about setting, casting, shooting, and (especially) dialect.” Girish Shambu finds the artistic merit of Loach’s I, Daniel Blake as valuable as the already measurable impact it’s had on the debate over Britain’s benefits system.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of January 12

“Before her husband goes to the leaves to the theater, Madame fixes his shirt; afterward, her hand slides, naturally and forcefully, toward the piano. Her reflex gesture will be punished: he locks up the piano case, preventing her from playing. As always, every affirmation of her self is crushed by her husband. The film’s drama starts precisely here: when the door to Madame Beudet’s fantasies is locked up, and when her husband debases and colonizes those fantasies, turning them progressively into her worst nightmare.” Cristina Álvarez López praises Germaine Dulac’s The Smiling Madame Beudet as a film that employs surrealist freedom of imagery to pierce its domestic melodrama with a greater, more terrifying truth than most subsequent “women’s pictures” could allow.

“Here it’s perhaps worth asking why so many artists become a part of our lives and identities, while only a precious few are enlisted to prop up our moral universe. Though he’s never claimed to be a dissident, and has in fact proven allergic to ironclad political positions, Jia still inspires a special kind of hope, particularly among fans in the Chinese world who long to see change in the motherland. His principal genius lies in how he makes that longing palpable, often by interpreting social upheaval through the subtle modulations of sentiment you find in Mando- and Cantopop songs, which he uses liberally and without irony. He does this with the knowledge that, not long ago, those private yearnings were condemned as “decadent.” Indeed, he often recounts a memory of his father implying that, at the height of the Maoist era, a movie like Platform, with its languid evocations of nostalgia and thwarted possibility, would have gotten him labeled as a rightist.” With Jia Zhangke launching a new festival, directing car commercials, and indulging in other moves that seems to ensconce him into the mainstream of the Chinese film industry, Andrew Chan reminds us to consider both Jia’s obstacles and his personal ambitions, which never perfectly aligned with the rebel image many thrust upon him.

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Parallax View’s Best of 2017

Welcome 2018 with one last look back at the best releases of 2017, as seen by the Parallax View contributors and friends and a few special invitations. (In reverse alphabetical order, just so you don’t have to see your intrepid managing editor at the top of the list every single year.)

Andrew Wright

1. War for the Planet of the Apes
2. Brawl in Cell Block 99
3. Ex Libris
4. Soul on a String
5. Okja
6. Phantom Thread
7. The Florida Project
8. Lady Bird
9. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
10. The Girl With All the Gifts

Amie Simon

A quick list of my fave 2017 films (in alphabetical order):
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
The Big Sick
Brawl in Cell Block 99
Cult of Chucky
Get Out
It
Jim & Andy
John Wick: Chapter 2
The LEGO Batman Movie
Logan
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War For the Planet of the Apes
Wonder Woman
XX

Bruce Reid

The Florida Project
Detroit
A Quiet Passion
A Ghost Story
Marjorie Prime
Personal Shopper
Nocturama
Wonderstruck
Gerald’s Game
Dunkirk

Kathleen Murphy

1.  Best war films: “Dunkirk” (Christopher Nolan), “Detroit” (Kathryn Bigelow)
2.  Best films about mortality, memory, human connection: “Personal Shopper” (Olivier Assayas), “Marjorie Prime,” elevated by the magnificent Lois Smith (Michael Almereyda), and most especially, “A Ghost Story” (David Lowery)
3. Best Distaff Revenge (and much more) films: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (Martin McDonagh) and “In the Fade” (Fatih Akin). Frances McDormand (“Billboards”) and Diane Kruger (“Fade”) kill.
4. Richest evocation of a poet’s place, time, character, art: “A Quiet Passion” (Terence Davies). Cynthia Nixon shines.
5. Best growing-up film: Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird,” a Petri dish—place, time, family dynamics—where a passionate misfit and artist-to-be takes form. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf rule.
6. Best films about sharing ground with the Other: “Mudbound” (Dee Rees), “The Other Side of Hope” (Aki Kaurismaki)
7. Best Big Movies: Patti Jenkins’s “Wonder Woman” (Gal Gadot!); “War for the Planet of the Apes,” Gotterdammerung demise—well-deserved—of Homo sapiens as master species (Matt Reeves); “Logan,” the genuinely poignant passing of an aging superhero (James Mangold)
8. Best evocation of the eloquent patience of beasts vs. surpassing cruelty of Homo sapiens: “Okja” (Bong Joon-ho)
9. Best down-and-dirty cinematic energy, celebration of genre, Vince Vaughan performance: “Brawl in Cell Block 99” (S. Craig Zahler)
10. Five good, not-great, movies well worth a second viewing: “Split” (M. Night Shyamalan), “Good Time” (Benny and Josh Safdie), “Wind River” (Taylor Sheridan), “The Lost City of Z” (James Gray), “Super Dark Things” (Kevin Phillips)

