“What kind of time machine is it that involves little more than covering the eyes? (To be precise, the hero was given some intravenous injections, too, but these served likewise to numb the senses, unraveling “the present and its certainties.”) My hunch is that covering the eyes and putting a record on may contain something of the time machine in and of itself.” The release of La Jetée’s soundtrack on a collector’s LP prompts Matthew H. Evans to a lovely exegesis of the bottomless philosophical meanings of memory in Marker’s half-hour short.
“Wise Blood sticks exceptionally close to the incidents and dialogue of its source. Its great faithfulness to O’Connor lies elsewhere, though: in the actors’ tactile realization of her characters, in the uncanny sense of being in a place that exists both in real time and outside of it, and in Huston’s determination to preserve the inexplicable mystery of Hazel Motes.” Stuart Klawans finds John Huston made just about every right directorial choice you could hope in the impossible task of adapting Flannery O’Connor to the screen—especially the proverbial 90% of the job that’s casting.
“Herzog grins as he takes a seat in a conference room at UCLA, which has been set up for an event later this evening. His eyes droop, but his skin is remarkably smooth, like the surface of a slightly underinflated balloon. And then there’s that voice—silky, portentous—you can imagine it coming out of a GPS system giving driving directions to Valhalla. ‘I like to look back at the evolution of modern human beings,’ he says of his interest in the Internet. ‘Using fire or electricity was an enormous step for civilization, and this is one of those. And I think the poet must not avert his eyes.’” Jason Tanz’s profile of Werner Herzog makes a lot of hay over the meme-ification of its subject, the fun the Internet has mocking his somber philosophical ramblings. But almost accidentally the piece also shows what a level-headed hustler the director has to be to constantly keep working, convincing his backers to expand their plans for online advertisements and finance his latest documentary feature—Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World—the outtakes from which themselves are now lined up to be a television series.
“Luis Buñuel is usually regarded as quintessentially Spanish, yet he only made three films that fully qualify as Spanish — a short documentary called Land without Bread (1932) and two features, Viridiana (1961) and Tristana (1970). Furthermore, Viridiana created such a scandal in Franco Spain that when it was rejected by the censors there, it was identified exclusively as a Mexican feature, simply because it had a Mexican coproducer and by then all its Spanish credentials on paper had been destroyed (a tale told by one of its two Spanish producers, Catalan filmmaker Pere Portabella). Tristana, on the other hand, stars Catherine Deneuve in the title role, a French actress whose Spanish lines had to be dubbed by someone else. And every other film by the “most Spanish of Spanish directors” is either French or Mexican.” Jonathan Rosenbaum has posted an interesting 2008 article he wrote on expatriate filmmakers—both those who thrived and some (including Fuller and Makhmalbaf) whose filmmaking suffered outside their native lands as if they’d been cut off from their source. Via Criterion.
“One cannot make films if he does not like life, if he does not believe, above all, that the physical manifestations are privileged. The body does not lie, nor does the human face: this is the strength of the cinema and its health as opposed to literature.” Kino Slang has provided translations of two rapturous appreciations by Alexandre Astruc on Howard Hawks—specifically on Rio Lobo (“Unlike so many young people whom we know only too well, this old, super-silvered fox, Howard Hawks, is not going to permit his action to slow down and spoil our pleasure under the pretext of philosophizing or of making crocodile tears flow by lingering on rows of corpses which are barely cold and which he just lined up”) and Rio Bravo (quoted above). Via Mubi.
“The thing about Brother is that it’s stubbornly linear, but so suggestive that it just begs for inconclusive allegorical readings: a plot as simple and elemental as dirt, seeded with Freudian overtones, unaddressed nationalist subtexts, and black humor. The good stuff, in other words. Everything looks salvaged or secondhand. In most cases, it was.” Ignatiy Vishnevetsky revisits Balabanov’s Brother and finds the film still so spare and ingenious it overcomes its budgetary and thematic limitations—and even its “deranged” sequel, so crude and nationalistic it smashes to rubble the former film’s ambiguities.
Among the new Criterion releases, a pair of films that engage history and/or national myth with radical, indelibly modern style. David Bordwell outlines many of the innovations that make King Hu’s A Touch of Zen so different from its supposedly less “classical” contemporaries. (“This long opening not only builds up curiosity but also asks us to enjoy the visual values of Hu’s sumptuous costuming, chiaroscuro sets, and widescreen compositions full of graceful character movement. In one shot, the mysterious stranger dodges out of sight. Why? The monks’ saffron robes ease into the frame as a subdued burst of color in the pale street landscape, setting up a motif that reaches fruition, ninety minutes later, when golden blood streaks down a sash.”) While James Quandt findsMuriel the culmination of Resnais’s denied but obvious fascination with time and memory. (“Like the man who asks where the center of the city is only to be told that he is already in it, Muriel’s viewer may be left grasping for narrative and temporal coordinates. The film’s anxious, shardlike editing—Resnais claimed that the cuts numbered close to a thousand, though others have subtracted a hundred or two from that total—detailed in Cayrol’s script and ostentatiously announced by that initial cubist fusillade, further confounds the sense of duration and chronology, despite the scenario’s linear, symmetrical five-act structure. With its disorienting ellipses, compressions, attenuations, and its obsessive repetitions, Muriel anticipates the “shattered time” of that other Resnais masterpiece 1968’s Je t’aime, je t’aime but, without the latter’s memory machine and use of flashbacks, can be all the more confounding.”)
