• [The Daily] Issues: Cinema Scope, cléo, Apparatus

    By David Hudson

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    On January 5, First Look 2018 will open at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York with the U.S. premiere of Blake Williams’s PROTOTYPE, “a work of speculative fiction that takes its starting point from the 1900 hurricane that destroyed the town of Galveston, Texas,” as Michael Sicinski explains, introducing his interview with Williams in the new issue of Cinema Scope. “No filmmaker since Ken Jacobs has been so consistently committed to exploring the aesthetic potentials of 3D technology.”

    “Part of the appeal of 3D for me is that it’s a kind of perpetual infant,” Williams tells Sicinski. “It’s always young and beginning, because it keeps repeating a similar cycle: it becomes popular, and almost as soon as it becomes popular it’s fading out again—unlike sound, unlike color, unlike CinemaScope, which all had their so-called ‘immature’ modes where they’re demonstrating their effects much more than being incorporated into a film’s narrative. But with 3D, it seems that it always has to demonstrate itself to us in a very . . . I wouldn’t say ‘immature’ way, but in a very childlike way. . . . But I like to think that when you’re working with a format that’s in this young mode, it just gives you more freedom to play, and discover things that haven’t been done yet.”

    Williams is also an academic and critic and, for this new issue, #73, he reviews Mrs. Hyde: “In addition to often being quite funny, Serge Bozon’s fifth feature and second consecutive Isabelle Huppert vehicle is an exemplary film about pedagogy, perhaps one of the great ones about intuition, and also one of the strangest screen interpretations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s seminal 1886 science-fiction/horror tale . . . Bozon and screenwriter Axelle Ropert’s treatment is less subversive than it is Cubist and glancing, resulting in a movie that crosshatches its various planes of ideas, templates, and discourses in order to simultaneously pay tribute to and move beyond certain systems of logic.”

    Stan Brakhage’s Metaphors on Vision (1963), newly republished by Anthology Film Archives and Light Industry, “is one of Film Theory’s Great Books, as central to a rounded understanding of 20th-century thought on the medium and its horizons as Sergei Eisenstein’s Film Form, André Bazin’s What Is Cinema?, and Hollis Frampton’s Circles of Confusion,” writes Chuck Stephens. “Like many important tomes, it’s intermittently intimidating and occasionally unreadable, but Brakhage’s writing is also extremely variable, sometimes direct and diaristic, and often playful and elusive, woven with wordfoolery and whimsy, its serious-mindedness apt to go skittering away on a sudden inspiration.”

    Slow Writing: Thom Andersen on Cinema “evinces a remarkably consistent set of concerns across the fifty years of its author’s thinking about cinema,” writes Sean Rogers. “As in Andersen’s films, his subject matter is eclectic and catholic, ranging from sexploitation flicks to Ozu Yasujiro, with stops at Andy Warhol, the blacklist, and Phil Spector along the way. When his topic is narrative films, Andersen describes in detail what they’re about; when it’s avant-garde films, he explains precisely what they do. He manages to be evocative and exacting, as alert to a film’s social implications as he is to its form.”

    The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953), co-written and co-designed by Dr. Seuss (Ted Geisel), “has been one of my favorite ’50s movies ever since I saw it at age ten on Times Square during its initial release,” writes Jonathan Rosenbaum at the top of his “Global Discoveries on DVD” column. In an article for the October 1978 issue of American Film, Rosenbaum, drawing on a conversation he’d had with Geisel, told the story of the film’s making. It was a troubled production, but not troubled enough, argues Rosenbaum, to keep Dr. T from becoming and remaining a classic.

    “One of the striking aspects of [Phantom Thread] is that there are, fundamentally, no bad people, and that everyone has their reasons,” writes Robert Koehler. “The screenplay, in a stark departure from all of [Paul Thomas] Anderson’s previous movies, is a chamber drama whose setting and early dynamics suggest Harold Pinter . . . Yet the threesome at the drama’s center is alternately destructive and nurturing, momentarily at each other’s throats (and possibly worse), and then working together in true collaboration. Anderson hasn’t dramatized this more complex and adult dynamic before, and its alternating and unexpected shifts of power are likely what made [Daniel] Day-Lewis so dedicated to the project.”

