In what seems to be the start of a series, and an invaluable one at that, B. Kite and Kent Jones have put up a pair of fascinating articles at Film Comment’s blog on Robert Bresson (part one and part two). Each tries to clear away the clutter surrounding the director—Kite by praising his hard-boiled fascination with process; Jones asserting the primacy of his Christianity, however uncomfortable that makes some modern critics—and both are enraptured by the gleaming sensuality that radiates from such purportedly austere films, prompting affinities from Astaire to Huston to Webb.
“My ball-grabbing opening had young Balzac and his mother in a runaway stagecoach, hurtling along a treacherous road next to a cliff, the future novelist struggling with the reins of the startled horses and finally saving the day. Hell, Balzac was going to be a sexy adventure picture with plenty of action!” Also at Film Comment, their recent list of the best movies never made has been expanded to a two-part, still-growing rundown of projects abandoned over the years, not least a literary biopic à la Fuller (a through k here, l through z here).
Movie lists can be an easy, tossed-off way to drive hits to a website; and they can still be a labor of love, as proven by Film Comment above and by Popmatters’s latest addition to their collection of Essential Film Performances, last updated in 2010. Halfway through a promised 50 selections, and several choices already veer admirably from the beaten path: most such lists, arranged alphabetically, would hit the midpoint with Charles Laughton, but how many would be praising his turn in This Land Is Mine?
“But if you had kept on, if you’d loved it enough to keep on fighting and struggling, why that fight would show in your face today—in your eyes, in your whole being.” David Bordwell’s anatomy of film acting reaches the putative windows to the soul, and proves it’s not the eyes themselves that communicate, but the lids and brows. Which very, very few have wielded so expressively at Bette Davis.
“Where there’s revolution there’s confusion and when there’s confusion a man who knows what he wants stands a good chance of getting it.” Introducing a Film Forum retrospective, J. Hoberman offers a political reading of the Spaghetti Western, a genre inspired by Fanon and Gramsci as much as Ford, and traces its left-leaning sentiments to some key Hollywood westerns of the previous decade. (A brief note in the comments from Dave Kehr intriguingly suggests the lineage stretches back even further, to ’30s Bs.)
At Artforum, photographer Taryn Simon and Brian De Palma talk about their all-consuming passion: the perfect image, the focus necessary to achieve it, and the efforts of governments to censor it once it’s made. Yes, the pair met collaborating on Redacted; but don’t hold that against them, it’s a rather interesting discussion.
“In a zombie apocalypse (Night of the Living Dead) or a secret alien takeover (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), you fall asleep one evening and when you wake up in the morning the world has changed. Your relatives and your friends, your neighbors and the friendly folks who run the dry cleaners reveal themselves as the monsters they’ve always been, beneath the lie of civilization, of affection. They look the same, but now they want to destroy you, to consume you. And you have to keep running.” Colson Whitehead sums up the lessons learned—some silly, some transcendent—from an adolescence steeped in horror and sci-fi flicks.
“The newspaper mogul and moral crusader Martin Quigley called Greed ‘the filthiest, vilest, most putrid picture in the history of motion pictures.’ Stroheim retorted, ‘You Americans are living on baby-food.'” Prompted by a Film Forum retrospective, Imogen Smith assesses what one can of the mangled filmography of Erich von Stroheim, finding a moral absolutist who knew how to please a crowd, a hyper-realist less interested in realism than in truth, and an actor forced into a series of self-parodying roles who kept finding the dignity buried therein.
Among other fine links, Girish Shambu notes Here & Now, an intriguing new blog project from Michael Koresky. Picking a year, then three representative films, Koresky is attempting to parse out his own understanding of a given era by skidding backwards and forwards in time with the movies. (1948, for instance, offers the “marvelous images of Manhattan” from Portrait of Jennie, the “fixed and inescapable” frozen time of Rope, and the “desperate moment” captured in Germany Year Zero.) A nifty idea for cinema-as-time-machine, and one so far worth riding along with.
David Cairns uses two 1948 mermaid movies—the British Miranda and America’s Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid—to point out some differences between the two nations. Though it’s hardly fair to praise England for a healthier, more forthright eroticism when their nymph was played by Glynis Johns.
“A black friend of mine, after seeing Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath, swore that Fonda had colored blood. You could tell, he said, by the way Fonda walked down the road at the end of the film: white men don’t walk like that! and he imitated Fonda’s stubborn, patient, wide-legged hike away from the camera.” At Kino Slang, Andy Rector posts James Baldwin’s excellent, provocative reading of Lang’s You Only Live Once, from The Devil Finds Work.