If any question remained of Leo McCarey’s place in the pantheon, MoMA’s retrospective of the director should finally put paid to any respectful but ultimately dismissive appreciations of him as an impeccable craftsman. The series has Nick Pinkerton considering the contradictions of McCarey’s career, and the beautiful music he could coax, both out of his onset piano, played during down time, and his actors on the screen. (“McCarey was parochial and universal. His approach was, as the saying goes, “revolutionary,” though like more than a few revolutionary artists he found the prospect of actual revolution abhorrent. He was both devout Catholic and a right-winger—and a sharp satirist of the institutions which he held dear.”) For Aaron Cutler, the humanism he showed for all his characters is paramount. (“McCarey was fundamentally a comic filmmaker, and he used comedy to help create sympathy and compassion for basic human efforts. Humor often arises through the beautiful personal recognitions that take place for the characters in his films—the small, wordless instances of revelations in which peoples’ faces show realizations that their entire lives have changed.”) While a 2012 essay on Ruggles of Red Gap has Dan Sallitt tracing McCarey’s character-based, observational humor back to his silent days. (“It’s fascinating that McCarey sweats over a scene like this as if he were still building laughs for Laurel & Hardy, even as he fully exploits the benefits of dialogue to craft detailed and unusual characterisations. One doesn’t feel a clash between particularised observation and the universal language of gags and comic effects – perhaps because McCarey finds ways of placing even individualised traits in a universal context.”)
“As soon as she filed suit, Jack Warner wrote to every studio in town to remind them that she was still effectively under contract. In court the studio didn’t hesitate to fight dirty, insinuating that an affair was the real reason the actress had turned down one movie. The Warner attorneys, however, hadn’t reckoned on the de Havilland sang-froid. She had spent years on set with Michael Curtiz, one of the most notorious yellers in the business; these guys were nothing. So when one lawyer thundered, ‘Is it not true, Miss de Havilland, that on the morning of January 16, you wantonly refused to show up for work on Stage 8?’ ‘Certainly not,’ came the reply in that musical de Havilland voice. ‘I declined.’” In this week that has seen cinema lose so much let’s begin with a tribute to one of its enduring survivors, Olivia de Havilland, whose 100th birthday is aptly celebrated by Farran Smith Nehme.
“But even character does not exist in isolation. It is formed by an environment. And the immediate environment for noir is the world of capitalism. Of course, the majority of American films made during this period were set in capitalist societies, but noir is notable for stripping its milieu of any features not directly related to the circulation of money.” Staying at Sight & Sound, Brad Stevens limns some of the narrative tropes of film noir as played out in that quintessential example, Out of the Past.
“At times, he spontaneously pulls over to the side of the road for a good five or ten minutes to finish a train of thought—about life or death or demons or fears or his favorite soccer team in Argentina, San Lorenzo. About the time in the wilds of New Zealand when he skinned, cooked, and ate his own roadkill. (“It was there.”) […] We could’ve gone straight to Watertown and stayed there, and we could’ve gotten there a hell of a lot faster, but Mortensen, his two hands resting gently on the bottom of the steering wheel, doesn’t like to drive too fast. He doesn’t want to miss a thing.” Viggo Mortensen does everything his own way, even the celebrity profile, which has him picking up writer Lisa DePaulo at the airport near the small town where he’s sitting deathwatch over his ailing father.
The journal Awotele, which profiles underseen African cinema from the perspective of underheard African critics, has a new issue on the challenges and rewards of multi-lingual cinema and new filmmaking technologies. Among the highlights (check the issue’s table of contents to learn what page to flip to), Martial E. Nguea considers “the reality of a certain conflict between the popular appreciation of filmmaker and professional distinctions awarded in different countries by different juries”; Michel Amarger recounts the multifaceted career (fictions, documentaries, gallery installations) of the “ambitious utopian” Jean-Pierre Bekolo Obama (“It is easy to believe him shen, from behind his round glasses, he defies his critics saying: ‘if it’s not mission impossible, I’m not interested.”); Claire Diao explores the hazards of a distribution system so indebted to French culture (“How can anyone fall so quickly from the spotlight and into the shadows…. It doubtless has much to do with the Francophone system of promoting African filmmakers.); Oumy Régina Sambou takes a more critical looks at the promise of new technologies than some of her fellow writers (“the new modes of distribution have led to changes in filmmaking and film distribution, but not to the point of democratizing their fabrication, and especially not their quality”); and Domoina Ratsara offers a specific cautionary tale looking at how the rise of distribution of Madagascar television has led to the proliferation of ads interrupting even cinematic endeavors. Via Tambay Obenson, himself via David Hudson.
“Never call Griffith quaint, either. If he was quaint at all, he was far-sightedly quaint. The naive excitement of grasping that all this fakery is genuine—meaning the way “How’d they do that?” used to play leapfrog in viewers’ minds with “Wow, they must’ve actually done that”—stayed part of the appeal of Hollywood spectaculars up through the late 1960s.” Starting with Griffith’s Babylon, with stops along the way for Tara, Metropolis, James Bond’s globetrotting, DeMille’s (and Las Vegas’s) Egypt and Harold Lloyd hanging from a skyscraper, Tom Carson takes a witty, oddly moving tour through Hollywood’s many fake worlds, and how they made so much more vivid an impression than the real one. Via David Hudson.
“Its hero might stumble over his words, but he does so in a Jimmy Stewart-like fashion, so full of gee-whiz energy that he sometime forgets himself before zooming off to the next crazy coincidence. The film is full of daytime shots and bright light, of reflections off the cars and planes, checkerboard dance floors, sequined dresses and metal helmets that make up its mise-en-scène. Most crucially, the movie’s spirit is deeply optimistic—it uses its satire not just to poke fun at old-time serial clichés, but to cast a light back on the present, and remind us of what we might have lost in the 53 intervening years.” Now that Marvel movies have proven the economic viability of upbeat superhero flicks, Brian Doan looks back to notorious flop The Rocketeer as a bright charmer ahead of its time.
