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Odd Couples

On Film / The Daily — Feb 8, 2019
Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger in Norman Jewison’s In the Heat of the Night (1967)

This year’s Berlinale is off and running, and before we return to our coverage, here are five items from this past week to know about:

  • Norman Jewison will be at the Aero Theatre in Los Angeles this weekend as the American Cinematheque pays tribute to the director with a series that includes his popular musical Fiddler on the Roof (1971) and his hit comedies The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! (1966) and Moonstruck (1987). Susan King talks with him about working with the late composer Michel Legrand on The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) and getting Ray Charles to sing the title song Quincy Jones composed for In the Heat of the Night (1967). “I called Quincy,” Jewison tells King, “and he said, ‘You’re going to sit with Ray and you’re going to tell him what’s happening on the screen visually and he’s going to listen to it.’” So: “When the scene came where Sidney Poitier confronts this white Southerner about the investigation, the guy slaps him, and without any hesitation, Sidney slapped him back. Ray Charles heard the slap and then he heard the second slap and he said, ‘Did he hit him?’ I said, yes. And he said, ‘Maximum green. Maximum green.’ I didn’t know what it meant,” but Charles “just threw himself into that song.”
  • Jules Feiffer is known to most for the sprightly cartoon strip he drew for the Village Voice for over forty years, but he’s also an accomplished author, playwright, illustrator, and screenwriter. He turned ninety a couple of weeks ago, and he’s got stories to tell. For Screen Slate, Tyler Maxin gets him going about his friendship with Elaine May and Mike Nichols, backing out of a collaboration with Stanley Kubrick, meeting Jean-Luc Godard (“It was awful”), working with Alain Resnais (“the most charming, affable man”), and blocking Louis Malle’s bid to direct Popeye. Feiffer’s graphic novel The Ghost Script, set in Hollywood in the 1950s, will be out this summer.
  • 1919 was a boom year for Hollywood primarily for two reasons, argues David Bordwell in the New York Times. First, star power was consolidated when Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, D. W. Griffith and Charlie Chaplin created the United Artists Corporation. Second, with Wall Street funding, producer Adolph Zukor began laying the groundwork for Paramount by adding theaters to his studio’s holdings. This vertically integrated studio system is “making a comeback,” writes Bordwell. “Netflix and Amazon, which blend distribution and exhibition by pushing films to our home screens, have started generating their own content . . . Like the studios in the boom year, today’s digital-delivery companies are vertically integrating to fill the world’s ceaseless appetite for movies. Adolph Zukor would not be surprised.”
  • All week long, Vulture has been rolling out articles from New York’s cover package marking the twentieth anniversary of The Matrix. Opening that package, Mark Harris calls Lilly and Lana Wachowski’s movie “the perfect one-size-fits-all combination of flattery, paranoia, anti-corporate wokeness, libertarian belief in the primacy of the individual, and ideologically nonspecific anger at the system: a ‘Wake up, sheeple!’ for its era and, even more, for ours.” And inside the package, we find Keith Phipps’s timeline of the movie’s conception, production, and the repercussions, Bilge Ebiri’s interview with Chad Stahelski, Keanu Reeves’s stunt double, and David Edelstein’s riff on “bullet time”: “Everything we thought we knew about movies (about the time-space continuum, really) was, in an instant, up for grabs. Here was proof that we could no longer trust our brains to process visual stimuli.”


  • A series of eleven films by Jia Zhangke is currently running in Berkeley through February 17, and on Wednesday, Jia will be in New York to introduce his 2006 feature, Still Life. “Attempts to define Jia as one kind of filmmaker (minimalist, realist, surrealist, Maoist, formalist, ironist, traditionalist) inevitably fail, just as his films themselves resist easy classification (slow cinema musicals? neo-realist melodramas? social problem wuxias?),” writes Sean Gilman in an outstanding primer for the Notebook. Embedded above is Jia’s new short for Apple, The Bucket, shot with an iPhone XS. “Such a nakedly sentimental, technology-forward endeavor may seem out of character for Jia,” writes Charles Bramesco at Little White Lies. “But he’s always been fascinated by new frontiers and digital possibility, so perhaps the prospect of keeping the production in his pocket proved too tempting to pass up.”

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