The 39th Annual Seattle International Film Festival opens on Thursday, May 16, with a screening of Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, and complete its 25-day run on Sunday, June 9 with Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring as the Closing Night Film. Here is Parallax View’s coverage and guide to SIFF resources for all 25 days.
There are several flippant ways to respond to Quentin Tarantino’s remarks about John Ford’s purported racism, from gruff dismissal to just tossing out Sergeant Rutledge and calling it a day. Kent Jones offers the thoughtful response, and it’s definitive. Also at Film Comment, subversion of a less haunted, more joyously playful sort, in Maitland McDonagh’s salute to “godfather of gay porn” Peter de Rome.
Carmel Magazine’s Rebecca L. Knight makes it sound as if there are very few afternoons more delightful than one spent in the company of Joan Fontaine, whether the legend is making sure you get a selection of roses from her garden or proudly showing off the golf trophy she received for a hole-in-one. (It’s on the shelf above her Oscar: “Oh yes, well there’s that.”) Beginning on page 82. Via Eileen Orr.
Dolby’s last attempt at introducing a new sound system, the failed 7.1, added two more sound channels to 5.1’s six. Their latest, Atmos, offers 64, including the ceiling. Jeff Smith explains the potential and offers an assessment in a guest post at David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson’s blog. In a separate post Thompson uses the failure ofJack the Giant Slayer to argue, contra Hollywood marketing, that there’s really no such thing as a “Fantasy fan.”
“That’s why I’m spending so much time talking to you about the business and the money, because this is the force that is pushing cinema out of mainstream movies. I’ve been in meetings where I can feel it slipping away, where I can feel that the ideas I’m tossing out, they’re too scary or too weird, and I can feel the thing—I can tell; it’s not going to happen….” Proving again the futility of resistance when the internet rises as one to whine, Steven Soderbergh changed his mind and allowed the San Francisco Film Society permission to post his State of Cinema address. It is a pretty engrossing speech, with Soderbergh conscious of the potential to seem an old fogy even as he lays out the numbers to prove Hollywood has no idea what it’s doing. And what’s the director been up to in the week since? You know, posting a surreal, Robbe-Grillet-flavored spy story to Twitter, as one does.
Another combo KO from two of The Chiseler’s heavy hitters. First, Dan Callahan treasures the perseverance of Sylvia Sidney in so many masochistic parts: “She has the sort of face that looks like it knows the worst before it happens, and so when the worst does happen, it just confirms the anxiety in her eyes.” Then Imogen Smith nails the sincerity of Joan Blondell’s con artists, with particular focus on Nightmare Alley. (“What she brought to all these movies about rackets, about schemers and saps, was the ability to put over a con and let us enjoy her triumph, yet also to express, without sanctimony, the melancholy weight of too much knowledge.”)
But it’s the website of Tony Macklin that’s the real treasure trove. Macklin, former editor of Film Heritage magazine, has been posting the (crudely captured, fair warning) recordings of his interviews here; the most recently posted, up just this week, is a dandy 1973 chat with Andrew Sarris; previous subjects include Altman, Eastwood, Peckinpah, Poitier, Sylbert, Head…. Just look; there’ll be somebody you’re dying to hear talk.
Matthew Spektor’s stint as a director of literary acquisitions (i.e., the guy who read and recommended books), starting with Coppola and DeVito, taught him that Hollywood does actually know what they’re doing; and what they’re doing is tossing the middle class on the scrap heap.
“Post-modernism before the fact—trash-mashing the ghastly with the frivolous, history and horror trumped by consumer products, the grim and the soothing, the high and the low together, sleeping in one Procrustean bed.” At This Long Century Mark Rappaport has a typically allusive, thought-provoking essay on the stills from Children of Paradise that beguiled him as a youngster, and the magazine he found them in: a 1945 issue of Life juxtaposing grim stories of the surrender of Germany with slick, bouncy adverts.
Imogen Smith revels in the melodramatic (and actorly) pleasures of Lewis Allen’s So Evil My Love, wherein “theft, forgery, blackmail, murder, sickness, alcoholism, adultery, and betrayals that have no name corrode this world from the inside, like a drug that numbs as it kills.”
