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 A selection of historical documents and interview excerpts sets the scene, with figures such as Rossellini plugging for the pedagogical advantages of the younger medium, Chris Marker tracing the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.
“The camera still sees something in me that even I do not see when I look in the mirror. It is a face designed for the camera. Whatever magic it is that happens between the skin and the lens, I fortunately had it. There are beautiful people who look like nothing at all when they are photographed, and then there are people like me, whom the camera transforms. I can’t explain it. I don’t want to explain it. And I don’t want it explained to me, either. Leave me my magic, let the camera keep its mystery. Whatever it is, let it be our secret, between me and the lens, the one thing a ravenous public and caviling critics can’t take away from me.” Mark Rappaport’s fiction/essay/whatsitI, Garbo has the actress detailing her failed attempt at a comeback with the same focused wit and illuminating digressions as his films.
“‘I got old the way women who aren’t actresses got old,’ said Simone Signoret, a onetime beauty who also let the wrinkles have their way. Davis knew how much Hollywood valued beauty, but she never set much store by her own looks, and never seems to have done much to preserve them. ‘Christ, I was always bitching about how I hated my face in those days,’ an elderly Davis once said of her early starlet years at Warner Brothers, in Whitney Stine’s Conversations with Bette Davis. ‘Compared to what I look like now, I was an absolute living doll!’” More rapturous assessment of a face transformed by the camera to something beyond itself at Film Comment, where Farran Smith Nehme finds Bette Davis an unimpeachable beauty, especially when she knowingly defied movie star expectations and let age have its way.
Between the articles from the new issue available online and the ever-expanding blog, Film Comment offers almost a week’s worth of good reads by itself. Michael Koresky takes in a Lincoln Center festival on early gay films and argues that, along with simplistic views of gender and sexuality, one false binary that needs to go is the notion that cinematic portraits of homosexuality come in two flavors: ashamed and fatalistic pre-Stonewall, liberated afterwards. (“If any single title could stand in for the sublimated yet radical titillation of all pre-Stonewall gay cinema, it’s the 26-minute Un chant d’amour (50), the one and only feature made by Jean Genet, and a complete sensual experience: film as erogenous zone.”) Paul Schrader then sets about constructing a binary of his own, dividing production design into an art cleanly demarcated between films before and after The Conformist. (“So here’s the radical importance of The Conformist: this to my mind is the first film shot entirely on location in which the locations are treated as sets. It has the same freedom with a location that you would have if you had designed your own room.”)
Farran Smith Nehme finds much to admire in Sirk’s Sleep, My Love, even if dampening Claudette Colbert of her usual “canny and commonsensical “ intelligence so she doesn’t spot the conspiracy against her isn’t among them. (“Ameche slithers around in heavy silk dressing gowns, smoking cigarettes and saying soothing things in a low-pitched, doctorly voice. If it weren’t for Brooks’s opiate presence, you could argue that he’s the one with the femme fatale role.”) And on the eve of Jerry Lewis’s 90th birthday, Violet Lucca dismantles the harmful myths about work in America that Lewis’s movies endorsed (“Being the utterly wonderful nouveau riche narcissist he is, Lewis would always portray these man-children while wearing a large gold pinky ring, giant wedding ring, and, sometimes, a gold watch, giving more than a touch of cognitive dissonance to his performances.”); while some highlights from last October’s sitdown at the Museum of the Moving Image between Lewis and Martin Scorsese are offered by an unidentified transcriber/editor. (“Sometime he [“Jerry”] gave me problems. When he got overly anxious, he would screw me up and I would yell to the crew, tea time! Get coffee or do something, cause I’ve got to have a talk with the star of the movie! I looked at the mirror and said, do you want to make this, or what’s your plan? And I would talk back to myself.”)
The View from Parallax is taking a break this week but we’ve got your screening highlights right here.
