Academic journals may not seem the most conducive forum for celebrations of comedy, but the new issue of cléo tackles the subject admirably, from Jovana Jankovic’s appreciation for why the compulsions played out by every character in Serial Mom makes its gleefully murderous lead so funny (“As she grins delightedly when surprising a victim in her bedroom closet with a pair of scissors, so do we. As she takes pleasure in doing whatever the hell she wants without concern for repercussions, so do we momentarily escape into a world where doing whatever the hell one wants (and looking good doing it) is a liberating and gratifyingly consequence-free option.”) to Erica Peplin’s song of praise for Jennifer Coolidge (“From which perfect cloud of pink convertibles, lip gloss and acrylic nails did you fall? You’ve been a staple in the film industry for over two decades. You have graced us with your presence in so many films that my finger gets tired scrolling through your IMDb page. In the war of the Jennifers—Lawrence, Aniston, Connelly, ad infinitum—you might be billed number two or three (or, like, six) but you’ve always held first place in my heart.”). Veronica Fitzpatrick’s interesting, and spoiler-filled, look at the destabilizing use of laughter in Mélanie Laurent’s Breathe leans a bit more on the jargon (“Laughter isn’t just decontextualized by the film’s editing; it has an increasingly arbitrary relation to affect, such that Sarah laughing in one moment doesn’t protect Charlie from being slapped across the face by her in the next.”), while Sarah Hagi drops it entirely chronicling her “hate watch” of the anti-feminist DTV religious film Christian Mingle (“At first, I wasn’t sure the first date would lead to anything, only because the two leads have zero chemistry and he’s a pair of khaki pants personified. For one date, they go out for sushi and he can barely eat it because he’s so American he can only eat chili-dogs. This is when Gwyneth starts falling hard…somehow.”).
“Reflecting the developing perception evident in most major cities circa the early 1930s, Henri and the others in Mauvaise Graine have bought into the increasingly fast-paced contemporary notion that personal transportation signifies innovative independence and a get-up-and-go social momentum. With this newfound mobility, however, as with any new technology, comes new professions and new opportunities for crime, and as seen in Mauvaise Graine, new avenues where the two intersect.” For Jeremy Carr, Wilder’s directorial debut, shot in Paris in 1934, has some hints of his future career; but even more, as Wilder himself claimed, can be found the first hints of the location staging and movie-mad self-aware protagonists that would define the New Wave.
Via Criterion, a pair of tributes to iconic (in one case at least, for all the wrong reasons) actors. Bilge Ebiri salutes Jeff Bridges for having grown into the rugged outsider that was the promise and undercurrent of his career all along. (“Bridges has finally eased into the part of the western hero. But he’s still, somehow, that same questioning, restless kid. And it’s that quality that lends these roles a kind of otherworldly complexity—that takes them out of the realm of cliché or caricature. He’s still playing a man whom the times have passed by—a survivor who recognizes that there’s no place for him in this world.”) And Sheila O’Malley revisitsSudden Fear to remind us that dismissing Joan Crawford as camp or a perfectionist obscures how much emotional truth she could pack into her carefully planned bits of physical business. (“There is a sequence that is up there with the best work Crawford ever did: Myra hides in a closet, face drenched in sweat, hand clamped over her mouth to suppress the sound of her breathing. Even more astonishing, there is only a thin band of light illuminating just a portion of her face. Crawford does more within that thin band of light than most actors can do in full spotlight.”)
While at Criterion itself, an excerpt from Arthur Hiller’s autobiography recalls in breezy, conversational tones the making of The In-Laws (“As wonderful as Peter and Alan were in the firing squad scene, they were equally wonderful in so many others, whether it was an action scene or a normal one. I shouldn’t say “normal,” because each scene was offbeat. What I liked about the picture was that it was rooted in reality. As outrageous or off-the-wall as most of the scenes were, you felt they could happen. You even felt Peter was driving backward on the freeway into oncoming traffic.”); and Imogen Sara Smith tackles that eternal question of film criticism, What Makes a Film Noir a Noir?, by arguing for the inclusion of The Red Shoes into the canon. (“Don’t get me wrong: I love these iconic elements as much as the next noir addict, but I also see the essence of noir in films that look and sound very different. This essence lies below the surface of crime and violence, in an interior world of alienation, anxiety, obsession, disillusionment. Or as crime writer David Goodis sums it up in his novel Nightfall: ‘a certain amount of confusion, some despair mixed in, and some loneliness, and some bitterness, and topped with a dash of desperation.’”)
“Utilizing characters and landscapes in such a way, Reichardt’s films resist an easily definable tone. Action is anecdotal rather than decisive, fragmentary rather than fluid: not quite gestural or symbolic, but a little too improvised or elliptical to seem fully realistic. Favoring the quotidian over the set-piece, the writer-director makes us work: at the beginning of Meek’s Cutoff, all we get in terms of exposition is Oregon, 1845—which appears on the title card—and one character etching “LOST” into a tree trunk. Dialogue is frequently off-screen: some exchanges unfold solely through reaction shots, which effectively frustrates our scene-to-scene orientation.” Michael Pattison stalks the mysteries and unspoken motivations that tie Kelly Reichardt’s films together in a “cinema of misfits and margins.”
