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Literary Influences

Bi Gan’s Kaili Blues (2015)

As an early summer weekend beckons, here are a few of this past week’s most engaging reads:

  • Samples from the print edition of the new summer 2019 issue of Cineaste are accompanied by online exclusives, and the standout among these is a deep dive into Bi Gan’s Kaili Blues (2015). As Andrew Chan noted here earlier this year, the award-winning debut feature by the Chinese director who’ll turn thirty next week “takes hold of a cliché of international art-house cinema—the long take—and pushes it into strange, dreamlike new territory.” And last year’s Long Day’s Journey into Night “combines that experimental approach with a considerably higher degree of risk.” Jiwei Xiao and Dudley Andrew argue that, in Kaili Blues, the filmmaker “relies on a panoply of precise and tested ‘poetic techniques’ to give his film ballast.” Poems “shimmer with neologisms, imagery, and figures of speech, which like reversible mirror-windows, refract and illuminate the world from inside out. Bi Gan believes that he can reproduce poetry’s oral rhythm in his camerawork and editing so as to delve into personal pasts and the cultural unconscious.”
  • The Library of America’s Moviegoer column returns with Michael Sragow’s essay on Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), a film that “moves from intimate nostalgia to wrenching pathos and black comedy.” Sragow considers how Ambersons is informed not only by Booth Tarkington’s 1918 novel but also by Welles’s friendship and work with Thornton Wilder. Both Welles and Wilder “were each destined to concoct vital blends of classical drama and modernist storytelling.” A little over a week ago, in his column for Film Comment, Michael Koresky unpacked a description of a main character in Ambersons that appears in the novel thirteen times and does not go missing in the film, “queer-looking duck.”
  • BOMB Magazine has posted a lively conversation between the great experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs and Kazuo Hara, the documentary filmmaker best known for The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1987). They debate the mental health of that film’s subject, antiwar activist Kenzo Okuzaki; discuss the state of political protest in Japan; and analyze the attempts at self-analysis that each perceives in the other’s work. “My God, you’re either a sadist or very strong!” Jacobs exclaims at one point. For his part, Hara finds that Jacobs’s films are “full of pain and conflict, even fear.”
  • Tilda Swinton is revisiting Orlando, the title character she played in Sally Potter’s 1992 film. In Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel, a nobleman of the Elizabethan court mysteriously becomes a woman and then lives on for another three hundred years. Swinton has not only edited a special Orlando-themed issue of Aperture but also curated a show of photographic work by eleven artists for the foundation’s gallery in New York. Talking to Ted Loos in the New York Times, she argues that Orlando is “about inevitable, perpetual change being the only thing that we can rely on, and it’s about identity being positively negligible. It’s a properly revolutionary book. I propose hypothetically that had Virginia Woolf continued this book for another thousand pages, Orlando could easily have turned into a mouse.”
  • At the Talkhouse, director and cinematographer Joshua Z Weinstein (Menashe) chats with one of his cinematic heroes, Jerry Schatzberg, about working with Al Pacino and Gene Hackman on Scarecrow (1973), photo shoots with Dylan and the Stones, getting Jimi Hendrix to open his second club, and why Meryl Streep never delivers the same performance from take to take. “Did you know Scarecrow was originally cast with Jack Lemmon and Bill Cosby before I was on the project?” asks Schatzberg. “Wow,” says Weinstein, “that would have . . .” Schatzberg: “. . . been a different film.”

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