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by Kathleen Murphy

Contributor

Moments Out Of Time 2015

‘It Follows’

It Follows: A classroom reading of “Prufrock”—”and in short I was afraid”; old woman seen slowly approaching across schoolyard…
• In Bridge of Spies, Jim Donovan (Tom Hanks) instructing CIA man Hoffman (Scott Shepherd) on what makes them Americans: “the rule book”…
• The head-scratching guys, Spotlight: Marty (Michael Keaton) post-golf and Mike (Mark Ruffalo) post-run, beginning to have a sense of how big the story might get…
• Indian stepping straight out of dark screen into firelight, The Revenant
Timbuktu: walking through haze glare of sun while getting away from the suddenly dead Amadou…
Carol: steam off the road caught in headlights at night…
• A fetal form curled up in bright green grass, the little boy (Jacob Tremblay) who has just fallen out of his Room into a great ocean of world…
• An exquisitely manufactured Eve (Alicia Vikander) contemplates iterations of her own visage, displayed on her creator’s wall in Ex Machina….
• Tour-de-force directing and acting in Clouds of Sils Maria: Maria (Juliet Binoche) running lines with Valentine (Kristen Stewart), the two slipping back and forth between the dynamics of the script and their relationship, between roleplaying in and for Oliver Assayas’s movie and acting out as themselves…
• Glorious, deadly moment in Phoenix when the caged bird (Nina Voss) sings, and voice becomes definitive signature of self

‘Phoenix’

• The way Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti) lets herself get carried away by kite-flying on the beach, carried right out of frame while the camera holds on an ocean where tragedy is about to change everything … in About Elly
Brooklyn: Tony (Emory Cohen) holding a blanket up as Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) gets undressed at the beach, and his unabashed delight with the way his Irish girl looks in a bathing suit…
• Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) and her sisters, holed up in the Armory, assaulted by sexy slow-jams in Chi-Raq
Mad Max: Fury Road: After the storm, a sand ridge that moves and is Max (Tom Hardy)…
• For no rational reason, one of the good guys (Patrick Wilson) starts bloody surgery on a fallen cannibal’s throat in Bone Tomahawk. It’s a while before we discover he’s “eaten” a monster’s voice….
• A bare-chested brute masturbates in a barrel bathtub, making ripples. Behind him, two distant figures, father and daughter (Viggo Mortensen and Viibjork Maling Agger), sit utterly still in the engulfing landscape of Jauja….
• Kevin Corrigan photographing his food—Results
• Sam Elliott—eleven minutes of greatness in Grandma: “Sage? Nice name. Pungent. Want some zucchini?”
• Topping a steep incline at dusk, Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) takes in a screen-spanning vision of stampeding buffalo, attacking wolves, a Pawnee hunter—just another food chain in The Revenant
• In Creed, Donny (Michael B. Jordan) tells Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) it’s OK if his smartphone gets broken, because he’s already stored his program “in the cloud.” Replies Rock, “What cloud?,” looking up to see whether he can spot it….
• Fingers plucking at a weed after backseat sex in car—It Follows
• The wind in brittle leaves outside cottage window—45 Years
• Candleflame bleeds into itself, and us, in The Assassin
• In Spotlight, church towers seeming to rise up out of Boston homes…
• Torches, night fog, riders among trees—The Revenant
• Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) catching snowflakes on her tongue, The Hateful Eight
• Soap bubbles bursting on milady’s undies, The Duke of Burgundy…
• A woman’s bandaged face as tabula rasa, focus of annihilating male gazes: Phoenix and Goodnight, Mommy…
• Tribute paid in Kingsman: The Secret Service, Samuel L. Jackson to Colin Firth: “You know your thyit.”…
• Samuel L. Jackson’s flash glee as Chi-Raq‘s chorus…

‘Chi-Raq’

• Ronnie Hall in Stray Dog as he prepares to exit his mobile home, leaving a couchful of canines: “Put some dog TV on”…
• A kid edges deeper and deeper into the dark crawlspace under his grandparents’ farmhouse where something waits, in The Visit….
• In Goodnight, Mommy, a boy winks in and out behind crowded tree trunks … until he doesn’t…
• Ma (Brie Larson) outside police car window, Room
• Molly Shannon’s drunk, heartbroken, somehow flirtatious welcome when Greg reluctantly turns up to visit her terminally ill daughter, in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl…
• Blythe Danner getting sloshed over a long afternoon shooting the breeze with her pool cleaner in I’ll See You in My Dreams
• Monroe’s (Alexander Skarsgard’s) queasily swift slippage from precarious adulthood into adolescent horniness over beers with young Minnie (Bel Powley)—Diary of a Teenage Girl
• Sam Elliott’s Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde switcheroo in Grandma, a jilted lover’s vengeance that’s been a long time coming…
• Ryan Gosling in The Big Short: “That’s a nice shirt, do they make it for men?”…
It Follows: lobby door at moviehouse, where a girl in a yellow dress is or isn’t standing…
Bridge of Spies: “Don’t say my guy. He’s not my guy”—Jim Donovan’s first words prophetic several times over, though he can’t know it at the time…
Creed: Taking out her ears, Bianca (Tessa Thompson) doesn’t hear Donny say “I need you right now.”…
• Boldwood (Michael Sheen) confessing to Gabriel (Matthias Schoenaerts) that he feels “the most terrible grief”—Far from the Madding Crowd
• Slide show in attic, 45 Years: Kate Mercer’s/Charlotte Rampling’s face and, seen simultaneously from behind the sheet, the face of the woman her husband loved half a century before…
Spotlight: Getting deeper into his interview with Sacha (Rachel McAdams), Joe Crowley (Michael Cyril Creighton) registers the arrival of fresh cups of coffee and says, “We should probably get these to go.”…
Carol: “Just when you think it can’t get any worse, you run out of cigarettes.”…
• Coffee steam curling under Marquis Warren’s (Samuel L. Jackson’s) hatbrim, The Hateful Eight
• Attorney Donovan sizing up his client (Mark Rylance) in Bridge of Spies: “You don’t seem alarmed.” “Would it help?”…
• In Youth, Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) sitting and staring silently at the offscreen suicide of his oldest friend…
• Roger Deakins channeling Gabriel Figueroa: skies in Sicario

