Where Were We?
Welcome to the first entry of the Daily at the Criterion Collection. For those of you who don’t know me, since 2003 I’ve been gathering links to essential—or simply fun—reading, news stories, and items of interest into a sort of daily briefing for those of us passionate about cinema. These are things I’d want to know about if I weren’t tackling the job myself. My roundups have been hosted at a number of different web publications over the years, most recently at Fandor. That partnership ended last week, and I’m excited to pick up where I left off at my new home at Criterion. I want to express my boundless gratitude to Peter Becker and the entire Criterion team for working to get this up and running in time for this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Seriously, I really do want to, but I wouldn't even know how to begin. Let’s just get going . . .
“Ohayo (Good Morning, 1959) was the first Ozu film Criterion released on DVD, back in 2000,” writes David Bordwell at the top of his latest post at Observations on Film Art. This week’s new release on DVD and Blu-ray features an illustrated interview with Bordwell called “Ozuland.” He explains: “The title derives from my suggestion that like Bresson, Tati, Mizoguchi, and a few other ambitious directors, Ozu created his own distinct artistic realm. That realm touches recognizable real life at many points, but it has been purified–maybe decanted would be a better word–by means of cinematic form and style.”
See, too, Jonathan Rosenbaum’s essay here on the Current, in which he argues that Good Morning is “much subtler and grander than it might initially appear to be.”
Reverse Shot has begun rolling out its new symposium, Executive Orders. “Today,” write editors Michael Koresky and Jeff Reichert, “the dark clouds over the republic—and the world at large—continue to gather. As film critics, we’ve been unclear what to do with our despondency, other than one clear thing: direct our outrage away from suffocating social media channels and toward writing, reasoning, wrestling with ideas, praising, hoping, questioning.” Each essay is a response to one of Donald Trump’s EOs. Online so far:
- Koresky on Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom (1976), “a rigorously appalling representation of fascism and economic exploitation.”
- Matt Connolly on Stephen Cone’s Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party (2015), which “insists upon the hard work of living amongst others who both are and are not like you.”
- Kelley Dong on David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows (2013) and “manifestations of an evil within the infrastructure of the American suburb by way of its history of exclusion and enclosure.”
- Giovanni Vimercati on Japanese Relocation, produced by the U.S. Office of War Information in 1942: “To anyone still wondering where Trump’s embattled advisor Steve Bannon’s toxic ideology comes from, this terrifying short provides some helpful clues.”
Catherine Grant alerts us to the new issue of Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism. The dossier “Opening Choices” gathers analyses of the first sequences of the 1979 BBC miniseries adaptation of John le Carré’s novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, directed by John Irvin, Howard Hawks’s Rio Bravo (1959), Max Ophuls’s Lola Montès (1955), Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty (2013), Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin (2014), and Otto Preminger’s Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965). Preminger’s Daisy Kenyon (1947) is the subject of an article by Michael Walker and George Toles presents “a close reading of a relatively obscure theatrical set piece in Billy Wilder’s purportedly realist film The Lost Weekend (1945).”
Issue 7 also features a tribute to the late critic V. F. Perkins, a founding editor of Movie, as well as three audiovisual essays: John Gibbs and Douglas Pye on the first sequence of Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946) and on Victor Sjöström’s The Phantom Carriage (1921); and, from Patrick Keating, “Motifs of movement and modernity.”
“Two women talking: a recipe for witchcraft, an unnatural feedback loop, a cursed redundancy.” Emily Yoshida for Vulture: “Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 masterpiece Persona is a landmark for many reasons, but its legacy, which has show no signs of age in the 50 years since it was released in the U.S. and the U.K., is how it stared that anxiety in the face and opened up a loopy, meandering conversation that’s still going on to this day.”
Sight & Sound remembers Jonathan Demme, who passed away last month, with a tribute from David Thompson to “a hugely gifted and independently spirited filmmaker, but also—as anyone who met him would testify— . . . an extraordinarily warm, enthusiastic, open and generous man.” S&S has also dipped into the archives and posted Thompson’s 2004 interview with Demme, Steve Vineberg’s 1990/91 piece on Demme’s original cut of Swing Shift (1984), and from 1991 and 1994, Amy Taubin on The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Philadelphia (1993).
