Even as many of us are still making our way through the latest issue of Senses of Cinema, Catherine Grant, creator of the invaluable resource, Film Studies for Free, alerts us to another fresh round of new editions of freely accessible publications. Let’s focus in particular on Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism, launched ten years ago now as the online successor to the influential British journal Movie.
In 1959, the new film editor of Oxford Opinion,Ian Cameron, opened his first editorial with a provocation: “Film criticism in Britain is dead. Perhaps it was never alive.” Three years later, Cameron founded Movie, a magazine with auteurist leanings that he would edit, design, and publish until 2000. Contributors included such vital scholars and critics as V. F. Perkins and Robin Wood. Movie Paperbacks, a groundbreaking series of books by renowned authors including Wood, Raymond Durgnat, and Peter Bogdanovich, followed in 1966. When Cameron passed away in 2010, several of his associates teamed up with a batch of younger writers to put together the first issue of Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism, and we’ve been seeing about one new issue per year ever since.
If there’s a theme running through this latest one, it would relate to the ways filmmakers guide the viewer’s eye to situate that viewer emotionally, almost as a silent presence in the world of the film. Issue 9 opens with an essay by Murray Pomerance that, without once mentioning the pandemic, tickles out a series of emotions—fear, unease, thrill—sparked by the prospect of being “close: not close as in ‘shot up-close’ but close as in closer than we want” to be to others—“Proximity as contamination,” for example, in the final climactic sequence of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), when Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) suddenly realizes that she’s locked herself in a tight space with the movie’s monster. “Yet contamination can also be erotic and wondrous,” writes Pomerance as he goes on to explore the use of proximity in the works of Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, and Sidney Lumet.
In an audiovisual essay on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), the third film in the franchise, and in the eyes of many the best, Patrick Keating maps out director Alfonso Cuarón’s and composer John Williams’s strategies for aligning the viewer’s inner eye with Harry’s point of view—without necessarily being literal about it. “To experience Cuarón’s film is to experience a lightly ironic relationship with a character who remains sympathetic and understandable even though he misreads almost every clue he sees,” writes Keating in his introduction.
Henry Rownd contributes this issue’s other audiovisual essay, a study of Stanley Kramer’s positioning of Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in their allotted halves of a series of two shots in The Defiant Ones (1958). “I hope to suggest how aesthetic significance can be found in surprising places, even in a film that seems almost devoid of craft and subtlety,” writes Rownd. That certainly couldn’t be said of Yasujiro Ozu’s Late Spring (1949), but Joshua J. Taylor’s essay isn’t entirely unrelated. It’s a meticulous examination of Ozu’s “use of frames within the cinematic frame—internal frames fashioned from décor, doorways, and shoji screens.” Issue 9 also gives us Dominic Lash on a particular moment in Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women (2016), George Kouvaros on “forms of reflexivity” in Víctor Erice’s work, and Deborah Thomas on John Ford’s Two Rode Together (1961), a film concerned “with what it means to be white.”
Catherine Grant has also recently flagged a special dossier from Mediático on Pablo Larraín’s Ema (2019) and two new issues from journals dedicated to exploring the potential of the audiovisual essay. Tecmerin’s fifth issue opens with Philip Brubaker’s piece on Luis Buñuel’s use of sound in Viridiana (1961), and [in]Transition returns with essays on work by Andrei Tarkovsky and Michelangelo Antonioni.
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