Fosse, Murnau, and More

On Film / The Daily — Feb 16, 2018

“The responsibility of being a gay film critic,” writes Michael Koresky, “to borrow a phrase from the great Robin Wood, is to be honest about your responses as an individualized viewer, and to balance questions around identity with a film’s aesthetic purpose, intent, and effect.” In “Queer & Now & Then,” his new biweekly column for Film Comment, Koresky will look “back through the annals of my movie-watching, and try to uncover the queerness in the films of years past. The plan is to delve into one film per year per column, hopscotching through the decades, and hopefully discovering or rediscovering themes, images, and emotional registers in films I may not have previously noticed or fully analyzed or come to terms with.”

And he begins in 1979, with Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz, “a tricky masterpiece, whose queerness is at once literal and completely subordinate, whose genre (the musical) and milieu (musical theater) signify gayness, but which, being an autobiographical work from its writer-director-choreographer, is, at least on the surface, very straight. In fact, it’s one of the few films in American history that can be called perversely, uncommonly heterosexual.”

More Reading

For Sabzian, Adrian Martin has translated Thierry Kuntzel’s 1972 essay on F. W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927): “For a plot meant to unfold in perfect continuity over the course of thirty-five hours, the play with time—i.e., of light—constitutes a dramatic schema of the highest order.”

At his own site, Adrian Martin’s just posted a fresh round of reviews from his archive: Werner Herzog’s Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997), a piece written in 2014; John Gilling’s Panic (1963), from 2013; Chantal Akerman’s Les Rendez-vous d’Anna (1978), from 1997; Ingmar Bergman’s Summer with Monika (1953), from 2012; and Nicholas Ray’s We Can’t Go Home Again (1973/2009), from 2014.

In a clip posted here a couple of weeks ago from a discussion of The Player (1992) for the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck, Jeff Smith discusses Robert Altman’s use of genre conventions to satirize the very dream factory that had honed them over so many previous decades. Now at Observations on Film Art, Smith elaborates on what makes The Player so unusual in the context of the traditional crime thriller.

IndieWire’s David Ehrlich on Zefrey Throwell and Josephine Decker’s Flames: “A semi-linear slipstream of unsimulated sex, emotionally pornographic dramatizations, and the honest-to-God heartache that happens when a breakup lingers in the air for longer than the relationship it capped off, Flames is combustible stuff to begin with, and it’s being released into a culture that seems in the middle of a collective self-immolation; a ritualistic cleansing of sorts.”

“David Ayer’s Los Angeles-based crime drama End of Watch (2012) and Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario (2015) shift away from the traditional crime film conventions and incorporate the audio/visual techniques of contemporary war films,” write John Trafton and Eileen Rositzka for Bright Lights Film Journal. “Both films critique the militarization of U.S. law enforcement and the fact that the war against the Mexican drug cartels eerily resembles the urban warfare of Middle Eastern conflicts.”

The Impatient Maiden (1932) is an almost entirely overlooked film, and it's easy to see why, falling as it does between Frankenstein (1931) and The Old Dark House (1932) in director James Whale's Universal career,” writes David Cairns in the Notebook. “Suggestions that the film is of negligible interest as comedy or drama may be somewhat true. But the idea that it's without cinematic interest should be refuted: unable to make much of the story, Whale entertained himself with elegant camera movements and evoactive sound design which would feed straight into his subsequent masterpieces.”

In the New York Times, Glenn Kenny explains why the release of the new restoration of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) on Blu-ray and DVD and on the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck on the same day is, yes, a big deal.

“Netflix, both artistically and as a business, is something different. But what?” asks James Poniewozik in the New York Times. “Think of Netflix as the Upside Down in its sci-fi series Stranger Things. By this I don’t mean that it’s a nefarious or dangerous force. But it is a kind of alternative TV dimension, overlaying and replicating the known world of traditional television, that tries to acquire one of everything that exists in the universe of TV.”