‘Sicario’

• Night stage disappearing up a funnel of road, The Salvation
• GPS the cow’s dying, Timbuktu
• “I’m comin’.” Assurance spoken to dying horse in Bone Tomahawk
• Over the cliff and into snowy pine, The Revenant
It Follows: Impossibly tall man enters Jay’s room right behind Yara…
• Nathan (Oscar Isaac) and one of his Ex Machina playthings  breaking out in mirrored dance moves, madly mechanical exuberance…
• Hamish Linklater in The Big Short: “Please don’t be chipper in the face of me being miserable. It makes me hate you.”…
• Han Solo (Harrison Ford) ever exasperated: “So? It’s big!” Star Wars IV: The Force Awakens
• Polecats and hog-riding old ladies in Mad Max: Fury Road
• On a sunny Swiss hillside, Michael Caine conducts the music of the natural world: Youth
Kingsman: Michael Caine, aristocratic for the occasion, reverting to full Alfie mode in his final moment…
• Brando’s disintegrating digital head, quoting Shakespeare, in Listen to Me Marlon
Creed: Rock says he’s “back there, in the past, with all those guys on that wall.”…
• “Ha.” Mary Sinclair’s (Annette Bening’s) response when Danny Collins (Al Pacino) asks what college she goes to…
Carol: lighted windows on Frankenberg’s electric train set…
• Kite passing empty doorway, About Elly
The Hateful Eight: After delivering an aria of race baiting, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) cheerfully protests, “I was talking politics!”…
Spotlight: Sacha Pfeiffer’s look as the former Father Paquin (Richard O’Rourke) patiently explains he did it for the children: “I fooled around, but I never felt gratified myself.”…
• In the dead of night, grandma scrabbling around the hall on all fours—The Visit…
Chi-Raq: Sam Jackson’s Dolmedes striding up into view in front of huge, Patton-like American flag…
• Ian McKellen in/as Mr. Holmes: “It isn’t a bee, it’s a wasp. Different thing entirely.”…
• Roar of moths, The Duke of Burgundy
• Traffic light going red over longshot post-accident, The Final Girls
• A long-limbed dandy’s (Matthew Fox’s) brutally sudden ending, hurt and left to die by the side of a dusty scrubland track, in Bone Tomahawk
• In Creed, the young lovers’ first kiss, upside down…
• Kevin Corrigan and Cobie Smulders, Results: watching her watch TV from a medicine ball…
• Nailed it!: Dean O’Gorman as Kirk Douglas, Trumbo; Emory Cohen as nice Italian boy in the Fifties, Brooklyn; Ben Vereen as canny but distinctly cuckoo street creature, Time out of Mind; Alfre Woodard in Mississippi Grind as a nice lady who turns out to be … whatever…

