Did You See This?

“Balancing the Bitterness with Sweetness”

On Film / The Daily — Sep 20, 2019
Pierre Debusschere’s video for Beyoncé’s “Mine” (2013)

The New York Film Festival opens next Friday with the world premiere of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, and yesterday, Variety’s Gregg Goldstein broke a story that’s taken more than a few by surprise: Kent Jones, director of the NYFF since 2012, will be stepping down after this year’s edition wraps. For years, all of Jones’s work—chairing the festival’s selection committee; programming for Film at Lincoln Center; making documentaries about cinema, often in collaboration with Scorsese; writing outstanding criticism for Film Comment—has been of a piece. But last year saw the premiere of his fiction feature debut, Diane, which won awards at the Tribeca Film Festival for best narrative, screenplay, and cinematography. “Watching films by other people—and particularly rejecting films by other people—becomes different,” Jones tells Goldstein. “After making my film, I guess that changed my perspective.” Jones will carry on working with Lincoln Center as an advisor, and even better, he’s already written his next feature.

A few highlights from this past week:

  • The new issue of [in]Transition, a unique journal that publishes criticism in the form of peer-reviewed video essays, features work on Bette Davis, Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers (1966), and Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). Alan Blanchard has a fresh and intriguing take on Wiene’s German Expressionist milestone. Suppose Francis, a patient in Caligari’s mental institution, is feigning insanity in order to avoid being sent to fight in the First World War. Suppose he’s actually a reliable narrator. If you take this premise and run with it, suggests Thomas Elsaesser, author of an essential book on Weimar cinema, then Caligari “reveals itself as a powerful anti-war film.” Blanchard himself advises that his argument “should not to be construed as the ‘one and true’ interpretation of the film, but as an opportunity to revisit this century-old silent film classic via Stan Brakhage’s ‘untutored eye’ to consider a new possibility, a new logic.” On a related note, Will DiGravio has launched the Video Essay Podcast. Listen in as he interviews some of the top practitioners of the form.
  • Writing for Bright Lights Film Journal, Gordon Thomas takes a deep, deep dive into Sergei Bondarchuk’s War and Peace (1966). The essay covers the “Russian-ness” of Tolstoy’s novel, the Soviets’ conflicted reception of King Vidor’s 1956 adaptation, the various versions of Bondarchuk’s film that have gone out into the world, the film’s strengths, its weaknesses, its place in the history of Russian cinema, its immediate fate at the hands of Soviet authorities, and of course, the painstaking restoration. “The deep resonance of the restored color and the never-before-seen crispness of the resolution brings the finest of the film’s image-making to, perhaps, a final realization,” he writes.
  • On September 28, Terry Zwigoff will introduce an evening of “immersive screenings” of his 1995 documentary Crumb and his first fiction feature, Ghost World (2001), in London. Robert Crumb will be there to perform tunes alongside Zwigoff and other artists featured on the films’ soundtracks. Little White Lies editor David Jenkins talks with Zwigoff about the sound system he uses to listen to his collection of 78s, about the agony of pitching projects in Hollywood, and about not reading graphic novels anymore. “If someone I trust recommends one occasionally I’ll take a look at it, but I haven’t been excited by what I’ve seen,” says Zwigoff. “The action comic book films continue to mystify me with their popularity. How can anyone suffer through them of their own free will?”
  • John Waters, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and Catherine Breillat are among the thirty filmmakers commissioned by Strand Releasing to make short films for a program marking the distributor’s thirtieth anniversary. IndieWire has two of them to view online, one by Brazilian director Karim Aïnouz, the other by German director Fatih Akin. “A lot of people associate Strand with New Queer Cinema,” cofounder Marcus Hu tells Eric Kohn, “but that probably represents maybe fifteen or twenty percent of our library.” Among the over 400 films that Strand has released over the past three decades are Tom Kalin’s Swoon (1992), Kelly Reichardt’s debut feature River of Grass (1994), and Alain Giraudie’s Stranger by the Lake (2013). 30/30 Vision: 3 Decades of Strand Releasing will screen at select theaters in major U.S. cities beginning in November.
  • The cover of the new issue of Camera Obscura features a still from Beyoncé’s 2013 video “Mine,” which Ellen McLarney reads as a prelude to a multimedia project the artist launched properly in early 2017. A collection of works that posed “formidable challenges to racist media representations in the Breitbart age,” the project saw Beyoncé collaborating with photographers, poets, and filmmakers from the African Muslim diaspora and from Latin America. “Her pictures directly answer bell hooks’s call to ‘move beyond the pain’ of black suffering and victimization,” writes McLarney, “to emphasize intersectionality, and ‘to be truly free’ by creating ‘lives of sustained optimal well-being and joy,’ balancing the bitterness with sweetness.”

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