Varda, Bazin, and More

On Film / The Daily — Apr 20, 2018

Let’s catch up with the new issue of cléo journal, this one dedicated entirely to the work of Agnès Varda. When the journal launched five years ago, it took its name from Varda’s 1962 classic, Cléo from 5 to 7. “While Varda films with a style that is uniquely hers, she disavows an idea of auteurism in favor of what she calls cinécriture,” note the editors. “In this concept, the director doesn’t hold sole ownership over the film, but all roles (cinematographer, screenwriter, editor) work together. Basically, she believes in collaboration. This, maybe above everything else, is her greatest legacy.”

Founding editor Kiva Reardon interviews Varda, who tells her, “I go from one film to another—not building a career—never like this. Never had a plan. I wait until something becomes very appealing to me, so much that I have to do it. That’s how I made such different films.”

Sarah-Tai Black argues that “her distinct ability to explore the curiosities and intimacies of the film image is no less apparent in Salut les Cubains [1963] than in her later, more critically attended work.”

With Cléo, “Varda boldly creates a narrative that resists the silencing of women’s experiences in favor of complex transformation and growth,” writes Nourhan Hesham.

“The auteure, marked by a feminist difference, combines a quizzical reflexivity about her authorship with a foregrounding of the collaborative nature of creative practice, at once signing herself as creator and recognizing her work as necessarily collective,” writes So Mayer in a piece on, among other films, Documenteur (1981). “Vardadian? It’s telling that—unlike Godard/ian—Varda does not have an adjective.”

Joseph Pomp argues that “it is her experimental TV series Une minute pour une image (1983) that contains the most sustained engagement with photography within her filmography.”

“Across many of her works, in her decades-long filmmaking career, Agnès Varda has searched for stories in people’s faces, histories embedded in the concrete textures of places, locations and architecture,” writes Eloise Ross. “With her twelve-minute cine-essay filmed for French television, Les dites cariatides (The So-Called Caryatids, 1984), Varda distills this attention through the feminine sculptures buried in the fabric of Parisian architecture.”

From Alejandra Espino comes a comic strip, “Agnès’s Fantastic Truths.” And the issue wraps with a roundtable discussion of Varda and her work; taking part are filmmakers Alexandra Hidalgo, Sofia Bohdanowicz and Caroline Leone and actress Indra De Bruyn.

On a related note, Film Comment reports that “Varda is set to co-direct a TV documentary this year, titled Let’s Talk About Cinema, with longtime collaborator Didier Rouget. Described by the director as “an illustrated chinwag,” it will be an extended masterclass about Varda’s analog filmography, starting from her 1954 debut La Pointe Courte to 1994’s Les Cent et une nuits de Simon Cinéma (One Hundred and One Nights).”

More Reading

Wednesday marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of André Bazin, and to mark the occasion, Film Comment’s posted Dave Kehr’s piece from its September/October 2001 issue on the early days of Cahiers du Cinéma and Sight & Sound’s posted Peter Matthews’s appreciation from its August 1999 issue: “It’s no exaggeration to say that Bazin is the single thinker most responsible for bestowing on cinema the prestige both of an artform and of an object of knowledge.”

The Battle of Algiers was officially released in 1966, but as Tom Carson notes at the top of his piece for the Baffler, “Gillo Pontecorvo’s reconstruction of the pivotal showdown of Algeria’s 1954-1962 rebellion against French colonial rule only got a U.S. theatrical release in the tumultuous spring of 1968. It is a testament to the time’s confusions and Pontecorvo’s genius alike that liberals could embrace The Battle of Algiers for being rhapsodically affirmative—somebody else’s revolution is always a pleasure to cheer for—while radicals saw it as prescriptive.”

“Amidst the many gems rough and polished scattered throughout Altman’s career, McCabe & Mrs. Miller [1971] has slowly resolved from the fog of initial bemusement to be regarded as perhaps his greatest achievement,” writes Roderick Heath at Ferdy on Films. “Altman’s rude reassessment of American social and historical mores and mythology was frequently leveraged through determined assaults on film genre frameworks, and McCabe & Mrs. Miller fits squarely both into Altman’s private genre of satirically inverted twists on familiar storytelling modes and received wisdoms, and into the run of darker, probing, guilty revisionist portraits of the Old West and American history that sprang up in the late ‘60s and extended into the following decade.”

