James Quandt offers an alphabet of Robert Mitchum arcana, from Auteurs to Zanuck, Darryl F., with stops along the way of course for Booze, Eyes, Laughton, and Urine. (“Mitchum pissed not only on script ideas and Kirk Douglas’ reputation, but also on David O. Selznick’s office carpet, a doorway in Paris, the eternal flame in the same city, and in a swimming pool he didn’t intend to enter at the Betty Ford Center, where he had been sent to dry out.”)
“The artistic and popular success of Soviet films during the New Economic Policy (1921-1928) had spurred hopes for a mass-market sound cinema that was also of high quality. What crushed that dream? Masha gives us the hows (the machinations of the studios and government bodies) and the whys (the underlying causes and rationales). “Not According to Plan” is a trailblazing study of what she calls “the institutional study of ideology.” It’s also a quietly witty account of the failures of managed culture. How could artists be engineers of human souls if they couldn’t engineer a movie? But go back to the quality issue. What were those Stalinist films like artistically?” Spurred on by a recent publication from his university—Maria Belodubrovskaya’s “Not According to Plan”—David Bordwell explores some of the hallmarks of Stalinist cinema, finding a lot more experimentation and cunning liftings from the past than the standard reduction of “boy-loves-tractor musicals” can encompass; though any charges of gigantism would be valid.
“The promise of photographs is permanence; these pictures will be framed on mantels, carried by soldiers and emigrants, passed on to descendants who never knew the subjects when they were alive. But each picture is on the screen for only a second or two; they vanish almost before you can grasp them. To watch a movie shot in 1929 and see people long dead frolicking in the sun creates a dizzying collision of the ephemeral and the immortal.” Praise for her favorite scene from People on Sunday leads Imogen Sara Smith to some lovely thoughts on photography in film and the use of freeze-frames in general.
“Like in a Cézanne painting, the subject stands out and appears in full force, without any artifice to mask the honest perception, the nudity, the coupling. In Hong Sang-soo’s films, everything is thought through, willed, even. The walls are airtight, but the juxtaposition of the segments frees a kind of hilarious and cruel gas.” Sis Matthé has translated a brief but rapturous appreciation of Hong Sang-soo that Claire Denis penned in 2005. Via Mubi.
“It is, and always has been, particularly marvelous to me that “Venom and Eternity” does actually free me without, as so many other sources of so-called freedom, imposing its own new forms upon that freedom. That is why it is, to my mind, an absolutely unique touchstone for anyone with sensitivity enough, filmwise, to see it. In that sense, it remains a film-maker’s film at the present deplorable state of lack-of-vision generally….” Light Industry supplements their screening of Isidore Isou’s Venom and Eternity by publishing two letters Stan Brakhage wrote to the filmmaker, the first a breathless bit of fan worship, the second an enjoyably self-centered and gossipy take on the state of experimental filmmaking in 1963 America. Via David Hudson.
“And Wilde must have also had a Christ complex of his own because his social suicide was quite possibly very measured and thought-out. He probably saw that the only way for his work to really survive would be if he did go to prison, because he had the opportunity obviously when he was in the Cadogan Hotel to run. But if he ran, he would be committed to obscurity. Because actually there were a lot of playwrights who wrote very good melodramatic potboilers in the theater, and it’s quite possible he’d have been lost if he hadn’t also become this Christ figure. Because he died and rose again, in a way, like Christ.” Rupert Everett talks with Bilge Ebiri about why his directorial debut The Happy Prince—in which Everett also stars as Oscar Wilde—took so long to reach screens, and why he was determined to stick it out.
The online magazine Written By has two interesting interviews with horror directors, on their influences and writing process. Talking with Ernest Hardy, Jordon Peele breaks down how much the script of Get Out was an homage to other horror features even as it critiqued some of their assumptions. (“[The reveal of Rose’s complicity] is my favorite scene to watch with an audience because you get audible feedback—Mmm hmmm. I think it’s particularly cathartic for black people because that’s the whole point of the movie: Sometimes—not always, but sometimes—every white person in this mutherfucka is evil. That does happen sometimes, and it never happens in film.”) While Guillermo del Toro and his Shape of Water cowriter Vanessa Taylor tell Peter Hanson the advantages of their uniquely brisk, back-and-forth collaboration. (“[The fairytale] is a form of storytelling that has a very wide-eyed view of the good and the bad. Now that doesn’t mean it needs to be naïve, but the way the good and the bad interact needs to be very strong. The Wolf can have complexity outside of his interactions with Little Red Riding Hood. But to Little Red Riding Hood, he needs to function as the Wolf.” Via The Guardian.
Writer Ehsan Khoshbakht and illustrator Naiel Ibarrola offer striking graphic tribute to some of the more notable film figures who died in 2017. Bonus points for memorializing Jerry Lewis’s most surreal invention.
Dorothy Malone broke out of B-movies and bit with a scene-stealing performance opposite Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep (1946) and won an Academy Award playing a torments bad girl in Douglas Sirk’s glorious Written on the Wind (1957), but to generation of fans she’s known for her TV work on the primetime soap opera Peyton Place (1964-1968). She was uncredited in many of her early films at RKO (The Falcon and the Co-eds, 1943) and Columbia Pictures (One Mysterious Night, 1944) but jumped into substantial roles at Warner Bros. in One Sunday Afternoon (1948) and Colorado Territory (1949). Never a major star, she did good work in a lot of forgettable films, was a straight-woman to the Lewis and Martin in Scared Stiff (1953) and Artists and Models (1955), played support in the film noirs Pushover (1954) and Private Hell 36 (1954) and a lead in the low-budget The Fast and the Furious (1955) from fledgling producer Roger Corman. After Written on the Wind she reunited with Sirk and her co-stars for The Tarnished Angels (1957) and took substantial supporting roles in Warlock (1959) and The Last Sunset (1961). She sued the producers of Peyton Place for breach of contract (they settled out of court) and she continued acting on TV (Ironside, Ellery Queen, The Streets of San Francisco) and in movies (Winter Kills, 1979, The Day Time Ended, 1979). Her final screen appearance was playing Sharon Stone’s “friend” in the hit thriller Basic Instinct (1992). She passed away at the age of 93. Ronald Bergan for The Guardian.
Ski bum turned filmmaker Warren Miller turned the ski film into an industry with his annual features, which he shot, edited, scored, and personally accompanied around the country to narrate live in special screenings. The narration was later recorded and as his success grew he brought in more collaborators but he continued to skip traditional distribution modes and set up special screenings in rented theaters and halls. He made over 500 ski shorts and features over 50 years and passed the tradition and the business, Warren Miller Entertainment, to his son. He died this week at the age of 93. Matt Higgins for The New York Times.
British production designer Terence Marsh won Academy Awards as art director for Dr. Zhivago (1965) and Oliver! (1965). He was production designer on Mary, Queen of Scots (1971), The MacKinstosh Man (1973), and A Bridge Too Far (1977), worked numerous times with director Richard Lester (Juggernaut, 1974, Royal Flash, 1975, Havana, 1990), and went stateside to design The Hunt for Red October (1990), Basic Instinct (1992), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), and The Green Mile (1999). He passed away at the age of 86. Richard Sandomir for The New York Times.
The weekly links page is compiled and curated by Bruce Reid, with obituaries curated by Sean Axmaker.