Did You See This?

From Far and Long Away

David Bowie in Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

Next week, we’ll be looking at the lives and work of actor, activist, and director Sidney Poitier and filmmaker, writer, and legendary raconteur Peter Bogdanovich. Poitier, who was ninety-four, left us today, and Bogdanovich  passed away yesterday at the age of eighty-two. In the meantime, Bob Mastrangelo has put together an annotated list for Sight & Sound of the dozens and dozens of directors, actors, screenwriters, editors, animators, cinematographers, composers, and critics who died last year.

Did you remember that it was in 2021 that we lost Cloris Leachman, who won an Oscar for her wrenching performance in Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show (1971)? Or that Norman Lloyd, whose career spanned eight decades, died at 106 in May? Death took Monte Hellman, Bertrand Tavernier, Cicely Tyson, Melvin Van Peebles, Jean-Claude Carrière, Dean Stockwell, Robert Downey Sr., Michael K. Williams, Lina Wertmüller, Giuseppe Rotunno, Jean-Marc Vallée, Joan Didion, and just hours before the year was out, Betty White. 2021 was a long year.

Here are a few items that have recently caught our eye:

  • Stanley Kubrick might never have gotten Journey Beyond the Stars—the project that eventually became 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)—off the ground if it weren’t for a showreel of special effects that impressed the suits at MGM. For Filmmaker, Simone Odino tells the story of actor Fredric Martin, cameraman and amateur photographer John Jack Malick, and the 1963 short film they made together, Sublimated Birth, an experiment that led to some of the trippiest passages in the Star Gate sequence in one of the greatest science fiction films ever made.

  • One of the most enduring responses to 2001 was “Space Oddity,” the 1969 single that became David Bowie’s first international hit. “An aspiring actor before scoring his pop breakthrough, the embryonic glam-rock icon’s early 1970s albums are peppered with knowing allusions to silver screens, cracked actors, and gaudy soundstage glamour,” writes Stephen Dalton for the BFI. “No musician before Bowie had so fully explored the concept of pop star as fictional movie protagonist, stage performance as scripted drama, music as cinema.” Bowie would have turned seventy-five tomorrow, and the series David Bowie: Starman and the Silver Screen is on at BFI Southbank in London through the end of the month.

  • 4Columns has returned from its holiday break, and along with Ed Halter’s piece on Andy Warhol: Revelation, the exhibition on view at the Brooklyn Museum through June 19, the new issue also features Yasmine Seale’s review of Sarah Maldoror’s Sambizanga (1972). Adapted from a novella by Luandino Vieira, the story is set in 1961 and tracks an Angolan woman’s search for her husband, who has been imprisoned for distributing leaflets decrying Portuguese exploitation. “Sambizanga is about the hardest things, but it leaves a gentle, almost honeyed flavor in its wake,” writes Seale. “Its slyest move is to show political abstractions entangled in material life.”

  • Since it opened last month, Lana Wachowski’s The Matrix Resurrections has inspired some fine writing, both in favor (Angelica Jade Bastién for Vulture) and opposed (John Semley for the Baffler). The piece I want to recommend here, though, comes from Sam Bodrojan at Reverse Shot: “The original trilogy is no less rife with queer-coded characters, no less allegorically minded, but those films’ preoccupations were in hidden desires, in dreams of ‘becoming’ something beyond what mainstream visions of the flesh could offer. Resurrections is born from a different era; its text is concerned with the matters of trans people who have lived openly as themselves long enough to have actualized those desires and develop new fears.”

  • New York’s Metrograph has brought back Tsai Ming-liang’s Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003), and with it, Aliza Ma’s translation of Tsai’s brief recollection of watching movies as a child in Malaysia; a seven-minute introduction to Goodbye, Dragon Inn from Nick Pinkerton, whose book on the film launched Fireflies Press’s series of Decadent Editions; and Spectacles & Spirits, a series of wuxia classics. Set in a once-grand movie theater in Taipei screening King Wu’s Dragon Inn (1967) one last time before closing down for good, Goodbye, Dragon Inn is “not the first film to turn its attention 180 degrees to watch us watching it,” writes Michael Atkinson for Screen Slate, “but it remains the most concrete, the most wistful, and the most mysterious, lingering in the vast palace’s empty spaces as if years of the daily rite of showing and watching movies has deposited spiritual residue we can almost see.”

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