The Village Voice has now posted the full results of its poll of over a hundred critics who have voted up lists of the best of 2017. Also:

  • The editors sort through the winners and losers, make notes on films that may have slipped through the cracks, and comment in general on “a year of upheaval.
  • Mike D’Angelo on the TV vs. film debate: “Weighing Thor: Ragnarok against Frederick Wiseman’s Ex Libris: The New York Public Library is plenty crazy enough; there’s no need to muddy the waters further by throwing in ten episodes of The Knick (all directed by Steven Soderbergh!).”
  • Raw; Colossal; Thelma; I, Tonya; The Lure; Lady Macbeth; Prevenge; The Beguiled; and even the Village Voice Film Poll winner Phantom Thread delivered enough feminine mania, psychosis, and body horror to fill a follow-up book to Barbara Creed’s 1993 essential text, The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis,” writes April Wolfe. “That the movies have delivered this many complicated female characters in the same year is a blessing and an anomaly.”
  • “2017 was a great year for queer films and queer filmmakers,” writes Ren Jender. “But thanks to the homophobic notion (and self-fulfilling prophecy) that audiences will support only one queer film (you know which one) at a time, most people missed what I loved best.”
  • And Amy Nicholson suggests that “many of the best supporting performances, female and male, tend to shine in the murk of otherwise awful films.”

At Flavorwire, Alison Nastasi presents a few samples from Quay Brothers: The Black Drawings 1974—1977, “a series of imaginary film posters created from ink-black graphite” by twin artists and filmmakers Stephen and Timothy Quay.

With clips from reviews in the Chicago Reader’s archives, Patrick Friel spotlights five films by Jacques Demy currently viewable on FilmStruck.

Interviews

Corbin Reiff talks with D. A. Pennebaker at Uproxx about shooting Bob Dylan—on film, of course—a few landmark music festivals, and David Bowie.

For Women and Hollywood, Melissa Silverstein talks with Sally Potter “about The Party, getting political on-screen, the future of feminism, and the importance of representing ‘soft issues’ in film.”

At the Film Experience, Murtada Elfadl gets François Ozon talking about Catherine Deneuve (“I hope we will make another film together one day”), Isabelle Huppert (“so clever, so strong”), Charlotte Rampling (“the most important actress in my career”), and Kristin Scott Thomas (“I have something for English actresses”).

For Collider, Christina Radish asks Greta Gerwig about some of her favorite moments in Guillero del Toro’s The Shape of Water, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread, and Jordan Peele’s Get Out.

“The way I cast actors is not through the way he or she delivers lines, it’s the way he or she listens to the lines being spoken by others,” Guillermo del Toro tells Little White LiesDavid Jenkins. “Or by the way they look at the the other actor.” Making The Shape of Water with Sally Hawkins, “I just thought, this is it. If I create a great creature and she looks at it like a man in a rubber suit, the film dies. If she looks at it like a creature, it lives. She had such a massive crush on the creature. For real. Sally, not the character.”

In Other News

“The producer and subject of Last Men in Aleppo won't be in attendance at the upcoming ninetieth Academy Awards when their film competes for best feature documentary on March 4, as the Syrian government has refused to expedite the travel visa process for producer Kareem Abeed and White Helmets founding member Mahmoud Al-Hattar, who is featured in the film.” Tatiana Siegel has the story in the Hollywood Reporter.

Brothers Antonio and Marco Manetti’s Love and Bullets leads the nominations for the sixty-second David di Donatello awards, Italy’s rough equivalent of the Oscars, with fifteen. Vittoria Scarpa’s got the full list at Cineuropa.

Goings On

New York. “One of the greatest but perhaps less heralded of British actors, Sir Alan Bates (1934–2003) is being deservedly feted over the next week at the Quad Cinema in New York with the retrospective series Alan Bates: The Affable Angry Young Man,” writes Adrian Curry, introducing another one of his outstanding galleries of posters in the Notebook. Calling Bates “a creature of contradictions” in the Village Voice, Dan Callahan notes that the retrospective “also includes a weeklong run (opening February 23) of a new 4K restoration of Philippe de Broca’s pretty, popular King of Hearts (1966).”

MoMA’s Doc Fortnight 2018 is on through February 26 and, in the New York Times, Ben Kenigsberg finds this year’s edition to be “as topical as ever. Like past editions, this year’s lineup takes a broad perspective on what constitutes a documentary.” Ela Bittencourt takes a closer look in the Village Voice.

“Despite focusing on a self-absorbed jerk contemplating murder most of the runtime, A New Leaf is a genuinely sweet film, and the kindest out of Anthology’s always-excellent Valentine’s Day Massacre lineup,” writes Danielle Burgos at Screen Slate. Elaine May’s 1971 film screens tomorrow and Sunday.