“Nowadays this story might be taken by James Gray, casting Mark Wahlberg in the smooth-talking Bourke role and the more earnest Joaquin Phoenix as Kennedy, a quintessential 1930s brotherhood standing on each side of an urban moral divide. Except Gray would linger on the grave splendor in these men’s beings, the operatic challenge of being a cop, a husband, a man. Edward L. Cahn is no less serious but achieves a leanness which bares the emotion and the tenseness of these two lives, Kennedy’s and Bourke’s, without lingering for a single extra moment on something beyond themselves—or too deep within. When Kennedy sees himself in uniform in the mirror we don’t get a richer psychology, a flashing psychic charge, or a forceful, sculpted mythos. We see a man looking at himself in uniform.” Daniel Kasman argues the budget-dictated leanness of Radio Patrol—or rather Cahn’s ingenious employment of it—is one of its great strengths.
“When you do sports movies, it’s really a bummer to take fields of play away from people, so we hunted for new courses that people hadn’t played yet. That’s how we got Kingwood and Deerwood, in Houston, as our U.S. Open site. We had the USGA come in to lay out the course in real U.S. Open conditions. And we fell in love with Tubac Golf Resort and La Paloma, in Arizona, for Roy’s local driving range and for the qualifying-round scenes. We could’ve muscled our way into a lot of places, but you don’t want to shit on golf fans just to make a movie.” Chris Nashawaty’s oral history on the making of Tin Cup pales compared to previous such articles on Ron Shelton films, whose sports environs and themes of competition tend to inspire a fun, macho garrulousness when their makers look back. Though it is interesting to learn that out of all Shelton’s movies, the one explicitly designed to appeal to a female audience might have been the most hell-razing offset, thanks mostly to Don Johnson avoiding downtime boredom.
“One day, Marty announced that next week’s movie was Rear Window. This caused quite a stir. No one had seen Rear Window in years. Hitchcock refused to allow any public screenings. How was Marty going to pull it off? That Tuesday, the class was packed. People were sitting on the floor, in the aisles, and on the radiators when Marty entered the room wearing a cowboy hat and firing a cap gun into the air. Now that he had our attention, he had a confession to make. He had lied to us. We were not going to see Rear Window until next week. Groan. Instead we were going to see a John Wayne western in which the Duke plays a racist bastard. ‘If you leave the room, you fail the course,’” Marty said. Big groan. The Green Berets was in release, and only Richard Nixon was less popular than John Wayne. Is this what we had gone to the barricades for? Marty guarded the only exit with his cap gun. ‘This movie is called The Searchers and you will never see a better western.’” Leonard Maltin reprints a wonderful 1983 reminiscence by Allan Arkush of NYU film school in the ‘60s: from pretentious student films and porno films covertly shot on campus to the manic-talking teacher whose enthusiasm for American genre films proved so infectious; and who would later would wear these influences on his sleeve in the likes of Mean Streets, New York, New York, and Taxi Driver. Via Matt Fagerholm.
“We had only one moment of confrontation. There was a gorgeous picture of her on the front cover, and on the back I showed her with Bogart. Absolutely not, she exploded; this was her book, not his. That really pushed my buttons. ‘Listen, Bacall,’ I said, ‘people want to know about you and him, and you’ve written hundreds of pages about him. It’s my job to sell your book, he’s the major selling point, and he’s going on the back cover.’ ‘Fine,’ she said. Like most actors she responded positively to a strong directorial hand. By then, of course, we had developed a real . . . friendship? Not exactly, because I don’t think she had a talent for intimacy; she was too wary. But she was a good, loyal pal, so I suppose what we had was a real palship, and it lasted for decades.” In an excerpt from his autobiography, Robert Gottlieb recalls editing the memoirs of Lauren Bacall, Irene Selznick, and Selznick’s (ultimately Gottlieb’s as well) hated forced companion, Katherine Hepburn.
“In each case [of reaction to her successive films], it was too much. Too much love and then too much hate. The Artist was not the best film of its year, and The Search was not the worst. You realise you’re in the middle of something that has nothing to do with you.” Ryan Gilbey interviews Bérénice Bejo about how she deals with lack of control, whether over the critics turning on her and husband/director Michael Hazanavicius or dealing with the existential blow of terrorist attacks on French soil.
“The way I generally work is that I do try to leave as many decisions as I possibly can to the day of, because it feels like that’s where you’re most in tune to what’s going on. I sort of feel like my job is to be a conduit to opportunities, to maximize the creativity of the day itself—because that’s when the cameras are running. That’s the important thing to me. Some of these shots you need to think about it advance; you need to have some ideas for them. And some of them are things where you just go, ‘Well, let’s try that.’” Hell or High Water’s David Mackenzie talks with Ignatiy Vishnevestsky on the benefits of shooting quickly and on the cheap.
