The editors of Senses of Cinema open Issue 84 with a “near exhaustive dossier” on Christian Petzold and a second entitled “Sartre at the Movies.” Here, “one of the world’s foremost scholars of French cinema, Dudley Andrew, explores the ideas of Sartre developed on the cinematic image in tandem with other philosophers of his era, from Henri Bergson to André Malraux, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Gaston Bachelard. Daniel Fairfax compares his model of the politically engaged artist with that of France’s other great provocateur, Jean-Luc Godard. Finally, Luca Peretti unearths hitherto unaccessed archival material to discuss Sartre’s involvement in the abortive essay film A Black God and a White Devil, financed by the Italian state oil company ENI.”
Back to Petzold, but not quite yet back to Senses. Let’s detour for a moment to the Notebook, where Patrick Holzapfel conducts a wide-ranging conversation with Petzold and Christoph Hochhäusler. “The idea of the interview was to get Petzold’s take on Hochhäusler’s The City Below (2010) and Hochhäusler’s take on Petzold’s The State I Am In (2000). In the end, both filmmakers ended up talking about a lot more, as cinema for them has always been something that shines most brightly when remembering it, discussing it and loving it.”
Also in the Notebook, Michael Pattison writes about the two films Holzapfel mentions and then notes: “It was in 2001, writing about Angela Schanelec’s Passing Summer, that the German critic Merten Worthmann alluded to the films of the ‘Berlin School’—identifying a number of common tropes across otherwise discrete works from several German filmmakers. . . . The degree to which Worthmann’s coinage has proven to be critically useful, then, can be contested . . . Nevertheless, a growing body of literature has emerged in recent years seeking to grapple with the so-called ‘Berliner Schule’—as outlined in this useful 2015 essay for Senses of Cinema by Marco Abel. A 2010 essay for the same journal (modestly self-described as ‘a collage’) also provides a helpful guiding hand through this tricky but worthwhile turf.”
Abel has guest-edited the Senses dossier on Petzold with Jaimey Fisher and, in their introduction, they make note of “the profound influence [Harun] Farocki had on Petzold’s career as a teacher when the latter studied with the former at the [Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin or German Film- and Television Academy Berlin (dffb)] between 1988 and 1994 and as a long-time friend and collaborator.”
So. The dossier:
- Jasmin Krakenberg: “When it comes to describing the emotional complexes of the characters, the films employ descriptive pauses through the use of frontal close-ups, static framing, long-take cinematography, understated performances, and sound design that renders environmental ambience equal to character dialogue.”
- Joy Castro: “Petzold’s willingness to explore across gender and imagine the subjugated and objectified Other as fully alive subject is compelling and noteworthy. Perhaps even more radical is the fact that he dares to posit and problematize his own kind—the voyeuristic, consuming, socially empowered male—as fundamental to the suffering that women experience.”
- Christoph Hochhäusler: “Like a Japanese carpenter, he combines the elements without having to force things. I very much admire this, and even if my baroque temperament sometimes misses excess in his films: it is this precision that makes him the best German director of the present.”
- Marco Abel: “It is perhaps no exaggeration to claim that Petzold must be credited as having been among the very first (German) filmmakers to have managed, intuitively if not intentionally, to render visible in filmic form a process that at the time [ca. 1990] was still in its nascent state but that eventually would, in my view, become more era-defining for unified Germany than unification itself: what we might want to call the neoliberalization of Germany.”
- In Petzold’s first full-length feature, Pilotinnen (Pilots, 1995), William Mahan finds “that Petzold portrays surveillance as a simultaneously economic and voyeuristic means of recording exploitative business transactions in a telling intersection that anticipates his better-known use of surveillance later in his career.”
- Focusing on Barbara (2012), Brad Prager argues that Siegfried Kracauer, in Theory of Film (1960), “offers terms through which one can examine the difficulties that inhere in engaging with the present when a director chooses to set his or her film in the past.”
- Next up is a conversation with Petzold conducted last year by Jaimey Fisher and Robert Fischer, who at the time was the senior programmer for the Munich Film Festival.
