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

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of January 22

Illustration by Jeremy Sorese

“That an indelible character in a children’s cartoon is a composite of 1980s gay life, bold women with gravelly voices, the AIDS crisis, independent film, Hollywood, Baltimore, and the tragic premature deaths of two exceptionally creative men shouldn’t surprise us. The best characters originate in artists’ complicated lives. And Ursula was surely one of the best.” Nicole Pasulka and Brian Ferree trace the gay, drag, and distinctly Baltimore influences behind The Little Mermaid’s exhilarating villain, her look inspired by Divine, her personality determined by the lyrics and coaching of actors by writer Howard Ashman. Via Longform.

“The Coens’ comedy is apt to swerve or pivot or shade into increasingly darker perplexities, intimations of the uncanny, or sheer bottomless terror in the face of existence, thus temporarily leaving humor in the rear distance. So the comedy of these scenes is counterpointed by the beautifully austere expanses of landscape out the window and the hypnotic rhythm of wheels hitting the seams in the asphalt at fifty miles per hour—da-dum da-dum da-dum. And again, on the drive back, there’s the dissolution of perspective and reason by the oncoming snow in the headlights, an invitation to nothingness.” Writing on Inside Llewyn Davis, Kent Jones magnificently captures the beauty and dreadful meaningless that battle for the heart of every Coen brothers’ film, and how essential music is to replenishing their faith.

“Ashburn’s calm response to yet another below the belt jab from Mullins is one of the funnier moments in The Heat, a modern riff on the 1970s police procedural that destroys all traces of a plausible plot in favor of controlled chaos. It also represents Feig’s ongoing examination of how women’s bodies are compartmentalized and diminished not only by men, but also by each other.” Glenn Heath Jr. does a good job showing how body language is a key element in Paul Feig’s comedies, and the key indicator of his characters’ struggles and ultimate triumphs. Though reference to The Heat as a “sophomore effort” makes me realize that Feig’s first two features are being tossed to Shyamalanesque obscurity.

David Bordwell (who, by the way, has organized many of the past blog entries he and Kristin Thompson have written into a handy pedagogical format) shows how in some ways the most prosaic and foursquare tool employed in Hollywood continuity—the matching shot/revese-shot—was employed throughout the ‘40s with ingenious variation to convey the comings and goings of ghosts and spirits, sometimes unmistakably real in the film’s diegesis, sometimes hauntingly ambiguous.

Douglas Kennedy

Jim Knipfel looks at the arc of Douglas Kennedy’s career—from the tiniest of bit parts in mainstream features, including a memorable impromptu interrogation of Bogart in Dark Passage, to larger roles in poverty row pics—and ponders whether the trajectory should be considered up or down. Knipfel’s point that Kennedy’s more prominent in films rarely seen and less remembered is ironically underlined by his own inability to correctly recall the plot of The Amazing Transparent Man.

“Right then and there I swore that I would never again poison my system with a maraschino cherry. Of course, it wasn’t two weeks before I slipped. Hoodwinked, yes. I thought it was a seedless grape. I washed it down with some snake-bite remedy that Grandpa always kept in a downstairs closet.” In these troubled times, with our dispiriting roster of candidates for president, who can emerge as the right and true choice? Envy voters from 1940, who had the option of writing in W. C. Fields. Film Comment presents an excerpt from the comedian’s Fields for President, in which the annual ritual of New Year’s resolutions offers the perfect model for how he’ll break all his campaign resolutions as well.

“[There] wasn’t much kung fu in the 2000s, in part because it was an old-fashioned genre, but mostly because no one could afford Jet Li anymore and there weren’t any other actors around to replace him.” Staying at Film Comment, heroes of a more conventional stripe, as Grady Hendrix takes the opportunity of Ip Man 3 to sketch in the history of the kung fu film, and the curious bond it has fostered between actors and their most famous roles.

Robbie Collin’s article on the “invisible” visual effects studios that wipe out modern artifacts and fill false London streets with crowds for the likes of Suffragette starts off the same old same old, but takes an interesting turn towards the end when discussing the even more hush-hush practice of digital cosmetic surgery. In movies, now even the artifice is artificial. Via David Hudson.

