Tati, Buñuel, and More

The turn of each year always sees a flurry of listing,remembering, and anticipating that seems to knock just plain reading off the agenda for the time being. Now, a little over a week into the new year, we can start catching up, and we begin with a piece by Aaron Timms posted almost a month ago now to the Blog at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

In PlayTime (1967), Jacques Tati’s “hyper-modern, reimagined Paris offered a vision of the city that would emerge over the decade ahead” and “successfully anticipated—and skewered—other aspects of a society shortly to come: the pantomime of productivity that is the modern office job, the peculiarly kinetic stasis of life in a hyper-connected, 24/7 city. But the film most deserves our attention—especially today, with so much fear in the air about AI, the robot apocalypse, and so on—for Tati’s masterly, leisurely presentation of technology’s failure to account for human randomness and spontaneity.”

“I’ve been revisiting a good many of Buñuel’s films lately,” writes Jonathan Rosenbaum, “and a couple of traits of his work as a whole that I haven’t been sufficiently aware of in the past have been the centrality of class issues and his uncanny ability to predict or anticipate the future—not only the rise of terrorism but an escalation in income inequality and even, to my surprise, some of the lessons of feminism. These are traits that come together most tellingly and provocatively in his final feature, That Obscure Object of Desire (1977).”

Vampir Cuadecuc is a ghostly film as well as the ghost of a film and perhaps the ghost of cinema itself,” writes J. Hoberman in the New York Times. “Made in 1970 by the Catalan filmmaker Pere Portabella, Vampir Cuadecuc is among the most highly regarded avant-garde films of the past half century.” Further down that page, he writes about Stan Brakhage’s Anticipation of the Night (1958).

Also in the NYT:

  • David Stenn tells the harrowing story of Patricia Douglas, an actress who, in the 1930s, was “bused along with 119 female dancers, to a remote ranch, which the women were told was a film set. Actually, it was an M.G.M.-sponsored ‘stag affair’ for 282 visiting studio salesmen, a reward for record annual profits.” She was raped, fought back in court, and you can guess the rest: “Blackballed by the studios, shunned as ‘damaged goods,’ Douglas disappeared without a trace, spending the rest of her life in seclusion.”
  • Frank Bruni gets Greta Gerwig and Aaron Sorkin talking about #MeToo,#TimesUp, diversity, and the Oscars
  • Dove Barbanel describes how refugees fell in love—and then right back out again—with Charlie Chaplin

“Despite a lengthy filmography that began in the 1960s, Nobuhiko Obayashi is known in the West mainly for his 1977 feature debut House,” writes Mark Schilling in the Japan Times. Four decades later, his new film, Hanagatami, based on Kazuo Dan’s 1937 novel, focuses on “the lives of teenagers in Karatsu, Saga Prefecture, on the eve of war. Instead of toning down his signature style for this tragic story of youth cut short, Obayashi amplifies it. The result is a phantasmagoria of rapid cutting, perfervid acting and extravagant visuals, with the moon a giant ball bathing the sea and islands near Karatsu in heavenly splendor.”

MUBI’s Jerrython, a celebration of the late Jerry Lewis, rolls on with Michael Pattison’s piece on Lewis, as Jerry Langford in Martin Scorsese’s King of Comedy (1982), moving through the streets of New York, and with R. Emmet Sweeney’s celebration of the episodes of The Colgate Comedy Hour hosted by Lewis and Dean Martin.

Also in the Notebook:

For Film Comment,Nick Pinkerton interviews Jaume Collet-Serra, “a get-down-to-brass-tacks director working in the populist, popcorn mode without an ounce of either pomposity or condescension, achieving no small measure of artistic and financial success on his own terms in so doing: his surfer vs. shark survivalist tale The Shallows, for example, hauled in six times its slim production budget in 2016. Setting aside this and the singular accomplishment of Collet-Serra’s Orphan (2009), one of the more authentically depraved horror-thrillers of recent memory, the defining factor in his career has been an ongoing partnership with Liam Neeson, with whom he has worked on four films, each a highlight of Neeson’s late turn as an action superstar: Unknown (2011), Non-Stop (2014), Run All Night (2015), and now the hard-charging The Commuter, out this week.”

