We begin with J. Hoberman for the New York Review of Books on Snowpiercer: “The spectacle of class warfare aboard a 1,001-carriage super train makes for the most overtly leftwing pop movie in the eight years since V for Vendetta brandished the black flag of anarchy as the only recourse in a media-driven police state…. A former student activist who has been associated with a succession of small leftwing parties, Bong [Joon-ho] is an anti-authoritarian populist with a strong sense of the absurd. Although he has been compared to Steven Spielberg in his use of genre conventions, he is temperamentally closer to less respectable American practitioners of wise-guy sociological shock schlock like Joe Dante, George Romero, and Larry Cohen.”
Writing for the New Inquiry, Brandon Harris looks back on “a very unusual screening at Light Industry” a couple of weekends ago, White House Butler Down. “Hoberman, long one of the most essential voices discussing the intersection of American politics and the rhetoric of Hollywood motion pictures, presented The Butler and White House Down, two films that very much have the Obama administration on their mind, simultaneously, one projected atop the other. The experience was odd and revelatory, one which I’ve struggled to shake since. When viewed together like this, these two big, dumb movies, one with Oscar-baiting middlebrow pretensions, the other simply a testosterone fueled vehicle for unlikely buddy comedy and explosions, speak multitudes.”
Via Girish Shambu, Adrian Martin in the new issue of Ctrl-Z: “Critical minds—including the critical minds of filmmakers—love to tie everything up. They love form, symmetry, balance. In minimalist movies on the Festival circuit as much as in the three-act blockbuster model (which is really four, symmetrical parts) enforced by Hollywood; in articles with nicely matched paragraphs as much as on TV reports. Nothing pleases us more than order. But nothing constrains and depresses us more than order, either. Hence this manifesto.”
“Hal Hartley has never fit in with the American independent film scene,” writes Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at the AV Club. “While his like-minded peers—Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, Todd Haynes—crossed over into the mainstream, Hartley remained stubbornly anti-Hollywood.” His newest project, My America, “is a collection of monologues originally commissioned by Baltimore’s Center Stage theater and available exclusively”—here. “Shot in a bare rehearsal room, the project finds Hartley adapting his style—in which the movement of actors is often choreographed around a severe camera angle—to each writer and performer…. What emerges is a cross-section view of the American stage, with 21 playwrights (Neil LaBute is the biggest name here) each getting a few minutes of screen time. Hartley, whose work has often flirted with theatrical conventions, serves as a perfect channel, conveying strengths and weaknesses alike.” More from Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema and, here in Keyframe, Sean Axmaker.
“Maybe it’s not actually that crazy to see a film as a soft act of war, or as an act of imperial control.” Willie Osterweil elaborates in the Baffler.
“A bout of nostalgia prompted a re-watching of late ’70s and early-to-mid ’80s films that were staples of my youth,” writes John Phillips:
While I missed it as a child, I was struck by a common theme that’s largely absent from 21st-century American cinema: income inequality and class divide…. America’s socioeconomic divide has worsened. The gap between the rich and poor is greater than ever, yet class struggle is seemingly absent from 21st-century films.
In both periods, the underlying aim was to perpetuate America’s income divide. Twentieth-century films achieved this by reinforcing the idea of social mobility and thwarting collective action by fostering a sense of apathy toward inequality. As the divide between rich and poor became more extreme, late 20th-century cinema required a new approach to achieve the same end: portraying the existence of the wealthy elite as a social necessity.
Also new at Bright Lights: “Bad Girls Go to Hell was made in 1965 by Doris Wishman, one of the few woman producer/directors to work on low-budget sexploitation films in the 1960s, who continued to make films in the 1970s as the sexploitation genre shifted to explicit pornography.” And what Michael Betancourt concerns himself with—at considerable length—is the title sequence. I just love this sort of thing.
Jonathan Rosenbaum‘s posted a 2008 review of two books on Otto Preminger.
