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On Film / The Daily — Sep 25, 2020
One of the approximately 35,000 photographs Paul Cronin has collected during the making of A Time to Stir

Death was especially cruel this week, taking Michael Lonsdale, Juliette Gréco, and Michael Chapman. Lonsdale, who was eighty-nine, will probably be known to most as the evil Hugo Drax who troubles Roger Moore’s James Bond in Moonraker (1979), but the list of directors he worked with after turning in a single night’s work on Orson Welles’s The Trial (1962) is truly astonishing. Particularly after his performances in François Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black and Stolen Kisses, both from 1968, he seemed to be perpetually in demand, appearing in films by Alain Resnais, Jacques Rivette, Luis Buñuel, Jean Eustache, Louis Malle, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Joseph Losey, James Ivory, Miloš Forman, Manoel de Oliveira, and Xavier Beauvois. In the Guardian, the late Ronald Bergan has pointed out that Lonsdale’s “dry delivery and his ability to get to the core of a character almost immediately suited the stylized characterizations and deconstructed narratives of Marguerite Duras.”

Juliette Gréco worked with her fair share of legendary directors, too: Jean Cocteau, Jean Renoir, Jean-Pierre Melville, Julien Duvivier, and a few Americans as well, including John Huston and Otto Preminger. But she was primarily known as a singer, a champion of the chanson, and as a bohemian fashion icon famous for her affairs with Miles Davis and Albert Camus and her three marriages, one of them to the late Michel Piccoli. In the New York Times, Anita Gates writes that Gréco’s “ultimate rave review came from a friend, the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, who said simply, ‘Gréco has a million poems in her voice.’” She was ninety-three.

Cinematographer Michael Chapman, who shot more than forty features and was twice nominated for an Oscar, started out as a camera operator for Gordon Willis, working on such films as Alan J. Pakula’s Klute (1971) and Francis Ford Coppola’s first two Godfather movies. Hal Ashby gave him his first job as a director of photography on The Last Detail (1973). The terrific appreciation of Chapman’s life and work in American Cinematographer naturally focuses on the three films he made with Martin Scorsese, Taxi Driver (1976), The Last Waltz (1978), and Raging Bull (1980). “I found that it was actually liberating to shoot black­-and-white,” Chapman said of his experience on Raging Bull, “because it’s inherently more abstract than color. It’s one step removed from the reality of the red tie and the blue shirt. You start one step from reality, and from there, you can do pretty much what­ever you want.” When Scorsese learned of Chapman’s passing at the age of eighty-four, he released a statement that reads in part: “His relationship with the camera and the film that was running through it was intimate, mysterious, almost mystical.”

This week’s highlights:

  • A few months after Jan Oxenberg’s Thank You and Good Night (1991) premiered at Sundance to critical acclaim and then won an audience award at Frameline, the LGBTQ+ film festival in San Francisco, the Washington Post’s Hal Hinson called it “a remarkable, moving document, not least of all because it may well be the most hilarious personal chronicle of death ever made.” Starting out with what the New Yorker’s Richard Brody has called “one of the most thrilling, astonishing opening sequences to a movie that I’ve ever seen,” Thank You and Good Night becomes “a beautifully sad and unexpectedly funny, Borscht Belt-infused mosaic of NY secular Jewish life,” as Lauren Wissot puts it in the introduction to her interview with Oxenberg for Filmmaker. Besides the film, Oxenberg also talks about her career in television, where she once go to write “the first lesbian kiss in primetime—six months before the Ellen coming out show.”

  • For its new October issue, the editors at frieze have had filmmakers and friends John Akomfrah and the Otolith Group’s Kodwo Eshun and Anjalika Sagar meet up over Zoom. “What’s useful about the term post-cinematic is its agnosticism towards narrative,” says Eshun. “There is an unspoken expectation, whenever a Black British film is released, that it will tell the untold story of Black Britain. To me, the post-cinematic side-steps this cruel optimism of cinema. [Laughs] It implies an unspoken promise to open up an imaginative dimension of post-cinematic Blackness.”

  • The new Film Quarterly features a special focus, “Powers of the False,” that “underscores the seductive and irresistible gravitational pull of falsity, which has created infinite relays of fake news and conspiracy theories that turn everyday users into networked hives of propagandists,” as assistant editor Marc Francis explains in the introduction. “The authors go where falsity leads them—into the financial infrastructures of social-media companies, the psychologizing of white-collar crime, the gendering of a tech-industry wunderkind, and the conspiracy theories of a fallen and alienated film star,” namely, Sean Young, whom Dolores McElroy argues is “the structuring absence” of Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 (2017).

  • Historian and filmmaker Paul Cronin has edited volumes of writing by Abbas Kiarostami, Werner Herzog, and Alexander Mackendrick and has made documentaries about Peter Whitehead, Amos Vogel, and the making of Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool (1969). For the past fourteen years, he’s been working on A Time to Stir, a fifteen-hour documentary on the 1968 student uprising at Columbia University. “How is it,” Sukhdev Sandhu asks Cronin in the Guardian, “that even though there is a mini-industry dedicated to 1968-ist commemoration, the voices—yet alone contributions—of Black students are so hard to make out?” Cronin tells him that few historians before him had even approached them. “And what they remembered was very important,” he says. “They told the white protesters: you’re not going to smash up Hamilton Hall. You’re going to leave it cleaner than when you arrived. You’re spilling your shit? You’re dropping your dope on the floor? You’re having a good time? You think this is theater? No—for us Black students, this is not theater.”

  • To wrap, let’s have a little fun with lists. The editors and writers at Little White Lies have just rolled out an annotated rundown of the top hundred films of the 2000s, and it’s interesting to see how some of these titles have fared ten to twenty years on. The reputation of Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000) remains rock solid, coming in at #1 here and ranking high in the lists compiled in 2010: Film Comment’s critics’ poll (#2), Reverse Shot’s symposium (#3), and Slant’s top hundred (#5). #1 on all three of these lists was David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. (2001), which comes in at #11 at LWL. Sight & Sound included Mood in an unranked roundup of its top thirty, but not Zodiac (2007)—it’s David Fincher Week at the Ringer, by the way—which also goes missing at Reverse Shot and takes the #12 spot in the FC poll, #74 at Slant—and #3 at LWL.

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