“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.
With a new collection of their writings and MOMA mounting the first complete retrospective of their films, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet are the subjects of a pair of pieces at Artforum. P. Adams Sitney offers the overview on a career that never compromised or offered an easy way in for the viewer. (“One sometimes gets the impression that they were forever challenging themselves to find texts that made complacent resolutions less and less amenable, and then to offer them up to cinema so nakedly that their skeletal structure could not be eluded.”) And James Quandt tries to fitSicilia! in with the couple’s musical films. (“Aside from a folk song and the Beethoven string quartet that introduces and ends Sicilia!, the film avoids nondiegetic music, but it is itself structured as a chamber work in four movements, and the idiosyncratic delivery of the baroque dialogue often hits the ear as discordant ariettas and semi-recitatives.”) Film Comment, meanwhile, offers an excerpt from the aforementioned collection, a letter from Huillet to Nuances magazine on the impossibility of viewing artpieces at museums hanging them up behind occluded glass. (“It was horrible: each painting was now under armored glass, and often damaged in the process (new little cracks, etc.). When we protested this madness, saying that it’s better to risk a—rare—act of madness than to make the paintings invisible—reflections, etc.—and surely damage them, we were told, grudgingly: It was a requirement of the insurance….”)
“Canon City is an art film made on the terms of an unpretentious hardboiled procedural—a breathless true-crime piece in which Hadley’s delivery of the word “dreaming” lands perfectly on a dissolve from a real cell block to a prison cell set.” Ignatiy Vishnevetsky plunks for Crane Wilbur’s prison-escape film, which, with the invaluable help of John Alton, straddles blunt docudrama and the heightened use of “spaces that double as metaphors,” as one of Poverty Row’s great triumphs.
“Maybe even more than MGM anticipated, it was perfect Depression-era escapism: one of those thirties movies that take place in drawing rooms where the ceilings are about twenty feet high, where men are always in formal wear and women, even in the afternoon, wear floor-length lounge gowns and speak in that bright, quick, affected accent that no real American ever used.” Charles McGrath recounts how Van Dyke’s brisk engagement, a script that expanded upon Hammett’s witticisms, and impeccable casting (including a change in Asta’s breed) made The Thin Man less a whodunit than a classic screwball comedy of marriage draped around a murder mystery.
David Bordwell’s two most recent blog entries celebrate a pair of filmmakers who take their undeniable influences and transform them into something so distinct and personal they seem utterly original. By now it’s accepted that Citizen Kane didn’t innovate so much as synthesize with an until then unreached purpose and power; Bordwell does a fine job showing the precedents for Kane’s low-angled, long-take compositions and zig-zagging flashback structure even as it transcends them all. (“Most filmmakers who used these depth schemas inserted them into passages of orthodox scene dissection. The depth shots might establish a locale, or they might be inserted into a series of analytical cuts, or they might be part of a shot/ reverse shot pattern. But in Kane you’re forced to notice the Baroque plunge of space because the lengthy take rubs your nose in the flashy composition.”) While reacquainting himself with the movies of Terence Davies has him rapturous over the director’s unique amalgam of autobiographical detail and Hollywood memories. (“Davies understood, as so many postwar critics of mass culture didn’t, that Hollywood, for all its formulas and conventions, captured genuine feeling; indeed, those very formulas and conventions released that feeling. In Davies’ hands, however, the feelings gain a rougher texture. In tales of patriarchal power and everyday betrayals, echoes of the yearning of Judy Garland and the vibrato of Doris Day seem distant and distorted. Davies finds the evanescence hidden in Yankee exuberance, and he takes it very personally.”)
“Dix constantly views life as though it were a script he was writing—one wonders if he notices the echoes of Althea Bruce’s silly plot in his own relationship with Laurel—and Ray uses the character’s shoptalk as a scalpel with which to probe the gap between movies and reality. Fixing breakfast for Laurel after they have become lovers, Dix explains that “a good love scene should be about something else besides love.” To illustrate this, he uses the scene at hand: he clumsily hacking away at a grapefruit, she half-asleep in her negligee: “Anyone looking at us could tell we were in love,” he says, but doubt edges into his voice. Laurel is not dopey with sleep, she’s paralyzed by fear of this unpredictably violent man. The scene is indeed about something besides love: it’s about love strained to the breaking point by lack of trust.” Imogen Sara Smith is as perceptive and persuasive as ever tackling that darkest, most downbeat of noirs, In a Lonely Place.
