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Obituary / Remembrance

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of January 8

“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.

Sam Jones as Flash Gordon and Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan

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.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of December 18

Chantal Akerman

I had no time to peruse any of the new Senses of Cinema before passing it along, but with a dossier on Akerman featuring articles by, among others, Nicole Brenez, Yvonne Rainer, and Bérénice Reynaud; another clutch of articles on the Legacy of Pasolini; looks at the early history of Australian animation and the malignant vibrancy of Luciano Tovoli’s cinematography for Suspiria; Quentin Tarantino initiated into the journal’s Great Directors pantheon; and an interview with Weerasthakul, it’s hard to imagine it doesn’t provide some of the best writing on cinema you’ll read going into this holiday season (aka, when all the blogs stop posting anything but 10 Best lists and revisionist/deconstructed/reconstructed takes on every Christmas movie from It’s a Wonderful Life to Eyes Wide Shut).

Speaking of lists, the one most worth reading this time every year is out again—the National Film Registry’s 25 selections for preservation. Yes, as Daniel Eagan reports, the committee is small enough to have considerable individual clout, and there are political and populist mandates they clearly have to juggle in their choices. But at a time when so many of the same films keep popping up as one of the best of the year, any list that includes Preston Sturges, George Pal, Douglas Sirk, Thom Anderson, Su Friedrich, and Tony Scott—not to mention Frankenheimer doing science-fiction, Curtis Hanson doing noir, and William Greaves doing whatever Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One could be classified as—only reminds you that cinema is vaster than you could even dream.
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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of December11

Charlotte Rampling

“I sat down and said something sincere and clumsy about how I knew she was going through a hard time and that I was concerned about blundering into things I shouldn’t touch. ‘If you do that, I will stop you,’ she replied. ‘If you ask anything I don’t like, I’ll step around it and go on. I can take care of myself.’” Mary Gaitskill ably defends Charlotte Rampling’s notorious privacy as her right even in a profession synonymous with tell-all confessionals; then rather less convincingly argues that the actor’s unique appeal owes mostly to her skill at portraying “the natural representation of real people.” Possibly NSFW due to a Helmut Newton portrait (hey, it was the ‘70s).

“In conversation with his high-school mentor Roger Hill, he declared that opera directors should be unobtrusive presences, serving the conductor, the performers, and, above all, the composer. The man who helped to originate conceptual staging, with his historically displaced productions of Macbeth and Julius Caesar, felt that such radical transpositions had no place in opera. In a sense, he may have been captive to his early operatic memories, to the lingering Gilded Age milieu in which he got to know the art. On his home turf, however, Welles handled music with freewheeling brilliance.” The only strange thing about last week’s excellent Orson Welles piece by Alex Ross is that one of our best music critics had no comments to make about Welles’s use of music or even his films’ inherent musicality. Turns out that discussion had merely been carved out for a separate, equally fine article.

“Still, this judgment [that Harold Lloyd is the most complacently ordinary of the early comedians] needs to be complicated, because only a profoundly and uniquely imaginative artist—by definition, an outsider—can take on his shoulders the burden of synthesizing the entire society around him and fashioning an archetype from it that will play in Peoria.” Phillip Lopate finds the virtues of Speedy precisely in the everyday-man archetype that Lloyd’s detractors find so off-putting—and in the matchless string of terrific gags, of course.

Dan Callahan takes stock of William Dieterle’s career, and finds a talent probably too eager to fall into the boring solemnities of big studio biopics, but one who managed more to achieve more than a few delights along the way; and, in The Last Flight, at least one “triumphant” masterpiece.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of December 4

