Did You See This?

Shifts and Ricochets

The Daily — Feb 19, 2021
Federico Fellini and Marcello Mastroianni rehearsing (1963)

The British Independent Film Awards were presented last night, and Sarah Gavron’s Rocks has come out on top, winning five, including best British independent film. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw suggests that this story of a Nigerian British teen caring for her younger brother after her mother has left—but with the support of her all-girl crew—is told “in the spirit of Ken Loach’s Kes or Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood. It’s tough, but it’s the opposite of miserablist.” In other awards season news, critics groups in London and Toronto have both named Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland best film of the year.

This week’s highlights:

  • Martin Scorsese has sparked another round in the familiar debate over what can and cannot be considered cinema. But what seems to have been lost in the back-and-forth is that Scorsese’s cover story for the new Harper’s is first and foremost an appreciation of Federico Fellini, one that evokes the almost sensual experience of seeing each of the films as they first arrived in the States. La dolce vita (1960) was “a majestic, terrifying cinematic fresco [unfolding] on the screen,” but the “two Fellini pictures that affected me the most, the ones that really marked me,” he writes, were I vitelloni (1953), “a pivotal inspiration for Mean Streets,” and (1963). “Everyone I knew back in those days who was trying to make movies had a turning point, a personal touchstone,” writes Scorsese. “Mine was, and still is, 8½.

  • Fellini worked with Roberto Rossellini on the screenplays for Rome Open City (1945) and Paisan (1946), two classics of Italian neorealism, before steering his own art toward what Scorsese describes as the “polar opposite” direction. Writing for the New York Review of Books, J. Hoberman suggests that the ten documentary shorts that Vittorio De Seta (not to be confused with Vittorio De Sica!) made between 1954 and 1959 “might be considered examples of a hyper-neorealism” and a “hot-house flowering of an Italian tradition.” Shooting in the rural villages of Sicily, Sardinia, and Calabria, De Seta “uses glorious color and luxuriant widescreen to enshrine the ancient, pre-industrial folkways and hardscrabble work lives of fishermen, shepherds, peasants, and miners.” Hoberman notes that Kent Jones “has compared De Seta’s documentaries’ ‘poetic’ economy of form to the one-reel Biograph films with which D. W. Griffith invented cinematic narrative.”

  • William Greaves’s Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968) “ranks among the headiest movies about the folly of the film set,” writes Melissa Anderson at 4Columns. In 1972, Greaves brought his cameras to the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana, and the resulting documentary, Nationtime, newly reconstructed and restored, “showcases Greaves’s gifts for capturing the ways that energy shifts and ricochets among groups of people.” At Screen Slate, Maxwell Paparella tracks those invisible flows. “On the third day, the fault lines of the coalition began to show,” he writes, but Nationtime “itself refuses to accept the narrative of the convention as a failure. A new on-screen prologue maintains that while it ‘adjourned without reaching consensus,’ the event was ‘a turning point in the struggle for self-determination and equal rights.’ Here and elsewhere, the tragedy of what might have been is no more palpable than the promise of what might still come to be.”

  • For Little White Lies, James Balmont talks with Noel Hogan and Simon Raymonde about how Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express (1994) raised the profiles in Asia of their respective bands, the Cranberries and Cocteau Twins. Oliver Wang has written here in the Current about how Faye Wong’s cover of the Cranberries’ “Dreams” boosts the film’s “unique, unpredictable energy,” and Hogan recalls playing the number in the Hong Kong Coliseum in 1996. “The place went crazy,” he says. “We knew it had been a hit, but it was a level up when we played ‘Dreams.’” Faye Wong’s cover of “Bluebeard” led to a transcontinental collaboration with the Twins. “It was the film that sparked our interest in doing it,” says Raymonde. For Ian Wang at the Quietus, Wong Kar Wai’s “fragmented narratives, unbound from the normal flow of time and space, capture the alienating dislocation of life in a city tossed upside-down by the tides of an increasingly globalized capitalism.”

  • The new issue of photogénie features writing on two autobiographies, Ingmar Bergman’s The Magic Lantern and Josef von Sternberg’s Fun in a Chinese Laundry; Chantal Akerman’s memoir, My Mother Laughs; “Making Love in 2003,” a short story by Miranda July; and two journals, a study of color, and a celebration of the gay experience in the UK by Derek Jarman. “These essays don’t contemplate texts in which filmmakers reveal their artistic ideas, but rather parse through what’s left unsaid and consider its meaning in tandem with their filmography,” writes editor Maximilien Luc Proctor. “The goal of this issue is to look at the writing of filmmakers in the hopes not of unlocking hidden meaning in their film work, but understanding that an artist’s intentions with a work and the work itself are not a one to one ratio.”

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