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Fits and Starts

Max Ophuls

The end of the week brings the sad news that Fred Ward passed away on Sunday at the age of seventy-nine. A former boxer, lumberjack, and short-order cook, Ward studied acting in New York before moving to Rome, where he landed his first roles in television films directed by Roberto Rossellini. Back in the States, he played astronaut Gus Grissom in The Right Stuff (1983) and worked with Philip Kaufman again on Henry and June (1990). He appeared in two of Robert Altman’s films, The Player (1992) and Short Cuts (1993), and worked with Jonathan Demme (Swing Shift) and Walter Hill (Southern Comfort). “Ward brought reservoirs of tenderness to his tough guy roles, and plenty of street credibility,” writes NPR’s Neda Ulaby.

This week’s highlights:

  • In his early twenties, Max Ophuls was a spectacularly successful theater director in Vienna and Berlin. His first film, Dann schon lieber Lebertran (1931), a comedic short based on a story by Erich Kästner and written by Emeric Pressburger, was such a hit that UFA played it in its grandest theater. Fleeing the Nazis, he made a good number of films in France before he set out for Hollywood—where he couldn’t find work for three years. But then Preston Sturges saw his adaptation of Schnitzler’s Liebelei (1933). Francis Koval spoke with Ophuls in Paris for a 1950 issue of Sight and Sound, and together, they watched a rough cut of La ronde (1950). “I have a vague idea that I should turn to good use the proverbial American efficiency by making a few pictures over here which would reflect European spirit and European sensibility,” said Ophuls. “Even in the States there is an ever-growing market for such films.” What followed, of course, were Le plaisir (1952), The Earrings of Madame de . . . (1953), and Lola Montès (1955).

  • World Records is currently rolling out its new issue, and Genevieve Yue’s “The Accidental Outside” has become one of this week’s most widely shared essays. Yue argues that we “cannot fully comprehend experimental documentary outside of the festival ecosystem in which it is made, programmed, viewed, and written about.” She tackles the slipperiness of the “fraught” term “experimental documentary” and outlines the many differences between the avant-garde cinema of the mid-twentieth century and the avant-doc of the present moment. “How,” she asks, “does the social existence of a film, especially as something that exists among many other, likely similar films, shape what Annette Michelson called its ‘radical aspiration’?”

  • Get Carter (1971), Mike Hodges’s first theatrical feature and one of the greatest British crime movies ever made, was a critical and commercial hit. But for Hodges, it’s been tough going ever since. He tells Matthew Thrift at the Notebook that J. G. Ballard could recite every line in Pulp (1972) and that Stanley Kubrick was such a fan of The Terminal Man (1974) that he personally tried to get Warner Bros. to take it seriously. Neither film took off, and the road remained rocky until Croupier (1998) became a cult favorite in the States. Long overdue recognition has finally come with Return of the Outsider: The Films of Mike Hodges, a retrospective running at BFI Southbank in London through the end of the month.

  • Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi, The Lunchbox) struggled for decades to break into the film industry, but when cancer took him in 2020, his was one of the best-known Indian faces in cinema. Reflecting on Khan’s career at Hazlitt, Abhrajyoti Chakraborty writes that “something about the recurring deaths of his characters can seem, at first glance, manipulative. The scripts that came his way seemed to repeatedly indulge the fantasy of his eventual disappearance. But death is also the script everyone wants to perfect: it is the endpoint of ‘striving’—the word [Mira] Nair used to contrast the experience of watching Khan act in drama school—and if you dig deep into many of Khan’s roles, you’ll find a striver, a man relentlessly searching for something.”

  • For In America: An Anthology of Fashion, an exhibition on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through September 5, the Costume Institute has collaborated with nine directors—Radha Blank, Janicza Bravo, Sofia Coppola, Julie Dash, Autumn de Wilde, Tom Ford, Regina King, Martin Scorsese, and Chloé Zhao—to create three-dimensional cinematic “freeze frames.” As New York Times fashion critic Vanessa Friedman notes in her conversation with Salamishah Tillet, the show is an “attempt to contextualize the development of American fashion between the mid-nineteenth century and the mid-twentieth and to place it in situ. Then there is the drive to use that context to bring to light fashion stories and designers that have been overlooked, largely because of race or gender, and to redress those wrongs.” Tillet especially appreciates how Dash’s contribution “complicated the big Americana narrative of the show.”

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