TV I could not quit, from standouts to guilty pleasures: “Mindhunter,” “Game of Thrones,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Big Little Lies”; “Halt and Catch Fire” and “The Leftovers” (final seasons); “The Deuce,” “I Love Dick,” “Fargo,” “Peaky Blinders,” “Longmire,” “Godless”

Moira Macdonald
(originally published in The Seattle Times)

In alphabetical order:
The Big Sick
Dunkirk
Lady Bird
Lady Macbeth
Mudbound
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Step
Their Finest

Richard T. Jameson

(Order of 3-10 in alphabetical order)
MINDHUNTER
TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN
Detroit
Dunkirk
Get Out
A Ghost Story
Lady Bird
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Mudbound
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Robert Horton
(originally published in Seattle Weekly)

1. Twin Peaks: The Return
2. Phantom Thread
3. Get Out
4. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
5. A Quiet Passion
6. The Lovers
7. Detroit
8. The Shape of Water
9. Personal Shopper
10. Logan

John Hartl

Five Came Back
Battle of the Sexes
The Other Side of Hope
Call Me by Your Name
Land of Mine
Lady Bird
Frantz
The Crown
Get Out
The Post

Runners-up: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, I Am Jane Doe, The Killing Fields of Dr. Hang S. Ngor, Feud: Bette and Joan, Whose Streets?, A Journey Through French Cinema, The Farthest, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Nuts!

Jim Emerson

BPM (Beats Per Minute) (Robin Campillo)
A Ghost Story (David Lowery)
Get Out (Jordan Peele)
Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)
Mudbound (Dee Rees)
A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies)
The Shape of Water (Guillermo Del Toro)
Long Strange Trip (Amir Bar-Lev)
Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan)
I, Tonya (Craig Gillespie)

Robert C. Cumbow

I don’t know from “best” and “worst” but here’s a list, in no particular order, of the ten films of 2017 that I most enjoyed watching, thinking about, and discussing with friends. [NOTE: I have not yet seen The Last Jedi or The Shape Of Water.]

The Lost City Of Z
A Ghost Story
Logan Lucky
I, Tonya
3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird
Wind River
Atomic Blonde

David Coursen

1. I Am Not Your Negro
2. Get Out
3. Faces Places
4. Neruda
5. The Florida Project
6. Lady Bird
7. Right Now, Wrong Then
8. The Other Side of Hope
9. After the Storm
10. A Quiet Passion

Honorable Mention: Jackie, The Workshop, In the Fade, Paterson

Sean Axmaker

Twin Peaks (David Lynch)
Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayass)
A Ghost Story (David Lowery)
Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello)
BPM (Beats Per Minute) (Robin Campillo)
Graduation (Cristian Mungiu)
The Shape of Water (Guillermo Del Toro)
Wonderstruck (Todd Haynes)
Marjorie Prime (Michael Almereyda)
Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villenueve)

10 more films (alphabetical): Brawl in Cell Block 99 (S. Craig Zahler), In the Fade (Fatih Akin), Detroit (Kathryn Bigelow), Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan, 2017), Get Out (Jordan Peele), Logan (James Mangold, 2017), Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig), The Lost City of Z (James Gray), The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (Noah Baumbach), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh)

Filmmakers and film programmers

Rick Stevenson (director, Magic in the WaterExpiration DateThe Millennials)

Favorite Ten of 2017 (really favorite 11 since his amp goes to 11), in no particular order:
Wonder
Wonder Woman
Wonderstruck
Call Me by Your Name
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Get out
Lady Bird
I Tonya
Coco
The Greatest Showman

