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To Ward Off Mundane Obsolescence

Bill Morrison’s The Village Detective: a song cycle (2021)

Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth sees its world premiere tonight when it opens the fifty-ninth New York Film Festival. In the New York Times, Manohla Dargis writes that “the play is still the thing and so is a volcanic Denzel Washington,” and A. O. Scott finds that Washington “plays the Thane of Cawdor as a weary, haunted old soldier, a tender soul pitched into cruelty and madness by ambition—his own and Lady Macbeth’s. That would be Frances McDormand, bringing viperish eloquence to this lean (under two hours), mean and lyrical reading of the Scottish Play.” For more on this year’s lineup, see Slant’s index of ongoing coverage.

Still reeling from the loss of Melvin Van Peebles, we’re also mourning Saadi Yacef, the former military leader of the Algerian Front de Libération Nationale who passed away earlier this month at the age of ninety-three. Yacef selected Gillo Pontecorvo to direct The Battle of Algiers, the gripping 1966 film based on his own memoirs, and he took on the role of FLN commander El-hadi Jafar.

We’ve also lost South African-born British theater, television, and film director Roger Michell, who was only sixty-five. He was “the kind of filmmaker who, at his best, proved why we need as many deft journeymen as we do auteurs,” tweets Guy Lodge. Notting Hill (1999) “has visual pop and rhythm,” Changing Lanes (2002) “remains underrated for its brisk tension,” and Persuasion (1995) is “among the most humane of all Austen adaptations.”

Here’s what else has caught our eye over the past seven days:

  • Screen’s Nikki Baughan and Wendy Mitchell talk with ten directors about the early short films they made while attending Britain’s National Film and Television School. Joanna Hogg, whose The Souvenir Part II is screening at the NYFF, says she drew inspiration from Godard’s 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967) while making Caprice (1986) with Tilda Swinton. Terence Davies remembers that, when it came time to shoot a man’s bare butt for Madonna and Child (1980), he was the only one on set who was embarrassed. “I remember thinking, ‘Why did I write this?’” Lynne Ramsay (Small Deaths, 1996) emphasizes the importance of forming solid working relationships and recalls that when Derek Jarman came to the NFTS, “he told us, ‘Filmmaking’s hard enough, I have to work with my friends.’”

  • Among the highlights of an outstanding week at the Notebook are Pedro Emilio Segura Bernal’s interview with Maureen Fazendeiro and Miguel Gomes, whose The Tsugua Diaries opens the NYFF’s Currents program tomorrow; a 1978 conversation about Egyptian and Arab cinema with Youssef Chahine (Cairo Station), introduced by Il Cinema Ritrovato programmer Ehsan Khoshbakht;Adrian Curry’s gallery of posters for movies starring the late Jean-Paul Belmondo; and Celluloid Liberation Front’s essay on Alberto Lattuada. “There is no redemption to be found in his cinema, be it artistic, ideological or otherwise,” writes CLF. “Its only bequest may be a very bitter grin. Yet the director does not indulge in judgmental detachment or moralism; it is not without a sense of pain that he registers the ineluctable pettiness of mankind.”

  • The Village Detective: a song cycle is the new film from Bill Morrison (Decasia, Dawson City: Frozen Time), and in the New York Times, Glenn Kenny recommends catching it. At the Talkhouse, Morrison writes about being tipped off by the late composer Jóhann Jóhannsson to the discovery of four reels of film that had survived decades at the bottom of the ocean. Turns out they were from Derevensky Detektiv (Village Detective), a popular 1969 Soviet comedy starring Mikhail Zharov, whose long career “seemed to mirror the arc of Communist Russia, beginning clear-eyed, idealistic, and impassioned, before gaining some weight—and with it, some baggage.” The point Morrison gets around to making is that “only a small percentage of the enormous amount of digital media that we produce each day will survive our lifetimes, if they survive the next decade. There is no mechanism in place to ensure that it will outlive us, or a solar event, or simple, mundane obsolescence . . . Our history will become what we shot and saved on film.”

  • Amalia Ulman’s debut feature El Planeta, a critical favorite at Sundance, is now in theaters, and at Reverse Shot, Chloe Lizotte presents an excellent guide to the multimedia work Ulman has been making for the past ten or so years. “Within the irony and theatricality of her work, Ulman is also a deep humanist,” writes Lizotte. “She’s been compared to Cindy Sherman for her immersion into character, especially in Privilege, but she’s mentioned a deeper affinity for Samuel Beckett’s tragicomic absurdity. At times, her art seems closest to the nesting dolls of overanalysis in Thomas Pynchon’s writing.” Ulman’s work stages a “battle between interpretive motion and economic conflicts that can’t be reconciled.”

  • John Waters is on the cover of the 175th anniversary issue of Town & Country, a magazine he’s subscribed to for three decades. He’s preparing to head out on tour with his one-man show, This Filthy World; his novel Liarmouth: A Feel Bad Romance will be out in May; and he’s working on a new film. “I do have a deal that I can’t talk about, because I’ll curse it,” he tells Mike Albo. “But I am rewriting the script right now.” Waters’s “stature is the result of how hard—and how ingeniously—he has worked to get here,” writes Albo. “There’s a canny alchemy in the way, throughout his career, he has mixed high and low, art film and exploitation, trash cans and Cannes. ‘It’s like [Dolly Parton’s] famous line: “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap,”’ he tells me. ‘We both knew what we were doing.’”

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