Review: The Right Stuff

The Right Stuff

[originally published in The Weekly, November 9, 1983]

The Right Stuff is the biggest, brightest, busiest movie of the year, exhilarating in its largeness of spirit, in the sheer physical scope of its achievement, and in the breadth and complexity of its ambitions. It’s also an exasperatingly difficult film to review, for its strengths and weaknesses frequently lie side-by-each, and although the former far outweigh the latter, both must be acknowledged.

Anyone setting out to make a film from Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff faces an awesome challenge: how to take 16 years’ worth of aviation history teeming with event, detail, character, and information, and shape it into a coherent, let alone an engrossing, movie. In this, writer-director Philip Kaufman has stunningly succeeded. Against all odds, unintimidated by the shifting currents of history and changing fashions in American heroism, his Right Stuff rushes along a breathlessly clear narrative line for 3 hours and 13 minutes. It’s a joyride with substance, the sort of experience that leaves even classy kiddie-kar entertainments like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi looking trivial by comparison.

Keep Reading

Ingmar Bergman’s Summers

‘Summer with Monika’

Ingmar Bergman looms so large in the cinema that we tend to forget he didn’t simply arrive a fully-formed artist, turning out ruminative, allegorical, emotionally intense masterpieces like The Seventh Seal (1957) and Wild Strawberries (1957) and The Magician (1958). Bergman found his first success on the stage; his first original screenplay, Torment, was produced in 1944 under the direction of Alf Sjöberg, a fellow stage veteran and a major influence. He directed his first feature, Crisis, in 1946. The man of the theater embraced cinema, but it took time to learn the expressive qualities of cinema storytelling, and moviemaking was his classroom.

With his tenth feature, Summer Interlude (1951), we can see the development of the mature Bergman, and with his twelfth, Summer with Monika (1953), his filmmaking sophistication catches up with his artistic ambition. Together they make a fine set showing the two sides of Bergman as a serious filmmaker: Interlude, steeped in metaphor and allegory and myth, and Monika, his first triumph in the psychological cinema of troubled souls and broken marriages.

Continue reading at Keyframe

Program note: Make Way for Tomorrow

[Originally published in Movietone News 33, July 1974]

[promotion for a July 13, 1974 Seattle Film Society showing]

LEO McCAREY (1898–1969) is primarily remembered as a director of comedies. He won his two directorial Oscars for The Awful Truth (1937) and Going My Way (1944), and he guided some of the onscreen shenanigans of Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Mae West, W.C. Fields, Harold Lloyd, and Eddie Cantor, as well as comic actors like Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Ginger Rogers, Barry Fitzgerald, and Frank McHugh. If, like me, you are bothered by the idea that a man could win an Oscar for Best Direction with a film that opens with a stock shot (a tugboat putting across New York Harbor in The Awful Truth—and in the next year’s Holiday, directed by George Cukor), you may wonder what qualifies Leo McCarey as a tenant of the Far Side of Paradise in Andrew Sarris’s The American Cinema. For it is not visual authority that distinguishes his work. (For that matter, how much great screen comedy makes you think of “visual style” at all?) But that work is distinguished, and it is distinguished as director’s cinema, not screenwriter’s cinema or—though the actors are frequently superb—actor’s cinema.

Keep Reading

Review: The Midnight Man

[Originally published in Movietone News 33, July 1974]

The most interesting thing about The Midnight Man is the fact that it was co-written for the screen, co-produced, and co-directed by a writer and a movie star. The fact, not any of the results or even the vagrant peculiar tensions one might expect to discern in such a collaboration. The film lacks visual distinction; the best thing to be said on that score is that both directors have avoided a customary failing of unpracticed metteurs-en-scène, tucking the camera behind chair backs or putting it through flashy but pointless paces. The cast is large and, as a list of names, interesting; but no performance is free of the taint of indecisiveness, an irritating incompleteness that has more to do with the players’ insecurity than any of the characters. The screenplay serves up a complicated plot, but it is the complication of desultory narrative lines that cohabitate without cohering; far from suggesting a writer seizing the opportunity to realize a cherished ambition, it seems like nothing so much as a Metro committee job sent back for readjustment alter readjustment by a dozen different writers who never met except maybe accidentally in the commissary.

Keep Reading

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of April 1

Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell

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.

Colors

“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.

‘All the President’s Men’

“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.

Battling the Soviet menace

“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.

Isabella Rossellini in ‘The Saddest Music in the World’

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.”

