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

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of February 24

We’ve been MIA for a couple of weeks due to various reasons and we’re a little late getting up today (due to the editor spending much of the day in bed fighting a cold) but we’re back now.

“When we settle into her hotel lobby, Heckerling—who has an encyclopedic knowledge of film history—tells me the story of the Jewish cinematographer Karl Freund. When he was living in Berlin in the 1920s, Freund shot two of the most visually iconic German films of all time, F.W. Murnau’s The Last Laugh and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. He then fled to the United States at the end of the decade, and he spent the final years of his career shooting I Love Lucy, among other projects, for which he designed an innovative lighting setup that some sitcoms still use to this day. Heckerling wonders, though, if someone as entrenched in the glamour of early film as Freund ever could have been satisfied working in the emerging medium of TV. ‘Who knows how he was feeling,’ she says. ‘But I look at IMDb and see what people started doing and where they ended, and you go, well, it’s a different game. And that’s how it’s happening now…. I don’t know,’ she says, speaking as much of herself as Freund. ‘You gotta, like, bob and weave and figure it out.’” Even being one of the most successful women directors of all time hasn’t shielded Amy Heckerling from the sexism of the industry, from producers rejecting scripts because they don’t believe women could have decades-long friendships to her lengthy stay in “director jail” following some ill-fated films. But as Lindsay Zoladz reports, she’s still out their bobbing and weaving.

“Director Michael Curtiz often clashed with Crawford during shooting, complaining that she insisted on glamorizing the woman whose daughter calls her a “common frump.” But the veneer of gentility and obsessive care for her looks that clung to the actress—born into miserable poverty as Lucille LeSueur—perfectly suits Mildred Pierce, who sells cakes and pies out of her kitchen to pay for her daughters’ piano and ballet lessons, even when her husband is out of work. True, Crawford is never quite convincing as an ordinary, downtrodden housewife, but could a woman who builds a chain restaurant empire, makes a fortune, and marries the scion of a fallen old-money clan, all out of desperation to please a snobbish daughter, ever be described as ordinary?” Imogen Sara Smith praises Mildred Pierce as a triumph for Crawford, and as one of several films upending the “false assumption” that noir was inherently misogynist, while the genre was always willing to root for women like Mildred who were ready and willing to work.

Mildred Pierce

“When talking about Altman, it’s always worth talking about what he was trying not to do as much as what he hoped to accomplish. M*A*S*H can be seen as a war film determined to show viewers what other films would not, from the bloody mess left after battles end to the long stretches of wartime boredom to the sometimes ugly sides of the lifesaving heroes. McCabe and Mrs. Miller is a Western without heroes. The Long Goodbye lets a noir play out in the sunny, counterculture-filled ‘70s Los Angeles. All of which sort of explains how Altman came to direct the teen comedy O.C. and Stiggs—but only sort of.” Keith Phipps acknowledges Altman’s take on the raunchy teen comedy doesn’t rank with the middling efforts of the director, let alone the top, but finds it an interesting forced marriage between Altman’s satiric sensibilities and a decisively ‘80s genre that had nothing to do with them.

“Crazy bell ringer was right. There’s money to be made in a place like this.” Mark Harris looks back at one of the defining film moments of 1967—in America, at least, where the first two Leone-Eastwood westerns finally made it to theaters years after the fact, as prologue to the big-budgeted third installment.

A Fistful of Dollar

“But Coréennes’ lack of engagement with the ideological aspect of North Korea comes less out of delusion than deliberate omission. ‘I will not deal with the Big Issues,’ Marker says in a letter to his cat at the book’s end. ‘Were I to speak of them, it would be in the style of Henry V: An orator is only a loud-mouth, a motto is only a slogan, politics change, statistics are faked, fine alliances break, bright flags tarnish, but a human face, good cat, is the sun and the moon…’” Colin Marshall looks back at Chris Marker’s 1957 visit to North Korea, which led to his celebrated picture book Coréennes and a less than fair reputation for having glossed over the dictatorship of Kim.

Vadim Rizov’s annual round up of films shot on 35mm finds the number dropping to 27—including, apparently, for no reason Rizov can determine, one scene in Deadpool.

