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Stories of Their Lives

On Film / The Daily — Aug 16, 2019
Arthur Jafa’s Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death (2016)

Edward Lewis, the producer whose insistence that Dalton Trumbo be credited for writing the screenplay for Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960) was instrumental in bringing an end to the Hollywood Black List, has died. He was ninety-nine. Lewis often worked closely with his wife, Mildred, who passed away in April, and together, they were nominated for a best picture Oscar for Costa-Gavras’s Missing (1982). This week we also lost costume designer Piero Tosi, renowned for his work with Luchino Visconti, Vittorio De Sica, and Franco Zeffirelli.

Meantime, the fall festivals carry on rolling out their lineups. Among the highlights in Vancouver’s are the Future//Present series of works by promising Canadian filmmakers and Gateway, billed as “the largest showcase of East Asian cinema outside of that region” and featuring the acclaimed Dragons & Tigers series. Toronto’s Primetime program of long-form narratives will include episodes directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, Nicole Holofcener, and Rebecca Zlotowski; and cinematographer Roger Deakins (1984, Fargo, Kundun) will be honored with the Variety Artisan Award. As for the New York Film Festival, the Convergence section will present an array of works ranging from The Anthropocene Project, a three-part virtual reality experience, to The Raven, an immersive theatrical production delving into the life and work of Edgar Allan Poe.

Here’s what’s caught our eye in the past seven days:

  • Early in his career as a cinematographer, Arthur Jafa shot Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust (1991) and Spike Lee’s Crooklyn (1994) and worked with the second unit on Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999). He’s directed or codirected videos for Jay-Z and Solange, and following a slump in the early 2010s, reinvented himself as what Megan O’Grady calls in a rich profile for the New York TimesT Magazine a “polymathic artist” and a “theorist of black culture.” In May, he won the Golden Lion at the Venice Art Biennale. A turning point was the 2013 essay film on the legacy of the civil rights movement, Dreams Are Colder Than Death. “What gives the film its lyricism and grandeur is its unusual range of scale, linking the intimately human to the geologic and cosmological,” writes O’Grady. A second breakthrough, a “tipping point,” came with the seven-minute video essay Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death (2016). “A phantasmagoria of brutality and magnificence,” writes O’Grady, “the short unsparing film is an expansive, unshakable fever dream of blackness as both a creative force and an object of white violence, a kind of digital-age Guernica.
  • This month marks the tenth anniversary of A Pilgrimage, a trek through the Scottish Highlands led by Tilda Swinton and filmmaker Mark Cousins. For eight and a half days, around fifty volunteers helped them pull a mobile theater from town to town, where they’d dance and screen films by the likes of Robert Bresson, Mohammad-Ali Talebi, and Werner Herzog. Peter Knegt, a comedian, filmmaker, and columnist for CBC Arts, was among them, and as he recounts in an epic tale laced with video snippets and recollections from fellow travelers, it was a life-changing experience. At one point toward the end, he found himself left with no choice but to make an emergency call back home: “I need you to lend me probably about a thousand dollars so I can change my flight and go spend a week living at Tilda Swinton’s house with a man I think I’ve fallen in love with.”
  • Writing for Literal Magazine, So Mayer looks back on an evening spent with the late filmmaker, artist, and soccer “super-fan” Agnès Varda. “Her sensitivity to the gestural language of the game, to the bodies on the pitch, seemed utterly in keeping with the filmmaking,” writes Mayer: “her attention to the details not only of speech, cinematography, sound, editing, but also to the movements of bodies, whether human, feline or otherwise—from whose individual and general rhythms all her work seemed to arise.” Like all of us, Mayer misses Varda, but perhaps only the truest fans of both the sport and the filmmaker “would love to have talked to her about the summer’s hottest documentary controversy, video-assisted refereeing.”
  • Every weekday for well over a year now, Jaime Grijalba has been translating and sending out an entry from the diaries kept by Chilean filmmaker Raúl Ruiz, who died in 2011. Anyone can subscribe to the newsletter. It’s free, though a cup of coffee now and then would surely be appreciated. The other day, David Cairns simply had to repost one of the entries “because the story Ruiz tells is so very, very Ruizian. Obviously, if you’re Raúl Ruiz, people are going to tell you stories like this.”
  • The selections and placements on Slant’s list of the “100 Best Sci-Fi Movies of All Time” are only half the fun. The rest lies in the writing that accompanies each of the titles. Budd Wilkins, for example, calls Ishiro Honda’s Godzilla (1954, #10) “the Germany Year Zero of monster movies.” Niles Schwartz finds Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1971, #8) “striking by virtue of its immanence.” And here’s Eric Henderson on Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962, #4): “Just as James Stewart’s Scotty spends the second half of Vertigo trying to breathe life into a dead woman, Marker conveys the intensity of his protagonist’s memories by literally tearing a hole through his own mise-en-scène.”

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