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by Bruce Reid

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for week of August 2

Hollywood, a viper’s nest of competitors each hard scrapping for the top of the heap, has nevertheless managed to work in marvelous concert when their interests are mutual. One such extended period of cooperation has come under more scrutiny of late: the deferential attitude shown to Nazi Germany throughout the 1930s, when the country might have been descending into madness but was still first and foremost a market for films. The Hollywood Reporter offers an excerpt from Ben Urwand’s new book on the subject, The Collaboration, describing some of the projects cancelled or bowdlerized by the team of studio heads, Will Hays, and Georg Gyssling, the Los Angeles-based German consul to the United States. The Reporter also provides some dissent from Urwand’s portrait (“slanderous and ahistorical”) from Thomas Doherty, author of this year’s earlier book on the subject, Hollywood and Hitler.

Indian cinema’s been around for longer than 100 years, of course; but as Pamela Hutchinson explains in her look at the nation’s earliest filmmakers, the 1913 premiere of Dadasaheb Phalke’s religious feature Raja Harishchandra has been selected as the industry’s symbolic starting point. Which, officially if however inaccurately, makes this the centennial year for one of the world’s great movie industries. Hutchinson’s is one of a clutch of articles the Guardian has posted to celebrate. Elsewhere, Rachel Dwyer and Rahul Verma offer their top ten lists of Hindi movies and soundtracks, respectively; Nosheen Iqbal interviews the actor Irrfan Kahn (“I always object to the word Bollywood…. Because that industry has its own technique, its own way of making films that has nothing to do with aping Hollywood.”); and novelist Amit Chaudhuri describes how his disdain towards Boll… uh, populist Hindi cinema was eradicated by the discovery (“just as Bollywood seemed to become all gloss and syrup”) of the remarkable films of Vishal Bharadwaj, among others.

Among the highlights in the new DGA Quarterly are Alfonso Cuarón explaining how, for good or bad, each of his previous films has been a learning experience, including the long period it took him and Emmanuel Lubezki to figure out how to stage the scenes in Gravity that depend upon its absence (“I said to Chivo, ‘We can do this very quickly. There are only two characters, so we’ll finish fast.’ That was four-and-a-half years ago.”); Noah Baumbach explaining his love for Jules and Jim to Rob Feld; John Badham breaking down his best action sequence, the dance contest from Saturday Night Fever; and a gallery of Harold Michelson’s vivid, energetic storyboards for the Red Sea sequence in The Ten Commandments.

Gathering together all previous attempts, supplemented with a new interview with Jan Harlan, Nick Wrigley collates a “master list” of all the films Stanley Kubrick’s on the record as admiring. The composite picture doesn’t really do much to solve the mysteries of Kubrick (though it’s more compelling and idiosyncratic than the list of recommended viewing from Spike Lee); but then neither does the revelation that Woody Allen was the director’s first choice for the role that went to Tom Cruise.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for week of July 26

‘The Magic Box’

“Over the years, the Lumières and Méliès have been consistently portrayed as opposites—the idea is that one filmed reality and the other created special effects. Of course this kind of distinction is made all the time—it’s a way of simplifying history. But in essence they were both heading in the same direction, just taking different roads—they were taking reality and interpreting it, reshaping it, and trying to find meaning in it.” In The New York Review Martin Scorsese offers a slightly modified version of his marvelous Jefferson Lecture of a few months back, roaming through cinema’s history to make an argument for its centrality in terms both catholic (“We have to look beyond the officially honored, recognized, and enshrined, and preserve everything systematically.”) and Catholic (“First of all, there’s light.”).

Béla Tarr’s Film Factory, the three-year workshop currently running at the Sarajevo Film Academy, was greeted with some confusion when it was announced; was this an academic program, a workshop, the director’s own private folly? After his stint as a guest lecturer, which overlapped with two “remarkable classes” by Tilda Swinton on the Bressonian nature of acting and a four-and-a-half hour “shot by shot and take by take” analysis of Sátántangó by Tarr himself, Jonathan Rosenbaum has another definition: utopian community.