Emory Cohen

The Hateful Eight: trying to get a clear look at Demián Bichir between his hatbrim and his beard…
• ISIS guy stymied by woman washing her hair, Timbuktu
• Francis Gary Powers and U2 falling together, Bridge of Spies
• The ridiculous giant green-felt frog that has no rhyme or reason to show up for the climactic mayhem of Yakuza Apocalypse
He Never Died: Deadpan Jack (Henry Rollins) plucks bullets out of his forehead with needlenose pliers—”otherwise you get migraines.”…
Bone Tomahawk: In the aftermath of the troglodytes’ horrific reduction of man to meat, Chicory (Richard Jenkins) retreats into memory, that time when he went to a flea circus and wondered whether the stars were electrified corpses or live actors….
• The bear, The Revenant
• The ultrafocused busyness of Stanley Tucci’s Mitch Garabedian, Spotlight (“You’re shitting me.” “No, I am not shitting you.”)…
• Colonel Abel, finding “visitors” in his dim apartment at the beginning of Bridge of Spies, begs indulgence to clean his paintbrushes lest they be ruined … and quietly blots out the spywork he was just doing. (Mark Rylance is God.)…
Creed: Michael B. Jordan’s gobsmacked expression after going one bloody round with the British champion, as if he didn’t get how good this guy was until this very moment…
• Throughout Son of Saul, despite the tight focus on a man’s face (Géza Röhrig), the frame can’t wall out images from Dante’s Inferno….
• In the derelict high school, under ripple-shadow and thunder—It Follows
• Donkey walks through football match, Timbuktu; they wait….
Stray Dog: Ronnie Hall assuring the bees he means them no harm and appreciates what they do…
Mad Max: Fury Road: Almost subliminal thumb-up to first victim-wife just before she is lost…
• Every moment Saoirse Ronan’s face fills the screen in Brooklyn, the almost unbearable clarity of her gaze recalling the way Anna Karina (and Falconetti) looked into Godard’s camera…
• Styles of stonewalling in Spotlight: Billy Crudup, Paul Guilfoyle, Jamey Sheridan…
• Scott Shepherd in Bridge of Spies as CIA man Hoffman—a ginger skull…
• Sharp casting of Kevin Crowley as Carol‘s divorce lawyer, an echt-Fifties creature…
• Anthony Michael Hall as Russian mega–fitness guru, Results
• By gad, he is in The Hateful Eight! How Channing Tatum shows up….
The Assassin: mist and reeds moving between us and island…
• Tom (Bobby) Cannavale watching the father who will outlive him, Danny Collins
• The cold, almost perfunctory precision with which brand-new star Chloë Grace Moretz cuts the veteran Juliet Binoche down on their way out of an autobiographical play, in Clouds of Sils Maria…
• Blythe Danner sings “Cry Me a River” at karaoke bar in I’ll See You in My Dreams….
• Ma (Brie Larson), voice cracking: “I’m sorry I’m not NICE anymore!”—Room
Bridge of Spies: Schischkin (Mikhail Gorevoy) commiserates on the loss of Donovan’s overcoat to East German thugs—after all, it was from Saks Fifth Avenue—and Donovan’s silent registering of the implications of that remark….
• The terrible violence of Kate’s gesture of rejection and rage at the end of 45 Years, even as no one else notices … “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”…
• Distant avalanche past Hugh Glass’s shoulder, The Revenant…
• Best suburban neighborhood street opening since Halloween: the amazing on-your-mark, get-set, go of It Follows. And then the shore…

Copyright © 2016 by Richard T. Jameson

‘The Revenant’

Parallax View’s Best of 2015

Welcome 2016 with one last look back at the best releases of 2015, as seen by the Parallax View contributors and a few notable Seattle-based film critics.

Soren Andersen

1. Mad Max: Fury Road
2. Spotlight
3. The Revenant
4. Ex Machina
5. Chi-Raq
6. Steve Jobs
7. Kingsman: The Secret Service
8. Goodnight Mommy
9. The Martian
10. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
(more at The Seattle Times)

Sean Axmaker

1. Clouds of Sils Maria
2. Carol
3. Phoenix
4. Taxi
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
6. Spotlight
7. 45 Years
8. Mustang
9. Jauja
10. Ex Machina
And ten more that almost made the list: Brooklyn, Experimenter, Girlhood, Inside Out, It Follows, Love & Mercy, The Martian, Queen & Country, Sicario, Timbuktu
Also lists at Village Voice Film Poll and Keyframe

David Coursen

(alphabetical)
About Elly (Asghar Farhadi, Iran)
Chi-Raq (Spike Lee,US)
Leviathan (Russia, Andrey Zvyagintsev)
Love and Mercy (Bill Pohlad, US)
Sicario (Denis Villeneuve, US)
Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, US)
Taxi (Jafar Panahi, Iran)
Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako, Mauritania)
The Tribe (Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, Ukraine)
Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey)
Honorable Mention: Carol (Todd Haynes, US)

Bob Cumbow

(in no intending order)
Phoenix
Brooklyn
Ex Machina
Spotlight
Sicario
Slow West
Carol
The Big Short
Bridge Of Spies
Jauja
Also: The Walk, Mr. Holmes
Endings: PhoenixCarol
Disappointments: SpectreThe Hateful 8
Surprises: Mission Impossible: Rogue NationPredestination
Guilty Pleasure: San Andreas
Actors: Nina Hoss (Phoenix), Ronald Zehrfeld (Phoenix), Rooney Mara (Carol), Saorise Ronan (Brooklyn), Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina), Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina), Emily Blunt (Sicario), Mark Rylance (Bridge Of Spies), Laura Linney (Mr. Holmes)
Director: Christian Petzold (Phoenix)
Music: Thomas Newman, Bridge of Spies; Carter Burwell, Carol; Howard Shore, Spotlight; Alan Silvestri, The Walk; Andrew Lockington, San Andreas

John Hartl

45 Years
Spotlight
Brooklyn
Sicario
Trumbo
Carol
Ex Machina
Bridge of Spies
Inside Out
99 Homes
A second 10: The Walk, Joy, Timbuktu, Love & Mercy, Phoenix, Tab Hunter Confidential, Rosenwald, I’ll See You in My Dreams, The Big Short, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.
Most miraculous restoration: The Apu Trilogy.

