The centerpiece of the November/December issue of Film Comment is Max Nelson‘s history of the magazine. The story of its first 50 years since it was launched as Vision (it became Film Comment with the third issue) can be cut several different ways.
[B]y one telling, the story of the general-interest film magazine: its birth at a time when serious filmgoing had never been more prominent in the cultural conversation; its rocky passage through changing tides of fashion and theory; its pragmatic adaptations and its stubborn refusals to adapt. By another telling, it’s the story of three generations of film critics: their personal philosophies, pet theories, changes of heart, private confessions and public disputes. By still another, it’s the story of what criticism has (and hasn’t) been to different people at different times: a platform for aesthetic judgments; a cultural litmus test; an ideological tool; a force for social change; a personal soapbox; a forum for debate. By yet another, it’s a messy, exhaustive history of the movies, caught with one foot in the medium’s ever-changing present and another in its ever-growing past.
Also in this new issue: Reviews (Nicolas Rapold on Gia Coppola’s Palo Alto, Richard Curtis’s About Time, and Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty; Maitland McDonagh on Ted Post’s The Baby (1973); Kristin M. Jones on Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is the Warmest Color; Marco Grosoli on Paolo Sorrentino‘s The Great Beauty; Emma Myers on Asghar Farhadi’s The Past; Jonathan Robbins on Felix Van Groeningen’s The Broken Circle Breakdown; Laura Kern on Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club; Sarah Mankoff on Spike Jonze’s Her; and Eric Hynes on Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq’s These Birds Walk), festival reports (Olaf Möller on Venice, Chris Darke on Locarno, and Joumane Chahine, Nicole Armour, and Gavin Smith on Toronto), Patrick Friel on Criterion’s set, 3 Films by Roberto Rossellini Starring Ingrid Bergman, and Violet Lucca on Short of the Week, a site that delivers what its title promises.
Victoria Wilson’s 1056-page A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True, 1907-1940, the first of two volumes, mind you, “will unquestionably remain the biography of record,” argues Geoffrey O’Brien in Bookforum: “beyond Wilson’s excavation of so much that would otherwise have been lost, her book has a deep sensitivity to the seriousness and subtlety of Stanwyck’s craft. This is the biography not of a Hollywood phenomenon but of a serious artist.”
As it happens, Catherine Grant‘s just posted not only the video above, based on text and narration by Andrew Klevan, himself the author of Barbara Stanwyck, a fleeter study for the BFI, but also a robust round of links to scholarly studies of Stanwyck and film performance in general.
Gary Giddins: “City Lights, an indelible masterwork of cinema and, it seems fairly safe to say (nearly 85 years after its debut), Western civilization, represents both a beginning, in that it has been endlessly imitated, and an end, in that it has never been superseded. Charles Chaplin invented a new art in 1921 with his first feature film, The Kid. With City Lights, ten years later, he perfected it.”
Also writing for Critierion, playwright Annie Baker calls Frances Ha “a romance between the title character and her capital-S Self: at the end of the film, after a series of obstacles, Frances finally gets to know, and fall in love with, Frances. Cowritten by its director, Noah Baumbach, and its star, Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha (2013) is also that rarest kind of new American movie: one that captures in painstaking detail the way young people talk today while simultaneously paying tribute to the past century of movie aesthetics and mythologies. That combination—of persuasive naturalism and historical fairy dust—is also romantic.”
“Out of all the ‘new waves’ that sprung up around the world in the wake of France’s revolutionary Nouvelle Vague in the 1960s, perhaps none was as explosive—politically, morally and aesthetically—and offered such a thorough repudiation of what had come before, as Japan’s Nuberu Bagu.” Michael Smith presents a primer.
“At first glance,” writes Andrew Grossman for PopMatters, “The Trial (1962) seems the perfect vessel for Orson Welles’s expressionistic style. Kafka’s tale of a mid-level functionary lost in the absurdist language of a dwarfing bureaucracy surely provides Welles ample opportunity for skewed perspectives, byzantine chiaroscuro, alienating set designs, and mannerist, labyrinthine dialogue. But The Trial—Welles’s favorite among his own films—is no empty exercise in stylistics, and an equation between Welles’s expressionism and Kafka’s is not merely superficial, but wrongheaded.”
Last month, Will Self reviewed Mark Kermode’s Hatchet Job: Love Movies, Hate Critics, and Brad Stevens, writing for Sight & Sound, finds that Self’s “remarks on the death of criticism (not to mention cinema, literature and music) are rendered more than a little problematic by the fact that he clearly isn’t discussing criticism at all. What he’s discussing is reviewing. One wonders if he has even heard of André Bazin, Noël Burch, Serge Daney, V.F. Perkins, Laura Mulvey, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Raymond Bellour, Nicole Brenez, Robin Wood, or Andrew Britton and, if he is aware of them, how they relate to his apocalyptic theories.”
