“In 1932, he landed a job shooting posed promotional stills from a film-in-progress called “The Shadow of Pancho Villa.” The results were the quick-and-dirty products of many hands, but a few were strikingly staged: panoramic tableaus of peasant-revolutionaries, their faces half-hidden by sombreros, standing in low-horizon landscapes under towering, cloud-filled skies. They looked better than anything in the film itself. A new talent had arrived.” Holland Cotter tours an exhibit at New York’s El Museo del Barrio dedicated to the cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa; the museum’s own site offers a wealth of film clips from one of the most consistently great eyes in movie history.
“To document this behind-the-scenes story is not to say In the Land of the Head Hunters is a dismissible bad object. In fact, knowing its history makes it an even more essential a document to us. Its lessons, however, must be shifted from those in front of the camera and more toward its creators. Turning to the archive is work that uncovers, redevelops, and rethinks history—not to reject what made it.” Peter Labuza manages a fresh take on the Birth of a Nation discussion by sidestepping it altogether for a look at Edwin S. Curtis’s own masterpiece-cum-racist-tract from the year before. Via Mubi.
In the course of two brief excerpts—at Vice and BOMB—from Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “autobiographical novel” Where the Bird Sings Best we encounter lion tamers, bee keepers, phantasmal rabbis wandering a dimension called the Interworld, despairing mothers forsaking God, tarot card readers, sexuality healthy and perverse, and frequent, brutal violence. Precisely what you’d expect, in other words. Via David Hudson.
“After two years at Warners, another turnaround. We went back to Barbara Boyle at Orion. She told us that [Orion executive] Mike Medavoy’s stepdaughter told him he should make it. That news kept us going for months.” Another day, another once-over-lightly oral history on the making of a beloved ‘80s film. But Desperately Seeking Susan is worth remembering beyond nostalgia, and Carrie Rickey assembles pretty much everybody (barring the one you’d expect to no-show) you’d want to hear from. Via Movie City News.
Until it was pointed out that his recent appearances in The Humbling, Louie, and While We’re Young marked his first performances since 2006, I had no idea I’d been missing Charles Grodin so long. Which is the kind of oversight that justifies the wounded peevishness he’s made his own. Now that he’s back, Sean Fennessey salutes the career of “a man’s man, if your vision of masculinity resembles an impatient high school English teacher“; and even better, Grodin describes to Ian Parker the fiberglass menagerie that fills the actor’s backyard, each animal voiced by the actor via tape loop. (“Here’s the horse: he goes, ‘Mr. Ed, Francis the Talking Mule, and I all studied with Strasberg. Fran is actually a talking horse, but he calls himself a talking mule. That’s his humor. Go figure.’”)
“We have left behind the era when Annette Michelson, writing about 2001: A Space Odyssey, could propose that cinema in its essence is a kinesthetic voyage. Today, even if a movie is projected in 3-D and is set aboard the starship Enterprise, the picture rarely draws you into a journey (just the opposite—the images pop out at you, pinning you to your seat), and Captain Kirk goes nowhere except into his own past.” For The Nation’s anniversary Stuart Klawans pens a lament for the movies’ lost art of gazing outward, and submits a modest solution. Good stuff, though it must be admitted Klawens ducks the question that must be put to every critic who takes a sideswipe at online cat videos: what about Chris Marker’s?
Stephen Rodrick sits in on the auditions for the new sitcom Outer Space with casting director Allison Jones, who in introducing such actors as Jason Segel and Jonah Hill into the Apatow-Feig fold has done as much to create the current dudebro comedy as anyone.
“She asks the directors to suggest a type of relationship. “Mother and daughter” is shouted out. And now a word that describes that relationship. What do mothers and daughters do? “Criticize,” offers a director. “Ignore!” “Compete!” Joan suggests they try something simpler, less fraught. How about husband and wife? What’s a word that describes that relationship? A similar pattern follows. Resent, unhappy, deceit. Joan sits there, her point proven without anyone realizing it. What’s a word that describes a relationship? Not a single person in the room had suggested love.” As Starlee Kine describes it, Joan Scheckel’s Technique, the former actress’s term for her classes designed to teach movie directors how to improve their process, might be the Method for filmmakers or just the latest fad—she’s plenty of adherents, which of course could break either way—but if she leads to even one upcoming director thinking outside the box, chalk it up as welcome. Via Longform.
The latest installment of Reverse Shot’s series on cinephilia around the world has Giovanni Marchini Camia giving the lowdown on Berlin’s film scene, from grandiose theaters built at the height of socialist excess to independent cinemas screening in abandoned factories and a burnt-out discotheque, its walls “still singed black.” Which to be honest I’d be disappointed if Berlin didn’t have one of those.
“I watched some of [my old] films with audiences at the MoMA in New York at my recent retrospective there. Quite often I was cringing in my seat, I must admit. And quite often I also sat with my head high. And the one thing that counted more than anything, in the end, was that I recognized I did all these films with conviction, and because I wouldn’t have wanted to do anything else, and I did stick to my guns. And maybe that’s the toughest thing today, if you start working as a young filmmaker: [to] find out what your guns are, find out what you can do better than anybody else. I was given the chance to do that. I knew only with my fourth film, with Alice in the Cities, that I was going to be—and remain—a film director.” Wim Wenders discusses his past, including how he went out-of-pocket to save the director’s cut of Until the End of the World, and his new documentary Salt of the Earth, in conversation with Bilge Ebiri.