The documentary series “Art of the Underdog,” playing at NWFF through the month of March, puts unchampioned arts and little-known and forgotten artists in the spotlight. The series opens on Sunday, March 6 with Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story (2015), a portrait of storyboard artist Harold Michelson and film researcher Lillian Michelson, and Love Between the Covers (2015), which investigates the hugely-popular but much maligned literary genre of romance fiction. The complete schedule is at the NWFF website and series tickets are available.
Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Arabian Nights (1974) screens on Thursday, March 10 at Seattle Art Museum in a 35mm print as part of the “Magnifico! Cinema Italian Style” series. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door on a first come, first served basis. More here.
“In 1985, I’m sitting in the casting office of a major studio. The head of casting said, ‘I couldn’t put you in a Shakespeare movie, because they didn’t have black people then.’ He literally said that. I told that casting director: ‘You ever heard of Othello? Shakespeare couldn’t just make up black people. He saw them.’” Melena Ryzik gets quotes from 27 minority and women actors, directors, and producers (including Joan Chen, John Ridley, Justin Lim, and Wendell Pierce, quoted above) about working in a Hollywood where diversity remains mostly lip service. And if you think things aren’t as bad as all that, Lori McCreary relates that even the most obvious casting choice of all time—Morgan Freeman as Deep Impact’s president—got pushback from the white guys in suits (“somebody at the studio said, we’re not making a science-fiction movie; you can’t have Morgan Freeman play the president.”).
Movie Morlocks wins the wide-net award of the week with a pair of fine articles on movies that have just about nothing in common. David Kalat savors the timeless satire that unites period trappings with contemporary concerns in Kawashima’s Bakumatsu Taiyo-den. (“In just seven syllables, Bakumatsu Taiyo-den efficiently signals (in Japanese) what you’re about to get: a mash-up of the “Sun-Tribe” genre of youth problem films… and the sword-and-topknot cycle of Samurai films (do you really need me to tell you what a samurai film is like?), specifically drawing the connection between the dawning of modernism at the end of the Samurai era and the uneasy postwar world of 1950s Japan. Oh, and did I mention it was a sex comedy?”) While R. Emmet Sweeney takes the buzz aroundThe Witch to look back at Dreyer’s Day of Wrath. (“[Rembrandt’s] The Anatomy Lesson comes through in Dreyer’s shots of the sober bearded men putting kindly old crone Herlofs Marte (Anna Svierkier) on trial, in which they invoke the light of God while threatening to tear Herlofs limb from limb. Dreyer gets closer with his camera than Rembrandt chooses to on his canvas, and every face that Karl Andersson’s camera glides by in these intricately composed sequences is hiding some secret shame.”)
“No Fear, No Die, named after Jocelyn’s prized rooster, replaces the post-war setting of classic noir with a post-colonial one, swapping desperation for dislocation, and money troubles for racial tension. (After all, “noir” means “black.”) Maybe it speaks to the state of this generally screwed-up planet that the movie is just as current today as it was in 1990, when it first hit French theaters.” Ignatiy Vishnevetsky revisits Claire Denis’s “first dive into pulp and genre,” finding it as inimitably hers as ever.
“After Noroît, Rivette’s cinema will never again be so experimental, daring or rule-breaking. Did something more than the director’s health crack in that moment of crisis in 1975? Did his artistic resolve also take a battering? And did that particular crack trigger, or come to associate itself, with other cracks in the life and times, even less accessible to us?” In an updating of a 2010 essay, Adrian Martin fruitfully wrestles with auteurism and its consequences to perceive what exactly changed in Rivette’s output after the abandonment of his Les Filles du feu project, and how—even whether—The Story of Marie and Julien can be considered a completion of a trilogy having been picked up nearly three decades after the fact. Via Mubi.
