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by Bruce Reid

How do you not find that hilarious? Celebrating Jerry Lewis

Take it from experience: one of the first questions asked of any Jerry Lewis fan who declares his admiration is, “Do you really find him funny?” The question isn’t as confrontational as it seems; read generously, there’s even a bit of a back-handed compliment in there. Sure, he’s an interesting case study in American celebrity, worthy of attention; the acknowledgement that, depending on the age and viewing habits of the interlocuter, he gave surprisingly supple, moving dramatic turns in The King of Comedy, Wiseguy, Funny Bones; and all right, he made you laugh as a kid. But now? Funny?

Well, I really do and always have. Lewis’s reaction to calamity—the spasmodic efforts at extraction, interspersed by rounds of disturbing calm, building to the burst of apoplectic frenzy that proves as futile as any other measure tried—is as iconic and hilarious as Keaton’s unperturbed fatalism or Groucho’s peevish snipes. Lazy impersonations of Lewis focus on the mania and miss those pauses the perfectionist, preternaturally gifted physical comedian would lace into his bits. A random limb swiftly raised then replaced just as quickly, the intention realized as useless almost the instant it’s conceived; the trailing-off sentence fragments and swallowed coughs, a need to articulate the dilemma strangled by the pointlessness (or impossibility?) of the effort; the childlike defensive stance, crouched so his butt sticks out and face juts forward, and cautious tread—more a single legged-pivot with, somehow, forward momentum—around the problem; the hand briefly cradling the brow beginning to seethe. It’s a magnificent collection of cancelled gestures and never-stated oaths, as if even Lewis’s frustration was being frustrated. And then—and only then, snarky shouters of nasal freundlavens should note—the explosion.

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Video: Framing Pictures for August 2017

Film critics and Seattle film mavens Robert Horton, Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy and Bruce Reid dive into two new films: Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit. Then, Jeanne Moreau’s recent passing sparks a conversation about the love of film, the love of talking about film, and why cinema captivates us.

You can also watch it on the Seattle Channel website.

Keep up with the discussion at the Framing Pictures Facebook page.

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of August 18

At Film Comment, praise for an overlooked director and one of the most famous movie stars who still hasn’t gotten his due, as Nick Pinkerton looks at the career of Gerd Oswald (“In depicting incessant small-talk as a kind of water torture drip on a delicate sensibility, [Crime of Passion] pulls up just short of R.W. Fassbinder and Michael Fengler’s 1970 Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? And the connection between these two German filmmakers a generation apart, both deeply invested in the experience of domestic despair, is not so obscure as it may seem—both favor compositions with characters facing front-forward, creating an effect both confrontational and alienating.”). While Sheila O’Malley offers her latest fine defense of Elvis Presley on screen even when he’s not strumming a guitar (“In the final years of Presley’s contract, nobody was paying attention anymore. Sadly, some of his best movies come from this period. Many of them are not musicals, outside of the title songs. There’s a looseness to them, a roiling chaos lacking in the Elvis Formula movies. Presley is unleashed, his persona naturally expanding to include more eccentric shadings.”)

“Kendig is nobody’s idea of a superspy, though. He’s not slick. He’s not even smooth. What he is is the smartest guy in almost every room he puts himself in. Intelligence is a key component of the Matthau persona. His incarnation of The Odd Couple überslob Oscar Madison is the only one that makes you believe the character really could be a newspaper writer. In The Fortune Cookie, his due-for-a-comeuppance shyster is a little too smart for his own good. And so on.” Glenn Kenny has a few insightful lines about Hopscotch’s bridging the ’70s paranoia thriller and the gung-ho ’80s variations, and some deserved nice words for Ronald Neame, but he never pretends the film’s chief attraction could be anything other than Walter Matthau. Singing, yet.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of August 11

“The distinctive tone of Minnellian melodrama rises out of the protagonist’s frustrated attempt to sublimate desire into art and transform the real with the imaginary. This project is doomed, but it provides the films with an impressive stylistic ‘excess’ or melodramatic delirium. It also makes the artist a lonely figure. We occasionally feel this loneliness in the more optimistic musicals, which transform the world through song and dance, but in the melodramas the characters never fully reconcile life and imagination. Especially in such films as The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), Lust for Life (1956), and Two Weeks in Another Town (1962), Minnelli seems to recognize that the utopian force of art can never transcend its social and psychological circumstances. The melodramas are therefore the most revealing examples of his work—the place where the paradoxes and contradictions of his aestheticism become apparent.” James Naremore offers a distillation of his exemplary book The Films of Vincent Minnelli, charting in 4,500 words why, undeniable as the consistency of his themes may be and howsoever strong a lineage he drew from modern art, the director’s oeuvre remains so critically controversial and impossible to pin down as the unalloyed stylings of a master. Via (as so much this week is) David Hudson.

