You know the summer movie season is over when people start talking about Melissa McCarthy winning an Oscar for a true-life drama and not about her languishing through a much-derided adult puppet comedy.
That’s right—it’s fall. Bring on the earnest biopics about figures as different as Neil Armstrong and Freddie Mercury, and movies about drug addiction and war correspondents. Robert Redford’s acting career ends, Tiffany Haddish’s stardom takes off, and we get a Lady Gaga version of a classic Hollywood tragedy.
Of course there are aliens and supervillains too (mixed in with the Oscar bait). The awards contenders often have their release dates shift around, but here’s a sampling of what the landscape looks like from now until the holiday season.
“Yes, extras must meet a threshold level of professionalism; they must show up on time and do what they’re told; they must own a variety of clothing items (most bring their own wardrobe). But there are thousands of them, capable of showing up on time and walking when they’re supposed to walk. It’s unskilled labor for skilled people.” Hillel Aron reports on the life of Hollywood’s background actors—extras, as they’ll always be called no matter how much they prefer the former term—and how the many real gains made by unionizing and joining in with SAG have led to a two-tiered system: those who can make a serious living from essentially part-time work, and everybody else, hustling for the leftovers. Via Longform.
UCLA’s Bunche Center for African American Studies has released their second Hollywood Diversity Report, with the far from startling conclusions that a gleamingly homogenous set of people behind the cameras (film studio units overseen by 96% white and 61% male heads; studios themselves headed by a clique 94% white and 100% male) hasn’t led to much breakthrough in diversity filmed by them. Austin Siegemund-Broka offers a rundown; the report itself, by Drs. Darnell Hunt and Ana-Christina Ramón, is available as a .pdf.
“Welles wasn’t moved. He told Selsman that ‘[saying the financiers will balk] is like saying the world is round. Of course, backers do not reduce the conditions under which they promise money. You certainly know as well as I do that in these cases—which occur all the time—it is the producer and the packager who must make the sacrifice.’ He characterized Selsman’s response as ‘mistaken tactically and morally.’ He also claimed Selsman was avoiding him. ‘It seems very clear that Oja and I have continued to work hard entirely on a speculative basis… this cooperative spirit has not been met from your end.’” In a two-part article, Matthew Asprey Gear details the behind-the-scenes drama of Sirhan Sirhan, an Executive Action-style political thriller/exposé that was being rushed to production in 1975 when co-star Orson Welles took the reins and revised the script in his own image. Some of the players still insist on laying blame at Welles’s feet, citing his undeserved reputation for scuttling his own projects; but despite the arrogance of some of Welles’s demands, Gear’s firm that responsibility lies with a series of half-honored promises and handshake deals that likely would have collapsed even without the Great Man’s imperious presence. (Part II here.)
Speaking of Chicago talent (number two on Pride’s list, in fact): Unreturned calls to a 1-800 number, regretfully declined invites to Cannes, limo rides to Indian reservations; as St. Vincent director Theodore Melfi describes it, the process of getting Bill Murray to star in your film is as drolly surreal as the performance he’ll almost certainly deliver. Via Movie City News.
The new issue of multilingual journal La Furia Umana offers lengthy, interesting interviews with avant-gardists Anthony Stern (“Film is always about time, but the recording of time needs to be re-looked at. You don’t really want to spend all that time living in real time, you want to spend it in artificial time.”) and Lav Diaz (“All interpretations are valid, it is a composite of so many things. As I said, it’s an abstraction, it is a Filipino voice from somewhere in time and space.…”). But the meat of the issue is a collection of shorter pieces, old and new, about a filmmaker whose engagements with the periphery of the mainstream are arguably more radical than either, Monte Hellman. Victor Erice and the journal’s editor Toni D’Angela offer heartfelt “postcards” to the filmmaker; Hellman’s frequent screenwriter Steven Gaydos lists ten things he’s learned from the man (“Hollywood talks in terms of “four quadrant movies.” Monte talks in terms of four finger tequila shots.”); Brad Stevens praises Hellman’s overlooked vampire shortStanley’s Girlfriend; and from Hellman himself, a bracingly minimalist runthrough of his oeuvre (“THE SHOOTING: How many different ways can you shoot three people on horseback?”) and a pair of rhyming photographs, secular and spiritual, though I suspect part of the point of the latter is how little different they are.