“The ability to figure out a puzzle on the fly is crucial for both gumshoes and directors, certainly one as peripatetic as Huston. By the time he took on The Maltese Falcon in 1941, Huston was ready for the challenge. Under his direction, everyone in front of and behind the camera (in particular, cinematographer Arthur Edeson) performs on en pointe. No word or motion is wasted—even the crawl stating that pirates “seized the galley carrying this priceless token and the fate of the Maltese Falcon remains a mystery to this day” adds a note that reverberates after the climax.” Michael Sragow investigates Huston’s adaptation of Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, proving that the first time being faithful to the novel is why in this case the third time was the charm.
“Lang, perhaps tellingly, seemed most interested in the script after Siegfried was out of it: that is, only when the story turns completely toward emotional chaos, toward division, toward the themes that consumed his later work. After he left Germany in 1934, his films inhabited fully the terrain that Harbou had only skated around: paranoia, cults of personality, distrust of authority figures. The genius of his own work, as well as his work with Von Harbou, is its total subjectivity. By creating a new, visual language of paranoia, he’d also hit upon a way to capture abstraction visually: to film ambiguity.” However absolute the eventual separation between Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou, Die Nibelungenlied, their remarkable fusing of nationalist epic and intimate portrayal of betrayal and revenge, depended upon both partners for its unique power, as Henry Giardina shows.
After catching de Oliveira’s “tetralogy of frustrated love” at Lincoln Center, Vadim Rizov finds himself completely enraptured by 1978’s Benilde or the Virgin Mother (“Outside [the film’s sole set], there’s howling wind and rain that’s no less convincing for the early exposure of its non-existence; we’re able to better perceive how technical tools create a successfully sustained illusion we might otherwise take for granted.”), rather less taken by its three companions (of 1978’s Doomed Love: “It’s clear that the film can’t end until everyone is dead, which made me eventually root for their sooner-rather-than-later extinction.”)
Nikki Finke’s Hollywood Dementia, which publishes industry-related fiction, let a group of movie critics take a crack this week. None of the stories are any great shakes as literature—pretty flat characters, obvious conflicts, and a curious tendency among all participants to explain their jokes. But as Sam Adams, who spotted the series, notes, there’s a certain fun to be had identifying the à clefs behind these romans. And collectively the stories—Bernard Weinraub’s tale of a disastrous new hire when an older film critic is shuffled offstage; Thelma Adams’s account of searching for a sisterly bond during the “Gotham Film Critics Awards”; Nat Segaloff’s story of a critic picking a bone-headed fight with a film exhibitor; and Daniel M. Kimmel’s story of one critic’s revenge on a vicious internet commentator—capture the unique mix of pride and futility in many critics, born of a job that mixes great responsibility with utter powerlessness. And yes, as just about each story gets around to mentioning, we’re really not morning people at all.
“That´s how it works. I never wanted to be a vampire. In my last film in Antwerp, I was Adolf Hitler riding on dinosaurs. I never wanted to be that but it is what it is—a film. Film is shadow and light and film is fantasy. And I already played Adolf Hitler several times but always in comedies. There you have it. It´s not me who wants to play that.” In an amusingly temperamental interview (he always seems to infer a nastier subtext to Martin Kudlac’s questions than is intended) Udo Kier recalls collaborating with Fassbinder, von Trier, Maddin, Morrisey, and more. Via David Hudson.
Interview Magazine has apparently decided that its latest pairing of famous interlocutor and subject merits two articles, since Saoirse Ronan interviewing Jodie Foster (“I didn’t grow up really wanting to be an actor. I don’t remember ever not being an actor. I don’t really think I have the personality. I am not very external. I don’t want to dance on the table and do impressions. So I think that the way I approach it is really loving story. That’s my first love—the words.”) is followed immediately by Foster interviewing Ronan (“I remember very vividly how it felt to be a child on a film set, and that is actually really important to hold on to for as long as you continue to make films. You need to be childlike, don’t you?”); though of course there’s more give and take than that schematic implies, with the two sharing delight in their professions, anxieties about striking out on their own, and gratitude for a pair of mothers who instilled in them such conviction and confidence.
