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Obituary / Remembrance

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of July 21

Good Morning is inarguably the least loved and least representative in the Ozu oeuvre. But as is often true of early comedy in more or less anybody’s oeuvre—whether or not they’re known as comic artists—Good Morning is one of the seeds from which Ozu’s later works grow, a sort of first principle. It is perhaps a more intricately structured investigation of what we can say through the walls of time and age and experience erected even between parents and children, siblings, lovers. It is a chamber piece for all the human linguistic instruments: fart and sigh, small talk and drunken ramble, all the possible declarations of weakness, suspicion, compromise, and love of which you could conceive.” I’d say Annie Julia Wyman’s initial statement up there is much more than arguable, but past that her praise of Ozu’s celebration of the wordless means by which we convey love—including, yes, farts—is spot on.

“It might seem rather a cliché to insist that film is a visual medium, but surely what is not spoken is just as important, in the total effect of this movie, as the articulation of its earnest ethical strivings. Tarkovsky seems to have found a way of photographing the human head—animated and in repose—as it had never been photographed before. He makes it monumental: sculptural and philosophical. Granted the chaotic interruptions to the pro­duction process (of which more shortly), the concentration of effort he achieved here strikes me as nothing short of miraculous. Naturally, these human heads had to be extraordinary in the first place: not just that of the Stalker (Alexander Kaidanovsky) but the Writer’s and the Professor’s as well. How hypnotically the camera inves­tigates them!” Mark Le Fanu traces the oppressive state of mind under which Tarkovsky conceived Stalker as a hidden religious allegory, and briefly recounts the horrifying ordeal of the shoot, in which the third time (filming the picture) might have been the charm but also the reason so many of the crew, director included, succumbed to cancer.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of July 14

“The three features Berger and Tanner made together are essentially films about class. Characters are struggling to live life after political failure, finding ways to resume their resistance to a value system that remains ever-present and crushing. Berger, as a writer and as a human being—the two were never truly separated—was engaged in a similar process. His work became increasingly focused on the poor and working class following his move to Quincy, and he was searching for a form to match his subjects.” Craig Hubert traces the political and formal evolution—which would lead to the dissolution of the partnership—of the three films that writer John Berger and director Alain Tanner made together. Via David Hudson.

At Criterion, a pair of essays on crime films that couldn’t have less in common. Adrian Martin traces the history of distillation that resulted in Bresson’s final film L’argent standing alone even within such a unique filmography. (“Rather, the ominous “agent” at work here is money: the workings of an entire capitalist system boiled down to the movement of a forged note and the unstoppable catastrophe that it triggers. As money travels, it dehumanizes everyone it touches, no matter their class status or religious or ideological beliefs. What, in other hands, could be played as the premise for a screwball comedy (the phony dollar bill that caused such riotous havoc in a small-town community!) is treated by Bresson as the darkest tragedy.”) While Benjamin Mercer salutes one of Japan’s finer directors of detective films, still underacknowledged in the West, Yoshitaro Nomura. (“The director was certainly something more than an ace at operating within any given genre, often avoiding clichés, combining narrative modes in unusual ways, and wisely taking a page from Matsumoto in his eye for telling details and attention to contemporaneous social realities. Nomura’s films are perhaps most remarkable, though, for their immersive sense of place, most strikingly felt when their protagonists find themselves amid what is to them foreign terrain, if still on Japanese soil.”)

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of July 7

Freshly returned from their pilgrimage to Il Cinema Ritrovato festival, David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson offer three articles outlining their fresh discoveries and welcome reacquaintances, from large-format experiments that actually predate moving pictures to the latest from Agnès Varda. Whether breaking down the humor in an early Ophüls or reveling in the fine early adaptors to sound from Mexico, the pair remind us that marvels lay scattered throughout the history of film, waiting to be revealed by the light.