The redesign, and increased functionality, of his favorite movie poster website provides justification enough for Adrian Curry to gather a collection of Czech and Polish posters that feature cats.

Obituary

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.

Patty Duke

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.

Seattle Screens: The Grand Illusion celebrates 12 years of independence and more

Welcome to The Grand Illusion

The Grand Illusion, the pocket theater that has been running in form or another in the University District since the early 1970s, celebrates its 12th Anniversary of its current non-profit incarnation with a week of the weird and the wonderful. On the latter front, they are screening new 35mm prints of Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast (1946) (on Friday, Saturday, and Wednesday) and Max Ophuls’ From Mayerling to Sarajevo (1940) (on Sunday and Monday). Also on Sunday, April 3 is Spencer Williams’ Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A. (1946), which screens as part of its “Pioneers of African-American Cinema” series of restored films, and on Tuesday, April 5 is a new 35mm print of Corn’s-a-Poppin’ (1956), an indie comedy from the midwest co-written by Robert Altman. Running all through the week is the new Turkish horror film Baskin. Schedule and showtimes here.

The 21st Seattle Jewish Film Festival opens on Saturday, April 2 with A Tale of Love and Darkness, the directorial debut of Natalie Portman, who also stars in the film, at Pacific Place and continues through the weekend at Pacific Place, moving to SIFF Cinema Uptown on Monday and the Stroum Jewish Community Center on Mercer Island next weekend, where the closing night film Baba Joon, winner of 5 Ophir Awards (the Israeli equivalent of the Academy Award), screens with actor Navid Negahban in attendance. Filmmaker Aviva Kempner will attend with her new documentary Rosenwald, about Sears owner Julius Rosenwald, and director Jake Witzenfeld brings his documentary Oriented, focused on the lives of three gay Palestinian friends in Tel Aviv (both on Sunday, April 3 at Pacific Place). The complete schedule is here.

The Last Dragon (1985), a Motown martial arts movie seeped in New York urban culture and eighties color and music, stars real-life 19-year-old karate black belt Taimak as an earnest martial arts student nicknamed Bruce Lee-roy by the locals and Prince protégé Vanity as a music club deejay pressured by gangsters to play lousy music videos. Clearly that calls for a hero. Directed by Michael Schultz and produced by Berry Gordy, the film became a cult favorite and it is playing on Friday, April 1 at the Uptown with Taimak appearing in person. Details here.

Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special opens this weekend exclusively at the Egyptian Theater in Capitol Hill. Film critics Robert Horton and Andrew Wright both recommend it.

The documentary Before the Big Bang, directed by Richard Beymer and featuring Beymer and novelist Rudy Wilson, makes its West Coast premiere on Wednesday, April 6 at Seattle Art Museum’s Plestcheeff Auditorium at 7:30pm. Details here.

A Pig Across Paris (1956), directed by Claude Aurtant-Lara and starring Jean Gabin, plays on Thursday, April 7 at Plestcheeff Auditorium at SAM. Individual tickets are available on the day of show on a first come, first served basis. Details here.

It’s not too late to make your plans for Friday, April 8. Robert Horton and Richard T. Jameson are your hosts for the monthly film discussion Framing Pictures at the screening room at Scarecrow Video. It’s a free event. More at the Framing Pictures Facebook page.

Visit the film review pages at The Seattle TimesSeattle Weekly, and The Stranger for more releases.

View complete screening schedules through IMDbMSNYahoo, or Fandango, pick the interface of your choice.

Review: Midnight Special (1)

Jaeden Lieberher in ‘Midnight Special’

We need to talk about Alton. Nice boy, bright, well-behaved. But it seems strange that his eyes sometimes shine like the demon kids’ peepers in Village of the Damned, and that he occasionally speaks in unison with the deejay on the Spanish-language radio station—even when the radio isn’t turned on. Little things like that.