Picking some highlights from MOMA’s ongoing retrospective of Universal pictures from the ’30s, Imogen Sara Smith looks at three films apiece from a pair of directors deserving greater attention. The cinematic flair of Edward L. Cahn enlivens three explosive portraits of society collapsing: Law and Order, Afraid to Talk, and Laughter in Hell. (“In these films it’s as though people are so consumed by the fight to survive, or by the determination to forget their worries, that they have no time for private emotions. Society itself is so anxious, so hysterical, so compulsively bitter, that it takes the place of individual psyches. Everyone is part of one big nervous breakdown.”) While Seed, Back Street, and Only Yesterday have Smith marveling at John M. Stahl’s invisible manipulation of emotions and his facility with shifting empathy among his characters. The female ones at least; John Boles remains mostly a dull cad in all three. (“The three rarely screened Stahl films form a set of variations on a theme, female devotion and self-sacrifice. They treat this theme with unusual nuance and ambivalence, both accepting the great loves—whether maternal or romantic—to which the women give their lives, and looking with a cool and even cynical eye at how little they get in return.”
“What’s established in a film like Au Hasard Balthazar is a teeter-totter rhythm, an oscillation between the film you’re watching and another taking place over your shoulder, sliding into view with a lithe camera movement, or a cut that elides the passage of time. In short, what often comes across in reviews as stiff, boring art movies are exactly the opposite: not empty but teeming, not cold but visceral, not dry but saturated.“ With Au Hasard Balthazar hitting 50, Jamie N. Christley praises how Bresson’s total command keeps slipping the film’s message, and even its ostensible ever-enduring protagonist, out of our grasp. And Leigh Singer compiles a gallery of Bresson’s key techniques, screenshots of potent dissolves, blank faces, and so many expressive hands. Via Movie City News.
With a new collection of their writings and MOMA mounting the first complete retrospective of their films, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet are the subjects of a pair of pieces at Artforum. P. Adams Sitney offers the overview on a career that never compromised or offered an easy way in for the viewer. (“One sometimes gets the impression that they were forever challenging themselves to find texts that made complacent resolutions less and less amenable, and then to offer them up to cinema so nakedly that their skeletal structure could not be eluded.”) And James Quandt tries to fitSicilia! in with the couple’s musical films. (“Aside from a folk song and the Beethoven string quartet that introduces and ends Sicilia!, the film avoids nondiegetic music, but it is itself structured as a chamber work in four movements, and the idiosyncratic delivery of the baroque dialogue often hits the ear as discordant ariettas and semi-recitatives.”) Film Comment, meanwhile, offers an excerpt from the aforementioned collection, a letter from Huillet to Nuances magazine on the impossibility of viewing artpieces at museums hanging them up behind occluded glass. (“It was horrible: each painting was now under armored glass, and often damaged in the process (new little cracks, etc.). When we protested this madness, saying that it’s better to risk a—rare—act of madness than to make the paintings invisible—reflections, etc.—and surely damage them, we were told, grudgingly: It was a requirement of the insurance….”)
“Canon City is an art film made on the terms of an unpretentious hardboiled procedural—a breathless true-crime piece in which Hadley’s delivery of the word “dreaming” lands perfectly on a dissolve from a real cell block to a prison cell set.” Ignatiy Vishnevetsky plunks for Crane Wilbur’s prison-escape film, which, with the invaluable help of John Alton, straddles blunt docudrama and the heightened use of “spaces that double as metaphors,” as one of Poverty Row’s great triumphs.
“Maybe even more than MGM anticipated, it was perfect Depression-era escapism: one of those thirties movies that take place in drawing rooms where the ceilings are about twenty feet high, where men are always in formal wear and women, even in the afternoon, wear floor-length lounge gowns and speak in that bright, quick, affected accent that no real American ever used.” Charles McGrath recounts how Van Dyke’s brisk engagement, a script that expanded upon Hammett’s witticisms, and impeccable casting (including a change in Asta’s breed) made The Thin Man less a whodunit than a classic screwball comedy of marriage draped around a murder mystery.
David Bordwell’s two most recent blog entries celebrate a pair of filmmakers who take their undeniable influences and transform them into something so distinct and personal they seem utterly original. By now it’s accepted that Citizen Kane didn’t innovate so much as synthesize with an until then unreached purpose and power; Bordwell does a fine job showing the precedents for Kane’s low-angled, long-take compositions and zig-zagging flashback structure even as it transcends them all. (“Most filmmakers who used these depth schemas inserted them into passages of orthodox scene dissection. The depth shots might establish a locale, or they might be inserted into a series of analytical cuts, or they might be part of a shot/ reverse shot pattern. But in Kane you’re forced to notice the Baroque plunge of space because the lengthy take rubs your nose in the flashy composition.”) While reacquainting himself with the movies of Terence Davies has him rapturous over the director’s unique amalgam of autobiographical detail and Hollywood memories. (“Davies understood, as so many postwar critics of mass culture didn’t, that Hollywood, for all its formulas and conventions, captured genuine feeling; indeed, those very formulas and conventions released that feeling. In Davies’ hands, however, the feelings gain a rougher texture. In tales of patriarchal power and everyday betrayals, echoes of the yearning of Judy Garland and the vibrato of Doris Day seem distant and distorted. Davies finds the evanescence hidden in Yankee exuberance, and he takes it very personally.”)