“I think that change in the interpretation of Henry’s journals has to do with time and history. The world is really shifting around the text, giving it new meanings and putting it to different uses. That could be emphasized by the plot alone, but I do think that the formal decision to treat the texts as an absence helps to put that idea across.” Hal Hartley talks with Michael Sicinski about what became an unintended trilogy, started with Henry Fool and Fay Grim, now completed with Ned Rifle. Marked spoilers for the new film.
Manoel de Oliveira, the Portuguese filmmaker who at 106 was the world’s oldest active film director, has died. He was the last practicing filmmaker who began his career in the silent movie era, shooting his first (unfinished) film in 1927 and completing his first short film, the poetic documentary Douro Faina Fluvial, in 1931. His made his feature debut with Aniki-Bóbó (1941) but struggled to make films under the repressive regime of António de Oliveira Salazar, who ruled Portugal from 1931 to 1974. He largely worked on short films and documentaries and made his second feature, Past and Present, in 1971, and he became more prolific with age. He was in 70s when he started earning an international reputation and averaged a film a year through the end of his life, working with increasingly major stars and international casts: John Malkovich and Catherine Deneuve in The Convent (1995), Michel Piccoli and Irene Papas in The Party (1996), Marcello Mastroianni in his final role in Voyage to the Beginning of the World (1997). His films became introspective and ruminative, made with a modest grace that framed big ideas in the details of individual experience. He explored issues of aging in I’m Going Home (2001) and made a sequel to Luis Bunuel’s Belle du jour called Belle Toujours (2006), with Michel Piccoli reprising his original role and Bulle Ogier taking Deneuve’s character. His final feature, Gebo and the Shadow starring Michael Lonsdale, Jeanne Moreau, Claudia Cardinale, and his longtime collaborators Leonor Silveira and Ricardo Trêpa (his grandson), was released in 2012, when he was 103 years old, but he continued his average of a film a year through short films, which he continued making practically up until his death this week. Ronald Bergan at The Guardian.
Gene Saks began his career as an actor before making his transition to become one of the most successful Broadway directors from the mid-sixties through the early 1990s. He’s best known for his work directing the plays of Neil Simon (he won two of his three Tony Awards as Best Director for Simon’s plays), but his first collaborations with Simon were on the big screen adaptations of plays originally directed by others: Barefoot in the Park (1967), The Odd Couple (1968), and The Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1972). He directed both stage and screen versions of Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs (1986), and he directed Cactus Flower (1969) and the musical Mame (1974) for the big screen and a revival of Bye Bye Birdie (1995) for television. Though he largely gave up performing when he started directing, he appears in the films A Thousand Clowns (1965), Nobody’s Fool (1994), and Deconstructing Harry (1997), among others. He passed away at 93 after a bout with pneumonia. Bruce Weber at New York Times.
Czechoslovakian cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek shot Ivan Passer’s Intimate Lighting (1965) and Milos Forman’s The Loves of a Blonde (1965) and The Fireman’s Ball (1967) before following Forman west, where he continued collaborating with Forman on Taking Off (1971), Hair (1979), Valmont (1989), Ragtime (1981), and Amadeus (1984), the latter two earning Ondricek his two Oscar nominations. He also shot The White Bus (1967), If… (1968) and O Lucky Man! (1973) for Lindsay Anderson, Slaughterhouse Five (1972) and The World According to Garp (1982) for George Roy Hill, and Mike Nichols’ Silkwood (1983) among his many credits. He died at the age of 80. Matthew Healey at The New York Times.
Italian actor Rik Battaglia, born Caterino Bertaglia, appeared in over 100 films over a long, busy career in Italy and Germany. In Italy he made sword and sandal pictures (Hannibal, 1959), spaghetti westerns (Shoot, Gringo… Shoot!, 1968, Duck, You Sucker!, 1971), adventures (Sandokan the Great, 1963), and in Germany he found success playing villains in Karl May westerns like Old Shatterhand (1964) and Treasure of the Aztecs (1965). He also had roles in the American costume epics Esther and the King (1960) and Sodom and Gomorrah (1962) and the Italian horror film Nightmare Castle (1965). He passed away this week at the age of 88. He’s remembered by Paul van Yperen at European Film Star Postcards.
Cult B-movie actor Robert Z’Dar played bad guys in over a hundred movies and TV show, mostly in sci-fi and action movies, including the title character of all three Maniac Cop films. His distinctive face, with a massive jawline, was the result of a genetic disorder called cherubism. More from Katie Rife at A.V. Club.
Roger L. Mayer spent the better part of his career in the film industry dedicated to preserving and restoring classic movies. He managed and marketed the film library for Turner Entertainment for 20 years, the first step of which was to examine all materials and begin the process of restoration and preservation of the entire library, and he helped develop Turner Classic Movies. He served on the Library of Congress’s National Film Preservation Board and was the chairman of the National Film Preservation Foundation. In 2005 he was awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. He died at the age of 88 last week. Sam Roberts at The New York Times.
Beyond the World of Interstellar is a special Fathom Events screening of the film followed behind-the-scenes footage and interviews plus a performance of the score recorded at Royal Albert Hall in London. It plays for one night only on Tuesday, April 7 at select theaters. More details here.
Dates for the 11th Seattle Transmedia & Independent Film Festival (aka STIFF 2015) have been announced. Opening night is Friday, May 1 and it runs through Saturday, May 9 in six venues across Seattle. Tickets for the annual Red Carpet Annual Kick-Off Event (April 18) are on sale now. More details at www.trueindependent.org.
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.