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Movies to Listen to

Chris Petit’s Radio On (1979)

Just after last week’s round went live, we learned of the passing of the endlessly innovative animation director Richard Williams at the age of eighty-six. While he’s best known for his work on Robert Zemeckis’s groundbreaking Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), for which he won two Oscars, he produced vital contributions to the evolution of animation throughout his long career. At Cartoon Brew, Amid Amidi argues that “no single individual has had as great an impact on the animation art form in the last fifty years as this Canadian-born artist.” On Twitter, the brilliant animator Don Hertzfeldt put it this way: “Richard Williams was our Michelangelo.” If these claims strike you as a little over the top, Andrew Saladino’s excellent eight-and-a-half-minute video primer will surely convince you otherwise.

On the fall festivals front this week: 

  • The Viennale announced a first round of programming for its 2019 edition, featuring the latest films by Jessica Hausner, Pedro Costa, Lav Diaz, and Nadav Lapid as well as series devoted to European antifascist films, Brazilian cinema, Angela Schanelec, and silent-era pioneer Louise Kolm-Fleck.
  • New York rolled out fourteen titles lined up for its Spotlight on Documentary, including Michael Apted’s 63 Up and new work by Sergei Loznitsa, Ric Burns, Nanni Moretti, and Nick Broomfield. And among this year’s special events will be a screening of Francis Ford Coppola’s new cut of The Cotton Club (1984) with restored sound and image and talks by Martin Scorsese and Pedro Almodóvar.
  • Toronto announced that Mati Diop will receive the festival’s first Mary Pickford Award, given in recognition of an emerging female talent. And completing the lineup for its forty-fourth edition, TIFF’s Short Cuts program is now set.

A good number of the pieces that have stood out this week examine the ways that music and cinema have informed each other’s traditions:

  • This year marks the fortieth anniversary of Radio On, a British road movie shot in black and white by Wim Wenders’s assistant cameraman, Martin Schäfer. For the BFI, Adam Scovall talks with its director, Chris Petit, who was Time Out’s film editor and a frequent contributor to Melody Maker in the 1970s before he began directing and writing novels. Radio On’s soundtrack, which features David Bowie, Kraftwerk, and Devo, “drove the film from the beginning,” says Petit. In 1979, no other British film sounded—or looked—like Radio On. Petit says he was drawn to “a documentary sense of rediscovery of a lost or frozen landscape” in the work of both Wenders and Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
  • Last Saturday, Film at Lincoln Center premiered Ari Aster’s 171-minute director’s cut of Midsommar, in which a cluster of young Americans plays unforetold roles in a pagan ritual in Sweden. Writing for frieze, Adam Harper draws parallels between the film’s soundtrack and those of other folk horror classics, noting that “the horrifying truth” in this subgenre “is not that something lurks in the metaphysical dark, but that we are all fleshy creatures temporarily cavorting on the surface of a beautiful rock, unstoppably visiting pleasure and pain on each other as the winds of superstition command. The smiling pagans are the rulers of this land. In folk horror, music is a key component of this disconcerting peek behind the anthropological curtain.”
  • The Notebook has published David Perrin’s new translation of an interview with Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub conducted by Hans Hurch, the late director of the Viennale. The occasion was the 1984 premiere of Straub-Huillet’s Class Relations, a film based on Kafka’s Amerika. At one point, Hurch asked about Straub’s comparison of the film to an oratorio. Audiences “are so distant from the notion that music has something to do with cinema,” notes Huillet. And Straub adds: “In a film when people make pauses in their speech that don’t appear naturalistic and linguistically is deeply realistic, then the audience sits there . . . and [feels] provoked and [has] the impression that none of this is real and so forth.” But “musicians have allowed themselves much more  . . . Language is not just a vehicle. Besides, what interests us are these different spectrums/layers in the manners of speech and the voices. That’s what I meant with oratorio.”
  • Basil Dearden’s All Night Long (1962) floats in and out of Daniel Felsenthal’s essay for the Los Angeles Review of Books like a recurring motif, even though its central theme is the work of Shirley Clarke and John Cassavetes. “Just as jazz and other avant-garde movements in the 20th century—atonal music, for example—freed musicians from long-ingrained compositional assumptions, jazz cinema freed filmmakers from such constructs as the three-act screenplay,” he writes. “These structural innovations undermined the rigid Hollywood production model, leading to more dynamic and intuitive collaborations and scripts rewritten according to the on-set improvisations of the cast and crew. The independent film movement of the 1950s and the introduction of a jazz sensibility to movies were part and parcel of the same phenomenon.”
  • All summer long, much has been made of the thirtieth anniversary of Do the Right Thing, a film that seems to gain gut-punching relevance with each passing year. But as Amy Nicholson reminds us in the New York Times, when it premiered in Cannes in 1989, Spike Lee’s third feature didn’t win the Palme d’Or. Instead, the festival’s top award went to a modest debut that had taken Sundance by storm. Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape is a “a cool, scuzzy, alien object relative to much of what was filling American arthouses at the time,” writes Guy Lodge for the Guardian. “It is often all too easy for casual film historians to credit single films as seismic Hollywood game-changers,” he adds, “but it’s hard to overestimate the extent to which Soderbergh’s debut changed the course, or even the definition, of American independent cinema.”

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