Today we’re running Michael Sicinski‘s essay on Peter Watkins‘s The Journey (1987), “an 873-minute global documentary focused on nuclear proliferation, the military-industrial complex and the media’s collusion not only with our leaders but with a generalized incapability to envision a better, safer world.” As it happens, Leo Goldsmith tweeted a pointer to his followers the other day to Watkins’s revised introduction, posted just last month, to Media Crisis, an online project begun in 2003 and published as a book (now in its third edition). The passage that caught Leo Goldsmith’s attention:
In film theory, the auteur view deems it important that a film reflects the director’s personal creative vision, free from the commercial demands of the [mass audiovisual media]. However, while the individuality of the creative voice is, naturally, very important, within the context of the media crisis it can raise certain contradictions. Most importantly because theories such as this, which proclaim, if you will, the sanctity of the director, make no mention of the sanctity or role of the public within the cinematic process.
Given the manner in which the MAVM and TV have developed, the public have traditionally not held a more meaningful role than as ‘watchers’ or ‘receivers’, and my concern is that the auteur theory will continue to create a sense of exceptionalism in favor of the filmmaker, at a time when we urgently need to reconsider the relationship between the media and the public.
“Over the years, The New Republic has employed some distinguished film critics, including Otis Ferguson, Manny Farber, Pauline Kael (very briefly) and… 23-year-old Philip Roth, recruited to fill a vacant slot in June 1957.” J. Hoberman quickly surveys Roth’s brief stint as a film critic for Tablet. Back in 2003, Darren Hughes selected and posted several notable passages from Roth’s reviews and noted: “Despite a general antipathy toward ‘ideology’ that has characterized so much of his work over the years, Roth gets surprisingly political in his critique of Studio ‘message’ films, particularly those that treat America’s race problems with, in his words, ‘Mother Goose simplicity.'”
At the AV Club, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky recommends Robert Bresson’s final film, L’Argent (1983): “Like Bresson’s earlier masterpiece Au Hasard Balthazar, it’s one of those movies that seems to contain a complete vision of the world, informed by a fully formed sense of what filmmaking can and should do—which seems all the more remarkable when you consider that it runs just over 80 minutes.”
Earliest known footage of the Sex Pistols; shot by Derek Jarman on Super 8 at 18fps
In his latest column for De Filmkrant, Adrian Martin argues that Mike Hoolboom is “too little-known and celebrated on the international stage of experimental, avant-garde or (as he prefers to call it, more democratically) fringe film.”
“The death of cinema has been heralded countless times over the past several decades, suggesting that we are well into its ghostly afterlife,” writes Genevieve Yue at Reverse Shot. “Martin Scorsese’s Hugo  surveys cinema from this postcinematic station, returning to the profound connection between childhood wonder and early cinema.”
“It is has been 15 years since the last true Scorsese film,” argues Fearghas Cleary at the Quietus. “This week marks the fifteenth anniversary since the release of Bringing Out the Dead (1999), Scorsese’s drastically underrated and comparatively unknown noirish dramedy. More to the point, it is his last film to pack the punch and verve with that we have come to associate the veteran director.”
In his latest “Bombast” column for Film Comment, Nick Pinkerton takes stock of the ongoing 35mm vs DCP debates.
It’s “Filmmaker Marguerite Duras Day” at DC’s.
In an excellent piece for Reverse Shot, Eric Hynes respectfully raises serious questions about how documentaries are programmed in Toronto and, in particular, New York. And writing for Sight & Sound, Robert Greene survey’s the docs at this year’s NYFF. Both Hynes and Greene argue that Joshua Oppenheimer‘s The Look of Silence is one of the major films of the year. Talking with Greene, Oppenheimer asks, “What happens when you let people perform as themselves? Under what prism does that place reality, and what can you see through that prism? What does it make visible that wasn’t visible before?”
“Roger and Me, Grey Gardens and Crumb are among the Cinema Eye Honors’ annual list of ‘The Influentials,’ the 25 classic nonfiction features which most inspired this year’s class of filmmakers eligible for the 2015 Cinema Eye Honors awards,” reports Paula Bernstein for Indiewire.
“Horror movies, at least for much of their running times, take away a protagonist’s—and, by extension, our—agency,” writes Bilge Ebiri, explaining why David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001) landed at the top of the list of the “25 Best Horror Movies Since The Shining” that he and David Edelstein put together for Vulture last year. “By the end, it appears that the lead character was investigating her own death all along. Or maybe she was, at the point of her death, reimagining her life as a fairy-tale version of the Hollywood nightmare she found herself in—an extra reinventing herself as a starlet, in sort of a cross between All About Eve and An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. Or maybe she was doing something else entirely. The magic of this film is that it seems to explain itself even as it slips through our fingers. It refuses to let us capture it, which just adds to our unease.”
John Carpenter on The Quatermass Xperiment, aka The Creeping Unknown (1955)
“Perhaps more than any other genre, horror is about waiting,” writes Michael Koresky, launching Reverse Shot‘s week-long series, “A Few Great Pumpkins IX.” “Submitting to a horror movie is an expression of our strangest, but most human, selves. We are a bundle of nerves, and we want someone, something to just come along and shred them. So we wait. The proximity of death has something to do with its thrill: whether we are being confronted by a person long dead or identifying with one about to die, often in a disturbing or gruesome manner, in films we are only reminded of our mortal coil and how quickly it can be shuffled off.” The film at hand is producer Val Lewton and director Mark Robson’s Isle of the Dead (1945), “which Martin Scorsese has ranked as one of the films that scares him the most.”
