“Malick’s three historical epics can be seen as extensions and refinements of the cinematic techniques and philosophical concerns initiated during the laborious filming and editing process for Days of Heaven (1978). Indeed, this was one of film critic Roger Ebert’s chief criticisms of The Thin Red Line; Ebert believed the film was uncertain and derivative. However, it’s now apparent that in actuality Days of Heaven is the film that feels like an artist’s compilation of uncertain notebook sketches and detail studies. Yes, it’s a film with the full backing of a studio at the height of a cultural and artistic revolution and so its pictorial scope is sweeping and expansive, but it was also a film born from conflict, change and exploration. It’s a film about soulless wanderers that, in retrospect, itself is searching for a greater calling beyond its own celluloid artifice.” In the first of two articles on Terrence Malick, Reno Lauro might lay on the philosophy a bit much, fantasizing the director stumbling across Deleuze texts during his Paris sojurn; then again, this is Malick we’re talking about, and Lauro’s connecting his cinema to the movies of Sokurov is both sourced and concretely rewarding.
“When Channel 4 approached [Kureishi], his first instinct was to write a sprawling multigenerational family epic that did for Pakistanis in Britain what The Godfather had done for Italians in America. Originally intended to be a film for television, My Beautiful Laundrette was ultimately a far more modest affair than Coppola’s masterpiece, but both films are about immigrants fighting to be accepted in their new homeland; when one of the characters says “I believe in England,” there is an unmistakable echo of the opening line from The Godfather.” Sarfraz Manzoor relates how much has changed—not unambiguously for the better—for England’s Pakistani community in the 30 years since My Beautiful Laundrette.
“A cat is an ambiguous gazing presence. Blofeld, James Bond’s arch-nemesis, has a cat. Would Harry Lime’s introduction in The Third Man work as well if it were a puppy that nudged itself between his shoes, rather than a stray kitten? Cats laze into suspense movies as though they were familiar windowsills facing the afternoon sun. But dogs—especially dogs in close-up, edited to suggest that they are reacting to something—aren’t open to interpretation.” Ignatiy Vishnevetsky raises some interesting points on how much movies allow us to interpret for ourselves as he contemplates why the ubiquitous reaction shot of a cock-headed dog inevitably comes off as hokey.
David Bordwell fills us in on the programs at this year’s Summer Film College in Antwerp: a string of late Godard that has Bordwell considering the director’s almost antagonistic relationship towards the narratives he claims he needs; films of Burt Lancaster, whose marvelous physical acting, even when standing still, is demonstrated with a fine selection of screenshots (“The enormous hands, which look likely to crush a skull (Criss Cross) or rip apart a phone cord (Sorry, Wrong Number), could be surprisingly delicate, tentatively touching his girlfriend’s wheelchair or laying down plans like playing cards (Brute Force)”; and Bill Forsyth reminiscing on working with the actor on Local Hero.
After reading so much about the Library of Congress’s Lost Film Festival, Noah Bierman pays a visit to what’s become a must-attend for a certain brand of research-oriented cinephile. Via Movie City News, who’s absolutely right that the way Bierman just drops a line about the Library acquiring a print of The Day the Clown Cried—albeit under a ten-year screening embargo—then moves on is the definition of burying the lede.
“As the images unwind/Like the circles that you find/In the windmills of your mind.” Will Perkins recounts the invaluable contribution designer Pablo Ferro made to The Thomas Crown Affair, his dazzling multi-screen experiments in the titles and within the film itself providing just the right note of modishness and excitement to a staid caper flick.
At Film Comment, a pair of interviews spotlight very different attitudes towards popular filmmaking. As Christopher McQuarrie tells it to Jim Hemphill, his job directing Tom Cruise blockbusters is akin to his work writing and doctoring them: smoothing out confusing bits, riding emotional waves, and keeping the audience involved. (“I really envy the way guys like Minnelli and Lumet and John Sturges just let the camera sit in the corner of the room—they build carefully designed sets and let things play out almost like a play, and they very carefully choose when to jump in for a close-up because a specific line means something in terms of raising the dramatic tension. It’s very hard in modern filmmaking because you don’t have the time to rehearse, you don’t have the time to develop the screenplay the way those filmmakers would. Often you’re building the movie in the editing room as opposed to starting with a careful plan.”) While Mani Ratnam, who’s always been willing to stretch his vibrant love stories and musicals to include the political strife of modern-day India, discusses his career with Grady Hendrix. (“We all believed at 50 years we’ve done tremendous work, and that is the front of [Dil Se], that is the color, that is the brightness, that is its sunlit look…. At a time when we’re saying how excellent everything is in India, all of us know, all of us are aware that there are pockets which are burning.”)