Jennifer Roth (executive producer: The Wrestler, Black Swan, Laggies, Mudbound)

1. The Phantom Thread
2. The Square
3. I, Tonya
4. Get Out
5. The Meyerowitz Stories
6. Call Me By Your Name
7. Baby Driver (Because I love a good musical)
8. 3 Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri
9. Good Time
10. Mudbound (shameful plug, I know)

Megan Griffiths (director, Eden, Lucky Them, The Night Stalker)

1. Get Out
2. Sami Blood
3. Call Me By Your Name
4. Beach Rats
5. Detroit
6. Wonder Woman
7. The Shape of Water
8. The Florida Project
9. Lane 1974
10. First They Killed My Father

Beth Barrett (Artistic Director, SIFF)
(originally published on IndieWire)

Top 10 in no particular order:
Call Me By Your Name
I, Tonya
Get Out
Lady Macbeth
The Square
Lady Bird
Jane
Faces Places
Beach Rats
The OA

More Seattle lists:

Scarecrow’s Top Ten

1. Get Out
2. Logan
3. Moonlight
4. Twin Peaks: Season 3
5. Dunkirk
6. Shin Godzilla
7. The Handmaiden
8. Wonder Woman
9. Raw
10. Arrival

The Seattle Film Critics Society gave their 2017 awards; you can find them here.

Polls / Lists

Village Voice (annual film poll comes out later this week)
Time Out London
Slant
Sight and Sound / BFI
Roger Ebert.com (compilation list and individual lists)
Indiewire (critics list and filmmakers list)
Film Comment

Other lists

2017 additions to the Library of Congress National Film Registry
Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s Ten Best Films of … 1927
David Hudson Remembers Those We Lost in 2017
Here’s the Parallax View list for 2016

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

The new issue of feminist film journal cléo has dropped, built around the theme of “hot”. Among other pleasures, Kathleen Kampeas-Rittenhouse shows the bleak political view that undergirds Ceyda Torun’s Kedi (“And so perhaps the more-or-less explicit themes of interdependence and fragility woven in among Kedi’s lighter-hearted narratives are an attempt to apply a loving lens to a bleak reality—a gentle, wet-nosed nudge reminding audiences of their capacity to nurture“); Elise Moore offers an interesting perspective on the dilemmas presented in The Bigamist and There’s Always Tomorrow (“A comparison of the Lupino and Sirk films highlights what Lupino’s outsider approach added to American cinema’s criticism of postwar conformism”); Kiva Reardon highlights Denis’s Friday Night as an important precursor to her supposedly anomalous latest, Let the Sunshine In (“in Denis’ filmmaking, we locate a cinematic space where the immediacy of women’s wants and needs is foregrounded, indulged and generously examined”); and Sarah Fonseca shows a century’s worth of obsessing about mermaids culminating in Smoczynska’s The Lure (“When the viewer realizes what Smoczynska is cheekily telling us about gender, the question of whether or not the mermaids’ song is manipulating audiences becomes irrelevant”).

“In Arbuckle’s [first] two features, it’s his physical presence that matters, not consistency of character; in one he’s a genial sheriff, in the other a lawyer inclined toward crookedness. Chaplin retained the Tramp persona in The Kid, but the film is a rather episodic affair. Once the main plot is resolved, a reel pads out its length with a dream sequence set in heaven. The Linder films are lively but digressive, with plots propelled by casual pranks and lovers’ misunderstandings. By contrast, Lloyd’s features moved toward tight construction. Despite his claim that his films just grew longer accidentally, they were shaped in ways that make them seem through-composed. His comedy sequences are deftly prolonged, building and topping themselves with great speed. Gags are embedded and interwoven in ways that yield surprises, and motifs set up early in the film pay off later. We may have forgotten about them, but Lloyd hasn’t.” David Bordwell argues that most dismissals of Harold Lloyd are flat-out wrong, shaped by a prescient hold on copyright that restricted our sense of his variety and innovation. Though even he can’t make Lloyd’s meticulous courting of the commercial come off any less depressingly chipper.