Robert Horton

1. 45 Years
2. Son of Saul
3. Bridge of Spies
4. Experimenter
5. It Follows
6. Clouds of Sils Maria
7. Ex Machina
8. The Assassin
9. Spotlight
10. The Duke of Burgundy
The second 10, just missing: The droll Swedish film A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence; Mad Max: Fury Road, maybe not as good as the fanboys say, but definitely good; the straightforwardly lovely Brooklyn; Viggo Mortensen in the magical Jauja; Bone Tomahawk; Mississippi Grind; the devastating documentary The Look of Silence; The Hateful Eight; the pictorially astonishing The Revenant; and—why not—Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
(via Seattle Weekly)

Richard T. Jameson

1. It Follows
2. Clouds of Sils Maria
3. Spotlight
4. Bridge of Spies
5. Room
6. The Assassin
7. 45 Years
8. Son of Saul
9. Jauja
10. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Close and by all means a cigar: Bone Tomahawk, Brooklyn, Blackhat, Mad Max: Fury Road, Phoenix, Ex Machina, Sicario
Pix: Saiorse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Brooklyn; Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, 45 Years
(via Framing Pictures)

Jay Kuehner

1. The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
2. Carol (Todd Haynes)
3. Horse Money (Pedro Costa)
4. Jauja (Lisandro Alonso)
5. The Kindergarten Teacher (Nadav Lapid)
6. Heaven Knows What (Benny and Josh Safdie)
7. The Wonders (Alice Rohrwacher)
8. Arabian Nights (Miguel Gomes)
9. Phoenix (Christian Petzold)
(via Keyframe)

Moira Macdonald

(in alphabetical order)
45 Years
Brooklyn
Carol
Diary of a Teenage Girl
Grandma
Inside Out
Room
Shaun the Sheep Movie
Spotlight
The Third Man/ Tales of Hoffmann
(more at The Seattle Times)

Brian Miller

Favorite moments at Seattle Weekly

Kathleen Murphy

(in no intending order)
Brooklyn
Phoenix
Clouds of Sils Maria
45 Years
It Follows
Room
Son of Saul
Jauja
Bone Tomahawk
Mad Max: Fury Road / The Assassin
(via Framing Pictures)

Bruce Reid

1. Experimenter
2. Taxi
3. It Follows
4. The Hateful Eight
5. Welcome to New York
6. Blackhat
7. Clouds of Sils Maria
8. Timbuktu
9. Queen and Country
10. Maps to the Stars

In my absolute favorite scene of the year Stanley Milgram sits and reads from Speak, Memory the famous opening line of how we’re all our lives suspended between oblivions. Behind him two assistants lower lab equipment into a crate with the professional solemnity of undertakers.

In my second favorite scene a figure loping down a road, dressed in a ridiculous, baggy frog costume complete with bulging eyes, is revealed to be the last-act badass whose coming has been threatened throughout the movie.

One of those films made the list below; the other, Miike’s entertainingly unhinged Yakuza Apocalypse, didn’t quite. But both show off the quality that marks my favorite movies: an apparent legibility that, looked at more closely, resists any definitive reading. The ending of Milgrim’s most famous experiment is framed (literally, through a window that carves another screen inside the screen we’re watching) as a death; but one of the movie’s many points is that lives carry on, quite fulfillingly, after their supposed defining moments have passed. And when the muppet suit comes off there’s another surprise, and a further bad guy to confront.

We’re always told that movies, capturing real people moving through real environments, tend away from the mysterious and toward the concrete in a way that the other arts aren’t hampered. Except the camera’s eye can make even concrete glow with mysteries. I fell in love with the films above for the way they tracked down hallways in prisons and apartments, refusing to distinguish between the two; for the expertly timed closing of a piano lid; for the anxious way its actors clutched fishbowls, and the nonchalance with which they grasped cameras; for clouds roiling down a mountaintop, which you’d think would be beyond a director’s control; for a skyscraper flickering in a dying woman’s eyes. But it’s not just pianos and hallways, fishbowls and clouds and cameras, or even flicker. It never is.

Andrew Wright

1. Mad Max: Fury Road
2. Blackhat
3. Carol
4. The Hateful Eight
5. It Follows (Reviewed for the Portland Mercury)
6. Bridge of Spies (Reviewed for The Stranger)
7. Tangerine (Reviewed for The Stranger)
8. Bone Tomahawk
9. Creed
10. Sicario

Lists of lists:

Village Voice (poll and lists)
Roger Ebert.com
Variety
Keyframe Best Feature Films of 2015
Keyframe Daily Lists and Award 2015 Index

Polls
Film Comment
Indiewire Poll
Roger Ebert
Sight and Sound
Time Out London

Other lists
2015 additions to the National Film Registry
Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s Ten Best Films of … 1925
New York Times Year in Culture

In Black & White: The Women (Pt 3)

[Originally published in Movietone News 34, August 1974]

WOMEN AND THEIR SEXUALITY IN THE NEW FILM. By Joan Mellen. Horizon Press. 255 pages. $4.95 (in paperback).