Alton’s peculiarity is at the heart of Midnight Special, the fourth feature written and directed by Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Mud). As the film begins, we are mysteriously in the middle of the action: Eight-year-old Alton (played by Jaeden Lieberher, the boy from The Confirmation) is being transported across Texas by his father, Roy (Michael Shannon), and Roy’s state-trooper buddy Lucas (Joel Edgerton). The authorities are after them, but we don’t know why. Meanwhile, a religious patriarch (Sam Shepard), who seems to be the leader of some sort of apocalyptic cult, orders his deputy (Bill Camp) to find the kid at all costs.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Midnight Special (2)

Michael Shannon and Jaeden Lieberher in ‘Midnight Special’

Jeff Nichols is in the zone. With just a handful of films, the Little Rock, Arkansas, native has crafted his own busy little pocket of Southern Gothic, spilling over with feuding families (2007’s Shotgun Stories), ordinary people touched with terrible prophecy (2011’s Take Shelter), and the painful limits of self-aware mythologizing (2012’s Mud). Whatever the subject, the writer/director’s movies are all marked by unobtrusive camerawork, unsparing yet respectful looks at blue-collar living, and a few touches of downright weirdness somehow specific to his region. (Shotgun Stories features a father who names his offspring Son, Boy, and Kid, which is something that you can imagine Flannery O’Connor and Harper Lee enthusiastically high-fiving about in the afterlife.) He’s got chops, is what I’m saying.

Midnight Special, Nichols’ latest, continues the director’s winning streak. While on its surface an affectionate throwback to the kid-friendly sci-fi adventures of yesteryear (as the critic Matt Zoller Seitz said on Twitter, if this had been made in the ’80s, it’d never stop playing on HBO), its underlying themes of families under pressure make it very much of a piece with the filmmaker’s other work.

Continue reading at The Portland Mercury

Review: Le Sex Shop

[Originally published in Movietone News 33, July 1974]

It must be a mark of our starving hunger for foreign films that Le Sex Shop has garnered such generous notices. Certainly this unassuming mixture of marital comedy and social satire deserves the benefit of the doubt, at least when shown in the dubbed version exhibited locally: the soundtrack seems full of dead air even when people are speaking, and of course there’s just no way for the unique intonations of a Jean-Paul Marielle to survive transliteration, let alone transvocalization. Marielle’s balding, swinging dentist is the best thing about the movie but, dubbed, he’s only about half a good thing. He’s one of a number of sexual eccentrics who cross the path of a petit bourgeois—played by the director himself in a role apparently carrying over from Marry Me, Marry Me—after he converts his unsuccessful bookshop into a thriving porn parlor. The nebbish soon gets caught up in the pursuit of erotic satiety, only about half against his will, and by film’s end he can get off only by having his wife describe a lascivious encounter with the dentist that never happened and that, just maybe, he knows never happened.

Keep Reading

Remembering Adrienne Shelly (1966-2006)

Adrienne Shelly in ‘Trust’

Actress, playwright, stage director and filmmaker Adrienne Shelly made a big splash in the small pond of eighties American indie cinema as the offbeat lead in The Unbelievable Truth (1989), which introduced both Shelly and filmmaker Hal Hartley to audiences. Their sensibilities were a perfect match and they reteamed for Trust (1990), but while their careers parted after this, they remained remarkably parallel. Like Hartley, she purposely avoided the Hollywood game. Remaining on the East Coast, the diminutive, red-headed actress largely committed herself to idiosyncratic indie films (Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, 1992, Sleep With Me, 1994) with occasional guest-starring gigs in East Coast-based TV shows like Homicide and Law and Order. She had come from the stage and continued writing, directing and performing in the independent theater scene in New York, and she made the leap to filmmaker with her feature directorial debut, Sudden Manhattan (1996), a film very much in the brainy, talking, wryly absurd vein of Hartley, but with a different perspective.

Shelly was poised to finally break into mainstream filmmaking on her own terms with her third feature film, Waitress (2007), when she was murdered in November 2006, the victim of a senseless homicide. The film, starring Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion and featuring Shelly in a sweet supporting role, debuted at Sundance months later to great reviews and landed a major distribution deal.

In 2000 I had the honor and pleasure of interviewing her when she accompanied I’ll Take You There, her sophomore feature as a director, to the Seattle International Film Festival. It was her third appearance at the festival she called her favorite (at least she said so to me: “I just find it to be so friendly and really just about the filmmaking”) and she gave me nearly an hour of her time, talking about the features and short films she directed, her beginnings with Hal Hartley, and her work on the New York stage. She laughed easily and often while remembering details and describing events from the shoot, and seemed genuinely appreciative that someone had invested so much into her films. “Sometimes you write something and you know that there is another meaning behind it and you wonder if anyone is going to get it, is going to see it,” she said near the end of our interview. “It’s nice that you picked up on all this.”

Sean Axmaker: How were you cast in Hal Hartley’s films? You had never been in a film before The Unbelievable Truth.