Bradley Tuck introduces the new issue of One+One Filmmakers Journal. The theme: “Occult, Magick, Evil and the Powers of Horror.”
Hopefully you’ll have seen that we’ve posted Adam Schartoff‘s interview with Bernardo Bertolucci (32’18”) and perhaps this weekend you’ll get a chance to listen to it as well. John Magary (Filmmaker) and Emma Myers (Film Comment) talk with him, too, and the occasion, of course, is the stateside release of Me and You (2012), which “is, for all its loveliness, a slight film,” grants Bilge Ebiri at Vulture. “But Bertolucci wears the lightness well. (socialsamosa.com) The director’s first Italian-language film in three decades, Me and You has the reflection and patience of age, and the fleet-footed energy of youth.” For more fresh reviews, see Critics Round Up.
“Of course, one has to be very stupid to think that after Rouhani’s election, the entire Islamic Republic will change. The important thing is that we can help move things slowly in the right direction.” Mohammad Rasoulof talks to Al Jazeera’s Sune Engel Rasmussen about his decision to return to Tehran—even with a prison sentence hanging over his head. Via Movie City News.
Listening (53’47”). For the new Design Observer, Debbie Millman talks with Gary Hustwit, who’s “produced six feature documentaries and made his directorial debut with Helvetica, a documentary about graphic design and typography.”
More best-of-2014-so-far lists: The Dissolve, Movie Mezzanine, Salon, Tim Grierson and Will Leitch and Guardian readers. Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, by the way, is faring very, very well here at halftime.
IN OTHER NEWS
Locarno‘s announced that Agnès Varda will receive the Pardo d’onore Swisscom, the festival’s “acknowledgement of a major filmmaker in contemporary cinema,” during its 67th edition (August 6 through 16). Artistic director Carlo Chatrian: “For Agnès Varda, an image contains stories. Many of her films are an attempt to recount these hidden images, where the story is not intended to exhaust their meanings, but prolong them.”
The Il Cinema Ritrovato DVD Awards jury, chaired by Peter von Bagh—other members: Lorenzo Codelli, Alexander Horwath, Mark McElhatten, Paolo Mereghetti and Jonathan Rosenbaum—has announced this year’s winners. The Arts Shelf has the fully annotated list.
Bay Area. Dennis Harvey notes that “the U.S. never really had anyone like Derek Jarman—you’d have to composite at least a half-dozen American artists in various disciplines to get even close. The feature films are his most conspicuous legacy, and they’re what will be showcased throughout this summer at the Pacific Film Archive’s welcome retrospective Derek Jarman, Visionary.” Through August 28.
Meantime, in Los Angeles:
London. Gotta Dance, Gotta Dance! is a series running at BFI Southbank through August and, in the Guardian, Michael Newton writes up a sweeping overview, while the BFI highlights “36 amazing dance scenes.”
Meantime, Dennis Hopper: Icon of Oblivion, running throughout July, coincides with the Royal Academy of Arts exhibition Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album, on view through October 19. At Little White Lies, Adam Lee Davies gets Peter Fonda talking about Hopper.
Paris. The Kinji Fukasaku retrospective at the Cinémathèque française is on through August 3.
IN THE WORKS
“Downfall helmer Oliver Hirschbiegel is set to direct German drama Georg Elser, a biopic of the resistance fighter who attempted to kill Hitler in 1939,” reports Variety‘s Elsa Keslassy. Also: “Jalil Lespert, whose latest movie Yves Saint Laurent was just released in the U.S. by The Weinstein Company, is set to direct Versailles, an English-language historical drama skein penned by Simon Mirren (Without a Trace) and David Wolstencroft (Spooks).”
Listening (18’15”). Karina Longworth’s new episode of You Must Remember This “sets up a topic we’ll be exploring throughout the summer: the films, stars and scandals of 1938.”
“Celluloid Dreams” is a series of photographs of majestic movie palaces by Stefanie Klavens.