- Roger Cook on Barbara: “By focusing on the materiality of life and sensory experience in the GDR, Petzold evokes an embodied mode of spectatorship that resists the representationalist approach to history found in heritage film. This stands in stark contrast to [Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s] The Lives of Others , which subordinates cinema’s affective force as an audiovisual medium imbued with presence to the textual semiotic of literary narrative.”
- And once again, Jaimey Fisher: “Petzold is convinced that genre—or, as he likes to say, ‘B-movies’—can work through important themes at the core of a culture, and that is certainly true in Phoenix, where he not only excavates the challenges of the early postwar reconstruction, but also acknowledges the stunning level of personal and collective betrayal and then self-serving lying about such betrayal. . . . Phoenix’s engagement with [Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979)] demonstrates the affinity of historical period pieces for melodrama and how the genre negotiates historically transitional moments—but it also highlights Petzold’s different, more reconstructive project with melodrama, even as he cites Fassbinder’s anarchically playful dismantling of the genre.”
Also in this new issue, Andreea Patru talks with Cristi Puiu. In the new batch of program notes for the Melbourne Cinémathèque from Senses, you’ll find Kenta McGrath on Stuff and Dough (2001), Alina Haliliuc on Cigarettes and Coffee (2004), Rahul Hamid on The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005), Adam Powell on Aurora (2010), and José Sarmiento-Hinojosa on Sieranevada (2016).
While we’re browsing that section, let’s note that there are Cinémathèque annotations on films by Jane Campion:
- Faith Everard on Peel (1982), Nathan Senn on A Girl’s Own Story (1983), Ben Kooyman on After Hours (1984), Tanya Farley on Passionless Moments (1984), Gwendolyn Audrey Foster on 2 Friends (1986), Isabella McNeill on An Angel at My Table (1990), Joanna Di Mattia on The Piano (1993), David Richard on In the Cut (2003), Jytte Holmqvist on The Water Diary (2006), and Holly Willis on Bright Star (2009).
- On films by Raoul Walsh: Shari Kizirian on Regeneration (1915), Darragh O’Donoghue on The Thief of Bagdad (1924), James L. Neibaur on The Roaring Twenties (1939), Stephen Gaunson on They Drive by Night (1940), Luke Goodsell on High Sierra (1941), Adrian Danks on White Heat (1949).
- On films by Daryl Dellora: James Waters on Mr. Neal is Entitled to Be an Agitator (1991), Flora Georgiou on The Edge of the Possible (1998), and Rhiannon Dalglish on Harry Seidler: Modernist (2016).
- And on films by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet: David Heslin on Not Reconciled (1965), Wheeler Winston Dixon on The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (1968). Sarah Jane Foster on Othon (1969), Luke Aspell on History Lessons (1972), and Pasquale Iannone on Sicilia! (1999).
Back in the features section, Jackson Arn argues that Summer of Sam (1999) “deserves a place in the ever-growing subgenre of unjustly neglected Spike Lee Joints. Its portrait of white America, condemned at the time for its harshness, now seems nuanced, sympathetic, and tragically prophetic, and its maximalist style, dismissed as Lee’s overreaching, now seems like a fitting way to document a pivotal era in history of New York City, white America, and the United States itself.”
James Slaymaker considers “the way in which filmmakers have explored new haptic effects that have profound implications for the audience experience in the cinema and hence counteract the perceived loss of materiality from the digital image.” David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis (2012) “thematizes this transition in the infrastructure of American filmmaking and hence draws connections between the abstraction of financial processes and digital cinema, and the feeling of lack they both foster.”
“During the period known as cinema’s transitional era (1907-1913), the motion picture underwent a series of changes from single-reel to multi-reel films, an evolution in editing techniques, as well as an overall improvement in camera aesthetics, which led to the regular use of the close-up and by consequence allowed audiences to see film actors up close and personal for the first time,” writes David Morton, who seeks “a greater understanding of the development of early movie fan culture” by assessing “the career dynamics of Florence Turner during this particular moment in film history.”
Jytte Holmqvist talks with Spanish actress Elena Anaya, who’s worked with Pedro Almodóvar and appears in Wonder Woman.
Writing about Mexico’s narco wars, César Albarrán-Torres “compares and analyses the ways in which violated and mutilated bodies from this conflict are depicted in scenes from two Hollywood productions—the TV show Breaking Bad (created by Vince Gillian, 2008-2013) and Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario (2015)—and in Mexican director Amat Escalante’s Heli which won Best Director at Cannes in 2013.”