Tilda Swinton

The new issue of cléo has arrived, organized around the theme of grace. Which makes a natural fit for Sophie Meyer’s praise of Tilda Swinton’s “unboundaried possibility” (“It’s not that she brooks no contradiction. She embodies contradiction and pushes us to do the same, to be all the clones in one flesh.”) and Colleen Kelsey’s appreciation for Catherine Deneuve’s vampiric turn in The Hunger (“Even when she strikes—well-appointed in jewelry or black leather gloves and without pausing to put out her cigarette—the victim finds herself absorbed not in the killing, but in the shadow show of Miriam’s grace and sexuality.”). Not to mention Julia Pennauer assessing the gender-flipped stoner comedy Smiley Face, and Anna Faris’s remarkable performance therein (“She pays tribute to the stoner comedy’s dissident tradition while problematizing its male-homosocial conduct—and she’s really funny.”). Elsewhere Sarah Gadon—academic buzzword alert!—frets over the agency of female characters in Rome: Open City (“Pina proves to be one of the most contradictory female characters in neorealism, as she is the only woman to achieve hero status.”), and Kiva Reardon interviews Geraldine Chaplin about playing love scenes in her latest film Sand Dollars (“[I]n my house in my village in Switzerland we have a picture of me in the garage all dolled up from years ago—the gown, flowers. The kids from the town come and say: “Let’s see the picture of Geraldine when she was a princess!” That was when I was princess and now I’m the old bag! That’s the way the cookie crumbles.”).

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of November 20

The restoration of most (long story short, the three-hour reissue version, not the original six-hour serial) of Otto Rippert’s 1916 Homunculus has Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell joining in on a lengthy post. Thompson offers the background, placing the film in the context (visually and narratively) of the early experiments in fusing expressionism and cinema. (“For Expressionist filmmakers, elements of the supernatural or the legendary could motivate highly stylized mise-en-scene. In contrast, these 1910s films often used relatively realistic mise-en-scene. Location shooting, straightforward period costumes, and skillfully executed trick photography introduced the fantastic elements into the milieu of a concrete, seemingly everyday world.”) While Bordwell looks at the film itself, finding a provocative, wide-ranging film where even the element that seems the most dated—the mannered title performance of Olaf Fønss—is part of a larger, more elegant design. (“It’s now clear that by focusing just on The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) we have limited our sense of the wide-ranging visual discoveries of German cinema. Homunculus belongs with the splendid string of films that includes Der Tunnel (1915), Algol (1920), I.N.R.I. (1920), and the outstanding pair of 1919 films by Robert Reinert, Opium and Nerven.”)

“He was a romantic who had a special way of visually enfolding the lovers in his movies that is almost Frank Borzage-like, and he glorifies very different women in what must be the best close-ups of their careers: look at some of the close-ups of the melancholy Sylvia Sidney in Behold My Wife! and then look at the close-ups of the wised-up Joan Bennett in 13 Hours by Air and see how Leisen gives them the same glamorizing treatment without ever losing what makes them so individual.” Dan Callahan joins the small but devoted list of fans who feel Mitchell Leisen’s visual intelligence, humanity, and consistency of vision make him a far greater talent than his seeming perpetual ranking as not one of the best but tops among the rest.

“You could marvel that it took Chabrol so long to get around to making an anti-Vichy film. But you could also note that he had been gunning for the Vichystes all along and just hadn’t been so blunt before. In fact, Story of Women should feel very familiar. He had made this movie at least twice before.” David Kalat traces the almost clockwork evolution—three films each made and set about a decade apart—that led to Chabrol’s indictment of the Vichy regime.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of November 13

“While Lime’s high ground, as it were, is meant to be ironic (the film hints as much early on when the porter at Martins’s hotel [Paul Hörbiger], with a weak grasp of the English language, gestures towards hell above and heaven below), the manner in which he is brought down to the restricted domain of the camera at eye level, to be trapped and destroyed, doesn’t necessarily suggest a better view.” Martin Zirulnik revisits The Third Man, and finds a movie careful to articulate its horizontal and vertical spaces—and to make clear how little even the purportedly clear-eyed Harry Lime perceives the real, desperate Vienna kept to “the margins of the screen.”