“I’ve got poetry in me. I do. I’ve got poetry in me. I ain’t going to put it down on paper.” Matthew Dessem points out that McCabe & Mrs. Miller didn’t just spring fully-formed from the thigh of Zeus; Edmund Naughton’s source novel McCabe not only possesses many of the film’s qualities, they were put back in by co-scenarists Altman and Brian McKay after earlier passes at the adaptation went a whole other, more conventional way. (And yes, that opening quote throws another writer in the mix.)
Barbara, from director Christian Petzold, is a fiercely directed character piece set in rural East Germany long before the fall of The Wall. According to the program notes, it’s 1980 in the GDR, but you have to piece together the era and the situation from the clues on screen: talk of hopes of going to the West, a radio broadcast of GDR athletes at the Olympics, the harassment of secret police who conduct almost daily searches of the run-down apartment assigned to Barbara (Nina Hoss, in one of the most searing performances of 2012), a doctor from East Berlin who has been banished to this nowhere village for carrying on an affair with a man from West Germany.
Next to the sea and surrounded by forest, it’s a stormy paradise; on her bike rides along the forest trail, the trees rage in the constant windstorms of a world percolating in distrust and sublimated fury. Is there anyone here by choice, or is this simply a prison without walls for unruly citizens? Hoss is all wrapped up anger and emotional distance as Barbara, which the others in the hospital take as urban arrogance except for the teddy bear-ish doctor (Ronald Zehrfeld) who has accepted his exile with something approaching peace. And when she plots her escape, the plan is complicated when she puts herself on the line to protect a teenage girl who constantly breaks out of a local work camp. The critique of the GRD culture committed to breaking the spirits of mavericks and rebels and would-be dissidents is secondary to the human story of Barbara’s quiet revolution, a fight against a dehumanizing system that takes a not-unexpected turn and yet is still so satisfying.
Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained opens on Christmas Day in multiple theaters. Expect Tarantino to once again push boundaries and use genre conventions to explode expectations on how to approach a “serious” subject. What a double it would made with Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln: the studious, low-key drama of the political deal-making to pass the Thirteenth Amendment and ban slavery forever, and the furious, violent, audacious revenge fantasy driven not by history but anger and righteous vengeance against a culture of dehumanization. At area theaters.
“What should be stressed is that Fassbinder’s films are slow, their tempo gentle and carefully measured. There’s no rush, even as everything falls apart. Despite the furious speed with which they were made, they are meditative works of art.” Charlie Fox’s 13-part (one for each moon) essay on Fassbinder is pitched to a mordant excess perfectly appropriate for the subject.
Greil Marcus proves to be the perfect interviewer for David Thomson—able and eager to follow his trains of thought about every movie being part one big river, the way cinema has deadened our empathy, and the hidden links between Un chien andalou and your television’s remote control—in a sparkling sitdown for the L.A. Review of Books.
“It is in control, and if you think you’re in control, then you’re being an idiot! Not a single thing you’ve done has helped, and I’m sorry, I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but the camera hasn’t helped.” David Bordwell salutes how much variety can be found in even the most restrictive premise, by tracing the innovative changes on the “discovered footage” conceit throughout the four Paranormal Activity films.
After a hiatus so long I thought the series over, Kent Jones returns with part six of his and B. Kite’s back-and-forths on Bresson, a quite lovely consideration of how one of his detractor’s recurring complaints, the way the director’s use and control of “models” damages the films’ senses of realism and community, is a fair cop but also inextricably linked to the marvel that is “the bracing nature of Bresson’s cinema, which posits existence as inherently wondrous and revelatory.” By happily timed coincidence David Bordwell has some informative thoughts to share on Bresson as well, in a video about the use of constructive editing—i.e., editing with more on its mind than seamlessly propelling the narrative—in Pickpocket.
Two more fine pushbacks to the latest round of “Death of Cinema” laments: Jim Emerson fears nostalgia for previous modes of consumption is blinding some to the opportunities (and movies) all around them; while in a brief, thought-provoking rant Peter Lenihan thinks we’ve been seduced into false dichotomies about what is and isn’t cinema because of…well, Godard, in his formulation, but he admits it’s bigger than that.
