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Did You See This?

Nothing Sacred

The Daily — Apr 23, 2021
Ben Hecht with his secretary in the mid-1940s

Reporters on the awards season beat seem fairly confident that Chloé Zhao and Nomadland are shoe-ins for best director and picture when the Oscars are presented on Sunday. The serene road movie scored equivalent top honors during last night’s Film Independent Spirit Awards ceremony as well as best editing (Zhao) and cinematography (Joshua James Richards). But as the Guardian’s Catherine Shoard points out, “other victories at the Spirit awards revealed the unpredictability of the best actor and actress race.”

Riz Ahmed has won for his performance as a drummer losing his hearing in Darius Marder’s The Sound of Metal, and when Carey Mulligan won for her turn as a medical school dropout seeking to avenge the death of her best friend in Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman, she dedicated her award to Helen McCrory, the star of Peaky Blinders who passed away last week at the age of fifty-two. For New York Times critic Ben Brantley, McCrory “was, above all, a bright creature of the stage and in herself a reason to make a theater trip to London.”

Along with McCrory and Monte Hellman, we’ve also just lost Mari Törőcsik, the Hungarian actress who worked with Miklós Jancsó, István Szabó, Zoltán Fábri, and Costa-Gavras and won a best actress award in Cannes for her performance in Gyula Maár’s Mrs. Dery Where Are You? (1975). Törőcsik was eighty-five, and so, too, was Anthony Powell, who passed away last Friday. The costume designer worked with George Cukor, Steven Spielberg, and William Friedkin and won three Oscars.

This week’s highlights:

  • In his annual Oscars roundup for the Baffler, always an essential read, A. S. Hamrah cuts to the bones of sixteen frontrunners. You should know before you click, though, that there are spoilers all up and down the page and that if you’ve got a favorite in this year’s race, it’s a good bet that Hamrah has something to say about it that isn’t very nice. Unless, that is, your favorite is Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari or George C. Wolfe’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, in which Chadwick Boseman gives a final performance that is “a marvel of enthusiasm and detailed invention, with Levee’s final outburst the polar opposite of this actor’s generosity. Though he worked hard for it, stardom always seemed thrust on Boseman, something extraneous and beside the point of what he was trying to do.” Last week, Hamrah joined writer, film editor, and filmmaker Blair McClendon and Film Comment Podcast hosts Devika Girish and Clinton Krute to discuss the contenders, Oscarologists, and much more.

  • On the most recent episode of the podcast, a roundtable on trans cinema, Girish and Klute assemble a panel—critics Caden Mark Gardner and Willow Maclay and filmmakers Isabel Sandoval and Jessica Dunn Rovinelli—to respond to a set of questions submitted by listeners. “How does one define trans cinema?,” for example. “Are visibility and representation important, or should questions of labor be foregrounded? And which classic movies do our panelists consider to be ‘covertly’ trans?” Scroll down that page a tad and you’ll find several pointers to relevant reading and viewing.

  • For Vanity Fair, Camonghne Felix profiles Barry Jenkins, whose adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, one of the most anticipated series of the year, premieres on May 14. Felix picks out a moment from Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’s documentary on Toni Morrison, The Pieces I Am, in which the late author says, “I have spent my entire writing life trying to make sure that the white gaze was not the dominant one in any of my books.” Felix observes that Jenkins “seems to share this urgency and the implicit desire to illustrate the preciousness and perpetual innovation of Black survival. It’s not even that he’s making Black movies for Black people—that’s too simple of a mission statement, as he’s said before. It’s that, at this point in his career, he is breaking the fourth wall to help Black people look themselves in the eye.”

  • The trailer for Abel Ferrara’s Siberia, starring Willem Dafoe, arrived this week. For the past several months, Ferrera has been working on Zeroes and Ones with Ethan Hawke and cinematographer Sean Price Williams. The Notebook and the Deuce Film Series have teamed up to present Williams’s lively and lengthy conversation with Ferrera, in which the filmmaker looks back on going to the movies in the late 1970s in New York along what the Deuce calls “cinema’s most infamous block in the world: 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues.” Ferrara also talks about making The Driller Killer (1979) and tells a wild story about Zoë Lund, the star of Ms. 45 (1981), and a few more involving John Waters, Divine, and many others. He also looks back to the dubious financing of his first feature, 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy (1976). “Once you make a pornographic film, you don’t want to make another one,” he says. “So, we finished that. So now I go to San Francisco and I’m hanging out at the Art Institute, and now I’m totally into Michael Snow and his Wavelength, you know? So I’m thinking, okay, maybe I could do a feature like this. You know, forget the porno business.”

  • While the New Yorker’s Richard Brody talks with Paul Schrader about whether or not there’s a future for the two-hour feature, filmmaker and programmer Ehsan Khoshbakht has posted a 1938 interview with Ben Hecht in which the newspaperman-turned-screenwriter cut loose on the state of Hollywood at the time. “Catering to the imbecilic type of moron who clutters around first nights and hotel lobbies, pleading for autographs, in the delusion that this public must be served, is just so much pap,” he thundered. “The only way to defeat this public, who unfortunately symbolize the ‘Great American Movie Public’ of today, is to substitute them with a new public, and the only way to do that is to have Hollywood go into the state of collapse it is inevitably heading for and start anew with a sane production budget.” Carole Lombard and Fredric March “cleaned up more than a quarter of a million between them on Nothing Sacred—and there was ‘nothing sacred’ about my weekly stipend, either; it was positively indecent! I would have taken less, but nobody asked me to.”

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