With a new collection of their writings and MOMA mounting the first complete retrospective of their films, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet are the subjects of a pair of pieces at Artforum. P. Adams Sitney offers the overview on a career that never compromised or offered an easy way in for the viewer. (“One sometimes gets the impression that they were forever challenging themselves to find texts that made complacent resolutions less and less amenable, and then to offer them up to cinema so nakedly that their skeletal structure could not be eluded.”) And James Quandt tries to fit Sicilia! in with the couple’s musical films. (“Aside from a folk song and the Beethoven string quartet that introduces and ends Sicilia!, the film avoids nondiegetic music, but it is itself structured as a chamber work in four movements, and the idiosyncratic delivery of the baroque dialogue often hits the ear as discordant ariettas and semi-recitatives.”) Film Comment, meanwhile, offers an excerpt from the aforementioned collection, a letter from Huillet to Nuances magazine on the impossibility of viewing artpieces at museums hanging them up behind occluded glass. (“It was horrible: each painting was now under armored glass, and often damaged in the process (new little cracks, etc.). When we protested this madness, saying that it’s better to risk a—rare—act of madness than to make the paintings invisible—reflections, etc.—and surely damage them, we were told, grudgingly: It was a requirement of the insurance….”)
“Canon City is an art film made on the terms of an unpretentious hardboiled procedural—a breathless true-crime piece in which Hadley’s delivery of the word “dreaming” lands perfectly on a dissolve from a real cell block to a prison cell set.” Ignatiy Vishnevetsky plunks for Crane Wilbur’s prison-escape film, which, with the invaluable help of John Alton, straddles blunt docudrama and the heightened use of “spaces that double as metaphors,” as one of Poverty Row’s great triumphs.
“Maybe even more than MGM anticipated, it was perfect Depression-era escapism: one of those thirties movies that take place in drawing rooms where the ceilings are about twenty feet high, where men are always in formal wear and women, even in the afternoon, wear floor-length lounge gowns and speak in that bright, quick, affected accent that no real American ever used.” Charles McGrath recounts how Van Dyke’s brisk engagement, a script that expanded upon Hammett’s witticisms, and impeccable casting (including a change in Asta’s breed) made The Thin Man less a whodunit than a classic screwball comedy of marriage draped around a murder mystery.
“Outside of the museum, the island is surprisingly big, full of secrets. Because of the way Second Life renders small objects (not at all, until a distance threshold is passed), structures are often invisible until one is right up on them. This makes the act of exploring unpredictable. There is no orienting oneself towards interesting anomalies; they instead arrive at one’s feet, fully formed.” Katie Rose Pipkin visits Ouvroir, Chris Marker’s virtual space on Second Life, presided over by Marker’s feline alter-ego Guillaume-en-Egypte, and haunted by all the ghosts of cinema past. Thanks again to David Hudson.
“’When I hear music, I lose all inhibition,’ Magnani says in Down with Misery (1945), but of course the joke is that she is the least inhibited of all performers, especially when she gets worked up. She had a new sort of power on screen in the mid-1940s, and she made small moments—and small movies—momentous. The women Magnani was playing became multi-dimensional, abundantly faceted, with vivid behavior unfolding and then unfolding some more before our eyes in all directions possible.” Dan Callahan celebrates the fearless Anna Magnani, so potent and uninhibited an actor that everyone from Rossellini to Tennessee Williams crafted vehicles for her to dominate.
Todd McCarthy traces the evolution of America’s attitude towards Cannes from a forgettable also-ran compared to Venice—a time when Bosley Crowther could sink the chances of Chimes at Midnight by virtue of being the only American critic reporting from the festival—to the media storm it is today. Though good luck at modern-day Cannes having such fortuitous encounters as McCarthy’s four-hour dinner with William Wyler or blind date with Margot Kidder (both 1970) or hunting down drinks at the Carlton hotel with Clint Eastwood (1985).
“Can fiction compete with a Nazi plot to assassinate Jack Warner? Or prostitutes earning more money than movie stars in a brothel on the Sunset Strip? Or a mediocre B-movie actor rising to become president of the United States? On occasion it can.” Graham Daseler goes hunting for the great Hollywood novel, with nods along the way to Waugh, Oates, Didion, and Shulberg (no, not that one; the other one).
