By David Hudson
What a week. And it’s only Thursday. Given the toll Hurricane Sandy has taken—at least 75 lives, whole neighborhoods flattened, under water or burned down—even political pundits are hemming and hawing a bit before they launch into their assessments of the storm’s impact on next week’s election. So it seems especially trivial to focus on the damage done to the film industry, but that is, after all, the beat around here.
“I take it that the irony of a massive storm holding up the production of Noah is not lost,” tweeted Emma Watson on Monday. She stars opposite Russell Crowe in Darren Aronofsky’s biblical epic slated for release in 2014 and, as John Horn reported in the Los Angeles Times, also on Monday, the ark itself may have been hit (its condition, as of this writing, can’t yet be determined). More generally, the Hollywood Reporter‘s Marisa Guthrie surveys the film and television productions shut down and the Broadway shows closed, while the Guardian‘s Andrew Pulver notes: “Of equal concern to the industry has been the drop in cinema attendance directly attributable to the storm.”
Weirdly, even as the winds and waters were still raging, an announcement of one of the biggest deals in the history of the industry popped out of seemingly nowhere. Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir: “As some anonymous Wall Street dude explained to Sharon Waxman of The Wrap yesterday, the Walt Disney Co.’s blockbuster $4 billion purchase of Lucasfilm and the entire Star Wars franchise is best understood as a form of insurance—insurance against ever making John Carter again. Along with inspiring any number of humorous tweets and digital mashups of Mickey with a light saber or Princess Leia with mouse ears, the Disney-Lucas deal can both be described as a smart move, in the narrow sense, and also as an example of exactly what’s wrong with Hollywood. Today’s big players in the movie industry have grown so risk-averse and so focused on audience ‘pre-awareness’ that it might be impossible for someone like the young George Lucas to emerge today.”
Regardless, new episodes, starting with VII, are in the works, ready or not. In the Guardian, James Russell explains why the deal can be “understood as the culmination of a long, complex relationship between Disney and Star Wars,” while Mark Fisher argues that “Star Wars was a sell-out from the start, and that is just about the only remarkable thing about this depressingly mediocre franchise.”
Of course, there are millions of fans for whom the franchise has been a cherished part of their cultural lives and who have had, as Criticwire‘s Matt Singer explains, a complex, often troubled relationship with its creator. And some see, as Matt puns, “A New Hope”—for the New York Times, Dave Itzkoff collects tweeted reactions to the new from the likes of Seth MacFarlane, Ewan McGregor, Simon Pegg and Carrie Fisher, while, at Vulture, Gwynne Watkins gathers widely varied reactions from fan sites and forums.
As for the other end of the deal, Disney scholar Jason Sperb is “increasingly intrigued by Bob Iger’s aggressive moves lately to buy out at any cost potentially competing (masculine) entertainment brand names (Pixar and Marvel, for example). From a studio standpoint, this is shaping up to be the most interesting period in the history of the company since Katzenberg bolted in the mid-1990s. This also strikes me as a continuation of Disney’s attempt to commodify ’80s nostalgia in the age of transmedia storytelling—the heart of modern fandom.”
More commentary and raised questions: Jason Bailey (Flavorwire), Richard Brody (New Yorker), Kyle Buchanan and Margaret Lyons (Vulture), Ben Child (Guardian), and Graeme McMillan (Time). And the AP reminds us that Disney’s scored more than one of the most successful franchises of all time—besides a few more Lucasfilms titles, they’re also taking on a second brand that’s done rather well for itself over the years: Indiana Jones.
And then, yesterday, this: “Scott Foundas, who three years ago left the world of cinema criticism to join the programming team at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, is recrossing the border between critics and cultural arbiters.” As the NYT‘s Dave Itzkoff reports, Scott’s “been hired as the principal film writer” at the Village Voice. In short, he’s swimming upstream. Even though, as Scott tells Itzkoff, “quality film criticism is alive and well,” it hasn’t been much of a source of steady employment in recent years, and we’ve seen an exodus of writers to programming. But, as he tells Anne Thompson, he missed writing, and: “It would be foolish to pass up a chance to be a national critic with this kind of influence and reach.”
Reading. Editor Maja Bogojević introduces the new issue of Camera Lucida: “If, in the midst of its preparation for a facelift, the Eiffel Tower is ‘the oldest film star of all,’ as Ronald Bergan claims…, the Montenegro Film Festival of the Mediterranean becomes the youngest film festival of all. Set in the beautiful and dramatic Mediterranean town of Kotor and launched by a small international team of cinephiles in September 2012, this young film festival can, hopefully, become a new film symbol of the Mediterranean.”