    Adam Nayman on Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water: “There is craft here, and intelligence, and plenty of its maker’s vaunted, self-professed faith in monsters, both as marquee attraction and metaphor. But there is also an airless, self-adulatory quality to The Shape of Water that not only spoils the fun but reverses it, so that every ostensibly enchanted gesture becomes an alienation effect.”

    Jean-Patrick Manchette was “the hilarious, hardboiled renovator of French crime literature whose work in (and about) literature and film I fêted in Cinema Scope 62,” writes Christoph Huber, introducing his interview with Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani. “Like Manchette, Cattet and Forzani combine formal rigor with popular forms, and despite their very different stylistic leanings, their artistic sensibilities are highly compatible—a surrealist match for Manchette’s anarchism, capped by a shared sense of humor. Astonishingly faithful to its source although spiced with select and salient changes, Cattet and Forzani’s Laissez bronzer les cadavres may come to be recognized as one of the best and most original literary adaptations in decades, even as it is an astonishingly cinematic experience.”

    “A modest work of considerable grace and insight, Ilian Metev’s 3/4 quietly stands as one of the most accomplished narrative debuts of the year,” writes Jordan Cronk, admiring “the discreet dispersal of information (both verbal and visual), the considered arrangement of bodies and movement within his 3:2 frame, and the use of backwards tracking shots to both cover various conversations and bridge the film’s outdoor locations with their interior counterparts.”

    Jay Kuehner on Cocote: “If hacer cogote translates as ‘to expect something,’ then such anticipation is fraught with the ineluctable nature of violence as it relates specifically to Dominican life, which Nelson Carlo de Los Santos Arias carefully, if caustically, conjures with a near-palpable formal arsenal.”

    Lawrence Garcia: “That Guy Maddin’s feature-length follow-up to his most monumental work to date—the staggering mise en abyme of The Forbidden Room (2013)—would be The Green Fog, a sixty-three-minute, found-footage video reimagining of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), is entirely apropos (and a rather Maddin-esque sleight-of-hand) when one considers the fanfare with which The Green Fog was unveiled: as the closing-night event of the San Francisco International Film Festival’s sixtieth anniversary, with a score composed by Jacob Garchik and performed live by the Kronos Quartet.”

    “For all its innate provocation,” writes Samuel La France, Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel’s Caniba “virtually revels in its absorbing dullness.”

    Taking on Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Angelo Muredda suggests that “whatever the rationale behind it, the flippancy of McDonagh’s compulsive jokes frequently halts the momentum of a film that—following the lead of Mildred’s billboards, which demand that viewers bear witness—is about how flippancy is an inadequate response to the horrors of the world.”

    “Hot” is the theme of the fifteenth issue of cléo, the journal of film and feminism. “Let the Sunshine In feels like a call back to one of [Claire] Denis’s most undervalued works, Friday Night,” writes founding editor Kiva Reardon. “Released in 2002 and based on the novel of the same name by Emmanuèle Bernheim, the film sometimes feels semi-forgotten, an outlier in her body of more ‘difficult’ work. Like Let the Sunshine In, Friday Night is vulnerable to dismissive critiques that harbor a sexist resistance to taking matters of the heart seriously, especially those of women over the age of thirty. And yet, Friday Night remains one of my favorite Denis films in its portrayal of sensuality that’s based in a disruption of linear time.”

    Clara Miranda Scherffig calls Summer 1993 “an immersive, nostalgic viewing experience” and talks with director Carla Simón “about scriptwriting, growing up in the ’90s, and motherhood, as well as her intentions as a filmmaker.”

    Writing about Ceyda Torun’s 2016 documentary about Istanbul street cats, Kathleen Kampeas-Rittenhouse suggests that “perhaps the more-or-less explicit themes of interdependence and fragility woven in among Kedi’s lighter-hearted narratives are an attempt to apply a loving lens to a bleak reality—a gentle, wet-nosed nudge reminding audiences of their capacity to nurture. After all, as one character wisely warns: ‘People who don’t love animals can’t love people either.’”

