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Auteurism, the “Manspreading Machine”

Elisabeth Moss heads the cast of The Handmaiden’s Tale

This week the film community lost four remarkable figures: the profoundly influential critic Annette Michelson; French filmmaker, writer, activist, and Holocaust survivor Marceline Loridan-Ivens; pioneering documentary filmmaker Perry Miller Adato; and Japanese actress Kirin Kiki, who worked with Seijun Suzuki, Naomi Kawase, and Hirokazu Kore-eda. The contributions of these four extraordinary women from different corners of the film world are interesting to consider in light of the first article in this week’s highlights.

  • “What will it take to break the stranglehold of male domination in filmmaking?” asks Girish Shambu. Launching his new column for Film Quarterly, he argues that auteurism has become “an ingenious mechanism for ceaselessly multiplying discourse on a limited number of directors: a manspreading machine.” FQ’s new issue is also out, this one with a still from The Handmaiden’s Tale on the cover. “Dark times call for dark stories,” writes Heather Hendershot, though she argues that the show is “not a literal cautionary tale about the dangers of Trumpism. It is, rather, an allegorical narrative, and the beauty of allegory as a component of genre (usually science fiction) is its very malleability.” Also online from this issue are Nicholas Baer’s conversation with Nadia Yaqub about her new book, Palestinian Cinema in the Days of Revolution, and editor B. Ruby Rich’s diary-like commentary on some of this summer’s major developments in cinema.
  • No one had a summer this year anything like Tacita Dean’s. The artist’s films, photographs, paintings, and installations were on view in three concurrent retrospectives at London’s National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, and Royal Academy—an unprecedented trifecta. Now, through September 30, the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh is presenting what Andrew Dickson, writing for the New York Review of Books, calls “the final piece of the puzzle, or—to put it another way—an attempt to break back out of the classical constraints of the previous shows.” In the Notebook, Ross McDonnell focuses on one of Dean’s latest works, Antigone: “Sprockets proudly—and self-consciously—on display, Dean’s film has a blind faith in light itself.”
  • Novelist, poet, and film critic Michael Atkinson, probably best known to cinephiles for the incisive yet frisky reviews he wrote during his years-long stint at the Village Voice, is now the editorial director of Smashcut, an online film school. Nearly every day, he posts either a round of capsule reviews of films currently streaming on a wide range of services or a longer essay such as his recent piece on Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo and Les Blank’s documentary about its making, Burden of Dreams. For Atkinson, these films, both from 1982, are “two sides of a diptych, both portraying two slightly insane megalomaniacal men determined to bulldoze into the precivilized wilderness and push a giant ship over a mountain for reasons that, even to them, remain unclear.”
  • In the Winter 1996 issue of Cineaste, Jonathan Rosenbaum noted that, with Rock Hudson’s Home Movies (1992), which features Eric Farr playing the Hollywood icon and commenting on the subtexts of his films, Mark Rappaport “virtually invented a new form of film criticism,” a forerunner to the audiovisual essay. New York’s Spectacle Theater is currently screening the underseen narrative features Rappaport made before that breakthrough. Introducing his interview with the filmmaker for Screen Slate, Tyler Maxim calls these films from the 1970s and ’80s “a glimpse into an alternate set of possibilities for the development of independent film, the eerily fully formed American response to [a] Euro arthouse that never was.”
  • Writer, director, and actor Mario Van Peebles’s first role in a feature film was a younger version of the titular character his father, Melvin Van Peebles, played in his 1971 milestone of black independent cinema, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. Writing at the Talkhouse, Mario recalls the day he arrived on set a few minutes late. “You will not be the weak link with the last name Van Peebles,” his father told him. “Understand that. I love you like a son, but I will kick your ass.” Mario has passed that work ethic along to his son, Mandela, who took a small role in Mario’s 2003 semi-documentary about the making of his father’s landmark movie, Baadasssss! “I say there’s three loves in life,” writes Mario: “Love what you do, love the folks you do it with, and love what you say with your work.”

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