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

“Now that professional opportunities have expanded and marriage has lost both its inviolability and its exclusivity, what are we to make of Lisa Berndle and of a love at once heroic and wildly destructive, even delusional? One of the marks of a great film is how it changes over time as social context and you, the viewer, change. Certain themes recede, others emerge, sympathies shift, reappraisals are in order. The lens widens. Is Lisa’s besottedness a mark of daring or sheer masochism? Inspired and slightly idiotic? Is she heroine or anti-heroine? Could it be both?” Ophüls’s Letter from an Unknown Woman remains unmatched in its portrait of l’amour fou, Molly Haskell argues, because however it felt its heroine’s keening, its perception is wide enough to encompass the decency of those left in its wake.

The Harder They Come’s relationship to reggae, however, goes beyond music. The film is immersed in Jamaica’s everyday life and culture reflected through the creative beauty of reggae’s flesh and blood: Ivan’s struggle for a better life in the face of a rigid class structure; the presence of the Rastafari (in the person of the character Pedro) as righteous beacons of peace, love, and equity; the use of the Jamaican language; the argot of body movement through action and dance; and, of course, the reggae rhythm itself. Deeply and vitally engaged with all aspects of the movement, The Harder They Come is the film component of Jamaica’s reggae-influenced golden age.” Klive Walker recounts the phenomenon that was The Harder They Come, an introduction to movie screens of a country, music (reggae) and spirituality (Rastafari) that was so highly anticipated the audience at its Kingston premiere wouldn’t disperse to let in the Prime Minister.

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

The new issue of The Cine-Files contains a dossier on the rewards, surprises, and occasional hazards of teaching film studies. Among others, Joshua Glick discusses how he makes his students place themselves amidst the masses of Vidor’s The Crowd (“Yes, John and Mary are back together and some form of economic stability might be possible. But can they achieve a heightened status beyond the “crowd?””); Liz Greene offers a nifty bit of pedagogy (with clips), having her students come up with a new sound design for a scene from The Elephant Man in the style of different directors; Christian Keathley uses Rosemary’s Baby to discuss directorial choice and the orchestration of visual themes (“The students’ answers are generally satisfactory, but I want them to see beyond the specifics of any one choice and to consider the ways in which individual choices sometimes fit together with others to form a pattern.”); Maggie Hennefield finds the farcical take of then current events in To Be or Not to Be speaks clearly to young, modern audiences (“There is nothing that remains unsaid in To Be or Not to Be, but everything is said in the form of rapid-fire jokes and thinly veiled sexual or political innuendos. For my students, this film exemplifies the power of comedy to speak truth (or “truthiness”) to the atrocities of state violence and populist dictatorship.”); and Patricia White discusses a lifetime of teaching, loving, and growing with Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman (“Jeanne Dielman can make a formalist out of anyone, and it is a great lesson for would-be filmmakers about how setting limits can inspire one’s best work.”).

“Indeed, the majority of these films adopt stylistic practices which are not susceptible to further development, and can ultimately do nothing except close in on themselves. Most of the previously mentioned titles fit neatly into this category, and thus feel right at home alongside Walter Matthau’s Gangster Story (1959), S. Lee Pogostin’s Hard Contract (1969), Leonard Kastle’s The Honeymoon Killers (1969), Michael Barry’s The Second Coming of Suzanne (1973), Walter Murch’s Return to Oz (1985), Stephen King’s Maximum Overdrive (1986) and Ryan Gosling’s Lost River (2013). One-off auteurs generally favour aesthetics which are self-devouring, consuming narrative, film and filmmaker in a single gesture. The defining moment here is the final shot of Electra Glide in Blue, during which the camera pulls back from a dying Robert Blake and spends several minutes moving slowly down an empty highway, as if James William Guercio were watching his new career vanish into the distance.” Brad Stevens finds an interesting pattern of resignation and failure in the works of filmmakers with only one completed feature, and a tragic exception, in its refusal of easy nihilism coupled with a true understanding of how difficult a follow-up would be, in Barbara Loden’s Wanda.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of December 1

“Each in his way, Flaherty and Rouch were devoted to enlarging the cast of filmable humanity by concentrating on non-Western individuals. It might have been more honest for them to present their subjects as actors, which is in a sense what Rouch did. The nonprofessionals in his work give coached performances that effectively reframe the films as narrative fictions. On the other hand, non-actors were among the signifiers of authenticity—along with location photography and open-ended narratives—in the most influential of cinema movements, Italian neo-realism.” Prompted by the Lincoln Center’s series on “The Non-Actor”, J. Hoberman cycles through a list of examples—and remains, as a critic, perverse enough to end with Orson Welles and genius enough to make that work.

