In 1932, MGM delivered two films that would have a major impact on Hollywood narrative strategies, argues David Bordwell. Let’s catch up with the second one: “In the Strange Interlude entry, I mentioned that what’s usually of interest to us when we try to track the history of film forms is not the first time something is done but the moment when it becomes recognized as an active option. It stands forth as a strategy that can be copied, standardized, and revised. The Grand Hotel idea itself wasn’t utterly new, but the novel, play, and film of that title crystallized it as a distinct choice on the filmmaking menu.”
And further in: “Grand Hotel, in all its incarnations, encapsulated a narrative option that was irresistible. By 1955 Kenneth Tynan paid tribute to the fertility of the idea. ‘No literary device in this century has earned so much for so many people. Unite a group of people in artificial surroundings—a hotel, a life-boat, an airliner—and, almost automatically, you have a success on your hands.'”
What wins Empire the gold for both uniqueness and a kind of greatishness is that its struggles are not ones of race and class, of respectability and propriety, of how to be bourgie in the conference-room seats and ghetto between the sheets (for the record: No one properly uses sheets on this show). With Empire, struggles are absorbed into the world of the show and neutralized. Political upheavals are in the past. The show operates at an almost paradisiacal remove from capital-C concerns. Poverty, murder, anti-gay prejudice, sexism, snitches, bitches, and feds all exist. So do biracial gay Australian photographers, Latin men, and characters played by Naomi Campbell and Courtney Love. But the show is pitched at canted angles of normalcy. And that struggle-free normalcy creates the luxury you want from soap operas.
Related and, it must be said, pretty fun listening: Jon Caramanica, Gilbert Cruz and Justin Charity discuss Empire on the New York Times‘ Popcast (47’31”).
Seattle filmmakers Lynn Shelton and Megan Griffiths have just pitched a TV series to a major network and, to their surprise, “the idea was green-lit almost immediately,” reports Charles Mudede in the Stranger:
But there is a big problem. The state’s current incentive program for filmmaking is an extremely small $3.5 million. If last year is any indication, it will be used up long before the middle of the year. Indeed, several local filmmakers believe that Seattle’s glaring no-show at this year’s Sundance Film Festival (the first such absence in a decade) was due precisely to the quick exhaustion of this initiative in 2014 by just two projects, Matt Ross’s feature Captain Fantastic (now in postproduction) and the Syfy channel Walking Dead clone Z Nation.
“[The network] has been very clear about this,” explains Shelton. “If the incentive is not there, we have to shoot elsewhere.” She explains to me that she really wants to film in this city because “Seattle is so cooked into the show.” But the producers would “never set up shop here without such an incentive.”
“One surprisingly under-acknowledged aspect of [Kanye] West’s output is his small yet fascinating filmography,” suggests Charles Bramesco at the Dissolve.
Some might recognize the talented Brooklynite from her recent onscreen work in idiosyncratic, low-budget indies like Onur Tukel’s neurotic comedy Richard’s Wedding, Stephen Cone’s theatre-troupe drama Black Box, Geoff Marslett’s hot-button character study Loves Her Gun, or Spencer Parsons’s Scooby-Doo horror parody Saturday Morning Mystery. But before any of those, Decker’s first three screen credits were highly improvised collaborations with DIY mainstay Joe Swanberg—Uncle Kent, Autoerotic, and Art History—all premiering in 2011, and each requiring from her an audacious amount of sexual explicitness.
[But] Decker’s true fearlessness is as an uncompromising writer-director. Her first two narrative features—2013’s Butter on the Latch and 2014’s Thou Wast Mild and Lovely—were prestigiously paired in the Forum section at last year’s Berlinale and theatrically released in the U.S. last November by industry newcomers Cinelicious Pics. Both could be called experimental thrillers, of sorts, but their intoxicating shared qualities are far more elusive than that; they’re hallucinatory, earthy, and darkly sensual.
“In the final product ten shots survived from my original shoot: only exteriors.” That’s Wim Wenders telling Rodrigo Perez at the Playlist what actually happened to his and Francis Ford Coppola’s troubled production of Hammett (1982). And the most disturbing revelation? Wenders’s version “was destroyed. It doesn’t exist now.”
Film Comment‘s posted the first part of Nick Pinkerton‘s interview with Larry Clark.
Kyle Turner interviews Noah Baumbach for Slant.
