Issues: CS 74, Senses 86, and More

David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks: The Return comes in at #1 on the Cinema Scope Top Ten of 2017 and, as editor Mark Peranson points out, all the other titles on the list have been covered in past issues—except one. First Reformed, #9 on the list, is covered in this issue as Alex Ross Perry interviews director Paul Schrader, who tells him right at the top:

There’s an enormous sense of satisfaction I derive from First Reformed, because it pulls together threads of what I’ve been thinking and doing for almost fifty years. The first serious writing I did on film was about spiritual cinema, Transcendental Style. That was in 1972. From that point on, I became a screenwriter and director, and I never thought that I would make that type of film. I like those films, but those films are not for me. I was much more interested in action, empathy, sexuality, violence, and these really aren’t in the transcendental tool kit. So I went on and left that world behind. The first script I wrote was Taxi Driver (1976). Now, forty-five years later, I have made a film that combines the thinking in that book with the narrative drive of Taxi Driver. So I have my first philosophical book and my first screenplay combined in this current film. That has been very intimidating because it’s a little difficult to think of what to do next. I hope that First Reformed is not my last film, but if it is, it’s a very good last film.

The second interview online from the new issue is Christoph Huber’s with Lizzie Borden, still best known for the “feminist guerrilla classic” Born in Flames (1983) and Working Girls (1986), “another study of female group dynamics and notions of solidarity and resistance, but one pitched in a completely different register.” She tells Huber how her experience with Harvey Weinstein on Love Crimes (1992) derailed her career.

“I think that Bodied, together with his earlier film Detention, establishes Joseph Kahn as one of the most important filmmakers working in North America today,” writes Steven Shaviro. “We live at a time when new technologies are reshaping all the aspects of life that used to be taken for granted. Changing demographics mean that the U.S. is more vibrantly multicultural than ever before, yet the country remains under the political control of white supremacists hell-bent on revenge. . . . Kahn faces our contemporary condition more boldly, and more imaginatively, than nearly anyone else in the film industry seems capable of doing.”

For Lawrence Garcia,Wormwood is Errol Morris’s “most exemplary work to date: a six-part, 241-minute portmanteau of images and textures that utilize virtually every tool in the documentarian’s formal arsenal. It’s an obsessive plunge akin to that of Zodiac (2007), filtered through the paranoia of The Parallax View (1974), albeit with a lot of talking heads.”

Notes on an Appearance functions as a summary of the first phase of [Ricky] D’Ambrose’s filmmaking,” writes Phil Coldiron. “Its style is, in its particulars, nearly identical to Spiral Jetty [2017]: it retains its rich, primary palette and monochrome intrusions, its distant, cooling relation to dramatic incident, and its intrusive, inciting story, again related through documents . . . Most significantly, it revisits and refines the rigorous musical form introduced in Pilgrims [2013], an approach to constructing a film which, in its determination to maintain its images’ opacity, cannot precisely be called either montage or découpage.”

We’ll get to the new issue of Senses of Cinema in a moment, but let’s note here that Brigitta Wagner’s interviewed D’Ambrose, Ted Fendt, and their producer, Graham Swindoll, the occasion being the premieres in this year’s Berlinale Forum program of Notes and Fendt’s Classical Period. “Fendt’s characters may not possess standard, fleshed-out motivations, drives, desires and wills, but they are enthusiasts,” she writes. “I couldn’t help, in our current technological age, thinking of the book people of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451—the way they clandestinely clung to and perpetuated the act of reading. If Fendt removes narrative and character to distill another kind of human truth, D’Ambrose maintains, in Notes on an Appearance, the outlines of narrative, albeit through ellipsis, while reducing characters to their graphic functionality. They are one sign among many, alongside the postcards, notebook entries, newspaper clippings, enigmatic, old video footage, and subway maps.”

From Jonathan Rosenbaum’s “Global Discoveries on DVD” column: “With your indulgence, I’d like to propound a crackpot theory of mine about why ‘flawed,’ truncated or never-completed masterpieces—e.g., Welles’s Mr. Arkadin (1955), the original Blade Runner (1982), Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970), and Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno—tend to be preferred nowadays by both cinephiles and the companies that produce DVDs and Blu-rays to such relatively flawless masterpieces as Chimes at Midnight (1965), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Avanti! (1972), and The Wages of Fear (1953): simply because more spinoff products can be derived from the former, a boon to buyers and sellers alike.”