“One day on set [of the first X-Men movie], Shuler Donner and Avi Arad, then head of Marvel Studios, watched as an exasperated stylist, at Feige’s insistence, sprayed and teased actor Hugh Jackman’s hair higher and higher to create the hairstyle that would become the signature look of the character Wolverine. The stylist ‘eventually went ‘Fine!’ and did a ridiculous version,’ Feige recalls. ‘If you go back and look at it,’ he admits, ‘he’s got big-ass hair in that first movie. But that’s Wolverine!’ The experience stuck with Feige. ‘I never liked the idea that people weren’t attempting things because of the potential for them to look silly,’ he says. ‘Anything in a comic book has the potential to look silly. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to make it look cool.’” Joanna Robinson can’t quite muster up a profile of Kevin Feige, who seems appositely devoid of personality (“He’s short on kibitz” is—who else?—Robert Downey, Jr.’s take), but she lays out how the Marvel Studios producer had enough faith in Hollywood doing right by comic book tropes to change the movie landscape perhaps forever.

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

“Camille Paglia is not the only one to observe that the great movie stars – of any era – are those with androgynous characteristics. The same could be said for literary characters (people always seem to forget the cross-dressing incident with Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre), for art, for architecture. Not so much yin-yang, but a fluid back-and-forth, an effortless integration, a beckoning that can be very destabilizing. Part of star power is that destabilizing effect. Kristen Stewart is the best example we have today of an actress working in that hard-to-quantify-or-even-talk-about realm. When we talk about charisma, I’d just point to Personal Shopper, one of the best films of 2017, where the majority of the film features Kristen Stewart answering and responding to texts … seriously, that’s most of the movie … and you cannot look away.” Sheila O’Malley lays out her convincing case for Kristen Stewart as the modern inheritor of Brando’s mantle.

“Emerging at the very moment that women’s filmmaking was getting under way, Deitch made Desert Hearts a milestone, the only film to use that energy to fuel a genuine lesbian cinema. Before her, lesbians could seemingly choose only between being French (Diane Kurys’s Entre nous) or a vampire (Tony Scott’s The Hunger). Instead, Deitch set out to make a big, grand, red-blooded American film. Her women would drive through the desert and gamble in the casino, strike out for a dude ranch and file for divorce. And Deitch envisioned a romance, a sexy one that most lesbians wouldn’t even have dared to dream back then. And not just one with a room of our own, but a hotel room, preferably with a naked woman in it, and nobody to interfere.” B. Ruby Rich salutes Donna Deitch’s Desert Hearts as a film both inextricably of its time—a product of the feminized ‘70s and a harbinger of the independent scene to come—and able to effortlessly entertain and beguile audiences a generation later.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of November 10

“Every genuine act of innovation starts with a bit of destruction. However, it’s not the medium that Lynch blows up, but the rules and conventions associated with it. He has done this many times throughout his career: with the aesthetics of analogue film and low definition cameras, with serialized narratives, and compact (even ultra-short) durations. For Lynch, exploring the possibilities of a given medium often means turning it upside down in order to shake off the expectations attached to it, to unfold it like a glove into which he places his own, particular world, to extract from this medium what seems impossible, even utterly inconceivable.” Cristina Álvarez López explores David Lynch’s radical reinvention of the sequence-shot in his contribution to Lumière and Company, Premonition Following an Evil Deed.

The two latest entries in Reverse Shot’s symposium on time feature two very different instances of the camera delicately approaching a seated man. Imogen Sara Smith highlights Anton Walbrook’s monologue in the refugee office as a distillation of all the gaps and flashbacks that make time the implacable villain in the Archers’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. (“Theo can return to England, but never to the days when his wife was alive. Film, however, can rewind or replay, slow down or speed up time at will, as Colonel Blimp does with its flashbacks, its way of skipping over years as a stone skips over a pond. The challenge then is to make cinematic time feel like real time, to capture the irreversibility of age and loss, the way the past is at once inescapable and unrecoverable.”) While Nadine Zylberberg finds the key to Sofia Coppola’s whole project in Somewhere’s suspended zoom on a face encased in plaster. (“Johnny and the lifeless substance that envelops him come together, he is at once dead and undead. In Coppola’s world of existential boredom, there may as well be no difference between the two.”)

