“Five years later, Lang’s obsession with the tribunal made its appearance, and he was able to launch a frontal assault upon the real world, by opposing to the idea of transcendent justice the actuality of the man-made laws determining our daily lives. For the first time Lang openly attacked the official representation of authority, and in particular, those officials who dispense justice—a justice, moreover, regimented by laws—and the laws themselves resting upon privilege, mindless tradition, and stupidity. For the courts, in Lang’s vision, are intrinsically human, and the right to judge others is shot through with private interests. Decrees, codes, and rules are revised to suit the moment and the result is often chaos, contention, and error. When this happens, those forces existing upon the margins of society—the pariahs, the cripples, the thieves—inherit the problem of constructing a new justice. Lang’s sympathies always lie with the little man, the man of low condition, who, by whatever means at his disposal, is willing to combat the dogmas of a stultified society.” Kino Slang makes available a translation of an article first written in 1937, then revised for a 1959 reprint in Cahiers du cinema, in which Georges Franju adduces the techniques of editing, mise-en-scène, and employment of actors that Fritz Lang used to make his “almost obsessional” films so precise and personal. Via Mubi.
“I was twenty when I ingested most of Cassavetes’s work. (It was a real heavy trip.) Like many young men first encountering his films, I felt like I was being exposed to the raw truth. There was no evidence of staging or phoniness, ingredients that until then I had assumed were necessary to narrative. It seemed that the camera lens had been caked with bullshit all along, and Cassavetes was the only filmmaker capable of scraping it clean. Maybe so. But his truth is no vérité. It’s taken me until middle age (wherein most of his films take place) to appreciate that he was, among other things, a top-notch surrealist. I don’t doubt that every artistic decision he made was deeply felt in his gut, but that gut frequently led him to dissociative fugues and dream logic that could make David Lynch blush.” Keeping with what turns out to be this week’s theme of directors functioning as critics, Andrew Bujalski breaks down the climax of Opening Night to expose how disassociated from reality John Cassavetes’s “realism” was.
“I have become most disillusioned and exasperated with my own little production, and realize that things can only get worse on a larger scale. I think I prefer the ease of the study to the viciousness of the set. I can just feel all my soul, my intelligence, disintegrating under the pressures of filmmaking, and it takes a quiet evening with books and magazine to restore myself.” Last but certainly not least, Paul Schrader recently came back into possession of letters he’d written to his brother Len in the late 60s through to 1970—the years when the aspirant filmmaker was still making his living as a critic, working through his acclaimed Transcendental Style in film. Even skimming through the over 100 pages made available, as I have, there’s fascinating evaluations thrown out on Hitchcock, Buñuel, Bresson, Roger Corman (for whom Schrader’s LA roommate was working)—as well as the expected Schraderesque descriptions of bars, car accidents, and madness.
“4 Little Girls is very remarkable because it’s a rare film about the Civil Rights struggle told not from the frontlines, but among civilians: the less obvious heroes in a fight more commonly represented between politicians and community leaders. 1963 was a particularly fraught year, rife with tragedy. Lee’s film centres on the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair in Birmingham, Alabama. Icons of the era Martin Luther King Jr. and Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth get their due, but largely the film relies on heartfelt testimonies from the families and friends of the murdered girls. They become devastatingly real as remembered by those who knew them best, by the adults who had hopes for them and their peers, who confided in and grew alongside them.” Kelli Weston places the three major Spike Lee documentaries—4 Little Girls and his tragic diptych on post-Katrina New Orleans, When the Levees Broke and If God Is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise—as central to his ongoing project of honest chronicling of Black grief—and resistance.
“Marlowe cannot figure out his place in this world, and Altman never lets him (or, consequently, us) settle comfortably into his surroundings. And as a result, it’s hard not to notice that Marlowe isn’t much of a detective. The payoff of his unsuccessful 3am cat food run is that he can’t even fool his own pet. When Terry Lennox arrives shortly thereafter, they pay “liar’s poker”—and Marlowe loses, an apt metaphor for the adventure to follow, in which he pledges constant allegiance to his friend, a conniving murderer who has exploited that friendship. The lug who gives Marlowe a lift home from jail puts it bluntly: ‘Sorry, Marlowe. Sorry you’re so stupid.’ Other movies have their detective stumble around a bit, as is necessary to preserve the suspense of their mysteries; this one explicitly calls its hero dumb, and takes its time disproving the thesis.” An excerpt from Jason Bailey’s It’s OK with Me: Hollywood, the 1970s, and the Return of the Private Eye shows how radical a rupture with the old genre Altman, Brackett, Gould, and company made with The Long Goodbye—a fine point that I don’t think needed the last-minute kiss-off of Dick Richards’s Farewell, My Lovely to hit home.
