Cinema Scope and the News

The Daily — Mar 23, 2020
Lee Kang-sheng in Tsai Ming-liang’s Days (2020)

We’re all winging it right now. With our current situation evolving so quickly and unpredictably, I’ll try for the time being to offer here at the Daily both relief from the onslaught of alarming news as well as a briefing on the latest developments impacting the world of cinema. Let’s see how it goes.

Today’s relief comes in the form of a new issue of Cinema Scope, a rich and varied dispatch from the relatively calmer world we were living in just a few weeks ago. Contributors have voted up lists of the top ten films of 2019 and the 2010s, and Adam Nayman surveys the past decade in Canadian cinema, noting that “the common denominator uniting exciting and vanguard work across a variety of regions, modes, and film-industrial contexts was a youth movement.” Editor Mark Peranson has asked eleven young and promising Canadian filmmakers—“plus Canada’s principal cinephile director Atom Egoyan, because I’m always interested in what Atom has to say about cinema”—to write short essays on international directors whose work has inspired them. Online we find Egoyan on Sergei Loznitsa, Sofia Bohdanowicz (MS Slavic 7) on Jodie Mack, Antoine Bourges (Fail to Appear) on Corneliu Porumboiu, Andrea Bussmann (Fausto) on Jean-Luc Godard, and Hugh Gibson (The Stairs) on Jafar Panahi.

Also up at the magazine’s site are two reviews—Katherine Connell on Levan Akin’s And Then We Danced and Michael Sicinski on Kantemir Balagov’s BeanpoleJonathan Rosenbaum’s column on new and notable releases on DVD and Blu-ray, Chuck Stephens’s enthusiastic appraisal of Gregory Zinman’s “excellent new book,” Making Images Move: Handmade Cinema and the Other Arts, Jay Kuehner’s feature on the work of Camilo Restrepo (Los conductos), and three interviews.

James Lattimer talks with Luis López Carrasco, whose The Year of the Discovery premiered in Rotterdam in January. It’s “a 210-minute plunge into the early ’90s, VHS, and growing disillusionment by way of a neighborhood bar in southeastern Spain on a day of violent protest.” Jordan Cronk interviews Heinz Emigholz, the artist and filmmaker known primarily for his exquisitely composed urban studies who has now “leapt headfirst into the realm of absurdist fiction” with The Last City. For the cover story, Darren Hughes talks with Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang and the two actors featured in his new film, Days, Lee Kang-sheng, with whom Tsai has worked for nearly thirty years, and newcomer Anong Houngheuangsy.

Days, which premiered in Berlin last month, was begun without a screenplay, and as Hughes notes, “without even a concept for the film in mind.” Seen for the most part in long, static takes, two men in separate cities wordlessly go about their lonely lives, Lee seeking a variety of treatments for severe neck pain and Anong praying and preparing a meal. About an hour into Days, the two meet for an intimate encounter in a hotel room in Bangkok, and writing for Sight & Sound, Giovanni Marchini Camia suggests that it would not be “a stretch to interpret the nature of Lee and Anong’s eventual coming-together in Days, and its inherent power imbalance, as a reflection on the intermingling of the personal and the professional in Tsai’s relationship with his actors.”

Reviewing Days for Film Comment, Jonathan Romney notes that “it has been an extraordinary experience watching the aging process at work on Lee, from the willowy naïf of early films like Rebels of the Neon God (1992) to the haggard, weather-beaten everyman of 2013’s Stray Dogs, as if the wear and tear visited on his characters by time, toil, desire, torrential rain, and bad plumbing had left their indelible trace on Lee Kang-sheng himself, giving Tsai’s cinematic studies of him unusually high existential stakes.”

The “bad plumbing” is a reference to Tsai’s The Hole (1998), in which a plumber’s botched job pierces the barrier between two apartments, each housing a lone tenant self-isolating while a mysterious epidemic forces Taipei to enforce a total lockdown. The Hole is clearly a movie for the moment, and Ruairi McCann has just revisited it for Little White Lies, noting that “Tsai’s is a cinema that already seems to be under quarantine.” For more conversations with Tsai about Days, see Daniel Kasman (Notebook), Christopher Small (Filmmaker), and Zhuo-Ning Su (Film Stage).

The Latest

According to Variety’s Patrick Frater, in China, where no new local cases of coronavirus infections have been reported in the past few days, more than five hundred cinemas have reopened. That’s less than five percent of all the theaters operating before the outbreak, but we’ll cling to hope wherever we can find it. On Saturday, the Washington Post ran a plea from Christopher Nolan to Congress—and to the rest of us—to support our local theaters. “When this crisis passes,” he writes, “the need for collective human engagement, the need to live and love and laugh and cry together, will be more powerful than ever. The combination of that pent-up demand and the promise of new movies could boost local economies and contribute billions to our national economy. We don’t just owe it to the 150,000 workers of this great American industry to include them in those we help, we owe it to ourselves. We need what movies can offer us.”

More recent items of note:

  • Film Comment has been a remarkable resource over the past week or two, launching not only its At Home series of podcasts, in which contributors call each other up to discuss the movies they’ve been watching, but also Reaching Out, a series of Mark Asch’s conversations with “folks in the movie world” whose lives have been disrupted. So far, he’s spoken with filmmaker Eliza Hittman (Never Rarely Sometimes Always), San Francisco International Film Festival director Rachel Rosen, and C. Mason Wells, director of theatrical sales at Kino Lorber.
  • Also in Film Comment, Jonathan Romney takes a look at “a proliferation of appetizing pop-up platforms” from festivals whose upcoming dates have been either cancelled or postponed. On a related note, Ultra Dogme, a site launched a few years ago by filmmaker, musician, and critic Maximilien Luc Proctor, is currently presenting its first virtual film festival.
  • Like New York’s Screen Slate, Chicago’s Cine-File is switching formats, listing online viewing recommendations in lieu of local screenings. And the Atlantic’s David Sims offers a few “choice options to match a variety of sheltering-in-place moods.”
  • For the foreseeable future, filmmaker and photographer Gary Hustwit is making his documentaries freely available worldwide, presenting one per week and beginning with Helvetica (2007), a feature-length look “at the proliferation of one typeface as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives.”
  • “40 Days to Learn Film” is an informally structured and casually paced talk running a little over two hours from Mark Cousins (The Story of Film: An Odyssey). Another free course of sorts comes from philosopher and cultural critic Steven Shaviro, who teaches a class at Wayne State University on music videos. He’s posted a first round of links and notes. One online course that will not be free is Reel Pieces with Annette Insdorf, presented on Sundays from March 29 through April 26 by 92Y. Each week, Insdorf, who teaches at Columbia, will lecture on a classic selection from the Criterion Channel and then open up the discussion to the virtual class.

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