In Berfrois, Paul Elliott argues that “what Lacan sees in the face of Harpo Marx” is “a kind of stain of psychotic autism that threatens to disrupt the chain of signification that is the cinema screen.”
In the Chiseler, Jim Knipfel suggests that three early adaptations of The Maltese Falcon are so very similar because Dashiell Hammett “made straying from the original source material extremely difficult.”
In other news. “Happy 80th Birthday to German filmmaker Edgar Reitz, director of the monumental Heimat series,” tweets Pasquale Iannone. And he posts this remarkable clip from Heimat II:
More (in German) from Daniel Kothenschulte in the Frankfurter Rundschau.
Cambridge. Behind the Bamboo Camera with Kidlat Tahimik runs at the Harvard Film Archive from tomorrow through Sunday.
Berlin. There’s a Hong Sang-soo retrospective on at the Arsenal.
In the works. The Los Angeles Times‘ Glenn Whipp talks with Wes Anderson about the film he’s preparing to shoot in Germany, Grand Budapest Hotel, featuring Bill Murray, Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law, and Jason Schwartzman. When Anderson mentions that it’s “inspired partly by Hollywood Europe,” Whipp asks, “do you mean the tone of movies by directors like Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder?” Anderson: “Yes, like To Be or Not to Be, the Lubitsch with Carole Lombard, that Europe which is not made in Europe at all…. So I think we’ve got a little bit of that feel, that Europe on the Hollywood back lot, even though we’re actually going to Europe to do it…. The Lubitsch ones are always good to aim for.”
John Cusack’s about to get busy, reports the Playlist‘s Kevin Jagernauth: “The last two days have seen the actor sign up for the financial drama Due Process and the Stephen King adaptation Cell, and now Cusack has busted out the quill again to put his name on another movie, which has a rather intriguing name attached to write and direct.” That name is Roger Avary, and the project is Airspace, a thriller in which Cusack would play a pilot “who discovers a mysterious briefcase on his plane, and comes under attack from an MIG fighter.”
Paul Giamatti, Billy Bob Thornton, and Jacki Weaver have signed on to Parkland, “written by Peter Landesman, who will also make his directorial debut with the film, which recounts the chaotic events that occurred at Dallas’ Parkland Hospital on the day Kennedy was assassinated.” Liza Foreman reports for Reuters.
“Benedict Cumberbatch and his Sherlock director Paul McGuigan are teaming up for a biopic about Brian Epstein, the iconic manager of The Beatles.” Borys Kit has details in the Hollywood Reporter.
Obits. “Word has reached us that stop-motion animator Dave Borthwick, one of the founders of The Bolex Brothers (with partner Dave Alex Riddett), passed away this past week in Bristol England,” writes Jerry Beck at Cartoon Brew. “He was the creator and director of The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb and was currently in production on a feature-length clay-animated adaptation of Gilbert Shelton’s underground comix classic The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers.”
“In the span of a few cataclysmic days, architecture has lost two of its greatest visionaries,” writes Mark Lamster at Design Observer. “Lebbeus Woods died this past Tuesday, just as the flood waters of Hurricane Sandy were beginning to retreat from New York. He died in his sleep of natural causes, but his loft was without power, the city suffering from the kind of urban catastrophe that was the defining subject-matter of his work. (My obituary of Woods for Architectural Record is here.) Woods’s death was preceded by that of John Johansen, the modernist pioneer and relentless searcher, who passed away at 96 a week earlier. The two shared a deep sense of humanism and a commitment to the practice of architecture as a social art.”
Hours after Lamster’s post, news broke that Italian architect Gae Aulenti has passed away at 85.
Back in 2006, Jimmy Stamp recalled that Woods had once “filed a lawsuit against architect-beloved film director, Terry Gilliam. Someone in the production crew for 12 Monkeys decided to base one of their sets on Woods’ illustration Neomechanical Tower (upper) chamber. Down to the last detail, it’s almost exactly the same. Woods however, said that he was more upset about Gilliam’s interpretation of the image than the appropriation of it.” Stamp explains.
More browsing? Girish Shambu‘s posted links to, among many fine reads, collections of program notes and sent out a call for more.
And finally for now, try your hand at David Thomson‘s “Second Stump-the-Film-Buff Quiz.”