Director Arthur Hiller was part of the class of Playhouse 90, developing his craft directing live TV drama before moving to such TV shows as Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Rifleman, Naked City, and Route 66. He made his feature debut with the 1957 film The Careless Years but remained primarily a TV director until the mid-1960s and directed his biggest hit in 1970: Love Story, which earned Hiller his sole Academy Award nomination. He directed two Paddy Chayefsky scripts (The Americanization of Emily, 1964, The Hospital, 1971), brought two Neil Simon plays to the big screen (The Out-of-Towners, 1970, Plaza Suite, 1971), and directed Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder in Silver Streak (1976) and See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989). He directed a musical (Man of La Mancha, 1972), a horror film (Nightwing, 1979), and one of the first serious studio dramas to explore a gay relationship (Making Love, 1982), and was picked by Alan Arkin to direct The In-Laws (1979), considered by many (this writer included) to be one of the funniest American films of its era. He also served as president of the Director’s Guild of America and of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, and received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian award in 2002. He was 92. Dave Kehr for The New York Times.
Kenny Baker was the man in the R2-D2 suit in Star Wars (1977) and its next five sequels and prequels (as well as the notorious made-for-TV The Star Wars Holiday Special). The British actor, who measured 3’8″ high, spent his life in show business, skating in ice shows, performing stand-up comedy, and appearing in variety shows. On the big screen, his biggest role outside of the Star Wars universe was playing Fidgit in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits (1981). He had small roles in Flash Gordon (1980), Amadeus (1984), Mona Lisa (1986), and Labyrinth (1986) and co-starred in the BBC adaptation of Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1989). He passed away at the age of 86 after a long illness. Nicola Slawson for The Guardian.
Fyvush Finkel had a long career in Yiddish theater before he broke through to mainstream audiences with a featured role in the TV series Picket Fences and later on Boston Public, both from creator / producer David E. Kelley. On the big screen he appeared in Brighton Beach Memoirs (1986), Q & A (1990), For Love or Money (1993), Nixon (1995), and in the prologue of the Coen Bros.’s A Serious Man 92009). He died at the age of 92. Joseph Berger for The New York Times.
“What kind of time machine is it that involves little more than covering the eyes? (To be precise, the hero was given some intravenous injections, too, but these served likewise to numb the senses, unraveling “the present and its certainties.”) My hunch is that covering the eyes and putting a record on may contain something of the time machine in and of itself.” The release of La Jetée’s soundtrack on a collector’s LP prompts Matthew H. Evans to a lovely exegesis of the bottomless philosophical meanings of memory in Marker’s half-hour short.
“Wise Blood sticks exceptionally close to the incidents and dialogue of its source. Its great faithfulness to O’Connor lies elsewhere, though: in the actors’ tactile realization of her characters, in the uncanny sense of being in a place that exists both in real time and outside of it, and in Huston’s determination to preserve the inexplicable mystery of Hazel Motes.” Stuart Klawans finds John Huston made just about every right directorial choice you could hope in the impossible task of adapting Flannery O’Connor to the screen—especially the proverbial 90% of the job that’s casting.
Film critics Bruce Reid, Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy, and Robert Horton debate and discuss the polarizing film The Neon Demon, the work of director Michael Cimino, and the unifying filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami in the July 2016 edition of Framing Pictures from Scarecrow Video.
These discussions are held in the screening room of Scarecrow Video on the second Friday of every month and are free to attend. The video appears a few weeks later on the Seattle Channel.
The August edition will take place on Friday, August 12 at 7pm at the Scarecrow Video Screening Room. More information at the Framing Pictures Facebook page.
“Herzog grins as he takes a seat in a conference room at UCLA, which has been set up for an event later this evening. His eyes droop, but his skin is remarkably smooth, like the surface of a slightly underinflated balloon. And then there’s that voice—silky, portentous—you can imagine it coming out of a GPS system giving driving directions to Valhalla. ‘I like to look back at the evolution of modern human beings,’ he says of his interest in the Internet. ‘Using fire or electricity was an enormous step for civilization, and this is one of those. And I think the poet must not avert his eyes.’” Jason Tanz’s profile of Werner Herzog makes a lot of hay over the meme-ification of its subject, the fun the Internet has mocking his somber philosophical ramblings. But almost accidentally the piece also shows what a level-headed hustler the director has to be to constantly keep working, convincing his backers to expand their plans for online advertisements and finance his latest documentary feature—Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World—the outtakes from which themselves are now lined up to be a television series.
