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Pomegranates and Program Notes

Sergei Parajanov’s The Color of Pomegranates (1969)

The week began with the ongoing parade of best-of-2019 lists and awards picking up its pace and wound down with the first substantial preview of 2020 in the form of a lineup of 118 features slated to premiere at Sundance. Now the week ends with the shocking and sad news that Thomas Elsaesser, a foundational figure in the history of cinema and media studies, has died at the age of seventy-six. A widely published critic and scholar who was instrumental in the development of the film studies departments at the University of East Anglia and the University of Amsterdam, Elsaesser is probably best known for his essential books New German Cinema: A History (1989), Weimar Cinema and After (2000), and Film Theory: An Introduction through the Senses (2010).

  • Programmer Stoffel Debuysere has translated a short piece by Serge Daney, the influential critic who wrote for Cahiers du cinéma and Libération and founded the quarterly film magazine Trafic before he died in 1992. The 1978 piece looks back to the advent of television as a turning point that would lead to what Daney perceived as a “crisis” in film criticism. Laurent Kretzschmar, who has been translating Daney for many years now, has posted Daney’s 1982 ode to Sergei Parajanov’s The Color of Pomegranates (1969), “one of these increasingly rare films that are unlike anything else. Parajanov is one of these even rarer filmmakers who act as if no one had ever filmed before them.” Two more quick notes on Parajanov: Carmen Gray has written up a primer for the BFI, and the UK’s Kino Klassika has launched a campaign to fund a 4K scan of Parajanov’s 1985 short film Arabesques on a Pirosmani Theme.
  • Great news, Torontonians. The TIFF Cinematheque winter program is out. Great news, too, for everyone else. The program notes are up. Now we can read James Quandt’s brief appreciations of Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation and James Stewart as well as his longer piece on Robert Bresson. “Encountering Bresson on the big screen for the first time,” he writes, “can induce a kind of vertigo, as eyes and ears dulled to inattention by conventional cinema are suddenly forced to a new or heightened awareness, an effect that registers somewhere between bracing and life-changing.” We can also read Andréa Picard on Oliver Laxe and Angela Schanelec, who has “created one of the most rigorous, compelling, and painfully honest bodies of work since that of Maurice Pialat.” Plus! Andrei Tanasescu on the Romanian New Wave and Richard Lippe and Barry Keith Grant on contemporary American horror.
  • Speaking of Pialat, Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin have created a video essay for Sight & Sound in which they consider four of his films—L’enfance nue (1968), La gueule ouverte (1974), Loulou (1980), and À nos amours (1983)—“through the lens of Jean-Pierre Gorin’s remark that the filmmaker’s style can be defined in three consecutive stages,” maneuvering, capturing, and working.
  • Another video essay. I’ve mentioned here before that Strand Releasing, celebrating its thirtieth anniversary, has invited thirty filmmakers as varied as John Waters, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and Catherine Breillat to make a short film. IndieWire has posted the contribution from producer and filmmaker James Schamus, a densely packed rumination on what cinema steals from the still photograph.
  • I’m going to cheat a little bit here by stuffing three interviews into a single bullet point. Brad Pitt talks about spirituality with Anthony Hopkins for Interview; for the New Statesman, Ellen Peirson-Hagger discusses crime in the movies with Kim Longinotto, whose latest documentary is Shooting the Mafia; and in the new issue of the Believer, Maori Karmael Holmes interviews Eve’s Bayou and Harriet director Kasi Lemmons, who’s contributed the latest in our series of Criterion top ten lists. 

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