You’ve certainly decided by now whether you find Terrence Malick’s filmmaking methods daring and exploratory or alarmingly shambolic. Bilge Ebiri’s account of the production of To the Wonder won’t change anybody’s mind on the subject, but it offers more evidence of a director who employs actors, cameramen, and editors in his own unique fashion. Ebiri links to a revealing interview with Emmanuel Lubezki by the ASC’s Jim Hemphill. (“Terry didn’t say this, but I felt that he was trying to separate To the Wonder from all the moviemaking that’s still connected to theater—from movies that feel acted, prepared and rehearsed.”) And inseparable from the sights of Malick are the sounds: composer Hanan Townshend writes briefly about his experience scoring the film.
Daniel Kasman’s ingenious reading of Melville’s Un Flic as “a picture that envisions the ruins laying beyond cinema’s construction of society, of masculinity, of modernity, of genre” depends upon three key shot/reverse-shots and a fourth close-up left hanging without its matching opposite.
“Watching, watching the street and the gate from the dark study window, Hightower hears the distant music when it first begins.” Jonathan Rosenbaum’s attempts to discern a link between Sátántangó and Faulkner’s Light in August get dismissed by Béla Tarr, but he finds some support in a quote from screenwriter and source novelist László Krasznahorkai.
Video: Last Monday, for the first time in its 42-year history, the National Endowment for the Humanities Jefferson Lecture was given by a filmmaker. No prize for guessing Martin Scorsese. His presentation, a stirring call for visual language to be understood as vital and in need of education and preservation as any written one, can be viewed at the NEH website. With nearly as many film clips in support as you’d expect.
“Preminger’s city is one of the most bleak and somber in all of noir. It always seems to be the dregs of night, sour as boiled coffee.” Imogen Smith, brilliant as always, on Where the Sidewalk Ends (featuring a lovely woodcut illustration by Guy Budziak). Also at The Chiseler, and also excellent, Dan Callahan praises Brigette Helm, whose career could never live up to her robotic debut in Metropolis. And no, you won’t find a better GIF on the web anytime soon.
Another fine survey of a movie genre and the literary roots to which it’s indebted comes in an excerpt from the late Eric Hobsbawm’s final book, tracing how the relatively multicultural, incident-free American West became the mythic stalking ground for that great Aryan loner, the American Cowboy.
Fast Company’s Nicole Laporte introduces the New New Hollywood, profiling the tech-savvy producers and agents and early-adapting stars latching on to online sketches and interactive apps as the town’s latest saviors. (The real bosses, as they have for years, remain impatient teenage boys.) Laporte seems more convinced that things are really changing, now and forever, than the industry’s history would seem to support; but in fairness she also points out that the building used for YouTube’s new creative facility was where Hughes built the Spruce Goose. Via Movie City News.
“There was pre-mediation, lots of bared leg, insinuations of sex, but, according to Code rules, “comeuppance” for both at the end. Which is all to say it was not very Stanwyck. But Billy Wilder, crafty director that he is, asked the hesitant Stanwyck, ‘Well, are you a mouse or an actress?’ Stanwyck took the part, and the rest is noir history.” Anne Helen Petersen on the genius of Barbara Stanwyck, and the slippery way she avoided having one set persona for her fans to nail down.
“‘She was still really quite beautiful and, if you could forget her connections, really very charming, and I would think that, to many people, very convincing in her intensity about her art, her love of the mountains, and winter sports,’ he said years later. ‘She was really quite a—quite an imposing piece of work.’” In Tin House, Bruce Handy has the fascinating story of Budd Schulberg’s postwar efforts in Germany to hunt down incriminating film footage, and the assistance he received, in good faith or otherwise, from Leni Riefenstahl.
Generally overshadowed by his costars whether they were romantic partners (Lucille Ball) or antagonists (Richard Widmark), Mark Stevens still managed a kind of small-scale immortality as he rushed through noir pictures ever anxious and impatient about his future, onscreen and off. Mark Fertig offers praise, not least for his two turns as a director.
Absolutely indispensable tumblr Cinephilia & Beyond (which will pop up again later in these links) spots a pair of magnificent resources available to read for free on the University of California Press’s website. Backstory 2 and Backstory 3, both edited by Patrick McGilligan, collect interviews with screenwriters from the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s, including Leigh Brackett, Arthur Laurents, Curt Siodmak, Stewart Stern—and that’s only scratching the surface of the first volume.