In the age of video streaming, Ocular Rift, and Sean Parker’s proposed day-and-date VOD service Screening Room, what remains about movies that demands theater attendance? A. O. Scot and Manohla Dargis hash out the latest death notice the movies have received, Scott playing up the cautiously optimistic angle (Without wanting to play the devil’s advocate—or Sean Parker’s—I’m not entirely sure that streaming is necessarily an existential threat to moviegoing…. And also, not to be completely heretical, what’s so sacred about “the darkened cinema” anyway?”), Dargis the, I’m going to say realistic, viewpoint that industries being what they are, little good will come from letting them have their way (“It’s nice that we can pay five bucks to stream a crummy studio movie that looked too awful to leave the house for, I suppose, but I had superior, more interesting choices at my local video stores than I do with Netflix streaming (no Douglas Sirk!) or even Amazon. If you want to stream nonindustrial product, you often need to do time-consuming digging online”).
“Shortly after her death in 1977, Crawford’s adopted daughter Christina published “Mommie Dearest,” a memoir detailing her mother’s alleged abusive nature, alcoholism and neuroses. Katharine Hepburn, Myrna Loy, her first husband Douglas Fairbanks Jr., her two youngest daughters and others close to her denounced the book. But with Frank Perry’s 1981 film adaptation, featuring Faye Dunaway’s shrieking, hollow, larger-than-life performance, the damage was done. In just 129 minutes the film unravels what Crawford had been building for herself since first gracing the screen in the late 1920s. It turned the image of Crawford in the cultural imagination into a monstress, a soulless camp icon to be mocked and reviled but rarely respected, and a cautionary tale of what happens when women put their careers first.” Angelica Jade Bastien sets the record right; whatever the veracity of Christina Crawford’s charges, her mother should be remembered first as a daring, surprisingly mercurial actor who only ever let her staunch professionalism tamp down an energy that could overwhelm any of her co-stars.
Richard T. Jameson, Bruce Reid, Kathleen Murphy, and Robert Horton sat down at the Scarecrow Video screening room on April 8, 2016 for the April edition of Framing Pictures. Over the course of the evening they discussed Cutter’s Way (newly released on Blu-ray; RTJ’s original review on Parallax View here) and declared Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings the greatest movie ever made.
The Seattle Channel was there to record the event. It is now showing on cable and streaming via their website. Or you can see it here.
‘Tis the season, apparently, for new issues of film journals, which are arriving at a fast clip. The new issue of Alphaville, focused on women and media in the twenty-first century, Gina Marchetti considers the portrait of Hong Kong prostitution in a pair of collaborations between director Herman Yau and writer Elsa Chan (“Chan and Yau, in fact, gravitate toward the salacious with an eye toward social change and political critique”); Fiona Handyside finds unacknowledged trilogies on the themes of girls coming of age in the first three films apiece by Sofia Coppola and Mia Hansen-Løve (“Coppola and Hansen-Løve’s respective decisions to envisage their explorations of girls growing up as trilogies enable the films to take their time exploring the subtleties of girlhood, as the directors have the luxury of cinematic duration”); and Amy Heckerling’s two most recent, neglected films get sympathetic readings from Frances Smith (“Both I Could Never Be Your Woman and Vamps retain a playful ambivalence towards the two primary attitudes to the ageing process, namely acceptance and manipulation”). Among other highlights in the issue, Fiona Clancy analyses Sylvia Martel’s use of sound and image to portray a “crisis [that] is less one of biological motherhood than of its spirit—of motherliness”) and Beti Ellerson reports on the various options African women have before them to make themselves presences on screens that have heretofore failed to represent them (“the digital age is indeed a turning point for African women working in film and screen media”).
The new Offscreen is devoted to Theo Angelopoulos, with fittingly long articles analyzing the director’s tracking shots as moral choices from Elie Castiel (“The Angelopoulosian long take, then, encompasses the idea of integration, logical assembly of many visual and narrative elements in a single shot; a unity of thought. Is this choice not ideological?”) and as time machines opening up history for Olivier Bélanger (“The long take allows him to extract “pure time” from his film, and to return the past to the present”). Alain Chouinard considers howUlysses’ Gaze avoids the pitfalls of stereotypical attitudes usually imposed upon its Balkan subjects (“the film’s very specific representation of historical cyclicality, and its original presentation of involuntary memory re-historicize the Balkans by foregrounding an indivisible conception of temporality and historical continuity”); Donato Totaro has more measured praise for Angelopoulos while considering The Suspended Step of the Stork (“In any case, Angelopolous belongs to a once rare breed of film stylists that has grown considerably over the last thirty or so years: directors whose pacing and sense of movement is appreciably slower than most (and in some cases, slower than life as we feel it)”); and Betty Kaklamanidou dusts off an interview conducted with Willem Dafoe after working with Angelopoulos on The Dust of Time (“I love this thing about the little story next to the big story. When I watch his movies I experience things in a profound way. People walking through mud, people in the most simple chaste embrace, people running for a train, things like that… boats coming to you very slowly. You experience those in a way that you take it on personally because you get in the context and you identify with how these people are dealing with the big history and how they’re influenced by it. And that’s exhilarating to me. It philosophically engages me in a kind of dialogue about how strange and beautiful life is.”)