IN OTHER NEWS
George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road will screen Out of Competition at Cannes on May 14, pretty much the same day it opens worldwide. Of greater interest to Cannes-watchers will be two recent entries at the Playlist, the first delivering the trailer for Nanni Moretti’s Mia Madre and the second bearing the latest news on Pedro Almodóvar’s Silencio. Neither are guaranteed to make the lineup, of course, but they’re both likely contenders.
The San Francisco International Film Festival has announced that it’ll open on April 23 with Alex Gibney’s Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine and close on May 7 with Michael Almereyda’s The Experimenter. This year’s Centerpiece will be James Ponsoldt’s The End of the Tour.
New York. “The title invokes a range of cities spanning countries,” writes Notebook editor Daniel Kasman. “The director of From Mayerling to Sarajevo, a 1940 picture revived in a new print by The Film Desk and opening at New York’s Film Forum on March 27, is Max Ophüls, himself a roving vagabond auteur, born in Germany and making films not only there but in the Netherlands, Italy, Hollywood, and France, where this film was made on the precipice of the Second World War and the beginning of a new kind of German-speaking empire.” Related viewing (4’41”): The New Yorker’s Richard Brody on Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948).
Jeremy Polacek at Hyperallergic on Cuba: Golden 60s, on through Tuesday at BAMcinématek: “This was rigorous political cinema, just without a huge helping of the era’s de rigueur dogma. Many films from Cuba’s first Communist decade (the Golden age, or Década de Oro) stir with a verve and approach that now seem meta and modern—among them The First Charge of the Machete (1969), The Adventures of Juan Quin Quin (1967), and Death of a Bureaucrat (1966)—attesting to a filmmaking movement that was both fervently committed and intensely creative.”
For more repertory screenings, see the L.
Philadelphia. Drew Lazor’s got the full calendar in the City Paper.
IN THE WORKS
“Steven Spielberg looks to have found his next movie having attached himself to direct the bigscreen adaptation of Ready Player One,” reports Variety‘s Justin Kroll. Ernest Cline’s novel, “published in 2011, is set in a not-too-distant future where advanced Internet, gaming and virtual reality technologies have changed the world as we know it and led to the creation of the Oasis, a virtual reality universe that people live in and value more than the real world.”
BBC Films, which “has had a hand in more than 250 films in a wide variety of formats and genres,” including Andrea Arnold’s Red Road, Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher and Derek Jarman’s Edward II, is celebrating its 25th anniversary and has confirmed a fresh round of forthcoming projects, reports the Guardian‘s Andrew Pulver:
Armando Iannucci, together with Simon Blackwell, his collaborator on Veep and In the Loop, have been commissioned to make a new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ 1850 novel David Copperfield; The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes’s Man Booker prize winning novel, is to be filmed by Indian director Ritesh Batra, with a script by playwright Nick Payne (Constellations); while Colin Firth is confirmed to play Donald Crowhurst in a film about the yachtman’s disastrous attempt to take part in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race in 1968-9, to be directed by Theory of Everything’s James Marsh.
A number of high-profile documentaries have also been announced: Sophie Fiennes, director of the Anselm Kiefer documentary Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow, has been commissioned to make a film about singer Grace Jones, titled Grace Jones – The Musical of My Life; while Tiger Son will document the career of ballet dancer Sergei Polunin, who became the Royal Ballet’s youngest ever principal before quitting abruptly in 2012.
All this on top of the previously announced “Ricky Gervais-directed Life on the Road, which takes up the story of The Office’s David Brent, and Florence Foster Jenkins, starring Meryl Streep and directed by Stephen Frears, about the notoriously awful opera singer.”
“Emma Thompson, Brendan Gleeson and Rush star Daniel Bruhl have begun shooting on Alone in Berlin, the new adaptation of the best-selling novel by late German author Hans Fallada.” Scott Roxborough in the Hollywood Reporter: “French actor/director Vincent Perez is directing Alone in Berlin from a screenplay he co-wrote with Achim von Borries, a screenwriter on 2003 sleeper hit Good Bye Lenin!“
“Sally Forrest, a dancer, actress and protege of Hollywood pioneer Ida Lupino who starred in the 1949 feature dramas Not Wanted and Never Fear, has died. She was 86.” Mike Barnes has more in the Hollywood Reporter.