“The woman the clergyman obsesses over, played by Génica Athanasiou, is—Sandy Flitterman-Lewis has argued—less an object of desire than a “force of desire”. She resists consumption by the spectator, and Allin’s clergyman is too weak to compete with her. Whenever he attempts to capture her, the director intervenes to save her from his touch: he grabs at her neck, and the neck becomes a house; he puts her face into a bottle, but when the bottle breaks we find his face inside. With a surrealist disdain for the normal bounds of filmed reality, Dulac uses editing and superimposition to protect Athanasiou’s character.” Chelsea Phillips-Carr shows how prescient Dulac’s The Seashell and the Clergyman truly was, as both surrealist experience and a feminist rejection of male desire—for the audience as much as her eponymous priest.

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Video: Framing Pictures for July 2017

Film critics and Seattle film mavens Robert Horton, Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy and Bruce Reid discuss the “B” movies–Baby DriverThe Bad Batch, and The Beguiled–and the legacy of Alfred Hitchcock (spurred by the release of Hitchcock’s breakthrough film The Lodger on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD).

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

The next conversation convenes at 7pm on Friday, August 11.

You can also watch it on the Seattle Channel website.

Keep up with the discussion at the Framing Pictures Facebook page.

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of August 4

“This eventually leads to one of the only purely erotic sequences in To’s body of work, in which Yam’s and Lin’s characters share a cigarette on a leisurely drive in a vintage Mercedes convertible. The narrative purpose of this or any other sequence in Sparrow is secondary at best. It’s all about the musicality that’s the essence of To’s style. Anyone who’s interested in the nuts and bolts of film craft would do well to study the guy.” Ignatiy Vishnevetsky’s appreciation of Johnny To’s Sparrow is alert to the film’s playfulness and homages, while subtly making the larger point that perhaps something essential has gone missing in a film culture where masters can no longer make such inconsequential delights in between their grand statements.

“But Wenders also perceived the sympathetic faces of angels watching over Berlin everywhere he went (most notably the Friedensengel monument) and found that he was inexplicably drawn to angelic symbolism in other realms: a song by The Cure, a painting by Paul Klee, elegies by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. He wasn’t sure where it was all going, but the seemingly disparate imagery of dilapidated Berlin and serene angels had begun to fuse in his mind.” That contrast that became the crux of Wenders’s Wings of Desire also informed the soundtrack, from Jürgen Knieper’s mournful, ethereal score to the collection of pop tunes, as Clare Nina Norelli explicates.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of July 28

“Last year, a series of Fulci’s films and several exhibitions of postwar Italian painting coincided on New York’s cultural calendar. Shows of Schifano’s work and that of several other figures in the Italian avant-garde of that period, such as Alighiero Boetti, Giulio Paolini, Alberto Burri, and Fabio Mauri, colonized uptown art galleries. Downtown at Anthology Film Archives, the Italian film programming collective Malastrana presented “Lucio Fulci: Genre Terrorist,” an October showcase of 15 films by the Italian director. Though it’s safe to say there was little overlap in the crowds viewing the post-war paintings and those reveling in grindhouse gore, the two seemingly distant bodies of work bear a number of distinct points of comparison and reference.” Chris Shields points out the numerous debts and points of contact between postwar Italian art and the postwar Italian horror film, particularly the bleak, “texturally obsessed” landscapes of Fulci.