“Believe me, I read four biographies, I read his autobiography; it’s a beautiful book. I talked to people who met him, I read hundreds of essays on his life and I made a movie that’s called Neruda. And I can tell you right now that I have no idea who he was because he’s ungrabbable, impossible to put in a box. You can make 100 movies and you would never be able to do that.” Pablo Larraín discusses politics, and his “anti-bio” of Chile’s legendary poet, with Manohla Dargis.
More brief but compelling interviews from Cannes, as Jordan Cronk talks comedy (a topic that would have seemed incompatible with the filmmaker just a few years ago) with Bruno Dumont (“If, as you say, it was dark then and there is light now, the light only comes from the darkness. The comedy is only the other side of the drama. Comedy comes from drama. I just realized these are different sides of the same thing. So I have no problem being in the same locations, with the same people, telling more or less the same story, but from the other side.”); and Cristi Puiu discusses with Nicolas Rapold the importance of ritual, and the need to leave ritual behind and embrace freedom when directing a movie (“And then I piss off everybody because I am changing all the time. Well, I can’t help it, because I don’t believe in following the script. I don’t believe in this! I think, when you do this, you are going to get to the point at the end where you come up with a dead body. If you want to stick to the situations of life, they are very unpredictable. And you just have to be aware of this fact, and stay awake, and push the red button to record it.”).
“The East Village, it’s lost…. Have you seen Astor Place? Starbucks, Citibank, Kmart, and that’s about it. Some of the streets are still holding out—you can still find a few of the old mom-and-pop stores. The avenues? Forget it. They’re gone for good.” Taking advantage of the kind of real-life metaphors writers would kill for, Xan Brooks talks with Chloë Sevigny about the changes in her life and career as the actress clears out her closet and sells off her old fashions. (Brooks’s probing of Sevigny’s attitudes towards Terry Richardson and Vincent Gallo gets an intriguing wrinkle from her Cannes press conference, where the actor acknowledges being hit on in the crassest way by several directors but draws the line at ginned up outrage: “I would consider it Hollywood…. Was it sexual harassment? It’s such a fine line.”) Via Movie City News.
French actress Madeleine Lebeau was 19 years old when she appeared in Casablanca (1942) and got her iconic close-up singing “La Marseillaise” with tears streaming down her face. It may have had real-life resonance, as she had fled France in 1939 with her Jewish husband, actor Marcel Dalio to escape the Nazi threat. She also appeared in the American movies Hold Back the Dawn (1941), Gentleman Jim (1942), and Paris After Dark (1943) then returned to Europe after the war where she starred in films in France, Britain, and Italy: The Royalists (1947), Cage of Gold (1950), Sacha Guitry’s Napoleon (1955), Marcel Carne’s The Country I Come From (1956), La Parisienne (1957) with Brigitte Bardot, Federico Fellini’s 8½ (1963), and Angelique (1964). She passed away at the age of 92 at her home in Spain. William Grimes at The New York Times.
The documentary How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change opens at the Varsity this week and filmmaker Josh Fox will attend the Friday, May 20 screenings. For Tacoma residents, he will be at the Grand Cinema for a showing on Saturday, May 21 at 6:30pm.
NWFF presents the newly restored and revived Belladonna of Sadness (1973) a Japanese animated feature based on a French history of witchcraft and featuring erotic imagery. The new 4K restoration plays for a week. More on the NWW website here.
UCLA Festival of Preservation continues at Northwest Film Forum and Grand Illusion. NWFF presents a restored 35mm print of Men in War (1957), directed by Anthony Mann and starring Robert Ryan and Aldo Ray, on Friday, May 20. Grand Illusion presents a restoration of Douglas Sirk’s The First Legion (1951) on Sunday, May 22, coincidentally the same day SIFF presents a restoration of Sirk’s A Scandal in Paris. More at the Grand Illusion page.
Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud (1995), directed by Claude Sautet and starring Michel Serrault and Emmanuelle Béart, plays on Thursday, May 26 at Plestcheeff Auditorium. It’s the final film in the current French film series. Individual tickets are available on the day of show on a first come, first served basis. Details here.
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.