“How to be adequate to this time of being in-between and not yet decided? This is what S?mai seems to have asked himself. The question determines the style of the film, which is in constant flux. Comedy is life seen in long shot, tragedy is life seen close-up, Chaplin said. What to do when it is precisely a question of avoiding the choice of genre? S?mai’s answer is to adopt a perpetual middle distance. In this middle distance, not enough is seen to let us say with any certitude that we are seeing an event and that we know what an event is. At the same time we also see too much, so much that we have to look away, as if the event were too powerful, overwhelming.” Chris Fujiwara finds Shinji S?mai’s Typhoon Club a perfect match of meaning and methods, its own transcendence of genre reflecting its lead character’s aim to rise above the social demands of his school. Via David Hudson.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of July 1

“The sheer pleasure in filming that can be found in just about all of Gréville’s works touched me at the time and still moves me today: fleetingly present in commissions (Le port du désir, 1954, deceptively present, and containing a beautiful underwater sequence, in Dorothée cherche l’amour, 1945, which also has a very well-directed gunfight); and sustained throughout his best works (Secret Lives, Noose, Pour une nuit d’amour, Le Diable souffle, Remous, Brief Ecstasy, parts of L’Envers du paradis, 1953, and L’Accident). This joy in filming bears no relationship to the visual brio of a Duvivier, the dazzling rigor of a Jean Grémillon or a Max Ophüls. It privileges surprise, the pileup of ideas, the flow of images that recalls wordplay, without ever being in danger of excess or ridicule. Gréville doesn’t recoil from special effects, doesn’t hesitate to divide the screen in two like a checkerboard in which the heads of his characters are inlaid, or set doves into flight above the Panthéon (in Menaces), and this audacity often pays off, even if it may make proponents of the sober and the natural smile.” Edmond Gréville enjoyed a long career in both France and England, but his films have mostly fallen to obscurity; a status, Bertrand Tavernier’s impassioned advocacy insists, in need of correction.

“So determining how much of the plot originated with Stannard and how much with Hitchcock would be difficult. (Hitch took no cowriting credit, but then he often didn’t, though he was almost always closely involved with the scripting of his films.) It could be that the director picked up ideas here that he would go on to repeat and develop in his later work or, equally possibly, that the plot of The Lodger allowed him scope to explore preoccupations that he had already been mulling over.” Philip Kemp emphasizes The Lodger’s role as the first Hitchcock film worthy of the title Hitchcockian—though he overreaches in claiming this begins Hitch’s fascination with blondes, a trope the director literally kicked off his career with in the opening scene of his debut The Pleasure Garden.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of June 23

“Though Le trou is remarkably more austere, it is still in the tradition of all of Becker’s previous movies, built as they are out of lost time. A constellation of glances, gestures, and acts of physical grace, the film is an unlikely blend of styles. If the overwhelming feeling is for the pleasure derived from the professional way Becker’s inmates treat their escape, there is also a flipside feeling of moments spent relaxing between key sequences.” Christopher Small burnishes the reputation of the still underrated Jacques Becker by the most direct means available to an auteurist cinephile: direct comparison (of three of Becker’s films) to Howard Hawks.

“Like Leos Carax, Jarmusch is a filmmaker of romantic and poetic fantasy conceits in which a certain nostalgie de la boue always plays a part. But unlike Carax, Jarmusch’s sense of fantasy is always grounded in at least a superficial sense of banal reality; even his century-old vampires occupy the recognizably mundane quarters of Detroit and Tangier. Paterson is of course less obvious as a fantasy than Only Lovers Left Alive, yet its utopian vision of small-town America as a friendly multiracial community in which every person appears to be some sort of artist is clearly sustainable only as a defiant poetic conceit that flies in the face of a Trump-led America, however gentle its multiple articulations might be.” Cycling through Jarmusch’s tendencies as a minimalist, fabulist, and poet Jonathan Rosenbaum places Paterson‘s everyday utopia in the director’s ouvre with his typical keen observation–barring the odd assertion that Rizwan Manji is Latino. Via David Hudson.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of June 16

