Did You See This?

Restaging Resistance

Marlene Dietrich in Josef von Sternberg’s Morocco (1930)

This morning’s Tagesspiegel confirmed rumors that had been simmering all week long, and the Berlinale has now followed up with an official announcement. The seventy-first edition of the festival, which was to have run from February 11 through 21, will be presented in two phases. The European Film Market will go virtual from March 1 through 5. We can expect the competition lineup in February, and a jury will go ahead and decide who wins which awards, but there will be no public, in-person screenings until early June. That’s when, if all goes as planned, codirectors Carlo Chatrian and Mariette Rissenbeek will roll out the red carpet and throw open the doors to movie theaters across the city. “We’re asking for a little patience,” says Chatrian. The reward, he promises, will be “an outstanding summertime event.”

Before we turn to this week’s highlights, we need to pay our respects to John le Carré and Ann Reinking, both of whom passed away last Saturday. Le Carré, who was eighty-nine, wrote dozens of spy novels ripe for film and television: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Smiley’s People, The Little Drummer Girl, The Night Manager, The Tailor of Panama, the list goes on. “His novels delivered tutorials in how to brood, in fiction, without toppling into pretension,” writes Dwight Garner in the New York Times, and they served as “a reminder that adults were once in charge of the destiny of the free world.”

Actor, dancer, and choreographer Reinking, who was seventy-one, was a formidable star on Broadway and in the movies, most memorably in All That Jazz. In the New Yorker, Julie Klausner celebrates a favorite performance, “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” the “hallucination number” in Bob Fosse’s 1979 film. “At one point,” writes Klausner, “Reinking lopes, then freezes toward the camera, in amplified Fosse regalia, the hat and sparkles and dance boots, with the alternating precision of a predator and its paralyzed prey. She’s stunningly sexy as she flicks her hand and twitches her shoulders like she’s recovering from an orgasm. She bends over backwards, extends her legs past the reasonable and toward the infinite, and makes a derby hat look unfathomably cool.” And “when she faces away from the camera for a variation on a chug, it seems like she’s winding herself up to finish the job of killing us dead.”

Here’s a sampling of what we’ve been reading and watching this week:

  • As a chorus girl who began landing her first small on-screen roles in the early 1920s, when Weimar-era Berlin was the European vortex of LGBTQ culture, Marlene Dietrich fashioned a persona from “the aura she brought from Weimar’s cabaret culture to add an oft-salacious edge to her first studio films with Josef von Sternberg,” writes So Mayer for the BFI. In her 1979 autobiography, Dietrich “stresses her naivety and piety,” notes Mayer. “Rather than avoidance, there’s perhaps a deeper resonance that’s been lost around what queer Weimar meant and how that resonates in Dietrich’s off-screen persona: not just as decadence but as resistance.” Dietrich “implies that Weimar shaped her war work, from being the prominent ‘German anti-Nazi’ hosting émigré artists such as Jean Gabin fleeing the Nazis (including cooking weekly lunches for them) to her public USO tour of Europe, often under fire, through 1944 and 1945.” Throughout her life and career, she “was making a visionary stand for freedom: what queerer read could there be?”

  • Resistance—overt rather than implied—is the subject of Ai Weiwei’s third documentary this year after Vivos, which measures the impact of the forced “disappearance” of forty-three students in Mexico in 2014, and Coronation, a portrait of Wuhan in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak. Cockroach, which the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw finds “dynamic and visually stunning,” takes its title from the epithet protestors in Hong Kong have been hurling at police—along with molotov cocktails and bricks—during the latest wave of demonstrations sparked by bill, since abandoned, that would have allowed for criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China. Ai, who sent a team of filmmakers to shoot for six months and then edited Cockroach in Cambridge, is the son of Ai Qing, a poet exiled to Xinjiang during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. “In my father’s day, one million intellectuals disappeared and nobody knew,” Ai tells the Guardian’s Stuart Jeffries. “Today, terrible things are on the news and nobody cares. I don’t know which is worse.”

  • For the New York Times Magazine, Mark Binelli profiles Frederick Wiseman, the director of forty-five documentaries, from Titicut Follies (1967) to City Hall (2020). Taken together, they offer what Binelli calls “an unrivaled survey of how systems operate in our country.” For the first time in fifty-five years, Wiseman, quarantining in Paris, is not currently working on a film. He is, however, writing a screenplay based in part on the diaries of Sophia Tolstoy, and he hopes to shoot the film “with a small, quarantined crew” in the spring. Binelli notes that Wiseman sees himself as “an artist who makes work from found objects, except in his case, the art is assembled from found events. ‘Which are recorded in a certain way, and edited and ordered, and every aspect is completely subjective,’ Wiseman went on. ‘I make my little jokes about how I hate the term cinéma vérité or observational cinema or direct cinema. Because I make movies. And I would make the argument that they’re fictional movies—based on real, unstaged events.’”

  • It’s turned out to be a terrific week for watching great directors meet up on Zoom and talk about movies. IndieWire’s David Ehrlich has convened Tamara Jenkins, Boots Riley, Richard Linklater, and Charlie Kaufman to discuss Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Variety has paired Bong Joon Ho and Lee Isaac Chung, who talk about, among other things, working with Steven Yeun, who has starred in Bong’s Okja (2017) and Chung’s Minari, which won a grand jury prize at Sundance in January. And Chloé Zhao and Barry Jenkins chat not only about Nomadland and Jenkins’s forthcoming series The Underground Railroad but also about their big-budget Disney projects, Zhao’s The Eternals, and for Jenkins, an as-yet-untitled Lion King prequel.

  • Early last month, Apichatpong Weerasethakul sent out a tweet declaring that Tsai Ming-liang’s Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003) is the “best film of the past 125 years.” Agree or disagree, it’s definitely “one of the most melancholy films about moviegoing,” as Melissa Anderson writes at 4Columns, adding that it’s “a playful, minimalist dirge that reminds us of the sublimities and absurdities of a practice that for some has been a pastime, for others a calling.” Starting today, the Metrograph will be streaming a new 4K restoration of the film set at the Fu-Ho, a movie palace in Taipei whose glory days are well behind it. On its last night, projectionist (Lee Kang-sheng) is screening King Hu’s 1967 wuxia classic Dragon Inn. “We see and hear the film in progress, but the drama predominantly develops in still, long, hushed vignettes in the spaces around the screen,” writes critic and programmer Aliza Ma for the Metrograph’s Journal. “Without any didactic explanation and with minimal dialogue, Goodbye, Dragon Inn shows us how public spaces of film-watching become inevitably imbued with private emotions.”

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