“The actor’s body in film is abstract. Watch him shrink down to a dot — and now watch his enormous hands shuffling cards, grown to fill the entire screen. Watch him grow and change. The film protagonist will never be a fly. This is why film has such intense interest in the actor. The names of film actors mean something completely different from the names of theater actors. There is new interest every time: how will Conrad Veidt transform this time, what will Werner Krauss’s “abstraction” be like today? The [actor’s] body is light, it can be stretched and compressed. (And in theater? Remember all those ponderous theatrical “deaths”: when the actor falls, you can’t help worrying that he has hurt himself.) All of the props of film are abstract: close the door in front of the fakir and he will walk through the wall.” A 1924 essay by literary theorist and FEKS collaborator Yuri Tynianov does a fine job exploring the abstract nature of film acting—and decrying the use of synchronized sound (via Edison’s Kinetophone) as the death of cinema.
“Few directors upset the norm again. The exceptions include Dash, who cast Lonette McKee in Illusions, and Carl Franklin, who cast Jennifer Beals in the 1995 noir Devil in a Blue Dress. It was safer for white girls to play mixed-race girls playing white girls, so Sirk picked Kohner, and Ava Gardner pipped Lena Horne to the role of Julie in Show Boat. Light-skinned African American actors struggled to get parts in the only Hollywood films about women like them.” With Rebecca Hall announcing her directorial debut with an adaptation of Nella Larsen’s Passing, Janine Bradbury looks back at the passing melodramas, a genre that died out with the civil rights movement—mercifully, for many.
Adrian Curry’s latest collection of movie posters is a marvelously lurid batch dedicated to films curated by Let the Corpses Tan directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani for a program of their influences.
Barbara Harris was one of the great talents of the American stage and screen. A co-founder of Chicago’s influential improv comedy group Second City, where she worked with Alan Arkin, Elaine May, Mike Nichols, Ed Asner, and others, she worked on TV before going to Broadway, earning a Tony nomination in “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” and winning a Tony for “The Apple Tree,” and then on to a film career. She starred in A Thousand Clowns (1965) with Jason Robards and Plaza Suite (1971) with Walter Mattau, earned an Oscar nomination for Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? (1971), starred in Hitchcock’s final film Family Plot (1976), and memorably took center stage in the finale of Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975). She also starred in the Disney films Freaky Friday (1976) and The North Avenue Irregulars (1979) and played supporting roles in Movie Movie (1978), The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979), Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), and Grosse Pointe Blank (1997), her final screen performance. She disdained the celebrity aspect of acting and turned to teaching in her final decades. More from Maureen O’Donnell for Chicago Sun-Times.
Dewey Martin broke through in The Thing (1951) for Howard Hawks, who promoted him to leading man duties opposite Kirk Douglas in the frontier western The Big Sky (1952) and Land of the Pharaohs (1955) for Howard Hawks but his career never really took off. He was the criminal younger brother of Humphrey Bogart in The Desperate Hours (1955), played Daniel Boone for Disney’s TV anthology TV series, had a supporting role in the all-star war movie The Longest Day (1962), and starred in “I Shot an Arrow into the Air” in the first season of the Twilight Zone and “The Premonition” in the second season of The Outer Limits. He was also briefly married to singer Peggy Lee in the 1950s. He had been retired from acting since the late 1970s and passed away months ago at the age of 94 but the news is just now reported (tip to Laura Wagner, who spotted the notice in the Screen Actor’s Guild magazine).
Dancer and choreographer Miriam Nelson began her career dancing in the chorus of Broadway musicals before moving to Los Angeles with husband Gene Nelson and landing a Hollywood contract. She was an uncredited dancer in numerous films and played Edward G. Robinson’s secretary in Double Indemnity (1944) before stepping behind the camera as a choreographer, including work on non-musicals such as Picnic (1956), The Apartment (1960), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), Cat Ballou (1965), Bob & Carol & Ted Alice (1969), and Cactus Flower (1969). She passed away at the age of 98. Anita Gates for The New York Times.
The weekly links page is compiled and curated by Bruce Reid, with obituaries curated by Sean Axmaker.