Did You See This?

From the Outskirts to the Multiplex

Divine and Tab Hunter in John Waters’s Polyester (1981)

The past couple of weeks have been a windfall for cinephilic podcast listeners. In what Naked Lunch hosts Phil Rosenthal and David Wild describe as “her very first and perhaps only podcast appearance,” Elaine May proves to be as quick-witted, cutting, and hilarious as anyone could hope the writer and director of A New Leaf (1971), Mikey and Nicky (1976), and Ishtar (1987) would be. Ethan Hawke, Sam Fragoso’s latest guest on Talk Easy, discusses The Last Movie Stars, his documentary series on Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, and his work with Robin Williams, Paul Schrader, and Richard Linklater and Julie Delpy on the Before trilogy.

Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary, who worked together at the Los Angeles rental outlet Video Archives in the 1980s before collaborating on the story that became Pulp Fiction (1994), have reteamed to launch the Video Archives Podcast. When the store closed, Tarantino bought up all the videos, and now, he and Avary are rewatching—and talking about at considerable length—old favorites on VHS. Nicolas Rapold talks with curator Eric Hynes and Rico Gagliano, the host of the MUBI Podcast, whose new season is dedicated to movie theaters that have shifted the course of cinema history, however slightly or momentously.

Before turning to this week’s recommended reading, let’s add one more update to yesterday’s roundup of festival news. The New York Film Festival will present James Gray’s Armageddon Time, set in Queens in the autumn of 1980, as a special sixtieth anniversary screening, and the NYFF’s Centerpiece presentation will be Laura Poitras’s All the Beauty and the Bloodshed. Photographer and activist Nan Goldin narrates the documentary, telling the story of her life, her career, and her campaign to persuade major art institutions to refuse donations from the Sackler family, who founded and still own the pharmaceutical companies that make the highly addictive opioid OxyContin. Poitras is, of course, best known for her Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour (2014), and All the Beauty and the Bloodshed will premiere in Venice.

  • Next Thursday will see the launch in Locarno of Outskirts, a new biannual print magazine, and about half of the first issue is given over to an eighty-two-page dossier on Soviet filmmaker Boris Barnet. His 1933 film Outskirts is “about as good as movies get,” writes cofounding editor Christopher Small. It’s “also something of a UFO in cinema history: an unclassifiable classic that eludes easy interpretation at every turn; shifting tones, sounds, and forms not simply from one scene to the next, but also within each and every moment . . . As Daniel Witkin notes in his text on Barnet’s film, the word ‘outskirts’ in Russian even shares a linguistic root with the country the Russian military has been pulverizing with artillery since February 24—okraina.

  • The Contemporaries editorial team at Post45 has put together an “appreciation cluster” of essays on urban theorist Mike Davis. In his 2001 essay “Bunker Hill: Hollywood’s Dark Shadow,” Davis wrote about the neighborhood in downtown Los Angeles that was losing its luster by the mid-1940s. “Once discovered by hardboiled writers and exiled Weimar auteurs,” he wrote, “Bunker Hill began to exert an occult power of place. Here, overlooking L.A.’s monotonous, Midwestern flatness (Reyner Banham’s ‘plains of Id’), was a hilltop slum whose decaying mansions and sinister rooming houses might have been envisioned by Edgar Allan Poe.” Davis’s work “reflects cannily on the mass expulsion of working people from urban centers,” writes Megan Tusler, and Kent MacKenzie’s The Exiles (1961), chronicling a single night in the lives of Native Americans living in Bunker Hill, “provides an example as well as an exemplar.”

  • Two weeks in, the Film Forum series 1962 . . . 1963 . . . 1964 carries on through Thursday, so there’s still time to catch films directed during those crucial years by Jean-Luc Godard, Agnès Varda, Stanley Kubrick, Blake Edwards, Joseph Losey, Alberto Lattuada, and more. The series “aims to demonstrate, with brio, that the heady glamour and political tumult of the Kennedy era, and the spontaneity and irreverence of contemporary art and design, inspired adventurous movies from veteran directors and tyros alike,” writes Michael Sragow for Film Comment. “The American New Wave, beginning in the late ’60s, became known for upending or reviving genres, but it was directors near the start of the decade who ignited that iconoclastic movement.”

  • The new issue of Open Screens features essays on explicit on-screen sex; the world of the giallo, “where faith is absent yet evil is not”; and John Waters’s blend of Douglas Sirk and William Castle in Polyester (1981). At Reverse Shot, Caden Mark Gardner writes that Polyester is “on its surface a cocktail of pop culture artifacts where the cross-gender drag casting of Divine as Francine Fishpaw becomes less of a punkish transgression than an homage to the tradition of the ‘women’s picture’ melodramas of the 1950s—with the added stunt of Odorama scent, achieved with scratch-and-sniff cards. While Polyester is an undeniable transition film for Waters, which feels informed by the changing standards of Hollywood and the world around him, it’s also very much the work of a prankster.”

  • While contributors to Reverse Shot burrow further into the films of 1981 in their ongoing symposium, Adam Nayman, writing for the New York Times, skips ahead to the following summer, when “five authentic genre classics premiered within a one-month span”: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Blade Runner, The Thing, and Tron. “The range of tones and styles on display was remarkable, from family-friendly fantasy to gory horror,” writes Nayman. “Whether giving a dated prime-time space opera new panache or recasting 1940s noir in postmodernist monochrome, the filmmakers (and special-effects technicians) of the summer of ’82 created a sublime season of sci-fi that looks, forty years later, like the primal scene for many Hollywood blockbusters being made—or remade and remodeled—today.”

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