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Revolution and Reform

The Daily — Mar 5, 2021
Maggie Cheung in Stanley Kwan’s Center Stage (1991)

When we think of some of the foundational films of the French New Wave—Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960), François Truffaut’s Jules and Jim (1962), or Agnès Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962)—many of the first images that come to mind may not actually be from the films. They may instead be the iconic photos taken on the sets by Raymond Cauchetier. We’ve seen them on countless posters, book covers, t-shirts, and social media feeds.

As Robert D. McFadden writes in the New York Times, as a poorly paid set photographer, Cauchetier, who passed away last week at the age of 101, “refused to stand beside a movie camera operator and take stock shots of actors, as was the custom. Having learned fast-paced spontaneity as a combat photographer in the French Indochina War, he turned his camera toward the directors and others making the film.” In 2015, the New Yorker’s Richard Brody wrote that “in assembling his movie-centered still-photo dossiers, he created perhaps the greatest and most revealing photographic documents ever made of films in progress. Cauchetier is the auteur of set photographers.”

While we’re on the subject of auteurs and the nouvelle vague and all, and before we turn to this week’s highlights, we should note that we can now watch the eighty-five-minute interview Godard recently gave to the International Film Festival of Kerala. Chipper as ever, Godard talks about the two projects he’s working on and suggests that they may be his last. Srikanth Srinivasan, in the meantime, has translated Hélène Frappat’s in-depth conversation with Jacques Rivette that ran in two parts in successive issues of La Lettre du cinéma in 1999. And since Rivette was a great champion of Howard Hawks, let’s also mention that Sabzian has posted Andrew Castillo’s translation of Belgian writer and filmmaker Jean-Marie Buchet’s 1963 appreciation of Hawks’s Hatari!

  • This year’s Berlin Critics’ Week carries on through the weekend, and the organizers have launched a magazine. The first issue, edited by Nicolas Rapold, features an impressive roster of contributors—Phuong Le, José Teodoro, Kelli Weston, Susannah Gruder, Becca Voelcker, Ela Bittencourt, and Chloe Lizotte, to name just a few—writing about films in the festival’s lineup. Nick Pinkerton weighs the value of coherence in any given artist’s body of work, and Abby Sun, who offered crucial context to the shape and mission of Sundance 2021 in Filmmaker a few weeks ago, addresses the state of film criticism. “When we position the individual critique of films without illuminating their systemic context, no matter how sycophantic or antagonistic, across the world,” she writes, “the festival report and film review will remain an extension of festival marketing and film publicity.”

  • On the occasion of his sixty-fifth birthday and a program spotlighting his features and short films on the Criterion Channel, Caroline Golum talks with Guy Maddin for Screen Slate. He’s got quite a story to tell about the time he brought Geraldine Chaplin and Luce Vigo together for what would become Lines of the Hand (2015), a three-minute short inspired by one of Jean Vigo’s never-realized screenplays. The idea was to have these two women, whose fathers deeply admired each other’s work, stage a “fake séance,” but what transpired “was far more powerful than any real séance could be.”

  • 1938 saw the release of La Marseillaise, directed by the left-leaning Jean Renoir, and Marie Antoinette, directed by W. S. Van Dyke and an uncredited Julien Duvivier but essentially the baby of star Norma Shearer and her husband, producer Irving Thalberg, both Hoover Republicans. “Thalberg, Shearer, and Renoir all looked at the mid-1930s and saw a global disaster,” writes Ben Schwartz for the Baffler. “They saw things going in a very bad direction and believed the French Revolution to be the ideal historical lesson with which to warn us. Same Revolution, same world on fire, and yet the two films and their makers could not be in fiercer opposition to one another.”

  • For Vanity Fair, Joy Press talks with Claudia Weill (Girlfriends), Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust), Martha Coolidge (Not a Pretty Picture), Joyce Chopra (Smooth Talk), Joan Tewkesbury (Old Boyfriends), and Maya Montañez Smukler, the author of Liberating Hollywood: Women Directors and the Feminist Reform of 1970s American Cinema. “Orgasms, housework, motherhood, friendship,” writes Press. “In the 1970s, these were no longer considered trivial female problems. The idea that women’s history ought to be studied and understood—that was new too. Women’s movies reflected these shifts.”


  • Film Movement Classics is sending a new 4K restoration of Stanley Kwan’s Center Stage (1991) to the Metrograph next week. Maggie Cheung plays Ruan Lingyu, the silent screen icon who “came to symbolize a wave of liberationist, proto-feminist energy that animated Shanghai in the ’30s,” as Andrew Chan writes at 4Columns. “Center Stage’s most daring gambit is its hybrid form, which combines the dreamy narrative space of a period drama with unglamorous behind-the-scenes footage chronicling the collaboration between Kwan and Cheung . . . Few biopics have so eloquently interrogated the very foundations of the genre: our desire for intimacy with the stars and our sense of being entitled to knowledge of their personal lives.”

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