Did You See This?

Hope Follows Catastrophe

The Daily — Dec 14, 2018
Sergei Eisenstein

Two pillars of Russian cinema, two instigators of the French New Wave, and one of the most consequential television programs of all time are featured in this week’s round of five recommended reads:

  • The Paris Review has just taken out from behind its paywall Geoff Dyer’s 2011 essay on Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979). The piece is sort of a rough draft of a significant swath of Dyer’s book that would appear a year later, Zona: A Book about a Film about a Journey to a Room. And a bit like Stalker itself, the essay is a slow yet richly rewarding meander toward “one of the great sequences in the history of cinema.” Tarkovsky devotees looking for more formally rigorous fare might turn to Warwick Mules’s contribution to the new issue of Transformations dealing with Solaris (1972) and the director’s concept of “time-pressure.”
  • The tale of Sergei Eisenstein’s ill-fated ¡Que Viva México!, the project begun in 1930 and, depending on how you look at it, either never completed or completed too many times by too many people who weren’t Sergei Eisenstein, has been told often, and for good reason. Besides studio heads in Hollywood and Moscow, the cast of characters involved includes novelist Upton Sinclair; his wife, the writer and financier Mary Craig Sinclair; Joseph Stalin; Experimental Cinema co-editor Seymour Stern; and in a brief but crucial cameo, Charlie Chaplin. In 2015, Peter Greenaway turned the story into a rollicking romp in Eisenstein in Guanajuato, but in her telling for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Angela Shpolberg focuses on how an escalating exchange of lefter-than-thou letters between Upton Sinclair and one Professor Henry (Harry) Wadsworth Longfellow Dana destroyed their friendship and nearly took Sinclair’s reputation down with it. Eisenstein is also topic #1 in Malte Hagener and Annie van den Oever’s engaging conversation with curator and author Ian Christie in the excellent new issue of NECSUS.
  • Jean-Luc Godard’s The Image Book “contemplates what possibilities of salvation and beauty might still reside in our horrific and uncertain world,” writes Erika Balsom for Sight & Sound. In the current issue of the Brooklyn Rail, Ethan Spigland talks with “Godard’s principal accomplice and interlocutor,” Swiss filmmaker Fabrice Aragno, who’s been working with Godard as a cinematographer, editor, and producer since 2004. “I was afraid of Godard, but not of Jean-Luc,” says Aragno, who was also the location manager for Film socialisme (2010), shot in part on the Costa Concordia, the cruise ship that was wrecked off the coast of Italy in 2012. That event is the catalyst for Film catastrophe, a new film by Paul Grivas, another of Godard’s collaborators:

  • Joan Dupont, who’s been friendly with Agnès Varda for twenty years now, conducts an informal conversation with the nonagenarian artist, photographer, and filmmaker for the new issue of Film Quarterly. As they talk their way through the oeuvre, making thematic rather than chronological connections from film to film, Varda says at one point, “I travel across times zones and different ways of thinking . . . At the end of The Beaches of Agnès [2008], I say: ‘I am remembering as I live.’ I live intensely.”
  • The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has put together an eye-searing presentation for Dawn Stover’s special report on the thirty-fifth anniversary of the broadcast on ABC of The Day After. The movie, watched by more than 100 million people, “nearly two-thirds of the total viewing audience,” depicts the effects of an all-out nuclear war on a Kansas community. Stover talks with residents of Lawrence, the town more or less taken over by the production, sketches the state of the Cold War in 1983, and then turns to the far-reaching impact the movie had on the real-life nuclear standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union. President Ronald Reagan was profoundly depressed by the film, and when he met Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavík in 1986, “they came very close to agreeing to destroy all their nuclear weapons,” writes Stover. Nicholas Meyer, the director of The Day After, “received a telegram from the administration telling him, ‘Don’t think your movie didn’t have any part of this, because it did.’ In 1987, the year that The Day After was first shown on Soviet television, the two leaders reached agreement on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. By then, as many as one billion people may have seen the film.”

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