“Playtime is arguably one of the greatest films in the history of the cinema and Tati one of its greatest directors.” So say David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson and Sam Fragoso gets them to elaborate at the Dissolve.
Writing for Vulture, Godfrey Cheshire looks back on D.W. Griffith‘s The Birth of a Nation, “the most virulently racist major movie ever released in the U.S.,” 100 years on. “Aesthetically, it synthesized the various cinematic storytelling devices that had been created until that time into a grand whole that many saw as announcing the arrival of a full-fledged art form; commercially, it performed so spectacularly in road-show engagements across the country as to effectively propel the industry from the era of storefront nickelodeons mainly serving lower-class crowds toward that of stand-alone movie palaces aimed at middle-class viewers. In a real sense, Hollywood itself was constructed on the foundations laid down by Birth.”
In Reverse Shot‘s latest survey of cinephilic scenes far and away from New York, Daniel Witkin explains that, while the recent shakeups at Moscow’s Cinema Museum are a severe blow, they don’t signal an end to film culture in the city.
At the Talkhouse Film, Caveh Zahedi looks back on a day in the 80s when he met Robert Bresson:
When I asked him what other filmmakers he liked, he replied that he hated all of contemporary cinema. I was taken aback. He hated everyone? He said yes, but added that he hadn’t seen a film in 20 years. When I expressed incredulity, he admitted that he had in fact seen two films in the last 20 years, films that he had been dragged to by friends who insisted that he had to see the work of this particular director. “Which director?” I asked. He couldn’t remember the director’s name, but he described (with great aversion) both films to me. “You mean Rear Window?” I said. “Rear Window by Alfred Hitchcock? And Rope?” “That’s his name, Hitchcock!” Bresson exclaimed. I was stunned. “You didn’t like Rear Window?” I asked. “I hated it,” he replied. “Everything in it was fake. Nothing was real.” “But it’s an allegory,” I retorted. “Exactly!” he answered triumphantly. “It’s an allegory. I hate allegories.”
“Three recent films made under the sign of Vertigo use the film as a tool for plotting their own particular coordinates of mourning and melancholia,” writes Max Goldberg: “one, an essay (Jenni Olson’s The Royal Road), another, a narrative (Christian Petzold’s Phoenix), and the last, a lyric (Mary Helena Clark’s The Dragon is the Frame). Even sitting atop the BFI’s most recent poll of the greatest films of all time, Vertigo remains a curious kind of beacon—the light that reveals the surrounding darkness.” Also in the new issue of the Brooklyn Rail:
- Glenn Heath Jr. on David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars.
- Herb Shellenberger on work screened in the Experimenta program of last fall’s London Film Festival.
- Ava Kofman on Laura Poitras‘s 9/11 trilogy.
- Ben Mendelsohn on December’s edition of Migrating Forms.
- David Gregory Lawson on Corneliu Porumboiu’s When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism (2013).
Vulture‘s Bilge Ebiri argues that, at Sundance this year, “no film demonstrated the power of cinema more resonantly than Sembene!, directed by Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman, which screened as part of the world-documentary competition. The Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene (1923–2007), often called the father of African cinema, had a seismic career. He effectively created an African film industry out of nothing.”
“If the cinema in its traditional sense is vanishing, what then is happening to cinephilia?” asks Malte Hagener in photogénie. “Rather than being nostalgically tied to a specific space and place—the auditorium—or to a specific carrier and method for presenting moving images—projection of 35mm on a reflecting surface before a paying audience—I want to propose that cinephilia is rather characterized by a specific attitude towards the filmic and a way of experiencing audiovisual material. After outlining the classic period of cinephilia—the 1950s and 1960s—I want to sketch how we might begin to understand the transformations that ‘cinephilia’ has undergone in the age of the post-cinematographic.”
“At what point, I wonder, did we start expecting films to tell the truth about the past?” asks Francine Prose. “And won’t we be in trouble if we do?”
Also writing for the New York Review of Books, J. Hoberman suggests that “American Sniper embodies a national repetition compulsion, what Freud defined as ‘the desire to return to an earlier state of things.'”