“The discovery of a ‘secret child’ (L’Enfant secret, J’entends plus la guitare), the failed or successful suicide attempts (Les Hautes Solitudes; the short Rue Fontaine, 1984; Night Wind, 1999; Frontier of Dawn, 2007), May ’68 (at the core of Regular Lovers but repeatedly referenced in many others), electroshock therapy (L’Enfant secret, Frontier of Dawn), the inaugural infidelity of the female partner (Emergency Kisses; J’entends plus la guitare; The Birth of Love; Regular Lovers; A Burning Hot SummerJealousy, 2013; In the Shadow of Women), the birth of a child (J’entends plus la guitare, The Birth of Love, Frontier of Dawn, A Burning Hot Summer, Jealousy). It is the traumatic or joyful mark left by those events in the memory of the filmmaker that dictates their reappearance from film to film, as if the emotion associated with them compelled their depiction.” Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin take stock of Philippe Garrel’s 50-year career, a half century dedicated to minimalist staging of autobiographical tales that insist upon authenticity even as they eschew realism.

“He more than once filmed Jane giving birth, turned their arguments and lovemaking into cinematic subjects, embellished his footage of their life in rural Colorado with wild superimposed images drawn from Norse mythology, and—in the Eighties—made pained films about their separation and divorce. But the moment he turned his camera on his family they, too, became concentrations of light whose “qualities and varieties” he could study. The films he made of them shine with love and tenderness and at the same time suggest an odd disregard for the recipients of that love.” Another career five decades in length, and for large stretches as disquietingly autobiographical, was Stan Brakhage’s. Max Nelson limns the domestic tension that acted as source for several of the most rapturous images ever captured, painted, scratched, or pasted on to film; a source Brakhage let drop with appropriate humility when his second wife nixed his filming the family for his art. Via David Hudson.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of May 26

The journal Movie might only release one issue a year, but it always guarantees you plenty to chew on. This edition contains a dossier concerning opening scenes, but these close readings bore deeper into the mysteries and loveliness of the selections than some entertaining blogger rounding up and describing his favorite such, and how these entries into a movie’s world prepare us for the journey to come. Thus Nathaniel Dayo profitably contrasts the “spartan” establishing shot of London from John Irvin’s BBC adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy to the Hollywood norm (and the feature remake) (“For non-British viewers (such as the author) encountering the series in syndication or on home video, however, that moment of instant recognition is much less likely to dawn, and in the absence of a captioning title a certain fog of indeterminacy will hang over the image.”); Pete Falconer unravels most of the cues for character and setting that Hawks sets down with the first shot of Rio Bravo (“The door we see is a mundane, everyday fixture, its colour a drab brown. It is not the type of door conventionally associated with the main entrances of western saloons, and Dude does not enter in a way associated with that type of door. His entrance is not emphatic or frontal—he seems instead to be creeping in through a side door”); Anthony Coman underscores the confrontational subversiveness of Ophuls’s seemingly “cream-cake” introduction to Lola Montès (“We begin in the rafters; we see the ropes from which the props dangle; we see the camera’s tracks. If the CinemaScope framing allows us the freedom to hunt for significance, Ophuls’ mise-en-scène makes significant the circus’—and even the film’s—construction”).

Also Christa Van Raalte on the disturbing juxtaposition of Zero Dark Thirty’s audio-only prologue of 9/11 calls and its opening scene of torture (“Whereas collapsing towers and falling bodies could invite us to take an outsider’s view of disaster-as-spectacle, these voices take us inside the experience, aligning us with the participants and inviting us to imagine the view from within”); Catherine Constable breaks down the abstract “birth” that opens Glazer’s Under the Skin (“The absence of scale means that the first two images of Under the Skin conjoin the cosmological—a new planet—with the individual—the emerging eye / I”); and Lola Breux admires the naked acknowledgement of authorship played out in the opening (and closing) credits of Bunny Lake Is Missing (“The identity which is revealed to us right at the start is Otto Preminger’s. It is hard to miss his name as it is the first element which the hand reveals, so his ‘appearance’ benefits from the initial impact of the unique design”). Via David Hudson. [.pdf warning]