“It appears,” writes Lydia Ogwang in her piece on Robin Aubert’s Les affamés, winner of a good number of awards in Canada, “that a film best described in press kit-speak as an ‘arthouse horror-thriller’ is the ideal token we can put forward as our national cinematic brand. That the film is in French only bolsters its case, distancing it from the notions of Americanness its living-dead premise evokes. . . . But perhaps what Aubert has put together is a singular Canadian cultural examination in a horror film’s dress.”

Chuck Stephens notes that “the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock—ostensible indicator of our political proximity to nuclear oblivion—sits at two minutes before midnight. We can feel it all around us, this closing-in. Far too many of our present moments have come to seem as if it’s all over but for the end credits. Sitting at the crossroads, both devil and naïf, Bruce Conner—prank-meister, punk polemicist, beatrealist, surrliteralist—laughed and saw it all a different way: destruction as creation.”

Erika Balsom argues that Agnès Varda and JR’s Faces Places “compounds the problems already present in JR’s questionable practice, yoking a fantasy of conviviality to a deeply nostalgic image of the rural working class. . . . This documentary is a fiction.”

Manuela Lazic reviews The Work, “a documentary chronicling intense group therapy techniques practiced inside Folsom State Prison outside of Sacramento.” Directors Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous’s “evident respect for the therapeutic method, combined with their own direct-cinema rigour, makes for one of the most honest recent examples of the ‘fly on the wall’ style of documentary filmmaking.”

In conjunction with Wonderland, an exhibition on view at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne from April 5 through October 7, Senses of Cinema presents “a dossier focusing on the diversity of film adaptations of Lewis Carroll’s children’s literary classics Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871).”

“Alice flourishes, burning eternal, in that half-awake, half-asleep Wonderland to which we surrender in our most precious, cherished film experiences,” writes Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, introducing the dossier. “Haunted phantomwise, we move not only through fantastic spaces with Alice, but across time and throughout cinema history; from its earliest days, through live action, animation and combinations of both, to the spectacular 3D visions of Tim Burton, each inspired not only by Carroll’s stories alone but also by the wealth of Alice-inspired moving-image history that preceded it.”

Beginning with Pamela Hutchinson’s survey of the earliest, silent-era adaptations, the dossier features essays on Bud Pollard’s Alice in Wonderland (1931) (Dan Golding), Norman Z. McLeod’s in 1933 (Joanna Di Mattia), Lou Bunin’s in 1949 (David Heslin), Jonathan Miller’s 1966 version (Michelle J. Smith), psychedelia in Alice in Acidland (1969) and Curious Alice (1971) (Kat Ellinger), variations from Claude Chabrol and Stephen Dwoskin (Darragh O’Donoghue), Francesco Barilli’s The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974) (Samm Deighan), an X-rated musical comedy from 1976 (Justine Smith), Jan Svankmajer’s Alice (1987) (Dirk de Bruyn), Takashi Murakami’s Superflat Monogram (2004) (David Surman), Mari Terashima’s Alice in the Underworld: The Dark Märchen Show!! (2009) (Anton Bitel), Marilyn Manson’s unrealized Phantasmagoria: The Visions of Lewis Carroll (Heller-Nicholas), and Nadia Buick on that little blue dress.

Back to the editors:

Our second dossier this issue treats the relationship between cinema and the contemporary art museum. In the last two decades, cinema-related exhibitions and installations have experienced a boom, and this dossier looks into this phenomenon, as some of the world’s most prominent filmmakers have taken to showing their work in gallery settings, with markedly different viewing conditions (and economic realities) from what prevails in the traditional cinema environment. Two of the foremost scholars in film studies, Thomas Elsaesser and Raymond Bellour, offer duelling overviews of the cinema’s entry into the museum, while a further three articles take on specific case studies of moving image art and its relationship with the museum: Catherine Fowler on Albanian artist Anri Sala’s sound work, Kate Warren on the Franco-Lebanese couple Joana Hadjithomas/Khalil Joreige, and Alex Munt on Alexander Sokurov’s Louvre-film Francofonia.

This issue’s round of features opens with Joanna Di Mattia: “Desire takes on multiple permutations in Luca Guadagnino’s ‘Desire Trilogy.’ Guadagnino didn’t originally design the three films—I Am Love (Io sono l’amore, 2009), A Bigger Splash (2015), and Call Me by Your Name (2017)—as a trilogy, but after the release of Call Me by Your Name, he has referred to them this way and critics have followed.”