“Dix constantly views life as though it were a script he was writing—one wonders if he notices the echoes of Althea Bruce’s silly plot in his own relationship with Laurel—and Ray uses the character’s shoptalk as a scalpel with which to probe the gap between movies and reality. Fixing breakfast for Laurel after they have become lovers, Dix explains that “a good love scene should be about something else besides love.” To illustrate this, he uses the scene at hand: he clumsily hacking away at a grapefruit, she half-asleep in her negligee: “Anyone looking at us could tell we were in love,” he says, but doubt edges into his voice. Laurel is not dopey with sleep, she’s paralyzed by fear of this unpredictably violent man. The scene is indeed about something besides love: it’s about love strained to the breaking point by lack of trust.” Imogen Sara Smith is as perceptive and persuasive as ever tackling that darkest, most downbeat of noirs, In a Lonely Place.
‘Tis the season, apparently, for new issues of film journals, which are arriving at a fast clip. The new issue of Alphaville, focused on women and media in the twenty-first century, Gina Marchetti considers the portrait of Hong Kong prostitution in a pair of collaborations between director Herman Yau and writer Elsa Chan (“Chan and Yau, in fact, gravitate toward the salacious with an eye toward social change and political critique”); Fiona Handyside finds unacknowledged trilogies on the themes of girls coming of age in the first three films apiece by Sofia Coppola and Mia Hansen-Løve (“Coppola and Hansen-Løve’s respective decisions to envisage their explorations of girls growing up as trilogies enable the films to take their time exploring the subtleties of girlhood, as the directors have the luxury of cinematic duration”); and Amy Heckerling’s two most recent, neglected films get sympathetic readings from Frances Smith (“Both I Could Never Be Your Woman and Vamps retain a playful ambivalence towards the two primary attitudes to the ageing process, namely acceptance and manipulation”). Among other highlights in the issue, Fiona Clancy analyses Sylvia Martel’s use of sound and image to portray a “crisis [that] is less one of biological motherhood than of its spirit—of motherliness”) and Beti Ellerson reports on the various options African women have before them to make themselves presences on screens that have heretofore failed to represent them (“the digital age is indeed a turning point for African women working in film and screen media”).
The new Offscreen is devoted to Theo Angelopoulos, with fittingly long articles analyzing the director’s tracking shots as moral choices from Elie Castiel (“The Angelopoulosian long take, then, encompasses the idea of integration, logical assembly of many visual and narrative elements in a single shot; a unity of thought. Is this choice not ideological?”) and as time machines opening up history for Olivier Bélanger (“The long take allows him to extract “pure time” from his film, and to return the past to the present”). Alain Chouinard considers howUlysses’ Gaze avoids the pitfalls of stereotypical attitudes usually imposed upon its Balkan subjects (“the film’s very specific representation of historical cyclicality, and its original presentation of involuntary memory re-historicize the Balkans by foregrounding an indivisible conception of temporality and historical continuity”); Donato Totaro has more measured praise for Angelopoulos while considering The Suspended Step of the Stork (“In any case, Angelopolous belongs to a once rare breed of film stylists that has grown considerably over the last thirty or so years: directors whose pacing and sense of movement is appreciably slower than most (and in some cases, slower than life as we feel it)”); and Betty Kaklamanidou dusts off an interview conducted with Willem Dafoe after working with Angelopoulos on The Dust of Time (“I love this thing about the little story next to the big story. When I watch his movies I experience things in a profound way. People walking through mud, people in the most simple chaste embrace, people running for a train, things like that… boats coming to you very slowly. You experience those in a way that you take it on personally because you get in the context and you identify with how these people are dealing with the big history and how they’re influenced by it. And that’s exhilarating to me. It philosophically engages me in a kind of dialogue about how strange and beautiful life is.”)
The new issue of Comparative Cinema explores the engagement of cinematic auteurs with television, wondering whether the results work as cinema, TV, or some new beast. A selection of historical documents and interview excerpts sets the scene, with figures such as Rossellini plugging for the pedagogical advantages of the younger medium, Chris Marker tracing the spiritual origins of television back to Medvedkin (“shoot during the day, print and edit at night, show it the next day to the people you filmed”), Fassbinder admitting that Berlin Alexanderplatz would have been completely different as a movie, where its audience would be more primed for a challenge, and Peter Watkins complaining the medium’s industrial structure automatically forecloses any dissenting voice.
Past the historical material, Jordi Balló and Xavier Pérez run through ten key artists who tackled serial television production in their varied ways (“The hidden objective is to use the small screen as a platform to radicalize one of the central strategies of Hitchcockian art: the control of the audience”); Surveying the television work of Renoir, Pialat, Lynch, and Welles, Fran Benavente and Glòria Salvadó argue for a serialized utopia that was never realized, where the “filmmaker as a television author sees a possible experimentation space and rehearses a way of adapting his writing on the basis of the specific strengths of the medium”; Carolina Sourdis looks at Godard and Miéville’s Sonimage TV productions, finding in them Godard’s use of the medium as a “vehicle and a base to question aspects of cinema from its margins: of cinema transformed into the audiovisual”; and the unique pop energy of Spanish director Iván Zulueta—perfectly suited to television, exported to cinema when his series were cancelled—are explored by Miguel Fernández Labayen (“Zulueta used television in his films during the 70’s in two main ways: as a social and aesthetic escape mechanism, but also as an object capable of abducting the mind and the boy [sic] of anyone watching in front of the screen”). Then much of the preceding theorizing gets scuttled by the optimistic pragmatism of Lodge Kerrigan, interviewed by Gerard Casau and Manuel Garin on making the transition from film to television directing (“And I think the trick is: can you structure something that works in the thirty-minute or the hour but then can also point to one continuous piece? So I think of it just more like another dimension to the problem or to the puzzle. If you can solve that, which is slightly more complicated than just writing a feature, or just writing a TV show, if you can actually solve that so it can play as an episode but also play all together, then I think it’s completely free”).