“There are many reasons American filmmakers fail to follow up on their debuts, the most obvious being a lack of financial and/or critical success,” writes Brad Stevens in Sight & Sound:

And these one-offs often seem to foretell their own failure, even evoking it as part of their narratives: the failed bank robbery in Barbara Loden’s Wanda (1970), Vic Bealer (Jon Voight)’s failed boxing career in Charles Eastman’s The All-American Boy (1970-1973), the failed attempt to sustain a truce in Frank Sinatra’s None but the Brave (1965), Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum)’s unsuccessful search for the hidden money in Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter (1955), the failed pursuit of the letters in Martin Gabel’s The Lost Moment (1947), Joe Bonham’s (Timothy Bottoms) failed struggle to secure the peace of death in Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun (1971), the failed rescue that ends James Salter’s Three (1969), the noir-inflected atmosphere of inevitable defeat that attends Kyle Niles (Robert Ivers) in James Cagney’s Short Cut to Hell (1957), the arbitrary deaths that conclude Carl Foreman’s The Victors (1963), Christopher Speeth’s Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1973), and James William Guercio’s Electra Glide in Blue (1973), the failures of masculinity in Ernest Lehman’s Portnoy’s Complaint (1972) and Joan Rivers’s Rabbit Test (1977). To which we might add Marlon Brando’s One-Eyed Jacks (1960), in which the protagonist’s revenge quest is endlessly delayed for reasons even he is unable to satisfactorily explain.

For photogénie, Charlotte Wynant writes about Nele Wohlatz’s The Future Perfect (2016) as it relates to the work of Robert Bresson, Eugène Green, and Straub-Huillet.

Last month, David Bordwell posted “some notes on an intriguing, quietly ambitious filmmaker working in the shadow” of Hong Sangsoo, Lee Kwangkuk.

“One of the first modern Iranian films, Ebrahim Golestan’s Brick and Mirror was made at a crucial point in the country’s history, ten years after the 1953 coup and during the June uprising of 1963,” writes Azadeh Jafari at Reverse Shot. “Some critics saw in the film an Iranian version of neorealism; however it’s clear from the beginning . . . that the film will surpass reality.”

“So why is it that the dogs in [Aki] Kaurismäki’s films, despite their fleeting appearances, register with such vividness and make such an improbably lasting impression?” asks Girish Shambu, writing for the TIFF Review.

Filmmaker Truls Krane Meby revisits Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice (2014), in which “the grand but simplified abstractions of myth and mind constantly seem to stumble and fall into slapstick and a worldly, bodily chaos. We simply can't contain the world in our heads, so it will always surprise us.”

For Rolling Stone’s David Fear, Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) “now feels like an incredibly pivotal American movie—the bridge between the intimate, grungy movies of the Seventies and the spectacular eye-candy blockbusters of the Eighties.”

“What are filmographies for?” asks film historian Luke McKernan.

Writing for Film Comment,Imogen Sara Smith (re)introduces us to Russian actor Ivan Mosjoukine, “whose face was used to demonstrate the Kuleshov Effect,” even though he “had one of the most expressive and mercurial faces in cinema.” As a White Russian émigré in Paris, “he worked with experimental French directors like Jean Epstein (The Lion of the Moguls, 1924) and Marcel L’Herbier, collaborations that marked a brief, improbable overlap between avant-garde and popular cinema. . . . Mosjoukine wrote and directed The Burning Crucible (1923), a deliriously surreal romp in which he multiplied himself onscreen, playing eleven different roles, and moving from expressionist nightmare to absurdist satire. It was the film Jean Renoir cited as igniting his determination to make movies.”

And here’s more from Imogen Sara Smith: “The Lubitsch touch is sleight-of-hand, a trick of conveying information indirectly and so wittily that the means become the message. So much emphasis is put on allowing the audience to get the joke that we become participants, invited into the dream-world, allowed to join what James Harvey beautifully terms ‘the community of cleverness.’ Trouble in Paradise [1932], Lubitsch’s most perfect if not his most typical film, has all the qualities of art deco. Yet in addition to its sleek and swooning style, its elegant mischief, there is a hint of melancholy, of reserved but aching regret.”

Also at the Chiseler:

Scanning the oeuvre of David Cronenberg, Sam Moore finds that “the films that do the most with the derailing of biology are Videodrome and Crash, establishing their own landscapes and languages of mutated desires, queering the norm and forcing characters to question both what they want and who they are.” Also at Vague Visages: Jeremy Carr argues that if Costa-Gavras’s “1969 masterpiece,” Z, “is a film specific in its ostensible motivation, it endures because of its broad, allegorical concentration.” And in the wake of Michael Haneke’s Happy End,Marshall Shaffer finds that “it’s instructive to return to Benny’s Video [1992] to understand his philosophy on a more elemental level.”