Speaking of Pinkerton’s “pride of Kenosha, Wisconsin,” Joanne Hill Tarbox Styles, daughter of the headmaster at the Todd School for Boys, which Welles attended during his teens, offers a memoir of those years that reminds you there are two main reactions prompted by encounter with a genius as precocious, prodigious, and self-assured as Welles’s: enraptured bedazzlement, and the urge to throttle. Spotted by the Cinetrix.
And why not make it a triad, with Jonathan Rosenbaum reprinting (from a 1992 Sight and Sound) his takedown of the “restored” Othello, and offering a fine appreciation for how the film signified Welles’s break with mainstream moviemaking and his embarking on a new career as an independent filmmaker.
In the story above Lucas emerges, as always, as a rather glum technocrat; for a better sense of the flair and danger of capitalism rampant, try John Strausbaugh’s account of the rise and fall and (after he got into the movie business) rise and fall of Fox Film Corporations’s William Fox.
The New York Times considers violence on screen, with A. O. Scott finding more accord between the fantasies of Hollywood and Wayne LaPierre than either party would probably admit, and Manohla Dargis reminding that movies were condemned for their violence pretty much from the moment they were born. (Alessandra Stanley and Chris Suellentrop tackle TV and video games, respectively.) Also at the Times, Tom Roston rounds up filmmakers praising invaluable advice tossed their way by Steven Spielberg.
“When co-star Walter Brennan saw Mitchum in his elegantly rugged costume, he declared, ‘That is the goddamndest realest cowboy I’ve ever seen!’” Imogen Smith on the dark pleasures of noir western Blood on the Moon, and its inspired use of Robert Mitchum’s mesmerizing but untrustworthy rambling spirit.
For decades, as Ted Scheinman tells it, slapstick “flirted with the notion of inflicting serious pain on the dainty female body without quite allowing it to happen.” But now Melissa McCarthy has arrived, and he’s anxious to see if her fearless leaps of knockabout will continue to succeed on her terms or instead be flattened by her crueler, misogynistic collaborators. Also at the LA Review of Books, Julie Cline interviews Errol Morris about Jeffrey Macdonald, the unacknowledged legacy of psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley, and “our almost unfettered ability to foster, create, engender error.”
“”Argus”—good name for a cinema.” In an engrossing bit of literary detection, David Brody hunts down the movie clues—Disney, Garbo—to explain what’s going on in Nabokov’s Laughter in the Dark, while simultaneously looking at the relative success and failure of some recent movies that attempt something like the “beautiful idea” of an animated tableau vivant that grips the novel’s protagonist. Via David Hudson.
In what seems to be a recurring feature now (a previous installment featured Janusz Kaminski) Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan sits down with Roger Deakins to explain the method and reasoning behind ten of his iconic shots—one of which, Fargo‘s opening drive, he’s gentlemanly enough to admit was second unit.
“You know, to a man with a heart as soft as mine, there’s nothing sweeter than a touching scene.” David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson’s analysis of The Man Who Knew Too Much—included in the first version of their textbook Film Art, dropped from subsequent editions—is presented by Criterion. Stimulated by its reappearance, Bordwell expands upon it at his own blog, touching on Hitchcock’s masterful use of set pieces and the film’s “vigorous reassertion of Englishness.”
Jerry Whyte’s long, circuitous survey of the influences on and critical reactions to Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc pays the best tribute one can to a masterpiece: an attempt to rip down the pre-conceptions that surround it, and marvel anew at the strange, lovely work that remains. Via John Wyver.
Richard Brody notes the horror that Birth of a Nation is so clearly the work of a great artist; with a lamentation towards the end that the same cultural forces behind Griffith’s racist imaginings kept any documentarians from picking up the new sound cameras and recording the testimonies of still-living former slaves.
Amanda Petrusich provides the story behind one of the more obscure recent additions to the National Film Registry: Melton Barker’s The Kidnapper’s Foil, remade in town after town for decades, the locals hit up for cash to include their children in the production. A cynical bit of hustle that’s emerged as an invaluable (and entirely inadvertent) record of forgotten small towns all across America. Several versions of the film can be viewed here.
The contradictions of Richard Pryor—electrifying in concert films and Blue Collar, variously wasted, underutilized, or indifferent elsewhere—are on the mind of Colin Beckett too, who joins in Odienator’s applause for the underrated Bustin’ Loose. In the new issue of Brooklyn Rail, which also celebrates Jonas Mekas’s recent 90th birthday by soliciting salutes from some of his friends and collaborators, including P. Adams Sitney and Ken Jacobs.