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Other Arts, Other Worlds

On Film / The Daily — Sep 6, 2019
Leslie Cheung in Wong Kar-wai’s Happy Together (1997)

Take a break from festival fever with these standouts from the past week:

  • Like many journals and magazines, 4Columns is back from its summer break. This week’s issue features our own Andrew Chan’s piece on The Eloquent Screen: A Rhetoric of Film, a new, posthumously published book by the late critic Gilberto Perez. Throughout the volume, Perez “embraces his love of movies without qualifications or apologies,” writes Chan. “But that love is not expressed as mere formalist appreciation, even as the literary, gentlemanly finesse of his prose signals his eye for exquisite construction. Perez was always aiming for a grander philosophy of the art, one mindful of not only other arts (of which his knowledge seemed to be encyclopedic) but also resonances with the world beyond the screen.”
  • The latest entry in Overlooked, a series of new obituaries honoring notable personalities whose deaths went unreported in the New York Times when they passed, comes from Manohla Dargis. Alice Guy Blaché, “the first female filmmaker in history,” made around a thousand films, most of them short, between 1896 and 1920. “Like other trailblazing women from cinema’s formative years, Blaché has been discovered, somehow overlooked and rediscovered anew,” writes Dargis. “Only now, largely because of the feminist film scholars who are writing women back into history, does her place seem secure.”
  • Writing for the Paris Review, novelist Tash Aw revisits Wong Kar-wai’s Happy Together (1997). Tony Leung and Leslie Cheung star as lovers from pre-handover Hong Kong trying to sort out their rocky relationship while traveling through Argentina. “I can’t help but think that we were in a short era of innocence before the complicated decades that lay ahead,” writes Aw, who first saw the film while living in London and struggling with “what it meant to be foreign, an outsider.” Wong’s original title can be literally translated as “the first emergence of spring sunshine—or, more idiomatically, a glimpse of something intimate. But perhaps it refers also to that brief moment of openness and acceptance, when our vulnerability was allowed to be a natural part of our world, only to give way once again to an era of victimization, divisiveness, and ever-narrowing boundaries.”
  • Open Space is an online publication from SFMOMA, so it’s only natural that Syd Staiti’s piece on the work of Agnès Varda would address two films she made in Northern California, Uncle Yanco (1967) and Black Panthers (1968). “There is nothing more ‘Bay Area of the late ’60s’ than the two countercultures Varda filmed while here: white hippie artists and Black Power militants,” he writes. Staiti’s real focus, though, is on the connections Varda saw between the social upheavals of the 1960s in the States and in other parts of the world. Nausicaa (1970), for example, a film about the far-right military coup in Greece in 1967, commissioned and then suppressed by French authorities, is “perhaps Varda’s most explicitly political film, similar to her friend Chris Marker’s works, and also the closest she would get to autobiography until the turn of the twenty-first century.” Her father, after all, was Greek. “The film’s decades-long disappearance erased the anti-fascist position expressed in her art; it was also a missing piece of her trajectory of experimentations with subjectivity, framing, and form.”
  • Adam Scovell has posted a slightly revised version of a talk he recently delivered on the relationship between W. G. Sebald, the writer probably best known for his novels The Rings of Saturn (1995) and Austerlitz (2001), and cinema. Sebald’s prose is “a stark mixture of meandering travelogue, archeologies of history, and dissections of melancholia, matched in atmosphere by the grainy photographs and seemingly inconsequential ephemera that litter in between the pages,” writes Scovell. As such, it could be seen “as an attempt of cinematic rendering of the written form.” Sebald often wrote about cinema as well, has been the subject of a few essay films, and has wielded an influence on seemingly unrelated filmmakers—Ben Rivers, for example—whose work might be read as a sort of “Sebaldian cinema.”

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