Did You See This?

Scorsese and Schrader, Ghatak and Godard

Robert De Niro and Liza Minnelli in Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York (1977)

Before turning to this week’s highlights, let’s pause a moment to take in a few remembrances of Buck Henry,Terry Jones, and Jean Douchet. When Saturday Night Live returned this past weekend, the show flashed a brief tribute to Henry, the comedic actor, screenwriter, and director who hosted SNL ten times in the late 1970s. Henry cocreated the sitcom Get Smart with Mel Brooks, wrote the screenplay for Mike Nichols’s The Graduate (1967)—in the famous long take that opens Robert Altman’s The Player (1992), Henry deadpans a pitch for The Graduate Part II—and codirected Heaven Can Wait (1978) with Warren Beatty. He died on January 8 at the age of eighty-nine. Mark Harris, who interviewed him for Pictures at a Revolution, his book on five Oscar contenders from 1967—including, of course, The Graduate—calls Henry “a droll, dry comic actor, and one of the funniest men ever to put pen to paper or unfurl an anecdote with withering precision.”

On Wednesday, Monty Python posted a video tribute to cofounding member Terry Jones, who passed away last week after struggling for several years with dementia. “Two down, four to go,” tweeted John Cleese; Graham Chapman died in 1989. “So many laughs, moments of total hilarity onstage and off,” recalled Eric Idle.Michael Palin, probably the Python closest to Jones, told the BBC that “Terry was first of all an enormous enthusiast.” Besides writing for and performing in the show that would forever change television comedy, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and directing one of the funniest films ever made, Life of Brian (1979), Jones wrote a shelf load of books for children and adults alike, and medievalists still consider his 1980 book on Chaucer to be an essential text.

Cahiers du cinéma, in the meantime, is running an appreciation of Jean Douchet in its current issue by fellow critic and filmmaker Luc Moullet, and Srikanth Srinivasan has posted his translation. Moullet notes that, after he left the magazine following the ouster of Eric Rohmer, Douchet spent most of his time moderating discussions at various ciné-clubs: “Over the years, he had acquired a Santa Claus-like status.”

On to the news and views of the week:

  • As Slamdance wrapped last night, the grand jury award for best narrative feature went to Heather Young’s Murmur. The portrait of a woman in her sixties who takes on more pets than she can handle won the FIPRESCI Prize when it premiered in Toronto last fall. This year’s Slamdance opened with Lynne Sachs’s Film About a Father Who, an exploration of familial bonds and tensions. The film will screen on February 11 as part of MoMA’s Doc Fortnight, and Ira Sachs, Lynne’s brother and the director most recently of Frankie, calls Film About a Father Who “one of Lynne’s most searingly honest works.” She discusses its making at the Talkhouse, and in a piece for Grasshopper Film, she writes about the impact the work of Jean-Luc Godard has had on her own: “Risk became my task and not my nemesis.”
  • Having scored top awards from the producers and directors guilds, Sam Mendes’s 1917 looks set to take the Oscar for best picture on February 9. But the Los Angeles TimesJustin Chang argues that not only does Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite still stand a slim chance of winning, it should. No one could accuse Bong of lying down on the job on the campaign front. He’s posing on the cover of a special Oscars issue of Vanity Fair that features a profile by Shirkers director Sandi Tan. He’s giving interviews to, among others, Steve Rose in the Guardian. And he’s guest-edited the March 2020 issue of Sight & Sound, where Tony Rayns delves deep into the oeuvre and argues that Bong has “learned Hitchcock’s knack of disguising serious intent as entertainment.” And last night, by the way, Parasite took top honors from the London Film Critics’ Circle.
  • Writing for the New York Review of Books and looking back on last fall’s Ritwik Ghatak retrospective at Film at Lincoln Center, Ratik Asokan notes that the Bengali filmmaker’s “posthumous reputation has grown steadily in India” partly because “history has proved his political instincts right. Ghatak’s fears about the conservative elements within Hinduism; his premonition, in Titas, of environmental disaster; his fixations on homelessness and the metaphor of the refugee: all of this has come to feel awfully resonant in the past few decades.” Moreover, “Ghatak’s formal innovations have also come into focus. In his brief career, he opened up film to the possibilities of music, the epic, the essay, and also visual abstraction, blazing a trail that many others have since followed. If an indigenous tradition of Indian cinema can be said to exist, it begins with him.”
  • Austin Dale recently watched Alex Ross Perry’s new documentary, Paul Schrader: Man in a Room, with the director and his subject at New York’s Metrograph. Afterwards, Dale spoke with Schrader about his next project featuring Oscar Isaac, Tye Sheridan, Tiffany Haddish, and Willem Dafoe. “In my films, I’ll sort of combine two worlds that seem to have nothing to do with each other,” says Schrader. “In the new one, it’s the world series of poker and Abu Ghraib.” Schrader, who will turn seventy-four this summer, figures he’s got “five or six years left” and he doesn’t want to spend them “making compromises. Maybe I’ll make a handful of little edgy films, and I’ll make them for next to nothing. That seems to me much better than doing some high-price piece of junk.” The conversation also touches on First Reformed (2017) and the impending demise of our species.
  • Starting today, Metrograph will be screening Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York (1977) “in a swoony new 35 mm print” that “may rapturously bring to mind any number of postwar MGM marvels,” as Melissa Anderson writes at 4Columns. “But its mood suggests outtakes from a scorching psychodrama, rushes from a documentary of a couple imploding.” In his latest piece for Vanity Fair, Mark Harris dispels the silly notion that Scorsese is “uninterested in women.” Ten of the female performances he’s directed have been nominated for Oscars; these are “strong, individual, and mostly indelible characters.” One more related note here. Tonight, New York, New York producer Irwin Winkler will be at Metrograph for a talk moderated by Glenn Kenny, who has written a beautifully structured, bravely personal, and deeply moving essay that’s less about Scorsese’s Shutter Island (2010) than it is about the surprising ways movies can sneak up on us and radically alter our lives.

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