From the study of film to films that study themselves: also at Sight & Sound, Kevin B. Lee examines the essay film, arguing against the limitations some would place on the form in both text and an accompanying video essay. Both are as thought-provoking and wide-ranging as you’d expect from Lee; Indiewire’s Sam Adams can help you out on the latter, rounding up the movies referenced in Lee’s video, a tour of images ranging from Ivens’s Valparaiso to Andersen’s L.A.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for week of July 19

‘The Blacksmith’

It’s not one of the cinema’s acknowledged holy grails, but let’s call it a miraculous discovery nonetheless:  there’s now five to six minutes of Buster Keaton footage previously unknown. “Discovery” and “unknown” in the technical sense; it was found by historian Fernando Pena on a French print of The Blacksmith intended for home projection, and so Pena admits might have been on all such reels had anyone ever bothered to look, a fatalistic twist to the tale I like to think Keaton would have enjoyed. The story, and a minute-and-a-half of as-yet unrestored footage, courtesy of Variety’s Scott Foundas.

Advance press for what is very much the movie of the moment, Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, can’t help but explore the relationship between fact and fiction that drives the film itself, albeit from some widely divergent angles. Thus, in an article for Slate, executive producer Errol Morris examines the contemporary US response to the slaughter of one million in Indonesia—which wasn’t to bury the news, but hold it up as a marvelous example of blocking communist insurgency in Asia. While in an interview with Fandor’s Jonathan Marlow, the name Oppenheimer himself drops most frequently isn’t Morris’s go-to George Kennan but Dušan Makavejev, who taught him to “[use] film as a way of making things that are invisible in the world visible.”

By now I think reappraisals complaining that 1980s cinema was unfairly written off as mere Reaganite flash-and-bang have outnumbered the original dismissals, but it’s still nice to see someone put a good word in for the decade. At Moving Image Source Eric Hynes salutes the ambitious sweep and anti-authoritarianism of Reds, The Right Stuff, and Paris, Texas as epic-scale works of subversive intent. At the other end of the scale, The Dissolve’s first selection for their feature The Movie of the Week is the paradigmatically punk Repo ManScott Tobias has the introduction, Noel Murray considers the soundtrack, and the staff participate in a roundtable.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for week of July 12

Kiarostami shoots ‘ABC Africa’

The new Senses of Cinema opens with two fine examinations of auteurist documentaries that turned out far from their commissioners’ expectations:  Alice Xiang shows how the “everyday” situations Antonioni insisted on capturing in Chung Kuo led to the film’s condemnation by a Chinese government expecting heroic bombast, and the appeal it’s developed among the nation’s current generation; and Matthew Abbott tries to philosophically reconcile Kiarostami’s assertion that the video camera allowed him “truth from every angle” with the many poetic, anti-documentary ellipses in ABC Africa. Varda’s autobiographical The Beaches of Agnès didn’t suffer the same perplexed response, but it’s of course a marvel in its own right, as Maryann De Julio’s appreciation makes clear. Elsewhere Chris Carter finds Disney combining CG advances and tried-and-true character animation in Tangled; Josh Anderson praises the originality of Wellman’s Westerns; and Jaimey Fisher does the honors of placing Christian Petzold in the journal’s Great Directors pantheon.

This week saw the launch of The Dissolve, even at its inauguration an admirably wide-ranging film site you’ll surely want to visit often. And with no disrespect to the roster of fine writers, many drafted from The A.V. Club, the best bit of criticism they’ve published so far comes courtesy of John Hodgman, who in conversation with Scott Tobias breaks down the formal structures and surprisingly long-lasting cultural influence of Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. (And tosses in a nifty defense of Stephen King as an uncompromising auteur of his own to boot.)