Adrienne Shelly: It was a freak thing. I sent my head shot to his office. There was an ad in the newspaper called Backstage, this was two months before he started casting for The Unbelievable Truth, and the office that he was using at the time was being shared by several different companies and one of them, I guess they were making music videos, and I had sent my head shot in. It was a fluke. When I first started, I used to send my head shot around. And someone held up my picture and said, ‘Why not audition her?’ They actually put another ad in Backstage that I didn’t see, specifically for the movie, and I never would have sent my head shot in for that because it said, ‘We need a model type,’ and I never thought of myself as a model type. I’m so small and, you know, not a model type. So I never would have gotten the part unless I had sent in my head shot in for this other thing, for this music video.

Continue reading at Keyframe

Review: The Conversation

[Originally published in Movietone News 32, June 1974]

Gene Hackman’s quietly desperate face looms huge in so many frames of Francis Ford Coppola’s most recent film that by the end of the movie we know his features just about as intimately as Harry Caul (played by Hackman) knows the lines of the conversation he has bugged. Both we and he are, in a sense, obsessed: we, the viewers, by Harry’s troubled image on the screen; Harry, by the voices he hears and the implications, slowly realized, of what those voices are saying. This hardly seems a coincidence—Coppola obviously intended it that way. Closeups, especially of Hackman, virtually fill the movie, serving perfectly to visually reinforce the theme of violated privacy with which the story is so much concerned. The correlation between those who bug and those who are bugged (bugger and buggee?) is ultimately turned into a nearly inevitable irony as Harry’s situation is reversed and he becomes the one who is watched and listened to. Indeed, the screenplay as a whole moves just a bit too predictably and ends up being too readily reachable, too readily analyzable, what with its neat ambiguities and psychological uncertainties and sticky relevancies (not to mention some of the painfully pointed dialogue: “You’re not supposed to feel anything about it,” a blond seductress says to Harry just before swiping his tapes of the conversation; “It’s just a job”). But if you’re willing to disregard some of the story’s weaknesses as narrative and actually look at the film more closely, you might find it has some visually interesting ways of “saying” things.

Keep Reading

Review: The Pedestrian

[Originally published in Movietone News 33, July 1974]

No one can accuse Maximilian Schell of being unaware of the possibilities of visual form in the cinema—or rather, that visual form can have something to do with discovering and elucidating Truth. His earnest direction of The Pedestrian comes much nearer some sort of expressiveness than Rolf Nölte’s treatment of The Castle, which Schell co-adapted and -produced with Nölte, and starred in, a few years ago. Close, but kein Zigarr. For The Pedestrian is more portentous than profound, framing between two episodes of soft-focus—or lost-focus—scrutiny of hazily symbolical fossils an attempt at moral self-scrutiny, of a powerful German industrialist and, by not very tentative extension, his country.

Keep Reading

Review: Ran

Ran

[Originally published in The Weekly, December 25, 1985]

Somewhere in the 16th-century Japan of Akira Kurosawa’s Ran, four horsemen—a warlord and his three sons—sit atop a hill, each facing a different point of the compass. The world spreads below them and, in Kurosawa’s high-angled, space-collapsing telephoto compositions, above them, too. The surrounding vastness of hill and vale is like a great green wave, at once the measure of the horsemen’s noble sway and a trembling surge, perhaps only momentarily arrested, that might break over them at any time.

When the poet-hero of Jean Cocteau’s Orphée, his creativity straitjacketed by easy popularity, approached an old mentor for advice, the sage’s response was brutally succinct: “Astonish us!” Cocteau’s poet was a man in his prime; Akira Kurosawa is 75 years of age. Yet with his new film Ran, this magisterial motion picture director, universally and rather complacently accorded the status of old master for more years than most of us can remember, has usurped the prerogative of young geniuses in the arts: He astonishes us, and then astonishes again, and again.

Keep Reading

Video: Framing Pictures – March 2016

Robert Horton, Richard T. Jameson, and Bruce Reid sat down at the Scarecrow Video screening room on March 11, 2016 to discuss talk Wim Wenders, Terrence Malick, and remember Vilmos Zsigmond (1930-2016), cinematographer on McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Seattle-shot favorite Cinderella Liberty, and more recently TV’s The Mindy Project, and French filmmaker Jacques Rivette.

The Seattle Channel was there to record the event. It is now showing on cable and streaming via their website. Or you can see it here.

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

Willem Dafoe in ‘Pasolini’

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 on Welcome 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.

Keep Reading