Posted in: by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Links, Obituary / Remembrance, Seattle Screens

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of September 18

Gloria Swanson

The new issue of Screening the Past, spotted by David Hudson, dedicates itself to “Women and the Silent Screen.” The excavation of hidden histories predominates, whether Hilary A. Hallett displaying how Hollywood’s early self-mythologizing was shaped by women as much as men, from the plucky-girl-makes-good narratives promoted by Louella Parsons to the cautionary fable that was made of Virginia Rappe; or Diane Pivac presenting the history of New Zealand film producer Hilda Maud Hayward, who assisted her husband on “some twenty-eight films” without receiving a single credit. More about Parsons—and her perennial subject Mary Pickford—comes from Richard Abel’s look at the symbiotic relationship between newspapers and the movies in the early 1910s, and the space it provided for women’s voices; while antipodean filmmakers are the topic again for Ann-Marie Cook, who offers a fresh take on the collapse of McDonagh Productions, Ltd., Australia’s first film production company owned by women. Pam Cook traces the intersection of design and performance in the work of Natacha Rambova, and her great canvas Valentino; and Elena Mosconi and Maddalena Bodini chart the rise and making of a star with the career of forgotten silent diva Mimi Aylmer. And more I haven’t gotten to yet, all presumably up to the journal’s usual standard.

The new Senses of Cinema has also dropped, with a focus on Asian documentary. Bérénice Reynaud offers an overview of underground and experimental Chinese documentary filmmakers, working with cheap, mobile digital cameras to chronicle such formerly taboo subjects as protests against forced dispossession by the state and the lives of gay Chinese; Dan Edwards traces Chai Jing’s remarkably popular (and since banned) exposé on Beijing’s unhealthy atmosphere, Under the Dome, to Western precedents such as An Inconvenient Truth but also homegrown examples such as River Elegy, which is credited with sparking the Tiananmen protests; Ma Ran looks at three film festivals (one of which has been shut down by the government), each small, remote, and far from the madding crowd, dedicated to the genre; and Anne Rutherford and Laleen Jayamanne interview Indian filmmakers Anjali Monteiro and K. P. Jayasankar about their decades of work in the field. (“[We] understand we are working with a medium that most of our subjects are not familiar with. They have their own traditions of storytelling and we are bringing to this encounter another kind of storytelling. So we want to question this premise of documentary film narratives made by us about them for consumption by us. How does one begin to subvert this?”) Outside of that focus, Ned Schantz, haunted by an image of the grim reaper he incorrectly remembered popping up in La Jetée, wonders about the legitimacy of hidden images in movies—and whether they’re worth anything or not even if they are there; and David Melville does the honors writing up Rex Ingram for the journal’s Great Directors portfolio.

The four Marx Brothers with the director and cast of ‘Humor Risk’

Groucho always claimed, in various contradicting ways, that the Marx Brothers’ first film, the self-financed silent Humor Risk, was destroyed after a disastrous screening for the investors. Matthew Coniam, aided by the research of R. S. H. Tryster, comes up with a likely alternate scenario that makes the odds of finding this lost film rise from “‘next to impossible’ to just ‘very unlikely’.” Like Coniam, I’ll take those odds. Via Matt Fagerholm.

“It’s an absolute garbage fire of a movie, popping and fizzing with contempt for its audience, its subject, and the arts of theater, filmmaking, and presumably elk-milking. In other words, it’s a masterpiece.” In an excerpt from his new book on Clyde Bruckman, Matthew Dessem introduces him to “his last great collaborator” W. C. Fields, whose own prodigious drinking would do the alcoholic Bruckman no good, even if the meeting led to the great, however portentously titled, The Fatal Glass of Beer.

“Danny really isn’t all that expert at seducing Mrs. Bramson; he is always making little mistakes, but she doesn’t see them or doesn’t care because she wants what he is giving her so badly. He is a son and a suitor to her, and maybe it is even worth getting killed by Danny just to get some of that precious affection from him.” Dan Callahan praises the emotional nuances of Dame May Whitty’s “real movie debut” in Night Must Fall.

Sakura Ando in ‘100 Yen Love’

“She can appear with unkempt frumpiness, her long, dirty hair matched by jerky gestures and brusque tones, or with clean-cut refinement, her movements elegant and her voice gentle. While roles frequently land closer to one extreme or the other, what sets Ando apart is that the opposite attributes are never wholly absent, frequently revealing themselves in unexpected and rewarding moments. There is a unique magnetism in watching the performance of a character that seems fully inhabited yet incomplete, making the audience eager to locate the elusive concord.” Jesse Cumming finds a new great actor on the rise courtesy of the Japan Cuts Film Festival, which for years has showcased the varied, compelling work of Sakura Ando. Via David Hudson.