“You’re disappointed when you can’t raise money for something, even if it’s not especially expensive. Especially when you feel like, “There really is an audience for this.” Most of the films that we’re talking about that are going to be in this retrospective were released by companies that no longer exist. In fact, most of them were out of business by the mid-’90s, and that’s because it got so competitive. The few movies that they thought would be commercial, released by the Weinsteins and a couple other companies, the big studios have classics divisions competing with them. They said, “We’ve gotta put up money up front and make our own movies,” and boy, if they’re not successful two or three movies later, you’re out of business.” John Sayles, who’s picked up paychecks for genre work and struggled to gather funds for self-financed indies, talks the fun and frustrations of both with Eric Kohn.
Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, an Oscar nominee for Travels With My Aunt (1973), Julia (1978), and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1982), began his career shooting war footage during World War II. The versatile London-born photographer went on to shoot the British classics Dead of Night (1945) and It Always Rains on Sunday (1947), a handful of Ealing comedies including Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) and The Man in the White Suit (1951), John Huston’s Freud (1962), Joseph Losey’s The Servant (1963), for which he won his first of three BAFTAs, the World War I fighter pilot drama The Blue Max (1966), Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), the original The Italian Job (1969), The Great Gatsby (1974), for which he won another BAFTA, and Rollerball (1975), among his many credits. He shot the first two Indiana Jones sequels and retired after The Last Crusade (1989). He passed away this week at the age of 103. Sheila Whitaker at The Guardian.
Less well known but almost as busy, cinematographer Jean Rabier shot most of Claude Chabrol’s movies from Chabrol’s feature debut Le Beau Serge (1958), where he served as camera operator to Henri Dacaë, through Madame Bovary (1991). Before he graduated to director of photographer, he apprenticed under the great Henri Dacaë as assistant cameraman and camera operate on Elevator to the Gallows (1958), The 400 Blows (1959), and Purple Noon (1960), among others. In addition to shooting over 40 Chabrol features and shorts, he shot Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962) for Agnes Varda, Bay of Angels (1963) and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) for Jacques Demy, and the English-language TV movie Night of the Fox (1990). He died at age 88. Ignatiy Vishnevetsky for A.V. Club.
Actor George Gaynes was a veteran journeyman when he appeared as a lascivious soap opera actor in Tootsie (1982) and was subsequently cast in Police Academy (1984) and its scads of sequels as the lovable buffoon of a commander. He began his stage career on TV in the 1950s, appeared in the films The Group (1966), The Way We Were (1973), and Nickelodeon (1976), and in the TV mini-series Rich Man, Poor Man – Book II (1976) and Washington: Behind Closed Doors (1977), among his many credits. After establishing his comedy credentials, he appeared in Mel Brooks’s remake To Be or Not to Be (1983), was cast in the sitcoms Punky Brewster (1984-1988), The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd (1989-1991), and Hearts Afire (1992-1993), and was memorable in Louis Malle’s Vanya on 42nd Street (1994). He retired from acting after Just Married in 2003 and passed away at age 98. Ryan Gibney for The Guardian.
Umberto Eco, the Italian scholar and semiotician, found popular success when he applied his interest in signs and symbols to seven novels beginning with “The Name of the Rose,” a medieval murder mystery that draws upon religion, history, symbolism and iconography, and a Sherlock Holmes-like monk. It was turned into a movie in 1986 by filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud with Sean Connery, F. Murray Abraham, and Christian Slater. He died at age 84. Jonathan Kandell for The New York Times.
SIFF Cinema and NWFF unite to co-present “Wim Wenders: Portraits Along the Road,” a retrospective featuring twelve films spanning his career, from The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (1972) to Pina (2012), his 3D celebration of the dancer/choreographer Pina Bausch. Highlights include his “Road Trilogy” (Alice in the Cities, 1974, Wrong Move, 1975, Kings of the Road, 1975), his Zen filmmaking thriller The State of Things (1982), and his full 5 ½ hour version of Until the End of the World (1991), which was never shown theatrically in the U.S. (the last time it played in Seattle was twenty years ago at the last Wim Wenders retrospective in 1996). These five films are not yet on DVD or Blu-ray in the U.S.