Daniel Fairfax introduces an interview: “One of the world’s foremost theorists of sound in the cinema, former Cahiers du cinéma critic Michel Chion is also a composer of musique concrète and a filmmaker in his own right.”
With Joanna Di Mattia’s essay on the life and work, Terence Davies is finally inducted into the Great Directors database. Then there are the festival reports and, in a bit, we’ll get to the book reviews.
First, though, the new 100th issue of Filmmaker is out, marking the magazine’s twenty-fifth anniversary, and its main attraction is online. This year’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” once again features profiles of people we will very likely being hearing more about in the coming years if Filmmaker’s record is anything to go by.
Also online in this issue, Chad Elias: “One of the most significant aspects of the wave of protests and uprisings that began in Syria in 2011 was the use of the cell phone camera as a tool of documentation, political activism, and creative expression.” And Paul Julian Smith: “By happy coincidence, Mexico in 2016 yielded two expert and moving documentaries on women, sex, and aging: María José Cuevas’s Bellas de noche (Beauties of the Night) and Maya Goded’s Plaza de la Soledad (Solitude Square). Both are first-time features by female directors. And both are attempts to reclaim previously neglected subjects: showgirls of the 1970s and sex workers in their seventies, respectively.”
In September 2017 issue of the Brooklyn Rail, Matt Turner writes about a set of documentaries he caught in Locarno last month: Denis Côté’s A Skin So Soft, Rana Eid’s Panoptic, Travis Wilkerson’s Did You Wonder Who Fired The Gun?, Blake Williams’s PROTOTYPE, Gürcan Keltek’s Meteorlar, Ben Russell’s Good Luck, and Wang Bing’s Golden Leopard-winner, Mrs. Fang.
Duncan Ranslem talks with Maple Razsa: “Video, he has written, enables activists to better engage the bodily, sensory, and affective dimensions of politics. This helps give the act of protest an affirmative character, not merely a negative one, as video becomes a means of producing new political subjects.”
Dan Sullivan on Jason Giampietro: “The question of whether we’re essentially narcissists playing at being ourselves in accordance with our delusional handle on reality is the clearest connection between Giampietro’s rapidly expanding body of photographic work and his filmmaking.”
Vered Engelhard writes about the films of Yvonne Rainer: “It is by the objectification of one’s own experience that experience itself gains the power of a public political claim. One can trace this impulse towards the de-individualization of personal experience all the way back to her critique of ‘expressiveness’ in her dance work.” On a related note, see Kaitlyn A. Kramer on the just-closed exhibition Radical Bodies: Anna Halprin, Simone Forti, and Yvonne Rainer in California and New York, 1955-1972.
Robert Sinnerbrink introduces a special issue of Film-Philosophy “dedicated to exploring the relationship between cinema and ethics and the idea of a ‘cinematic ethics’: the expression and evocation of ethical experience, an experiential approach to thinking through ethics via close critical and philosophical engagement with film.”
- Lucy Bolton: “By bringing [Iris] Murdoch and Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, 2011) together in an exploration of the moral decision making of the film's protagonist and our assessment of her choices, we can learn more about the idea of film as a morally important fable rather than a fable that is purely decorative.”
- Christopher Falzon: Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure “evokes an experience, the extraordinary event beyond one's control, capable of putting a moral agent to the test, challenging one's sense of who one is and what one stands for.”
- Angelos Koutsourakis argues that “we need to identify ways to visualize the Anthropocene dialectically and I proceed to do so using as a case study Jessica Woodworth's and Peter Brosen's trilogy on the conflict between humans and nature, which consists of Khadak (2006), Altiplano (2009), and The Fifth Season (La Cinquième Saison, 2012).”
- Matthew Sharpe’s argument is “that David Oelhoffen's 2014 film Far From Men (Loin des Hommes), while departing from the letter of Camus’s 1957 story, ‘The Guest/Host,’ does remarkable cinematic justice to its spirit.”
