Did You See This?

History in Waves

On Film / The Daily — Sep 11, 2020
Wu Nien-jen, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Edward Yang, Chen Kuo-fu, and Chan Hung-chih in the 1980s

Diana Rigg, who passed away on Thursday at the age of eighty-two, had a remarkable career in the theater, performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company and winning a Tony in 1994 for her lead performance in Jonathan Kent’s Broadway production of Medea. But she will be remembered by most as Emma Peel in the television series The Avengers, a big hit on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1960s; as Countess Teresa di Vicenzo, the only Bond girl to actually marry 007 in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969); and as Olenna Tyrell in Game of Thrones.

Gathering tributes in the Guardian, Hannah J. Davies begins with Tom Stoppard’s. In the 1970s, Rigg took leading roles in premiere productions of two of his plays, Jumpers and Night and Day. “For half her life,” says Stoppard, “Diana was the most beautiful woman in the room, but she was what used to be called a trouper. She went to work with her sleeves rolled up and a smile for everyone. Her talent was luminous.”

On Tuesday, novelist, playwright, and screenwriter Ronald Harwood died. He was first nominated for an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for The Dresser (1983), based on his own play. His second nomination was for The Pianist (2002), an adaptation of Holocaust survivor Władysław Szpilman’s memoir—and he won that one. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) scored him a third nomination and a Bafta win. Harwood, who also worked with Alexander Mackendrick, Mike Figgis, Norman Jewison, István Szabó, and Baz Luhrmann, was eighty-five.

Here’s what else has caught our attention over the past seven days:

  • This week in Venice, prior to the premiere of her new feature, Love After Love, Hong Kong director Ann Hui received a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement. Hui’s debut feature, The Secret (1979), starred Sylvia Chang, and in his excellent primer in the Notebook on the New Taiwan Cinema, Sean Gilman outlines just how crucial the support of both Hui and Chang were to the young Taiwanese directors starting out in the early 1980s. For all the attention Gilman pays to filmmakers lesser known in the west, his history ultimately rests on two pillars, Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang. “Most of Hou’s best films are set in the past, often in rural environments,” writes Gilman, “but all but one of Yang’s features are set in the present, in Taipei. Where Hou aims to explore personal history as it intersects with and reflects national history, Yang explores the effects of change on the people who live in the present moment, most often families who have trouble reconciling the received wisdom of the cultural inheritance with the capitalist imperatives of the advanced industrial economy that is modern Taipei.”

  • You’ll know all about the work of Spike Lee, Ava DuVernay, and Barry Jenkins, or the impact of Melvin Van Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), or L.A. Rebellion directors Charles Burnett and Julie Dash. But how about pioneering Black women entrepreneurs S. A. Bunn and Ednah Walker? Or Robert Motts, who opened one of the first Black-owned movie theaters in 1905? Or early Black women directors Theresa “Tressie” Souders and Maria Williams? “Since the very inception of moving pictures, Black directors have occupied a paradoxical role in American cultural history,” writes Artel Great in the New Republic. “They have represented an artistic vanguard, introducing innovations in aesthetic sensibilities and production practices, while remaining perpetually on the outside looking in. The truth is, Black artists helped build the American film industry—and it’s finally time for a widespread recognition of that legacy.”

  • As with every new issue of the Brooklyn Rail, September’s features a solid round of engaging interviews: Madeline Whittle with Amy Seimetz (She Dies Tomorrow); Marius Hrdy with experimental animator Martha Colburn and filmmaker Pat O’Neill; and Thyrza Nichols Goodeve with multimedia and installation artist Tony Oursler, “part mad scientist historian, part hilarious techno-wizard, and 100% other-worldly being.” There’s also art historian and curator Barbara Rose’s personal remembrance of Christo, the artist who passed away in May. The public artworks Christo and his wife “and lifelong soulmate” Jeanne-Claude made from the 1970s on are the subjects of seven documentaries that just went up on the Criterion Channel. And then there’s a very fine piece from Gina Telaroli contrasting the experiences of watching a horror movie—specifically, Natalie Erika James’s Relic—at home and in the theater. “The more we acknowledge cinema as a fluid art, one that transforms itself based on the myriad of ways in which it can be accessed,” she writes, “the deeper we’ll be able to go into what makes cinema so meaningful to so many of us and possibly—hopefully—find new ways to transcend the already established forms and norms.”

  • Andy Rector flags a text that author and curator Chris Fujiwara has written for this year’s Doc’s Kingdom, an annual seminar held in the northern Portuguese town of Arcos de Valdevez. In Pedro Costa’s In Vanda’s Room (2000), shot within the confines of tight living quarters in the Lisbon neighborhood of Fontainhas, “the presence of the camera rarely seems oppressive,” writes Fujiwara. The camera “does not disappear, but it grants the characters an expansive range of modes of self-presentation. The actors’ occupancy of space can be intimate, quiet, and calm, or boisterously performative, or taut and fretful—and the camera can find the appropriate framing and placement for each mood without seeming to exert a foreign pressure.”

  • The Baffler has posted another long string of brutally incisive capsule reviews by A. S. Hamrah. This one is different, though. For one thing, Hamrah likes all of these movies. For another, the films aren’t new. This time around, he’s recommending what he considers to be the thirty-five best films to have premiered in the year 2000. Naturally, we’re happy to see that such titles as Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, “a rare thing, an anti-coming-of-age movie,” and Claire Denis’s Beau Travail have made the cut. Denis Lavant’s lonely dance in Beau Travail is “one of the great final images in any movie, performed by one of the cinema’s most distinctive actors, who combines intense interiority with a sublime balance wholly his own.” Then there’s Peter Watkins’s La Commune (Paris, 1871), a film “so obviously pertinent right now that I’m surprised it’s not screening outdoors daily.”

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