The new Senses of Cinema opens with two fine examinations of auteurist documentaries that turned out far from their commissioners’ expectations: Alice Xiang shows how the “everyday” situations Antonioni insisted on capturing in Chung Kuo led to the film’s condemnation by a Chinese government expecting heroic bombast, and the appeal it’s developed among the nation’s current generation; and Matthew Abbott tries to philosophically reconcile Kiarostami’s assertion that the video camera allowed him “truth from every angle” with the many poetic, anti-documentary ellipses in ABC Africa. Varda’s autobiographical The Beaches of Agnès didn’t suffer the same perplexed response, but it’s of course a marvel in its own right, as Maryann De Julio’s appreciation makes clear. Elsewhere Chris Carter finds Disney combining CG advances and tried-and-true character animation in Tangled; Josh Anderson praises the originality of Wellman’s Westerns; and Jaimey Fisher does the honors of placing Christian Petzold in the journal’s Great Directors pantheon.
This week saw the launch of The Dissolve, even at its inauguration an admirably wide-ranging film site you’ll surely want to visit often. And with no disrespect to the roster of fine writers, many drafted from The A.V. Club, the best bit of criticism they’ve published so far comes courtesy of John Hodgman, who in conversation with Scott Tobias breaks down the formal structures and surprisingly long-lasting cultural influence of Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. (And tosses in a nifty defense of Stephen King as an uncompromising auteur of his own to boot.)
When a long-standing but unsourced rumor that Wallace Beery was involved in the “beating death” of Three Stooges founder Ted Healy made its way to Wikipedia, Larry Harnisch combed contemporary reports to shut it down once and forever. He proves his point about checking sources (and the utter noninvolvement of Beery) quickly; but beyond that the blasted wreckage of Healy’s rough fadeout give the story a dark fascination. Here’s the conclusion of Harnisch’s efforts, with links to the previous installments. (Don’t be dissuaded by the amount; many are quite short.) Via The Siren.
“I just don’t understand your attitude. Even if you plan on releasing your picture, I am sure that the average movie fan could learn in time to distinguish between Ingrid Bergman and Harpo. I don’t know whether I could, but I certainly would like to try.” One way things ain’t what they used to be: in the ongoing war of letters between Warner Brothers and Weinstein over the title rights to The Butler, one doubts any of the stars are going to jump in and relieve the dry legalese like Groucho did when, hey, WB complained about the title A Night in Casablanca.
For Michael Koresky, 1934 is a good year to consider what the movies have lost by continuing to make musicals while no longer recruiting those (such as Grace Moore, Eddie Cantor, and Mr. “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Balding. Can dance a little” himself) whose talents are best suited for the genre. Also at Sundance Now Blog, Nick Pinkerton has a two-part survey of the career of Elizabeth Hartman, tragically cut short by mental illness that was a cruel distortion of the daring sensitivity she brought to such roles as You’re a Big Boy Now, Walking Tall, and The Secret of NIMH. (Part two here)
Dave Kehr uses the upcoming release of Hard Times to salute the soulful intelligence that made Charles Bronson a star before he squandered it on paycheck films: “A waste of potential, perhaps—but for a man who had entered the coal mines at the age of 10, a choice Charles Bronson was entitled to make.”
“Please, drink with me. I am a very happy man.” “Nah, I’ve got nothing to celebrate.” Kim Morgan falls head-over-heels for the twisted, hardscrabble but very real love story at the heart of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia—and good as Peckinpah is, she blames Warren Oates.
The Nitrate Diva offers a salute to the Italian actress who could have inspired her nom de plume, Francesca Bertini, and to her finest hour, the 1915 Assunta Spina, rich with intimations of neorealism a few decades ahead of the curve.
Based on Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s profile, former child star Gaby Hoffmann learned from her bohemian upbringing (growing up in the Chelsea with her mother Viva; raised in part by video artist Michel Auder and photographer Cindy Sherman) a level-headed acceptance of life’s quirks along with an ambivalence towards money, the latter rather heavy on her mind as she stages her comeback.
“When they rejected the film, South by Southwest said: ‘There’s a cold deadness to it.’ […] And maybe that’s what’s wrong with SXSW.” Film Comment gets on board The Canyons rehabilitation train with a typically insightful and frank to a fault interview with Paul Schrader, courtesy of Larry Gross, and Schrader himself penning a perceptive analysis of his star Lindsay Lohan and her debt to a famous predecessor: “Yet shining from within remains the little girl from the Disney films—a sweetness that makes the hard shell vibrate. Just like Marilyn.”
Also at Film Comment, Howard Hampton admires the impossibility of pinning down Vidor’s Beyond the Forest, with its near-camp excess and transgressive embrace of Bette Davis’s villainous lead.
“I was putting new strings on my 12-string in the music room, and there was a knock at the door. It was John. ‘Bo, I’ve been thinking… I want you to do the music on piano.’ I was a little struck and came back with the obvious, ‘I don’t play piano.’ And without missing a beat, he said, ‘Rent one.’” Bo Harwood explains to Peter Rinaldi the method and the madness of writing scores for John Cassavetes.
The BFI offers a gallery of French posters for the films of Jean Grémillon.
You could consider those colorfully romantic one sheets the midpoint between Hollywood and Eastern Europe, both geographically and aesthetically, as Brandon Schaefer illustrates by juxtaposing some stateside blockbuster posters with their (mostly Polish) equivalents.
The film stills Alice Tye has chosen to recreate as paintings were selected for their modernist architecture, but I also love her human figures, invariably captured from the back or at such a distance they become featureless, almost abstract, streaks. Via David Hudson.
The weekly links page is compiled and curated by Bruce Reid, with obituaries and Seattle Screens curated by Sean Axmaker, and other contributions from friends of Parallax View.