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of May 19

“Virtually plot-less, Sheep alternates its focus on Stan, his wife and kids, and the people in his Watts neighborhood, representing a community oppressed, yet teeming with life. Stan works at a slaughterhouse, and it’s changing him so much so his wife (Kaycee Moore) does not recognize him anymore. He’s distant, frowns, and has the thousand-yard stare. Outside, in the neighborhood, it’s dog-eat-dog. Kids and adults alike must fend for themselves. Children taunt, throw rocks, and wrestle with each other. Adults borrow, rob, or barter just to make it to the next day. Inside, in the homestead, however, life’s pressures dissolve for a little while. Home is haven, at least in Stan’s it is.” The 40th anniversary of Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep has Tanner Tafelski reminding us what a marvelous mix of diurnal struggle and daily grace it is. While Richard Brody orients it within the larger L.A. Rebellion movement by comparing it to Billy Woodbury’s contemporary study of work and manhood (written and photographed by Burnett), Bless Their Little Hearts. (“Where Burnett keeps the characters of Killer of Sheep in their neighborhood (Stan may work outside Watts but he seems to hardly touch the ground anywhere else), Woodberry starts outside Charlie’s local sphere, in the employment office, and continues to watch his characters as they pass, detached and rueful, through the wider city, in transit through a blasted post-industrial landscape in which Stan, in particular, sees his own enforced idleness reflected.”) Via—as so many of these entries always have been, even as a token number are acknowledged—David Hudson, who’s found a new home at Criterion.

Devoted to both the profound necessity and the sublime silliness of social interchange, Good Morning is therefore much subtler and grander than it might initially appear to be. Commonly identified as a remake of Ozu’s silent 1932 masterpiece I Was Born, But . . ., also included in this release, it is even more interesting for its differences with that film than for its similarities—above all, the difference between what a father’s authority meant in prewar versus postwar Japan…. [The] more pervasive humor of Good Morning extends to the rebellion itself and all it engenders, as well as the local intrigues surrounding it; one no longer feels that the father’s authority is a monument that can be toppled.” Jonathan Rosenbaum traces both the formal complexity and no less dazzling humanity in Ozu’s two comic masterpieces.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of May 12

“I show up at the airport. And the guy asked me, ‘Is there anything we might find suspicious in there?’ I said, ‘There’s an art piece [read: a glass bong] inside in the shape of a gun.’ And literally the entire security department was like, ‘What is wrong with you?’ Long story short, it made it through.” “And we got the movie.” From the paraphernalia they had crafted to show off their passion to the producers of Spring Breakers to Moonlight’s briefest of Oscar losses to La La Land, A24’s David Fenkel, John Hodges, and Daniel Katz (and several grateful filmmakers) talk to Zach Baron about the distribution company that’s gone from idle dream to major indie power-player in just a few years’ time.

“Film Forum’s centennial Melville celebration has enabled audiences to see how much terrific work this ultra-masculine director pulls off with female performers in close quarters. Melville is best known for the fabulous hard-guy iconography of films like Bob le Flambeur, Le Doulos, and Le Samourai and for blending granular detail and Homeric breadth in underground extravaganzas like Le Cercle Rouge and the Resistance epic Army of Shadows. Recent appreciations have focused on his tributes to crime-world professionals and the tough feelings that bind his gesture-laden style. But Melville also displays his distinctive surgical keenness in chamber dramas and “women’s pictures.”” Not least the exceptional Leon Morin, Priest, whose complex examination of faith under occupation—and its sterling central performance by Emmanuelle Riva—receive praise from Michael Sragow.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of May 5

Harlan County, U.S.A. is filled with sounds recorded this way—the voices of local people speaking, shouting, and singing; the hard breathing of protestors running in fear and the rasping breaths of people with black lung; the noise of people laughing, crying, and screaming; and the sound of instruments like fiddles, banjoes, and guitars, calling birds, chirping crickets, and barking dogs; the noise of the vehicles that carry workers into the mine and the grinding machines that dig the coal and the conveyor belts that carry the coal out; the sound of car engines, the crack of pistol fire, and the rat tat tat of machine guns; and the echoing thunder of a mine exploding. These sounds slide into each other without pause. They form layers. Often emerging at first without visual referents, they conjure missing spaces and alternate times. They produce emotions.” Grace Elizabeth Hale does a magisterial job exploring Barbara Kopple’s use of sound in Harlan County, U.S.A., not just to draw the viewer in but to simultaneously reject the documentary tradition of portraying Appalachia as populated by exotic victims of fate (in which goal, Hale informs us, Kopple leans on the work of such indigenous film collectives as Appalshop) and to include the filmmaker herself as both a participant and recorder of the events. Via David Hudson.