Films at SIFF Film Center:
March 2: The American Friend
March 9: Alice in the Cities
March 16: Wrong Move
March 23: Kings of the Road
March 30: Buena Vista Social Club
At SIFF Film Center:
March 30: Pina Details, showtimes, and ticket information here.
Films at NWFF:
March 3: Paris, Texas
March 10: The State of Things & The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick
March 17: Wings of Desire
March 24: Notebook on Cities and Clothes
March 31: Until the End of the World: The Trilogy (Director’s Cut) Details, showtimes, and ticket information here.
The final film in the winter “Silent Movie Monday” series at The Paramount is the original Ben-Hur: A Story of the Christ (1925), or rather a version of the original cut down by an hour by percussionist and composer Stewart Copeland. He performs his original score live with the Seattle Rock Orchestra on Monday, February 29 at 7pm. More details and ticket information here.
Actor and storyteller Stephen Tobolowsky comes to Seattle to present his concert film The Primary Instinct, which was shot in front of a live audience at Seattle’s Moore Theater and made its world premiere as SIFF 2015, and the great comedy of rebirth Groundhog Day (1993) in a double feature at the Uptown on Monday, February 29. The event begins at 7pm. Details here.
Only Yesterday, an animated feature from Japan’s Studio Ghibli and filmmaker Isao Takahata, makes it American theatrical debut at the Uptown in two versions: one in English featuring the voices of Daisy Ridley and Dev Patel, and the original Japanese language version with English subtitles. Schedule and ticket information here.
Academy Award nominee Mustang from Turkish director Deniz Gamze Erguven comes back for a return engagement, this time at the Uptown. More here.
Costume design for Sherlock Holmes by Sergei Eisenstein, 1922.
Sergei Eisenstein’s happiest years were probably those as an expatriate. His sojourns in Hollywood and Mexico are well known, but a new exhibit makes the case for his six weeks in London as equivalently liberating and personally transforming. Curator Ian Christie charts the subsequent cultural back-and-forth that led to Alexander Nevsky’s inspiring Olivier’s equally propagandist and spectacular Henry V; while Rob Sharp examines the filmmaker’s links to English culture, particularly for Sherlock Holmes (whom Einsenstein drew in an amalgam with Nick Carter). Both are beautifully illustrated by Eisenstein’s sketches, some dizzyingly geometric, some Thurberesque. Via David Hudson.
“Chaplin was warned by a number of people as he embarked on The Kid that slapstick and sentiment would not mix and that gag comedy could not support the length of a feature film. The success of the movie proved them wrong, even if it remains poised on a knife-edge between a wonderfully original comedy and a perhaps too predictable maternal melodrama. But the old-fashioned plot offered Chaplin the chance to base his comedy not simply in burlesque but in a deeper exploration of the primal emotions of separation and abandonment. His engagement with melodrama no longer relied on Keystone’s parodies of mustachioed villains in top hats pursuing innocent maidens but on the genuine feelings of a family separated and then reinvented, and of a child’s fear of loss and desire for union and security.” Tom Gunning notes the unprecedented risks Chaplin was taking on in making The Kid, and his triumphant leap over them. Criterion also points out a pair of recent posts from silent movie location detective John Bengston, one tracing the locations employed on The Kid, and the other a delightful collection of screenshots where Chaplin’s fans have accidentally been caught spying on their hero from the edges of the frame.
The Brooklyn Academy of Music is unrolling a Michael Mann retrospective, which, as such unapologetically visual filmmaking will, has resulted in some good reads. Isaac Butler looks back at Thief and finds Mann’s status as America’s action auteur already in full bloom, even as the director making his feature debut wanted to emphasize his writing. (“Thief introduces us to Mann’s fixation on stopwatches, water, love at first sight, prison, postcards where his protagonists store their dreams, tough guys, big scores, cars gliding at night, beginnings in medias res, and synthesizers. It also introduces the hallmarks of Mann’s writing: a heightened hardscrabble lyricism, often devoid of contractions and rooted equally in classic gangster cinema and real life vernacular; episodic plot structures made out of sequences that feel like the chapters of a novel; and storytelling through implication instead of exposition.”)
