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Notes to Spite a Pandemic

Tsai Ming-liang’s I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone (2006)

We’re all anxious to emerge from quarantine, but when the time comes, we’re going to have to proceed with extreme caution. The Directors Guild of America has recruited Steven Soderbergh, who, as the director of Contagion (2011), has done some thinking about pandemics, to head up a national committee that will “do a thorough examination of the issues at hand” and then draw up a set of recommendations for getting the film industry up and running again.

Experiments in distribution keep turning up interesting solutions. Russian director Ilya Khrzhanovsky has begun to roll out the fourteen features he and his team have made during the course of creating Dau, the ever-expanding multimedia project begun in 2005. The first two films, Natasha and the six-hour Degeneration, both premiered in Berlin in February and can now be viewed for a mere three dollars each. Andy Rector’s Kino Slang Quarantine series is free and is now presenting Luis Buñuel’s 1955 feature It’s Called the Dawn and Jean-Luc Godard’s 1996 short What’s Wrong with the World with extensive notes on both.

On Sunday, Eric Hynes, Jeff Reichert, and Damon Smith will present ROOM H.264: Quarantine, April 2020, the fourth chapter in their ongoing project in which they ask filmmakers the same question that Wim Wenders put to Jean-Luc Godard, Michelangelo Antonioni, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and other directors in Room 666 (1982): “Is cinema becoming a dead language—an art form which is already in decline?” Participants in this round include Hubert Sauper, Bill and Turner Ross, and Ra’anan Alexandrowicz. A live discussion will follow and the film will be available to watch until May 3.

In festival news, Roger Corman has issued a call for submissions to the “first (and hopefully last)” Corman Quarantine Film Festival. Films will have to be shot at home on a cell phone and run for no longer than two minutes. For the Los Angeles Times, Michael Ordaña talks with the organizers of the TCM Classic Film Festival about the Special Home Edition that’s currently running through Sunday. And the first freely accessible online edition of Visions du Réel opens today and runs through May 2.

Sadly, before we turn to this week’s highlights, we have to note the passing of Brian Dennehy at the age of eighty-one. He was “a smart, risk-taking, and undersung actor onstage and onscreen,” writes New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley, who admired Dennehy’s work in Peter Brook’s 1988 production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and in the 1992 television movie To Catch a Killer. “But nothing I had seen Mr. Dennehy do before prepared me for his take on Willy Loman” in Robert Falls’s “shadow-shrouded” 1998 production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. “The scale of his performance was more genuinely tragic than any version of Willy I’ve seen before or since.” Dennehy’s work in film ranged from such popular fare as First Blood (1982) and Cocoon (1985) to Peter Greenaway’s The Belly of an Architect (1987) and Andrew Ahn’s Driveways (2019), whose cast and crew have tweeted a tribute: “He was such a generous and inspiring presence on set, full of mirth, wit, and wisdom.”

Dennehy died of natural causes, but it was the coronavirus that took cinematographer Allen Daviau on Wednesday. He was seventy-seven. Daviau scored a total of five Oscar nominations for his work with Steven Spielberg on E.T. the Extraterrestrial (1982), The Color Purple (1985), and Empire of the Sun (1987) and with Barry Levinson on Avalon (1990) and Bugsy (1991). In a statement, Spielberg calls Daviau “a wonderful artist, but his warmth and humanity were as powerful as his lens.”

  • Dispatching to the Paris Review from Kuala Lumpur, Tash Aw writes about a film that, quite understandably, has been on his mind lately: “For most of the second half of I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone, Tsai Ming-liang’s 2006 masterpiece of unfulfilled desire, the characters struggle to breathe through makeshift face masks . . . The air itself has become dangerous to breathe. No one knows when this oppressive anxiety will end . . . Shot fifteen years ago, the film feels at once utterly contemporary and anchored in a distant past, as if Tsai Ming-liang had anticipated the Kuala Lumpur of 2020 while celebrating the historic richness and squalor of the city’s urban life.”

  • Sight & Sound carries on dipping into its archives and posting gems. This week alone, we’ve seen Tony Rayns’s 1995 conversation with Wong Kar-wai about Chungking Express (1994), Melanie Williams’s 2005 appreciation of Julie Christie, and most recently, an outstanding ode to Charlie Chaplin from the late critic, novelist, and painter John Berger. Chaplin’s Tramp “undergoes humiliation after humiliation with equanimity,” writes Berger. “Even when he counter-attacks, he does so with a hint of regret and with equanimity. Such equanimity renders him invulnerable—invulnerable to the point of seeming immortal. We, sensing this immortality in our hopeless circus of events, acknowledge it with our laughter. In Chaplin’s world, Laughter is immortality’s nickname.”

  • Albert Serra’s Liberté, the winner of the special jury prize in the Un Certain Regard program at Cannes last year, will open in Film at Lincoln Center’s virtual cinema on May 1. For Film Comment, Manu Yáñez Murillo talks with Serra about how this story of libertines expelled from the court of Louis XVI abandoning all inhibitions contrasts with his 2016 film The Death of Louis XIV; about why he never looks through the camera lens or glances at the monitor while shooting; about lighting night scenes; and about what he’s after in this film. “In broad terms,” says Serra, “before the eighteenth century, sexual desire was only conceived as a form of reproduction and pleasure, but nobody thought that sexuality could be an integral part of human identity, an essential element of our intimacy. This fully emerges with Freud, who talks about the perversion inherent to the simple act of looking at your own sexuality. This is all at the heart of Liberté.

  • There’s an article by Phillip Lopate on Mark Rappaport, the filmmaker and artist probably best known for Rock Hudson’s Home Movies (1992) and From the Journals of Jean Seberg (1995), in the current issue of Cineaste that is unfortunately not online. But we do have Jonathan Rosenbaum’s 1996 interview with Rappaport for the magazine, and even better, an essay on the later work that ran in Trafic in the fall of 2016. Now Yoana Pavlova has spoken with Rappaport for Kinoscope about the collages he made in the late 2000s and early 2010s and the influence of Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988–98) and Dirk Schaefer and Matthias Müller’s “brilliant, brilliant short,” Home Stories (1990). “Matthias and Dirk took movies from the 1940s and 1950s, melodramas of women alone at home, frightened, crying. It’s six minutes long and contains the universe of Hollywood melodrama in it. It stands up beautifully almost thirty years later. This was a very important film in my life as well.”

  • Grasshopper Film has posted a brief but beautiful appreciation of Paris, Texas (1984) by the playwright and actor David Cale. “I’d never wept in a movie theater like that before,” he writes. “Did the loneliness of the Travis character, and what Harry Dean Stanton brought to him, deeply tap into my own loneliness at that point in my life in some way? I was born in England and came, on my own, to live in the U.S. when I was twenty. Was there something in Wim Wenders’s European perspective on America?”

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