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Conrad Brooks

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

The new issue of The Cine-Files contains a dossier on the rewards, surprises, and occasional hazards of teaching film studies. Among others, Joshua Glick discusses how he makes his students place themselves amidst the masses of Vidor’s The Crowd (“Yes, John and Mary are back together and some form of economic stability might be possible. But can they achieve a heightened status beyond the “crowd?””); Liz Greene offers a nifty bit of pedagogy (with clips), having her students come up with a new sound design for a scene from The Elephant Man in the style of different directors; Christian Keathley uses Rosemary’s Baby to discuss directorial choice and the orchestration of visual themes (“The students’ answers are generally satisfactory, but I want them to see beyond the specifics of any one choice and to consider the ways in which individual choices sometimes fit together with others to form a pattern.”); Maggie Hennefield finds the farcical take of then current events in To Be or Not to Be speaks clearly to young, modern audiences (“There is nothing that remains unsaid in To Be or Not to Be, but everything is said in the form of rapid-fire jokes and thinly veiled sexual or political innuendos. For my students, this film exemplifies the power of comedy to speak truth (or “truthiness”) to the atrocities of state violence and populist dictatorship.”); and Patricia White discusses a lifetime of teaching, loving, and growing with Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman (“Jeanne Dielman can make a formalist out of anyone, and it is a great lesson for would-be filmmakers about how setting limits can inspire one’s best work.”).

“Indeed, the majority of these films adopt stylistic practices which are not susceptible to further development, and can ultimately do nothing except close in on themselves. Most of the previously mentioned titles fit neatly into this category, and thus feel right at home alongside Walter Matthau’s Gangster Story (1959), S. Lee Pogostin’s Hard Contract (1969), Leonard Kastle’s The Honeymoon Killers (1969), Michael Barry’s The Second Coming of Suzanne (1973), Walter Murch’s Return to Oz (1985), Stephen King’s Maximum Overdrive (1986) and Ryan Gosling’s Lost River (2013). One-off auteurs generally favour aesthetics which are self-devouring, consuming narrative, film and filmmaker in a single gesture. The defining moment here is the final shot of Electra Glide in Blue, during which the camera pulls back from a dying Robert Blake and spends several minutes moving slowly down an empty highway, as if James William Guercio were watching his new career vanish into the distance.” Brad Stevens finds an interesting pattern of resignation and failure in the works of filmmakers with only one completed feature, and a tragic exception, in its refusal of easy nihilism coupled with a true understanding of how difficult a follow-up would be, in Barbara Loden’s Wanda.

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