Acclaimed novelist Megan Abbott, who made her screenwriting debut last year on David Simon’s hit HBO drama The Deuce, recently sat down with critic Michael Sragow to recount some of her most formative experiences as a film lover for our series Adventures in Moviegoing, now playing on the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck. Among the films she fell in love with during family trips to the revival house in her hometown of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, was Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard. William Holden’s unsuccessful screenwriter became a model for the antihero of one of her own best crime novels, 2007’s The Song is You. This month, we’re presenting the immortal classic on the Channel alongside Abbott’s personal introduction to the film, in which she positions Gloria Swanson’s fading silent star as the moral center of the movie.
Also up this week:
Hard work takes center stage in these two beguiling musicals. In Niki Lindroth von Bahr’s award-winning short The Burden (2017), a deadpan stop-motion fantasy, song and dance provide a much-needed release for the animals working soul-crushing jobs at a roadside mall. Lloyd Bacon’s 1933 backstage classic 42nd Street, featuring dazzling choreography by Busby Berkeley (whose influence can be seen in The Burden), revolves around the frenzied production of a fictional Broadway show that gives its beleaguered director (Warner Baxter) a final shot at success and catapults an understudy (Ruby Keeler) to stardom.
When Japanese New Wave bad boy Seijun Suzuki delivered this brutal, hilarious, and visually inspired masterpiece to the executives at his studio, he was promptly fired. Branded to Kill tells the ecstatically bent story of a yakuza assassin with a fetish for sniffing steamed rice (the chipmunk-cheeked superstar Joe Shishido) who botches a job and ends up a target himself. This is Suzuki at his most extreme—the flabbergasting pinnacle of his sixties pop-art aesthetic. Supplemental Features: interviews with director Seijun Suzuki, assistant director Masami Kuzuu, and actor Joe Shishido.
These two mass-media satires, both made decades ago, are eerily tuned in to the current political moment. Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd (1957) charts the unlikely rise of Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes (Andy Griffith), a drifter who gets "discovered" in the local drunk tank and eventually winds up a TV star and political kingmaker. In Sidney Lumet’s equally biting Network (1976)—for which screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky and actors Faye Dunaway, Peter Finch, and Beatrice Straight all won Oscars—a flailing news network gets a ratings boost when a veteran anchorman (Finch) threatens to kill himself on air, and the head of programming (Dunaway) decides to steer the station in a more sensational direction.