July Books

The Daily — Jul 16, 2020
Jacques Tati in Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953)

Our spirits could use a good lifting, so we open this month’s round of notes on new and noteworthy books with Jacques Tati and his comedic alter ego, Monsieur Hulot. The way David Trotter sees it in the London Review of Books, Malcolm Turvey’s argument in Play Time: Jacques Tati and Comedic Modernism is that Tati “set out to ‘modernize’ the mainstream tradition of comedian-centered comedy by devoting unprecedented attention to the hermeneutics of the gag. The comedy of environment would be the comedy of how we figure out what the hell is going on in a teeming universe populated for the most part by people who aren’t Hulot, but in some cases look a lot like him. The characteristic Tati gag is in effect a joke about interpretation.”

Last fall, Taschen released a “sumptuous five-volume box set,” The Definitive Jacques Tati, edited by Alison Castle and featuring new essays, archival interviews, stills, production materials, letters, notes, and more. Trotter finds that it’s the screenplays in particular that “make it clear that Tati’s methods left no room at all for improvisation. He planned in advance every gag’s last twist and turn.”

Filmmakers on Filmmakers

While it may not be as elaborately outfitted as a coffee table walloper from Taschen, A24’s first collector’s edition, Ari Aster’s 171-minute director’s cut of last year’s folk horror hit, Midsommar, is nonetheless a handsome package. Entertainment Weekly has the forward from the accompanying booklet in which Martin Scorsese argues that Midsommar’s “formal control is just as impressive as that of Hereditary, maybe more so.” Aster’s second feature “digs into emotions that are just as real and deeply uncomfortable as the ones shared between the characters in the earlier picture. I can also tell you that there are true visions in this picture, particularly in the final stretch, that you are not likely to forget. I certainly haven’t.”

Late in 2018, editor Ismail Xavier put together a collection of writing on Chaplin, Welles, Kubrick, Godard, Pasolini, and other giants by filmmaker Glauber Rocha, a key figure of Brazil’s Cinema Novo in the 1960s and ’70s. “For the most part,” writes Jonathan Rosenbaum in his review of On Cinema for Cineaste, Rocha’s “film criticism is lucid and perceptive, responsible both as journalism and as aesthetic and political analysis.”

Dynamics of Stardom

Chapter by meaty chapter, Srikanth Srinivasan is still translating his way through Luc Moullet’s 1993 book, Politique des acteurs. “During the ’50s, we at the Cahiers du cinéma were called ‘Hitchcocko-Hawksians,’” writes Moullet. “I must clarify: the first Hitchcocko-Hawksian, fifteen years before us, was Cary Grant, who had already worked with each of the two masters of American cinema by 1941. Nine films in all with them, which made Cary Grant, without question, the best actor in Hollywood.” But not that alone, of course. “Grant’s gimmicks are compressed into very short durations—less than three seconds in general—and we really desire this repetition in order to savor Cary’s genius over and over and to dissect his style.” Which Moullet then proceeds to do, taking on “nine figures of style or essential orientations” which he’s given odd little names such as the “kangaroo,” the “slant,” and the “iris in the desert.”

Manuel Betancourt’s book on Judy Garland’s Judy at Carnegie Hall, the classic double album recorded in 1961, appeared in May, and Betancourt spent much of June posting at 33⅓ Books about the myth that links Garland’s death to the Stonewall riots, her female fans, and more before wrapping up with an annotated bibliography.

The New York TimesDave Itzkoff talks with Jim Carrey and novelist Dana Vachon, who have collaborated on Memoirs and Misinformation, a “satirical adventure” in which the Jim Carrey of this alternate universe is “trying to choose among starring roles in a Mao Zedong biopic and studio movies based on children’s toys; contending with catastrophic wildfires, an all-female cadre of eco-terrorists and a U.F.O. invasion; and rubbing elbows with the likes of Nicolas Cage, Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins.”

Critical Angles

In The Projectionists: Eadweard Muybridge and the Future Projections of the Moving Image, Stephen Barber, the author of “idiosyncratic” books on Artaud, Caligula, and Berlin, “doesn’t use any obvious overriding critical theory,” writes Steve Finbow for 3:AM Magazine, “but moves swiftly and seamlessly through what could be New Historicism, post-structuralism, Freudianism, and many other critical means of establishing narrative for his fringe actors in the history of cinema in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This is one of those rare books, a very readable and erudite academic account of the innovative filmmakers and projectionists Barber believes should be more prominent as players in the history event of the arts.”

In an excellent piece for the Los Angeles Review of Books on Get Out: The Complete Annotated Screenplay, Ryan Coleman argues that the “most ingenious intervention into the dense critical discourse” is the Inventory Press’s recruitment of Tananarive Due for the introductory essay, “Get Out and the Black Horror Aesthetic.” Due is “a leading scholar in the emerging study of Black horror,” writes Coleman, “and even teaches a course at UCLA on the subject called ‘The Sunken Place.’”

Reviewing Gabriella Blasi’s The Work of Terrence Malick: Time-Based Ecocinema for Film International, T. R. Merchant-Knudsen points out that Blasi “begs the reader to grapple with new conceptualizations of time within Walter Benjamin’s postulations: a ‘non-linear, plastic trajectory turning and folding time on itself.’ Within Malick’s films, most especially his latter filmography, these questions of time ring extremely true. However, this introduction does give a hint towards one of the book’s difficulties: philosophical considerations first and Malick’s films second.”

Also in Film International, Thomas Puhr admires the “multiculturalism” of Journeys on Screen: Theory, Ethics, Aesthetics, a collection edited by Louis Bayman and Natália Pinazza. The book gathers essays on what might be broadly defined as road movies “from authors of Hungarian, Estonian, Italian, Brazilian, Polish, and Japanese descent.” And “nearly half of the featured writers are women. Across the board, these scholars’ entries are densely researched and pack a lot of critical thought into their compact lengths.”

Masha Tupitsyn’s Picture Cycle “alternates—the more accurate term with respect to the direct reading experience would have to be ‘flows’—between formal critical essays, epigrammatical, notebook-style collections of observations, and personal reminiscences,” writes Glenn Kenny at RogerEbert.com. “While I’m generally wary of the aforementioned notebook mode, Tupitsyn’s got a beguiling way with it.”

Excerpts

Following deep dives into the work of Joanna Hogg, Mike Leigh, and Céline Sciamma, the editors at Seventh Row are releasing a new collection, Roads to Nowhere: Kelly Reichardt’s Broken American Dreams. Along with a conversation with Reichardt herself, the book also includes interviews with collaborators such as cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt, writer Jon Raymond, and actors Lily Gladstone, Orion Lee, and John Magaro. As Seventh Row’s Orla Smith explains in an excerpt at RogerEbert.com, “you can only truly understand how a director works by talking to the people who work around them. That’s especially true with Reichardt, who’s so heavily involved with every aspect of production: she writes or co-writes her screenplays, and she edits her own films. But her collaborators also highlight the invigorating, familial energy she cultivates on set and off.”

At Literary Hub, we can sample a taste of poet Sharon Dolin’s Hitchcock Blonde: A Cinematic Memoir. “Hitchcock understood absence,” writes Dolin. “He understood the power of the partial view: that a profile, more than a full face, could haunt. My childhood was filled with absence, haunted by partial views.”

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