“One of my first mentors was Richard Leacock, a pioneer of the cinéma vérité movement,” writes Oren Jacoby. “He was so charming that I thought, ‘Aha! The secret of documentary filmmaking is to get your subjects to like you.’ After watching Ricky work, I began to realize that it was a lot more important to get them to ignore you.”

Also at the Talkhouse:

  • “I don’t think we can simply hit the Delete button on the legacy of every artist who has preyed upon women,” writes Megan Griffiths. “While I don’t advocate ripping these men’s pages from the history books, that does not, however, mean I think we should continue to celebrate them as we did before their personal lives became part of the picture.”
  • Jessica M. Thompson: “The female gaze pays off, and not just in dollars and cents!”
  • And Bruce LaBruce argues that Jonathan Kaplan’s “1979 ‘gang’ project, Over the Edge (actually about disaffected suburban white youth),” is “a movie masterpiece equally as apocalyptic, in its way, as Walter Hill’s The Warriors.

Joe Swanberg’s “intuitive sense of form provides his actors, like singers, with brisk twists and turns that elevate his stories’ emotional clarity and directness into a kind of offhanded complexity,” writes the New Yorker’s Richard Brody. “A longtime resident of Chicago, Swanberg builds [his Netflix series] Easy around various communities, neighborhoods, and milieux of that city, featuring a wide range of characters and activities. As in the first season of Easy, the eight new episodes are of varying merit, varying intensity, varying force of imagination—and the best of them are reflexive and personal in a distinctive new way.”

“If you don’t like Melville, you don’t like Cinema,” argues Tony Williams in Film International. Also reviewing Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le samouraï (1967) is Garret Castleberry at PopMatters.

Jeremy Carr revisits Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957), “a stirring tale of forlorn foxholes and callous bureaucracies, of blind ambitions and hapless destinies.”

Also at Little White Lies:

  • Nathanael Smith on Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937); more from Samuel Kaczorowski at animationstudies 2.0
  • Adam Scovell on Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon (1957)
  • Anton Bitel on Dario Argento’s The Cat o’ Nine Tails (1971) Suspiria (1977)
  • Tom Graham on Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983), “a World War Two drama starring David Bowie and Takeshi Kitano—with queer undertones, an ’80s synth soundtrack and a powdering of Christmas spirit

Writing for Bright Lights Film Journal,Ron Yap looks back on Peter Bogdanovich’s Saint Jack (1979) and Ben Slater’s excellent book, Kinda Hot: The Making of Saint Jack (2006).

Writing for Musings, Mike D’Angelo argues that Joel and Ethan Coen’s The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) “remains their most wrenching cri de coeur, even if its heartfelt aspects are deliberately buried deep.”

“Any film which sees icons Brigitte Bardot and Claudia Cardinale facing off in hand-to-hand combat, bosoms heaving and petticoats muddied, deserves some serious stylistic attention,” argues Thea Hawlin at AnOther.Les Pétroleuses (or The Legend of Frenchie King, as it’s known in English) is a witty 1971 spaghetti western that’s captivating from the get-go.”

Jonathan Kirshner looks back on the reinvention of Jane Fonda that began with her performance in Sydney Pollack’s They Shoot Horses Don’t They? (1969).

Flashbak’s posted an excerpt from Rob Baker’s book, High Buildings, Low Morals, “‘The Wrong Place at the Wrong Time’—The Sad Tale of Actress Kay Kendall.”

For Dangerous Minds, Ariel Schudson writes about Jean Cocteau’s love of cats.

In Other News

Frederick Wiseman’s “entire catalog will start streaming in the coming months on Kanopy, a service that is free to library card holders,” reports Dade Hayes for Deadline. “Outside of limited digital availability for some titles, it is the first time any of Wiseman’s work has been available for streaming.”

“A little under a month ago, on December 11, the [Saudi Arabia] lifted its ban on movie theaters—one that was originally instated in the early Eighties,” writes Siddhant Adlakha in the Village Voice. “While the ministry has stated that ‘the contents of shows will be subject to censorship according to media policy standards of the kingdom,’ the impending seismic shift has still been seen as cause for celebration within Saudi’s artistic community—albeit with some reservations surrounding the potential effect of commercialization on experimental moviemaking. ‘Cinema is considered one of the remedies for something a lot of people in Saudi are suffering from: boredom,’ says the Saudi screenwriter Yassin Kamel.”