‘The Third Man’

“In its very human focus, the “Rocky” series is, oddly, the closest analogue that American cinema has produced to François Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel cycle. But, whereas Doinel’s fictional life was defined, as any self-mythologizing Frenchman’s would be, in terms of his relationships with a series of stunning women, Rocky must measure himself always in his workplace: the ring. Across four decades, we’ve witnessed a full-blown, epic saga of a man perpetually considering, but never achieving, retirement.” With Creed soon to arrive as a presumed handing over of the reins, Andrew Bujalski looks back over Sylvester Stallone’s career-making creation Rocky Balboa, six movies charting the writer/director/star’s savvy growth of his character from loveable loser to definitive winner to old, alone, and surrounded by death.

Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin’s close reading of a scene from Nuit et jour shows how Chantal Akerman could make even the smallest, most seemingly conventional gestures resonate. Via Mubi.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of November 6

Bill Murray

“You know, being famous is obviously not a Devil’s deal. I love the opportunity to work. It’s the thing I do best. I’m a much better person when I’m working. I’m at my absolute best, because it’s the ultimate terror. It’s the ultimate terror that I will not arrive, the ultimate terror that I am not. You know? That I am not.” No point expecting an objective portrait of Bill Murray from Mitch Glazer, who’s written for the man for years, including his recent Rock the Kasbah and his upcoming, much-anticipated Christmas special. But who wants one of those, when Glazer ably demonstrates even one of Murray’s oldest, closest associates can be befuddled and dazzled by the man, being dragged along to spontaneous adventures down the streets of Morocco, Cuba, and Charleston, South Carolina.

Dennis Lim’s David Lynch: The Man from Another Place is one of the more anticipated film books of the season, and two excerpts do a good job showing why. In the New Yorker Lim discusses the inherent incomprehensibility of Lynch’s narratives as one of his great strengths. (“It is not uncommon for artists to believe that their art should speak for itself. But Lynch’s aphasia is born of a protectiveness that verges on superstition. Words for him are not just reductive; they are anathema to his view of art as fundamentally enigmatic. He says often that his films should leave “room to dream.” To decode a film, to proffer interpretations, to divulge the source of an idea—all these simply mean less room and fewer possible dreams.”) While Criterion samples the book’s take on Mulholland Dr., which Lim finds fitting into as much of a literary tradition as a cinematic one. (“If the film resonates long after these questions have been answered, it is because they are somewhat beside the point. Much more than an enigma to be cracked, Mulholland Dr. takes as its subject the very act of solving: the pleasurable and perilous, essential and absurd process of making narrative sense, of needing and creating meaning.”)

“In 1921, Wanderwell set off for Europe on a tramp steamer. He advertised in London for “A good-looking, brainy young woman who is as clever a journalist as her appearance is attractive,” warning that “she must forswear skirts—and incidentally marriage—for at least two years, and be prepared to ‘rough’ it in Asia and Africa.” Most important, she must “learn to work before and behind a movie camera.” Wanderwell saw motion pictures as a way not only to finance his expedition but also to document it for posterity.” Daniel Eagan recounts the nearly forgotten career of Aloha Wanderwell, neé Idris Hall, who made some of the most popular travelogue silents both in collaboration with her husband and, with even more accomplished cinematic technique, on her own after his mysterious death.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of October 30

‘The Golem’ (1920)

“The Berlin of the 1920s, Paris and New York—these were cities of poverty and excess. Night clubs, cabaret, drugs, sex and alcohol jostled dangerously against poverty and radical politics. These were cities with one foot in the future and another in the medieval, Grimm forests of these country’s recent past; as a barbarous, magical life which slumbered in the recesses, ready to burst forth.” Which cocktail set the stage for expressionist film sets, Owen Vince argues, The Golem, Caligari, and Metropolis all serving up fractured reflections of the “real” world that found their fulfillment in the same Nazis that would eradicate their decadent designs. Via David Hudson.