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

“War changed Jean-Pierre Grumbach into Melville, basically took from him even his birth name, his innocence, confirming him blocklike under his patronym, a solid character with a studied set of accoutrements, an impassable mask. The fighting, the atrocities, painted his reality gray, erased the idiotic border between good and evil, set him down firmly in a world of nuance where the bad man is never entirely bad and the good man is never entirely good, a world peopled with nice bad men and bad nice men, humans who are all too human.” Adrien Bosc explores how foundational the years of WWII were in Jean-Pierre Melville’s life—not only his own service, but that of his brother Jacques.

The topic of Reverse Shot’s latest symposium, asking its writers to highlight a sequence in a film that explores the duration of time, is broad enough to encourage a wide range of responses. Thus far there is Michael Koresky on the horrifying ten-second final shot that all of The Seventh Victim is building toward (“But after those ten seconds—so fleeting and frightening—we are left forever on the other side of a closed door”); Michael Joshua Rowin on Roeg’s use of synchronicity in Don’t Look Now’s opening (“Only the viewer is witness to the coincidence of these events as John feels their cumulative force upon his “second sight””); Lauren Du Graf on the juxtaposition of past and present in Alfred Guzzetti’s Family Portrait Sittings (“Yet unlike Night and Fog (or The Wizard of Oz, for that matter), Guzzetti’s film portrays the past in color and the contemporary moment in black and white, an inversion that further subverts a sense of time as a linear sequence of events”); and Julien Allen on the ingenious narrative and thematic shifts Hitchcock pulls off during the clean-up scene in Psycho (“How soon after our heroine has been so viciously dispatched, turning our experience and emotions upside down, do we find ourselves itching for her body to disappear, even though this means her murderer will most likely escape justice? Just nine and a half minutes. Are we monsters?”)

 

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

At TIFF’s blog, a paean to the iconic crafter of movie gimmicks and a look at how little a master filmmaker can get away with showing you. Craig Caron, like most writers on the subject, can’t conceal his giddiness recounting the career of William Castle, whose mix of shameless stunts and B-movie energy maintain a sense of fun none of his current inheritors can claim. (“Named by Castle’s long-time co-producer Dona Hollaway and inspired by a faulty bedside lamp, “Percepto” was succinctly summarized by Castle as follows: ‘I’m going to buzz the asses of everyone in America by installing little motors under the seats of every theatre in the country.’”) And an excerpt from David Bordwell’s Planet Hong Kong breaks down the mechanics of Johnnie To’s “tell-it-once rule” of filmmaking in The Mission. (“I know of no previous Hong Kong crime film with such suppressive and elliptical narration. To uses his multiple protagonists not only to pursue different strands of action but to switch points of view in ways that hold back information from us. This is somewhat like Wong Kar-wai’s withholding of information about the affair at the heart of In the Mood for Love. But whereas Wong flaunts the fact that he’s hiding things, To is more covert. We don’t expect that a film that can dwell on men kicking around a ball of paper will be so reluctant to divulge an extramarital affair or a fake murder scheme.”)

“Existential meaninglessness, the pointlessness of moral causes, the uselessness of idealism: these were the fates they truly feared. And for Aldrich, these were the just rewards for those who sought to ignore the savagery of the world for hopes and dreams. Survival by any means was the only virtue worth espousing. But what do you do when the mission is over? Where do you go when your worldview has been shattered? These are the questions we find in Autumn Leaves, a film almost totally unique, both as part of Aldrich’s extensive oeuvre and as a product of the classical Hollywood studio system.” Nathanael Hood considers Autumn Leaves as both a daring extension of his portraits of broken men and an intriguing compromise with melodrama—right down to the rare (for the director) happy ending.

