Did You See This?

Criticism, Comment, and CGI

Chadwick Boseman in Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther (2018)

Let’s start with a few updates to a couple of this week’s Daily entries. When Gustav Deutsch passed away last weekend, there were probably more than a few cinephiles outside of Europe unfamiliar with his work. The Notebook has posted Renée von Paschen’s translation of an essay by curator and historian Alexander Horwath that serves as an excellent primer. “With innumerable archival finds, and with his sparse and gentle manipulations of the footage,” writes Horwath, “Deutsch demonstrates how strong the ‘alternative’ potential of cinematic artifacts is. It only takes a nudge and the ideas and objects recorded on film begin to work against their apparent purpose.”

This week we also lost Marie Laforêt, the popular French singer and actress who starred opposite Alain Delon in René Clément’s Purple Noon (1960), and Nik Powell, who cofounded Palace Productions in the UK with Stephen Woolley and produced dozens of films, including Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves (1984), Mona Lisa (1986), and The Crying Game (1992). Laforêt was eighty and Powell was sixty-nine.

The Scorsese vs. Marvel debate is winding down, but a few more voices have chimed in over the past few days. “Scorsese isn’t inveighing against fantasy,” writes the New Yorker’s Richard Brody, “but against a system of production that submerges directors’ authority in a network of dictates and decisions issued from the top down—a network in which the director is more of a functionary than a creator.” Scorsese’s op-ed in the New York Times is “a personal and profound vision of a social order distorted by greed.” And as Pamela Hutchinson reports in the Guardian, Joanna Hogg, who’s currently editing The Souvenir: Part II, expressed her concern at an event in London on Tuesday. “What will happen in a few years, even five years’ time?” she asked. “Will I still be able to make films?”

  • Marvel may be an economic juggernaut reshaping the global film industry, but it’s also, many would argue, capable of genuine artistry. In the new issue of Film Criticism, Anthony Faramelli writes about Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther (2018) as a “revolutionary film.” Not only is it the “first ‘black blockbuster,’” it also “recreates the most significant and contentious debate in anti-colonial movements and post-colonial development: black sovereignty versus black solidarity.” This new issue also features Robert G. White on Palestinian cinema, Arijana Zeric on Agnès Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962), and Alex Fitch on two films from 1998 that “allegorically comment on the experience of urban versus suburban living at end of the twentieth century,” Alex Proyas’s Dark City and Peter Weir’s The Truman Show.
  • As a boy, Todd Haynes was intensely obsessed with Mary Poppins (1964), and his family was remarkably supportive as that obsession led to his first Super-8 shorts. In an in-depth profile for the New Yorker, John Lahr interweaves interviews with Elizabeth McGovern, “Haynes’s best friend at the progressive Oakwood School, in North Hollywood,” and collaborators such as Julianne Moore with a report from the set of Dark Waters. The film, opening two weeks from today, is based on the true story of Robert Bilott, a lawyer who brought a class-action suit against DuPont, whose plant was poisoning tens of thousands of people in West Virginia and Ohio for decades. Lahr also pages through Haynes’s image book for Dark Waters, which gathers stills from The Insider and The Parallax View and artworks by Gerhard Richter, Gordon Parks, Andreas Gursky, and William Eggleston. “Haynes’s visual challenge in Dark Waters,” writes Lahr, “was to elevate the legal offices, storage rooms, and middle-class homes where most of the drama of the movie takes place to an expressive backdrop for Bilott’s internal struggle, which, he said, was infused ‘with anxiety, dread, futility, and despair.’”
  • Chiseler editor Daniel Riccuito talks with Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark, about Video Watchdog, the award-winning magazine focusing on genre films which Lucas edited for twenty-seven years. While they quibble a bit over whether giallo films are inherently misogynous, they do agree that American cinema owes much to Roger Corman. As for the films produced by Val Lewton, Lucas says that he’s “always loved them for their delicacy, their poetical sense, their literary quality, and their indirectness—which sometimes co-exists with sources of florid garishness, like the woman with the maracas in The Leopard Man . . . Lewton was remarkable because he seems to have worked in horror because it was below the general studio radar, which allowed him to make extremely personal films. As long as they checked the necessary boxes, he could make the films he wanted—and I think Mario Bava learned that exact lesson from him.”
  • Directors Anton Ernst and Tati Golykh and two VFX companies are “taking the likeness of a long-dead actor and feeding it into a technology largely known for producing creepy, waxy, lifeless monstrosities so that it can lumber through a terrible, legacy-destroying film while an impressionist makes it perform dialogue about how nice dogs are.” That’s how the Guardian’s Stuart Heritage reads the news that James Dean is to be digitally resurrected for Finding Jack, an adaptation of Gareth Crocker’s novel about a soldier who bonds with a Labrador retriever during the Vietnam war. The project has been denounced all across social media, but for Heritage, the good news is that, considering the resumes of all involved and the sheer cost of the CGI technology to pull this stunt off, this movie will never get made. “I’ll eat my hat if it ever sees the light of day.” The bad news is that CMG Worldwide, “which own the rights to Dean’s likeness, sees this as a gateway to bring back some of its other dead clients.”

  • On a happier note, John Waters has been talking to Christina Newland at the BFI about our release of Polyester (1981), the cover designed by Sam Hadley with Raphael Geroni (“I think it’ll be my Christmas card this year”), the death of “good bad taste,” Cahiers du cinéma, Tab Hunter, and more. He’s also spoken with the BBC about one of his favorite works at MoMA, Lee Lozano’s Untitled (1963), “a very butch painting by a heterosexual woman.” Meantime, Interview’s Nadja Sayej asks Harmony Korine about curating Birth Machine Baby: H. R. Giger and Mark Prent, a show on view at Gagosian in New York through December 21.

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