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for week of July 5

Gloria Swanson in Allan Dwan’s ‘Star Struck’

The unofficial campaign to make Allan Dwan the most written-about director on the internet in 2013 gets a fresh push at Movie Morlocks, where R. Emmet Sweeney presents the first of a series celebrating his work with actors in the silent era, from staging one of the cinema’s first tracking shots to record William H. Crane’s waddle to celebrating Douglas Fairbank’s “easy athleticism.”

Michael Glover Smith gathers a few good reasons to agree with his selection of Richard Linklater as the director of his generation; the most quietly compelling being that Linklater displays all the necessary cinephile bone fides while making films enthralled by the vagaries of life, not just other movies. Via Adam Cook.

The new issue of the bilingual journal Cinema Comparat/ive Cinema has as its central topic the ‘60s; an impossibly broad topic that in practical terms means is defined as what France was up to. Peter van Bagh and Miguel Marías’s dialogue recalls the heady rapture of those days for a cinephile, at a time when the old classicists and new rebels were both creating at a feverish clip; speaking of rebel voices; Marcos Uzal traces the divergent paths taken by the New Wave directors; and an interview with Bernard Eisenschitz describes the changes at Cahiers du cinema as the decade dribbled close. Another interview highlight comes from David Phelps sitting down in a movie lobby with Ken Jacobs and his wife Flo for reminiscences mostly autobiographical (and fascinating), but that can turn on a dime to Israeli politics or the semiotics of the TCM sets.

“I promise! I’m much better now!” Producer Stuart Cohen recounts the extensive salvage job John Carpenter performed on the first cut of The Thing—streamlining the narrative, providing a central hero, and cutting to the bone with a ruthlessness worthy of any of his antiheroes.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for week of June 28

Much excellent reading of late in the LA Review of Books. In the latest of his autobiographical essays, John Kaye tells the story of his selling the script for Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins—as well as the story of his marriage, and of the madness that was seeping through all of Los Angeles at the time, so omnipresent that inspiration could take the form of two Mansonite hippies with Xs carved in their foreheads hopping into the front seat of his car. Also, a new series on Poets at the Movies gets a strong start with the first two entries:  Rebecca Morgan Frank offers a lovely survey of cinematic adaptations of poems, finding silent movies offer the only real chance for the two media to successfully intermarry, where “images and text have been brought together to make something new.” And in a deeply moving essay, Tom Sleigh recalls the magical nights spent watching movies at his family’s drive-in, a business his Northern transplant parents reluctantly acquiesced to running by Jim Crow laws; remembers how mysterious and compelling his eight-year-old self found the film of To Kill a Mockingbird; and regrets that James Baldwin was right, the camera (of Hollywood, of memory) can only lie because it only “sees what you point it at: the camera sees what you want it to see.”

‘Shoah’

Kent Jones is simply marvelous on the expressly cinematic power of Lanzmann’s Shoah, and how the director “achieved something that was not only unprecedented but was, and is, an astonishment: he returned the Shoah to the civilized world that had disowned it.”

David Bordwell considers both the Big Picture and the Small. First, partly in celebration of the new website launched for the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research (which some initial poking around suggests will be an invaluable resource), he celebrates some of his academic colleagues for spearheading a new understanding of how the movie industry, with its technological advancements and economic demands, influenced decisions previously thought strictly creative. And in a separate post focusing on Mildred Pierce, Bordwell considers flashbacks, “replays” (where previously viewed action, seen again with new footage and more information, changes its initial meaning), and how much filmmakers could get away with between the two in the days before home video and rewind buttons.

With a much appreciated lack of condescension, Film Comment’s Laura Kern selects a half-dozen off-the-radar but easily streamable films about female psychos that gain from the delight they take in their anti-heroines’ rampages. Starring, among others, Ava Gardner, Anik Borel, and of course Joan Crawford.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for week of June 21

Alfred Hitchcock directing ‘The Mountain Eagle’ (1926)

Despite being the formative works of a supreme master—as well as a string of engaging, entertaining films in their own right—the nine surviving silents of Alfred Hitchcock (excepting The Lodger) haven’t received nearly their due. A touring program of newly restored prints is finally beginning to draw some attention their way, with Dave Kehr noting such technical details as Hitchcock’s early reliance on subjective camera work “in contexts as benign as a simple conversation and as menacing as an attempted rape,” and Doug Cummings noting Los Angelenos can view the series in concert with a separate program dedicated to the director’s home movies. David Hudson rounds up other reactions, and generously collects some reviews of the movies from previous revivals.