“Apart from the idyllic partisan forest, there also exists the tragic universe beyond the forest’s bounds. These two universes, closed on themselves with heightened genre definitiveness and finality, oppose one another and define each other through this opposition. In the forest reigns early autumn, with its sun shining through the luxuriantly yellow foliage. But around the forest is a pre-winter season, with its bare wastelands, where under heavy skies and wind skeletal trees are stripped of their leaves and burned down huts stand still. During some of the shots the viewer is startled: we’re seeing the landscapes from IVAN’S CHILDHOOD.” A newly translated excerpt from Evgenii Margolit’s 2012 book The Living and the Dead places Boris Barnet’s A Good Lad as the wellspring of Soviet war films—despite its unorthodoxy and official banning. Via Mubi.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of July 21

Good Morning is inarguably the least loved and least representative in the Ozu oeuvre. But as is often true of early comedy in more or less anybody’s oeuvre—whether or not they’re known as comic artists—Good Morning is one of the seeds from which Ozu’s later works grow, a sort of first principle. It is perhaps a more intricately structured investigation of what we can say through the walls of time and age and experience erected even between parents and children, siblings, lovers. It is a chamber piece for all the human linguistic instruments: fart and sigh, small talk and drunken ramble, all the possible declarations of weakness, suspicion, compromise, and love of which you could conceive.” I’d say Annie Julia Wyman’s initial statement up there is much more than arguable, but past that her praise of Ozu’s celebration of the wordless means by which we convey love—including, yes, farts—is spot on.

“It might seem rather a cliché to insist that film is a visual medium, but surely what is not spoken is just as important, in the total effect of this movie, as the articulation of its earnest ethical strivings. Tarkovsky seems to have found a way of photographing the human head—animated and in repose—as it had never been photographed before. He makes it monumental: sculptural and philosophical. Granted the chaotic interruptions to the pro­duction process (of which more shortly), the concentration of effort he achieved here strikes me as nothing short of miraculous. Naturally, these human heads had to be extraordinary in the first place: not just that of the Stalker (Alexander Kaidanovsky) but the Writer’s and the Professor’s as well. How hypnotically the camera inves­tigates them!” Mark Le Fanu traces the oppressive state of mind under which Tarkovsky conceived Stalker as a hidden religious allegory, and briefly recounts the horrifying ordeal of the shoot, in which the third time (filming the picture) might have been the charm but also the reason so many of the crew, director included, succumbed to cancer.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of July 14

“The three features Berger and Tanner made together are essentially films about class. Characters are struggling to live life after political failure, finding ways to resume their resistance to a value system that remains ever-present and crushing. Berger, as a writer and as a human being—the two were never truly separated—was engaged in a similar process. His work became increasingly focused on the poor and working class following his move to Quincy, and he was searching for a form to match his subjects.” Craig Hubert traces the political and formal evolution—which would lead to the dissolution of the partnership—of the three films that writer John Berger and director Alain Tanner made together. Via David Hudson.

At Criterion, a pair of essays on crime films that couldn’t have less in common. Adrian Martin traces the history of distillation that resulted in Bresson’s final film L’argent standing alone even within such a unique filmography. (“Rather, the ominous “agent” at work here is money: the workings of an entire capitalist system boiled down to the movement of a forged note and the unstoppable catastrophe that it triggers. As money travels, it dehumanizes everyone it touches, no matter their class status or religious or ideological beliefs. What, in other hands, could be played as the premise for a screwball comedy (the phony dollar bill that caused such riotous havoc in a small-town community!) is treated by Bresson as the darkest tragedy.”) While Benjamin Mercer salutes one of Japan’s finer directors of detective films, still underacknowledged in the West, Yoshitaro Nomura. (“The director was certainly something more than an ace at operating within any given genre, often avoiding clichés, combining narrative modes in unusual ways, and wisely taking a page from Matsumoto in his eye for telling details and attention to contemporaneous social realities. Nomura’s films are perhaps most remarkable, though, for their immersive sense of place, most strikingly felt when their protagonists find themselves amid what is to them foreign terrain, if still on Japanese soil.”)

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of July 7

Freshly returned from their pilgrimage to Il Cinema Ritrovato festival, David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson offer three articles outlining their fresh discoveries and welcome reacquaintances, from large-format experiments that actually predate moving pictures to the latest from Agnès Varda. Whether breaking down the humor in an early Ophüls or reveling in the fine early adaptors to sound from Mexico, the pair remind us that marvels lay scattered throughout the history of film, waiting to be revealed by the light.