Speaking of Jonathan Rosenbaum, who’s naturally made Stevens’s list, he carries on posting away at his new site. Recent highlights would be pieces on Alexander Dovzhenko and Dreyer‘s Gertrud (1964) and a lengthy interview with JR focusing on Welles.
Now that Not Coming to a Theater Near You has completed its tenth and final round of its annual 31 Days of Horror feature, Rumsey Taylor and Thomas Scalzo present a graphically delightful “cross section of our labor.”
“In Jungle Bungles , Felix the Cat, first animated movie star, takes a newsreel camera to Africa to make a documentary, and ends up massacring most of the wildlife,” writes David Cairns at the Chiseler. “In one memorable scene, he sucks an angry monkey into his camera, grinding him out the other end as a string of sausages, which are then fed to another hostile animal. Some kind of metaphor for the power of cinema?”
At his own site, David Cairns has revisited Girl on a Motorcycle (1968) and notes that “in the course of the first five minutes, [Jack] Cardiff gives us dutch tilts, dream sequence, wacky solarisation, soft focus, multiple exposures, tinting, repeated crash zooms (on what look like illustrations from a book of circus posters), superimposed birds, starburst filter, drunken hand-held, internal monologue—it’s a stylistic mash-up or smash-up that’s not so much bold as reckless, as if Cardiff was determined to outdo Michael Powell and show how up-to-the-moment and pop-savvy he was.”
Luke McKernan argues that the “work on women and early film has reached some sort of apotheosis with the launch of Columbia University’s Women Film Pioneers Project website, which documents the lives of many of the women who helped make silent cinema—and in so doing changes our notion of what silent cinema was, or is.”
Film International‘s posted Victoria Tickle‘s essay, “1970s Rape-Revenge Films and their Remakes: Changing Representations.”
Cristina Álvarez López for Transit on Les amants du Pont-Neuf (The Lovers on the Bridge, 1991): “Like Philippe Garrel, [Leos] Carax is a marvelous director of the ‘birth of love,’ and just as haunted by the shadow of its death or disappearance.”
Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained and Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger “make an interesting pair,” suggests Ryland Walker Knight in the Notebook: “both films are meticulously aesthetic and political visions, employing a variety of forms/tropes (of artifice) to critique the myth of America.”
“Although his career lasted until 1965,” writes R. Emmet Sweeney at Movie Morlocks, “the image of Lee Tracy will forever be of a chatterbox on the make, established during his prolific run of pre-codes in the early 1930s. Whether he plays a tabloid reporter or ambulance chasing lawyer, Tracy’s characters were always looking for an angle as sharp as the crease in his fedora.”
If you’ve listened to Peter Labuza talk with him, most recently about Andrew Sarris, or read Craig Keller‘s conversation with him, you know that Dan Sallitt is one of the most erudite, enlightening, and just as importantly, entertaining interviewees a cinephile could hope for. Now, for Gorilla Film Magazine, Christopher Small talks with him about The Unspeakable Act—and much more.
Greta Gerwig tells the Dissolve‘s Keith Phipps all about what she was watching when she was five, then ten, 15, 20, 25, and 30.
For Esquire, Tom Junod has a good long chat with George Clooney.
For MoMA’s PopRally, Anne Morra asks Sofia Coppola about directing the video for “Chloroform” for Phoenix, whose lead singer, Thomas Mars, is, of course, her husband.
New York. The Museum of the Moving Image series Computer Age: Early Computer Movies, 1952–1987 opens Friday and runs through the weekend.
From suspekt29: “Hotel Room was a three episode 1993 HBO television series produced by David Lynch (who directed two of them). Each drama takes place in the same New York City hotel room (number 603 of the Railroad Hotel) at different times (1969, 1992, and 1936, respectively). This is all three episodes back to back. Enjoy.”
Toronto. “‘We ask that you please refrain from photographing the sex blob.'” Calum Marsh for Hazlitt: “This was how members of the media were introduced, rather ceremoniously, to David Cronenberg: Evolution, the TIFF Bell Lightbox’s first major touring exhibition and counterpart to a month-long retrospective of the director’s films. I doubt Cronenberg himself could have devised a more appropriate salutation.”
“The Scottish documentary filmmaker Brian Barr, who has died aged 70 from cancer, was one of those journalists for whom integrity was more important than self-promotion or material reward,” writes Iain Macwhirter. “In 1986, Brian helped reveal one of Britain’s greatest postwar security scandals, when he and the investigative journalist Duncan Campbell exposed the existence of a £500m spy satellite which the government had somehow omitted to mention to parliament—Project Zircon.”
Also in the Guardian, Michael J. Stewart: “For the composer John Tavener, who has died aged 69, creativity sprang from religious faith.” You may not recognize the name, but you’ll have heard his music in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life and Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men.