More early works of legends in the new issue of Screening the Past, though the net’s cast wider than cinema: some poems by the teenage Bertolucci (“Use your rebel passion for the boys betrayed, / if not for us—bourgeois, penitent, dismayed.”), and Adrian Martin takes stock of six radio plays by Orson Welles, including 1939’s The Magnificent Ambersons (and, yes, The War of the Worlds). Also, Felicity Chaplin’s defense of Une femme est une femme, beginning with the notion that Godard’s description of the film as “un néo-réalisme musical” has often been mistranslated as a neorealist musical, not a musical neorealism; Jeannette Delamoir’s terrific walk through the fashions of The Sentimental Bloke, and how their astutely considered realism may have doomed the Australian silents’ reception in America; and much, much else I haven’t yet had time to read.

Of course in his later years Welles was still putting that unmistakable voice to good use, regaling young admirers over lunch with marvelous yarns which were received with almost charming credulity. Henry Jaglom used to record them, and in advance of publication later this year, he and Peter Biskind offer excerpts from three of the sitdowns; eminently quotable at every line, and there’s maybe even a stray truth or two stirred in.

Video: Not that great stories are solely the provenance of Old Hollywood—or Hollywood at all for that matter. Such as the time Jackie Chan played up an injury to hang out with Bruce Lee.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for week of June 14

‘A Colt Is My Passport’ (Koruto wa ore no pasupoto, 1967)

As Jasper Sharp acknowledges, western knowledge of Japanese films is so auteur-driven that his recounting the story of Nikkatsu Studio is practically an alternate history, wherein a once-defunct brand roared back in the ‘50s and ‘60s on the back of gangster films, an insurgent, disaffected youth movement, and a string of pop stars. Till Seijun Suzuki’s Branded to Kill took all of that so far he was fired by the studio he’d helped grow, and the writing was on the wall.

The new issue of The Cine-Files investigates mise-en-scène. As is typical for the journal, the articles from regular contributors are quite fine (K. Brenna Wardell on the subversive “dining room” scene from The Phantom of Liberty; Jae Matthews on images of the titular prop in The Wolf Knife; Calvin Johnson’s thoughts on what the term can mean now in the age of digital, CGI cinema), but it’s the denser pieces from invited guests you really want to read. Thus V. F. Perkins on the marital miscommunication signaled by a bow tie in Stella Dallas and the aspirational hints of a chandelier in Johnny Guitar; Christian Keathley on Advice & Consent’s shot of the Vice President in the backseat of a car; and Adrian Martin unpacking the character traits displayed in a brief scene of awkward solace from Breaking Bad. Passed along by Kristin Thompson (herself interviewed in the issue), who on her own blog demonstrates the benefits of close analysis of mise-en-scène by posting 13 frame grabs from Late Spring, a dozen featuring a sewing machine, one, heart-breakingly, without.

Wandering through Cinémathèque Française’s exhibit dedicated to Jacques Demy has Tom Paulus thinking of Demy’s editing, the directors who influenced it (Bresson), the ones who didn’t (Pudovkin), and the ones who’ve inherited the style (Soderbergh). Via David Hudson.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for week of June 7

So many collaborative projects on the internet come out piecemeal, dribbled out over several weeks and spread across half-a-dozen websites. None of that for Gina Telaroli and David Phelps, who have followed up their previous Dossier on Wellman with an equally exhaustive one dedicated to Allan Dwan, and present it to you in one glorious package. Free for download right now, 46 articles, with only five reprints, from writers such as Ted Fendt, Fernando F. Croce, R. Emmet Sweeney, Cullen Gallagher, and Farran Smith Nehme, exploring one of the finest and longest careers in Hollywood. Currently the articles are all in their writer’s original languages; English and (courtesy of project host LUMIÈRE) Spanish language editions are forthcoming.

