Bordwell, Brody, and More

On Film / The Daily — Mar 14, 2018

“How could I have written a longish book on 1940s Hollywood and have devoted so little space to Casablanca?” asks David Bordwell. The book is Reinventing Hollywood: How 1940s Filmmakers Changed Movie Storytelling, and “I suppose I neglected Warners’ evergreen classic because its canonical status made it unnecessary for me to talk about it. It’s a typical 40s film that everybody knows well.” But he was recently asked to discuss Casablanca (1942) with Pauline Lampert, “mastermind of Flixwise,” and revisiting the film for the podcast (84’58”), “I noticed some norm-abiding and norm-tweaking things I could have written about.”

“In the past decade, film criticism has become better than ever, by which I don’t mean that every critic writing is better than those of the past.” writes the New Yorker’s Richard Brody, “but that criticism is better over all—more critics than ever have actually seen many classic movies and a wide range of current ones, because cinephilia, an ardor for wide-ranging moviegoing, is now a core premise for even attempting criticism. . . . But the quantity of availability in today’s cinematic landscape can, paradoxically, become the enemy of quality. The enthusiasm for rediscoveries of long-inaccessible movies allows inflation to set in, flooding screens and streaming sites and boxed sets with movies more notable for their rarity than for their artistic originality.”

Black Panther has revived discussion Afrofuturism, notes Glenn Kenny in the New York Times. “The term, coined in a 1993 essay by the cultural critic Mark Dery, is defined differently by different writers and thinkers; through my own critical lens, I tend to see is as an aesthetic that illuminates African culture’s intertwining with the cosmic (in both the technological and metaphysical senses). . . . Afrofuturism is more prominent in music and the graphic arts than it is in cinema, but there are movies out there that illuminate the notion in different ways.” And he writes about John Coney and Sun Ra’s Space Is the Place (1973), Souleymane Cissé’s Yeelen (1987), and Djibril Diop Mambéty’s Touki Bouki (1973).

“No discussion of queerness in film is complete without a reckoning with narrative cinema’s most disreputable genre,” horror, argues Michael Koresky in his latest column for Film Comment. “In such films as Dracula (1931), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), The Old Dark House (1932), Island of Lost Souls (1932), and The Black Cat (1934), there’s a sense of fun to the degradation, a free-floating, almost non-gender-specific psychosexual energy. Perhaps the most willfully perverse of these—and definitely the least respectable—is MGM’s The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), which, despite its harrowingly vile racism, is more than worth a discussion around these topics for the singular, perplexing way it brings its own queerness to the forefront, baldly inviting its spectators to take pleasure in kinky depravity and gleefully conflating horror and desire.”

In the Notebook:

  • Cristina Álvarez López: “Passeio com Johnny Guitar (‘A Walk with Johnny Guitar’ [3’27”]) conjures up a chapter in João César Monteiro’s own histoire(s) du cinéma. . . . Tracing the relations between sound and image, body and memory, gesture and affect, Monteiro unfolds a vast cinephiliac constellation that gravitates around one scene of Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954).”
  • Christopher Small: “The French call movie screenings séances. Isn’t that so much more apt and poetic than screening, which sounds as if it should be conducted at a clinic, behind a plastic curtain reeking of detergent?”
  • William R. Clark: “Annihilation produces some genuinely profound body horror—not the kind that causes revulsion, but the kind that inspires thought about how complex and contingent morphology can be.”

For FilmStruck, Stuart Collier writes about the “Unsung ‘30s Films of G. W. Pabst,” while, for the BFI, Matthew Thrift recommends ten “essential films” directed by Henry Hathaway.

In Other News

“Takeshi Kitano will leave Office Kitano, the agency and production company he co-founded, at the end of March and go independent.” Mark Schilling has the story in Variety.

CherryPicks is a new review aggregate and rating service “aims to offer an alternative to male-dominated criticism” by gathering reviews from “female critics exclusively,” reports Laura Berger at Women and Hollywood.

In the Works

“Jordan Peele is at the center of a most intriguing feature re-team with Keegan-Michael Key, his longtime partner on the Emmy-winning Comedy Central series Key and Peele,” reports Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr. “Netflix has committed to finance and distribute Wendell and Wild, a stop-motion animated feature to be directed by James and the Giant Peach helmer Henry Selick. Key and Peele will supply the voices for two scheming demon brothers.”

Spike Lee may direct a Marvel movie based on the character Nightwatch, reports Variety’s Dave McNary. “Nightwatch was first introduced in 1993 as the alter ego of African-American scientist Dr. Kevin Trench, who witnessed a costumed man die battling terrorists while armed with invisibility-generating cloaking devices. Trench then learned that the corpse was an older version of himself. He went on to steal the futuristic suit of armor to discover the origins of his alternate self.”

For more on projects in the works, see the entry posted earlier today.

Obits

“Stephen Hawking, the brightest star in the firmament of science, whose insights shaped modern cosmology and inspired global audiences in the millions, has died aged seventy-six,” reports Ian Sample. Also in the Guardian, Roger Penrose writes that the image of Hawking “in his motorized wheelchair, with head contorted slightly to one side and hands crossed over to work the controls, caught the public imagination, as a true symbol of the triumph of mind over matter. As with the Delphic oracle of ancient Greece, physical impairment seemed compensated by almost supernatural gifts, which allowed his mind to roam the universe freely, upon occasion enigmatically revealing some of its secrets hidden from ordinary mortal view.”

Errol Morris, who directed the 1991 portrait of Hawking, A Brief History of Time, tweets: “It had to happen, eventually. We were lucky to have him for so long, and I was lucky to be able to work with him. A truly fabulous human being. Stephen Hawking. Funny, perverse, and, of course, brilliant.”

Deutsche Welle reports on the passing of Oleg Tabakov, who “received multiple awards for his film and stage work, including the 1980 Boston International Film Festival award for his portrayal of a 19th century Russian nobleman in A Few Days from the Life of I. I. Oblomov.” Via Movie City News.

Listening

The Cinephiliacs returns with Peter Labuza’s conversation with Shelley Stamp, author of Movie-Struck Girls and Lois Weber in Early Hollywood. Among the topics discussed (88’11”) is Ida Lupino’s directorial debut, Not Wanted (1949).

Sam Fragoso is also back at Talk Easy (92’16”). His first conversation since the winter break is with actress Alia Shawkat (Search Party).

On the new Film Comment Podcast (47’11”), Violet Lucca discusses the recent Metrograph series Tell Me: Women Filmmakers, Women’s Stories with programmer Nellie Killian and filmmakers Farihah Zaman and Sierra Pettengill.

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