Daniel Kasman finds the cyber-denizens of Blackhat as the ultimate statement on the unnerving freedom enjoyed by Mann protagonists and the intimidations it offers the rest of us (“Theirs is a kind of honed hyper-existence, which, unconventionally, does not recognize what it lacks and instead always tries to peer into the horizon to satisfy the longing and unrest. They peer into and desire to go onward toward that horizon.”); while Kenji Fujishima reports on the director’s cut of the film that premiered at the festival, which replaces the tense scene that opened the theatrical version with (less crowd-pleasing, more thematically relevant) a bit of Wall Street trading as originally intended, and otherwise does what you’ve come to expect of Mann’s re-edits: trims some of the dialogue.
And Bilge Ebiri sits down with Mann for another of his intellectually stimulating interviews. (“When people are bombarded with as much content as we are now, audiences come to impute, fill in blanks, extrapolate, and project. So the requirements for plot specificity, for example, reduce. I mean, if you’re living in the late Middle Ages in a peat bog, and you go on a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral in England one time in your life, the religious story told by that piece of architecture, with its towering nave and stained-glass windows, will blow you away. That’s one story in a lifetime. We encounter 20 stories in a day. That’s what I am interested in. How should stories work next?”)
Rivette tributes arrive at a rapider rate (if not a greater length) then the filmmaker’s own masterpieces. Film Comment reprints a classic 1974 interview with Jonathan Rosenbaum, Lauren Sedofsky, and Gilbert Adair on Celine and Julie Go Boating and Out 1. (“We began by elimination: we didn’t want to make a serious film; we didn’t want to make a film about the theater because we’d done that too often; we didn’t want to make a film about current events or politics. But we did have the desire from the very beginning to do something close to comedy, and even frankly commedia dell’arte.”)
The same year and films feature in Sight & Sound’s reprinting of a magnificent interview with Carlos Clarens and Edgardo Cozarinsky that functions as Rivette’s clearest mission statement (“There is a persistent idea of a cinema partitioned off in tiers: first you look for a subject, then you write as detailed a script as possible, on the basis of which you find someone to put up the money, for which purpose you pencil in the names of certain actors opposite fully defined characters. Once you have got all the elements together, often compromising some of your original ideas in the process, comes another stage: the actual shooting. You shoot little bits here and there, as meticulously as possible, and then you stick them together, and you’re pleased if you end up with something that corresponds to what was described more or less in your two hundred typewritten pages. Personally I find all this a dreadful bore.”); and Rosenbaum, again, reviewing the films (rather Out 1: Spectre, all that was available to view at the time). (“And if the scepticism towards fiction in Spectre leads to transparent actions playing over a void, Céline et Julie is like a game of catch played over the same void, with the ball tossed back and forth remaining solid as long as it is kept in motion.”) While Out 1’s continued relevance, and relative monstrosity, is testified to by David Thomson’s account of introducing the film to a dozen Norwegian spectators (making, plus him, an audience of 13) this past January. (“There is something about Out 1 that admits, or permits, the lifelike habit of missing a few things here and there. After all, we can be making love to someone, or even murdering them, and not quite hear what they say or catch the expression on their face. Movies seem to be arrangements of attention, but Rivette was one of those directors who saw that in passing time some things could pass by, precious in the dark, not so much unnoticed as missed.”)