But even with that bounty you can never get enough Dwan. Richard Brody has some good thoughts on how the density of the director’s social and psychological observations give his outbursts of violence a “strange, removed side.”

Speaking of great westerns, one of the genre’s best but relatively unheralded director/actor pairings gets some attention, as Nick Pinkerton salutes three marvelous films made by that two-man band of outsiders, Robert Aldrich and Burt Lancaster.

The early films of Ford and Harry Carey, on the other hand, are hardly masterpieces, but unmistakably show signs of a master in the making, argues Bristol Silents’s Rosie Taylor.

“His Oscar acceptance speech began: ‘If you ever wondered what reflected glory looks like, this is it!’ And it went on to remind the Academy of Hollywood’s wretched record, destroying 73% of pre-sound films: ‘By God, your predecessors did a terrible job of preserving the silent era!’” The Guardian’s Philip Home offers an introduction to Kevin Brownlow’s body of work.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for week of May 31

“Every Democrat who has presidential ambitions is now going to beat a path straight for Jeffrey’s door. Or they’re too dumb to be president.” Reporting on the fund-raising monster that is Dreamworks’s Jeffrey Katzenberg, Mother Jones’s Andy Kroll dutifully reports the official line that Katzenberg doesn’t ask for any returns on his investment while also making perfectly clear how pliant the Obama administration has been to Hollywood’s concerns. Via Longform.

Then again, Katzenberg’s pleas for money from the next wave of Hollywood power players may fall on ears deaf to Democratic requests, should any of the animators studios have recruited from Brigham Young University rise through the ranks to moguldom. As Jon Mooallem reports, their work ethic and mature expectations have made quite the impression, and they’re already family-friendly by default.

Thomas Doherty’s new book, Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939, arguing that business interests and political intimidation combined to assure the American movie industry let Germany’s descent into horror proceed without comment, has received rave reviews thus far, including Dave Kehr in the NY Times and Christopher Bray in the WSJ. All well-deserved, based on the powerful excerpt available at Pop Matters detailing Carl Laemmle’s idealistic, internationalist hopes for Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front, and the brutal rejection it received in Berlin, a gleeful Goebbels leading brownshirts in chants against the “Judenfilm.”

“You don’t know whether you’re watching Robert Mitchum thinking, ‘Here I am making another crummy movie’ or watching his character thinking, ‘Here I am living this crummy life, and nothing makes any sense, but I don’t even care.’” Part two of Imogen Smith’s profile of Robert Mitchum has arrived, with particular focus on his RKO contract years.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for week of May 24

Chinese Villagers Documentary Project

“I have become an individual with a DV camera…it was DV that saved me, that allowed me to maintain a kind of personal relationship to documentary filmmaking, and made it far more than just an identity.” Inspired by a current MOMA retrospective, Aaron Cutler takes stock of 25 years of independent Chinese documentaries, a movement influenced by Japanese filmmaker Shinsuke Ogawa and American Frederick Wiseman, and (as Wu Wenguang’s words quoted above attest) altered forever by the introduction of light, affordable DV cameras.

“Redford was born in Santa Monica, because of course he was. His father was a milkman but, in a page straight from the American Dream handbook, eventually became an accountant, moving his family to Van Nuys. There, Redford played on the high school baseball team and, if looks are to be believed, slayed the entire female population.” Anne Helen Petersen is pretty terrific on the appeal of Robert Redford—and his limitations.