    Elise Moore on Ida Lupino’s The Bigamist (1953) and Douglas Sirk’s There’s Always Tomorrow (1956): “Whereas Sirk emphasizes the entrapment and hollowness of bourgeois marriage, The Bigamist instead directs its criticism at patriarchal, institutional monogamy’s failure to accommodate complicated emotional, work, and financial needs and responsibilities. A comparison of the Lupino and Sirk films highlights what Lupino’s outsider approach added to American cinema’s criticism of postwar conformism.”

    “By considering the makeovers in [Barbra] Streisand’s first two films, Yentl (1983) and The Prince of Tides (1991), and putting them into conversation with The Mirror Has Two Faces [1996], it is clear that rather than accepting sexist convention, Streisand is manipulating the makeover in order to subvert it,” writes Chelsea Phillips-Carr.

    “The story of mermaids, selkies, sirens and their cousins is as mutable as the water through which these mythical creatures swim,” writes Sarah Fonseca, considering Agnieszka Smoczyńska’s The Lure (2015) in the context of the the queer history of mermaid lore.

    With The Deadman (1989), “on which she collaborated with Keith Sanborn, [Peggy] Ahwesh would take on one of Georges Bataille’s famously abject stories, the posthumously published ‘Le mort,’ and, translated and adapted by her collaborator, situate it within her resident group of punks, experimenting with an erratic but explicitly feminist filmmaking lens,” writes Hyunjee Nicole Kim.

    Amanda Jane Barbour conducts a “(visual) conversation” with genderqueer filmmaker Ester Martin Bergsmark (6’35”).

    “The key questions that gave rise to this collection of essays revolve around methodologies of gestural analysis and the avenues that this path of inquiry opens,” write Ana Hedberg Olenina and Irina Schulzki, introducing the new issue of Apparatus:

    How can the notion of gesture, although diffuse and elusive, be formulated as a source of theoretical reflection on cinema and an eligible tool of film and media analysis? What is cinematic gesture in both historical and theoretical perspectives? How does gesture relate to such concurrent concepts as movement, affect, and the body as a whole? How does it surpass this—however evident—relation to the body (above all, the hand, the face, the eye) and become subsumed under the categories of film apparatus (camera movement, perspective, framing, montage, color, sound)? Where is gesture to be placed between the visible and the enunciable? How does the moving image mediate corporeal performance, both aesthetically and ethically? In what ways do cinematic gestures affect and move the audience? Finally, how does gesture negotiate corporeality, film techniques, and modes of thinking?

    Oksana Bulgakowa’s contribution, a study of how post-WWII American films “were teaching Germans the body language of democracy,” is in German.

    Eric Rauth’s “study of F. W. Murnau’s classic horror film Nosferatu (1922) and Der Letzte Mann (The Last Laugh, 1924) accounts critically and historically for how film expanded and mobilized modern gesture.”

    “Vasilii Kandinskii’s plan for the Institute of Artistic Culture, which laid the foundation for the Russian Academy of Artistic Science (RAKhN, after 1926—State Academy, or GAKhN), emphasized studies of movement and dance.” Irina Sirotkina focuses on one of its “forgotten” projects, the Section of Kinemology.

    Ivan Pintor Iranzo analyzes “gesture, iconography, and landscape construction in Aleksandr Sokurov’s films to reveal their distinct handling of time and commitment to the historicity of their imagery.”

    “It is no overstatement to say that gesture defines the universe of Yorgos Lanthimos’s cinema,” writes Carlo Comanducci. “Entire sequences in his films portray the characters as they perform complex and arbitrary gestures, or as they enact, through a series of orchestrated movements, a script they have been hired to perform in order to flesh out somebody else’s fantasies or to impersonate someone else’s lost loved one.”

    The issue also features seven book reviews.

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