“‘The biggest crime here was not stealing the dough, because Mickey could’ve made the dough back. The biggest crime was they turned Mickey into a dog-and-pony show, and nobody wanted to have anything to do with him.’” For Mickey Rooney fans, which title I happily claim, his whirligig indomitability is a large part of the appeal, the sense that when Hurricane Mickey roared into a room everyone had to shut up and listen. All the more tragic then, as Gary Baum and Scott Feinberg report, that he spent his final years under the abusive thumb of his wife and stepson. Via Movie City News.

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

Maurice Pialat on the set of ‘Van Gogh’

The Museum of the Moving Image’s retrospective of Maurice Pialat has been one of the most celebrated of this busy year. Julien Allen finds a director completely unclassifiable and incomparable, beating out his own path (and letting you damned well know how difficult that turned out to be) his entire career. (“His ten features (not counting the dozen or so shorts and one TV miniseries, La maison des bois) constitute from beginning to end a series of autobiographical portraits, throughout which the act of autobiography itself—of laying oneself open to the world—is deconstructed and filleted into its most basic elements.”) Richard Brody, on the other hand, sides with Desplechin that in fact Pialat has had the strongest influence on young French filmmakers, but finds the works no less remarkable. (“But those who want to be influenced also want a ready-made paradigm to adapt to their own uses, and Pialat—whose pugnacious naturalism burns with the flame of modernity—seems to promise them one: a template for non-nostalgic realism.”) And Craig Keller has been providing the invaluable service of transcribing notes originally included with Masters of Cinema’s UK DVD releases, including a series of interviews with Pialat—expectedly outspoken and provocative—that had never previously been translated; no group link, unfortunately, but all of the Pialat articles are clearly identified in his index of posts to the left. Via David Hudson.

That omnipresent, apocalyptic wind in Tarr’s The Turin Horse turns out to be a looped sample of some 19 seconds. Which leads Cristina Álvarez López to wonder, how apocalyptic a force can such a short repetitive drone evoke? And why didn’t anybody notice?

A new edition of the essential cinema studies text, Film Art: An Introduction, is forthcoming (with a perfectly chosen image from Moonrise Kingdom gracing the cover), but in the process of final editing, David Bordwell, Kristin Thompson, and Jeff Smith decided a chapter on the use of sound in Nolan’s The Prestige didn’t really fit in. Rather than waste their efforts, the article has been made available on Bordwell and Thompson’s website; where it’s another fine example of their making cinematic tricks of the trade graspable by the layman, without draining a drop of film’s magic.

“Maddin, who has been friends with Egoyan for over 25 years, opened by joking, ‘I’m really sick and tired of not being Atom Egoyan!’ When the friends were in their twenties, Egoyan was enjoying substantial early success. ‘You seemed to already have seven features when we were in our mid-twenties,’ said Maddin. ‘So annoying!’” At the Woodstock Film Festival, Canadian iconoclasts Guy Maddin and Atom Egoyan talked about resisting the lure of Hollywood to sell out (ok, that’s more Egoyan talking) and learning how not to care when critics drub your film (again, mostly Egoyan). Emily Buder offers the highlights.

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

“He’s a conservative whose gravitas and charm can sway even the archest of liberals, a man who disliked horses but, more than any other figure, came to represent the entirety of Western ideals. Who avoided military service during World War II but became a hawkish supporter of Vietnam, and whose code of integrity was shadowed with racism, sexism, and thinly veiled bigotry, publicly stating his belief “in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to the point of responsibility” and calling the Native Americans “selfish” for refusing to hand their land over to white settlers. And yet:  He’s so difficult to resist.” Anne Helen Petersen, nonpareil at how public fantasies feed into the creation of stars’ images, tackles that great example of Hollywood myth-making, when the third time proved the charm and John Wayne became America’s actor. Via Matt Fagerholm.