Also at Screen Slate, Tyler Maxin: “Through the long weekend, Metrograph presents a retrospective of the films of St. Clair Bourne, a crucial documentarian, pedagogue, and organizer whose films remain woefully hard to come by.” Fanta Sylla in the Village Voice: “There are individuals who have been burdened with what Frantz Fanon has described, in Black Skin White Masks, as the ‘colossal task to make an inventory of the real.’ Fanon was of course one of them, and so was Bourne.”

Chicago. Featured in this week’s Cine-List are Tod Browning, Vincente Minnelli, Barbara Hammer, Wang Bing, Robert Aldrich, and more.

Madison, Wisconsin. David Bordwell notes that he and his fellow local citizens “live in what Rush Limbaugh called The People’s Republic of Madison. We feel proud and lucky. And a bit self-righteous? Maybe, but with some reason.” He lists several. From June 14 through 16, the Madison Reunion will celebrate with “ music, art exhibits, dance performances, and of course films at our Cinematheque.

Toronto. “It seems almost miraculous that the once tortured, quite possibly mad Philippe Garrel, who made disturbing, trippy avant-garde films in his youth, should now be making movies that play like deeper and more emotionally raw Woody Allen pictures,” writes Bruce LaBruce for the TIFF Review. “From the chimerical, allegorical meditations of Le Lit de la vierge and La Cicatrice intérieure, Garrel’s cinema moved on to a series of fragmented character sketches (Un ange passe, L’Enfant secret) in the mid-to-late-’70s before giving way to the demonstrably more conventional storytelling of J’entends plus la guitare and Emergency Kisses in the late ’80s and ’90s—although the fractured quality of the narratives in these latter two films, characterized by abrupt temporal shifts, the juxtaposition of scenes of wildly differing lengths, and a variety of distanciation techniques, linger from his earlier work.” In the Shadow of Love: The Cinema of Philippe Garrel runs through February 24.

In the Works

Ioncinema’s now completed its countdown of its most anticipated American independent films of 2019 with notes on Eliza Hittman’s A, Antonio Campos’s Splitfoot, Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things, an untitled project from Jim Jarmusch, and Kelly Reichardt’s Undermajordomo Minor.

It’s Robert Pattinson again, this time joining Willem Dafoe in Robert Eggers’s followup to The Witch, reports Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr. The Lighthouse is “a fantasy horror story set in the world of old sea-faring myths.”

Lone Scherfig will direct Andrea Riseborough, Tahar Rahim, and Zoe Kazan in Secrets from the Russian Tea Room, “the story of four people in New York City” seeing each other “through the worst crises of their lives,” reports Deadline’s Peter White.

Also, Arnold Schwarzenegger is joining Michael Fassbender and David Sandberg in Sandberg’s Kung Fury. It’s 1985, and Kung Fury and his Thundercops “are the ultimate police force assembled from across history to defeat the villainous Kung Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler.”

Paul Verhoeven’s Blessed Virgin, “based on the book Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy,” has set “an August start date with Pathé Films joining to handle international sales and French distribution,” reports Deadline’s Nancy Tartaglione.

“Jeff Daniels will play the inimitable lawyer Atticus Finch in Aaron Sorkin’s forthcoming Broadway adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird,” reports Jessica Gelt in the Los Angeles Times.

Obits

“Kenneth Haigh, the English actor whose starring role in the play Look Back in Anger, as well as his own blistering persona, defined the rebellious postwar ‘angry young man,’ died on Feb. 4 in England,” reports Sam Roberts for the New York Times. “He appeared in a dozen films, including Cleopatra (1963), with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, in which he played Brutus, and A Hard Day’s Night (1964), in which he had a hilarious uncredited cameo role as a cocky television producer interrogating George Harrison.” Haigh was eighty-six.

“Edward Abroms, an Oscar-nominated and two-time Emmy-winning editor who worked on Steven Spielberg’s debut feature Duel and also directed numerous TV shows, died Tuesday,” reports Erik Pedersen for Deadline. Abroms was eighty-two.

Listening

On the latest Close-Up podcast from the Film Society of Lincoln Center (31’40”), Dennis Lim moderates a conversation with Western director Valeska Grisebach and one of her actors, Syuleyman Alilov Letifov.

The new Talkhouse Podcast (45’36”) features a conversation between Korean-American writer-directors Christina Choe (Nancy) and Andrew Ahn (This Close).

Viewing

Le CiNéMa Club’s film this week is Andrey Zvyagintsev’s 2011 short Mystery (6’46”).

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