Much of Joan Mellen’s Women and Their Sexuality in the New Film has been previously printed in magazines ranging from Ms. to Film Quarterly. Although “substantially revised or enlarged upon and integrated within the thesis and concerns” of the current work, these articles-turned-chapters remain pretty much discrete essays, thematically united only by Mellen’s underlying (more accurately, overbearing) political persuasions. Catholic in her blanket denunciations of bourgeois anti-feminism in the cinema, she indicts Cuban and Chinese cinema, foreign and independent filmmakers, as well as that stock villain Hollywood, for “retrograde” contributions to contemporary film. Whether capitalist or socialist in impulse, current filmmakers, consciously or not, are out to portray women as subservient or sexually and spiritually alienated objects of male brutalization. But it’s the capitalists who are lambasted most by Mellen’s humorless forays into political aesthetics: “a capitalism in moral decline” prevents America from producing movies about self-sufficient liberated women while, in general, bourgeois society can only condition its women (and its filmmakers) deeper and deeper into social and sexual decadence—and any meaningful rapprochement between the sexes is doomed in “a capitalist era incapable of human relations.” Mellen’s manifesto lacks even the bite of fanaticism; it reads like some dry-as-dust tract a newly politicized, deadly serious Radcliffe senior might have written 40 years ago when most intellectuals worthy of the name were hailing Marx as messiah and communism as a universal panacea.

Mellen can’t see movies for her bourgeois-baiting: over and over she attempts to sterilize and desiccate richly conceived and executed films so as to fit them into her bell jar of bourgeois sins and excesses. If Hitchcock in his characteristically comic perversity has Jon Finch’s estranged wife in Frenzy (Barbara Leigh-Hunt) run a marriage counseling bureau with Good Housekeeping competence, and counterpoints her incantatory prayers against the rapist’s (Barry Foster’s) rhythmic “LovelyLovely …,” Mellen’s party line demands that complexity become simpleminded male chauvinist piggery: “In Frenzy the independent woman who runs her own business is raped and strangled so savagely that her eyes pop.” Not only does Mellen overindulge in these pithy little reductions toward (and beyond) absurdity—her humorlessness and critical didacticism deprive her of the ability to differentiate between better and lesser films. She criticizes all on one (political) plane, without taking note that one film is aesthetically superior to another. Thus, she lumps Tina Balser (Diary of a Mad Housewife) with Buñuel’s Séverine (Belle de jour) “as one version of the sexually typical modern woman.” In a tract, maybe, but not up there on the silver screen. No participant in Buñuel’s densely surreal mise-en-scène could possibly have anything in common with the pathetic caricature that is Frank Perry’s notion of an oppressed and frustrated modern woman. Just because each of these women is sexually incompatible with her mate is small cause to speak of a Frank Perry in the same breath with Luis Buñuel. But as long as Mellen can lockstep along spouting slogans, what possible relevance can the dynamics of real moving pictures have to her critical perspective? Read her exegesis of Up the Sandbox and you’ll be hard pressed for some time to uncover the minor fact that the film is a comedy (or means to be), so relentlessly does Mellen ignore jokes and satirical sendups in favor of dead-serious explication of the film’s antifeminist message—without at any time “placing” the film aesthetically.

Keep Reading

In Black & White: The Women (Pt 2)

[Originally published in Movietone News 33, July 1974]

POPCORN VENUS: Women, Movies & the American Dream. By Marjorie Rosen. Coward, McCann & Geoghegan. 416 Pages. $9.95.

Marjorie Rosen begins her fat (416 pages) study of women, movies and the American Dream by simultaneously putting down the cinema’s penchant for illusion and setting up the silver screen as a mirror in which “society’s porous [sic] face” may be exposed—thereby illustrating the main premise of Popcorn Venus, that movies can do anything and everything, but are admirable for practically nothing. Predictably, Rosen exhibits her critical credentials by nostalgia-tripping, sharing in a manner mostly maudlin her cherished cinematic memories and illusions, all couched in the confessional style of an ex–closet (or ex-prom) queen. But Rosen’s seen the light, so to speak, and has written a book which, more than anything else, seems to represent an attempt to exorcize all those seductive dreams spun out of movie-theater darkness by means of a holy war on behalf of cinematically wronged womankind.