“Luis Buñuel is usually regarded as quintessentially Spanish, yet he only made three films that fully qualify as Spanish — a short documentary called Land without Bread (1932) and two features, Viridiana (1961) and Tristana (1970). Furthermore, Viridiana created such a scandal in Franco Spain that when it was rejected by the censors there, it was identified exclusively as a Mexican feature, simply because it had a Mexican coproducer and by then all its Spanish credentials on paper had been destroyed (a tale told by one of its two Spanish producers, Catalan filmmaker Pere Portabella). Tristana, on the other hand, stars Catherine Deneuve in the title role, a French actress whose Spanish lines had to be dubbed by someone else. And every other film by the “most Spanish of Spanish directors” is either French or Mexican.” Jonathan Rosenbaum has posted an interesting 2008 article he wrote on expatriate filmmakers—both those who thrived and some (including Fuller and Makhmalbaf) whose filmmaking suffered outside their native lands as if they’d been cut off from their source. Via Criterion.
“One cannot make films if he does not like life, if he does not believe, above all, that the physical manifestations are privileged. The body does not lie, nor does the human face: this is the strength of the cinema and its health as opposed to literature.” Kino Slang has provided translations of two rapturous appreciations by Alexandre Astruc on Howard Hawks—specifically on Rio Lobo (“Unlike so many young people whom we know only too well, this old, super-silvered fox, Howard Hawks, is not going to permit his action to slow down and spoil our pleasure under the pretext of philosophizing or of making crocodile tears flow by lingering on rows of corpses which are barely cold and which he just lined up”) and Rio Bravo (quoted above). Via Mubi.
“The thing about Brother is that it’s stubbornly linear, but so suggestive that it just begs for inconclusive allegorical readings: a plot as simple and elemental as dirt, seeded with Freudian overtones, unaddressed nationalist subtexts, and black humor. The good stuff, in other words. Everything looks salvaged or secondhand. In most cases, it was.” Ignatiy Vishnevetsky revisits Balabanov’s Brother and finds the film still so spare and ingenious it overcomes its budgetary and thematic limitations—and even its “deranged” sequel, so crude and nationalistic it smashes to rubble the former film’s ambiguities.
Among the new Criterion releases, a pair of films that engage history and/or national myth with radical, indelibly modern style. David Bordwell outlines many of the innovations that make King Hu’s A Touch of Zen so different from its supposedly less “classical” contemporaries. (“This long opening not only builds up curiosity but also asks us to enjoy the visual values of Hu’s sumptuous costuming, chiaroscuro sets, and widescreen compositions full of graceful character movement. In one shot, the mysterious stranger dodges out of sight. Why? The monks’ saffron robes ease into the frame as a subdued burst of color in the pale street landscape, setting up a motif that reaches fruition, ninety minutes later, when golden blood streaks down a sash.”) While James Quandt findsMuriel the culmination of Resnais’s denied but obvious fascination with time and memory. (“Like the man who asks where the center of the city is only to be told that he is already in it, Muriel’s viewer may be left grasping for narrative and temporal coordinates. The film’s anxious, shardlike editing—Resnais claimed that the cuts numbered close to a thousand, though others have subtracted a hundred or two from that total—detailed in Cayrol’s script and ostentatiously announced by that initial cubist fusillade, further confounds the sense of duration and chronology, despite the scenario’s linear, symmetrical five-act structure. With its disorienting ellipses, compressions, attenuations, and its obsessive repetitions, Muriel anticipates the “shattered time” of that other Resnais masterpiece 1968’s Je t’aime, je t’aime but, without the latter’s memory machine and use of flashbacks, can be all the more confounding.”)
If any question remained of Leo McCarey’s place in the pantheon, MoMA’s retrospective of the director should finally put paid to any respectful but ultimately dismissive appreciations of him as an impeccable craftsman. The series has Nick Pinkerton considering the contradictions of McCarey’s career, and the beautiful music he could coax, both out of his onset piano, played during down time, and his actors on the screen. (“McCarey was parochial and universal. His approach was, as the saying goes, “revolutionary,” though like more than a few revolutionary artists he found the prospect of actual revolution abhorrent. He was both devout Catholic and a right-winger—and a sharp satirist of the institutions which he held dear.”) For Aaron Cutler, the humanism he showed for all his characters is paramount. (“McCarey was fundamentally a comic filmmaker, and he used comedy to help create sympathy and compassion for basic human efforts. Humor often arises through the beautiful personal recognitions that take place for the characters in his films—the small, wordless instances of revelations in which peoples’ faces show realizations that their entire lives have changed.”) While a 2012 essay on Ruggles of Red Gap has Dan Sallitt tracing McCarey’s character-based, observational humor back to his silent days. (“It’s fascinating that McCarey sweats over a scene like this as if he were still building laughs for Laurel & Hardy, even as he fully exploits the benefits of dialogue to craft detailed and unusual characterisations. One doesn’t feel a clash between particularised observation and the universal language of gags and comic effects – perhaps because McCarey finds ways of placing even individualised traits in a universal context.”)