The Hollywood Reporter this week features the behind-the-scenes stories of two of the ’70s most iconic films, however little else they have in common. Gregg Kilday compiles an oral history on the making of Taxi Driver, from Paul Schrader’s sleepless, haunted nights of inspiration to a box office that wound up surprising the studio so much Scorsese won a bet. (“Bob called me and said, ‘Well, in the script, it says that he pulls out the gun, looks at himself, talks to himself. Well, what’s he saying?’ I said, ‘He’s just a kid in front of a mirror playing with his gun. Just make up stuff.’ I figured whatever he made up would be better than writing those kind of lines.”) While Stephen Galloway gets the story of Superman straight from the horse’s—i.e., Richard Donner’s—mouth. (“I had to go back to London, and I flew Chris back, which was so far from his life. When he told his father, who was a professor at Princeton, that he was doing Superman, his father said, ‘Man and Superman?’ […] That’s the world Chris came from. He came over, we did this test in costume, the one I had in L.A. He was just wonderful as Clark Kent and as Superman. He really got the idea of a terribly pained individual living a dual life.”)
“What you will not find [in Tay Garnett’s autobiography] is anything about the film’s dazzling tracking shots through the dives of waterfront Havana, nor the swooping crane shots in the Thalia clip joint where most action takes place, nor any other quality that makes Her Man such an exhilarating discovery. Garnett seems to realize the movie is good, but not that it is “a forgotten masterwork,” as the Museum of Modern Art billed its pristine restoration during a recent run. Adjunct curator Dave Kehr is not given to hyperbole, so when he describes a film that way, you’d best find time to see it.” Farran Smith Nehme is appropriately bowled over by her discovery of Garnett’s “brawling, sleazy pre-Code… [that is] more romantic than it may seem.”
“But Ustinov’s Billy Budd is a hardy sea story, not a religious parable. It’s unusual among literary adaptations for the way it strengthens rather than diffuses the poetry and moral arguments of the original with heaps of invented action and fresh dialogue (some, like Claggart’s speech above, taken from Louis O. Coxe and Robert Chapman’s 1951 play). It builds to a heartrending climax that also functions as a provocation. Billy Budd is a prime example of the kind of film that gets audiences arguing on their way home from the theater.” Michael Sragow praises Ustinov’s Melville adaptation as a triumph of intelligent, daring filmmaking—and of casting, even beyond the perfection of Terence Stamp and Robert Ryan.
“For me, as a teenage movie lover, it was transformative. It captured the sensory feel of Northern Ireland in the 1980s—languorous, then panicked. Hollywood thrillers don’t do torpid. In Angel, our world wasn’t only a problem, it was a place. It wasn’t only using Northern Ireland for generic ends; it was making art out of it. Often great art is made out of anger, but once adrenaline was removed from the portrayals of Belfast on screen, a world opened up.” Mark Cousins remembers growing up with the portrayals of Belfast on screen—from pumped-up Hollywood features that always got it wrong to the small, observant miracles from Reed, Clarke, O’Connor, Jordan, and others that managed to get so much right.
“But would you like to know how much time I’ve spent explaining to an innumerable number of whites why Chameleon Street has been banned from global broadcast television? That one I can answer: 25 years. A full quarter of a century. And if you want to know the reason why it’s been banned and blacklisted from being broadcast in every country on the planet since 1994, don’t ask Werner Herzog, Quentin Tarantino, or Bill O’Reilly. Ask me. Or ask my Mom. Or ask Evelyn Keyes.” Wendell B. Harris, Jr., recounts the silencing of his debut, Chameleon Street, while treasuring the real impact it has made and lives it’s touched—Gone with the Wind star Keyes among them. Via David Hudson.
“Louise Brooks worked with Menjou in this period and learned a valuable lesson about screen acting versus screen presence, which she always trusted to. ‘Look at Adolphe Menjou,’ Brooks said. ‘He never felt anything. He used to say, “Now I do Lubitsch number one.” “Now I do Lubitsch number two.” And that’s exactly what he did. You felt nothing, working with him, and yet see him on the screen—and he was a great actor.’ A great actor? Maybe not, but an essential screen player of his period, and ideally suited for rotters, dandies, and unsympathetic seducers.” The nastiness of Adolphe Menjou’s HUAC testimony is all over his performances from the ’20s and ’30s—and they’re better for it, Dan Callahan argues.
“Until recently, vain actors were limited to makeup, flattering lighting, corsets, plastic surgery, Botox, crash diets, personal trainers, steroids, muscle suits, color grading, lenses and filters, body doubles, and spray-on abs. Now they also have software: Zits vanish with a click. Wrinkles disappear. Abs harden. Jawlines sharpen. Cellulite vanishes. ‘In postproduction, if they want your nose to be a little smaller or a little bigger, that’s up to them, man,’ says actor Michael Shannon. ‘Some attractive person gets out of a swimming pool dripping wet? Nobody wants to see how they really look: It’s fantasy.'” Hollywood’s always been about putting a prettier face on reality, but the new era of digital make-up, as Logan Hill reports, is rapidly approaching the level of ontological crisis.