The work of Union Visual Effects on ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’

The Self-Styled Siren eulogizes the Ziegfeld Theater, complete with Funny Girl anecdote.

At the A.V. Club, a pair of interviews with actors who, outside of great talent, couldn’t be less alike in terms of fame, relative points in their career, or, well, let’s just say only one of them would have been considered for Mad Max. Talking with Jonathan K. Dick, Tom Hardy proves that the old saw of actors identifying with their characters can become a riveting philosophy when displayed by a supple, curious intellect. (“They’re all morally corrupt, my characters, but ethically they’re really fucking sound. [Laughs.]”) While Will Harris’s Random Roles sitdown with Fred Melamed—who perfectly summarizes his position in Hollywood by revealing how the makers of The Mission strung him and Richard Jenkins along for the same part (which went to Chuck Low—ah, but the story doesn’t end there)—shows how much a virtual day-player can observe in his week on set with the likes of the Coen brothers, Woody Allen, and Elaine May. (“On Monday, there were probably 100 extras [on Ishtar].Tuesday, it was maybe 70. By Thursday, there was probably 30. And by Friday, there were maybe 11 extras. [Laughs.] You just saw this thing, this film, it was like cotton candy in somebody’s mouth, just completely dissolving while it was still being shot.”)

“There are scenes where we show the girls in bikinis or underwear and the camera displays them from every possible angle in a way that is so innocent. Their relation to their own bodies is so simple and comfortable and intimate. You can tell from the first shot of a movie how filmmakers look at their actors and actresses…. Once in a while, I’ll get a comment like, ‘That opening scene when the girls are in the water is so erotic,’ and I’ll say, ‘That’s really in the eye of the one who’s looking.’ That scene was shot in as innocent a way as possible.” Deniz Gamze Ergüven talks with Matt Fagerholm about voyeurism, repression, and—no disjunction here—the influence of Psycho on her debut film Mustang.

Obituary

Ettore Scola

Italian filmmaker Ettore Scola directed his first film, Let’s Talk About Women, in 1964 and went on to direct over 40 films in 40 years. In the decade before, he was the prolific screenwriter of more than 40 films, including collaborations with Antonio Pietrangeli (Adua and her Friends, 1960, The Visit, 1964) and Dino Risi (Love and Larceny, 1960, Il Sorpasso, 1962), and he brought his knack for comedy to a variety of features that he invested with an edge of social satire. As a director, screenwriter, and producer he won six David di Donatello Awards (plus a career achievement award in 2011), three Cesar Awards, and a Best Director award at Cannes, and was nominated for five Academy Awards. His legacy includes We All Loved Each Other So Much (1974, reviewed on Parallax View here), Down and Dirty (1976, reviewed on Parallax View here), A Special Day with Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren (1977), the French Revolution epic La nuit de Varennes (1982), the wordless musical Le Bal (1983), the English language comedy Macaroni (1985) with Jack Lemmon and Mastroianni, and The Family (1987), which spans five generations of Italian life. He passed away in Rome this week at age 84 after falling into a coma. Sam Roberts for The New York Times.

Dan Haggerty, the stocky actor and stuntman who played body builders and bikers in sixties movies (including Muscle Beach Party, 1964, and Easy Rider, 1969) and had a second career as an animal trainer, starred in the Sunn Classics frontier drama The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams (1974) and a subsequent TV series, where he played a gentle mountain man whose best friend is a grizzly bear. He later made guest appearances on various TV shows and low budget horror films while rescuing and caring for wild animals on his Malibu ranch. He was diagnosed with spinal cancer in 2015 and died at age 74. Jill Leovy at Los Angeles Times.

Seattle Screens

Parallax View editor Sean Axmaker leads the discussion at the Cinema Dissection of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (the recent “Final Cut” version) on Saturday, January 23 at SIFF Film Center. Advance tickets are sold out but a few seats have been set aside for purchase at the door. Doors open at 10:30am, the conversation starts at 11am, and the event runs until 5pm. Details at siff.net.

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.