At MUBI Evelyn Emile considersLove on the Ground’s many teasing references to who, ultimately, is the author (or dreamer) of the play-within-the-film we’re watching. (“Is this love or is it empty intimacy, powerful anxiety, fear of death? These are such violent and terrible things, as we know. But Rivette gives us no consolation. Even if one were to ask, ‘Am I dead or not?’ the verdict is spoken simply and with a smile: ‘That’s for you to decide.’”) While Kino Slang reprints two examples of Rivette’s criticism—on Truffaut at the start of his career and Ivan the Terrible as the “culmination” of Eisenstein’s—that in hindsight say less about the two men than they do about the writer whose work arguably surpassed them both. (“The whole film mounts toward this moment, and little by little sloughs off time in order to rejoin duration….”) And if that isn’t enough—for many of us, of course, it isn’t—the 1977 collection Texts and Interviews turns out to be available online, courtesy (but of course) of Rosenbaum. Many of these via David Hudson.
“Mann himself thinks that he has turned his back on Cooper. What he’s really done, perhaps, is to liberate Cooper from himself. Hawkeye’s and Cooper’s admiration for the Mohicans’ way of life—their blend of pragmatism and chivalry, and their genius at warfare, hunting, and navigating their environment—emerges stronger than ever in Mann’s version of the tale.” Michael Sragow praises Michael Mann’s “iconic and iconoclastic” take on The Last of the Mohicans; this inaugurates a series of articles on films related to works published by the Library of America, so more attention than usual is spent on the film’s relationship to its source novel, and Mann’s own disdain for Cooper’s “whitewash of land grabs and cultural imperialism.” Via Matt Fagerholm.
“Gilda is not meant to be clear. It is meant to plunge the audience into an atmosphere so emotionally claustrophobic that even Johnny’s voice-over can’t provide escape or enlightenment. In fact, his voice-over drops away in the final section of the film, so that Johnny’s feelings about Gilda in the last scenes are never revealed. Most noir voice-overs provide backstory and explanation. Not Johnny’s. There are some things that are buried too deep. The only characters in the film who have any perspective are the washroom attendant and the police detective. The leads have none.” Sheila O’Malley revisitsGilda, with particular focus on the understated (thus underappreciated) direction of Charles Vidor and the dazzling entrance of Rita Hayworth—not just in the film, but into legendary stardom.
Steven Mears compares the climaxes in two versions of The Letter, Bette Davis’s famous reluctance to bring cruelty to the moment coming off as “pillow talk” next to Jeanne Eagels’s roaring take on the material. Also at Film Comment, Marc Walkow’s account of how the Lady Snowblood films came to be made makes you regret we’ve never gotten to see Meiko Kaji play the scene, which might have been definitive.
“That an indelible character in a children’s cartoon is a composite of 1980s gay life, bold women with gravelly voices, the AIDS crisis, independent film, Hollywood, Baltimore, and the tragic premature deaths of two exceptionally creative men shouldn’t surprise us. The best characters originate in artists’ complicated lives. And Ursula was surely one of the best.” Nicole Pasulka and Brian Ferree trace the gay, drag, and distinctly Baltimore influences behind The Little Mermaid’s exhilarating villain, her look inspired by Divine, her personality determined by the lyrics and coaching of actors by writer Howard Ashman. Via Longform.
“The Coens’ comedy is apt to swerve or pivot or shade into increasingly darker perplexities, intimations of the uncanny, or sheer bottomless terror in the face of existence, thus temporarily leaving humor in the rear distance. So the comedy of these scenes is counterpointed by the beautifully austere expanses of landscape out the window and the hypnotic rhythm of wheels hitting the seams in the asphalt at fifty miles per hour—da-dum da-dum da-dum. And again, on the drive back, there’s the dissolution of perspective and reason by the oncoming snow in the headlights, an invitation to nothingness.” Writing on Inside Llewyn Davis, Kent Jones magnificently captures the beauty and dreadful meaningless that battle for the heart of every Coen brothers’ film, and how essential music is to replenishing their faith.
