Did You See This?

Daring Pursuits

The Daily — Feb 5, 2021
Claude Chabrol in 1959

Until the nominations for the seventy-eighth Golden Globe awards were announced this week, only five women had ever been nominated for directing. And only one has ever won, Barbra Streisand for Yentl (1983). This year, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association seems to have changed course by nominating three women: Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman), Regina King (One Night in Miami), and Chloé Zhao (Nomadland). But the noise all week long has been about who has been left out. Nothing for Spike Lee, even though he released two films in 2020, Da 5 Bloods and David Byrne’s American Utopia, and his two children, Satchel and Jackson Lee, are this year’s Golden Globe Ambassadors.

Nothing, too, for Michaela Coel, whose BBC and HBO series I May Destroy You is widely considered one of the greatest works in any format of not just this year but the past several as well. “The only possible excuse,” suggests the Telegraph’s Tim Robey, “is that it defied genre (was it a dark comedy? a crime drama?),” and so, “confused voters. Or they’re all insane. Which, looking at the overall nominations, seems a distinct possibility.” Few, though, will begrudge David Fincher, whose Mank leads the list with six nominations.

The general consensus holds that the Screen Actors Guild has come up with a stronger list. Delroy Lindo has been nominated for his powerhouse performance in Da 5 Bloods, and Michaela Coel has made the cut as well. The Globes will be presented on February 28, and the twenty-seventh SAG Awards will be handed out on April 4.

Before we turn to this week’s highlights, we need to recognize the passing of Hal Holbrook, who played Deep Throat in Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men (1976), Father Malone in John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980), and the grandfatherly Ron Franz in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild (2007). “But above all,” writes Robert Berkvist in the New York Times, “he was Mark Twain, standing alone onstage in a rumpled white linen suit, spinning an omnisciently pungent, incisive and humane narration of the human comedy.” Holbrook’s Mark Twain Tonight! ran off and on for more than sixty years.

Here’s a sampling of some of the best of what we’ve been reading and watching over the past seven days:

  • In 1975, Rainer Werner Fassbinder wrote a sourly amusing takedown of Claude Chabrol that appeared in English a year later in Sight & Sound. In his latest long and immensely enjoyable newsletter, Nick Pinkerton pursues just “what it was about Chabrol that so chafed Fassbinder’s hide.” Along the way, there are detours into comparisons and contrasts between Fassbinder and Douglas Sirk, Chabrol and Luis Buñuel (briefly), and Chabrol and Fritz Lang (at substantial length). “Fassbinder believed that nothing human was alien to him,” writes Pinkerton, “and that there was no strata of human experience that couldn’t be grasped; Chabrol believed that there was always some essential bit of information that remained remote, out of reach. There is always a missing piece in Chabrol—that element of the irrational that Fassbinder disdains.”

  • Pinkerton suggests that Chabrol’s Alice or the Last Escapade (1977) “might be compared to Marguerite Duras’s narcotic, lugubrious India Song (1975), another film in which the trappings of wealth and comfort are invested with an almost opiate quality, luring those who surrounded by them into a deathlike slumber.” As it happens, Steven Shaviro, who teaches at Wayne State University, has just posted his notes on Duras’s film in which “everything we see and hear radiates pastness, over-and-done-with-ness.” What ultimately interests Duras here, Shaviro argues, is “what resists being captured cinematically, what falls into the disjunction between sound and image. By showing us daily banality, she preserves the extreme passion from being banalized.”

  • Tonight at seven (ET), Yasmina Price will revisit Lizzie Borden’s Born in Flames (1983), and we’ll be able to follow her live commentary on Vulture’s Twitter account. The film is set in an alternate universe where, ten years prior, the Labor Party has set up a social democratic government in the U.S. “Applying the visual cues of experimental and documentary filmmaking, this explosive work offers a speculative, feminist polemic set in a potential future that mirrors both the present in which it was made and ours,” writes Price. “And while the framework of a cultural object being ‘timely’ can easily fall into anemic and ahistorical platitudes, Lizzie Borden’s fevered 1983 film is absolutely one we should be watching right now.”

  • This evening also sees the International Film Festival Rotterdam’s Critics’ Choice program launching a special series of video essays that accompany Eye Filmmuseum’s exhibition Vive le cinéma! Through Sunday, we can watch Catherine Grant on Lucrecia Martel, Kevin B. Lee on Jia Zhangke, Lucia Salas on Carlos Reygadas, Cydnii Wilde Harris on Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, and curators Jan Pieter Ekker and Dana Linssen on Nanouk Leopold and Daan Emmen. Kevin B. Lee, in the meantime, has another video essay up at the Notebook, “Orders of Time and Motion,” a study of the 156 shots in Béla Tarr’s Sátántangó (1994). Lee pairs mirrored scenes, some of them appearing hours apart, that may reveal discrepancies between objective and subjective realities within the world of the film.

  • To mark the thirtieth anniversary of Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs, Sight & Sound has pulled up from its archives Amy Taubin’s cover story for the May 1991 issue. “Unlike urban action pictures, which imply, with rare exceptions, that the threat to America is ghettoized,” writes Taubin, “serial killer films are set in white neighborhoods—suburbia, the farm belt, the back woods.” And “almost all serial killers are white males who kill within their own racial group. Bred in the heartlands, he’s the deformed version of the American dream of the individual.” But The Silence of the Lambs is “a profoundly feminist movie,” she argues. Demme’s film “is to the psychological thriller-horror combo what the stories in Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber are to gothic fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood and Bluebeard. It takes a familiar narrative and shakes up the gender and sexuality stuff. It’s a slasher film in which the woman is hero rather than victim, the pursuer rather than the pursued.”

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