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The World Streams In

The Daily — Dec 11, 2020
Sky Hopinka’s Lore (2019)

All week long, WarnerMedia has taken a beating for its surprise announcement late last week that it would premiere its entire 2021 slate of seventeen features simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max on each of the films’ respective opening days. “Some of our industry’s biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service,” growled Christopher Nolan in a statement sent into the Hollywood Reporter. We should note for the record that several cinephiles have since declared that HBO Max is not by any means the worst streamer. At Polygon, Peter Labuza even goes so far as to argue that it “should be your favorite streaming platform right now.”

But Nolan, whose relationship with Warner Bros. dates back to Insomnia in 2002, is upset, and he’s not alone. Denis Villeneuve, whose Dune was to have been released this fall before the pandemic pushed its opening to next fall, sent his statement into Variety. “There is absolutely no love for cinema, nor for the audience here,” he writes. “It is all about the survival of a telecom mammoth, one that is currently bearing an astronomical debt of more than $150 billion.” Villeneuve is referring, of course, to AT&T, which sealed its acquisition of Time Warner early last year and, as Edmund Lee suggests in the New York Times, “may not mind so much if it speeds the demise of the century-old moviegoing habit.” HBO Max “exists, in part,” writes Lee, “to create consumer loyalty to AT&T.”

As if to kick a competitor when it’s down, Disney spent four hours yesterday rolling out its plans to beef up its streaming service, Disney+. The almost laughably long list of productions in the works includes ten new Star Wars series, ten more for Marvel, and fifteen original Disney and Pixar features. Erik Pedersen has the best overview of the crowded lineup at Deadline.

This week’s highlights:

  • When Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro came into office nearly two years ago, he all but immediately dismantled the Ministry of Culture and then cut off funding for the Cinemateca Brasileira, one of the world’s most vital archives. “Bolsonaro was intent on erasing memory: nothing could exist before him,” write João Luiz Vieira and B. Ruby Rich in Film Quarterly. The heart of the new issue is a dossier celebrating a “contemporary Brazilian cinema that has emerged outside film’s traditional habitats, planting itself instead in the periphery.” Introducing “a new generation of Brazilian filmmakers and scholars,” the dossier is “intended to intervene in this fraught historical moment, ensuring that the emergence of a vital cinema and theoretical scholarship is not lost to the depredations of governmental repression.”

  • Reverse Shot has just opened a new symposium, Great Beyond. Editors Michael Koresky and Jeff Reichert have asked contributors to “select and re-watch a film that was formative for them as they emerged into cinephilia and which hails from a country different from the one in which you were raised. We posed the questions: What are the reasons that it appealed to you? Did you find its depictions of a different culture to be relatable to your own experience, or did it seem productively far away?” Essays so far include Koresky’s on Zhang Yimou’s Raise the Red Lantern (1991), Naomi Keenan O’Shea’s on Jafar Panahi’s Taxi (2015), and Imogen Sara Smith’s on Mikio Naruse’s Yearning (1964).

  • On the Criterion Channel, we’re currently featuring a selection of short films by Sky Hopinka, whose father is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and whose mother is descended from the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians. Hopinka has studied and taught Ho-Chunk and Chinuk Wawa, a language that was on the verge of extinction but is now being revived, and his work has screened at the Sundance and New York film festivals as well as the Tate Modern and the Whitney Biennial. Throughout the oeuvre, Aruna D’Souza, writing for 4Columns, finds “a predilection for layering voices, languages, temporalities, and modes of analysis, the accumulation of which seeks to make sense of the complexities that mark contemporary Indigenous life.”

  • Writing for BOMB, Nicholas Elliott declares with confidence that eighty-two-year-old Armenian filmmaker Artavazd Pelechian is “without a doubt one of the most influential film artists of the last half century. Jean-Luc Godard’s experiments with found footage and the deconstruction of movement are unimaginable without the example of Pelechian, whose entire body of documentary essay films was no longer than a single Hollywood apocalypse spectacle until Nature clocked in at an unprecedented sixty-two minutes.” Commissioned in 2005, Nature finally premiered this past October, and if the pandemic will allow the Fondation Cartier to reopen, Parisians will once again have an opportunity to see this juxtaposition of footage of volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and earthquakes with majestic natural landscapes. Employing the editing technique he refers to as “distance montage,” Pelechian “does not consider, even today,” writes Michael Atkinson for Sight & Sound, “the fundamental arguments of cinematic style and syntax—even, or especially, the claims and assumptions made for silent-film montage by Vertov, Eisenstein and Pudovkin—to be settled business.”

  • Every ten years, Sight & Sound polls critics around the world who vote up a list of the greatest films ever made. From 1962 to 2002, the reigning champion was Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, a film that actually lost money when it was released in 1941. After the Second World War, though, European audiences and French critics such as François Truffaut and André Bazin embraced it. In 1956, it began airing on television in the U.S. and proved to be “the right movie at the right time,” as Bilge Ebiri writes in a piece for Vulture tracing Kane’s rise to the #1 spot—and its fall to #2 in 2012. “Synthesizing the stylistic hallmarks of the preceding half century of cinema that came before it,” he writes, “morphing from horror film to mock-documentary to drama to musical to comedy to tragedy, Citizen Kane was a film school condensed into 119 minutes.” Eventually, Kane “came to represent both the pinnacle of the American studio system—the most dominant film industry on the planet—as well as one auteur’s rebuke of it.”

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