“How to be adequate to this time of being in-between and not yet decided? This is what S?mai seems to have asked himself. The question determines the style of the film, which is in constant flux. Comedy is life seen in long shot, tragedy is life seen close-up, Chaplin said. What to do when it is precisely a question of avoiding the choice of genre? S?mai’s answer is to adopt a perpetual middle distance. In this middle distance, not enough is seen to let us say with any certitude that we are seeing an event and that we know what an event is. At the same time we also see too much, so much that we have to look away, as if the event were too powerful, overwhelming.” Chris Fujiwara finds Shinji S?mai’s Typhoon Club a perfect match of meaning and methods, its own transcendence of genre reflecting its lead character’s aim to rise above the social demands of his school. Via David Hudson.

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

“The sheer pleasure in filming that can be found in just about all of Gréville’s works touched me at the time and still moves me today: fleetingly present in commissions (Le port du désir, 1954, deceptively present, and containing a beautiful underwater sequence, in Dorothée cherche l’amour, 1945, which also has a very well-directed gunfight); and sustained throughout his best works (Secret Lives, Noose, Pour une nuit d’amour, Le Diable souffle, Remous, Brief Ecstasy, parts of L’Envers du paradis, 1953, and L’Accident). This joy in filming bears no relationship to the visual brio of a Duvivier, the dazzling rigor of a Jean Grémillon or a Max Ophüls. It privileges surprise, the pileup of ideas, the flow of images that recalls wordplay, without ever being in danger of excess or ridicule. Gréville doesn’t recoil from special effects, doesn’t hesitate to divide the screen in two like a checkerboard in which the heads of his characters are inlaid, or set doves into flight above the Panthéon (in Menaces), and this audacity often pays off, even if it may make proponents of the sober and the natural smile.” Edmond Gréville enjoyed a long career in both France and England, but his films have mostly fallen to obscurity; a status, Bertrand Tavernier’s impassioned advocacy insists, in need of correction.

“So determining how much of the plot originated with Stannard and how much with Hitchcock would be difficult. (Hitch took no cowriting credit, but then he often didn’t, though he was almost always closely involved with the scripting of his films.) It could be that the director picked up ideas here that he would go on to repeat and develop in his later work or, equally possibly, that the plot of The Lodger allowed him scope to explore preoccupations that he had already been mulling over.” Philip Kemp emphasizes The Lodger’s role as the first Hitchcock film worthy of the title Hitchcockian—though he overreaches in claiming this begins Hitch’s fascination with blondes, a trope the director literally kicked off his career with in the opening scene of his debut The Pleasure Garden.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of June 23

“Though Le trou is remarkably more austere, it is still in the tradition of all of Becker’s previous movies, built as they are out of lost time. A constellation of glances, gestures, and acts of physical grace, the film is an unlikely blend of styles. If the overwhelming feeling is for the pleasure derived from the professional way Becker’s inmates treat their escape, there is also a flipside feeling of moments spent relaxing between key sequences.” Christopher Small burnishes the reputation of the still underrated Jacques Becker by the most direct means available to an auteurist cinephile: direct comparison (of three of Becker’s films) to Howard Hawks.

“Like Leos Carax, Jarmusch is a filmmaker of romantic and poetic fantasy conceits in which a certain nostalgie de la boue always plays a part. But unlike Carax, Jarmusch’s sense of fantasy is always grounded in at least a superficial sense of banal reality; even his century-old vampires occupy the recognizably mundane quarters of Detroit and Tangier. Paterson is of course less obvious as a fantasy than Only Lovers Left Alive, yet its utopian vision of small-town America as a friendly multiracial community in which every person appears to be some sort of artist is clearly sustainable only as a defiant poetic conceit that flies in the face of a Trump-led America, however gentle its multiple articulations might be.” Cycling through Jarmusch’s tendencies as a minimalist, fabulist, and poet Jonathan Rosenbaum places Paterson‘s everyday utopia in the director’s ouvre with his typical keen observation–barring the odd assertion that Rizwan Manji is Latino. Via David Hudson.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of June 16

