“Every country inflects noir with its own accent, adapts the form to its own climate. In American noir, people are undone by ambition and desire, convinced that they can have what they want if they grab hard enough and run fast enough. In French films, people often succumb instead to exhaustion, melancholy, nihilism: most poetic realist films contain some version of the line “living is hard,” or “life’s a bitch.”” Imogen Sarah Smith reminds us the French didn’t only name film noir, they contributed mightily to it; not least by gracing us with one of the genre’s iconic actors, Jean Gabin. Also at Criterion, Geoffrey O’Brien praises Cat People as a film of more than just some memorable scenes, but one steeped in the uncanny. (“Fans and commentators have sifted every shot and every situation of this seventy-three-minute feature, pondering each line of dialogue and taking note of each editing gimmick and trick of lighting, speculating on the implications of every archetypal motif and psychosexual frisson. Yet a fundamental mysteriousness remains, a slippery unwillingness to submit to final explanation. Cat People’s most famous gesture—keeping the object of dread concealed in the shadows, and trusting to the human impulse to people the dark with the most unspeakable fears—is only the most blatant of the many ways in which the film leaves spaces deliberately blank. It presents us with a series of unforgettable moments and obliges us to imagine connections among them.”)
“William Dean Howells famously remarked, ‘What the American public wants is a tragedy with a happy ending.’ In his version of The Natural, Levinson made that a good thing—and ultimately, Malamud agreed with him. This son of Jewish immigrants and serial portraitist of social outsiders frequently got lumped with Saul Bellow and Philip Roth as “Jewish novelists.” According to his daughter, Janna Malamud Smith, when the author left the movie theater after seeing The Natural, he turned to his wife and said, ‘Now I’m an American writer.’” How Levinson and his collaborators pulled that off is why Carrie Rickey feels The Natural is only now getting its critical due, being dismissed at the time as an unacceptable softening of a great novel.
“With alternate casting this might play as comical—the streetwise city boy lampooning the Norman Rockwellian small town virtue. But Garfield makes it the opposite: call it dramatic relief. Seated at the piano, a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, he manifests the pain behind his derision, the defense mechanism of mocking what he’s never known and is unlikely to have.” Steven Mears praises the debut of John Garfield in Four Daughters as one of those performances after which nothing is the same—and his saluted turn in The Postman Always Rings Twice as the moment everyone knew it.
“I’d always felt cut in two horizontally across, I mean to say my head was separated from my body, my head came first and the rest afterwards. Now I’m cut vertically down the middle–it’s no better or worse. Lying down as I am, I feel the exact boundary between my dead body and my living body, a line from the top of my skull to the ends of my feet cuts me in two, like the wire that cuts butter.” Dennis Cooper presents a powerful excerpt from Catherine Breillat’s Abus de Faiblesse chronicling the morning of her stroke; and her first encounter, on television, of swindler Christophe Rocancourt. Via David Hudson.
“Here is what the death of “our cinema” might really look like. Theatre admissions fall 45% over six years. Studio profits fall 80% over the same period. One-sixth of theatres close. Major overseas markets refuse to remit the earnings of Hollywood films. Audiences turn increasingly to other leisure activities. This was the state of the American film industry in 1953. The prosperous war years, culminating in the all-time admissions high of 1946, were over and the studios went into sharp decline. Thanks to the 1948 Supreme Court “Divorcement Decree,” the studios lost control of their theatres, relinquishing not only valuable showcases for their product but also millions of dollars of prime real estate. Yet as we know, 1953 didn’t end cinema, not even American cinema.” The Death-of-Cinema brigade is at it again; fortunately David Bordwell’s around to set them straight.
“But look, I understand the concern. Is it lurid? Yes. Is it lowbrow? Well, maybe. Is it offensive? No. I’m just trying to honor the B movies that we grew up with.” With (Re)Assignment turning out the most controversial film of his career since The Warriors, Walter Hill explains his motivations and inspirations to David Fear—I mean, as much as you’d expect for a guy so famously adverse to backstory.