“From the seven hundred hours of footage shot in Kharkiv, she said, the editors in London are fashioning a dozen or more movies, a TV series, and a user-directed internet narrative system. I asked her for an example of the kind of scene they had in the can. ‘A man telling his wife how he cheated on her,’ she said. ‘It lasts for five hours.’ It was, she emphasised, the genuine confession of a real transgression.” The filming of Khrzhanovsky’s Dau—from 2009 to 2011 on a massive set where the actors agreed to live, abandoning all modern amenities and be potentially filmed at any moment—is already the stuff of legend (and inevitable Charlie Kaufman comparisons). James Meek reports the postproduction, currently ongoing in a five-story London office building, is every bit as cloistered and lavishly financed, and continues to suggest this may be the rare movie(s) made critic-proof by the extraordinary tale of their making. Via Movie City News.

Matt Zoller Seitz makes a set visit to season two of The Knick, finding Steven Soderbergh completely in his element, literally behind the camera and knocking out ten hours of television drama in the time it can take a feature film to get off the ground. (In case you were wondering about the sincerity of that whole “retirement” thing.)

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of October 9

Lois Weber’s lost film ‘White Heat’

Every lost film is sadness enough, but more so when they’re part of a history that’s already too little-known. Sight & Sound gathers eight lost films by women directors—from pioneering African- and Chinese-American lensers to Lillian Gish’s sole turn behind the camera—whose rediscoveries could help rewrite the history we flatter ourselves to say we know.

“I have frequently fled from the vulgar amusements of the multiplex to the comfort of the Criterion Collection. I have savored “Anticipation of La Notte,” Phillip Lopate’s affectionately self-mocking memoir of his undergraduate infatuation with Michelangelo Antonioni and all he represented. I have furrowed my brow over Susan Sontag’s elegiac “A Century of Cinema,” which declared, in 1995, that it was all over, that the ardor and conviction of midcentury movie love would never be matched by later generations.” A. O. Scott celebrates the movie love that dare not speak its name—snobbery, with all its cultural baggage and proud demand to accept only the finer things.

“The producer probably imagined something a bit like a Carry On film, whereas Russell hoped to take things into Jacques Tati territory. He was probably precisely the wrong director to do so, given that his sense of humor tends to the broad and leering. I love his work, you understand, and none of this is intended in a pejorative sense. He’s just more Benny Hill than Pierre Etaix.” Context thus established for David Cairns’s praise of Ken Russell’s debut, the seaside farce French Dressing.

“Now the journey is nearly directly backwards, with more buildings entering at both sides of the frame. They appear, they fill the frame, and then they shrink. Actually they’ve only ever been shrinking. Slowly, gradually retreating before they even appear. Seeing Battery Park, leaving Battery Park, losing Battery Park.” Eric Haynes pays lovely tribute to Chantal Akerman breaking down the final, lingering shot of News from Home—both for its innate loveliness and its surprising biographical resonance. And Akerman herself offers a backwards glance over her entire career in Gustavo Beck’s hour-long video interview Chantal Akerman, From Here (2010), made available at Mubi. (Which, true to its subject, takes a while to just capture the energy of the room, so don’t make the assumption I did that the video wasn’t streaming for some reason.)

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of September 25

‘Portrait of Jennie’ and ‘Black Narcissus’

“Complicated and busy scenes still look ravishing though, and for this I am glad because I wanted everything this movie of excess could give. I wanted all the lions, all the jewels, all the scheming, and all the toasts to the woman that was destroying him that George Sanders could muster.” Having thought on her experience since attending the Nitrate Film Festival this last May, Gina Telaroli offers her reflections on how those movies were changed by the format—and how all art is, not necessarily lessened, but transformed, for later audiences who experience it in an unintended format. Marvelously illustrated by (non-nitrate, alas) screen grabs as only Telaroli can do.

“Moore is fond of quoting Flaubert’s dictum ‘Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.’ And she insists on that regularity. ‘I’m incredibly bourgeois,’ she said. ‘And I don’t care. I’m not wild. There’s nothing outrageous about me. I’m really a pretty nice person. I am not erratic in my behavior. You know the kind of people who are really irregular—they keep people off balance that way. I’m not that kind of person.’” Fittingly there are no surprising revelations in John Lahr’s profile of Julianne Moore—even the news she’s a clean freak seems to fit her air of maternal ordinariness—just a portrait of one of our finest actors, and the resilient intelligence that makes her so.