The new Senses of Cinema arrives with dossiers on Twin Peaks, Rivette, and the topic I’m going to start with (so sue me), Jerry Lewis. There are articles on all of the twelve features Lewis directed, as well as pieces on The Day the Clown Cried and Robert Benayoun’s legendary six-hour collage documentaryBonjour Mr. Lewis (“Letting sketches run for four or five minutes at a stretch diffuses Benayoun’s line of reasoning so that what his series eventually proposes is less the illustration of a thesis about Lewis than a blossoming, exploratory drift through his career”). Some of the more interesting articles, as always, concern lesser-discussed films, like Steven Shaviro tracing the Lewisian slippages of identity within the Hitchcockian frame of The Big Mouth (“When Lewis himself plays someone who is boringly normal, his comedic mannerisms are all transmitted to others”) or Daniel Fairfax making the auteurist argument for the most critically ignored of Lewis’s features, One More Time (“If the plot description I gave earlier sounds rather conventional, this does not account for the numerous digressions, non sequiturs and extended gag-sequences that are scattered throughout the film—another aspect that betrays the Lewis touch”). Not that, say, Scott Bukatman on The Nutty Professor (“The surfeit of resolutions of the Kelp/Love dichotomy unsuccessfully masks the fact that there is no resolution at all”) or Murray Pomerance on The Ladies Man (“It is in this set revealed as itself that Herbert finally emerges to head downstairs, with the effect that Lewis’s character inhabits not—or not only—a fictive space but a practical one as well, and both simultaneously”) aren’t terrific reads on their own. And Chris Fujiwara has updated his nonpareil overview of Lewis’s filmography for the journal’s Great Directors section.
“As soon as she filed suit, Jack Warner wrote to every studio in town to remind them that she was still effectively under contract. In court the studio didn’t hesitate to fight dirty, insinuating that an affair was the real reason the actress had turned down one movie. The Warner attorneys, however, hadn’t reckoned on the de Havilland sang-froid. She had spent years on set with Michael Curtiz, one of the most notorious yellers in the business; these guys were nothing. So when one lawyer thundered, ‘Is it not true, Miss de Havilland, that on the morning of January 16, you wantonly refused to show up for work on Stage 8?’ ‘Certainly not,’ came the reply in that musical de Havilland voice. ‘I declined.’” In this week that has seen cinema lose so much let’s begin with a tribute to one of its enduring survivors, Olivia de Havilland, whose 100th birthday is aptly celebrated by Farran Smith Nehme.
“But even character does not exist in isolation. It is formed by an environment. And the immediate environment for noir is the world of capitalism. Of course, the majority of American films made during this period were set in capitalist societies, but noir is notable for stripping its milieu of any features not directly related to the circulation of money.” Staying at Sight & Sound, Brad Stevens limns some of the narrative tropes of film noir as played out in that quintessential example, Out of the Past.
The new issue of Offscreen is dedicated to so-called “quiet” science-fiction. Robert Fuoco takes a close look at two startling moments from The Thing and an exhaustive look at a third—the blood test scene that never fails to freak even after multiple viewings—to show how carefully Carpenter sets up and sometimes subverts the expectations of what the director himself cheekily dismisses as “cheap tricks.” (“Rather than adding new elements to blatantly distract us, Carpenter and the film’s editor Todd Ramsay gradually remove old ones. After all, we rarely think about what we aren’t seeing, yet this growing absence of shots works just as well to guide our attention in the direction the film wants.”) Daniel Garrett considers isolation, survival, and scientific skepticism—and science-fiction as a genre—as portrayed in Z for Zachariah and The Martian. (“The striking thing about [these films] is that they clear away most of the attributes of civilization, forcing lone individuals to sustain themselves using basic intellectual rudiments and resolute spirit.”) And Randolph Jordan dissects the precise use of sound in Stalker, and how it separates and unites the worlds inside and outside the Zone. (“Tarkovsky’s use of ambiguous offscreen sound often serves to call into question that which is seen on the screen; in Stalker, the reverse is often true: by using non-ambiguous sounds attached to sources we see on the screen, he calls into question everything that lies outside of the frame.”)
“Tarzan’s exercise in nomenclature [i.e., “Me Tarzan—you Jane”] has long been used to characterize the traditional model of sexual relations, the dominant man and the subservient woman, and, in the process, to mischaracterize what must be one of Hollywood’s happiest portraits of the satisfactions to be found in convention. The six Tarzan and Jane movies starring Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan produced by MGM between 1932, when the series began with Tarzan the Ape Man, and 1942, when it concluded happily with Tarzan’s New York Adventure, add up to an anatomy of a creature even rarer than those with whom Tarzan and Jane share their African escarpment: a marriage that works.” Charles Taylor sings the praises of a series that always had more erotic frisson and comic awareness than its camp-minded cultists cared to admit.
