Did You See This?

Turning Points

The Daily — Oct 30, 2020
Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932)

We’re staring down the barrel of a path-setting election, and two documentaries now playing in virtual theaters emphasize just how consequential our decisions can be. For the Notebook, Demi Kampakis talks with Frederick Wiseman about City Hall, a top-to-bottom exploration of Boston’s municipal government and “fundamentally a portrait of a people,” as Manohla Dargis puts it in the New York Times. For Filmmaker, Aaron Hunt interviews Steve James (Hoop Dreams), whose five-part City So Real tracks last year’s history-making mayoral race in Chicago and wanders streets and neighborhoods with open eyes and ears. “So many stories,” writes Ray Pride in Newcity, “so much bloodsport in politics and real estate and faith, too: in community and the possibility of change.”

Before the last ballots are cast on Tuesday, we might treat ourselves to a little diversion this weekend. Halloween sets the tone of the first couple of items we’re highlighting this week.

  • The New Yorker’s Richard Brody considers it “a dereliction of directorial duty for horror films to yield to disgusting the viewer—and not only because I’m squeamish.” So he’s written about ten films that evoke “emotions of fear, dread, foreboding, and a sense of the uncanny” without resorting to gore. His chronological list begins with Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932), “perhaps the most effective and most radical Surrealist movie ever made.” For more spooky lists that have appeared since Tuesday’s roundup, see the Boston Globe’s Ty Burr on thirteen “sequences that have stuck with me over six decades of moviegoing” and Anne Billson’s ranking of the scariest ghosts in cinema for the Guardian.

  • At the Decider, Glenn Kenny calls the ’70s Horror program on the Criterion Channel “a nice, hefty, often disquieting dose of genuine grindhouse horror.” He notes that a good number of the twenty-eight films here have spawned sequels or reboots and compares, for example, David Cronenberg’s Rabid (1977) with Jen and Sylvia Soska’s Rabid (2019) and Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974) with Sophia Takal’s Black Christmas (2019). Abel Ferrara’s The Driller Killer (1979) spawned an entire career, and at RogerEbert.com, Justine Smith draws lines between this story of a painter on a murderous rampage and the eclectic oeuvre that followed. One more: Jazmyne Moreno, a programmer at the Austin Film Society, discusses Harry Kümel’s Daughters of Darkness (1971), “the arty vampire movie that combines overtones of classic Hollywood with the very permissive sexual atmosphere of the age of Aquarius.”

  • New York’s Metrograph is currently presenting a series of films by Robert Kramer, described in the theater’s Journal by David Fresko as “a filmmaker committed to transforming the United States root and branch through political organizing and cinematic praxis shaped, as a potter molds clay, a self-critical cinema of political contemplation that found acceptance in Europe, where he relocated in 1979 and where, to this day, he is considered second only to Jean-Luc Godard in the pantheon of political modernists.” Friends and veterans of the antiwar movement of the late 1960s are the subject of Milestones, a 1975 blend of fact and fiction that Kramer codirected with John Douglas. “Reconciling themselves to the realization that revolution isn’t just around the corner, they reckon with personal dilemmas and attempt to rearticulate their commitments,” writes Erika Balsom at 4Columns. “Milestones is a desultory portrait of this milieu and its malaise, tracing a mounting feeling of disconnection from organized struggles against oppression and a concomitant retreat into private life.”

  • In the work of Don Hertzfeldt, “little stick figures enact meditations of crushing, cosmic profundity on time, memory, technology, and love,” writes Charles Bramesco, who speaks with the Austin-based animator for the Guardian. Twenty years ago, Hertzfeldt’s short, Rejected, was nominated for an Oscar, and his first feature, It’s Such a Beautiful Day, appeared in 2012. Over the past five years, Hertzfeldt has been working on World of Tomorrow, a series that “has upped the ante in terms of both complexity and the devastating poignancy he has made his trademark,” writes Bramesco. Now he’s looking to set up shop at a streamer. “I don’t want to use a Marvel term,” says Hertzfeldt, “but we’re expanding the universe.”

  • Before issuing a call in his latest newsletter for “a more unruly and democratic and living cinema,” Nick Pinkerton takes stock of an “already broken film distribution and exhibition system facing further dismantlement in the purgatory of plague times, a gaggle of Silicon Valley ‘Burners’ endeavoring to erect something still worse in its stead, and a field of cultural journalism that primarily exists to perpetuate a ‘conversation’ whose terms are dictated by entertainment conglomerates, in which any position taken, for or against, only serves to reinforce the cultural centrality of their content . . . All of this I bring up not because I’m unduly pessimistic about the state of cinema because, bafflingly, I’m not.”

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