“Her Bride was certainly a success, but it was such extreme work that it led nowhere—she had been too weird in the part, too scary and sexually offbeat for easy casting.” Which is why many of Elsa Lanchester’s Hollywood roles merely tossed her in the shadow or sidelines of her leading-man husband; but she stood out even there, as Dan Callahan relates.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for week of May 17

Director William Witney sits on the edge of the camera platform at Republic Pictures in Studio City, California, circa 1930s

R. Emmet Sweeney’s profile of William Witney goes beyond just signing on to Tarantino’s endorsement. He paints the picture of a young man lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time—when your coworkers could include Yakima Canutt, and a friendly visit to Busby Berkeley’s set could show you a whole new way to choreograph movie action—but ambitious and creative enough to keep pressing on for decades, tossing out inventive picture after inventive picture to no one’s particular notice.

Sweeney’s also over at Movie Morlocks, discussing five Delmer Daves films. Nothing wrong at all with his brief appraisals, but the Daves articles you must read are at Criterion’s website, where Kent Jones writes beautifully on Jubal and 3:10 to Yuma, finding in both a transcendentalist strain that speaks of the director’s “steadfast dedication and moving attunement to the very best in people.”

“Scott did not concentrate on set pieces so much as approach an entire film with a tonality that extended to cutaways and connecting shots, all of which were dealt with at the same register of glossy enormity, so the opening of a car door exuded the same visual verve and finesse as any larger action scene.” Joseph Bevan’s take on Tony Scott balances admiration for his expressionistic, experimental visuals with dismay at his callous disregard for narrative, character, or decency.

Now that they’re putting out a print edition, La Furia Umana is offering less content on their website, but what’s there is still often fine. The current issue pays marvelously schizophrenic tribute to George Cukor and Abel Ferrara; Dan Sallitt’s reprinted LA Reader obituary and Marilyn Ann Moss’s look at the lifelong friendship between Cukor and Katharine Hepburn are part of the former; Brad Stevens finds the latter offering his characters a respect and autonomy that’s positively Jamesian; and Daisuke Akasaka bridges the gap reviewing the commonalities between Two-Faced Woman and Dangerous Game. (The latter is one of those articles that betrays the multilingual journal’s occasional struggles with English translations.)

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for week of May 10

John Wayne in John Ford’s ‘The Searchers’

There are several flippant ways to respond to Quentin Tarantino’s remarks about John Ford’s purported racism, from gruff dismissal to just tossing out Sergeant Rutledge and calling it a day. Kent Jones offers the thoughtful response, and it’s definitive. Also at Film Comment, subversion of a less haunted, more joyously playful sort, in Maitland McDonagh’s salute to “godfather of gay porn” Peter de Rome.

Carmel Magazine’s Rebecca L. Knight makes it sound as if there are very few afternoons more delightful than one spent in the company of Joan Fontaine, whether the legend is making sure you get a selection of roses from her garden or proudly showing off the golf trophy she received for a hole-in-one. (It’s on the shelf above her Oscar: “Oh yes, well there’s that.”) Beginning on page 82. Via Eileen Orr.

Dolby’s last attempt at introducing a new sound system, the failed 7.1, added two more sound channels to 5.1’s six. Their latest, Atmos, offers 64, including the ceiling. Jeff Smith explains the potential and offers an assessment in a guest post at David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson’s blog. In a separate post Thompson uses the failure of Jack the Giant Slayer to argue, contra Hollywood marketing, that there’s really no such thing as a “Fantasy fan.”

“I know you want me so bad it’s like acid in your mouth. But not this time.” Sophie Brown’s efforts to screen Point Break are stymied as she tries and fails to hunt down the film’s British copyright holder. One of the runners-up in Sight and Sound’s Female Film Reporter competition.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for week of May 3

“That’s why I’m spending so much time talking to you about the business and the money, because this is the force that is pushing cinema out of mainstream movies. I’ve been in meetings where I can feel it slipping away, where I can feel that the ideas I’m tossing out, they’re too scary or too weird, and I can feel the thing—I can tell; it’s not going to happen….” Proving again the futility of resistance when the internet rises as one to whine, Steven Soderbergh changed his mind and allowed the San Francisco Film Society permission to post his State of Cinema address. It is a pretty engrossing speech, with Soderbergh conscious of the potential to seem an old fogy even as he lays out the numbers to prove Hollywood has no idea what it’s doing. And what’s the director been up to in the week since? You know, posting a surreal, Robbe-Grillet-flavored spy story to Twitter, as one does.