Rosen’s weaponry includes a familiar array of selfrighteous clichés and stylistic ploys, the usual arsena1 of the writer who’s got a Cause but hasn’t a clue as to what constitutes good writing or critical fair play, and lacks sufficient knowledge of the enemy to even pitch a significant battle. Fundamentally, her pathetic (and self-aggrandizing) fallacy centers on the notion that Hollywood, movie moguls, men have engaged in an ongoing, conscious conspiracy against women since movies were first invented. Time after time, Rosen conjures up images of smoke-filled backrooms in which sinister plots were hatched by “Hollywood” to further subjugate or degrade women. That Hollywood (a place, not a person), at any given time, consisted of diverse elements, conforming and dissenting modes of direction, acting, even production, never seems to occur to her, in much the same way a freshman English student never seems to wonder about the real identity of that convenient scapegoat “Society.” Thus:

“For the men making movies in the twenties, ridicule (ergo, humor) shielded them and their masculine audiences from inevitable feminine demands for equality, social and otherwise. It squelched a treacherous usurping of their positions in the boudoirs and boardrooms, in the factories and on the campuses. Since the female uprising had to be put down, what a pleasant discovery that humor was at least as effective a method as pious moralizing.” (page 127)

Keep Reading

In Black & White: The Women (Pt 1)

[Originally published in Movietone News 32, June 1974]

FROM REVERENCE TO RAPE: The Treatment of Women in the Movies. By Molly Haskell. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc. 416 pages. $10.

Too often, one of the nicest things about having a Cause is that it provides cookie-cutter categorizations for almost every occasion. Human beings can be swiftly shuffled into suits of fascism, racism, male or female chauvinism, or whatever other convenient –ism lies at hand. Given the proper brand of cookie cutter, one can avoid confronting practically anything on its own terms—or in terms which stubbornly transcend or evade easy compartmentalization. The world becomes a neater place, less cluttered with complexities and nagging ambiguities when the brandished talisman of a single point of view sends all of disorderly reality scurrying into a series of carefully labeled cubbyholes.

Critics of the arts find cookie cutters particularly helpful in their craft. Art, you know, has that nasty habit of bursting the seams of the most rigorously contrived critical straitjackets—so much so that it’s still a sneaking suspicion of mine that the best response to a work of art is an eloquent silence. Film critics are not immune to the cookie-cutter syndrome—quite the contrary. The German film historian and theoretician Siegfried Kracauer was already drawing on a time-honored set of assumptions when he laced his tome on the cinema, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality, with variations on a monolithic theme, that being the motion picture camera’s absolute lust for reality and concomitant abhorrence of the fantastic or surreal, anything but the bare, unvarnished Truth. (So much for Méliès and his successors!) It didn’t require much of a critical leap to arrive at the notion that the masses, the salt of the earth, had cornered the market on reality and truth. Social consciousness, documentary verity, became the sine qua non of the great film for many commentators.

Whatever the theory, the best kind of critic approaches a film with an open mind, a willingness to allow its reality to resist the framework of his critical parameters. The bad critic loves his cookie cutter more than that which it seeks to contain and will ruthlessly shape and name the work under discussion to fit the Procrustean bed of his theory. Example: Several years ago, in The New Yorker, Pauline Kael attacked four films—Dirty Harry, The Cowboys, Straw Dogs, Clockwork Orangefor their unwarranted and immoral use of violence. Once Kael started wielding that cookie cutter of hers, whole arms and legs of cinematic reality were amputated, discarded as irrelevant; plot and character were distorted, reshaped so as to support her point of view.* On the other side of the fence, auteurists are not always exempt from such solipsism: nondirectorial contributions to a film may be lopped off and ignored so that the lineaments of a distinct and all-encompassing directorial personality may emerge in highest relief. God knows it’s an ongoing battle to approach anything or anyone in that state of vulnerability and receptiveness that permits, even invites, the Other to operate autonomously, to surprise us with its own unique reality. So much safer to go armed with a quiver full of preconceptions with which the most recalcitrant of realities may be “fixed with a formulated phrase.”

Keep Reading

Review: Buster and Billie

[Originally published in Movietone News 36, October 1974]

It’s come to be almost a given that American communal life is pervaded with violence, contained or at large. Those filmmakers who aren’t examining contemporary urban jungles from vantage points of nihilistic glee or despair turn to the American rural past to disprove any vestigial illusions we might have had about the noble savage or the pastoral innocent. From Mean Streets to Badlands, from Bad Company to Thieves like Us, from Payday to Buster and Billie, the lay of the land remains the same: brave new worlds gone wrong, gone brutal, gone back from innocence either by accident or in cold blood. America, the home of hillbilly and ghetto crazies, killers pure in heart, traveling city streets and country backroads, dwarfed by skyscrapers or the prairie, always caught, mostly dead—the last American heroes.

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Films and Feminism

[Originally published in Movietone News 36, October 1974]

Jan Haag is forever associated with my first conscious commitment to film and feminism. A decade or so ago, she and I spent much good time arguing passionately about The Pumpkin Eater and The Golden Notebook, the world of movies and the lives of women, with enough heat to permanently temper the directions we would take in the future. Jan was one of those multi-talented women—artist, actress, filmmaker, writer—who seemed permanently trapped and limited by the role of faculty wife, the interesting, but necessarily dilettantish, adjunct to her husband’s real profession. Fortunately, for herself and other women, Jan managed finally to “come out,” to emerge from that safe, and therefore stifling, cocoon into her own real professional world. It’s redundant to say it wasn’t an easy or even very direct route, but she eventually found where she wanted to be and what she wanted to do. After serving as an American Film Institute intern during the filming of Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude, she was appointed head of the Internship Program, and later became director of the AFI’s Independent Filmmaker Program.