Sally Potter’s Orlando (1992) “uses [Virginia] Woolf’s novel—itself full of pleasure, as well as irony and satire—as a springboard for an inquiry into the politics and standards of its own time, and toggles between narrative minimalism and visual excess,” writes Michael Koresky in his latest “Queer & Now & Then” column for Film Comment.

For frieze, Erika Balsom writes about recent work from Tacita Dean, James Benning, Jumana Manna, Salomé Lamas, Gürcan Ketlek, and others: “Across these films and many others, landscape becomes a way of thinking and making images at a scale that exceeds the individual, whether by opening onto the wonder of natural processes, the intersections of human and nonhuman life, or the fraught triangulation of a people, the state, and the soil.”

“The idea of the ‘biopic’ induces an immediate sense of confinement,” writes Joseph O’Neill for Grasshopper Film. “No matter how charismatic or consequential its subject, there seems little prospect of escaping the walls (psychological, sociological, temporal) that enclose, and potentially explain to death, a nonfictional life. Michael Almereyda’s Escapes engages with this problem and transcends it.

The Wisconsin Film Festival wrapped last week, and David Bordwell has been posting thoughts on the films during its eight-day run. In the first round, he writes about “movies about movies”: Michel Hazanavicius’s Godard Mon Amour, Guy Maddin and Evan and Galen Johnson’s The Green Fog, and Tommy Haines and Andrew Sherbourne’s Saving Brinton; and in the second, Gustav Möller’s The Guilty and Raymond Depardon’s 12 Days.

As for Godard Mon Amour, the New Yorker’s Richard Brody finds that “Hazanavicius doesn’t so much adapt [Anna] Wiazemsky’s memoirs as lay waste to them, pillaging the books for anecdotal sketches of a romance that he detaches from its surroundings, minimizing its intellectual fervor and historical urgency.” More from Godfrey Cheshire (RogerEbert.com), Jonathan Romney (Film Comment), A. O. Scott (New York Times), and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (A.V. Club).

Reviewing Kino Lorber’s box set Pioneers of African-American Cinema for the New York Review of Books, novelist and playwright Darryl Pinckney notes that “Charles Musser and Jacqueline Najuma Stewart provide helpful essays and notes. The aesthetic, even the subjects, are sometimes remote from us; we need to know what we’re watching and why.”

Jonas Mekas’s book Conversations with Filmmakers “is a testament to the pivotal role he played [in the 60s and 70s] and reads like a who’s who of the era, including Warhol, Brakhage and Cassavetes, as well as Susan Sontag, Carolee Schneemann, and Claes Oldenburg,” writes Mike Pinnington. “Whether it was a role he sought or not, his work as a filmmaker, critic, agitator and organizer led him to being something of a cultural barometer for the period, earning him the title of the godfather of avant-garde cinema.”

Also in the Notebook:

  • Amir Naderi’s The Runner (1984) “initiated the Iranian New Wave, and Abbas Kiarostami has explicitly cited it as a major influence on his own seminal Where Is the Friend’s Home (1987), in which both Naderi’s lesson and his method of teaching it—the focus on children, the use of allegory, and the brand of realism—are clearly visible,” writes Forrest Cardamenis. “While his renown among Iranian filmmakers of the 80s and 90s has never been in doubt, Naderi never attained the level of fame abroad some of his countrymen did.”
  • Joaquim Pinto and Nuno Leonel's Fish Tail (2015) “finds doubt and beauty related to the search for little wonders of light, the adventure and mystery that each journey to the sea carries with it,” writes Patrick Holzapfel.
  • “Chinese documentarian Zhao Liang adopts a poetic approach to the subject matter in his extraordinary Behemoth [2015], taking Dante’s Divine Comedy as inspiration for an image-led descent into a hellish underworld (and out the other side) to lay bare the human cost of rampant industrialization in his homeland,” writes Ben R. Nicholson.
  • And Carolina Benalcázar writes about Gastón Solnicki's Kékszakállú (2016).

Recent additions to Adrian Martin’s site include reviews from the archives of Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951), Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972), Wim Wenders’s Alice in the Cities (1974), Stephen Frears’s The Queen (2006), and Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry (2010).

