“In the middle of this backstage scene, a typically Chytilován, anarchic outbreak takes place: a rebellious girl refuses to go on stage with a tulle hat that she deems horrible. At the last minute, this black hat will be put on Marta, who wears it without complaining, while her colleague is forbidden to parade. But, as we shall see, that Marta obeys here doesn’t mean she’s happy. In Chytilová’s films, each woman is irked or pleased at different things. Each woman has to find her own way to cope, resist, flee, or rebel. Each woman has to craft her own response, strategy, or escape. And there is no right decision for all, just as there is no single revolution that fits everyone.” The protagonist of Vera Chytilová’s student graduation film Ceiling, which chronicles a day in the life of a fashion model, doesn’t share the freewheeling rebelliousness of the director’s celebrated Daisies, but as Christina Álvarez López shows, she’s no less able to reclaim her agency in a world ever ready to control and punish women.
“Even those slapstick two-reelers that seem thrown together on the set by men who would never have called themselves artists were intuitively finding their way to a form. James Agee argues the case when he describes a Laurel and Hardy two-reeler directed by McCarey that was devoted almost entirely to pie-throwing: “The first pies were thrown thoughtfully, almost philosophically. Then innocent bystanders began to get caught into the vortex. At full pitch it was Armageddon. But everything was calculated so nicely that until late in the picture, when havoc took over, every pie made its special kind of point and piled on its special kind of laugh.” Replace custard pies with words—words as projectiles, soaring, tumbling, overlapping, collapsing—and you have The Awful Truth, right up to the Sennett-style chase that ushers in the ending of the film with a pileup of chaos and pure motion.” Molly Haskell offers sublime auteurist salute to Leo McCarey, finding a wealth of personal experiences, pet themes, and of course his luminous humanity folded into the effortless brilliance of The Awful Truth.
“Throughout the rest of the film, Babydoll is called upon to dance over and over again to distract their male captors as the girls gather together the items they need to break free. Each dance creates a different universe. After the Samurai-Robot Ballet comes the Orc-Infested Battle of Leningrad, the Steampunk Nazi Show-down, the Fire-Breathing Dragon Tussle, and the Ticking Bomb on a Speeding Train Finale. In each, the girls transform into an Inglourious Basterds team of misfit Commandos, swaggering through danger, obliterating anything in their path. Zach Snyder’s imagination is on bombastic overdrive, but all of the actresses bring real feeling to the table. The film is Gothic horror, melodrama, and a music video, propelled by real trauma.” Apologies for having missed Sheila O’Malley’s defense of Sucker Punch—wherein she reveals the secret sharer of Snynder’s fever dream to be LeRoy and Berkeley’s admittedly far superior but equally fantastical, equally grounded in real, national trauma Gold Diggers of 1933—when it came out last month.
“Pearl Bowser and Louise Spence in Oscar Micheaux and His Circle say that in the [lost 1920 film The Brute] Micheaux condemned racketeering and the abuse of women. The roles of black women in these films are not much different from the roles of, say, Mary Pickford in the same era. Women needed to be saved. But of course not even light-skinned black women had been rescued in anyone’s film melodramas before the advent of race films.” Speaking of being late to the show, Darryl Pickney’s survey of Kino Lorber’s Pioneers of African-American Cinema collection might be unexplainedly delayed but it’s still a fine overview of both the “race films” collected and the sad need for them in American cinemas in the first place.
“Why do French film-makers make films about philosophy? I have to tell you something. I don’t care a damned shit! I do what I can. French people do what they want. Italian people do what they want. I am not waking up in the morning thinking: ‘Oh my God. I am a French film-maker; my film will be philosophical. No, no.’ This is not like that.” Claire Denis amusingly and explosively takes the air out of interviewer Donald Clarke’s attempts to categorize her as a French director, a French director who feels an outsider in that country, a female director, or even a director who learned things as AD to Wenders and Jarmusch.
