Did You See This?

Shifting Ground

The Daily — Dec 4, 2020
Julie Dash’s Illusions (1982)

It’s been a week to rattle the movie industry. Warner Bros. announced yesterday that it’s closing the theatrical window. For just one year, and only in the U.S.—for now—every film on the studio’s 2021 release calendar will appear simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max on its opening day. After one month, the films will remain in theaters but leave the streaming service. Titles include such potential blockbusters as Denis Villeneuve’s Dune and Lana Wachowski’s Matrix 4 as well as Clint Eastwood’s Cry Macho and David Chase and Alan Taylor’s Sopranos prequel, The Many Saints of Newark. As Brooks Barnes and Nicole Sperling report for the New York Times, “WarnerMedia does not believe that moviegoing in the United States will recover until at least next fall, an assessment that stands in sharp contrast with what other major movie studios have signaled.”

Announcements from Sundance and Slamdance earlier in the week further drive home not only the profound impact the pandemic has had on cinema but also the resourceful creativity of festival organizers’ varied responses. “I think we, along with all our festival siblings, will be learning together and very fast about what the future of festivals might be,” Sundance director Tabitha Jackson tells the Los Angeles TimesMark Olsen. “We’re taking the expectation of perfection away this year to enable us to be adventurous and experiment all the time, keeping the mission as our North Star, which is artists, audiences, and the work.”

From January 28 through February 3, Sundance will present around seventy features—virtually from coast to coast and as outdoor, drive-in, and maybe even a few indoor screenings in dozens of independent theaters in more than twenty states. Slamdance, which has shifted its dates to February 12 through 25, will stream all its films, Q&As, and so on and stage a few live events in Joshua Tree and Los Angeles. Filmmaker’s Scott Macaulay notes that this will be the first edition of Slamdance to take place entirely outside of Park City.

In Germany, the lockdown on cinemas has been extended to January 10, a date that nudges up uncomfortably close to the Berlinale’s seventy-first edition slated to run from February 11 through 21. Executive director Mariette Rissenbeek tells Screen’s Martin Blaney that she and her team are currently “examining the feasibility of the festival in February.” In the meantime, the festival is sending last year’s program celebrating the Berlinale Forum’s fiftieth anniversary to the Goethe-Institut, where it will stream from December 14 through 20.

A sampling of some of the week’s best reading and viewing:

  • In the new issue of the Believer, Carina del Valle Schorske talks with Julie Dash about her early short films—you can watch them now on the Criterion Channel—and about the project she’s working on based on the life of Angela Davis. Astonishingly, this will only be Dash’s second feature after Daughters of the Dust (1991), which, Dash argues, is “an Afrofuturist film.” The term Afrofuturism may have been coined by Mark Dery in 1993, “but the exploration has been going on since the 1930s with the solar power and death rays and fax machines in George Schuyler’s novel Black Empire, his satire of Marcus Garvey’s movement,” says Dash.

  • As the career-spanning retrospective World of Wong Kar Wai carries on screening nationwide from Film at Lincoln Center’s virtual cinema, Lidija Haas, writing for the New Republic, suggests that these films, “though full of startling and sensational pleasures, can have an eerie familiarity for urban viewers under late capitalism. This is a world we know, heightened and chaotic, sped up and slowed down, with the line between past and future, between what’s inside and outside us, blurred and fractured. Yet Wong’s work is more locally specific than it may first appear—all his major films are in a sense about the emotional impasse represented by Hong Kong in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.”

  • Editors Tracy Cox-Stanton and Allison de Fren have been rolling out a new issue of the Cine-Files devoted to the audiovisual essay as scholarship. Ariel Avissar and Evelyn Kreutzer have selected nine essays, including work from Kevin B. Lee and Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin, with this question in mind: “What if we put our academic preoccupations aside for a moment and used videographic practices to confront the most personal, intimidating, and visceral encounters with film during our childhoods?” In response, Christian Keathley asks: “But does videographic work that engages with the personal and the emotional immediately qualify as scholarship?” Not necessarily, but he holds that it can if we follow “our intuition to the point of tuition—that is, where we and others can learn something from it, even if what is learned is not easily summarized in language.”

  • David Fincher’s Mank, the story of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and director Orson Welles’s collaboration on Citizen Kane (1941), begins streaming on Netflix today. Writing for Artforum, Amy Taubin finds it “sometimes brilliant, occasionally awkward, tonally uncertain,” while the New York TimesA. O. Scott considers it to be “a worthy, eminently watchable entry in the annals of Hollywood self-obsession.” In the Independent, Rick Burin looks back on Hollywood’s “long and proud history of self-loathing,” revisiting William A. Wellman’s A Star Is Born (1937), “the towering Hollywood heartbreaker”; Preston Sturges’s “immortal comedy,” Sullivan’s Travels (1941); and Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place (1950), Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950), Vincente Minnelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), and Robert Aldrich’s The Big Knife (1955), “bitter and bilious movies that became increasingly unhinged.” Then there’s John Schlesinger’s The Day of the Locust (1975), which “portrays Hollywood as a place of naked self-interest, populated by venal characters whose only depths are of desperation and depravity . . . By comparison, Mank seems positively restrained.”

  • Let’s wrap by blowing one more party tooter for Jean-Luc Godard’s ninetieth birthday. In the spring of 1968, at the invitation of Richard Leacock and D. A. Pennebaker, Godard set out on tour of twenty American university campuses but wound up cutting his trip short after visiting just six. He was accompanied by Claire Clouzot, granddaughter of Henri-Georges Clouzot, who served as an interpreter and wrote up a fascinating account of the aborted tour for Sight & Sound. Godard’s first stop was Los Angeles, where he sat on a panel with King Vidor, Roger Corman, Peter Bogdanovich, and Samuel Fuller, and it wasn’t long before “the atmosphere degenerated into reciprocal indifference.” Berkeley turned out to be a much livelier adventure. If the students “were not quite ready for Godard’s sense of humor,” wrote Clouzot, “they were even less prepared for his ideas on what revolutionary cinema could be.”

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