“I think Mike was so loved by his actors because he was an actor. Yes, yes, of course he had the director jones and style and panache; he knew how to set the scene and move the camera, but what he was known for, in my community, was how great he was at allowing a performance that he knew resided within someone and giving actors the space in which to release it…. If he cast you, he trusted you to bring it, and the only piece of direction I ever remember him giving was: surprise me.” Sam Kashner and Charles Maslow-Freen gather together a marvelous portrait of Mike Nichols—as comedian, stage and film director, man of culture, and insatiable gourmet—from interviews with his friends and collaborators, including Jules Feiffer, Art Garfunkel, Candice Bergen, and, quoted above, Meryl Streep. Via Longform.

Dennis Hopper in ‘The American Friend’

“Here’s the thing: Harry Cohn was a difficult man, but he knew the motion picture industry, and knew a good film from a bad film, and what script was good for whom. He was the only one who knew how to run that studio. When he died, there was nobody who knew how to take authority. The studio went to hell because nobody knew how to do anything, other than pick stupid beach party movies. Once he left, I had to leave, too, because they didn’t know what to do with me.” Studios in general never did know what to do with the discomfiting honesty of Kim Novak, but she talks about three directors who did—Hitchcock, Quine, and Wilder—with Andrea Gronvall.

“Travel being commonplace today, the attraction of a road movie would be very different. There’s nothing special about it anymore. In Alice in the Cities, or in Paris, Texas, there was still a discovery, a certain amount of the unknown, and a hint of the pioneer. All of that is lost. Today, you would have to journey into the mind, or something, in order to have that excitement. It would be hard to travel anywhere where not everybody else has been already.” Wim Wenders talks with Aaron Hillis about how time has caught up with his science fiction, and why he has no problem at all with the Hollywood remake of Wings of Desire.

“Connie Hall said it best: ‘I just wish I could film despair and get rid of all the artifice and actually get to the real meaning of it’…. It’s not about pretty images and beautiful compositions, it’s about something that just feels right.” Not that the work of Roger Deakins lacks for beauty, though his chat with Steve Chagollan suggests he’s too much the self-effacing professional to ever make note of it.

William Becker


William Becker acquired Janus films in 1965 and transformed it into the premiere distributer of international films and cinema classics from the around the world. He oversaw the company’s expansion into repertory screenings, campus showing in 16mm, and home video, ultimately teaming up with laserdisc company Voyager to create Criterion, which set the standard for presenting classics on DVD and Blu-ray. He passed away this week at the age of 88 from complications of kidney failure. More from Sam Roberts at The New York Times, and Peter Cowie offer a more personal remembrance at Criterion Current.

Seattle Screens

The 18th Local Sightings Film Festival opens at Northwest Film Forum on Thursday, September 24 with Sprawl to Action, a program of short films that “capture moments of change in Seattle from contemporary times and past eras,” followed by a party to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Northwest Film Forum. Complete schedule here and ticket information here.

“Nightfall” is the title of the Seattle Art Museum’s 38th annual film noir series – the longest-running film noir series in the United States – and this year’s collection launches on Thursday, September 24 with Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street (1945), starring Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea, and continues through December 10. All nine films of the series screen from 35mm prints. All films play at 7:30pm on Thursday nights at Plestcheef Auditorium at the downtown Seattle Art Museum. Series tickets still available as of this writing, and individual day-of-screening admissions are available on a first come, first served basis. Complete schedule and ticket information here.

And an FYI for anyone heading south this weekend. Noir City didn’t come to Seattle this year but Portland is presenting a weekend-long mini-Noir City with six films over three days at the Hollywood Cinema. Details here.

Women in Cinema 2015 welcomes director Penelope Spheeris, who will presents her films Decline of Western Civilization Part 1 (1981) and Wayne’s World (1992) at SIFF Uptown on Friday, September 18. The series continues through Thursday, September 24 with screenings at The Uptown and SIFF Film Center. See for complete schedule, screening information, and tickets.

SIFF Cinema’s Big Screen Classics series presents William Wyler’s Dead End (1937), starring Sylvia Sidney, Joel McCrea, Humphrey Bogart, and the first appearance of the Dead End Kids, on Wednesday, September 21 at SIFF Cinema Uptown. Details here.

Visit the film review pages at The Seattle TimesSeattle Weekly, and The Stranger for more releases.

View complete screening schedules through IMDbMSNYahoo, or Fandango, pick the interface of your choice.

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.