“The discovery of a ‘secret child’ (L’Enfant secret, J’entends plus la guitare), the failed or successful suicide attempts (Les Hautes Solitudes; the short Rue Fontaine, 1984; Night Wind, 1999; Frontier of Dawn, 2007), May ’68 (at the core of Regular Lovers but repeatedly referenced in many others), electroshock therapy (L’Enfant secret, Frontier of Dawn), the inaugural infidelity of the female partner (Emergency Kisses; J’entends plus la guitare; The Birth of Love; Regular Lovers; A Burning Hot SummerJealousy, 2013; In the Shadow of Women), the birth of a child (J’entends plus la guitare, The Birth of Love, Frontier of Dawn, A Burning Hot Summer, Jealousy). It is the traumatic or joyful mark left by those events in the memory of the filmmaker that dictates their reappearance from film to film, as if the emotion associated with them compelled their depiction.” Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin take stock of Philippe Garrel’s 50-year career, a half century dedicated to minimalist staging of autobiographical tales that insist upon authenticity even as they eschew realism.

“He more than once filmed Jane giving birth, turned their arguments and lovemaking into cinematic subjects, embellished his footage of their life in rural Colorado with wild superimposed images drawn from Norse mythology, and—in the Eighties—made pained films about their separation and divorce. But the moment he turned his camera on his family they, too, became concentrations of light whose “qualities and varieties” he could study. The films he made of them shine with love and tenderness and at the same time suggest an odd disregard for the recipients of that love.” Another career five decades in length, and for large stretches as disquietingly autobiographical, was Stan Brakhage’s. Max Nelson limns the domestic tension that acted as source for several of the most rapturous images ever captured, painted, scratched, or pasted on to film; a source Brakhage let drop with appropriate humility when his second wife nixed his filming the family for his art. Via David Hudson.

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Video: Framing Pictures for June 2017

Film critics and Seattle film mavens Robert Horton, Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy and Bruce Reid discuss Wonder Woman, David Lynch’s return to the Pacific Northwest Gothic of Twin Peaks, and home video releases of two classics: Nicholas Ray’s They Live By Night and Sam Peckinpah’s The Ballad of Cable Hogue.

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

You can also watch it on the Seattle Channel website.

Keep up with the discussion at the Framing Pictures Facebook page.

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of June 9

Criterion’s latest release of another collection culled from the Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project has Martin Scorsese’s name and stamp of approval on the box cover art, but some hefty names on the liner notes doing the actual introductions. This round features Phillip Lopate pondering the Fassbinderian elements of Brocka’s Insiang (“It is hard to say what part of this is crude filmmaking and what part a conscious stylistic device, meant to draw us further into an oneiric, meditative space”); Dennis Lim celebrates the narrative delirium of Weerasethakul’s debut Mysterious Objects at Noon (“As with the work of many of today’s most adventurous filmmakers… Apichatpong’s films rewire the relationship between fiction and documentary. More precisely, they perform a kind of alchemy by which contact with reality turns their narratives that much richer and stranger.”); Fábio Andrade is as compelling on the mythology that accrued around Peixoto’s long-unseen Limite as he is on the film itself (“When the magazine Filme cultura conducted a poll in 1968 on the best Brazilian films of all time, Limite ranked tenth, even though the film had been out of circulation for over thirty-five years and completely inaccessible for almost a decade”); Andrew Chan imagines the shock to the system Yang provided audiences with Taipei Story (“[the film] regards globalized architecture, in all its pervasiveness, not as a portal to the outside world but as an enclosure, something to be thrashed against”); Kent Jones does the magisterial job you’d expect using his brief space to tie Shinarbaev’s Revenge into the larger Kazakh New Wave (“The word Kazakh means “the people who wandered away from the center,” and the nomadic spirit is present in all of these films, whether they are set in the Altai Mountains or in downtown Almaty or Astana”); and Bilge Ebiri makes note of Law of the Border, the momentous collaboration between writer/actor Y?lmaz Güney and director Lütfi Ö. Akad that “[in] many ways… is the fulcrum on which much of modern Turkish cinema turns.”

“This is where the act of creation meets the act of viewing and engaging, where the common life of the filmmaker and the viewer exists, in those intervals of time between the filmed images that last a fraction of a fraction of a second but that can be vast and endless. This is where a good film comes alive as something more than a succession of beautifully composed renderings of a script. This is film-making.” Scorsese, meanwhile, is over at the Times Literary Supplement offering up a defense of cinema as an artform as interactive, as dependent upon the viewer’s imaginative participation, as any novel.

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