Much excellent reading of late in the LA Review of Books. In the latest of his autobiographical essays, John Kaye tells the story of his selling the script for Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins—as well as the story of his marriage, and of the madness that was seeping through all of Los Angeles at the time, so omnipresent that inspiration could take the form of two Mansonite hippies with Xs carved in their foreheads hopping into the front seat of his car. Also, a new series on Poets at the Movies gets a strong start with the first two entries: Rebecca Morgan Frank offers a lovely survey of cinematic adaptations of poems, finding silent movies offer the only real chance for the two media to successfully intermarry, where “images and text have been brought together to make something new.” And in a deeply moving essay, Tom Sleigh recalls the magical nights spent watching movies at his family’s drive-in, a business his Northern transplant parents reluctantly acquiesced to running by Jim Crow laws; remembers how mysterious and compelling his eight-year-old self found the film of To Kill a Mockingbird; and regrets that James Baldwin was right, the camera (of Hollywood, of memory) can only lie because it only “sees what you point it at: the camera sees what you want it to see.”
Kent Jones is simply marvelous on the expressly cinematic power of Lanzmann’s Shoah, and how the director “achieved something that was not only unprecedented but was, and is, an astonishment: he returned the Shoah to the civilized world that had disowned it.”
David Bordwell considers both the Big Picture and the Small. First, partly in celebration of the new website launched for the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research (which some initial poking around suggests will be an invaluable resource), he celebrates some of his academic colleagues for spearheading a new understanding of how the movie industry, with its technological advancements and economic demands, influenced decisions previously thought strictly creative. And in a separate post focusing on Mildred Pierce, Bordwell considers flashbacks, “replays” (where previously viewed action, seen again with new footage and more information, changes its initial meaning), and how much filmmakers could get away with between the two in the days before home video and rewind buttons.
With a much appreciated lack of condescension, Film Comment’s Laura Kern selects a half-dozen off-the-radar but easily streamable films about female psychos that gain from the delight they take in their anti-heroines’ rampages. Starring, among others, Ava Gardner, Anik Borel, and of course Joan Crawford.
Noticing how many feathers got ruffled by Manohla Dargis’s disparagement of the sex scenes in Blue Is the Warmest Color, the New York Times gathered a collection of essays on the presentation on sex in movies. Martha Coolidge recommends diversity behind the camera; Mireille Miller-Young comments on what the movies have lost by not embracing a wider range of erotic options; Richard Porton offers the fresh take that less is more. Mostly you come away realizing that a thematically resonant and artistically justified sex scene in the movies is no different than its pornographic cousin: You’ll know it when you see it.
It’s not on the level of Kaye’s reminiscence, but in an excerpt from Film Craft: Screenwriting, a collection edited by Tim Grierson, Stephen Gaghan conveys the frustrations and learning curves of the profession with considerable humor, and passes along some genuinely excellent advice he got from Will Smith.
“You know my name but who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he’s John Wayne? Rambo? Marshal Dillon?” “Was always kinda partial to Roy Rogers, actually.” With White House Down about to open, Nick Schager salutes Die Hard’s reign as the most influential action film in recent Hollywood history—even as the knock-offs and sequels forget what made the original so indelible. As every week, merely one of many items spotted by David Hudson.
Also at Indiewire, Peter Bogdanovich begins publishing the notes he took on every Raoul Walsh film he saw from 1952 to 1970. I realize I’m in the minority on this, but he needs to give the subversive utopianism of The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw a second look. “Indians!” “No darling, family.”
“Will you people please stay off the field!” A reread of Pylon and a revisit to The Tarnished Angels has Glenn Kenny thinking of adaptation, auteurism, and how contemporary “critics” too blind to see what Sirk was up to should really leave such things to the professionals.
“Where are we?” “Oh, I don’t know exactly.” Revisiting Rossellini’s Journey to Italy, Julien Allen expands upon Rivette’s notion that it’s the first modern film, noting that it’s “modernity itself which is being shunned.”
Slant Magazine compiles their list of the 50 Essential LGBT films, from Cocteau’s Blood of a Poet to Dolan’s Laurence Anyways. Which, yes, skips past the silent era, but represents a fine selection nonetheless.
Of the many paths to stardom Oliver Hardy’s is probably the only one that involved managing a movie theater in Milledgeville, GA, as John McElwee relates.
“I guess I’ve always been obsessed with fairy tales. But it’s easy to see their appeal: They’re so simple and so efficient.” Neil Jordan didn’t write his latest movie, Byzantium, but as he explains to Bilge Ebiri he’s always been surprised at how revealing even the movies in which he’s tried to hide himself have been.
“Why the fuck…. Why would you bring up that?” There are two types of actors in this world: Those who respond to a question about a film they’re less than fond of with deflection or good humor, however forced; and then there’s James Caan, presumably meeting Will Harris’s mention of Alien Nation with an exasperated, steelblue glare.
“I’m shocked at how maligned photography is in the movie poster world, particularly the idea of using a star’s face. It’s nearly absurd to think of a poster for an Anna Karina film that would be better without Anna Karina’s face on it.” Film on Paper interviews Sam Smith, whose homophonic nom de plume Sam’s Myth graces some of the more visually striking specialty-release movie posters and Criterion collection covers of the past few years. Via Movie City News.
In belated celebration of Father’s Day, a delightful gallery of proud celebrity pops and their offspring, including a beaming Cary Grant, an attentive Kirk Douglas, and an utterly impassive Buster Keaton. Via Criterion.
Scientist fiction and fantasy author Richard Matheson adapted many of his novels and short stories for the screen, among them The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Legend of Hell House, and Duel, and wrote original screenplays for movies and television. His original scripts for The Twilight Zone alone made him one of the most important writers of the fantastic, but he also scripted numerous Edgar Allan Poe adaptations for Roger Corman and wrote the TV Movies The Night Stalker and Trilogy of Terror, and his novel I Am Legend has been adapted three times for the big screen. His influence on science fiction and fantasy on film and television cannot be underrated. He passed away Sunday at the age of 87. Elaine Woo at Los Angeles Times.
Elliot Reid, best known as the detective who romances (and is utterly eclipsed by) Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), passed away this week at the age of 93. He made his Broadway debut playing Cinna in the Mercury Theater’s famous 1937 production of “Juliet Caesar.” Among his other credits are roles in Inherit the Wind (1960) and the original The Absent-Minded Professor (1961). More from The New York Times.
Bert Stern was a celebrated commercial photographer whose shots of Marilyn Monroe are among her most famous, but he also co-directed the landmark Jazz on a Summer’s Day. He died this week at age 83. Paul Vitello at The New York Times.
The weekly links page is compiled and curated by Bruce Reid, with obituaries curated by Sean Axmaker, and other contributions from friends of Parallax View.