Since Halloween candy only tastes sweeter in the days after (till that horrible tipping point when it becomes inedible), some bits left over from last week’s good haul. Carson Lund takes stock of the fractured visuals and unnerving soundscape of Skolimowski’s underrated The Shout. Art of the Title interviews John Wash about his credit sequence for Halloween III, and his other efforts for John Carpenter in the early days of computer graphics. And while I’ve only sampled a little of the Val Lewton Blogathon co-hosted by the Speakeasy and Classic Movie Man blogs, Jo Gabriel’s marvelous, richly illustrated two part analysis of Curse of the Cat People is a clear standout (Part II here).
“Have your never wanted to look beyond the clouds and the stars, or to know what causes the trees to bud? And what changes the darkness into light?” Meanwhile Will McKinley attended a digital screening of Whale’s two Frankenstein pictures, and feels it was a little unkind to present these pictures without just a word of friendly warning that their presentation, beamed from satellite rather than screened at the theater on hard drive, would suck beyond the telling.
Dreileben Trilogy, three German films from different directors connected by interlocking stories, plays this weekend only at Northwest Film Forum. The three films play out one per night: Beats Being Dead (Christian Petzold) on Friday, March 9, Don’t Follow Me Around (Dominik Graf) on Saturday, March 10, and One Minute of Darkness (Christoph Hochhauseler) on Sunday, March 11. Descriptions and showtimes here, and a series pass is available.
“[T]hree different directors have made three feature films linked by a crime—more precisely, by the hunt for an escaped murderer in and around the picturesque village of the title—and if anything the results differ more in tone, style, and focus than the three parts of Red Riding,” writes Richard Jameson, who describes “the mission of Dreileben overall” in this way: “to define the incompleteness of “truth,” to underscore the impossibility of “seeing” everything, even about ourselves.” Read his complete review here.
Continue reading for more screenings, openings and events…
Oscar-winning film editor and longtime Martin Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker, who has been a frequent special guest at Seattle screenings over the past couple of decades, is coming to the Seattle Art Museum to introduce a newly restored 35mm print of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, directed by Michael Powell (her late husband) and Emeric Pressburger, and Peeping Tom, Powell’s 1960 psychodrama of sex, violence, and the cinema.
Blimp plays Tuesday, March 6 and Peeping Tom screens on Wednesday, March 7, both at 7:30 pm. Series tickets still available, and individual tickets may be purchased at the door (if they have not sold out). Details at the SAM website here, or call the SAM box office at 206-654-3121.
Between the films, Ms. Schoonmaker will make a special in-store appearance at Scarecrow Video to talk with customers and sign copies of her films. Wednesday, March 7 at 2pm. Details via Scarecrow here.
NWFF inaugurates its own late night series with a month of Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale, a pre-“Hunger Games” cult movie of teenage nihilism, adult paranoia, and social sadism revolving around a lottery that sends a randomly-picked high school class to a deserted island for a fight to the death. Call it “Rebel Without a Chance”: part Lord of the Flies, part Massacre at Central High, part Peter Watkins social commentary as a Japanese manga turned nihilistic video game. The 2000 film from Japan never received a formal American release—distributors were too anxious about the subject matter in the wake of Columbine—and still hasn’t been officially released on home video in the U.S. (but it’s coming soon). The Film Forum screenings are from a Blu-ray. More at NWFF here.
Noir City Seattle, a shorter travelling version of San Francisco’s Noir City festival featuring archival and restored 35mm prints of noir classics and rarities, begins its seven day run of double feature screenings at the Uptown: the first year to screen at SIFF Cinema’s new venue.
The series kicks off with Thieves’ Highway (1949), directed by Jules Dassin after his career launching one-two punch of The Naked City and Brute Force. Richard Conte is the firecracker independent trucker who takes on the crooked San Francisco produce market operator (Lee J. Cobb) who crippled his father. He’s a two-fisted idealist in the nocturnal bustle of the San Francisco docks and produce marketplace and the winding two-lane highways of California, made even more treacherous in the daylight thanks to ruthless competition launched by Cobb’s henchmen. Valentina Cortese is the tarnished urban beauty sent to fleece Conte and Dassin gives the film a working class grit and post-WWII disillusionment. It plays with the Robert Wise-directed The House on Telegraph Hill (1951),a handsome suspense melodrama about a European WWII relocation camp survivor (Valentino Cortesa) who takes the identity of a deceased friend for a new life in America, which includes a son, a San Francisco mansion, and a suitor (Richard Basehart) who may have ulterior motives.