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Film Review: The Visit

The Visit

Alfred Hitchcock liked to punch holes in the everyday, to find devouring swamps where maps showed solid ground. He channeled how desperately the child in every grown-up craves and fights for the familiar and explicable, putting his/her faith in people and places seemingly secure from ruptures in normalcy. When such a rupture occurs, as in The Birds, Tippi Hedren’s lacquered blonde, gang-raped by nightmare beaks, regresses to gibbering girl-child.

M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit focuses on a couple of actual children for whom life goes all Caligari-cattywampus. Working Hitchcockian elements of existential terror into a grotesque Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, Shyamalan has delivered a satisfyingly scary old-school hair-raiser that’s smart, funny, and deeply disturbing. Even as The Visit ruthlessly erodes faith in the reliability of family, it eats away at our trust in movie-frame space to contain some kind of rational design, its boundaries proof against sudden fracture.

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Film Review: ‘Listen to Me Marlon’ (1)

‘Listen to Me Marlon’

One summer evening, while visiting the shooting set of Sam Peckinpah’s The Osterman Weekend, I found myself chatting with John Hurt, never a knockout in looks but always a terrific actor. The easy banter, the charming way he leaned to light my cigarette, the suggestive slide of his eyes—suddenly there was a spotlit place where an ordinary encounter had been heightened into the possibility of dramatic story and character. Then he was summoned by his director, to disappear from view behind a poolhouse door. As he emerged, pointing a gun, it was as though that door frame had been a camera wipe. Hurt was Other, lethal and hard, a slight man moving with the weight of his own history and the terror of the moment. Not sure how to convey how astonishing this alchemy was; Hurt had transubstantiated, shaping how he would be seen by the camera.

Acting is authentic mystery. Sure, you can say it’s just putting on a face and pretending to be somebody, something you’re not. A matter of craft, in the word’s positive and negative meanings. But beyond consummate liars and confidence men, there are those capable of unforgettable transformation. Such protean players look like magicians, able to access other selves, body and soul. Are they vampires—like Liv Ullmann’s hollowed-out actress in Persona? Do they dredge truth out of the dark well of their past, tap into collected memory, to illuminate characters that look and feel like us? And what’s the cost to the chameleon? Does it sear like flaying, or is there ecstasy in becoming wholly Other?

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Review: The Gambler (2)

[Originally published in Movietone News 38, January 1975]

The Gambler is a curiously cerebral film in which the play of ideas (particularly literary assessments of the American experience) is transferred from the incestuous séance of the academic seminar to green baize gambling tables. There, those ideas are raised, not as ghosts, but as the highest stakes a man can wager. In California Split Robert Altman used gambling as an excuse for getting at the marginalia, the milieu, rather than as a metaphysical metaphor. Director Karel Reisz and screenwriter James Toback (a professor of English) are clearly after bigger fish—say, about the size of Moby Dick. For like Ahab, Reisz’s gambler bets on himself, his own power or will, to make some impression, to impose some meaning on … what? Perhaps that which resists will: fate or chance, the existential territory that refuses to be enfeoffed by the central “I-am.”

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Belle de jour

[Originally published in Movietone News 39, February 1975]

Belle de jour is a circular film, curving its way surely and urbanely through fantasy, memory, and whatever reality one can distill from Buñuel’s surrealist solution. Probably the first bone of contention among critics of the film is how much reality, how much fantasy, and where each sector is located in this suave Buñuelian landscape. Depending on the reading, Catherine Deneuve’s Séverine/Belle de jour may have fantasized the whole of the film with no anchors in reality, she may be engaged in an act of exorcism which finally leads her to a kind of normality, or she may have ultimately ruptured the fragile barriers between her conscious life and the world that shapes itself out of the darkness behind her brain. Whether Buñuel is hypnotist or mesmerizer is moot; whether he has plunged his heroine into the darkness of insanity or caused a sunrise, a coming to terms with reality, is also open to question. Considering the bland banality of Séverine’s “reality,” itself a kind of madness which Buñuel has never ceased to send up with a discreet but nonetheless devastating charm, can acceptance of such a life be considered enlightenment? Her fantasies may be kinky but they’re certainly more fun, more richly devised and experienced, than anything that home, hearth, and hubby can provide. Perhaps what Buñuel has mesmerized Séverine (and us) into is a serenely crazy delight with the complete dissolution of distinctions like reality and fantasy into a rich warm soup blended of both. Buñuel knows what kind of spell movies may cast, and that we as viewers are not unlike Mme. Anaïs’ clients who buy the opportunity to frame and move and light their most private, cherished fantasies. Like Séverine, we turn from the peephole and exclaim in righteous disgust, “How can anyone sink so low!,” a half-smile of perverse fascination playing about our lips. We should not feel diminished for all that, for Buñuel’s discreet and amiable charm is all-encompassing; he subjects no one’s fetish to contempt, only to the goodnatured amusement of an old roué who is surprised by nothing, but is endlessly delighted with the conventions of bourgeois perversity. Consequently, we do not move from scene to scene in Belle de jour impelled by a sense of urgency that Séverine “get well” or go crazy with a vengeance; rather, we are satisfied with permission to participate in the picaresque sexual adventures she either fantasizes or realizes in her pilgrimage from neurotic innocence through exotic sin to that ambiguous endgame played within her mind.