Say this if you’re looking for a silver lining: Who ever thought Kathryn Bigelow would be mainstream enough that one of her films would be helped along by classified leaks from the White House? Yet that’s exactly what happened during the preproduction of Zero Dark Thirty. Here’s your links, helpfully sorted in order of outrage. If this strikes you as, ok, odd, but honestly no big deal, The Playlist has you covered. If you’re somewhat troubled by the implications, try The Guardian. Sputtering indignantly at the confluence of statist arrogance and Hollywood propaganda? Glenn Greenwald’s your man. And if you’re barely even upset because really, what did you expect after we placed a socialist traitor in the Oval Office, join the conversation at Judicial Watch, the organization which (admirably, in all sincerity) obtained the government records and has posted them online to sort through yourself.
While Men in Black 3 attempts to knock The Avengers out of its box office domination, this Memorial Day Weekend brings SIFF into its second week, so the screening list will be understandably abbreviated this week.
Parallax View continues to update its SIFF 2012 guide here, with links to capsules, features, and reviews from The Seattle Times, Seattle Weekly, The Stranger, Straight Shooting, and others.
Meanwhile, two imports with macabre dimensions compete for festival audiences. Headhunters, a black comedy from Norway, pits a business professional who moonlights as an art thief to maintain his lavish lifestyle against a millionaire art collector. Robert Horton, writing for The Herald, says: “We always have a few foreign titles that try to out-do Hollywood at the suspense game, and Headhunters is an especially berserk example.” It opens at The Varsity. More reviews here.
First Position, a documentary about young ballet dancers training for the Youth America Grand Prix, gets high marks from Seattle Times film critic Moira Macdonald: “The movie doesn’t dwell on the very real possibility that none of these young people will spend their careers as professional dancers (only a tiny fraction of students achieve this); instead, it lets us enjoy their youthful exuberance, lingering with them on every jump.” Opens at Seven Gables.
The 38th Annual Seattle International Film Festival opened on Thursday, May 17, with a screening of Lynn Shelton’s locally-produced My Sister’s Sister, and completed its 25 day on Sunday, June 12 with the world premiere of the Seattle shot and set Grassroots. Here is Parallax View’s coverage and guide to SIFF resources.
Whatever the financial tally when all’s said and done, the contributors to this year’s For the Love of Film blogathon have simply provided too many riches on too many topics to offer any meaningful list of highlights; any such won’t so much scratch the surface as gently buff it. So head over to the event’s three hosts—The Self-Styled Siren, Ferdy on Film, and This Island Rod—and sample the offerings for yourself.
“I would rather make the gravest of mistakes than surrender my own judgment.” A recent screening of The Last of the Mohicans was followed by a Michael Mann Q&A with Geoff Boucher. Kristopher Tapley has the highlights, but even he admits these outtakes can’t do justice to the wide-ranging, highly detailed thoughts you’d expect from Mann, so he’s fortunately appended the audio from the evening.
“That Epstein’s films are uneven is part of their essential nature; he was genuinely experimenting, aiming not for a consistent level of craft or a seamless vehicle for narrative, but for moments that would kindle, images that would pierce.” The Chiseler’s Imogen Smith discusses, in prose nearly as vivid and transfixing as their imagery, three films by Jean Epstein.
In a similar vein, Ed Howard surveys the six “fascinating, poetic documentaries” that Maurice Pialat shot in Turkey in 1964, with topics ranging from studies of harbor life to the region’s religious history to the spectacle of a three-day wrestling match.
“He said, ‘We’re going up to Big Sur, we’re going to shoot up there.’ And we went up there. That’s where I met what’s-his-name, who makes the wine. Coppola.” The great Dick Miller (his recollections charmingly buttressed by his wife Lainie), interviewed for the A.V. Club by Caelum Vatnsdal, looks back at the barest fraction of the films he’s made. Which still makes for a wealth of anecdotes.
“Do you know what time it is?” “A watch doesn’t really go with this outfit, daddy.” Josie Sampson revisits Clueless, and praises the deliberately tacky, “tasteless attempts at sophistication” of its costume design, a vibrant marker of childish things to be put away.
Also at the Morlocks, Kimberly Lindbergs offers some of her favorite photographs chronicling the Cannes festival, from Louis Lumière meeting in a train station with the town’s mayor to a lovely 1959 image of Cary Grant and Kim Novak lost in one another’s eyes. Another post, covering the ’60s, is to follow.
A few months ago you couldn’t throw a rock without beaning a think-piece on silent cinema prompted by The Artist and Hugo. Geoffrey O’Brien in the New York Review of Books caps the mini-genre with a winner, a lovely hymn to silent movies as “a perpetual learning how to see, and a way of coming to the truth of one of Emerson’s observations: ‘The eye is final.'”
Regrettable as it is that such a well-regarded figure in the New German Cinema as the late Werner Schroeter still requires an introduction before his first North American retrospective, Brooklyn Rail’s Mónica Savirón is ably up to the task.
