Did You See This?

Hard Realities and Welcome Distractions

On Film / The Daily — Mar 27, 2020
Gene Tierney in John M. Stahl’s Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

Organizers of the Cannes Film Festival posted a status update yesterday in the form of a FAQ. In short, they don’t know what’s going to happen, because of course, no one does. “People count on us,” they write, “from Japanese film distributors to Cannes café owners.” So they’re still “working towards a deferred event,” that is, a 2020 edition that would take place in late June or early July. “And if it is not possible, we will accept that.” Meantime, the Palais des Festivals, which would be bustling right now with preparations for the Marché International des Programmes de Télévision if the world weren’t on lockdown, is currently housing the city’s homeless.

We may be spending more time watching all of our movies at home than we realized when all this began. China, which had allowed a small percentage of its movie theaters to reopen just a few days ago, has now ordered all cinemas shut down again nationwide. Independent theaters in Berlin have banded together to launch a crowdfunding campaign, while the Nashville Scene has teamed up with the Belcourt Theatre to open up a Living Room Film Club. In the Chicago Reader, Brianna Wellen and Kathleen Sachs have put together a collection of options for supporting local film institutions. And the Kino Marquee initiative, which splits takings from home screenings of films such as Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’s Bacurau and Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You between Kino Lorber and art-house cinemas, has expanded from twelve participating theaters to 150.

New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis is the latest guest on the Film Comment Podcast to discuss watching movies at home. She’s recently taken another look at Bong Joon-ho’s Okja (2017), and at RogerEbert.com, Bong’s 1994 graduation film, Incoherence, is one of the short films gathered in two roundups by Michael Frank. Other streaming shorts here include early works from such filmmakers as Josh and Benny Safdie, Céline Sciamma, Barry Jenkins, Mati Diop, and Lulu Wang—who has just organized a campaign to deliver more than a thousand masks and a thousand gloves to doctors in Los Angeles.

It’s hard to wrap your head around the fact that just about every film production on the planet has been shut down all at once—until you focus on just one. Deadline’s Andreas Wiseman talks with Terence Davies and his producer, Mike Elliott, about having to halt production on Benediction three days before shooting was to begin on Monday. Davies, now seventy-four, has been working on this project based on the life of poet Siegfried Sassoon for the past five years. “When you have spent such a long time on something and when you only work on things that you truly care about, it was initially hard to bear,” says Davies. “I truly hope we will make it. We view this as a pause rather than a cancellation.”

And then there are the projects that are all wrapped up and ready to go—but can’t. At least not yet. Variety has spoken with seven filmmakers whose films were set to premiere at SXSW a couple of weeks ago about where they go from here. One of the year’s best-reviewed films, Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always, actually opened in theaters on March 13 before being pulled. Now IndieWire’s Anne Thompson reports that Focus Features will make it available to rent and watch at home starting April 3.

Before we finally turn to this week’s non-virus-related highlights, we have to take a moment to remember Mark Blum, who died on Wednesday due to complications from COVID-19. He was sixty-nine. Of the dozens of roles Blum played on large and small screens, the two he is best known for are Gary Glass, husband of Rosanna Arquette’s Roberta in Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), and Richard Mason, Paul Hogan’s rival in Crocodile Dundee (1986). At Deadline, Greg Evans gathers tributes and remembrances from Arquette, Madonna, Malcolm McDowell, Cynthia Nixon, Mark Hamill, Dana Delany, and many more.

  • Let’s begin by looking back to this past weekend, which saw two significant anniversaries. Saturday marked the centenary of Eric Rohmer, whom the New Yorker’s Richard Brody calls the “virtual godfather” of the French New Wave in what amounts to both an assessment of the oeuvre and a guide to streaming it. Rohmer was “one of the few filmmakers in the history of the art whose movies are a genre unto themselves,” writes Brody. “Today, whenever a director makes a movie in which characters talk at length in ways that blend romantic confusion and intellectual pith, it will inevitably be likened to a Rohmer film.” On Sunday, Sabzian celebrated the 125th anniversary of the very first public screening—Louis Lumière projected his Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory (1895) for an audience of around ten—with translations of passages from a 1925 account of the event by Georges-Michel Coissac.

  • For the New York Times Magazine, David Marchese, who conducts some of the best-researched and most entertaining interviews with movie people these days, talks with a man who clearly relishes an opportunity to deliver, Werner Herzog. “I advise you to go outside on a clear night and look out into the universe,” says the unlikely star of The Mandalorian whose latest film is Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin. “It seems utterly indifferent to what we are doing.”

  • Writing for the Boston Review, Matt Gallagher asks, “What person these past few years hasn’t stopped to consider the possibility that we are mired in an alternate reality?” Given the rise of authoritarianism, the increase in economic inequality, climate change, and now, of course, the virus, “it’s not hard to understand the popularity of a wave of new TV alternate histories and speculative fiction” such as The Handmaid’s Tale, The Man in the High Castle, Watchmen, and most recently, The Plot Against America, an adaptation of Philip Roth’s 2004 novel written and produced by Ed Burns and David Simon. It’s the story of anti-Semite Charles Lindbergh’s presidential run against Franklin Roosevelt in 1940. “Us versus Them; fascists against antifascists; America First or L’Internationale—what’s old is new again,” writes Gallagher. At the A.V. Club, Noel Murray suggests that Simon, creator of The Wire, “had one hell of a run in the 2000s,” and yet “it’s possible Simon’s output in the 2010s eclipses what came before.”

  • In Bamboozled (2000), a fierce satire in which black actors appear in blackface on a contemporary revival of a minstrel show, Spike Lee “trains a dark light on the historically hideous misrepresentation of black people by America’s corporate-entertainment industrial complex, the deleterious effects of this misrepresentation on individuals, and the pivotal role in it that we all, as active and passive consumers, perform,” writes Ashley Clark in the essay accompanying our release. In an essential review for Vanity Fair, K. Austin Collins writes that “Lee’s strange but energizing movie, which is still a riotous, pungent ride twenty years on, isn’t simply about the crushing reality of the American public’s long affection for black degradation—though that would be enough. Its subject cuts closer to home for Lee: the damage this does, the limits and humiliations it all but promises, for black artists in particular . . . It is a flawed film, and an utterly necessary one.”

  • In her piece on John M. Stahl’s Leave Her to Heaven (1945), “one of the great outliers of classic film noir,” 4Columns film editor Melissa Anderson argues that Gene Tierney’s Ellen Berent “exceeds the malice of even Double Indemnity’s Phyllis Dietrichson, perhaps the paradigmatic noir seductress. Ellen is more than a femme fatale: she is an unparalleled psychopath.” Anderson finds that she can’t watch this “or any Tierney movie” without “thinking about the mental illnesses that would begin to plague her roughly a decade after Stahl’s film and would persist until her death, in 1991.” We do still have, though, the “shimmer of Tierney’s sea-green eyes.

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