- Philip Martin draws “upon the work of Gilles Deleuze alongside Kyōto School philosopher Nishida Kitarō in order to articulate the way in which [Tanaka Mitsutoshi’s] Ask This of Rikyū  explores the relation of artistic activity and aesthetic experience to the general ethical and political forces that feed into history.”
- David Macarthur: “Put in the starkest light, [Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982)] is not about what makes us human but whether we can be saved from ourselves, from our terrifying inhumanity, our moral blindness.”
- Joshua Oppenheimer's The Look of Silence (2014) “depicts a series of confrontations between optometrist Adi Rukun and warlords and gangsters involved in massacres perpetrated during Indonesia's anti-communist purges,” writes Mathew Abbott. And “there is something disquieting for philosophy about these men, and the urge to call them monsters.”
- Focusing on Bryan Fuller's Hannibal (2013–2015), Jane Stadler “examines the capacity for screen media to facilitate what neuroscientist Vittorio Gallese terms intercorporeality.”
“Due to its intricate production history, the depiction of extreme violence and ensuing problems with several national censorship authorities, the 1970 exploitation movie Mark of the Devil (Hexen bis aufs Blut gequält, Michael Armstrong) has developed a cult reputation that persists till this day,” write Andreas Ehrenreich and Julian Petley, introducing a special issue of Cine-Excess devoted entirely to the film. “While representing an ideal object for fan appreciation, Michael Armstrong’s film and its paratexts are a perfect area of enquiry pertaining to key debates in film studies such as authorship, production and reception.”
Back to Senses of Cinema—and the book reviews.
Reviewing Antoine de Baecque and Noël Herpe’s Éric Rohmer: A Biography, Tamara Tracz argues that “the films are not the man. They are not peaceful, simple or regulated, like his life.” And “for all its carefully researched history, Rohmer was no less of a stranger to me when I finished the book.”
In “his fine book,” Abbas Kiarostami and Film-Philosophy, “Matthew Abbott makes clear that the philosophical content of the director’s work does not mean this is where the philosophy will be found,” writes Tony McKibbin. “There might be philosophical exchanges in the his films, but it will be in the coming of various cinematic components together that the director’s film-philosophy will be practiced.”
Giuliano Vivaldi: “Jack Sargeant’s latest book Flesh and Excess: On Underground Film is, as he says in the introduction to the volume, a return to, or re-articulation of, “fascinations, idées fixes and simple raw mania[s]” that he has engaged with throughout his career as a prominent writer and commentator on the most transgressive and heterogeneous forms of cinema of recent decades.”
Hayashi Umineko on The Invention of Robert Bresson: The Auteur and His Market: “A thoroughly researched portrayal of the visionary auteur, [Colin] Burnett’s book attempts to fill the glaring lacunae in critics’ efforts to find the origin of the style bressonien.”
In The Architecture of David Lynch, Richard Martin “begins with a simple thesis,” writes Troy Bordun, “which also serves as his methodological approach: ‘Lynch guarantees architecture is the story.’ (p. 13) His chapters tell the story of each of Lynch’s films through four ‘symbolic spaces’ that cut across his entire oeuvre: Small Town and Big City, the Home, the Road, and the Stage.”
Freely available from the new issue of Film Quarterly is Genevieve Yue’s conversation with Patricia Zimmermann and Scott MacDonald, authors of The Flaherty: Decades in the Cause of Independent Cinema. “Though the book is grounded in the experience of the seminar,” writes Yue, “it is less interested in examining the contours of this complex social ecology than charting the struggles the organization faced throughout its sixty-year history.”
Back to the Brooklyn Rail, where Phil Coldiron reviews Evan Calder Williams’s Shard Cinema: “This is a theory of images arrived at through precise formal investigation, through close attention to the ‘strange seams’ of what he calls the ‘composite image’ and an openness to everything that they tie together.”
In each issue of the Brooklyn Rail, there’s a section called “Critics Page” in which a guest puts forward a set of ideas and/or questions and critics respond. This guest this time around is Arden Reed, author of Slow Art: the Experience of Looking, Sacred Images to James Turrell. Of particular interest to us are these responses:
- Blake Gopnik on Andy Warhol’s Sleep (1963); and all the notes he took while watching the five-hour-plus film are here.