“You can be on eggshells, really, because some actors are so hypersensitive. You say just one little thing and then see them bristle, and you think, “Ah, I’ve lost them. At least for today. Now I’ve got to try and get back their trust.” And with me, as an actress, over the years, some directors have lost my trust. I’d also say some of them deserved losing. But there is nothing quite as wonderful as having a rich, collaborative, fruitful relationship with a director, and a director-writer even better. I’ve had many of those as well, but sometimes the relationship can just go off-kilter, and it can be difficult to recover.” Whatever fresh perspective having done some (theater) direction has given her, Judy Davis remains a delightfully blunt interview, as here talking with Bilge Ebiri about disagreeing with Gillian Armstrong, taking comedy advice from Woody Allen, and trying to sing along with Judy Garland.
“Gatekeepers have a lot less hold. I sit and talk with Julie Dash or Charles Burnett, and all these heroes of mine who did the exact same thing that i do—tell stories, really gorgeous stories, far beyond anything that i could ever think of doing. And yet were not able to move freely and easily. You could really only make a film if you were black or a woman if you were also independently wealthy or in school. All those L.A. Rebellion filmmakers—Haile Gerima and Burnett and Dash—were at UCLA, that’s how they got the film stock and the film camera, 35-mm. film. Where’s the black Coppola, where’s the black Spielberg? Folks didn’t have access. Now you can use your beautiful iPhone, or you can edit it, and you can not only do that but you can distribute it yourself on the web. You can amplify it yourself.” Ava DuVernay discusses her small-budget, politically provocative documentary The 13th and her big-budget Wrinkle in Time adaptation for Disney with Rebecca Traister.
“The main thing is we were appealing to a young audience. Something i noticed with major studios is that you had a 50-year-old leading man with a 40-year-old leading lady. They were stars, and it had taken them years, and they would sell the picture, but the audience was young and the people playing the leads were the age of their parents. So i made a specific attempt to appeal to a young audience. I had a choice, particularly with actors, of going with older actors who weren’t really stars because i really couldn’t afford them, or go with young actors who were unknown because i thought they would appeal to the audience.” Discussing the many facets of his career with Nick Pinkerton—though distributor, oddly, not so much—Roger Corman at 90 remains as pragmatic as ever.
Curtis Hanson earned an Academy Award for his screenplay adaptation of James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential (1997), which he also directed to great success and an Oscar nomination. He got his start as a screenwriter for Roger Corman on The Dunwich Horror (1970) and made his directorial debut on the AIP horror film Sweet Kill (1972). He wrote the screenplays for The Silent Partner (1978) and Sam Fuller’s White Dog (1982) and co-wrote Never Cry Wolf (1983) before making his breakthrough writer and directing the Hitchcockian thriller The Bedroom Window (1987). He was pegged as a thriller specialist and made Bad Influence (1990), The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992), and The River Wild (1994) before L.A. Confidential (1997) gave him the clout to explore other genres. He directed Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys (2000), adapted from the novel by Michael Chabon, and Eminem in his feature debut in the gritty 8 Mile 92002), loosely based on Eminem’s own life, and then switched gears once more for In Her Shoes (2005) with Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette, and Shirley MacLaine. He was forced to drop out of his final feature, Chasing Mavericks (2012), for health reasons. Though not widely discussed, he suffered from Alzheimer’s and his death at the age of 71 was related to the illness. Duane Byrge and Mike Barnes for The Hollywood Reporter.
Charmian Carr portrayed Liesl, the eldest von Trapp daughter, in the film version of The Sound of Music (1965), where she sang “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” It was her feature film role. She starred opposite Anthony Perkins in the TV musical Evening Primrose (1966) and then retired from acting, appearing in occasional TV commercials and at The Sound of Music sing-along events. She passed away at the age of 73. Emily Langer for The Washington Post.
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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.