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Did You See This?

From Caligari to Bergman

Bibi Andersson and Elliott Gould in Ingmar Bergman’s The Touch (1971)

Having unveiled a robust Main Slate last week, the New York Film Festival (September 24 through October 10) has spent this week presenting lineups for its Revivals and Spotlight programs. The new restorations selected for this year’s Revivals range from Michael Powell’s Bluebeard’s Castle (1963) to landmarks of American independent cinema such as Melvin Van Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971) and the late Joan Micklin Silver’s Hester Street (1975); from Chris Petit’s ultra-cool Radio On (1979) to two major works from Hungary, Miklós Jancsó’s The Round-Up (1966) and Márta Mészáros’s Adoption (1975).

Spotlight, the NYFF’s “showcase of the season’s most anticipated and significant films,” will feature Mike Mills’s C’mon C’mon, starring Joaquin Phoenix; Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Elena Ferrante adaptation, The Lost Daughter; Sean Baker’s Red Rocket; Marco Bellocchio’s Marx Can Wait; Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch; and a retrospective celebrating the centenary of Amos Vogel, one of the most influential programmers in the history of cinema.

On Wednesday, we lost actor and martial artist Sonny Chiba to COVID. A major action star in Japan, Chiba broke through to an international audience playing Takuma Tsurugi, a professional mercenary for hire, in Shigehiro Ozawa’s The Street Fighter (1974), a film “so violent,” notes Neil Genzlinger in the New York Times, “that when it was released in the United States it was said to have been the first movie given an X rating for violence alone.” Throughout much of his decades-long career, Chiba often worked with director Kinji Fukasaku, a close friend. His dedicated fan base included Keanu Reeves and Quentin Tarantino, who cast him as a retired samurai sword craftsman running a sushi restaurant in Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003). Sonny Chiba was eighty-two.

This week’s highlights:

  • Ingmar Bergman’s The Touch (1971), starring Bibi Andersson as a Swedish housewife and Elliott Gould as the American archaeologist with whom she falls in love, was widely panned when it arrived in the States. In recent years, though, it has found its champions, including the New Yorker’s Richard Brody. “Bergman’s direction reaches an ideal pitch of natural symbolism, of the sublimation of realistic drama into cinematic iconography,” he writes. “The incongruity of Gould’s presence lends the film a dimension of astonishment no less than Ingrid Bergman’s does to Rossellini’s meticulously realistic films. Gould’s emotional power and mythic aura, in disrupting Bergman’s cinematic order, thereby expand it.”

  • Vulture is running an excerpt from the interview that Frank Rich conducted in December with composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim and orchestrator Jonathan Tunick for our new release of D. A. Pennebaker’s Original Cast Album: “Company” (1970). The conversation ranges from the reasons a writer or orchestrator would want to tackle the ending of a song first to the dramatic centerpiece of Pennebaker’s documentary, Elaine Stritch’s breakdown while recording one of the hit musical’s key numbers, “The Ladies Who Lunch.” In his introduction, Rich recalls “the high” of experiencing the first public performance of Company. “Despite being confined to a windowless recording studio,” he writes, “Pennebaker’s film is remarkably evocative of the whole enterprise.”

  • In “Philippine Noir,” May Adadol Ingawanij takes a deep dive into the life and work of Lav Diaz for the New Left Review. Diaz grew up “in the backwater of Cotabato,” living “without electricity, in a barrio with unpaved roads,” before he became a guitarist in a punk band. Under the influence of Lino Brocka and a cinephile father who took him to see, as he recalls, “spaghetti westerns, Filipino melodrama, Japanese westerns, everything,” Diaz picked up a camera. “Time in his films takes the form of the aftermath, staged amid the ruins of successive defeated attempts at liberation, but also of the return, the onset of further tragedy,” writes Adadol Ingawanij. “The past is not past. The same oligarchic families command the scene, their modes of rule grotesquely updated. The broader temporal question that animates this oeuvre is how to overcome the relentless movement of Filipino history—the cycle of dictatorship, mass killing, and impunity that has characterized it for centuries.”

  • Writing for Gagosian Quarterly about Kevin Jerome Everson, Carlos Valladares cites the artist and filmmaker’s admiration for Diaz’s work. “Like Diaz,” he writes, “Everson does not limit himself to a particular movement or national style; rather, he engages in a struggle with the entire cinematic apparatus, the labor concealed and the politics denied by the institution of viewing, watching, and listening. Surpassing what is considered the ‘norm’ of the cinema experience, Diaz breaks the contract of pleasure, equated with instant understanding. Everson takes up a similar challenge.” Everson’s “audiovisual work evades every label that could be used to pin it in place: experimental, avant-garde, Black, U.S. cinema, found footage, twenty-first century, fantasy, nonnarrative, and, the most dreadful of all, ‘realism’ and ‘documentary.’ Everson demolishes staid notions of the natural and the real.”

  • Everson is interviewed by Anna Hogg in the new issue of Caligari, which also features filmmaker (Shirkers) and novelist (Lurkers) Sandi Tan on ten of her favorite soundtracks as well as filmmaker and programmer Adam Piron’s fascinating piece on an overlooked nugget of movie lore. Learning that a group of Native American performers, many of whom had appeared in Cecil B. DeMille’s films in the 1940s, proposed creating a tribe—the “DeMille Indians”—led Piron “down a years-long, and still incomplete, rabbit hole of trying to uncover any and every detail that I could about this forgotten footnote of Hollywood history . . . There’s an apocryphal beauty to all of it. It provokes questions around how we as Indigenous people can define ourselves and what our sovereignty can mean when we affirm it beyond the dynamics set forth by the terms and conditions of our settler colonial states. Coupled with cinema, it also presents a radical notion: inverting the concept of a national cinema by forming an actual nation shaped by a history to the moving image.”

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