“While we justly remember [Alain] Resnais for his feature films,” writes Zak Salih for Bright Lights, “we cannot seriously consider his career and its overarching themes without taking into account the sublime power of the documentary shorts he authored or co-authored during the 1950s: the decade when Europe and the rest of the world tried to chart a new moral course for the rest of the century. Covering topics as banal as the production of plastics and as profound as cultural appropriation, these films aren’t workaday projects so much as serious visual essays that extend Resnais’s preoccupation with the way the industrialized modern world breaks down, abstracts, and obliterates the human body.”

“I finally got around to [Andrzej] Zulawski’s 1971 debut feature, The Third Part of the Night, which has to be the strangest film made about the Polish resistance during World War II,” writes Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at the A.V. Club, and “at the center of the film” is “the Institute for Study of Typhus and Virology, a real-life research lab where Jews and Polish intellectuals (including the director’s own father) were sheltered by the biologist Rudolf Weigl, who employed them as ‘feeders’ for infected lice in the eventually successful development of a typhus vaccine. This dingy, claustrophobic fever-dream factory points to the origins of Zulawski’s fragmented, hysterical style: in a wartime reality where even relative safety resembled the stuff of nightmares.”

“The women of Grey Gardens [1976] mock the ruling class, but they are the ruling class,” writes Kelly Coyne for the Los Angeles Review of Books. “Their Gothic self-presentation neutralizes the tragedies of American capitalism as camp.”

As part of its cover package on New York City in the early 1980s, T Magazine’s asked Susan Seidelman (Smithereens), Rosie Perez, Jennifer Beals, Debbie Allen, Samuel L. Jackson, and Christopher Walken, among many others, to talk about their memories of the scenes they were part of back then.

“If the Babadook and Pennywise can be added to the ranks of queer heroes,” writes Mark Pariselli at the Talkhouse, “I want to crown an overlooked horror film villain as queer icon: Mary Lou Maloney from Bruce Pittman’s 1987 Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II. Fiercely feminist, anti-Catholic and unapologetically sex positive, Mary Lou is my dream teen scream queen.”

Writing for Another Gaze, Matthew Robinson argues that “behind the lurid façade” of Rosa von Praunheim’s City of Lost Souls (1983) “lies a powerful dialogue about the queer and trans struggle for representation.”

“Even if there wasn’t a compelling, underlying thesis to Hitler’s Hollywood: German Cinema in the Age of Propaganda: 1933–1945, this 2017 film by Rüdiger Suchsland would still be a valuable, fascinating record,” writes Jeremy Carr for Film International. That said, “Suchsland submits that the roots of these motion pictures are entrenched in a covert cultural conspiracy.”

At Vague Visages, Stefen Strysky writes about several noir films that feature scenes and stories built around the idealized portraits of women.” Painted portraits. These films “are strongest when the women refuse to conform to the fantasies of their male beholders.”

Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide (1961) “had spent three years languishing in the can when distributor Roger Corman smuggled the unlikely masterwork into public consciousness, another of his now legendary mitzvahs to art,” write the Lumière Sisters at the Chiseler. “We see Harrington as George Méliès reborn with a queer eye, casting precisely the same showman’s metaphysics that spawned cinema onto nature.”

Full Metal Jacket wasn’t the only reason I joined the Marine Corps, but it was a major one,” writes Anthony Swofford, author of Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles, in the New York Times. “For my generation and those to come, the Gunny,” played by the late R. Lee Ermey, “secured the already-supercharged drill instructor stereotype into one of the most recognizable characters in movie history.”

“Mention fantasy in British films and Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death [1946] immediately springs to mind,” writes David Parkinson for the BFI. “In the wartime years, ideas of fantasy and utopia played a vital role in British cinema, as escapism and a boost to morale, but also providing consolation and—in some cases—paving the way for the creation of a new society.”

A “sharp, swank 4k digital restoration” of Leo McCarey’s The Awful Truth (1937) came out this week “with lots of extras and a splendid essay by critic Molly Haskell,” writes Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune. “I asked Haskell if the screwball genre even makes sense in 2018. ‘Well, yes and no,’ she said. . . . ‘For the longest time, as reinforced by the Hays Office and the Production Code, there were so many taboos, sex and divorce and adultery. The repression created this wonderful tension and mystery, which has kind of gone by the wayside. Then again, there’s a lot of very talented comic writing today. Catastrophe on Amazon is brilliant. . . . It’s very modern, but it harks back to what’s so great about screwball: the endless metamorphosis of characters, through their relationships with one another.”