“Yes, it was over the top. And that was on purpose. The environments were very flashy. There were too many lights, too many idiotic things, and too much Vegas—not only in the surroundings, but “Vegas” in the way the people behaved, in the dialogue, in the acting. As for the finished product: I thought it was perfect.” You’ll never guess who’s defending one of his most derided—hmm? Yes, you’re right, that is Paul Verhoeven talking (to Jennifer Wood) about Showgirls. Via Joe Blevins.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of September 18

Gloria Swanson

The new issue of Screening the Past, spotted by David Hudson, dedicates itself to “Women and the Silent Screen.” The excavation of hidden histories predominates, whether Hilary A. Hallett displaying how Hollywood’s early self-mythologizing was shaped by women as much as men, from the plucky-girl-makes-good narratives promoted by Louella Parsons to the cautionary fable that was made of Virginia Rappe; or Diane Pivac presenting the history of New Zealand film producer Hilda Maud Hayward, who assisted her husband on “some twenty-eight films” without receiving a single credit. More about Parsons—and her perennial subject Mary Pickford—comes from Richard Abel’s look at the symbiotic relationship between newspapers and the movies in the early 1910s, and the space it provided for women’s voices; while antipodean filmmakers are the topic again for Ann-Marie Cook, who offers a fresh take on the collapse of McDonagh Productions, Ltd., Australia’s first film production company owned by women. Pam Cook traces the intersection of design and performance in the work of Natacha Rambova, and her great canvas Valentino; and Elena Mosconi and Maddalena Bodini chart the rise and making of a star with the career of forgotten silent diva Mimi Aylmer. And more I haven’t gotten to yet, all presumably up to the journal’s usual standard.

The new Senses of Cinema has also dropped, with a focus on Asian documentary. Bérénice Reynaud offers an overview of underground and experimental Chinese documentary filmmakers, working with cheap, mobile digital cameras to chronicle such formerly taboo subjects as protests against forced dispossession by the state and the lives of gay Chinese; Dan Edwards traces Chai Jing’s remarkably popular (and since banned) exposé on Beijing’s unhealthy atmosphere, Under the Dome, to Western precedents such as An Inconvenient Truth but also homegrown examples such as River Elegy, which is credited with sparking the Tiananmen protests; Ma Ran looks at three film festivals (one of which has been shut down by the government), each small, remote, and far from the madding crowd, dedicated to the genre; and Anne Rutherford and Laleen Jayamanne interview Indian filmmakers Anjali Monteiro and K. P. Jayasankar about their decades of work in the field. (“[We] understand we are working with a medium that most of our subjects are not familiar with. They have their own traditions of storytelling and we are bringing to this encounter another kind of storytelling. So we want to question this premise of documentary film narratives made by us about them for consumption by us. How does one begin to subvert this?”) Outside of that focus, Ned Schantz, haunted by an image of the grim reaper he incorrectly remembered popping up in La Jetée, wonders about the legitimacy of hidden images in movies—and whether they’re worth anything or not even if they are there; and David Melville does the honors writing up Rex Ingram for the journal’s Great Directors portfolio.

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

“Malick’s three historical epics can be seen as extensions and refinements of the cinematic techniques and philosophical concerns initiated during the laborious filming and editing process for Days of Heaven (1978). Indeed, this was one of film critic Roger Ebert’s chief criticisms of The Thin Red Line; Ebert believed the film was uncertain and derivative. However, it’s now apparent that in actuality Days of Heaven is the film that feels like an artist’s compilation of uncertain notebook sketches and detail studies. Yes, it’s a film with the full backing of a studio at the height of a cultural and artistic revolution and so its pictorial scope is sweeping and expansive, but it was also a film born from conflict, change and exploration. It’s a film about soulless wanderers that, in retrospect, itself is searching for a greater calling beyond its own celluloid artifice.” In the first of two articles on Terrence Malick, Reno Lauro might lay on the philosophy a bit much, fantasizing the director stumbling across Deleuze texts during his Paris sojurn; then again, this is Malick we’re talking about, and Lauro’s connecting his cinema to the movies of Sokurov is both sourced and concretely rewarding.