“Given that the business already has a small, niche consumer base, it becomes even trickier predicting what the niches within the niches might buy. Over the years, [Amy] Heller has noticed that films made by women have definitely resulted in less-than-enthusiastic reactions. When Milestone puts out a film by a woman, ‘we’re definitely swimming upstream,’ she says. ‘Misogyny is not limited to production or distribution,’ Heller explains. ‘But let me tell you, if you want to find a film that won’t make money, you should go after a film made by a woman. People won’t book them. People won’t buy them.'” Surveying the home video market, Tina Hassannia finds that Criterion might deserve its pride of place, but when it comes to promoting films made by women, some other companies deserve mention and a place in the canon. Criterion’s Peter Becker was given space to respond.
“I think maybe the smaller budget allows me to feel a little more relaxed and a little more willing to blow days and make stupid decisions. Usually the stupid decisions are some of the best things I do. Although I’ve gotten so immune to the process that now, even on Godfather II which is costing a lot, I’ll do something even though it may be crazy and jeopardize a lot of money. So I think that, in a sense, the two poles of my so-called career are coming closer together, and what I hope to do in the future is make only personal films—but in such a way that even my big projects will be what you would call personal films.” Cinephilia & Beyond has tracked down a terrific document, a 1974 interview from Filmmakers Newsletter where Francis Coppola discusses The Conversation with Brian De Palma—who, in addition to making some remarkably observant comments on Harry Caul’s character, spends his role as interviewer plugging for the influence of Hitchcock that Coppola mostly denies. Via Mubi.
“But what happens as an actor is that you’re really trained to listen and to be open and have empathy. It’s such a natural consequence that you end up being more political. You can empathize with the mother whose kids are going to be sent to Iraq, or you can emphasize with the mother who is losing their child to a disease. How could you not then be active? So you’re automatically drawn to that aspect in the rest of your life. Most of the people I really admire bring that attitude toward their life.” Interviewed by George Saunders, Susan Sarandon talks about growing up Catholic, her almost accidental, completely untrained beginnings as an actor, and the need to trust your collaborators.
“We were different in age, but we had something in common. We were women, we had been affected by the fact that the film world was a man’s world in Europe as much as here, actually. Now, I would have never gone to Hollywood. I was not interested in the film industry, frankly. The experimental film scene was very much misogynistic as well…. It was coming from the general environment. I think both Chantal and I shared that. We wanted to find a language, which was the language of women”. Staying at Interview, Colleen Kelsey talks with filmmaker and cinematographer Babette Mangolte about the experimental film scene in ’70s New York and her collaborations with Chantal Akerman.
Barbara Turner began acting for the screen in 1955 but her greater legacy was as a screenwriter. Beginning in B-movies like Two-Gun Lady (1955) and Monster from Green Hell (1957) and appearance in TV shows including Medic and The Lineup, she wrote her first script, an adaptation of Jean Genet’s Deathwatch (1966), for her then-husband Vic Morrow to direct. She went on to script Petulia (1968) for Richard Lester, which earned her Writers’ Guild of America nomination, earned an Emmy nomination for the TV movie The War Between the Tates (1977), wrote and co-produced Georgia (1995) with her daughter Jennifer Jason Leigh, who starred in the film, and scripted Pollock (2000) for Ed Harris and The Company (2003), developed with Neve Campbell, for director Robert Altman. Her screenplay for the made-for-cable feature Hemingway & Gellhorn (2012) earned her her second Emmy and Writers’ Guild nominations. She passed away at the age of 79. Carmel Dagan for Variety.
British actress Adrienne Corri is best known to film lovers for her breakthrough performance as Valerie, the fiery re-headed teenage girl of Jean Renoir’s The River (1951), and as the artist brutally raped and assaulted by Malcom McDowell in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971). She was a busy actress, appearing on stage and on the small screen as much as in movies, from the 1950s through the 1970s. She appeared opposite Boris Karloff in Corridors of Blood (1958) and Cornel Wilde in Sword of Lancelot (1963), played Julie Christie’s mother in Doctor Zhivago (1965), appeared in the Hammer films The Viking Queen (1967) and Vampire Circus (1972) and in Otto Preminger’s Bunny Lake is Missing (1965), Rosebud (1975), and The Human Factor (1979). She passed away at the age of 85. Ronald Bergan for The Guardian.
The weekly links page is compiled and curated by Bruce Reid, with obituaries and Seattle Screens (published separately here) curated by Sean Axmaker, and other contributions from friends of Parallax View.
A pair of profiles salutes a trio of academics whose insights and straightforward, punchy writing have deservedly brought them wider fame than most university types scribbling away on film theory. Before they leave Madison for New York (so that Thompson can expand her second career as an authority on Egyptian sculpture), David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson talk with Laura Jones about the love of movies that brought the couple together. (“At the core of their reputation is Bordwell and Thompson’s passion for the art of film. ‘The pleasure of moviegoing is not something that has gotten lost,’ says [Wisconsin Film Festival director of programming Jim] Healy. ‘You can talk to them for hours about movies. Then you want to go off and watch all the movies they’ve talked about. But they also give you the feeling that it’s mutual. They want to know what you’ve discovered; what you like. They have that unending curiosity.’)
While Peter Monaghan describes the crucial work Barbara Flueckiger has done in amassing a history of color film, which has made her an invaluable resource to recent restoration projects trying to determine what color, exactly, was originally intended—or even possible, given technologies of the time. (“Working in film production, she had become well acquainted with the differences among film stocks, and with the capabilities of modern-day, high-definition “digital image acquisition,” and saw how that could permit her to lend fresh perspectives not only to film history and aesthetics, but also to restoration practice—the science of how, among other things, the distinctive “look” of various films is faithfully reproduced. ‘All the digital technologies were very familiar to me,’ she says. Her “selling point,” she adds, has been that ‘I have a background in engineering, so now I’m trying to combine the two, with research in film colors.’”) Via Mubi.