“For ten days, forty-eight young filmmakers will be submerged in the density and mysterious of the Peruvian Amazonas guided by one of the most polemic and adventurous filmmakers of all times, and the one who knows the jungle best.” Black Factory Cinema has issued an open call for applications for a workshop Werner Herzog will be conducting in May.

“Archaeologists working in sand dunes on the central California coast have dug up an intact plaster sphinx that was part of an Egyptian movie set built more than ninety years ago for Cecil B. DeMille’s epic The Ten Commandments,” reports the AP.Erik Olsen has the full story at Quartzy: “At the time, it was one of the largest movie sets ever built, consisting of a pharaoh’s gate some twelve stories tall and 720 feet long, with twenty-one sphinxes arrayed down a perpendicular corridor, where hundreds of actors and extras reenacted scenes of Biblical bondage.”

Goings On

New York. “Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s Memories of Underdevelopment, shot in Cuba some fifty years ago and showing for a week at Film Forum in an excellent 4K digital restoration, is a first-rate movie and a remarkable document—not least for the reception it first received in the United States.” In the New York Times,J. Hoberman adds that it’s “very much a new wave film in its freewheeling mix of cinéma vérité-style hand-held street scenes and playful freeze frames.” The week-long run starts tomorrow.

“For viewers unfamiliar with the rewardingly arduous documentaries of the Chinese filmmaker Wang Bing, Bitter Money won’t be the easiest place to start,” writes Ben Kenigsberg, also in the NYT. “It’s not clear that the director quite found what he was looking for.” Tracking workers drawn to Huzhou by a boom in clothing manufacturing, Bing’s “methods are open to ethical debate, but the power of his filmmaking, at its best, is not.” Starts tomorrow at Anthology Film Archives.

Los Angeles. For the LA Weekly,Lisa Horowitz spotlights screenings in the coming days of films by Michael Powell, Michael Curtiz, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Dorothy Arzner, and Federico Fellini.

Chicago. From tomorrow through Monday, the Music Box Theatre will present a 35 mm print of Gabe Klinger’s Porto (2016). “References are rife in the collaboration” between Klinger and screenwriter Larry Gross, finds Ray Pride in Newcity. The “thirty-five-year-old Chicago-based co-writer-director has collaged an estimable matrix of male cinephile influence. The coruscating critique of the pathetic male is thick with predecessors: the suicide [Jean] Eustache, the prole, dour nicotine-layered worldview of Finn Aki Kaurismäki, the dazed but eager wanderers of Jim Jarmusch (who is credited as executive producer). But Jake [the late Anton Yelchin] possesses not a shred of discernible talent, poetry, wit or virtue. Simply, it’s an apt, savage take on the fugly American.”

More from Ray Pride: “Jean Renoir’s happy, goofy, giddy, and, yes, awe-inspiring The Crime of Monsieur Lange (1936) is a timeless marvel. The only good reason this warm, rollicking, political and politically sophisticated comedy is one of Jean Renoir’s lesser-known movies is that it’s been out of circulation for years. A sparkling 4K restoration with spunky new subtitles could put it right up with whichever Renoir you call his best: I’ll go for a trio that also includes Rules of the Game and Grand Illusion.” Starts tomorrow at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

Brookline, Massachusetts. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) “has taken up residency for the month of January at the Coolidge,” writes Sean Burns for WBUR. “For a picture I thought I’d seen countless times, turns out I hadn’t really seen The Shining at all. It’s an entirely different experience on an enormous screen with a terrified crowd, the eerie symmetry of Kubrick’s careful compositions and the droning sound design conjuring an almost hypnotic trance. . . . That’s the whole thing with The Shining, isn’t it? You never really do get anywhere with it, and yet the movie leaves you wanting to come back for more.”

London. The fifteenth London Short Film Festival opens tomorrow and runs through January 21, “and as January finds the UK in peak anniversary mode—NHS 70, 100 years of suffrage for women over thirty—it’s only right that we look at the origins and ambitions of the LSFF as it enters full-blown adolescence, with all the hormonal surges and stampy rebelliousness that entails,” writes Will Massa for the BFI.

Paris. The Paulo Rocha retrospective currently running at the Cinémathèque française through February 1 now has a trailer—edited by João Dias and directed by Pedro Costa no less.