At Film Comment, Margaret Barton-Fumo commends the eclecticism of Ryuichi Sakamoto, finding surprising yet thematically appropriate ways to soundtrack his films’ themes. (“A representative sampling of Sakamoto deep in the groove of his career comes with two films he scored for Brian De Palma, Snake Eyes (98) and Femme Fatale (02)…. Poignant and neo-classical, Sakamoto’s scores for these two films stage a fine counterpoint to the director’s unrelenting cynicism.”) And Graham Fuller finds the dedicated Brechtian always peering out from inside Alan Clarke’s searing social portraits. (“Sympathetic to social misfits and family casualties (as is Loach), youths especially, and antagonistic to patriarchal institutions (the Church, governments, the courts, prisons, schools, hospitals, multinationals), he was the telly auteur as roving anarchist—not an ideologue, however, but a director who approached the cinematic space representing Britain as a hectic ontological battleground.”)
R. Emmet Sweeney is celebrating summer by going through the films of the most seasonably appropriate director, Rohmer. He kicks off with La Collectionneuse (“Daniel and Adrien have reached a state of decadence and rot, ready to concede the end of the ’60s dream. They wear ratty nightgowns while Haydée is grasping for the future.”) and Claire’s Knee (“La Collectionneuse depicts the curdling of male desire outside of Saint-Tropez, while the male protagonist of Claire’s Knee is trying to trigger his lust in an attempt to overcome it.”). Abbey Bender has pretty much the same idea, offering a gallery of the definitive Rohmer fashion, the female bathing suit. (“Rohmer swimsuits often embrace imperfection. The orange bikini bottom in La Collectioneuse bunches slightly, and the bikini that Haydée (Haydée Politoff) wears in the film’s opening rides up and twists in the back. In the world of Rohmer such imperfections add a down-to-earth allure.”) Via David Hudson.
“So it’s finished. A structure to house one man and the greatest treasure of all time.” “And a structure to last for all time.” “Only history will tell.” History’s been less than kind to one of Hawks’s oddest, darkest structures, Land of the Pharaohs, though Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, without denying its occasional corniness (how could you), finds it “a perfect example of a movie organized in images, some so overwhelming that they manage to absorb its flaws.”
“In one part [of the script], Jiang described a chase through a mine with the characters riding mine carts. Frakes pointed out that the scene was cribbed directly from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Jiang insisted that it stay in. ‘He was arguing with me adamantly, like the thing he had written was Holy Scripture,’ Frakes recalls. ‘I said, “Your story doesn’t make any sense. People will see it’s a grab bag of all these movies.”’ Jiang didn’t debate; instead, Frakes says, he took Frakes down to the parking garage to show off his Lamborghini.” Mitch Moxley reports on one of the stranger movie shoots in recent years, the mermaid adventure Empires of the Deep, written and produced by a Hong Kong real estate mogul hoping to break into movies and bridge east and west, cycling through four directors (with others like Irvin Kershner courted for the project but never hired), plagued by onset cultural conflicts and funds drying up that have one of the stars sneaking off location and out of the country with the help of the American embassy, and still unreleased half-a-dozen years after having wrapped. Via Longform.
“The problem with period films is that they just look pretty. Well, that’s not interesting. I want it to look as though these people live in these spaces and wear these clothes. When we did the Emily Dickinson film in Belgium, there’s a shot where she turns around to wave goodbye to her friend. You see the edge of her dress, and it’s slightly frayed. That’s wonderful, because it’s her best dress. It’s got to be true to the period, but it’s got to have texture.” Terence Davies talks about his old familiars—nostalgia, repression, suffering, forgiveness—as filtered through Sunset Song and his upcoming Emily Dickinson film with Steve Erickson. And throws in some interesting anecdotes about budgeting to boot.
“Then we realized that we were getting into an obsessive behavior. But we enjoyed the nuance in each take. That made it very difficult to edit the film. I was working on the film shot by shot, scene by scene, character by character. I was working on the levels of hostility and civilized behavior, the mixture of those. Today, I heard an artist on NPR say that he was working some place, and was causing a bit of a disturbance. The interviewer asked, ‘Did they allow that?’ Because he was [obstructing] the exit or something. And the artist said, ‘Well, I was invited to leave.’ In effect, that’s King of Comedy. ‘They threw you out!’ ‘No, I was invited to leave.’” Martin Scorsese discusses The King of Comedy, and his unhappy realization how much he identified with Rupert Pupkin, with Simon Abrams.
“I am so shy, and, at the same time, I kind of expose myself literally to thousands of people. I don’t really understand why I do that. I need to go through therapy!” Discussing Burton, Bertolucci, and Bond, Eva Green explains to Lynn Hirschberg the paradox underlining her career even the actor can’t understand: how such a retiring, even shy, person in real life is so free being naked, emotionally and literally, in front of the camera. Via Movie City News.