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SIFFtings 2015 – Week Three

A few short takes on SIFF offerings for the third weekend of the biggest, longest film festival in the United States.

PHOENIX (Christian Petzold, Germany, 2014; 98 minutes)
Fresh from Auschwitz and extreme facial reconstruction, Nelly returns to the noirish backstreets and bars of bombed-out Berlin, looking for what’s left of herself—and the husband whose memory helped her survive hell. Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld) doesn’t recognize this gaunt, shell-shocked stranger as his once-glamorous wife, but plots to use her in a scam to inherit wealth left by Nelly’s gassed relatives. Sure to turn up on year-end Ten Best lists, this brilliant film plumbs the nature of identity, post-WWII guilt and denial, death and resurrection—and showcases a shattering performance by Nina Hoss. – KAM
Sunday, May 31, 7:15pm, SIFF Uptown Theater

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SIFFtings 2015 – Opening Weekend

A few short takes on SIFF offerings on the debut weekend of the biggest, longest film festival in the United States.

SPY (Paul Feig, USA, 2015; 120 minutes)
Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat) parlays Melissa McCarthy’s sly likeability and pratfalling genius into a dumb, feel-good spoof of the secret agent genre. When the jolly fat lady—an underappreciated computer-surveillance whiz, deskbound in a rodent-infested CIA basement—is suddenly thrust into the field, she sows useful, sporadically funny mayhem wherever she goes. Hailed by some folks as “feminist” comedy, Spy tickles our funny bone by targeting a heroine so armored up—by poundage and sweet denial—she’s proof against any humiliation. (With Jude Law, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale) – KAM
SIFF Opening Night, Thursday, May 14, 7pm, Marion Oliver McCaw Hall

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Love Among the Ruins: 1975 in Review

[Originally published in Movietone News 47, January 1976]

“We might pass this way again”—the line from the song recurs throughout Stations, Roger Hagan’s exquisite documentary that stood out at this year’s Motion Picture Seminar of the Northwest and later graced a Seattle Film Society showing of Antonioni’s Cronaca di un amore. I seem to be passing this way again whenever a yearly assessment of the Seattle film experience falls due in January. 1975, like other recent years we’ve lived and watched through, didn’t feel in the present the way a lot of years look in the past, like a (to compound as many metaphors as possible in this silly season) cornucopia of good movies clamoring to light our way to eternity. Which is not to say that getting up a Ten Best List has been especially difficult for me, or that 1975 has failed to generate many more movies than ten that I want to pay my addresses to.

The little films, for instance, those small-scale endeavors that make no pretensions for themselves and seem ready in advance to kid any pretensions we might make for them; not award-winners or even likely nominees, not Ten Best types as long as “Best” implies more than a conviction that one will fondly remember them. But film years, and film consciousness, don’t get fleshed out without the likes of Rafferty and the Gold-Dust Twins (Dick Richards, Alan Arkin, Sally Kellerman, Mackenzie Phillips), Rancho Deluxe (Tom McGuane, Frank Perry, William A. Fraker, Jeff Bridges, Sam Waterston, Slim Pickens, Elizabeth Ashley, Clifton James, Harry Dean Stanton, Richard Bright), W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (Burt Reynolds, Art Carney, Thomas Rickman, John G. Avildsen), and A Boy and His Dog (L.Q. Jones, Harlan Ellison, Don Johnson, Tim McIntire, Blood). In some private last analysis I prize such movies above the more generally noticeable and certainly commendable likes of Jaws, The Return of the Pink Panther, and Farewell My Lovely because it requires no last analysis to make me uneasy about, respectively, empty manipulation, however proficient, or betting a sure thing, however accomplished that sure thing may be, or gilding a generic lily even when the gilding is as affectionate and surprisingly unpretentious as Richards’ (director of Farewell as well as Rafferty).

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The Salvation: Color of Old Blood

‘The Salvation’

In Dogme director Kristian Levring’s harrowing 2000 film The King Is Alive, a clutch of mismatched folk variously afflicted by modern-day angst are stranded in the great void of an African desert. For distraction, they decide to perform King Lear, Shakespeare’s wrenching tale of despair and madness. For these lost souls, it’s the narrative containment of the play’s spiritually corrosive content that looks like something they might hold on to.

The Salvation, Levring’s strangely numinous Danish take on the American western, displays a similar faith in the power of fiction, to show and contain chaos and horror, ceremonially, artfully. That power in some fashion saves us—like the ritual of consuming a god’s blood and body. The ambiguous salvation promised in the movie’s title may well refer to the good work art can do for us.

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