For the New York Times, Philip Galanes gets Denzel Washington and Michael B. Jordan talking “about creating characters and the socially minded work that really matters to them.”

“Whore. Liar. Traitor. Opportunist. I have been called all of these things and more since I first began to speak out last October about being raped in 1997, when I was 21 years old, by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein,” writes Asia Argento in the Guardian. “For speaking my truth, I have been slut-shamed, victim-blamed, bullied, and threatened on a daily basis. And I am not alone.”

Lists

Once a year, the Time 100 sees a hundred people writing about a hundred other people deemed “most influential” at that given moment. Here are a few pairings from this year’s collection:

Barry Levinson (Diner, Wag the Dog, Paterno) has written up a list of his top ten Criterion releases.

“I would never dare to claim that these are the best films of the last ten years,” writes Peter Tscherkassky at the top of his list for Grasshopper Film, “but they are films that both highly entertained me and left a truly strong impression as works of cinematic art.”

At Letterboxd, Michael Sicinski has put together his lists of the “Top Ten Films of the 10s” and “the 20s.”

Patrick Friel has dipped into the Chicago Reader archives for a list of five “classic films by Latin American women.”

The Business

Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here (2017) “sits alongside 12 Years a Slave (2014), American Honey (2016), Hell or High Water (2016), Free Fire (2016), Baby Driver (2017), and the more recent Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Lean on Pete as one of a dozen feature films made in the last five years that are set in the States and directed by leading lights of the British independent filmmaking scene,” writes Will Massa in the new issue of Sight & Sound. “Whether this is happenstance remains to be seen, but forthcoming projects from Steve McQueen, Yann Demange, Carol Morley and Chris Morris shot in Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta and the Dominican Republic indicate this may be part of a wider pattern.” And “it stokes long-held anxieties about film industry dominance by our cousins across the pond.”

J. E. Smyth’s book Nobody's Girl Friday: The Women Who Ran Hollywood “is something of a revelation,” writes Stephanie Mehta in the Washington Post. “Far from being a boy’s club, 1930s Hollywood was pretty inclusive; Smyth cites a 1934 report claiming that women made up forty percent of the workforce at the large studios at the time—Columbia Studios in particular appointed women to run major departments. ‘Women owned Hollywood for twenty years,’ actress Bette Davis once said of this earlier era. In 2017, by contrast, women made up just eighteen percent of the directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers of the top-grossing 250 films, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. What happened? Smyth argues that several factors drove women from the business.”

“Why do studios keep doing prequels if fans hate them?” asks Adam Kotsko, writing for n+1. “And why do fans hate them so much in the first place?”

“Once upon a time,” writes Chris Lee for Vulture, “Hollywood’s calculus regarding how sequels got made was simple. A movie came out, did big business, won over fans, and the captains of industry in the studio C-suite called out for another one: the same again, only different. These days, however, the forces dictating which films get sequelized and which don’t has become a much weirder science.”

For the New Republic, Alex Shephard talks with Ben Fritz, author of The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies, “about movie studios’ growing reliance on blockbusters, what’s driving Netflix and Amazon, and why a movie like Children of Men probably wouldn’t get made in 2018.”

Derek Thompson, writing for the Atlantic, argues that Disney “is mobilizing, in two major ways, to outrun Netflix and remain the dominant player in American entertainment.”

In Other News

Forty films by Frederick Wiseman are now available to stream for free via Kanopy, “which can be accessed through many public libraries, universities, and other institutions of the kind Wiseman has devoted himself to exploring in his work,” as Sam Adams notes at Slate.

For the New York Times, Niraj Chokshi reports on the rediscovery of a nine-minute silent film, “much of it previously thought to be lost,” which “shows the ruins left by the earthquake that ravaged San Francisco 112 years ago, according to David Kiehn, a film historian who helped to identify and restore the footage, which he said was originally shot by the pioneering Miles Brothers film studio in San Francisco.”

On Tuesday, FilmStruck tweeted a call to followers to select four films “that define you” and then tag four friends to do the same. “The challenge quickly grew to include some of the best actors and directors working today, from Guillermo del Toro to Jessica Chastain, Barry Jenkins, Zoe Kazan, Edgar Wright, and more,” notes Zack Sharf at IndieWire, where he’s put together a string of samples.

