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Obituary / Remembrance

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

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in ‘The Battle of the Century’ (1927)

“James Agee, Harold Lloyd, and John Ford all named it as one of their favorites, although they couldn’t agree on the title or director, and no one remembered the boxing match, just the pie fight. As Henry Miller (yes, that Henry Miller) put it, ‘There was nothing but pie throwing in it, nothing but pies, thousands and thousands of pies and everybody throwing them right and left.’” One more (mostly) lost film recovered, and it’s a doozy: The Battle of the Century, the legendary Laurel and Hardy two-reeler containing what is surely the zenith of that enjoyable low-comedy staple, the custard pie fight. Silent London broke the news, and Matthew Dessem, who’s written a forthcoming book on director Clyde Bruckman, has the best account on how such a masterpiece went missing all these years.

“Sanaa had improved [at basketball], but not completely. She was better, but you couldn’t throw her out in a game and have her really hang. It just came down to finally my husband said, ‘Is this a basketball movie, or is it a love story?’ And at the end of the day, I realized it was a love story and you can fake a jump shot, but you can’t fake a close-up.” Lucy McCalmont compiles an oral history of Love & Basketball that’s not least rewarding for confirming that Gina Prince-Bythewood has known what she’s been up to from the jump.

At Mubi, a pair of articles on films that blend perennial genre verities with some fresh ideas. Jeremy Carr finds much to praise in Hondo’s admiring portrait of the Apache even as it hews to standard gender roles—however enlivened by Wayne and Geraldine Page—and tries to have it both ways in the action climax. (“But after the secure white victory, and with the consequential step toward the end of the Apaches as a way of life, Hondo laments, ‘Too bad. It was a good way.’”) While Sara Freeman notes that Basic, like all of McTiernan’s films, is concerned with its hero’s unlocking of a narrative puzzle, but that placing a woman in the role changes up the routine in rewarding ways. (“Captain Osborne feels perfectly in-sync with her environment. She even moves in perfect parallel with the wall paint. For the moment, she is in her element.”)

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

Jeff Chandler as Cochise in ‘Broken Arrow’

“The Western is a genre that, more than any other, has been connected to white chauvinism, but it’s also the only genre that, during its heyday, consistently gave the impression of the United States being what it actually was and is—an ethnically diverse polyglot experiment in democracy in which misunderstandings and outrages abounded and violence was frequently the first resort.” Nick Pinkerton runs through a dozen or so examples of Hollywood versions of Apache; nearly every one played by whites and “conciliatory rather than revolutionary,” but variously empathic, pained, and shamefaced for all that.

“Inspired by a childhood trip to a film festival honoring James Dean in the star’s hometown of Fairmount, Indiana, Jones decided Harry Dean was just as worthy. And though Stanton traveled from his adopted home of Los Angeles to Lexington in 2014, he was unable to attend the festivities this year, which seemed strangely fitting. As with most Harry Dean Stanton movies, you’re always waiting for him to appear.” James Hughes travels to Kentucky to visit the 5th Annual Harry Dean Stanton festival, whose attendees come off as charmingly obsessed as any other crew you’d find at a film convention, if considerably more laconic.

“‘Would you be shocked if I put on something more comfortable?’ she asks Ben Lyon in Hell’s Angels, taking joy and pride in the way she makes his temperature rise. The distinctive thing about Harlow is her total lack of shame about sex on screen, her sheer anticipatory enjoyment of it as an idea, and an ideal of pleasure, a force that totally loosens her up. Harlow’s relation to sex in her movies makes Bow seem slightly jittery and insecure about it in comparison, and makes Monroe look like a sexual basket case.” Dan Callahan’s superb series of actor appreciations continues with a salute to Jean Harlow’s tragically brief but so very, very bright incandescence.

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Venerable, never: Richard T. Jameson Remembers Richard Corliss

Richard Corliss

The Variety headline read: “Richard Corliss, Venerable Time Film Critic, Dies at 71.” Why was this jarring? Not the news itself: that had already been broken by Corliss’s own magazine, which published a proud and affectionate eulogy for an invaluable colleague and assembled some highlights from his three-and-a-half decades’ work at 50 Rock. The fact that his age was 71? A year or so ago, his longtime friend David Thomson had teased him in print about closing in on 70, so one could do the math for oneself. No, the problem was the adjective: “venerable.” Yes, it means honored, esteemed, admired—all apt, and earned many times over. But part of the word’s etymological backstory has to do with being old, perhaps stodgy. That was never Corliss, never imaginably could be. Read him at age 21, read him at 71, read him anywhere in between, and you’re in the company of a sensibility insatiably curious, nimble as a springbok, focused as a base runner, fresh as a croissant on a sunny Cannes morning.

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