- Bernice Rose: “In France, cinema was declared part of the national patrimony by 1907. When Braque and Picasso met in Paris that year they were both already deeply engrossed in the city’s established cinema culture.”
- Mark Goble on Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendor (2015): “Almost all the movie’s characters are haunted by forms of slowness they cannot control.”
We’ll be hearing a lot more about Reinventing Hollywood: How 1940s Filmmakers Changed Movie Storytelling when it comes out next month, but for now, David Bordwell has posted a bit of background on what motivated him to write the book: “The more I looked, the more I realized that the Forties recaptured the narrative range and fluidity of silent cinema, extending and nuancing it with sound. In essence, a new set of norms emerged, forged by many filmmakers. Several questions followed. How to describe those innovations?” And several question later: “In all, how did various trends coalesce into a tradition? . . . In effect, I’m asking that the kind of appreciation people show for genres, actors, and auteurs be stretched to narrative strategies as well.”
The University of Minnesota Press promises that Scenarios is the “first in a series: Urtexts of the quintessential early films of Werner Herzog.” In other words, this first volume does not collect screenplays, but rather, treatments, or something like them, for Land of Silence and Darkness (1971), Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), Every Man for Himself and God Against All (1974, known stateside as The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser), and Fitzcarraldo (1982). A. S. Hamrah doesn’t so much review the volume for Bookforum as celebrate the man and his work: “If Herzog’s persona has eclipsed his filmmaking accomplishments, it is largely because we now inhabit a world in which the actual achievement of grand, worthwhile ambition seems impossible.”
Ethan Nichtern’s The Dharma of The Princess Bride: What the Coolest Fairy Tale of Our Time Can Teach Us About Buddhism and Relationships “defies easy categorization,” writes David Gelles for the New York Times. “Part memoir, part Buddhist treatise and part cultural criticism, its pitch is that The Princess Bride is something more than a lighthearted sendup of the fairy tale genre—if viewed through the right lens, it is also a trove of timeless wisdom.”
“Barrett Hodsdon is an unfamiliar name to me, chiefly because I do not reside in Australia,” writes Tony Williams. “However, like Victor Perkins, he seems to have written few works but when he has they are characterized by rigorous observations, well-thought-out arguments, and distinguished research.” The Elusive Auteur: The Question of Film Authorship Throughout the Age of Cinema “is one of the most rewarding books I’ve read this year.”
Also writing for Film International is Yun-hua Chen: “Christopher Lupke’s The Sinophone Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien: Culture, Style, Voice, and Motion is a well-informed book straddling between the disciplines of Chinese Studies and Film Studies and is highly relevant to film buffs, sinophiles, film researchers, and students.”
John McElwee enthusiastically recommends John Andrew Gallagher and Frank Thompson’s Nothing Sacred: The Cinema of William Wellman. The authors “have been over thirty years at gathering research and data. Text is based on hundreds of interviews plus probing into studio files. There are over a thousand illustrations, many from behind scenes and never published before. Pages are beautifully laid out, with one revelation after another.”
Ryan Vlastelica at the A.V. Club on Douglass K. Daniel’s Anne Bancroft: A Life: “The book doesn’t want for chronological details, but it’s missing the kind of spark of insight that distinguishes great biographies.”
For the Guardian, Dayla Alberge talks with Ron Hutchinson, who wrote The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996) with Richard Stanley and now has a new memoir, Clinging to the Iceberg: Writing for a Living on the Stage and in Hollywood. From the book: “By this stage of his life Brando, playing the God of Moreau’s island and emerging as the God of the production, was way beyond bored with the making of movies. Overweight, unprepared, mocking, dismissive, on the razor’s edge where caprice becomes malice, the case for the prosecution is therefore easily made. He was indeed here to sabotage this movie.”
“Five years ago, I got an email from two Hollywood producers who wanted to turn my first novel, Carrie Pilby, into a movie,” writes Caren Lissner for the Atlantic. “I was thrilled, but . . . The truth is, so much has to align when adapting a book for the screen that it’s practically a miracle when it works out. And even though this strange process hasn’t left me wealthy, it’s been fascinating and rewarding to watch it unfold from start to finish.”
And we’ll wrap with Leonard Matlin’s annotated list of “New and Notable Film Books: September 2017.”
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