In the Works

Alain Berliner “is busy crafting a new movie with an intriguing title: Bilal Pacino,” notes Aurore Engelen at Cineuropa. The story tracks the “trials and tribulations and professional setbacks of a young, Brussels-based actor of Moroccan heritage whose fortunes turn when he lands a small but enviable role in a major film, playing a gigolo in the arms of Catherine Deneuve.”

“David Oyelowo, Dominic West, and Lily Colins have been cast in the lead roles in the upcoming BBC mini-series adaptation of Les Misérables,” reports Variety’s Joe Otterson.

Kumail Nanjiani will co-write and star in a series adaptation of Stephen Frears’s My Beautiful Laundrette (1985). Andrew Wallenstein has details at Variety.

Millie Bobby Brown, known to most as Eleven on Stranger Things, will “star in and produce a feature film series based on Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes Mysteries novel series,” reports Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr.


“Irish actor Peggy Cummins, who left her mark as the brazen femme fatale in the film noir [Joseph H. Lewis’s] Gun Crazy [1949], has died,” reports Steve Rose for the Guardian.

“After a stint in British cinema, in 1945 she went to Hollywood, where Darryl F Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox, cast her as the lead in Otto Preminger’s Forever Amber. . . . Her Hollywood career was short-lived, however. Zanuck deemed her too young and ’not sexy enough’ for Forever Amber and replaced her with Linda Darnell. Cummins would get her revenge with Gun Crazy, a lurid, pacy, bracingly modern low-budget thriller in which she played Annie Laurie Starr, an ambitious carnival sharp-shooter who falls in with a fellow gun obsessive (John Dall). They go together like ‘guns and ammunition,’ he tells her, but it’s Cummins who calls the shots, pitching the lovers on a Bonnie and Clyde-style crime spree.” Cummins was ninety-two.

“It is with a fierce sadness” that FIDMarseille, the international film festival, has announced the death of its president, Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens. Albertine emphasizes his role as “publisher of P.O.L. and a major figure in the French publishing industry.”

The great photographer Robin Holland, known for her portraits for the Village Voice, has passed away at the age of sixty. “Whether she was capturing a Hollywood star, an abstract sculpture, or everyday folk chatting with a subway musician, Robin aimed for the core of her subjects,” writes R. C. Baker in the Voice. “My wife and I saw her at a gallery dinner on Long Island this past June, and as always she was bluntly direct when we discussed her photos of the beautiful people. ‘They’re not like the rest of us,’ she said of her encounters with the likes of [Isabelle] Huppert and George Clooney and Halle Berry. ‘They’re better looking than us and they work at it—that’s their job. Mine is to capture something deeper about them.’” On that same page, you can view samples of her work. We’ve posted our own remembrance here.

“From Denmark, she doubled for Marilyn Monroe, dated Cary Grant during his LSD phase and took a pie to the face from The Three Stooges.” Rhett Bartlett has more on the passing of Greta Thyssen at the Hollywood Reporter.

“Jerry Van Dyke, star of the ABC sitcom Coach and brother of Dick Van Dyke," has died, reports Dino-Ray Ramos for Deadline. He was eighty-six.

Also, “Frank Buxton, an actor, director, and writer best known for penning episodes of such TV classics as The Odd Couple and Happy Days, died January 2” at the age of eighty-seven.

Marián Labuda, who starred in Jiri Menzel’s My Sweet Little Village (1985) “as well as in dozens of films and TV series,” passed away on January 5 at the age of seventy-three, reports Film New Europe.


WTF host Marc Maron talks with Richard Jenkins about The Shape of Water and “his favorite collaborators, including the Coen Brothers, the Farrelly Brothers and Frances McDormand” (85’12”).


Writing for AnOther,Liam Hess points us to Kate Bush’s The Cross, The Line and The Curve (1993; 42’43”), “a strange beast—part visual album, part extended music video, part narrative film—and even more interesting for Bush’s willingness to use dance as a device to explore the darker recesses of her own psyche.”


Filmmaker Christoph Hochhäusler (The City Below,The Lies of the Victors) has launched a blog where he shows us movie posters that’ve caught his eye.

Flashbak’s put together an entry on François Truffaut’s Jules and Jim (1962) with stills, posters, and behind-the-scenes photos.

“The Safdie Brothers Final Draft Limited Edition Hot Sauce is a peach habanero flavor with a heat level at about a 8/8.5 out of 10.”

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