Did You See This?

What Happened Then . . . and Next?

Tom Noonan and Karen Sillas in What Happened Was . . . (1994)

We’ve spent much of this week grappling with the immense legacies of Peter Bogdanovich and Sidney Poitier, and sadly, we open today’s wrap-up remembering two outstanding critics. Michael Wilmington, who wrote for the Chicago Tribune and Movie City News, died late last week at the age of seventy-five. With Joseph McBride, he coauthored the 1974 biography John Ford, and as Patrick Z. McGavin writes for RogerEbert.com, “Wilmington, McBride, Patrick McGilligan, the Peary brothers (Gerald and Danny), Peter Brunette, and others, were part of the remarkable ‘They Marched into Sunlight’ generation of writers, critics, and cultural historians who came of age at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison, during the anti-Vietnam student protest movement.”

The Tribune’s Michael Phillips has spoken with McBride, who “recalled the time one ‘left-wing Maoist group,’ besotted with the brazen, often contradictory politics and equally brazen cinematic techniques of Jean-Luc Godard, met their Waterloo in Wilmington. The cinephile and budding critic agitated for the film society to screen what was then a wildly unfashionable title: the Howard Hawks/John Wayne western El Dorado. ‘Mike gave a fifteen-minute speech in support of that film,’ McBride said. ‘And I mean a full fifteen minutes. He was weeping, literally weeping, by the end of it. And the left-wing Maoist kids were so stunned, they voted the film in for a screening.’”

Terry Teachout, the drama critic for the Wall Street Journal and critic-at-large at Commentary, passed away early Thursday morning at the age of sixty-five. A lively and widely beloved presence on social media known for encouraging budding writers whose work he admired, Teachout was a jazz bassist who wrote plays and librettos as well as biographies of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, George Balanchine, and H. L. Mencken. “He could never be pigeonholed,” Eric Gibson, editor of the WSJ’s Arts in Review pages, tells James R. Hagerty. “Terry was never predictable.”

On a lighter note, we’re still sorting through the best films of 2021. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, practically a clandestine organization at this point, quietly presented its Golden Globes this past weekend, and the National Society of Film Critics went all in for Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car. Contributors to Reverse Shot and Talkhouse Film have written up a pair of terrific lists topped by Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, respectively.

  • In his always-anticipated, always-essential column for the Baffler, A. S. Hamrah writes about two dozen films from 2021, including Drive My Car and Hamaguchi’s other film from last year, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy. “Hamaguchi is a Rohmer for a time when nothing makes sense, things don’t work out, and everybody is in some kind of mental anguish that they suspect won’t interest other people,” writes Hamrah. “His matter-of-fact coldness, with its conflicted humanism and acceptance of change, now places his work in the forefront of contemporary cinema.” Hamrah also discusses recent releases with Devika Girish, Simran Hans, and Clinton Krute on the Film Comment Podcast.

  • For the New Yorker, playwright, musician, and composer Howard Fishman writes about Tom Noonan’s What Happened Was . . . (1994), the winner of a grand jury prize and a screenwriting award at Sundance, because “of all the films I’ve watched during the second pandemic year, as ‘Is this really happening?’ has transformed into ‘I guess this is normal now,” this one has stuck with me the most.” Noonan directs himself and Karen Sillas in a two-hander about coworkers struggling through a first date, and “as the audience grasps just how high the stakes are for these people, how fragile and damaged they both are, they become stand-ins for anyone having a really rough time of it—which right now means most of us.” Noonan has written a sequel, What Happened Next. “If he’s able to secure the requisite funding, he and Sillas will reprise their roles in a story set decades later,” notes Fishman. “So far, he’s been unsuccessful.”

  • Over the next few months, Sabzian will publish a dozen new translations of reviews and essays by Frieda Grafe, the German critic who wrote for Die Zeit and the Süddeutsche Zeitung. As in this first piece from 1973 on Jean Vigo’s Zéro de conduite (1933) and L’Atalante (1934)—translated by Sis Matthé—Grafe often collaborated with her husband, Enno Patalas, the founder and editor of Filmkritik and director of the Munich Film Museum. “Vigo only made political films, though not films in which the political floats to the surface like an indigestible layer of fat,” they wrote.

  • Another Screen is currently presenting—online and for free—Marie-Claude Treilhou’s debut feature Simone Barbès ou la vertu (1980) along with Daniella Shreir’s translations of three texts: Elisabeth Lebovici’s fascinating backgrounder mapping the tendrils winding throughout the French and European cinema of the period, beginning with this film’s cast and crew; Éric Biagi and Andrea Inzerillo’s recent interview with Treilhou; and Danièle Dubroux’s conversations with “six female staff at five different cinemas in Bastille” for Cahiers du cinéma in 1980. Simone Barbès was produced by Diagonale, a company founded in 1976 by critic and filmmaker Paul Vecchiali, whose “motto, ‘Economy is style,’ is perfectly exemplified by Treilhou’s film,” notes Elena Lazic, writing for Sight and Sound. “Far from a purely utilitarian principle, it is an ethic for keeping cinema fresh, dynamic, and true.”

  • This is quite a month for Hungarian cinema in New York. From today through January 17, Metrograph is screening six films by Miklós Jancsó, and Film at Lincoln Center will present a Márta Mészáros retrospective from January 21 through 26. “Jancsó crafted a primordial form of slow cinema, but made it full of action,” writes the New Yorker’s Richard Brody. “Jancsó also evoked the unique psychological horrors of life under tyranny—in style as well as substance—in his depiction of people enduring brutal and horrifying political events that, owing to mass censorship and individual intimidation, go undenounced and even unnamed. Jancso’s foregrounded vision of turbulent action rendered it both overwhelmingly complex, with its Kafkaesque snares and deceptions, and blankly Beckettian, with the absurd cold opacity of its violence, of the nerve-jangling proximity of life to death.”

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