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Varieties of the Media Experience

The Daily — Aug 28, 2020
Wim Wenders’s Two or Three Things I Know about Edward Hopper (2020)

Considering the challenges the pandemic presents to programmers, the lineup for this year’s New York Film Festival is especially impressive. Having announced a Main Slate of twenty-five films that includes new work from Steve McQueen, Chloé Zhao, Frederick Wiseman, Jia Zhangke, Garrett Bradley, and Christian Petzold, followed by solid Revivals and Currents programs, the NYFF now unveils its new Spotlight section.

Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks with Bill Murray and Rashida Jones will see its world premiere in New York. Pedro Almodóvar’s adaptation of Jean Cocteau’s The Human Voice with Tilda Swinton and Hopper/Welles, documenting a 1970 conversation between Dennis Hopper and Orson Welles, will arrive from Venice, while Spike Lee’s David Byrne’s American Utopia will be coming in fresh from Toronto. Spotlight will also feature two timely documentaries. All In: The Fight for Democracy, directed by Lisa Cortés (The Apollo) and Liz Garbus (What Happened, Miss Simone?), focuses on Stacey Abrams’s fight against voter suppression, and David Dufresne’s The Monopoly of Violence examines police brutality aimed at the yellow vests movement in France.

In other festival news, José Arroyo and Pamela Hutchinson are currently covering Il Cinema Ritrovato from their respective homes, Zurich will fête Juliette Binoche, and Venice will present this year’s Glory to the Filmmaker award to Abel Ferrara. As Elsa Keslassy reports for Variety, seven artistic directors of major European festivals, including Cannes’s Thierry Frémaux and Berlin’s Carlo Chatrian, will be joining Venice’s Alberto Barbera on opening night this coming Wednesday in what the festival calls “a sign of solidarity towards the global film industry which has been hit hard by the pandemic.”

On to this week’s highlights:

  • The Fondation Beyeler in Basel has extended the run of Wim Wenders’s exhibition Two or Three Things I Know about Edward Hopper through September 20. The centerpiece is a 3D live action short film bearing the same title, in which Wenders “recreates a handful of key Hopper paintings with actors and real locations, using them as blueprints to weave together micro narratives,” as David Perrin explains in the Notebook. These “flash fictions are in and of themselves banal, instantly recognizable from the reservoir of ready-made stories of repressed desire, cynical intrigue, and doomed romance found in film noir and melodrama,” writes Perrin. “The achievement of Wenders’s project is to give a flicker of life to the stories you sense are hidden beneath the surface of Hopper’s paintings . . . Suddenly, with these newly acquired images, the world, for the first time in a long while, becomes livable again.”

  • Preserving Guerrilla Television is a rich and fascinating site put together by the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Essays, interviews, and plenty of eye candy document the heyday of Top Value Television (TVTV), a media collective founded in 1972 that sought to take advantage of the then-new, somewhat portable video cameras to create a community-based alternative to network television news. Lauren O’Neill-Butler salutes the project in Artforum, even though she is also reminded of “the ’70s-era utopian delusion that if everyone wielded a portable video camera, the resultant proliferation of images would quickly change hearts and minds.” For Hyperallergic, Dan Schindel talks with cofounding member Megan Williams about TVTV’s first two projects documenting the 1972 Democratic and Republican conventions. “Truly a ‘Go big or go home’ moment!,” she says. “In our final show,” she recalls, “the editing is beyond brilliant, cutting between [Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic] shouting to stop the killing and Henry Kissinger smiling down at his son while celebratory balloons rain down. Seventeen years later, Oliver Stone replicated this scene in Born on the Fourth of July.

  • Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon turned seventy this week, and at the BFI, Jasper Sharp reminds us that when it won the Golden Lion in Venice, it aroused, for the first time, “a wide-scale global interest in Japanese film.” Crucial to its worldwide appeal, suggests Sharp, was its setting, “the Japan of the medieval Heian era (794–1185), a near mythic land as historically distant from the experiences of contemporary domestic audiences as it was culturally distant for overseas ones, and so provided a fertile ground for allegory, mystique, and abstraction.”

  • Oscar Micheaux, “the most prolific African American filmmaker, was a disruptor of grand scale, the precursor of Spike Lee’s brash activism and Donald Glover’s intelligent satire,” writes Soma Ghosh for the Quietus. “His silents and talkies, dating from 1918, are a flicker-book of dangerous images: a head of white cotton plucked by Black hands and swelling like a bloated brain; a virgin’s hymenal blood on a man’s brogues. While other independent makers of ‘race films’ struggled to gain one or two bookings in segregated picture houses, Micheaux released films every year till 1940, sensationally attacking racial hypocrisies.” If his oeuvre of “musicals, gangster movies, melodramas, African adventures and Westerns, with all-colored casts” is too often overlooked, Ghosh proposes that it’s because it “resists summing up.”

  • Writing for the Library of America, Michael Sragow argues that William Wellman’s The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) “generates a visceral and emotional force that equals or surpasses the power of Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s ruminative, soul-quaking 1940 novel about a lynch mob out West in 1885.” For Sragow, Wellman pulled off that rare feat—making a movie better than the book—by focusing on the faces of his remarkable cast, beginning with Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Harry Morgan, and Anthony Quinn. “It’s become de rigueur to say that the motion picture camera reads actors’ thoughts, but in The Ox-Bow Incident Wellman is the rare mainstream director to build an entire film around that concept,” writes Sragow. “As he introduces each new character, every actor contributes a fresh color while working at white heat.”

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