“Once the choice is made, it’s a meaningful choice. That’s why the discussion in art is that the moment Duchamp signed that urinal, he declared it a work of art because his gaze made it art. He said, if I look at it the right way, this is art. Which in a different, pop way is Andy Warhol transforming the Campbell’s soup can by making it a work of art, or Lichtenstein blowing up comic book panels. Because I think that the moment you look at it as art, and you treat it as art, it is art. There’s a willingness, there’s a faith, there’s a very, very magical alchemy that happens when somebody looks at something with enormous love and enormous passion—and it doesn’t matter what that material is. It can be a comic book page, it can be a silly story, and you don’t change it, but the way you look at it transforms it. Which is a very different exercise than postmodernism. Postmodernism or kitsch is me winking at you, saying ‘I know it’s silly, but I’m being ironic. I’m above the material.’ And for me, the transformative power of art is you are not above the material.” Lauren Wilford interviews Guillermo del Toro and elicits one of his most philosophical, political discussions—with plenty of space, to be sure, to talk about the pleasures of Mad Max and Train to Busan. Via Criterion.

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School

“Two years after graduating, another one of us [from NYU], Jonathan Kaplan, got a call from Corman and an offer to direct a movie out of the clear blue sky. […] Then he hired his best friend, Joe Dante, to come out and work for Roger too. I was doing rock ‘n’ roll lighting in England, and when I came back to the States, I heard that these guys were having this great break. That’s just how things happened then. Roger hired Francis Coppola on a blind call to UCLA’s film school! So I saved up my money from driving a cab, came out to L.A., and Jon Davison got me a job in Corman’s editing room.” Interviewed by Hillary Weston, Allan Arkush remembers the glory days of hustling for Roger Corman and directing the Ramones in Rock ’n’ Roll High School.

Une Femme Coquette, a 9-minute short taken from a De Maupassant story, was Godard’s first stab at narrative filmmaking, and till last week its only known print was contained in a European film archive, and only available for loan with the express permission of the director. Making the 1955 film, as Ignatiy Vishnevetsky says, “the holy grail of the game-changing New Wave era—a film so rare that it has often been listed as lost by biographies and film history books. And it might as well have been.”  But chalk one up for the instant access generation, as here it is on YouTube complete with subtitles. Not much more than a patch on the career to come, though Maria Lysandre, otherwise unknown, is quite fetching as the first Godard heroine who’s well aware she’s being watched.

February Obituaries

John Hurt was one of the most versatile and talented actors of his era, in a career that spanned stage, cinema, and TV for more than 50 years. He made his screen debut in a 1962 episode of the British series Z Cars and his first serious notice in A Man For All Seasons (1966). He starred in John Huston’s Sinful Davey (1969) and Richard Fleischer’s Ten Rillington Place (1971) before once again turning heads as Quentin Crisp in the British telefilm The Naked Civil Servant (1975), for which he won his first BAFTA, and Caligula in the miniseries I, Claudius (1976). He received his first Oscar nomination for his supporting role in Midnight Express (1978) and his second for the title role in David Lynch’s The Elephant Man (1981). Hurt has died over 40 times on screen and surely the memorable of those is in Alien (1979), which he spoofed in Spaceballs (1987), but The Osterman Weekend (1983) and The Hit (1984) are pretty good too. He was haunted and broken in Michael Radford’s 1984 (1984), wily in Scandal (1989), scheming in King Ralph (1991), and fearless in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1993). As a voice artist he gave us Hazel in Watership Down (1978), Aragorn in the animated The Lord of the Rings (1978), Snitter in The Plague Dogs (1982), and The Horned King in The Black Cauldron (1985), and he narrated Dogville (2003) and Manderlay (2005) for Lars von Trier. And he never seemed to slow down. He gave Harry Potter his wand in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), raised Hellboy (2004), ruled as a depot in V for Vendetta (2005), was Control in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy (2011), was eternal in Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), inspired a revolution in Snowpiercer (2013), and gave solace in Jackie (2016). Just a few of his 200 some screen performances. He passed away at age 77. Michael Coveney for The Guardian. More from David Hudson at Keyframe.

John Hurt

Seijun Suzuki was Japan’s greatest (if at the time unheralded) genre stylist of the 1950s and 60s. He apprenticed as an assistant director at Shochiku in the late 1940s and at Nikkatsu, where he graduated to directing his own films in 1956. He was prolific, cranking out one assignment after another in the low-budget end of Nikkatsu—war movies, youth dramas, yakuza thrillers—on tight shooting schedules, injecting them with madcap energy, inventive style and wicked wit. Take Aim at the Police Van (1960) got him noticed and he continued to experiment (and inject politics and social commentary) in films like Youth of the Beast (1963) and Gate of Flesh (1964). His experiments got him into trouble from the front office and after he transformed his pulp fictions into audacious melodramas of stylistic audacity in his gangster movie masterpieces Tokyo Drifter (1966), and Branded to Kill (1967), he was fired and effectively blackballed from the industry for the next decade. In 1980 he made a comeback with the period romantic drama Zigeunerweisen (1980) and continued to work up through his eighties, returning to the stylistic experimentation of his earlier career in the crime thriller Pistol Opera (2001) and the musical Princess Raccoon (2005). He died at the age of 93. Dennis Lim for The New York Times.