Author and journalist Michael Herr wrote the memoir Dispatches, praised by many as the greatest book about the Vietnam War. On the strength of that, he wrote the narration for Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) and collaborated with Stanley Kubrick on the screenplay of Full Metal Jacket (1987), which earned an Academy Award nomination. He later wrote personal biography of the director: Kubrick, published in 2000. Herr died at the age of 76. Bruce Weber at The New York Times.
Italian actor Bud Spencer, born Carlo Pedersoli, was a beloved star of Italian genre films. He came to the movies from sports—he was a swimmer who competed in the 1952 and 1956 Olympic games and a champion water polo player—and he shot to fame with a series of films he made with Terence Hill, beginning with God Forvives… I Don’t (1969) and taking off with Ace High (19680 and They Call Me Trinity (1970). They acted together in 18 films, from westerns to crime films to straight-out comedies, and Spencer made dozens of other films without Hill. When his film career slowed down, he turned to television in the 1980s, starring in the series Big Man, Extralarge, and Recipe For Crime. Nick Vivarelli for Variety.
Experimental filmmaker Peter Hutton made his first films in 1971 and continued making his films, mostly portraits of cities and landscapes in the U.S. and around the world, for more than four decades while teaching filmmaking at various colleges and working as a professional cinematographer on the documentaries of Ken Burns (a former student) among others. He passed away at the age of 71. J. Hoberman for The New York Times.
Grand Illusion revives the Japanese martial arts revenge classics Lady Snowblood (1973) and Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance (1974) for a week. Dates and showtimes here.
SIFF presents “An Evening with Steve De Jarnatt,” with the director presenting newly-remastered versions of his films Cherry 2000 (1988) and Miracle Mile (1989), on Wednesday, July 6 at SIFF Film Center.
Bringing Up Baby (1938), the screwball classic starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn and directed by Howard Hawks, kicks off the Seattle Art Museum summer film series Cary Grant for President. It screens on Thursday, July 7 at 7:30pm at Plestcheeff Auditorium and is shown on 35mm. Individual tickets are available on the day of show on a first come, first served basis. Details here.
“At times, he spontaneously pulls over to the side of the road for a good five or ten minutes to finish a train of thought—about life or death or demons or fears or his favorite soccer team in Argentina, San Lorenzo. About the time in the wilds of New Zealand when he skinned, cooked, and ate his own roadkill. (“It was there.”) […] We could’ve gone straight to Watertown and stayed there, and we could’ve gotten there a hell of a lot faster, but Mortensen, his two hands resting gently on the bottom of the steering wheel, doesn’t like to drive too fast. He doesn’t want to miss a thing.” Viggo Mortensen does everything his own way, even the celebrity profile, which has him picking up writer Lisa DePaulo at the airport near the small town where he’s sitting deathwatch over his ailing father.
The journal Awotele, which profiles underseen African cinema from the perspective of underheard African critics, has a new issue on the challenges and rewards of multi-lingual cinema and new filmmaking technologies. Among the highlights (check the issue’s table of contents to learn what page to flip to), Martial E. Nguea considers “the reality of a certain conflict between the popular appreciation of filmmaker and professional distinctions awarded in different countries by different juries”; Michel Amarger recounts the multifaceted career (fictions, documentaries, gallery installations) of the “ambitious utopian” Jean-Pierre Bekolo Obama (“It is easy to believe him shen, from behind his round glasses, he defies his critics saying: ‘if it’s not mission impossible, I’m not interested.”); Claire Diao explores the hazards of a distribution system so indebted to French culture (“How can anyone fall so quickly from the spotlight and into the shadows…. It doubtless has much to do with the Francophone system of promoting African filmmakers.); Oumy Régina Sambou takes a more critical looks at the promise of new technologies than some of her fellow writers (“the new modes of distribution have led to changes in filmmaking and film distribution, but not to the point of democratizing their fabrication, and especially not their quality”); and Domoina Ratsara offers a specific cautionary tale looking at how the rise of distribution of Madagascar television has led to the proliferation of ads interrupting even cinematic endeavors. Via Tambay Obenson, himself via David Hudson.
“Before I knew anything about Polanski, Repulsion was already important to me as a film that represented certain uncomfortable aspects of being female, and learning that its creator is a rapist only served to make it even more emblematic of that experience. Thanks to its context, Repulsion is more than a movie to me; but, as the movie it is, it’s also more than a painful emblem of the horror of being female.” Elsie Moore kicks off her intriguing read on Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy”—Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Tenant—addressing “the elephant in the room” not for shock value or to shore up her p.c. cred, but as the first and most troubling of the many paradoxes of identification and subjectivity that give these films their disturbing elusiveness. Staying at Bright Lights, Mervyn Nicholson takes a semiotic tour—riveting and overreaching by turn—through the coincidences that link The 39 Steps, North by North West [sic throughout, though at least the photo captioner gets it right], and Blow-Up. (“The coincidence is the point where what is in front of the screen of appearances coincides with what is inside that screen, behind it, hidden from view. It is the point at which we glimpse what is behind the screen of appearances. A pattern becomes visible that was invisible before: the pattern was in that picture, yet not visible, until now. The coincidence signifies a shift in perception. It is a metaphor for insight. It is insight that dispels an illusion, and it requires a coincidence to make this shift happen.”)