“Ashburn’s calm response to yet another below the belt jab from Mullins is one of the funnier moments in The Heat, a modern riff on the 1970s police procedural that destroys all traces of a plausible plot in favor of controlled chaos. It also represents Feig’s ongoing examination of how women’s bodies are compartmentalized and diminished not only by men, but also by each other.” Glenn Heath Jr. does a good job showing how body language is a key element in Paul Feig’s comedies, and the key indicator of his characters’ struggles and ultimate triumphs. Though reference to The Heat as a “sophomore effort” makes me realize that Feig’s first two features are being tossed to Shyamalanesque obscurity.
“When they first met, Coogler mistakenly assumed Jordan had already played starring roles. ‘I talked to him, and I just knew there was a movie that he had made—that he carried—that I hadn’t heard of,’ says Coogler. ‘And he was like, Nah.’ Jordan buckles over laughing and hits the director on the shoulder. ‘His was the first one!’ says Jordan.” Their winning streak is likely to hit pause unless Ryan Coogler can shoehorn a role into Black Panther—Achebe, maybe?—for Michael B. Jordan; But the camaraderie and respect the pair display for one another in Rembert Browne’s dual profile makes clear the partnership is far from over.
“With each message received, the needle on the speedometer rises; we are cruising at well over 100 miles per hour. I like speed. But not without my own hands on the wheel.” Sean Penn’s interview with Mexican drug lord El Chapo is no great shakes, the kind of intelligent but unenlightening questions a smart neophyte would ask, and that an experienced criminal like Chapo has no trouble deflecting. But Penn’s much derided introduction, solipsistic even as it tries to show off its concern (genuine, I’m sure) for the wider world, overlong without ever quite rambling, makes for a hell of a self-portrait of one of our more curious, socially committed actors.
“We may feel that Highsmith’s interest in Jonathan Trevanny is mostly about how the puppeteer Ripley yanks on his strings. But Wenders portrays Ripley’s victim… as a tragic figure, a hero for whom we are actively rooting in his struggle against the forces unleashed by the reprehensible caprice of his American friend. How can we not side with a character played by Bruno Ganz at his most radiantly handsome, an actor who can manage to perform the deceptively simple but in fact challenging feat of making a mild and fundamentally decent family man both interesting and charismatic?” Francine Prose praises Wenders’sThe American Friend as something “deeper than crime, than noir,” and if it’s not quite Highsmith it compensates by being the director’s most complicated take on his love/hate relationship with America.
“Fogelson knows early in development what the sell of a movie is, and he shapes the film accordingly. He’s an optician, swapping out the lenses in his refractor and inquiring, “Clearer now? Or now?,” until the image is crisp. When STX was negotiating with the owners of UglyDoll, a line of mischievous, misshapen plush dolls, for the rights to make an animated movie, Fogelson told his staff that he could already see the tagline over ‘a cute-looking version of that one-eyed character: ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’ How do you not want to see that? There are so many good and easy ways to make you care about creatures who know they’re not attractive.’” Tad Friend profiles start-up studio STX and its chairman Adam Fogelson, who’s betting on the success of mid-range hits rather than the all-or-nothing blockbusters that dominate the majors’ slate. But whether he’s changing a movie’s elusive villain into the hero to attract a big-name star or bonding with Jackie Chan over the changes necessary to make a film more successful, Fogelson comes off very much as more of the same, if on an admirably smaller scale.
Adam Smith’s history of Flash Gordon glosses over some details—such as Sam Jones’s falling out from the project—that are probably more interesting than they come across. But Mike Hodges talks amusingly about what it’s like to step in at the last minute on a De Laurentiis super-production that had been designed for Nic Roeg, and Brian Blessed turns out to have been cast exactly the way you’d hope he was: by threatening to kill the filmmakers if he wasn’t.
In the course of nearly 30 years living in Japan, Pico Iyer has seen his appreciation of Ikiru go from enthusiasm to dissatisfaction with its Western attitudes back around to an appreciation for how thoroughly Kurosawa portrayed the Japanese soul, which turns out not to be the exclusive bailiwick of Ozu.