“The shock of the new fades by definition, but if it has hardly done so in the case of Blue Velvet, that may be because its tone remains forever elusive. To peruse the early reviews is to sense the emergence of the slipperiest of sensibilities, one that no one quite knew how to talk about. To encounter or revisit the film now, decades later, is to realize that we still don’t.” On Blue Velvet’s 30th anniversary, an excerpt from Dennis Lim’s David Lynch: The Man from Another Place revisits the initial reception of this timeless film, even as he situates it firmly in its era as Reaganism gone gonzo; while also clearing up why that notorious robin wasn’t, in fact, “mechanical.” And Violet Lucca wonders how much this “powerful counternarrative to the usual [cinematic] homecomings” would have changed if its deleted scenes were included (while making the mechanical robin gaffe). (“By making these tendencies explicitly present before Jeffrey crosses paths with Frank and the wrong side of Lumberton’s tracks, his character seems more duplicitous than curious about or tortured by his sexual urges. This Jeffrey is someone who’s been willfully misrepresenting himself to everyone—meaning that there’d be no homecoming transformation.”)
“’I always wondered if Zebraman has any idea that he was famous,’ says former Nirvana roadie Mike Dalke, one of many rock and roll lifers who can recite lines from the movie the way David Koresh could quote Revelation. ‘Does he understand that he’s this epic superstar to so many people in rock and roll, that he’s the Olympic decathlon champ of teenage idiots, that he’s Zebraman, a legitimate superhero?’ We tracked down Zebraman, too—he’s a plumber outside Baltimore now—and asked those very questions. Spoiler alert to this Deadspin exclusive: Yeah, he kinda knows.” Also celebrating its 30th, and not entirely a world removed in its milieu and concerns, Jeff Krulik and John Heyn’s Heavy Metal Parking Lot, whose making and slow evolution to cult status is chronicled by Dave McKenna—and who also tracks down several participants who look back fondly on their silly teenage rowdiness under the setting Maryland sun.
“Pakula brought the best of the old school sensibility to the project. He pulled Redford away from his idea of copying the reality of a certain kind of documentary. This could never be a documentary, he said, and even if it could nobody’d want to watch it. Hollywood has made an art of elevating the mundane. That’s what movie stars do for a living, make the everyday transcendent. Grab what you’ve got. Don’t dye your hair. Use being Robert Redford. Watergate was an epochal moment for America. Let’s feel its importance in every frame. Yes, the audience had to believe. But it also had to be transported. That was Hollywood’s art form.” Jon Boorstin looks back on the making of All the President’s Men with the observant, exhaustive appreciation for every aspect of the process you’d expect from an ambitious young filmmaker who snatched on to the job of Pakula’s assistant as his toehold in the industry.
“You cowardly bastards ran away last night without facing the music on the mask and other ancillary nightmares connected with the Jupiter shot. Please brace yourselves for this, figure out what to do next and I’ll be calling you later in the morning. Thanks. Stanley.” Bruce Logan recalls his first major gig as an animation artist and cameraman on 2001, and remembers his boss a man with a “great sense of humor” and a filmmaker that was “intensely driven and ruthless”; a mix captured in some memos from Kubrick that Logan includes. Via Movie City News.
“Hawks makes keen use of Morley’s derisive face and her grating, accusing voice and the entirely singular brand of toughness these things signaled, so much so that the paperback edition of Manny Farber’s classic book of film criticism Negative Space uses a photo of Morley frowning as Poppy as its cranky, disapproving emblem.” Dan Callahan celebrates Karen Morley, a striking, awkward fit in Hollywood movies even before her ban under the blacklist.
“Both sides of the Cold War often depicted the other’s citizenry as victimized, but the Soviet Union elevated it into an art, much in the way that the American mainstream developed the Soviet super-villain into a fetish object. Instead of portraying Americans as eroticized torturers, inhuman strongmen, or sinister ringleaders, the few Soviet movies that do pit Soviet and American characters against each other mostly portray Americans as misled or misinformed.” Ignatiy Vishnevetsky offers an intriguing take on why, anti-American as their movies could be, the cinema of the Soviet Union never offered up its equivalent of those flint-eyed, steel-jawed commies who murdered their way through low-rent American action pics.
“Dear Wheeler, you provide the prose poems I’ll provide the war.” “That’s fine, Mr. Kane.” “Yes I rather like it myself.” Orson Welles always believed that the Hearst papers’ attack on Citizen Kane was carried out by overzealous foot soldiers, Hearst himself barely even involved. As Dalya Alberge reports, new research shows the media baron was directly involved from the start, making this one instance where the director’s paranoia didn’t go far enough.
“LIKE: Bond has to escape on a motorcycle through the streets of Saigon while handcuffed to a beautiful woman? Excuse me while I cross my legs to hide my erection. DISLIKE: Pierce Brosnan dresses like a Holiday Inn hotel manager.” The get-an-expert-to-review-movies-in-his-profession trend reaches its zenith as the James Bond films are reviewed by Sterling Archer. Promotional fluff, sure, but with its fair share of laughs. Via Alex McCown.