“Aaron and I, before we even met ten years ago, were doing DIY films, where you’re everything from the craft services guy to the electrician to the director to the actor. I think there’s an ethos that carries forward from that that everything on set is filmmaking. You participate in it as a filmmaker, and that includes acting. Six or seven years ago, we were at this festival in Sweden with a writer/director/actor named Amy Seimetz. She’s someone who, just as a person I met briefly, was saying exactly what I just said. All filmmaking, if you’re a filmmaker, you should try your hand at acting. Do everything you possibly can.” Brian Tellerico interviews Aaron Moorehead and (quoted above) Justin Benson about what hopefully should be their breakthrough film, The Endless.
“But one thing I’ve found is that I work really well when I’m under pressure, in a back-to-the-wall kind of situation. There’s something about feeling that pressure that brings out your best instincts. You know what’s right, you know how you feel, it’s very clear you need that shot, etc. I can’t decide what I want in a restaurant or what I want to wear, but in that environment, I’m really decisive.” Lynne Ramsay has a short chat with Hillary Weston about early influences and current inspirations.
Czech-born Milos Forman made the most of the freedoms of the Prague Spring to make Love of a Blonde (1965), which brought him international acclaim, and the satirical The Fireman’s Ball (1967) before the Soviet invasion cracked down on artists. By then he had left for the west but it was years before he found a project suited to his rebellious sensibility. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) won five Academy Awards, including Forman’s first Oscar for best director, and he followed it with Hair (1979), Ragtime (1981), and Amadeus (1984), for which he won his second Oscar. He was attracted to stories about artists and rabble-rousers who challenged society and authority and only made a handful of movies in the last decades, notably The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), about the notorious pornography publisher who became an unlikely champion of free speech, and Man on the Moon (1999) with Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman. He passed away at the age of 86. More from Peter Sobczynski for RogerEbert.com, and Todd McCarthy pays tribute at Variety.
Vittorio Taviani was, with his brother Paolo, one of the great filmmaking teams of the past five decades. The Italian brothers made their feature directing debut in 1962 with Un uomo da bruciare and began to forge their style and interests in the mix of politics, society, and individuals in St. Michael had a Rooster (1972). They won the Palme d’Or at Cannes for Padre Padrone (1977) and the Jury Prize for The Night of the Shooting Stars (1982) and a Career Golden Lion award from the Venice Film Festival in 1986, just a few of their many awards over the decades. Their last film was Wondrous Boccaccio (2014). Vittorio died at the age of 88 and is survived by his younger brother Paolo. Martin Scorsese paid tribute in a statement: “Vittorio Taviani was a wonderful human being, a great director, and one of the rare modern Italian filmmakers to build from the precious source of Neorealism. The pictures that Vittorio made with his brother Paolo felt like direct outgrowths of that precious moment: handmade, rooted in common life and experience, alive to natural beauties and wonders. With his passing, we’ve lost one of the cinema’s finest artists.” More from Peter Bradshaw for The Guardian.
R. Lee Ermey was a veteran Marine and drill instructor before he got involved in the movies as an actor and advisor on Apocalypse Now (1979). His breakthrough performance was as a bullying drill instructor in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987), on which he also served as a military advisor, and he went on to a busy career as a character actor in scores of movies and TV shows, notably as a racist mayor in Mississippi Burning (1988), a police captain in Seven (1995), the voice of a toy soldier in Toy Story (1995) and sequels. He passed away at the age of 74. Matt Stevens for The New York Times.
Harry Anderson was a magician and stand-up comic whose recurring role as an affable con man in Cheers became a stepping to the role that made him famous: the presiding judge in the hit sitcom Night Court, which ran for nine seasons. He also starred in the 1990 TV mini-series version of Stephen King’s It and played Dave Barry in the sitcom Dave’s World for four seasons, in addition to periodic guest starring roles on TV. He died at the age of 65. Patrick Shanley for The Hollywood Reporter.
South Korean actress Choi Eun-hee was a superstar of South Korean cinema when she was kidnapped in 1978 by North Korea and forced to make movies to elevate the quality of the national film industry, many of them directed by her ex-husband Shin Sang-ok, who was abducted a year after her. They escaped after eight years in 1986 and their story was told in the documentary The Lovers and the Despot (2016). She passed away at the age of 91. Martin Bellam for The Guardian.
The weekly links page is compiled and curated by Bruce Reid, with obituaries curated by Sean Axmaker.