Did You See This?

The Big Questions

On Film / The Daily — Jun 21, 2019
George C. Scott in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Over the past couple of weeks, Catherine Grant, eagle-eyed and tireless as ever, has been flagging new issues of publications at the forefront of film studies. Among them is the latest Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism, in which Benedict Morrison argues that Terence Davies’s The Long Day Closes (1992) “exposes nostalgia as a scripting of lives in which culturally endorsed euphemism and cliché (such as that schooldays are the happiest days of your life) are preferred. Within this politicized critique of nostalgia, the evils of homophobia, bullying, and domestic violence are inscrutable, and the landscape is one of suffering relieved only by moments of cultural access which are both relief and repression, both enchantment and indoctrination.”

This issue also features a previously unpublished paper by the renowned critic and scholar V. F. Perkins, Dominic Lash’s analysis of Nicole Brenez’s writing on Abel Ferrara, and three audiovisual essays by Patrick Keating. Catherine Grant has also tweeted links to the latest Frames Cinema Journal, which explores political mythology as it relates to cinema, and a special issue of [in]Transition on audiographic criticism. Let’s also note that there’s a fresh issue of Filmicon: Journal of Greek Film Studies and a new DGA Quarterly featuring Steve Chagollan’s interview with Jean-Marc Vallée (Big Little Lies), who’s currently working on a feature about John Lennon and Yoko Ono and another HBO series, an adaptation of Zack McDermott’s Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and a Mother’s Love.

Sadly, before we turn to this week’s round of five notable reads, we have to note the passing of painter and animator Suzan Pitt this past Sunday at the age of seventy-five. At Cartoon Brew, Chris Robinson remembers her as an artist who made films “that tackled depression, mortality, identity, and sexuality in honest, hopeful, and insightful ways.” Her best known work is probably Asparagus (1979), which B. Ruby Rich has called “a children’s fairy tale for adults.” The twenty-minute fantasia developed a cult following as it screened before David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977) for two years in New York, followed by another year in Los Angeles.

  • For the past two and a half months, Kyle Buchanan has been talking to “a virtual think tank of key Hollywood figures” about the future of the movies. Ostensibly, the idea is to determine what the industry might look like in ten years, but reading the package of interviews currently rolling out in the New York Times, it soon becomes clear that these movers and shakers—producer Jason Blum, directors Ava DuVernay and Barry Jenkins, and so on—are trying to wrap their heads around the more immediate consequences of the impact of streaming. “For a long time, people have been saying the business is changing, but that’s undeniable now,” J. J. Abrams tells Buchanan. “It’s on.
  • The threat of nuclear annihilation is just as severe now as it was at the height of the Cold War. In an outstanding essay for the Boston Review, Stephen Phelan issues a call for movies that would hammer that reality home and revisits an era—roughly from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s—when we had them. Mick Jackson’s Threads (1984), for example: “Everyone who saw it was scarred.” And of course, Dr. Strangelove (1964), in which Stanley Kubrick “turned his fabled pedantry on nuclear command-and-control protocols” in order to “study them as closely as he was able without top secret clearance. His genius was to find them essentially comedic in premise and construction and to follow their absurd internal logic to an all-destroying punchline—our ultimate weapon blows up in our stupid faces like a joke cigar.”
  • Tyler Malone, a contributing editor at Literary Hub, was surprised to see John Wayne trending on Twitter a couple of months ago. Turns out, a slew of movie-lovers had just discovered what Malone has been wrestling with for years, namely that Wayne “was more a font of vile beliefs than a pillar of progressive values.” Malone considers his own “messy relationship with Wayne, filled with love and loathing, disgust and respect, awe and awkwardness, ambivalence and uncertainty . . . More and more people seem to want their artists to be free of such complications, imperfections, and uglinesses. The debate about these ‘problematic’ figures is often framed with an insufficient question: ‘Should we separate the art from the artist?’ It’s a question that will separate your peers like a wide frontier ravine, but the truth is that both sides of the argument, in different ways, misunderstand how art functions.”
  • BFI archivists William Fowler and Bryony Dixon recently discovered a film long thought lost, László Moholy-Nagy’s ABC in Sound (1933). The experimental short, running just over a minute, “adds succinctly to several important stories of the early 1930s,” writes Ian Christie for Sight & Sound. Christie sketches a brief history of the role of synchronized sound in the early evolution of cinema before turning to the work at hand: “For all his commitment to experimentation,” Moholy, the multidisciplinary artist who had arrived in Britain after teaching at the Bauhaus school, “has clearly retained his sense of humor.”
  • This weekend, New York’s Metrograph will show newly restored 35 mm prints of two features by the long-neglected filmmaker Juleen Compton, Stranded (1965) and The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean (1966). Both screened in Cannes before they were all-too-quickly forgotten. As Kristen Yoonsoo Kim points out in a piece for the Metrograph, “Compton is among many talented women directors who have been denied robust filmmaking careers despite making auspicious debut films: Barbara Loden, Leslie Harris, Kathleen Collins, and Susan Skoog.” For the New Yorker’s Richard Brody, Stranded is “an exemplary expression of cinematic modernism . . . Compton proves herself to be a directorial stylist of the first order, blending melodrama, comedy, and a complex spectrum of emotions in starkly composed and richly textured images, with highly expressive angles and tensely isolated gestures.” As for Norma Jean, it’s “a paradoxical film, one that’s also in the avant-garde of the tone of the times. Its subject is fame, which, even as it eluded Compton herself, loomed as a temptation, an aspiration, and, as she recognized, a danger.”

For news and items of interest throughout the day, every day, follow @CriterionDaily.