Gilberto Perez for Criterion on A Day in the Country: “Jean Renoir described his painter father and the writer Maupassant as ‘two men [who] were friendly enough but frankly admitted they had nothing in common. Renoir said of the writer, “He always looks on the dark side”—while Maupassant said of the painter, “He always looks on the bright side.”‘ The film version of Maupassant’s story made by Renoir the son in 1936 conducts something of a dialogue between the painter and the writer.”
Luis Buñuel‘s The Young One (1960) “is in some ways almost as American as Viridiana  is quintessentially Spanish,” suggests Jonathan Rosenbaum. “In fact, speaking now as an American southerner who grew up in Alabama, I would argue that Buñuel’s unsung masterpiece is one of the most authentic and pungent of all the films set in the American South.”
The Director’s Chair with Robert Rodriguez featuring Francis Ford Coppola airs March 2
Howard Hampton for Artforum on Nicolas Roeg and Don’t Look Now (1973): “Superimposing intricate, baroquely subliminal symbol-patterns and glazed, death-masque motifs on hoary gothic thriller conventions, it feels like a Hitchcock film that went missing in Venice and whose remains were dredged up by divers from the canals. Newly available in a gorgeous Blu-ray edition (including some bare-bones but agreeable making-of interviews), if there were an award for the eeriest, clammiest atmosphere ever committed to film, Don’t Look Now would belong on the shortlist.”
Writing for Hammer to Nail, Patrick Wang (In the Family) asks “for independent film, how did 2.35 go from being an aspect ratio to being the aspect ratio, and what are the consequences for composition?”
Assayas par Assayas is a record of Jean-Michel Frodon’s conversations with Olivier Assayas and David Davidson focuses on the passages addressing the criticism the filmmaker wrote for Cahiers du Cinéma in the 80s—and has posted Assayas’s review of John Carpenter’s The Fog, which appeared in the April 1980 issue.
RogerEbert.com is running Matt Zoller Seitz‘s introduction to the third volume of Faith and Spirituality in Masters of World Cinema: “Some people make films. Terrence Malick builds cathedrals. Instinctively, I wrote that in my 2005 New York Press review of Malick’s The New World, not realizing all the ways in which it was true.”
Elizabeth Donnelly at Flavorwire: “In Paul Fischer’s incredible new book, A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Filmmaker’s Rise to Power, we learn the full story of how Kim Jong-Il, the longtime ‘Dear Leader’ of North Korea until his death in 2011, fell in love with the movies and used them as a form of propaganda, going as far as to kidnap South Korea’s leading director and his wife. It’s a crazy story” and “Fischer is diamond-cut sharp on North Korea’s many, many paradoxes.” More from Janet Maslin in the New York Times.
Don Carpenter “was a writer’s writer, never famous for the ten or so novels, dozens of stories, or screenplays he wrote and published from the 60s to the late 80s,” even though he’s been championed by the likes of Jonathan Lethem. John Duncan Talbird:
Now Counterpoint has re-released three of Carpenter’s novels, A Couple of Comedians (1979), The True Life Story of Jody McKeegan (1975), and Turnaround (1981) in a single volume that they’re calling The Hollywood Trilogy. Many readers of Film International may be more familiar with Carpenter as the screenwriter for the underappreciated Hollywood Renaissance-era film, Payday (1973) starring Rip Torn. In fact, Carpenter was uniquely positioned to write about Hollywood as both an insider and an outsider—an English teacher who wrote fiction on the side and then a fiction writer who wrote screenplays on the side, several of his projects ending up in turnaround, that black hole for stories whose producers have squandered their resources until there’s nothing left to show. Carpenter probably had some real grievances to air and some axes to grind, but what’s startling about these three novels is their decentness, their humanity.
At Mediático, Catherine Grant‘s posted an excerpt from Alessandro Rocco’s Gabriel García Márquez and the Cinema: Life and Works.
The 68th edition of the Cannes Film Festival is slated for May 13 through 24 and, as Fabien Lemercier reports for Cineuropa, there’s a lot of chatter out there as to who might make the lineup. He gathers an early round of contenders.