“Right now, I’m revolting against the conventions of movies. Who says a film has to cost a million dollars and be safe and innocuous enough to satisfy every 12-year-old in America?” Fifty years after her debut feature screened, fifteen years—sadly—after her death, Shirley Clarke and The Connection are making headlines again, courtesy of a restoration and return to theaters. Manohla Dargis offers a career retrospective, shot through with disbelief that such a game-changer remains a marginal figure in the histories. At Indiewire, Ann Hornaday and David Sterritt discuss how forward-thinking, and mischievous, the director truly was. Glenn Kenny takes exception to the glibness of that latter description in a fine appreciation. Milestone Films, for whom this is merely the first step in restoring many of Clarke’s films, also deserve a nod for their informative press kit, source of the opening quote and well worth a read. [this last link is a .pdf]
That last link above was spotted by David Hudson, as all of them are eventually. Hudson’s film roundups, which render efforts by others (yes, even Your Humble Aggregator) superfluous, have a new home at Fandor, which partnership is kicked off with a marvelous find: Trevor Stark’s history, from October Magazine, of Chris Marker and the SLON film cooperative’s partnership with workers from the Rhodiaceta textile factory in France. A revolutionary effort—admirable in its intentions, stymied by fractionalism and mistrust—that Marker, inevitably, viewed through the lens of the cinematic past, in this case Medvedkin’s ciné-trains. [.pdf]
“She knows the score…She’s someone who was abused. I could identify with her. I never could identify with any other white movie star. They were always white people doing white things.” Jacqueline Rose, in a beautifully written article that sniffs out more connections than most books on the subject, finds Marilyn Monroe the perfect embodiment of mid-century America—not the one we dreamt on movie screens, but the sometime cruel, confused one most pretended wasn’t happening.
Onscreen, Saba Sahar is “a kind of superhero, doing kung fu high-kicks in traditional dress, carrying victims to safety over her shoulder or riding a motorbike with no hands while firing a gun.” Behind the scenes, Afghanistan’s first woman director is far more impressive, as Jenny Kleeman’s profile attests.
“I always presume every movie I make is my last. My career is very smoothly in decline, each movie making half as much as the prior one.” Todd Solondz, interviewed at the Sarasota Film Festival by David Carr, on the business end of things, working with actors, and how he stole a key scene in Welcome to the Dollhouse from North by Northwest. Link via Movie City News.
Time Out didn’t fool around compiling their list of the 100 best horror films, polling a murderer’s row of 126 experts (the Cs alone offer up Roger Corman, Antonio Campos, Alice Cooper and Coffin Joe) and writing up the results with good observations and considerable brio. Which allows for some admirably off kilter selections, though lest you think this lineup differs radically from other such, the accompanying interview is still with William Friedkin. Noted by David Hudson.
Revisiting The Devil, Probably, Dennis Lim assigns the same uncompromising nihilism that ensured the film’s relative obscurity to the draw it has on its partisans. Link, one of several of interest, via Girish Shambu.
“She Who Is Called Feathers manifests the most dazzling changes in raiment.” David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson’s mock exegesis on Rio Bravo isn’t just a delightfully sustained gag, but a vessel for several profound interpretations of the film, including a deconstruction of some song lyrics that is, keeping with their conceit, revelatory.
The article above opens with a discussion of Christopher Nolan’s recent screening for fellow filmmakers of a sequence from The Dark Knight Rises, in an attempt to proselytize for the benefits of 35mm over video. Nolan discusses the subject, as well as his directing style (which, surprise, is highly pragmatic and orderly) with the DGA’s Jeffrey Ressner. Link via Movie City News.
“A few years ago, I thought I might open a chain of eulogy stores where you could go in off the street and, for twenty bucks, they’ll tell you all the nice things they’re going to say about you after you croak. But I don’t want people to say wonderful things about me when I can’t hear them. Tell me now, while I’m still here.” The multilingual journal La Furia Umana takes Jerry Lewis at his word, making him the subject of their latest issue. Plenty of good stuff here even for those of you currently rolling your eyes, from Sadarshan Ramani’s tracing Lewis (and Tahslin) as inspiration for King of Comedy‘s Rupert Pupkin; Steven Shaviro’s closely observed defense of Smorgasbord‘s (aka Cracking Up) “therapeutically purging” humor; and if you missed it the first time around (2003, in The Believer), B. Kite’s magisterial The Jerriad: A Clown Painting, one of the finest bits of writing ever done on Lewis, not least for its succinct delineation of an essential opposition: “Buster makes extraordinary feats look incredibly easy. Jerry makes mundane activities seem extremely difficult.”
The timing for such celebration, of course, is that The Kid just celebrated his 86th Birthday. Publicly, in fact, with Richard Belzer as MC and an audience Q&A that went pretty much the way you think it did. J. Hoberman fills in the details.