“I said it once to her. I never could imagine she could play a mother with a child on her arms or an ordinary girl who’s going out on a Friday night. She’s a little bit of a stranger, or an exile. She’s a refugee born into another country and she wants to be part of our country or society. I always think of her as somebody out of this world and she has to stay here and she wants to be a part of it. Her self-confidence is great.” Patrick Z. McGavin talks with perhaps the best director/actor team in the current landscape, Christian Petzold and Nina Hoss, about their latest, Phoenix, and the debt it owes to film noir, 35mm, and the late Harun Farocki.
“I was doing a press tour for The Blue Lagoon and one of the journalists told me he had just gotten back from the Greek islands, where there were a lot of young people running around naked on the beaches. That got my attention [laughs]. It sounded like there might be a movie idea there, so I took a trip to the islands and observed what was going on.” Randal Kleiser, whose fandom I thought was pretty much limited to John Waters, finds an appreciative interlocutor in (again) Jim Hemphill, talking about the making of that “ultimate ’80s guilty pleasure movie,” Summer Lovers.
The New York Times offers a gallery of images from that less celebrated, and less celebrity-infested, but more vital part of the Sundance Institute’s mission, the labs for filmmakers that allow promising beginners to gather advice from experienced pros.
Mubi itself offers two excellent galleries focusing on silent movie actresses. Adrian Curry charts the creation of Theda Bara’s exotic, vampire imagery through posters and promotional sheets; while Daniel Kasman’s selection of screenshots from The Patsy show Marion Davies excelling at 24 variations on the moon face.
Coleen Gray had played a few bit parts before she jumped into film noir history with leading roles in Kiss of Death (1947), as the supportive wife of ex-con Victor Mature as he goes straight, and Nightmare Alley (1947), as the guileless, devoted girlfriend of the recklessly ambitious Tyrone Power. She had actually appeared in a small but memorable role in Red River (1948) a year earlier but the release was delayed until after her noir break. She played a femme fatale in The Sleeping City (1950) but otherwise was the good girl in Riding High (1950), Kansas City Confidential (1952), Tennessee’s Partner (1955), and Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing (1956). Her career slipped into B-movies like The Vampire (1957), The Phantom Planet (1961), and another rare turn at playing the villain in the cult horror film The Leech Woman (1960), and guest spots on TV shows. She retired from acting in the mid-1980s and passed away this week at the age of 92. More from David Kolker at The Los Angeles Times, and from Laura Wagner, who keeps tabs on the birthdays and deaths of Hollywood actors famous and forgotten on her Facebook page.
The career of the great British character actor George Cole spans 75 years of roles on stage, screen (both movies and TV), and radio. In Britain he is most well remembered as the con man and hustler Arthur Daley in the long-running TV series Minder, which debuted in 1979 and ran for 11 series, but he had a long career leading up to that role. He starred in the 1940 play Cottage to Let and made his film debut reprising his role in the 1941 film version. He played Flash Harry, the wheeler dealer “spiv” in The Belles of St. Trinians (1954) and sequels, has small roles in Olivier’s Henry V (1944) and the epic Cleopatra (1963), a major part in the Disney mini-series The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, which was also edited down into the movie Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow (1963), and co-starred in the Hammer horror The Vampire Lovers (1970). He went to star in a handful of British TV series and appear in guest shots on such British shows as Marple, New Tricks, and Midsomer Murders up through 2008. He died this week at the age of 90. The Telegraph pays tribute with a lengthy career appreciation.
Wrestling celebrity turned actor “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was more successful in the ring than on the screen, but he made his mark in the movies thanks to the lead in John Carpenter’s They Live (1988), where he engaged in one of the longest bare-knuckle brawls you’ve ever seen and one of the great pulp lines of all time: “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… and I’m all out of bubblegum.” The rest of his acting career was doing spent guest shots on cable TV shows and direct-to-disc films like Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988), Jungleground (1995), Terminal Rush (1996), and Alien Opponent (2010). He died of cardiac arrest at the age of 61. Marissa Payne at The Washington Post.
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.