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

The New York Times Magazine offers a pair of profiles that emerge more complementary than you might expect. Alexander Chee finds Park Chan-wook committed to his modest domesticity, as fond of photographs and cats as Chris Marker, and proud of his self-taught sense of filmmaking. (“When you say you go to a film school in America or France, you would probably go to a lecture where they teach you about German Expressionism and show you what these German Expressionist films are…. But in Korea there was no systematic education I could be exposed to. It was sporadic, haphazard. And maybe that’s why my films have ended up in this strange form, where it feels like it’s a mishmash of everything.”) While the mercurial Amy Adams, as profiled by Manohla Dargis, is steelier than her doe-eyed image suggests, if invariably polite, just as protective as the South Korean master of her personal life, and just as notably autodidact—about her feminist sensibilities. (“When a writer friend pitched Adams to a studio for another project, the limits of Spielberg’s largess became conspicuous. The studio’s response, as Adams described it to me, was:  ‘Oh, the homely girl from Catch Me if You Can.’ That’s preposterous and offensive, and typical of the industry’s sexism. Adams, however, didn’t frame it that way: ‘I can’t blame anything other than I did not do my best at that point. I don’t think I inspired confidence.’”)

Another intriguing pair as Geoffrey O’Brien does double duty for Criterion on Welles’s Othello (“You may begin to wonder how much we even need the words. Here and elsewhere, Othello communicates as the most eloquent of silent films. It could be thought of, to borrow a phrase from Duke Ellington, as a “tone parallel” to the play, with Shakespeare’s language forming only one strand of a mix in which music (Angelo Francesco Lavagnino developed his score in close collaboration with Welles), sound effects, visual design, and human faces each count for at least as much.”) and Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (“Yet the more intimately present this reality becomes, the more ephemeral and ghostly the people in it seem. The past never stops being the past; the images freeze and recede into a frame, beyond our reach. That effect of doubleness is compounded by Kubrick’s recurrent visual trope of slow zooms moving back from the action to reveal the indifferent landscape within which it is taking place. Those reverse zooms signal an incursion from the future, a telescope traveling through time as much as through space.”)

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

The new issue of Screening the Past, as always, features some interesting articles about the history of Australian film, including Dirk de Bruyn’s praise of the sparse, often years in the making works of experimental filmmaker Lynsey Martin (“That Light and Dark was initiated in 1973 and completed 25 years later defines and overwhelms this film and tests its content as a forgotten memory. Somehow the film folds in on itself, embracing all that frustration and darkness of the lost open-ended unfinished works. The period of its making bridges all of it.”) and Lesley Speed’s unearthing of the lost origins of Ozploitation (“That Australian exploitation films are part of mainstream local cinema is exemplified by the career of director P. J. Ramster…. By 1925, P. J. Ramster Photoplays was one of the “more established” local film companies and the director used his prominence to support the local industry by calling for a government quota requiring exhibitors to screen a percentage of Australian films. Whereas American “exploiteers kept fairly low profiles” because “little” was “to be gained by notoriety, Ramster’s career reflects a more contradictory combination of prominence and low critical regard.”).

But the issue kicks off with a dossier on the still overwhelming influence on many filmmakers of Stanley Kubrick. Peter Krämer shows the strong influence of 2001 on the making and marketing of Avatar (“There is an implied promise here that eventually all of humankind might learn to evolve to a higher level through its interaction with the life forms of Pandora, in the same way that in 2001 the transformation of astronaut David Bowman into a “Star-Child” was meant to signal that humanity could develop into a more highly evolved state”), Yeqi Zhu traces the long shadow of The Shining over Hong Kong horror films (“[T]he post-‘golden age’ Hong Kong horror films influenced by The Shining increasingly shift their focus from the realm of the supernatural towards ‘realistic’ and psychological reworkings of Kubrick’s film”), while Stella Louis considers his influence on the genre in the west (“The same observation can be applied to the house in Funny Games (Michael Haneke, 1997), the desert in Gerry (Gus Van Sant, 2002), the high school in Elephant (Gus Van Sant, 2003), or the film set in David Lynch’s Inland Empire (2006). They are all presented as maze-like, labyrinthine spaces”). Other aspects of the director’s legacy are explored in James Fenwick’s look at the curation of museum exhibits devoted to Kubrick (“The curation of Stanley Kubrick: Cult Auteur played into a trend for the need in Kubrick fandom to acquire a closer experiential understanding of Kubrick and his films. It is part of the fetishising of Kubrick, with the exhibition being part of a series of exhibitions that offer new perspectives via a tangible physical look at objects that Kubrick possessed and worked with and to use these to re-consume and re-interpret his work”) and Filippo Ulivieri’s account of collaborating with Kubrick’s assistant Emilio D’Alessandro on what would be one of a flood of memoirs from collaborators (“By comparing the varied views of Kubrick, I began to think that he behaved quite differently in and out of his directorial work. When he was developing a story with a writer, or setting up a budget with the financiers, or testing the actors, or directing his crew – then he indulged in whatever strategy he felt was needed for achieving the desired result. I believe this might account for a feeling of aloofness and bewilderment in some of the memoirs.”)