“She had her hand in [the dog’s] mouth down its throat. Its tongue had wrapped itself around her fingers a number of times. Pretty soon I just put my hand in there too. It was so slippery and warm in there. I couldn’t even tell what was her fingers and what was the dog. I was sort of looking into her eyes and before we knew it, the dog and its owner were gone and she and I were just sitting there with our slobbery fingers interlocked. I said, ‘Isabella Rossellini, I’ve got a script for you.’ We went back to her place and watched some movies and now she’s in the movie.” At a recent screening of The Saddest Music in the World Guy Maddin recounted its making for the audience, and gave an interesting description of his hopes for his recent series of séance movies to boot. Paula Bernstein offers the highlights.
Even as a new generation of film composers emulate the icy, hypnotic grace of John Carpenter’s soundtracks, the old man shows up (again) to show them how it’s done, with his new album Lost Themes II. NPR has the whole thing up and streaming, from the tense rush of “Distant Dream” to the clanging echoes and strutting guitar—splitting the difference between ethereal and ominous—of “Real Xeno.”
Patty Duke became the youngest performer to win an Academy Award when she took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for playing the young Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker (1962) at age 16. A year later, she became a TV star playing two roles (“They’re cousins / Identical cousins!”) in The Patty Duke Show, for which she received an Emmy nomination, and the starred in the cult showbiz melodrama Valley of the Dolls (1967) in part to play against the sweet, squeaky-clean image of her TV work. As she aged into adulthood, most of her work was on TV but she was constantly busy, especially as a star of TV movies. She won Emmy Awards for the telefilm My Sweet Charlie (1970), the mini-series Captains and the Kings (1976), and for the TV movie revival of The Miracle Worker (1979), this time playing the role of teacher Annie Sullivan. She passed away at the age of 69. More from Margalit Fox at The York Times.
Earl Hamner Jr. drew on his own life to create the popular family drama The Waltons. His 1961 novel “Spencer’s Mountain” was made into a movie starring Henry Fonda, which could have been an initial rough sketch for the series, and he wrote scripts for The Twilight Zone, Wagon Train, and Gentle Ben, and screenplays for Palm Springs Weekend (1963), the animated Charlotte’s Web (1973), and Where the Lilies Bloom (1974). He died at age 92.
The glamorous Rita Gam was a founding member of The Actor’s Studio. She made her Broadway debut in 1946 in the Ben Hecth play A Flag is Born and appeared on television before making her big screen debut in a wordless performance oppositye Ray Milland (also unspeaking) in The Thief (1952). She co-starred in Saadia (1953) with Cornel Wilde, Night People (1954) with Gregory Peck, Sign of the Pagan (1954) with Jeff Chander, Edgar Ulmer’s Hannibal (1959) with Victor Mature, and Nicholas Ray’s King of Kings (1961), and she won the Silver Bear at the 1962 Berlin Film Festival for No Exit (1962), sharing the award for Best Actress with co-star Viveca Lindfors. She continued to appear on television and movies (including Klute, 1971) but was busier on the stage for the rest of her career. She passed away at age 88. Mike Barnes for The Hollywood Reporter.
Ronnie Corbett, one of the most beloved British TV entertainers for 50 years, made his TV debut on David Frost’s The Frost Report, where he collaborated with John Cleese and first worked with Ronnie Barker, who became his comedy partner in the long-running sketch comedy series The Two Ronnies. He died at the age of 85. Mark Brown at The Guardian.
The new Senses of Cinema has dropped, featuring an admitted “relatively limited dossier” consisting of a trio of articles on Abel Ferrara’s recent films: James Slaymaker onWelcome to New York (“Like most of Ferrara’s recent work, [the film] has the aura of a modern day parable, and achieves a sense of grand universality despite its minimalist design. The majority of its action unfolds over a couple of days, and is restricted to a few claustrophobic interiors. “); Rowan Righelato tracing the growing spiritual calmness that has infused the films of this former Catholic and Buddhist convert (“Pre-Mary—Ferrara’s multi-layered exploration of faith centered around the hidden Gospel of Mary Magdalene—the films burn with the existential fire that rages in the soul of their protagonists, Ferrara consumed by the redemption narrative. The subsequent films cling less violently to the dynamics of internal psycho-drama, as if the obsessive need to confront the protagonists’ bad faith has been assuaged. “); and Tim O’Farrell casts an eye on Ferrara’s little-seen and less-discussed documentary work (“This content and the unconventional approach to narrative structure connects these films to Ferrara’s fictional work, as does the Little Italy location and many of the characters who appear in Mulberry St. Ferrara has himself tackled critics of his ‘mixed media’ approach by way of a sly auto-critique: ‘We were entertaining this style of incorporating fictional scenes into documentaries … so for all these brilliant critics, we’re working on that, we’ll get it right one of these days.'”).
A second dossier explores British experimental film, a title “which has its drawbacks but also signals something important: primarily the fact that something of the medium (meaning everything from the particular characteristics of the technology through to the spectator’s engagement) is put to the test in some way.” Elsewhere in the issue, Sam Dickson considers the metatextual use of video and film in Zodiac (“The historical drift depicted in Zodiac corresponds to this uncanny cinematography [wherein digital cinematography is made to look like film] , a transitional hybrid of a film whose digital images go to painstaking lengths to conceal their own immateriality.”); Eleanora Raspi interviews Enrica Fico on working with her late husband Antonioni (” Whilst being very close to his directing style, I had a different, crowd-oriented, emotional connection. My gaze was that of a young woman who was seeing the outside world—and Michelangelo—for the first time. We had different experiences: I was 19 years old and could eat anything on the streets [of China], yet he did not.”); and Hong Sang-soo is welcomed into the journal’s collection of great directors.