The Thin Red Line

“When Channel 4 approached [Kureishi], his first instinct was to write a sprawling multigenerational family epic that did for Pakistanis in Britain what The Godfather had done for Italians in America. Originally intended to be a film for television, My Beautiful Laundrette was ultimately a far more modest affair than Coppola’s masterpiece, but both films are about immigrants fighting to be accepted in their new homeland; when one of the characters says “I believe in England,” there is an unmistakable echo of the opening line from The Godfather.” Sarfraz Manzoor relates how much has changed—not unambiguously for the better—for England’s Pakistani community in the 30 years since My Beautiful Laundrette.

“A cat is an ambiguous gazing presence. Blofeld, James Bond’s arch-nemesis, has a cat. Would Harry Lime’s introduction in The Third Man work as well if it were a puppy that nudged itself between his shoes, rather than a stray kitten? Cats laze into suspense movies as though they were familiar windowsills facing the afternoon sun. But dogs—especially dogs in close-up, edited to suggest that they are reacting to something—aren’t open to interpretation.” Ignatiy Vishnevetsky raises some interesting points on how much movies allow us to interpret for ourselves as he contemplates why the ubiquitous reaction shot of a cock-headed dog inevitably comes off as hokey.

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

Sayed Badreya

“‘I die in Iron Man,’ says Sayed Badreya, an Egyptian man with a salt-and-pepper beard. ‘I die in Executive Decision. I get shot at by—what’s his name?—Kurt Russell. I get shot by everyone. George Clooney kills me in Three Kings. Arnold blows me up in True Lies…’ As Sayed and Waleed and the others describe their various demises, it strikes me that the key to making a living in Hollywood if you’re Muslim is to be good at dying. If you’re a Middle Eastern actor and you can die with charisma, there is no shortage of work for you.” Jon Ronson talks with seven actors of Middle Eastern descent on their current status in Hollywood—a paucity of good roles, but steady work if you’re willing to play terrorists. (Speaking of stereotyping, the article’s very title gets one thing wrong: one of the actors featured—Anthony Azizi, who blames the industry’s hang-ups on xenophobic hangover from when Omar Sharif dated Barbra Streisand—isn’t, in fact, Muslim-American.) Via Movie City News.

“At a cursory glance, he’s no different than any other movie nut. He enjoys a good potboiler, citing the Denzel Washington-led Equalizer remake and TV’s The Blacklist, Chicago PD and Law and Order: SVU as recent viewing highlights. He loves too many movies to pick a favourite, but he knows damn well that he hated 2013’s Will Smith vehicle After Earth. ‘It was so bad!’ he laughs. ‘And I was very frustrated, because I know if they gave me a fraction of that money, I could’ve done so much more.’” One old solution to the stereotype problem—taking up the camera and telling your own stories—is finding its latest manifestation in Columbus, Ohio, where Charles Bramesco finds Samatar Haji, filmmaker and co-founder of Olol Films, who’s been supplying the Somali émigré community with exploitation features and documentaries of their very own.

“But by continuously policing their ambitions, the Duplasses have been able to build an entire ecosystem for making the kinds of character-driven dramedies that the industry has all but abandoned. Mark concludes his keynote by reiterating his admonition to ignore the false lure of Hollywood success. Take it from him: Even if you become an indie-cinema celebrity with dozens of films and a successful HBO series under your belt, the cavalry is not coming. But then he gets to the kicker. ‘The good news is, who gives a fuck about the cavalry?’ he says. ‘Because now you are the cavalry.’” Jason Tanz profiles Mark and Jay Duplass, whose combination of pragmatism—their feature debut, The Puffy Chair, was built around some available props—and share-the-wealth generosity have led to a production career whose moderately-scaled Midas touch might stumble only if the two work themselves to death.

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