Surf’s up

Some interesting reading in the new Bright Lights, including John Engle’s fine, poetically inclined survey of the surfing movie from Gidget’s safe but still open-hearted testing of countercultural waters to the genre’s current obsession with mythic coming-of-age stories steeped in Zen bliss (why yes, Milius’s Big Wednesday is considered a key transitional film); Roger Leatherwood’s look at what Ari Kahan’s exhaustive Phantom of the Paradise website has to tell us about archiving in these amateur-friendly internet days; and Angela Aleiss’s uncovering the fascinating history of James Young Deer, actor and technical advisor for D. W. Griffith, director for Pathè, who adopted one ethnic identity (falsely claiming membership in the Winnebago tribe) to obscure another less amenable to the times.

“This is not Italy!” For Sight and Sound, Pasquale Iannone rounds up a dozen crucial precursors to the post-war Neorealists, from Pudovkin and People on Sunday to the 1942 feature debut of Manoel de Oliviera. The BFI appends his excellent overview with a gallery of posters for the films.

Another combo KO from two of The Chiseler’s heavy hitters. First, Dan Callahan treasures the perseverance of Sylvia Sidney in so many masochistic parts: “She has the sort of face that looks like it knows the worst before it happens, and so when the worst does happen, it just confirms the anxiety in her eyes.” Then Imogen Smith nails the sincerity of Joan Blondell’s con artists, with particular focus on Nightmare Alley. (“What she brought to all these movies about rackets, about schemers and saps, was the ability to put over a con and let us enjoy her triumph, yet also to express, without sanctimony, the melancholy weight of too much knowledge.”)

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for week of April 26

Some marvelous audio finds from Cinephilia and Beyond. First, courtesy of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, Alfred Hitchcock and Ernest Lehman work out the bishop’s kidnapping from Family Plot, the screenwriter cautious to fit the scene in to the movie as a whole, the director with the cathedral already constructed in his mind’s eye delighting in the possibility of “so many angles on this—so many shots.” (A transcript is also available.)

But it’s the website of Tony Macklin that’s the real treasure trove. Macklin, former editor of Film Heritage magazine, has been posting the (crudely captured, fair warning) recordings of his interviews here; the most recently posted, up just this week, is a dandy 1973 chat with Andrew Sarris; previous subjects include Altman, Eastwood, Peckinpah, Poitier, Sylbert, Head…. Just look; there’ll be somebody you’re dying to hear talk.

Children of Paradise

Matthew Spektor’s stint as a director of literary acquisitions (i.e., the guy who read and recommended books), starting with Coppola and DeVito, taught him that Hollywood does actually know what they’re doing; and what they’re doing is tossing the middle class on the scrap heap.

“Post-modernism before the fact—trash-mashing the ghastly with the frivolous, history and horror trumped by consumer products, the grim and the soothing, the high and the low together, sleeping in one Procrustean bed.” At This Long Century Mark Rappaport has a typically allusive, thought-provoking essay on the stills from Children of Paradise that beguiled him as a youngster, and the magazine he found them in: a 1945 issue of Life juxtaposing grim stories of the surrender of Germany with slick, bouncy adverts.

“Who is Pierre Etaix?” The question posed repeatedly at the end of the director’s documentary feature Land of Milk and Honey is answered exquisitely by David Cairns. Also at Criterion, a collection of Etaix’s sketches that reminds how multivalent his genius is.

Imogen Smith revels in the melodramatic (and actorly) pleasures of Lewis Allen’s So Evil My Love, wherein “theft, forgery, blackmail, murder, sickness, alcoholism, adultery, and betrayals that have no name corrode this world from the inside, like a drug that numbs as it kills.”

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