The New York Times’ summer preview package opens with Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott’s discussion of contemporary monsters. “The vampires and zombies that recently enjoyed their moments in the pop-cultural sun crystallized collective anxieties about sex and dehumanization,” writes Scott. “We’re afraid of (and fascinated by) our own desires and panicked by the thought of being turned into (or revealed to be) shambling, brainless consumers. The classic monsters, though—smashing cities, swatting planes out of the sky, exploding out of torsos—are embodiments of rage. And there seems to be an awful lot of that these days.”
In her 1965 essay, “The Imagination of Disaster,” Susan Sontag offered a kind of taxonomy of science-fiction films, which she wrote distract us but also “normalize what is psychologically unbearable, thereby inuring us to it.” In the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, worldwide annihilation had never seemed more possible, and plenty of science-fiction movies invoked the threat of global destruction, entertained us with spectacular violence and neutered the threat. Movies like Godzilla and Independence Day have continued to do the same. Get Out, by contrast, locates its disaster in contemporary America, where the past—and white prosperity built on the backs of enslaved blacks—continues to generate a catastrophic, deadly existential threat.
The NYT’s summer special also includes Julie Bloom’s conversations with Charlize Theron (Atomic Blonde), Michelle Rodriguez (the Fast and Furious franchise), Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and Milla Jovovich (the Resident Evil series) “about how action roles have changed for women, how much thought goes into why they throw a punch and what it means for all viewers, and especially young girls, to see a woman kicking ass onscreen.”
“There’s ample proof that diversity pays off,” argues Cara Buckley, who examines “a few box-office myths that could stand to be updated, if not done away with outright.” And Kathryn Shattuck talks with Demetrius Shipp Jr. (All Eyez on Me), Amandla Stenberg (Everything, Everything), Isabela Moner (Transformers: The Last Knight), Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Homecoming), Steve Zahn (War for the Planet of the Apes), Regina Hall (Girls Trip) and Kelsey Asbille (Wind River) “about how they got a crucial job.”
Movie City News points us to a new entry from Steven Soderbergh: “The success of [Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)] created a paradox I didn’t see at the time: On the one hand, writing had gotten me to the place I’d always wanted to be, but on the other—and this is what I didn’t understand then—I wasn’t a writer. I had WRITTEN, but I wasn’t a writer. It would take me several years and several films to understand this. Once I did, and began to work with REAL writers, my career advanced dramatically.”
Writing for the Los Angeles Review of Books,Adam Morris argues that Walter Lang's Desk Set (1957), starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, is “a futurist text, one relevant to workers six decades later: the film foretold the threat that computer automation posed to the white-collar, middle-class workforce—especially to women—and to accuracy in the news media.”
“How many white filmmakers have actually addressed the nitty-gritty, insidious social constructions of race and racism?” asks Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at the A.V. Club. “France has produced two important ones. The one who is better known now is Claire Denis,” and the other, he argues, is Jean Rouch. “Shot sporadically over the summer and fall of 1959, La Pyramide Humaine is the New Wave-iest of Rouch’s early features.” And it “created a template for how a film could conduct a complex internal dialogue using only the terms of its own fascination with beauty, romance, and young bodies. The difference is that it created it to explore a subject that few of the films that followed in its footsteps were ready to address.”
Also at the A.V. Club, Katie Rife presents an excerpt from the forthcoming collection Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin.
With John Badham’s Saturday Night Fever (1977) back in theaters, the Village Voice’s Melissa Anderson asks, “Did this resolutely straight, white movie about a musical idiom and subculture that was predominantly gay and black betray and banalize disco or democratize it?”
Writing for four by three magazine, John Winn argues that Derek Jarman's Blue (1993) “should be considered a transmedial performance, a performance that is re-embodied with each screening, broadcast, or installation.”
Scott Eyman for Film Comment on Josef von Sternberg’s Anatahan (1953): “In recent years, there’s been a lot of nonsense written about Orson Welles being an independent filmmaker, simply because his work proved so reliably uncommercial even when he worked in familiar genres. It seems to me that the mantle of an independent filmmaker hiding in plain sight is far more suited to Sternberg, whose films owe very little to conventional narratives or styles of storytelling. He stubbornly followed his fantasies of ritualized humiliation to their logical end: a proud marginalization resulting in creative silence, followed by death.”
