Summer Sparks in Film Quarterly

The Daily — Jun 29, 2020
Ray Fearon in Isaac Julien’s Lessons of the Hour: Frederick Douglass (2019) 

Back in mid-March, as the entire world was beginning to shut down, the University of California Press generously threw open the doors to the archives of all of its online journals, making them freely accessible through June 2020. We have one more full day, then, to sort through the bounty of downloadable PDFs, and the selection expanded last Friday when the new summer issue of Film Quarterly went live.

There’s a potential double feature in the subjects of two essays here, two films diametrically opposed in terms of style but with considerable thematic overlap. Joshua Bonnetta and J. P. Sniadecki shot their nonfiction film El Mar La Mar (2017) in the Sonoran Desert, which sprawls across one hundred thousand square miles in the southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico. The film conjures “an uneasy sense of place—one with migration as a central event,” writes Vinicius Navarro. Orquidea Morales proposes that Coco, also from 2017, but an animated feature Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina directed for Disney and Pixar, “merits consideration as what I would term a border horror film.”

Portuguese filmmaker Susana de Sousa Dias expands on a lecture she delivered last year in which she describes how she has been mining archives for fifteen years now to reveal the dynamics of authoritarian regimes. Rounding out the features section, Kass Banning and Warren Crichlow argue that the “exacting visual sumptuousness and intricate complexity with which renowned British artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien envisions the nineteenth-century fugitive slave philosopher, freedman, orator extraordinaire, fierce antislavery abolitionist, and American statesman Frederick Douglass in his twenty-eight-minute, ten-screen installation Lessons of the Hour: Frederick Douglass (2019) cannot be overstated.”

The new FQ also features Manuel Betancourt on first person nonfiction filmmaking in Latin America with a special focus on Patricio Guzmán’s The Cordillera of Dreams (2019); two reports from this year’s Sundance; and a handful of book reviews, including Carrie Rickey’s mixed verdict on Michael Newton’s Show People: A History of the Film Star. Bruno Guaraná’s conversation with Eric Smoodin about his new book, Paris in the Dark: Going to the Movies in the City of Light, 1930–1950, will remain online after Wednesday.

So, too, will the roundtable on HBO’s Watchmen, a series that “elaborates extensively on the famed twelve-issue comic-book series of the same name, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons (1986–87),” as Michael Boyce Gillespie notes in his introduction. “Across nine episodes,” he writes, “the series generates a story line of a world yet again on the brink, but with an inflection of restitution that augments the original comic’s despairing social critique.” In the editorial that opens this issue, B. Ruby Rich observes that the participants’ “commentary on race and the superhero wends its way from the opening scene of the young boy and his mother at the movies, the horrors of white supremacy, and the Tulsa Race Massacre, to the centrality of Regina King’s character; this is a group of discussants who succeed in catching fire and playing with fire at the same time. The sparks don’t disappoint.”

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