Goings On

New York. The series Kazuo Miyagawa: Japan's Greatest Cinematographer is on at Japan Society through April 28 and the Museum of Modern Art through April 29. Miyagawa “contributed ingenious camerawork and experimentation with lighting and color to the already innovative work of the era’s most renowned directors, including Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950) and Yojimbo (1961), Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu (1953) and Yasujirô Ozu’s Floating Weeds (1959),” notes Stephanie Monohan, where she recommends Yasuzo Masumura’s The Spider Tattoo (1966), screening tonight at Japan Society and Wednesday at MoMA. “Scripted by Kaneto Shindo (Onibaba, Kuroneko), it’s an underrated entry in the proto-grindhouse subgenre of ghostly Japanese feminine retribution.”

More goings on? See yesterday’s entry.

In the Works

Amazon Studios has landed the next project from Chloé Zhao (The Rider), reports Amanda N’Duka at Deadline. The film “will follow [Bass] Reeves’s journey as a young man born into slavery in 1838 who fled to the Indian Territory in search of freedom and went on to become one of the greatest lawmen of the American West.”

For more news of projects in the works, see yesterday’s entry.

Listening

The Talkhouse Podcast presents a conversation in two parts—(52’43”) and (44’12”)—between Guillermo del Toro and William Friedkin about “how to stay a scrapper despite success, del Toro’s apprenticeship under makeup legend Dick Smith, the remarkable story of Friedkin and the Pazuzu statue in The Exorcist, the plagiarism controversy surrounding The Shape of Water,” and, in the second part, “Christ, Hitler, religion, evil, reason vs. emotion, empathy vs. fear, free will, the impending apocalypse—and how filmmakers can make a difference in a world on the brink.”

Guest co-host Larry Revene joins Mike White in the Projection Booth to discuss Sergei Parajanov’s The Color of Pomegranates (1969) with Daniel Bird, director of The World is a Window: The Making of The Color of Pomegranates, and James Steffen, author of The Cinema of Sergei Parajanov (155’54”).

Filmmaker has launched a new podcast, Back to One, in which Peter Rinaldi “invites one working actor to do a deep dive into their unique process, psychology, and approach to the craft. No small talk, no celebrity stories, no inane banter—just the work.” His first guest is Kevin Corrigan (54’33”).

On the new episode of Filmwax Radio, Adam Schartoff talks with director Shana Feste and actors Vera Farmiga and Lewis MacDougall about Boundaries; with Tommy Avallone about his documentary, The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons From a Mythical Man; and with Amir Motlagh, director of MAN and Three Worlds, screening tonight at Chicago Filmmakers (75’01”).

Viewing

Watching Vera Chytilová’s Ceiling (1962) (41’04”), “one is immediately reminded of certain scenes from Hollywood’s classical period that feature female characters, often from modest origins, working as models,” writes Cristina Álvarez López. “I’m thinking of particular moments in Caught (Max Ophüls, 1949), Pitfall (Andre DeToth, 1948), or Mannequin (Frank Borzage, 1937) that hint at how, below the fashion milieu’s image of glamor and sophistication, lies an environment of harassment, entrapment, and exploitation that has to be endured by the models. Ceiling brings this idea to the forefront and amplifies it, combining Chytilová’s taste for formal and narrative experimentation with her incisive critical eye.”

Also in the Notebook, Scout Tafoya launches a series, “Anaphora,” which “will attempt to chart a course through the outliers and stranger corners of director’s bodies of work. The films that no one remembers or talks about as much as the masterpieces. Blackhat [2015] struck me as the perfect starting point because it’s, to me, the ultimate Michael Mann movie of the digital era.” (10’14”).

At RogerEbert.com, Matt Zoller Seitz introduces a new documentary by Peet Gelderblom, Remaking Fear: Evolution of the Body Snatchers (47’20”). “Based on Jack Finney's novel, Don Siegel’s original black-and-white thriller about aliens taking over unsuspecting humans,” Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) “was a parable of Cold War paranoia.” Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake “updated the story to San Francisco, the better to satirize the self-help movement and New Age mentality that bloomed at ground zero for Flower Power back in the sixties and then spread around the world.” Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers (1993) “proved to be a perfect capper to a nearly twenty-year American quest to put the failure of Vietnam in the past and glorify military might once more. In 2007, Oliver Hirschbiegel directed the least interesting version . . . and yet even this one is fascinating and often terrifying.”

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