Writing for the Paris Review,Noah Gallagher Shannon recommends the official site for cinematographer Roger Deakins, “where practically every day, and especially when he’s between projects, the 67-year-old writes what must be among the most admiring and detailed prose about lampshades and light bulbs, fields questions about his own movies, and gives advice to readers about their own low-budget projects.”
For Thomas Powers, writing for the New York Review of Books, James Gray’s The Lost City of Z “is distinguished by three things—a kind of ethnographer’s fascination with the behavior of men in groups; beautiful photography of the forest lushness of the Amazon basin, roughly two-thirds the size of the United States; and the driving force it gives to [Percy H.] Fawcett’s determination to do something that would dazzle the world.”
“Of all the film adaptations that have wrestled with the Arthurian legend, the one that comes closest to capturing its grandeur is John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981), a mad, magnificent movie that belongs on any responsible list of modern cult classics.” Adam Nayman argues his case at the Ringer.
If Bong Joon-ho’s The Host (2006) "has only continued to grow into its role as the defining monster movie of the 21st Century, it’s not because of the film’s conspiratorial flair or its digs at the media,” writes Indiewire’s David Ehrlich, “it’s because it’s the only recent monster movie that doesn’t feel like a metaphor for something else. Sometimes, the danger really is that obvious.”
“Some actors become household names in their prime by playing action heroes in B-movies and other disreputable genres, never doing the kinds of 'prestige' films that would give them critical cachet or the undying admiration of their peers,” writes Tim Grierson in MEL Magazine. “But if they hang around long enough, a sort of cultural affection attaches to them. Kurt Russell has been having that moment over the last couple years.”
At the Talkhouse Film, Bruce LaBruce inducts Frank D. Gilroy’s Desperate Characters (1971) into his Academy of the Underrated.
At JSTOR Daily, Erin Blakemore spotlights an essay by Adrienne L. MacLean first published in the Fall 1992 and Winter 1993 issue of the Journal of Film and Video, “‘I'm a Cansino’: Transformation, Ethnicity, and Authenticity in the Construction of Rita Hayworth, American Love Goddess.”
In the new issue of its magazine, SFMOMA’s Open Space presents Steve Seid’s “Brief History of the San Francisco International Video Festival, 1980–1987.” It’s not that brief, actually, but the artwork alone makes for a fascinating time capsule.
At Little White Lies,Patrick Gamble looks back on the just-wrapped 2017 edition of the IndieLisboa Film Festival.
Grasshopper Film has posted an annotated list from Fort Buchanan director Benjamin Crotty of “ten films released in the last ten years that left a strong impression.”
Christopher Schobert has been paging through new books about cinema and recommends a baker’s dozen at the Film Stage.
In Other News
All eyes are on the Cannes Film Festival, whose seventieth edition opens tomorrow and runs through May 28. And the juries are set. You’ll remember who’s on the Feature Films Jury: Pedro Almodóvar (president), Maren Ade, Jessica Chastain, Fan Bingbing, Agnès Jaoui, Park Chan-wook, Will Smith, Paolo Sorentino, and Gabriel Yared.
Un Certain Regard: Uma Thurman (president), Mohamed Diab, Reda Kateb, Joachim Lafosse, and Karel Och.
Caméra d’or: Sandrine Kiberlain, Patrick Blossier, Elodie Bouchez, Guillaume Brac, Thibault Carterot, Fabien Gaffez, and Michel Merkt.
Short Films and Cinéfondation: Cristian Mungiu, Clotilde Hesme, Barry Jenkins, Eric Khoo, and Athina Rachel Tsangari.
Nastassja Kinski will be a guest of honor at the seventieth Locarno Festival, running from August 2 through 12. “For the occasion the German actress will be presenting Cat People, Paul Schrader’s remake of the horror classic by French director Jacques Tourneur, dedicatee of this year’s Retrospective at Locarno.”
“Powers Boothe, the character actor known for playing villainous roles in films like Sin City and Tombstone and television series like Deadwood and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., died Sunday morning at his home in Los Angeles,” reports Daniel Kreps for Rolling Stone. In 1980, “Boothe starred as cult leader Jim Jones in the made-for-TV film Guyana Tragedy, a role that earned him an Emmy Award for best actor.” He was sixty-eight.
