Did You See This?

Unforgettable Characters

The Daily — Mar 26, 2021
Anaïs Reboux and Roxane Mesquida in Catherine Breillat’s Fat Girl (2001)

All who love cinema were shaken yesterday by the loss of Bertrand Tavernier, the writer, editor, film historian, and director whose filmography spans from The Clockmaker in 1974 through to his 2016 documentary series My Journey Through French Cinema. We’ll be gathering tributes over the weekend and will take a closer look at his life and work early next week. For now, you’ll find nine of his features and a good handful of interviews on the Criterion Channel. Tavernier was seventy-nine.

Yesterday then hit hard again with the news that Jessica Walter had passed away at the age of eighty. Though she appeared in well over a hundred theatrical, television, and film productions, she was immediately remembered all across social media as Lucille Bluth, the ridiculously wealthy and diabolically manipulative matriarch on Arrested Development. “TV history is full of brilliant lines, memorable scenes, and captivating characters,” writes James Poniewozik in the New York Times. “But few of them have been so GIF-able, have so dominated the visual language of social media, as Walter’s Lucille did late in her life.”

This week’s highlights:

  • All week long, Vulture has been saluting great character actors. The centerpiece of the project is a poll of nearly sixty directors, showrunners, casting directors, and critics who collectively submitted more than three hundred candidates for a list of the best of the best. Thirty-two names came out on top. Introducing these brief profiles, Nate Jones notes that “any sort of conclusive definition of a character actor is likely impossible to achieve.” For example: “Is a character actor someone who disappears into a role, like Bill Camp, or someone who has a distinctive presence, like Colman Domingo? Yes and yes.” The most in-demand character actors have “a sense of timelessness to them” and are able to “take ordinariness and make it highly specific. Think of the way Beth Grant has honed the suburban busybody to its sharpest points, or how, with just one sigh, Michael Stuhlbarg serves up the foibles of the intelligentsia on a silver platter.”

  • Anyone who has seen or plans to see Nationtime, William Greaves’s documentary on the 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana, will want to read Komozi Woodard’s piece in the new issue of The Point. Woodard credits Greaves for responding to the notion that the convention was a “failure” with a celebration of “the color and excitement” of events on the floor. But Woodard also takes this response further, outlining the alliances that led to the event, noting that conflicts were exacerbated by the FBI and other government agencies, and laying out an argument for the convention as a critical turning point. “Before the 1972 convention, Black political representation was exceptional; however, after Gary, Black political representation soared, becoming the norm,” writes Woodard. “Nationtime captures a giant step in Black liberation and delivers crucial political lessons for the next stages of the maturing Black Lives Matter movement.”

  • The Metrograph’s Journal has been coming on strong again. The latest two entries address films we’ve taken a look at in recent Friday roundups, with Aliza Ma writing about Stanley Kwan’s Center Stage (1991) and José Teodoro revisiting Claire Denis’s L’intrus (2004). Genevieve Yue, who is presenting a series of programs called Implicit Movies, writes about the ways cinema can obscure uncomfortable truths while at the same time teaching us how to look, “or just as often to look again, often through the eyes of those on the margins, the ones we’re trained not to see.” In Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003), Thom Andersen “insists that if you pay attention to what normally goes unnoticed in films made in Hollywood, you’ll catch a glimpse of the actual city of Los Angeles. Here, as elsewhere, ‘different social orders coexist in the same space without touching each other,’ though they are not equally ignored.”

  • Interest in Patricia Highsmith never wanes, but it flared up again with extra intensity in 2015 when, ten years after her death, Todd Haynes directed Carol, an adaptation of her 1952 novel The Price of Salt. In 1988, Gerald Peary landed a rare interview for Sight & Sound, and she did not hold back. Her verdict on Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951) was mixed, but Hans Geißendörfer’s Edith’s Diary (1983) was “dreadful,” while Claude Autant-Lara’s The Blunderer (1963) was “a jolly good film.” She took a liking to Wim Wenders, and while she granted that The American Friend (1977) has a certain “stylishness,” she was thrown off by Dennis Hopper’s ramblings as Ripley: “Those aren’t my words.” As for Ripley’s sexual orientation, he “appreciates good looks in other men, that’s true. But he’s married in later books. I’m not saying he’s very strong in the sex department. But he makes it in bed with his wife.”

  • As “a blooming film nerd,” Beatrice Loayza discovered Catherine Breillat’s Fat Girl (2001) “in my teenage bedroom, slouched over my desk, scouring the internet for something brow-raising and risqué,” she recalls at Reverse Shot. “What made Breillat’s provocations so affirming to a punkish teenage me is what in adulthood I find so regrettably stubborn and bitchy and fearful about my younger self . . . And what I continue to find so evocative about Fat Girl also defines its limits: an affirmation of self-worth premised on masochism that will never set you free.”

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