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Master Classes and Memorable Moments

On Film / The Daily — Feb 1, 2019
Marlon Riggs’s Tongues Untied (1989)

This week, let’s just leap straight into five of the highlights of the past seven days.

  • As the International Film Festival Rotterdam winds down, organizers have been posting full-length videos of the master classes and talks held during the 2019 edition. These conversations run about an hour-and-a-half each, so there’s plenty of time for the interviewees to discuss not only the films they’ve brought to the festival but also their approaches to the art and sheer labor of filmmaking as well. You can’t take them all in at once, so here’s a selection of bookmarks to choose from: Claire Denis (High Life), Jia Zhangke (Ash Is Purest White), Nicole Brenez (she worked with Fabrice Aragno and Jean-Luc Godard on The Image Book), Carlos Reygadas (Our Time), Roberto Minervini (What You Gonna Do When the World's on Fire?), and Samson Wong (visual effects supervisor on Zhang Yimou’s Shadow). Also online is Agnieszka Holland’s Freedom Lecture, in which she addresses the political and artistic challenges that Europe now faces.
  • For this year’s Hollywood Issue of Vanity Fair, the twenty-fifth, Richard Lawson and K. Austin Collins have selected and written about what they consider to be the twenty-five most influential scenes of the past quarter-century. Each of their selections is accompanied by brief comments from a key player in the creation of the scene. So, for example, Jeff Bridges discusses the rapport between Joel and Ethan Coen during the making of The Big Lebowski (1998), Antoine Fuqua recalls how Denzel Washington improvised his “King Kong ain’t got nothing on me” speech in Training Day (2001), Sofia Coppola admits she’s baffled by how people have latched on to the mystery of whatever it is that Bill Murray whispers in Scarlett Johansson’s ear in Lost in Translation (2003), and Tom Hanks revisits the opening of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998): “When I first saw the completed sequence, I wept. The landing, from the boats to the top of the bluff, was just too horrible to watch without becoming undone. People see that landing sequence as a seminal twenty minutes, not just in the history of war movies, but in all of cinema.”
  • With an episode debunking Kenneth Anger’s version of the life and death Ramon Novarro, one of MGM’s big stars in the 1920s and ’30s, Karina Longworth wraps Fact-Checking Hollywood Babylon, the latest series of her popular podcast You Must Remember This. We and countless other devoted listeners hope it won’t be the last. Longworth has announced that YMRT will be on hiatus for a while, and she’s not sure herself when it’ll return. In the meantime, the Austin Film Society has posted video of her introduction to Henry King’s Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie (1952) and her post-screening conversation with Richard Linklater about the movie, its star, Jean Peters, and her husband, Howard Hughes.
  • The Brooklyn Academy of Music series Race, Sex & Cinema: The World of Marlon Riggs will open on Wednesday with a thirtieth anniversary screening of Tongues Untied, an essay film that, as Michael Koresky puts it in his latest column for Film Comment, “acknowledges the lives, dignity, and complexities of gay black men.” Naturally, the film sparked a neoconservative campaign against the National Endowment for the Arts when PBS broadcast it in 1991. “Invigoratingly shot and edited, with a complexly overlapping, rhythmic soundtrack, Riggs’s self-proclaimed ‘experimental documentary’ fuses elements of dance, poetry, and political journalism to put an unapologetic spotlight on the doubly invisible,” writes Koresky. Surveying the series for 4Columns, Catherine Damman writes that these films are “rapt to the textures of specificity, and to the ways that erotic congress can be life-making—perhaps especially so—when not in the service of literal reproduction. Riggs’s work insists on the primacy of pleasure while also attending to the unrelenting pain of social origin.”


  • In the new Roundabout Theatre Company production on Broadway of Sam Shepard’s 1980 play True West, Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano play estranged brothers Lee and Austin, reunited after five years in their mother’s kitchen. “Simplicity is the hallmark of Dano’s performance,” finds Isaac Butler at Slate, while Hawke’s Lee is “borderline Falstaffian.” In the New Yorker, Sarah Larson suggests that, following “three decades of movie stardom and artistic efforts ranging from cringe-inducing to brilliant, Hawke, now forty-eight, has been liberated by maturity and a weathering of his appearance.” As for the James Macdonald–directed production as a whole, the New York TimesBen Brantley writes that “everyday sibling rivalry has seldom felt this ominous.”

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