“So we have a director of some ambition. That inference is backed up by some flashy moments in earlier 1910s work. In 1916 Taylor released a remarkable nine features, and during my DC stay I saw what remains of four of them. Although they’re in parlous shape, they show a lively pictorial and dramatic intelligence. Are they auteur films in the strong sense? At least we can say that Taylor, like many other directors, was channeling just that exuberant creative energy that Richard evokes. Certain moments in two of these movies have genuine flair, and one film is an all-out stunner. I had never heard of any of them.” Sifting through the remnants of what may have been the filmmaker’s annus mirabilis, or for all we know merely another stretch of admirable if clumsy innovation and occasional inspiration, David Bordwell finds William Desmond Taylor deserving to be remembered for much more than his still unsolved murder.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of April 28

The new issue of cléo is organized around the theme of “soft,” realized by such diverse analyses as Mallory Andrews on the ingenious costuming choices of 9 to 5’s Ann Roth (“Each woman leaves the office early to commiserate at a local bar. Judy and Doralee have covered their outfits in matching cream jackets, and the lapels on Doralee match those of Violet’s blazer. Any earlier animosity has been pushed aside, the cream colours acting as a uniform for a three-woman army.”) and Veronica Fitzpatrick’s admiring take on Ex Machina’s ambiguity towards machines, women, and rape (“Much of Ex Machina’s criticism has hinged on whether it’s a feminist revenge parable or an objectifying robot fantasy, but both readings threaten to flatten the complexity that we, like Caleb, are asked to feel without explaining.”). Elsewhere, Jaime Chu highlights the dizzying tactility in Jane Campion’s filmography (“In her films, Campion reminds us of what hands do: they clasp, they rub, they catch, they soothe, they kill, they possess, they hurt, they hold, they remember.”); Justine Smith praises the tensions between repression and erotic arousal in nunsploitation (“Somehow, the fusion of pain and pleasure made “sinful” desires feel more acceptable—the punishment was built into the act itself.”); and Sophie Meyer cuts through metaphor to assess the films that break the phallocentric norm by celebrating soft cock (“While early reviews drew attention to the unprecedented sex acts of the opening minutes, it is in the closing minutes that the film enters truly new territory, of a tenderness that is also explicitly erotic and embodied….”)

“The film’s history is a drama in itself, part thriller, part tragedy. It involves an American Army base, the late-night pilfering of film canisters, a screening that left Mike Nichols in tears and a fatal review. The long final act ends in redemption at the hands of Martin Scorsese (among others) and includes the film’s long-delayed television premiere, on HBO2 on Monday, April 24. This is the story according to the 89-year-old Mr. Ophuls, anyway, and he tells it—by phone recently from his home in Southern France—very convincingly, with frequent bouts of wheezing laughter.” With Marcel Ophuls’s Memory of Justice receiving a long overdue rediscovery, Mike Hale recounts the film’s troubled production and disastrous reception.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of April 21

“I found a lot of prototypes of noirish images during my recent trawling through Library of Congress films from 1914-1918. In this era, it seems, filmmakers competed to create striking, even shocking, lighting effects. Later directors and cinematographers would adopt many of them as proven tools for boosting their scenes’ emotional power.” David Bordwell finds noir—both the visual cues of expressionist shadow and key themes—another of the many film styles presaged in the burst of creativity during the 1910s.

