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Black and White and Technicolor

Garrett Bradley’s America (2019)

We’ll get to this week’s reading in a moment, but first, a couple of programming notes. America (2019), Garrett Bradley’s multichannel video installation incorporating her own films and the recently rediscovered Lime Kiln Club Field Day (1914), the oldest surviving feature-length film with an all-Black cast, opens tomorrow in New York. Talking to Studio Museum in Harlem curators Thelma Golden and Legacy Russell for MoMA, Bradley says that both America and her award-winning documentary Time (2020) “address performance as a form of both oppression and resistance. Both understand this truth as an inherent and constant negotiation of what it means to be Black in America. Both works celebrate a kind of victory over that history, they celebrate the ability to maintain a sense of individuality amidst a system that works actively to take that away.”

Starting Wednesday, Film at Lincoln Center and Janus Films will present World of Wong Kar Wai, a series of ten features—seven of them newly restored—plus a never-before-seen, hour-long extended cut of The Hand, Wong’s contribution to the 2004 omnibus film Eros (the other two short films were directed by Michelangelo Antonioni and Steven Soderbergh). Running through January 1, the retrospective will open with In the Mood for Love (2000) and will be accessible to audiences nationwide.

On to the highlights of the week:

  • The most essential primer to read on David Fincher’s Mank before it starts streaming on Netflix on December 4 is Richard Brody’s backgrounder in the New Yorker. When Pauline Kael argued that Herman J. Mankiewicz wrote Citizen Kane (1941) without much input from Orson Welles, she failed “to recognize that Welles would have been Welles without Mankiewicz,” writes Brody. If Welles had been able to adapt Heart of Darkness as his first feature, as he’d planned, “it would in all likelihood have been as original as Kane, and, free from the vengeful wrath of [media mogul William Randolph] Hearst, he’d likely have been able to make a second film without losing his creative freedom. For that matter, Mankiewicz, without the strictures of Hollywood, would likely have been at his creative heights sooner and longer. The story of Mankiewicz’s movie career, no less than Welles’s, involves the horror built into the glory of Hollywood—the relentless power of commercial institutions to impose its practices and formulas on the art of movies.” Fincher, in the meantime, has been talking at length with Robbie Collin (Telegraph), Brent Lang (Variety), and Jonah Weiner (New York Times Magazine).

  • Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA was twenty-eight when Jim Jarmusch, who was preparing Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999), asked him to compose his first score. “There’s something in his style that is—I don’t feel comfortable using words to describe music often, but there’s something sort of stuttered in the beat sometimes,” Jarmusch tells Slate’s Nitish Pahwa. “I was using this music while I wrote and thought of the film in my head. Then I was like, ‘Oh man, what if I can’t get to him? What if he just says “I’m not interested in this nonsense”?’” But RZA dove in, studying Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. “I applied them to my technique and they actually opened my brain up to Leonard Bernstein, Mancini, and all these guys,” he says. Filmmaker, in the meantime, has pulled up Peter Bowen’s interview with Jarmusch and Ghost Dog star Forest Whitaker from its winter 2000 issue.

  • Ryu Spaeth, features editor at the New Republic and father of a six-year-old girl, has been watching—and rewatching—the films of Hayao Miyazaki with his daughter. These animated classics are shot through with “a reverence for the natural world amid humanity’s heedless and ultimately self-defeating destruction of the environment; the value of courage and resilience in the face of both existential terrors and the petty disagreements of adults; the light that creativity and ingenuity can provide in a time of darkness. I find it both touching and entirely true to life that Miyazaki locates so many of these noble qualities in the persons of young girls.”

  • There are plenty of arresting stories in Zach Baron’s quietly rich profile of George Clooney for GQ, such as the motorcycle accident he barely survived or the time he gave a million dollars—in cash—to each of fourteen of his closest friends. And of course, there’s politics to cover as well. But Clooney, who’s settling in quite comfortably into his life as a husband and father, also talks about what he’s learned about acting over the years, and in an accompanying video, he walks us through some of his most memorable roles—Out of Sight, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Michael Clayton, and so on. Now, edging up on sixty, he plans to concentrate more on directing. “Directing is the painter,” he says. “Acting, writing, you know, those are the paints.”

  • In 1915, scientist and engineer Herbert Kalmus secured a patent and cofounded the Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation. His wife, Natalie, a color consultant on every Technicolor film between 1934 and 1949, became one of the most vital but also disliked personalities in an industry overrun with dislikable characters. “He brought the techni-, she brought the -color, and together they formed a de facto monopoly for over twenty years,” writes Kristina Murkett in a brief and engaging primer for Little White Lies.

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