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

A Girl’s Own Story stands out for the concrete stylistic choices elaborated in each scene, but also owes much to an overall tone: passionless, desolate. This atmosphere is soaked in the experience of a world that is too small and gives too little, a world filled with boring rituals and sickening family dynamics. Costume, décor, and sound play an important role in the depiction of this milieu. Listening to the film attentively, one can appreciate that there are many details unifying its soundscape: music cues that are never gratuitous; voices coming from TV sets; animal, electrical, and human background noises. However, the main dialogue sounds raw, as if projected into a void space.” Cristina Álvarez López offers a sympathetic reading of Jane Campion’s A Girl’s Own Story that remains somewhat in awe how fully-formed and still ambitious the director was in this 25-minute short.

“And what does that puppet master have to say about the accusations of sexism and promoting real-life violence addressed in Tenebrae? He actually seems to agree with them. This film is an utterly despairing, nihilistic vision of art and artists as unable to achieve anything positive in the world. If art can change the world, in Tenebrae, it can only damage it. I’m sure this was adopted as a devil’s advocate position, and the film’s early scenes express it with dark humor, but by the time the film’s final 10 minutes turn into a parade of slaughter, it cuts pretty deeply.” Steve Erickson argues for an appreciation of Argento that doesn’t just acknowledge the filmmaker’s misogyny before passing over it, but keys into the director’s self-awareness of the issue as a way of making his films even more despairing, no-escape labyrinths. Via David Hudson.

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

Some giants of the experimental film scene receive attention at BOMB magazine. First, a reprint of a letter Stan Brakhage wrote to poet Robert Kelly about the inspiration and trying process of creating Mothlight shows the filmmaker’s literary style almost as dazzlingly abrupt as his cinematic. (“I began thinking that Mothlight must begin with the unraveling of a cocoon and end with some simulation of candle flame…. Much to my surprise, the cocoon was full of spider eggs, or at least what I quickly assumed was spider eggs, and not a caterpillar, or semi-moth, or moth at all; and I realized that I had committed the first (and last) intentional destruction of life in the making of Mothlight by my actions and that I would have done so no matter what had been inside the cocoon, it was a sobering moment in which all the false path I’d been insisting on was revealed clearly. I gave up, as gratefully given sacrifice, both cocoons and candle flame in that instant.”) And four brief excerpts from Jonas Mekas’s memoir “A Dance with Fred Astaire” captures the day he decided to be a dog, the impish humor of Nam June Paik, and two screenings of avant-garde films, one of which seemed to go magically only to turn to a farce at the end, and one that went from a disaster to Mekas’s idea of a “most perfect screening.” (“We stood there, still half asleep, looking at the morning, almost in ecstasy. Then Ken and myself, we pulled out our cameras and we began to ?lm. We had to do it, we had to ?lm; we were ?lled with the ecstasy of cinema. We felt we were the monks of the order of Cinema.”) Via David Hudson.

“’At first I was amused by the fact that Blade Runner was an influence,’ Scott says. ‘Then I got fed up with seeing pouring rain onscreen.’” Brian Raftery’s set visit to Blade Runner 2049 offers no great insights either to the nature of the sequel or how its predecessor earned its beloved cult, but there’s a nice, almost accidental study in contrasts provided of the somber, patient director Denis Villeneuve and the shrewdly bombastic executive producer Ridley Scott, whose every sentence, even on the page, seems wreathed in the smoke of expensive cigars.

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