Did You See This?

Personas, Conspiracies, and Outright Horror

On Film / The Daily — Jul 19, 2019
Agnès Varda

Now that the lineup for next month’s Locarno Film Festival is set, the fall festival season is just beginning to take shape. Venice and London have selected their opening night films, and now, Toronto’s joined in, announcing that it’s going with Daniel Roher’s Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band. Executive produced by Martin Scorsese, Brian Grazer, and Ron Howard, the documentary features interviews with Scorsese, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, and Peter Gabriel. And just this morning, San Sebastian began rolling out its roster of competing titles and Venice Critics’ Week unveiled its full lineup of nine first features, four of them directed by women.

And now let’s turn to summer reading. Here’s what’s stood out this past week:

  • In his latest column for Sight & Sound, Brad Stevens wonders if directing might also be “a performance, a ‘role’ in the theatrical sense?” He points out that while Alfred Hitchcock, Erich von Stroheim, and Werner Herzog honed distinct personas, both on-screen and off, Agnès Varda “nurtured a notably elusive facade, oddly so, since on the surface her public persona—playful, curious, accessible—could hardly be more straightforward.”
  • Ari Aster’s Midsommar has prompted a good number of think pieces that delve into folk horror by way of Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973), but few are as rewarding as Edward Millar and John Semley’s for the Baffler. The argument explored here is that the genre “negates Enlightenment philosophy: the mob sacrifices the individual, peasant superstitions supplant science and reason as the true source of knowledge, a holistic and animistic conception of the universe overtakes an atomistic and mechanistic one . . . Here the idea is not so much that logic and reason have reached some natural limit, but rather that the promises of the Enlightenment are always provisional, subject to revocation following one too many bad harvests.”
  • Apollo 11 has turned out to be “not the birth of the space age we should be acknowledging on this fiftieth anniversary, but the birth of the paranoia that defines us,” writes Rich Cohen in his new column for the Paris Review. “Because a man on the moon was too fantastic to accept, some people just didn’t accept it, or deal with its implications—that sea of darkness.” Of all the conspiracies that have attempted to explain away the event, his favorite, is “the one about Stanley Kubrick, because it demonstrates the use of a good counternarrative . . . It started with a simple question: Who, in 1969, would have been capable of staging a believable moon landing?”
  • Roger Corman, feminist hero? Absolutely, argues Catherine Essinger in Bright Lights Film Journal. In the 1950s, Corman stood apart from “the many other producers and directors who worked on what became known as ‘Poverty Row’” in that he and his writers developed female characters who were “consistently and unapologetically ambitious, sexual, intelligent, and adventurous. They are not restricted in their dress, profession, or behavior, unless it is done to show the gross unfairness of that restriction.” In Corman’s postwar America, “women’s options were myriad.”
  • Writers attending last month’s Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna’s festival of discoveries and restorations, are still reflecting on all they saw. At Observations on Film Art, Kristin Thompson writes about films from directors as varied as Manoel de Oliveira, Abbas Kiarostami, and Georges Franju, while David Bordwell analyzes a scene from Augusto Genina’s The Mask and the Face (1919). In his report for Film Comment, Giovanni Vimercati considers “the singular and uncompromising vision” of Hollywood director Henry King. And writing for Hyperallergic, Ela Bittencourt appraises the oeuvre of Youssef Chahine, “a preeminent voice in Arab cinema, hailed for his exuberance and the fluidity with which he moved between different genres and styles . . . If there’s a single common thread in Chahine’s filmography, it is his reverence for his fellow Egyptians’ endurance, coupled with his stout belief in progress, often against the rigidity of tradition or institutional religion.”

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