Michael Parks, who appeared in Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk till Dawn (1996), both parts of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill (2003/04), and Kevin Smith’s Red State (2011), has passed away at the age of seventy-seven. Etan Vlessing has the story in the Hollywood Reporter.
Mary Tsoni, best known for her performance as the younger daughter in Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth (2009), is gone far too young. She was only thirty. Graham Winfrey reports for Indiewire.
Brad Grey, who headed Paramount Pictures for twelve years, has died. THR’s Gregg Kilday: “While Grey left a mixed legacy behind at Paramount—during his tenure, the studio relied on such franchises as Transformers,Star Trek and Mission: Impossible and also saw the Al Gore climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth win an Oscar—as a manager, he left an even more indelible mark on the culture, playing a role in bringing such iconic TV series as The Larry Sanders Show,The Sopranos, and Real Time With Bill Maher to cable television.” Grey was fifty-nine.
“Quinn O’Hara, the Scottish-born sex kitten who starred in the 1960s movies A Swingin’ Summer and The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, has died. She was seventy-six.” The Hollywood Reporter’s Mike Barnes: “An attractive redhead, O’Hara also portrayed Jack Lemmon’s sexy secretary in Good Neighbor Sam (1964), and Jerry Lewis employed her in three of his films: The Errand Boy (1961), her big-screen debut; Who’s Minding the Store? (1963); and The Patsy (1964).”
“Character actor Don Gordon, who appeared alongside his friend Steve McQueen in Bullitt,Papillon, and The Towering Inferno, died April 24 in Los Angeles,” reports Pat Saperstein for Variety.
Robert Wilson, “legendary TV producer and father to actors Luke Wilson and Owen Wilson,” was seventy-five. Variety’s JD Knapp: “Not only did he help launch Jim Lehrer’s career…, he was also responsible for bringing Monty Python’s Flying Circus to American television screens.”
William Hjortsberg, who wrote the screenplay for Ridley Scott’s Legend (1985) and the novel Falling Angel, which Alan Parker adapted as Angel Heart (1987), was seventy-six. Andy Lewis has more in the Hollywood Reporter.
“On the latest episode of the Talkhouse Film Podcast [50'49"], friends, filmmakers and fellow humanists Shannon Plumb and Azazel Jacobs get up close and personal.”
Film Comment editor Nicolas Rapold recently moderated a panel discussion about Michael Radford’s 1984 (1984) and “present-day doublespeak and dystopia.” Taking part in the conversation (34'29") are “critic and curator Ashley Clark; filmmaker Petra Epperlein, director of the Stasi documentary Karl Marx City; and New York Magazine book critic Christian Lorentzen.”
Joshual Grannell and Terry Frost join Mike White in The Projection Booth to discuss Frank Perry’s Mommie Dearest (1981) (192'00"). “Guests this episode include actress Rutanya Alda who gives a behind-the-scenes account of the shooting of the film and Justin Bozung who is currently writing a book about director Frank Perry.”
The National Film Preservation Foundation has launched an Online Field Guide to Sponsored Films, featuring more than 100 films Rick Prelinger wrote about in his 2006 book The Field Guide to Sponsored Films, “the first overview of the motion pictures commissioned during the past century by American businesses, charities, advocacy groups, and state and local government organizations. The annotated filmography singled out 452 sponsored films of particular historical, cultural, and artistic interest; now viewers can see 102 of them online. Almost all are in HD and available for free download, thanks to our partners at the Library of Congress and the Internet Archive.” Bilge Ebiri writes about a few highlights in the collection for the Village Voice.
This past while has seen not one but two new audiovisual essays from Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin.The Holy Family (10'25") is the seventh piece in their ongoing series for De Filmkrant,The Thinking Machine, this one examining the “uncanny resonance” between Philippe Garrel’s Le révélateur (1968) and David Lynch’s The Grandmother (1970). And for the Notebook: Walkers: A Motif in Philippe Garrel (15'07").
Getty Images and iStock present an interactive experience, The Nonsilent Film.
Coming soon: Entries on projects in the works, notable events, a roundup of interviews, and more.