Jytte Holmqvist interviews Catalan filmmaker Ventura Pons, whose first feature, Ocaña, an Intermittent Portrait (1978), has recently seen special screenings in Barcelona.

Writing about the work of Michaël R. Roskam, Peter Verstraten aims “to elucidate why critics encountered more problems in reading (or appreciating) the generic split that characterizes Le Fidèle [Racer and the Jailbird, 2017] than the cultural split that structures Rundskop [Bullhead, 2011].”

Amat Escalante’s Sangre (2005), Los Bastardos (2008), Heli (2013), and La región salvaje (The Untamed, 2016) “form a comprehensive dialogue with one another through their shared aesthetic and production choices,” writes Kristy Matheson, introducing her interview. “This coherence extends to the dominance of interior, domestic settings and narratives which privilege familial dislocation and redemption. Their thematic preoccupations of injustice, guilt and the origins of violence, serve to illuminate aspects of contemporary Mexican society but in a larger sense offer audiences a distinctive insight into the uneasy relationship between the United States and its southern neighbor.”

Thomas Austin, Anna de Guia-Eriksson, and Guy Westwell introduce their conversation with John Gianvito about his “incendiary nine-hour diptych” For Example, The Philippines,Vapor Trail (Clark) (2010) and Wake (Subic) (2015), “a stunning feat of political filmmaking. Emotionally gripping, historically revelatory, and at times vividly beautiful, this indictment of American imperialism and militarism, and the toxic environmental footprint it has left in many parts of the globe, intertwines a previously submerged history of the Philippine-American war with searing contemporary footage of impoverished families confronted with appalling health problems and birth defects due to working on, or living near, U.S. military facilities.”

Issue 86 features the second part of Murray Pomerance’s essay on “Gangster Style in New-Wave Paris,” focussing on Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960), Jacques Becker’s Touchez-pas au grisbi (1954), Jules Dassin’s Rififi (1955), and Jean-Pierre Melville’s Bob le Flambeur (1956).

“In From Caligari to Hitler, Siegfried Kracauer famously evaluated Weimar cinema for its portrayal of political and social disarray,” writes Jennifer Ruth. “Kracauer argued that Weimar culture was creative enough to dramatize its collective ills but not creative enough to imagine solutions for them. . . . Would Kracauer find in contemporary American films a paralysis similar to that afflicting Weimar cinema?”

This issue’s round of festival reports includes Bérénice Reynaud on the American Film Market and AFI Fest and Marco Abel on the German films he saw at this year’s Berlinale. Two “stood heads and shoulders above the rest,” Valeska Grisebach’s Western and Christian Petzold’s Transit. German cinema, he argues, could use a good shot of genre energy, but he also explains why, given the infrastructure of the industry, that won’t be happening any time soon.

The book reviews:

The new round of programs notes for the Melbourne Cinémathèque includes a good number of pieces on films by François Truffaut, John Cassavetes, and Thom Andersen.

And one name has been added to the Great Directors Database: Chantal Akerman. Gwendolyn Audrey Foster does the honors.

The new issue of [in]Transition features five audiovisual essays accompanied by statements from their makers and reviews from their peers.

  • “Nzingha Kendall’s video essay I feel, therefore I can be free fills the critical lacuna left by scholarship on a key film of Cuban revolutionary filmmaking, and the first feature film by a black, female director, Sara Gómez’s De Cierta Manera (One Way or Another, 1974),” writes Dolores Tierney.
  • With Berlin Moves, Evelyn Kreutzer “expands the poetics of Wings of Desire to include other films about Berlin, films that stem from different periods (inter-war to post-Wall) and covers a range of sometimes hybrid genres (fiction, documentary, essay, experimental),” writes Axel Bangert.
  • In Remixing Rose Hobart, “Derek Long explores the particular value of the video essay as a means of analyzing found footage or appropriated film,” writes Michael Pigott.
  • Nike Nivar Ortiz’s contribution is Cinders of La Invasión: Reenactment as Index in Abner Benaim’s Invasión, a response the 2014 documentary about “Operation Just Cause,” as the U.S. government called its 1989 invasion of Panama.
  • Patrick Keating: Jordan Schonig’s The Follow Shot is an impressive achievement, using split screen, text, and music to generate fresh understanding about an under-studied camera technique.”

The thirty-third issue online of the multi-lingual journal La Furia Umana carries on expanding and, in one of the more recent additions, A. S. Hamrah suggests that Orson Welles’s Mr. Arkadin “looks different in the age of digital social networking.” Its “decadence looks like vitality now; its poverty looks like riches.”

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