Did You See This?

What Actually Goes On in the Movies

Laurence Fishburne and Cuba Gooding Jr. in John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood (1991), screening as part of BAM’s series Black 90s

The week wraps with a flurry of festival news and we begin, of course, with Cannes. The festival has added two films to the competition from previous winners of the Palme d’Or. Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will take us back to 1969 with Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, and Brad Pitt, while Abdellatif Kechiche’s Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo is a four-hour follow-up to 2017’s summer romance set in the 1990s, Mektoub, My Love. Gaspar Noé’s Lux Æterna, a rumination on cinema featuring Béatrice Dalle and Charlotte Gainsbourg, will premiere as a midnight screening.

Four special screenings have been added: Patricio Guzmán (Nostalgia for the Light) continues his explorations of Chilean history in La Cordillera de los sueños; Gael García Bernal focuses on teenagers in Mexico in his second feature, Chicuarotes; Leila Conners reteams with Leonardo DiCaprio on the environmental documentary, Ice on Fire; and Dan Krauss tells the story of one of the first hospital wards to treat patients with AIDS in the 1980s in 5B. Un Certain Regard will present Russian director Larissa Sadilova’s first film in nearly a decade, Odnazhdy v Trubchevske, and an animated feature by Lorenzo Mattotti, La famosa invasione degli orsi in Sicilia. One film that we can now be sure won’t make the lineup is James Gray’s sci-fi journey, Ad Astra, whose release has likely been postponed until the fall. Meantime, Cannes has filled out both the Un Certain Regard and the short films and Cinéfondation juries.

In New York, Burning Cane has won best narrative feature, a cinematography award for nineteen-year-old director Phillip Youmans, and best actor for Wendell Pierce at Tribeca. And the Brooklyn Academy of Music has announced the full lineup for this year’s BAMcinemaFest. Lulu Wang’s family drama The Farewell will open the 2019 edition on June 12.

While the week has given us much to anticipate, it’s taken its toll as well. John Singleton, who died far too young on Monday at the age of fifty-one, once cited Star Wars (1977) as an early influence, and yesterday, we learned that Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca in the original trilogy, was gone at seventy-four. This week has also seen the passing of French actress Anémone, known for her work with Philippe Garrel and Marco Ferreri, and animator Bruce Bickford, who collaborated with Frank Zappa.

Here are some brighter highlights to take with you into the weekend:

  • Black 90s: A Turning Point in American Cinema opens today at BAM and runs through May 22. While Matt Carlin surveys the bulk of the series for the Notebook and programmer Ashley Clark discusses his selections on the Film Comment Podcast, the New Yorker’s Richard Brody zeroes in on three films that “take an audacious approach to the cinematic question of history, even as they display a passionate devotion to the past events that they depict.” Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust (1991), set at the turn of the twentieth century, is a “meticulously intimate yet rhapsodically lyrical melodrama.” In Sankofa (1993), Haile Gerima is “doing nothing less than reconstituting and affirming the full humanity of the enslaved.” And with Compensation (1999), Zeinabu Irene Davis “presents contemporary life as historical in real time.”
  • At the Talkhouse, Anna Biller (The Love Witch) talks with Nina Menkes about her 1991 film Queen of Diamonds, which has been newly restored and now heads out across the U.S. this summer. “The film is not ‘entertaining’ and it pushes you back upon yourself,” says Menkes. “In addition, there is a strong resistance to the kind of feminine cinematic figure [lead actress Tinka Menkes] represents. She is not friendly and fuckable, shall we say . . . Obviously, I chose to walk the path of making movies in my own way, in my own language, and damn the consequences.”
  • Even though we’re still seven months away from the end of 2019, Jordan Ruimy has gone ahead and polled 250 critics, programmers, academics, and distributors to come up with a list of the best films of the decade. George Miller’s action masterpiece Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), appearing on one of every four ballots cast, comes out on top, followed ever so closely by Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life (2011). The full list runs to seventy-five titles.
  • Not one of those seventy-five is a Marvel movie. And yet Avengers are everywhere. Discussing the phenomenon with fellow New York Times critics Kyle Buchanan, Manohla Dargis, Aisha Harris, and Wesley Morris, A. O. Scott points out that there’s “an interesting historical correlation in the rise of these movies—which are within their worlds fundamentally uninterested in anything democratic, that promote a super-elite Ayn Randian idea of what authority and heroism looks like—and the rise in the real world of anti-democratic authoritarian politics.” Writing for frieze, Gerry Canavan suggests that it’s “a shame, in a way, that the infamous line, often attributed to Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Žižek, ‘It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism,’ has now become so overused, as it was made for a film like Endgame, which (at over three hours) cannot imagine the end of anything, least of all itself.”
  • Sheila O’Malley has launched a new column for Film Comment, Present Tense, in which she’ll explore the various spaces where cinema overlaps with other arts. Her first subject is Frank O’Hara, one of the leading poets of the New York School in the mid-twentieth century—“and movie-mad from a very young age.” O’Malley argues that his 1960 poem “Ave Maria” offers “one of the most accurate depictions in literature of what actually goes on ‘in the movies.’”

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