The new Senses of Cinema arrives with dossiers on Twin Peaks, Rivette, and the topic I’m going to start with (so sue me), Jerry Lewis. There are articles on all of the twelve features Lewis directed, as well as pieces on The Day the Clown Cried and Robert Benayoun’s legendary six-hour collage documentary Bonjour Mr. Lewis (“Letting sketches run for four or five minutes at a stretch diffuses Benayoun’s line of reasoning so that what his series eventually proposes is less the illustration of a thesis about Lewis than a blossoming, exploratory drift through his career”). Some of the more interesting articles, as always, concern lesser-discussed films, like Steven Shaviro tracing the Lewisian slippages of identity within the Hitchcockian frame of The Big Mouth (“When Lewis himself plays someone who is boringly normal, his comedic mannerisms are all transmitted to others”) or Daniel Fairfax making the auteurist argument for the most critically ignored of Lewis’s features, One More Time (“If the plot description I gave earlier sounds rather conventional, this does not account for the numerous digressions, non sequiturs and extended gag-sequences that are scattered throughout the film—another aspect that betrays the Lewis touch”). Not that, say, Scott Bukatman on The Nutty Professor (“The surfeit of resolutions of the Kelp/Love dichotomy unsuccessfully masks the fact that there is no resolution at all”) or Murray Pomerance on The Ladies Man (“It is in this set revealed as itself that Herbert finally emerges to head downstairs, with the effect that Lewis’s character inhabits not—or not only—a fictive space but a practical one as well, and both simultaneously”) aren’t terrific reads on their own. And Chris Fujiwara has updated his nonpareil overview of Lewis’s filmography for the journal’s Great Directors section.
The return of Twin Peaks leads to another round of articles, highlighted by Lindsay Hallam’s examination of the series’ second-season premiere and what it, and its odd pacing, deliberate subversions of viewer expectations, and jokey references to its actors’ past careers, implies for auteur status in series television work (“The great progress that the medium of television has made in the last 25 years stems in some small part not only from the spirit of experimentation that David Lynch bought to Twin Peaks episodes, but even more so to the public perceptions of Lynch as an artist who can express his singular vision within the television format”); Geoff Bil on the radically unconventional show’s disappointing same-old-same-old treatment of Native American history and mythos (“For a series that “changed television”, these are tried-and-true cultural blueprints indeed”); and Alanna Thain’s look at the show’s use of dance (“In the series, dance serves the critical function of shifting the emphasis from procedural forms of knowledge—what happened?—to the idea that underpins Lynch’s body of work as a whole: namely, that “something is happening.””) While the great French director who as late has so often been paired with Lynch is saluted by a clutch of articles including Donatella Valente and Brad Stevens to split duty analyzing the first (“As the plough posture allows the body to regenerate and reinvigorate itself, to ease the blood stream flow, so the back of the body, shown frontally to the camera, gestures towards a pre-natal state, foreshadowing birth and renewal”) and last (“Marie’s search could be seen as an attempt to break out of this closed circle, to involve an audience in her theatrical “Happening””) shots of Out 1; Mary M. Wiles on the Balthusian roots of Rivette’s Hurlevent (“Rivette models the mise-en-scène of his film on Balthus’s tableaux, enabling him to capture the violence and feverish intensity of adolescence within the cryptic atmosphere of Wuthering Heights”); Miriam Bale on Up, Down, Fragile (“The question of how a musical works, how to live in a musical, and how a fake city is like a real city: these are the rules and gravitational pull of Haut bas fragile”); and a reprint of Frédéric Bonnaud’s classic 1998 interview that’s had film buffs ever since ecstatically quoting the master’s defense of Showgirls (“Twin Peaks, the Film is the craziest film in the history of cinema. I have no idea what happened, I have no idea what I saw, all I know is that I left the theater floating six feet above the ground”).
“However, in curating the Whitechapel show we found proof that La Jetée did not, in fact, fall fully formed from the sky as an inimitable cinematic masterpiece, but that it had its phases of production, its first drafts and rough sketches and even, as we discovered, its ‘twin’.” The latest installment in the BFI’s series of monographs, La Jetée, has its first chapter excerpted at, appropriately enough, chrismarker.org; Chris Drake recounts finding an editing guide and alternate cut of the legendary short at the Royal Belgian Film Archive, and how each adds more mysteries to the masterful short we have.
“The crash of gunfire echoes the crash of waves. Both characters are associated with water. The surfer chooses the water; the cop has it thrust upon him. The cop merely endures the rain while the surfer masters the waves. For one, it’s an obstacle; for the other, a supreme harmony. Two guys, good at what they do, one in time, one out of time.” Robert C. Cumbow limns the obsession, and the impossibility of contentment, that fuels Bigelow’s Point Break.
“Bellamy takes a certain kind of hearty American male dimness to such a point of larval weirdness that you begin to question just what might happen to the women if they did somehow end up with him.” Dan Callahan finds that, just behind the pudgy boringness that made him such a comic counterpoint to Cary Grant, Ralph Bellamy manifested a lustful stupidity that was uniquely, and thus admirably, unwholesome.
“If you’ve been bitten by the bug of cinema, I’d like to share with you the following thoughts that may be of some use upon embarking on that perilous journey that is your life.” In an excerpt from the new collection Akademie X, Jonas Mekas offers advice—some poetic, some pragmatic—to tyro experimental filmmakers, as well as a reading list comprised entirely (and why not?) of works by his peers. Via David Hudson.
“When people tell me, ‘You look so glamorous, you look sophisticated or elegant,’ it’s wonderful. But when people say, ‘You’re beautiful,’ I find it a little condescending. Worse now, because they say, ‘You’re still beautiful.’ In Italian, we say it’s a knife with both edges, because I know that they mean it to please me, but it’s almost like saying to a black woman, ‘You’re not so dark, you don’t look so black.’ I am old: this is what 65 looks like.” Isabella Rossellini, newly rehired as spokesperson for the make-up company that dumped her twenty years ago for being too old, talks with Sali Hughes about coming out the other end of the trough that, as her mom warned, was the utter lack of work for actresses between 45 and 60.
“John did give the impression that it was spontaneous, that people were just making it all up. His pictures did look improvised. I think it’s because he gave the actors so much freedom. He gave them so much freedom that it felt like it was all happening around you, not like you were making a movie. So if other people have used that particular style of working and cited John, I’m very pleased, because it means that what we were trying to do—make it look like it was all happening right in front of the audience—came off.” No surprise Cassevetes remains Gena Rowland’s favorite director, or that she can recall the roles she got to play for him with such loving immediacy when interviewed by Matt Zoller Seitz.
“It’s that old story: When you’re with one, you want to be with the other. When you’re balls deep in something and really involved in some scrappy project, you think, ‘I wish this was easier, I wish I could have it a little cushier, I wish I could have my job cut out better for me.’ And then when you’re in a thing where the parameters are clear and they’re not really flexible you think: ‘Fuck! I wish I could let loose!’” Willem Dafoe talks about the ambition that has him jumping from project to project—and from Hollywood blockbusters to such uncommercial icons as Ferrara and von Trier—with David Ehrlich. Via Criterion.
Seattle Screens, which surveys a few highlights of special screenings and out-of-the-mainstream releases in Seattle this week, is on Parallax View here.