The festival itself, in the meantime, has announced that Abderrahmane Sissako will serve as President of the Cinéfondation and Short Films Jury. As it happens, Sylvie Pialat, producer of Sissako’s Timbuktu, has just won the Toscan du Plantier Award, “Gaul’s equivalent to the PGA’s Darryl F. Zanuck award,” as Variety‘s Elsa Keslassy explains.
The True/False Film Fest, whose 12th edition runs from March 5 through 8 in Columbia, Missouri, has announced its lineup.
The second edition of Art of the Real, the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s “documentary-as-art” festival, running from April 10 through 26, will feature a retrospective of work by Agnès Varda and a section on reenactment. Brian Brooks: “Opening Night will premiere new works by João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata (The Last Time I Saw Macao, Mahjong), Eduardo Williams and Matt Porterfield (I Used to Be Darker), with all filmmakers attending the evening.”
The Tribeca Film Festival‘s announced that the world premiere of Live From New York!, a doc on Saturday Night Live‘s “impact and influence on the American zeitgeist for the past 40 years,” will open its 2015 edition, running from April 15 through 26.
IN OTHER NEWS
“Jafar Panahi, the Iranian director who won the top Golden Bear prize at the Berlin film festival for Taxi, has pleaded with Iran to screen it, saying ‘no prize is worth as much as my compatriots being able to see my films,'” reports Ben Beaumont-Thomas for the Guardian. “In an interview with Iranian media following his win, Panahi said: ‘I’m really happy for me and for Iranian cinema,’ but took the opportunity to decry the Iranian government. ‘The people in power accuse us of making films for foreign festivals. They hide behind political walls and don’t say that our films are never authorized for screening in Iranian cinemas.'” Panahi has come in for some pretty severe criticism at home and BBC Persian collects voices in his defense from the international community (I’ve contributed a few words as well).
Beaumont-Thomas also reports that Hayao Miyazaki has uttered a few disturbing words concerning the Charlie Hebdo cartoons that sparked January’s attack in Paris: “For me, I think it’s a mistake to make caricatures of what different cultures worship. It’s a good idea to stop doing that.”
“Roman Polanski has agreed to attend a court hearing in Poland next week where a U.S. request for his extradition will be considered,” reports Variety‘s Leo Barraclough.
“Don Draper’s gray suit and trademark fedora are headed to the Smithsonian,” reports Josef Adalian for Vulture. What’s more, Mad Men events and exhibitions are slated for the coming weeks in seven museums in New York and another in Los Angeles. Adalian has details.
New York. Film Forum‘s Charles Laughton retrospective is on through February 26. Farran Smith Nehme: “What makes you adopt an actor? How do you decide that here’s a performer you will seek out, regardless of the vehicle? The Siren is always drawn to an actor who takes a 20-foot-high screen and gives you a focused, intelligent performance that fills out every square inch. That’s Laughton.”
Lund, Sweden. The exhibition Chris Marker. A Grin Without a Cat is on view at the Lunds konsthall through April 5.
See, too, Monday‘s roundup of goings on.
IN THE WORKS
Filmmaker‘s Scott Macaulay points us to Chris Willman‘s interview with Sparks for Billboard in which brothers Ron and Russell Mael talk about two projects they’re working on, one with Guy Maddin, the other with Leos Carax. Sparks and Maddin are turning The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman, “which we premiered in a sort of live staging at the L.A. Film Festival three years ago,” into a film. The idea, as Russell Mael puts it: “What if Ingmar Bergman had been lured to Hollywood with the idea of being able to take advantage of the money that’s available to him here to further his art, but then he got locked into Hollywood in his own worst nightmare?”
As for the musical with Carax, it’s “moving along the fast track quicker than the Bergman project has. These won’t be done in a Broadway, razzmatazz kind of way. They’re both all music, where sometimes the story is being progressed through dialogue that’s done in a hyper-stylized, sung/spoken way. They’re both pretty uncompromising, but at the same time we think they’re really accessible.”