“The portrait is the thing. The flesh-and-blood woman is a complication, a set of contradictions that threaten to overturn the “Lauras” presented or created by her mentor, her lovers, her rivals. But that painting that rests above the mantelpiece, a swoony, romantic provocation—it offers no argument. Its power is not only the movie’s thematic fixation but also played out in the film’s creation, reception, and enduring legacy. The famous still of detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews), collapsed in a chair in front of the portrait, half-drunk and mesmerized, is the stand-in for scores of viewers of the film, haunted by its power to reflect back our own dreams and desires—for a past or imagined love, for the return of something lost, for anything at all.” Megan Abbot is terrific on the ferocious subversions of Preminger’s Laura, the way it urges us to fill in the negative space of its presumptive dead heroine with not just necrophilia but “our own longings, our own subversive desires.”
“Never call Griffith quaint, either. If he was quaint at all, he was far-sightedly quaint. The naive excitement of grasping that all this fakery is genuine—meaning the way “How’d they do that?” used to play leapfrog in viewers’ minds with “Wow, they must’ve actually done that”—stayed part of the appeal of Hollywood spectaculars up through the late 1960s.” Starting with Griffith’s Babylon, with stops along the way for Tara, Metropolis, James Bond’s globetrotting, DeMille’s (and Las Vegas’s) Egypt and Harold Lloyd hanging from a skyscraper, Tom Carson takes a witty, oddly moving tour through Hollywood’s many fake worlds, and how they made so much more vivid an impression than the real one. Via David Hudson.
“Its hero might stumble over his words, but he does so in a Jimmy Stewart-like fashion, so full of gee-whiz energy that he sometime forgets himself before zooming off to the next crazy coincidence. The film is full of daytime shots and bright light, of reflections off the cars and planes, checkerboard dance floors, sequined dresses and metal helmets that make up its mise-en-scène. Most crucially, the movie’s spirit is deeply optimistic—it uses its satire not just to poke fun at old-time serial clichés, but to cast a light back on the present, and remind us of what we might have lost in the 53 intervening years.” Now that Marvel movies have proven the economic viability of upbeat superhero flicks, Brian Doan looks back to notorious flop The Rocketeer as a bright charmer ahead of its time.
Film critics Bruce Reid, Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy, and Robert Horton debate and discuss the recent restorations of film noir orphans Too Late for Tears and Woman on the Run, the legacy of Sam Peckinpah, Ben Wheatley’s new film High-Rise, and (non)critical opinions of Captain America: Civil War in the May 2016 edition of Framing Pictures from Scarecrow Video.
These discussions are held in the screening room of Scarecrow Video on the second Friday of every month and are free to attend. The video appears a few weeks later on the Seattle Channel.
The June edition will take place on Friday, June 10 at 7pm at the Scarecrow Video Screening Room. More information at the Framing Pictures Facebook page.
Picking some highlights from MOMA’s ongoing retrospective of Universal pictures from the ’30s, Imogen Sara Smith looks at three films apiece from a pair of directors deserving greater attention. The cinematic flair of Edward L. Cahn enlivens three explosive portraits of society collapsing: Law and Order, Afraid to Talk, and Laughter in Hell. (“In these films it’s as though people are so consumed by the fight to survive, or by the determination to forget their worries, that they have no time for private emotions. Society itself is so anxious, so hysterical, so compulsively bitter, that it takes the place of individual psyches. Everyone is part of one big nervous breakdown.”) While Seed, Back Street, and Only Yesterday have Smith marveling at John M. Stahl’s invisible manipulation of emotions and his facility with shifting empathy among his characters. The female ones at least; John Boles remains mostly a dull cad in all three. (“The three rarely screened Stahl films form a set of variations on a theme, female devotion and self-sacrifice. They treat this theme with unusual nuance and ambivalence, both accepting the great loves—whether maternal or romantic—to which the women give their lives, and looking with a cool and even cynical eye at how little they get in return.”
“What’s established in a film like Au Hasard Balthazar is a teeter-totter rhythm, an oscillation between the film you’re watching and another taking place over your shoulder, sliding into view with a lithe camera movement, or a cut that elides the passage of time. In short, what often comes across in reviews as stiff, boring art movies are exactly the opposite: not empty but teeming, not cold but visceral, not dry but saturated.“ With Au Hasard Balthazar hitting 50, Jamie N. Christley praises how Bresson’s total command keeps slipping the film’s message, and even its ostensible ever-enduring protagonist, out of our grasp. And Leigh Singer compiles a gallery of Bresson’s key techniques, screenshots of potent dissolves, blank faces, and so many expressive hands. Via Movie City News.