“It’s filmed from behind Godard so that we only see the back of his head, with Miéville facing the camera and answering questions. But she is not under interrogation. She disputes some of his claims, turns the questions back around, attempts to untangle his thorny philosophies. She is an audience surrogate, certainly, but she is also revealing her importance to the work they make together, allowing herself to come out of her partner’s shadow and sit in the center of the frame. At any moment she might look right at the camera—and by proxy right at us. Who is soft and who is hard?” Craig Hubert considers the films of Anne-Marie Miéville, which have much more to offer than mere satellites of her collaborations with Godard.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of April 14

“A meeting—formal or informal, routine or hastily gathered, tedious or contentious—amounts to a Wiseman signature, like a shootout in a Tarantino movie or a dirty joke in a Judd Apatow comedy. When a group of people gather in a room, the business of the world is being done (or postponed or discussed or avoided, which amounts to the same thing). More crucial, it is being witnessed, by the camera and the audience, so that essential information can be imparted about the workings of law and order, art and politics, knowledge and power.” To celebrate a Film Forum retrospective of Frederick Wiseman, A. O. Scott and Manohla Dargis trade off mini-essays on his methods and the glorious films that result.

“The experience of walking through this entire exhibition is not unlike that of watching a Scorsese film: the rapid-fire barrage of information and images, of textures and sounds, seems to replicate his style. (So many materials clustered so close together can even have the effect of making you move through the exhibition faster, in an attempt to take it all in in one trip—thus also giving your visit the rhythm of one of his films.)” Bilge Ebiri takes a walking tour of MoMI’s Martin Scorsese exhibit, a collection of movie memorabilia either taken from the director’s productions or from his personal collection (including Vertigo’s bouquet of flowers) as ramshackle and far-ranging as you’d expect when such intense cinephilia is distilled down to a few measly floors of museum space.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of April 7

“When he did turn his attention to the ladies, he showed no preference for blondes, brunettes or redheads. He had a warm, wry, unpretentious way of making children feel older and the elderly feel younger; he made all women feel beautiful and all men feel—if not his equal in all ways—at least worthy of his friendship and the love of a woman the King didn’t mind losing. No man ever looked upon Elvis with jealousy.” For Tim Lucas, Elvis movies—all of them, not just the handful of critically respectable joints—chart a Cambellian hero’s journey put over by the something-like-universal charm of the lead. Fun in Acapulco is celebrated by Lucas as the real deal, but even the ill-starred Clambake has its charms for his eyes (less, he admits of the notoriously bad soundtrack, for his ears).

“Like jazz, film noir could be hot or cool, and often it managed to be both at once. The complex formula evolved over time. In the forties, the hard-boiled style valorized masculine reserve—Bogart’s dry, parrying skepticism; the haunted stoicism of Dana Andrews; the nonchalant underplaying of rough-hewn men like Mitchum and Sterling Hayden, who suspected acting was phony and effeminate. These defenses walled off psychological horrors that erupted in surreal nightmares or surging melodramas. In the later fifties, darkly romantic dreamscapes gave way to fractured portraits of a dehumanized, explosively violent world (Touch of Evil, Blast of Silence). Instead of a lacquered surface that hides corrosive anxiety or aching loss, there is a frenetic burlesque of action concealing a freeze-dried hollowness.” Attempting to define the iconic tough guy performance in noir, Imogen Sara Smith considers turns by Lancaster and Widmark that embody the poles she identifies, then hones in on one that merges icy distance and expressionist fury: Ralph Meeker, natch, in Kiss Me Deadly.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of March 31

“For Rubin, working with Ramis and Murray wasn’t intimidating as much as reassuring: It felt like Hollywood had recognized him for who he was, like it had realized what he could do. ‘It was like, Finally,’ he says now. ‘This is where I belong.’ And then it never happened again.” S. I. Rosenbaum profiles Groundhog Day screenwriter Danny Rubin, who’s managed to repeat in real life the movie’s wringing of a happy ending out of eternal recurrence, following decades of rejected scripts with a decampment from Hollywood and a Broadway musical based on the film.

“Earlier in the week, the cast and crew had been shooting pyrotechnics-heavy action scenes in Maple Ridge Forest. The scenes mainly involved stunt guys repeatedly leaping out of the way of explosions. ‘No accidents,’ Boll reported happily. He was wearing a gray wool sweater and a Dungeon Siege baseball cap. ‘Well, a few people in hospital, but that’s usual for me.’ He laughed, and proffered a packet of biscuits. ‘Cookie?’” Visiting Uwe Boll on the set of what he claims is his final film, Darryn King finds the worst director in the world still fuming at critics, albeit in a more philosophical mood than when he pummeled them in a boxing ring.

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