J. Hoberman in the New York Times: “Repackaged in time for Halloween in a 21-DVD box, the films in Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection 1931-1956, which includes one bonus feature film (the estimable Spanish-language version of Dracula), offer a bountiful sampling of the studio’s signature product, organized by character to include such deathless creations as Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Invisible Man and the Wolf Man.”
For Vox, Todd VanDerWerff writes up “13 classic scenes that explain how horror movies work.”
And, via Movie City News, GQ: “We asked our fave horror fans and practitioners—including Eli Roth, Mel Brooks (!), John Carpenter, Guillermo del Toro, and the Human Centipede guy—to compile the most terrifying movies you probably should see.” 52 in all.
Ellin Stein interviews David Simon for Slate: “Listen, I have lousy numbers for TV, but on a bad night I’ll get two million viewers. If you sold two million hardback books, you’d have a New York Times bestseller for a year. But at the same time, nobody’s running to do The Wire. I’ve sort of shown Hollywood how to make a show that nobody wants to watch, so nobody’s trying to replicate it.”
New York. At Reverse Shot, Julien Allen argues that “despite playing up the fantastical and grotesque elements of the story to such an extent that it vacillates between truly terrifying and ever so slightly camp, what the 1925 film of The Phantom of the Opera never does is to lose sight of the real.” Rupert Julian’s classic starring Lon Chaney screens tomorrow afternoon at the Museum of the Moving Image.
Los Angeles. Three nights at REDCAT: Andy Warhol‘s Chelsea Girls (1966) tonight, an evening of jazz and animation tomorrow and, on Monday: “Two powerful, eye-opening programs deconstruct and recontextualize women’s complex relationship with Islam in Iranian culture and society.”
Tomorrow, the Filmforum presents Alina Skrzeszewska and her 2010 documentary on a forgotten hotel in downtown L.A., Songs from the Nickel.
Austin. Anne Helen Petersen’s Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema “traces evolving attitudes about masculinity, class, sexuality, morality, and public policing of women’s bodies through the star images of actors like Rudolph Valentino, Clara Bow, Dorothy Dandridge, and James Dean,” writes Melanie Haupt in the Chronicle. After an appearance at the Texas Book Festival this morning, Petersen will present a double feature at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz in the afternoon: “It, the 1927 film starring Clara Bow that brought the idea of ‘It girl’ into the cultural consciousness, and Carmen Jones, the 1954 reimagining of Bizet’s Carmen starring Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte.”
Philadelphia. The International House’s New Middle East Cinema series runs from Monday through Thursday.
London. The BFI’s Jacques Tati season is on through November. Jonathan Romney in the Guardian: “The earlier features of the great French director and comic have their share of hilarity—Jour de Fête, Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, Mon Oncle all contain slapstick of a strangely punctilious kind. But in Playtime, one of the defining works of 1960s cinema, something strange happens. The comedy becomes diffused throughout the film, to the point at which it is not always recognizable as comedy. Tati creates a universe entirely defined by absurdism, a note that resounds throughout, sometimes obviously, but often almost subliminally.”
Peter Cowie, writing for Criterion, recalls meeting Tati in 1974 and how, rising from a sofa, “he unfurled those endless legs, stood erect at six feet three inches, and drew me to a large circular window that overlooked the street. ‘Look,’ he ordered, and I looked, seeing a steady flow of people on their way home after the day’s work. ‘Now, see him,’ he gestured, and I saw a man with a porkpie hat swinging his briefcase with aplomb. Tati then explained how he picked such figures from the crowd (‘I don’t want actors you can recognize in life’), and then magnified their mannerisms so as both to amuse his audience and reveal a personality. ‘I can wait on the corner down there for two hours,’ he said, ‘until comedy comes along.'”
IN THE WORKS
“Almost twenty years after making his breakthrough as a filmmaker with Welcome to the Dollhouse, Todd Solondz is making a sequel. Sort of.” The Hollywood Reporter‘s Borys Kit: “Solondz is putting together a cast for Wiener-Dog, an ensemble indie that is tied together thematically by a dachshund. But one of the stories will also center on Dawn Wiener, the character mercilessly teased as ‘Weiner Dog’ in the 1995 cult hit.” And Julie Deply and Greta Gerwig are “in discussions to star.”
Trailer for Revenge of the Mekons
Variety‘s Dave McNary reports that Paul Greengrass will direct The Tunnels, “the untold true story of a great escape before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. The story focuses on a group of West Germans trying to get their loved ones out of East Berlin, with the unlikely help of American news networks, who funded their expedition.”
Even as he wraps his adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s High Rise, Ben Wheatley is already setting up his next project, Free Fire, “an action-shootout film about an arms deal gone horribly awry,” reports Charles Bramesco at the Dissolve. “The film is set in late-1970s Boston, and Luke Evans will play the leader of an Irish-bred gang alongside Armie Hammer. Olivia Wilde plays Justine, who arranges a large-scale arms deal between the Evans-Hammer crime syndicate and a pair of Irish rogues played by Christopher Nolan favorite Cillian Murphy and Wheatley regular Michael Smiley.”
Seth Rogen, Jacki Weaver, Megan Fox, Will Ferrell, Danny McBride, Dave Franco, Craig Robinson, Joey King and Horatio Sanz have signed on to star in James Franco’s adaptation of Steve Erickson’s 2007 novel Zeroville, reports Screen‘s Andreas Wiseman.
Viewing (4’52”). The New Yorker‘s Richard Brody revisits Robert Siodmak’s Phantom Lady (1944).