Did You See This?

“The Omnipresent Present”

The Daily — Sep 4, 2020
Oscar Micheaux’s Within Our Gates (1920) 

All eyes have been directed toward Venice this week, but if anyone knows how to divert our attention, it’s John Waters. Not only has he programmed a double feature for the New York Film Festival that he’s calling Art Movie Hell at the Drive-In—Gaspar Noé’s Climax (2018) and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom (1976)—he’s also designed this year’s gleefully kitschy and retro NYFF poster. “Since none of my films were ever chosen to be in the New York Film Festival, I was thrilled to be asked,” he tells Film at Lincoln Center. “I always knew I’d get my ass in there somehow! What better way to show my respect and irreverence for this prestigious event than to bring along Globe Poster, Baltimore’s famous press that promoted the best rock-and-roll shows all over America for decades? Trashy? Classic? Maybe it’s all the same in 2020 when we have to reinvent moviegoing itself.”

In other festival news, Media City is currently presenting Radical Acts of Care, a free online exhibition of work by such groundbreaking filmmakers as Madeline Anderson, Audre Lorde, and Cauleen Smith as well as a new restoration of Forough Farrokhzad’s haunting The House Is Black (1963). Also, Luca Guadagnino will preside over the jury in San Sebastián, and at Eat Drink Films, Frako Loden writes about a good number of films screening—virtually, of course—at San Francisco’s DocFest.

In non-festival news, here’s what’s caught our eye this week:

  • For Time, Cady Lang has asked Black directors to “share the works of Black filmmakers that have most influenced their own movies and careers.” The resulting list of twenty-four features, peppered with comments from Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball), Garrett Bradley (Time), Dawn Porter (John Lewis: Good Trouble), RaMell Ross (Hale County, This Morning, This Evening), and ten other directors, rolls out chronologically. Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust) begins as she recalls seeing Oscar Micheaux’s Within Our Gates (1920) when she was a student at UCLA: “I could appreciate all that he was able to incorporate in that film, like themes of miscegenation, migration, a Black woman taking off on her own, trying to fundraise for a school. You name it, it was in there.” The round of recommendations wraps with Terence Nance (Random Acts of Flyness) urging us to catch Shakedown (2018), Leilah Weinraub’s documentary about a Black lesbian strip club in Los Angeles: “It has this style—audiovisually, the graphic design of it—that is really, to me, what the audiovisual modality of Black cinema is at present, even though it took a decade to make. Even though it’s not born of the moment, it is the omnipresent present, in a way.”

  • Two of our favorite publications are back from their summer breaks, Sabzian and 4Columns. In the latter, Johanna Fateman writes about “a scrappily brilliant cult classic,” Town Bloody Hall, the 1979 documentary Chris Hegedus resurrected from footage D. A. Pennebaker shot one evening in 1971 when Norman Mailer, “an uncancellable man of letters” at the time, moderated “A Dialogue on Women’s Liberation.” Second-wave feminists Jacqueline Ceballos, Germaine Greer, Jill Johnston, and Diana Trilling “faced a sold-out room of the jeering, skeptical, and starstruck masses, plus members of the New York literary elite. What ensued is hard to describe,” but for all the “battle-of-the-sexes fireworks and emasculating repartee,” Town Bloody Hall is “not ultimately defined by its hallucinatory, camp qualities. Culturally and legislatively, the women’s movement was on the verge of significant wins, and perhaps Hegedus’s feminist investment in the moment—and this goldmine of material—grounds the work in seriousness.”

  • In the new issue of Bookforum, novelist, performer, and visual artist James Hannaham writes about “one of my favorite film directors,” Yasuzo Masumura, “possibly the only Japanese filmmaker ever to have studied with Fellini and Antonioni at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia.” For Hannaham, the films made at the peak of the Japanese New Wave in the 1960s “display a vitality and audaciousness that Hollywood has yet to comprehend, let alone approach. And within that subset, Masumura was a true anomaly: the consummate insider with the most outsider sensibility of them all. Because he operated within the studio system, he was never considered a New Wave director, yet his movies are more outrageous than most made by his art-house peers. Bloodier and crazier, yes, but also more elegant and daring in terms of personal politics.”

  • Anyone looking for more outrage, blood, elegance, and daring will find that it’s not much of a leap from Masumura to the even more prolific Takashi Miike. In 2010, Ben Sachs spent three months surveying the films Miike made during the first decade of the then-new century for the Notebook. This week, Sachs has teamed up with Scout Tafoya to examine the following ten-year period, when Miike’s work “would be divided largely between two types of films: one, high-profile dramas that were more formally controlled than anything he’d made previously; and, two, lowbrow, even disreputable assignments that included at least one video game adaptation, kiddie action movie, and teen musical.” In the 2010s, “not only did he make a movie even sicker than Ichi the Killer (that would be the 2012 mass-murderer saga Lesson of the Evil), he released a slick, sensitive docudrama (2015’s The Lion Standing in the Wind) that was more grown-up than anything else he’d ever made.” And as for his “tony remakes,” 13 Assassins (2010) and Hara-Kiri (2011): “After so many years of wild abandon, these appeared to be his riskiest experiments.”

  • Robert Hanks has long been interested in the work of British director Alan Clarke, whose dramas such as Scum (1977), Made in Britain (1983), and The Firm (1989) “could loosely be described as ‘social realist,’ often dealing with what we’d now call toxic masculinity.” For the London Review of Books, he writes about finally catching up with a cult favorite. “None of what I knew of Clarke prepared me for Penda’s Fen,” an adaptation of David Rudkin’s play first broadcast in 1974 as part of the BBC’s Play for Today series. While it’s often cited as a folk horror classic, “Clarke’s film remains light, vivid, any clumsiness in its messaging and metaphors offset by nimble shifts in rhythm, tone, palette, the way it flits between grief, wonderment and anger, seizes and discards fragments of genre—pastoral, science fiction, horror, industrial documentary. It never feels fragmented, only surprising and funny; and even on repeated viewing, surprise lingers, if only the surprise that such a program ever got made.”

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