Emmanuelle Riva

Actress Emmanuelle Riva made a memorable entrance in the international film scene in Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), catapulting the young actress into the leading roles in the lively European film culture of the 1960s. She starred in Antonio Pietrangeli’s Adua and her Companions (1960), Gillo Pontecorvo’s Kapò (1960), Jean-Pierre Melville’s Léon Morin, Priest (1961), and George Franju’s Thérèse Desqueyroux (1962), and continued appearing in movies and TV shows for decades. She starred in Fernando Arrabal’s I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse (1973) and Marco Bellocchio’s The Eyes, the Mouth (1982) and co-starred in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Blue (1993), and she became the oldest person nominated for an Academy Award for best lead actor or actress for her performance in Michael Haneke’s Amour (2012), a role that earned her a César and a BAFTA award. She passed away at the age of 89. Tim Robey for The Telegraph.

Barbara Hale will forever be remembered to American TV viewers as Della Street, loyal secretary to Perry Mason, in nine seasons of the classic TV series and 30 TV movies in the revival between 1985 and 1995. Before Perry Mason, however, she was a contract actress in Hollywood at RKO and rose from extra to leading lady in B-movies and programmers like The Falcon Out West (1944) and The Falcon in Hollywood (1944). She starred in Joseph Losey’s The Boy with Green Hair (1948) and the low-budget film noirs The Window (1949) and The Clay Pigeon (1949), the title character of Phil Karlson’s Lorna Doone (1951), and leading lady of Budd Boetticher’s Seminole (1953) and Raoul Walsh’s A Lion is in the Streets (1953), starring opposite James Cagney. She was a busy actress in movies and on TV but it was Perry Mason that made her name. Between the two runs of Perry Mason she co-starred in John Milius’s Big Wednesday (1978) as the mother of William Katt, her real-life son. She passed away at age 94. Adam Bernstein for The Washington Post.

Mike Connors made his debut under the name Touch Conners, a nickname he received playing football, in Sudden Fear (1952) with Joan Crawford and Jack Palance, and spent the rest of the decade in small roles in big films (Island in the Sky, 1953, The Ten Commandments, 1956), guest shots on TV shows, and the occasional B-movie lead, like Shake, Rattle and Rock! (1956) and Voodoo Woman (1957). He starred in the 1959 TV cop drama Tightrope, which lasted a season, and starred in Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die (1966) before he landed the TV show that made his fame: Mannix, the tough private eye series that lasted for eight seasons (he reprised the role for an episode of Diagnosis Murder. He continued do TV guest shots, TV movies, and the occasional feature film over the next couple of decades making his final screen appearance in an episode of Two and a Half Men in 2007. He died at age 91. Eric Grode for The New York Times.

British actor Alec McCowen was more prolific on the British stage than on the big screen but like any busy British actor he regularly appeared on TV and in the movies. He made his screen debut in The Cruel Sea (1953) and had small roles in Time Without Pity (1957), A Night to Remember (1958), The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), and the Hawaiians (1970) before he played his most famous screen role: the dry Chief Inspector in Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972). He played opposite Glenda Jackson in Stevie (1978), was Q in the Sean Connery Bond revival Never Say Never Again (1983), starred in the British TV series Mr. Palfrey of Westminster (1984), appeared in Cry Freedom (1987) and Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V (1989), and made his final screen appearance in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002). He passed away at the age of 91. Michael Billington for The Guardian.

Richard Schickel

Richard Schickel wrote informed, intelligent, and influential film reviews for Life magazine beginning in 1965 and for Time magazine from 1972 through 2010, which alone give him an important place in American film history. But he also taught, championed filmmaking and film writing, directed and/or wrote over three dozen documentaries (earning Emmy nominations for two of them) and three dozen books, almost all of them on film history, genres, and artists, and provided informed audio commentary on about two dozen DVD releases. He was a producer and consultant on the restoration of 40 minutes of cut footage from Samuel Fuller’s 1980 film The Big Red One. He was 84. Matt Zoller Seitz celebrates his legacy at

David Shepard spent his preserving and restoring the legacy of silent cinema. He taught cinema studies at USC Film School and authored or co-authored numerous books, but his greatest contribution to American cinema history was in his tireless efforts to collect and preserve silent cinema, through Blackhawk Films and Film Preservation Associates. His editions of scores of silent films were for decades the definitive versions available on VHS, laserdisc, and DVD, as well as on 16mm and 35mm film, and he continued his efforts to preserve and promote silent cinema even as his health began to fail. He died this month at the age of 76. Etan Vlessing for The Hollywood Reporter.

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.