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The Dying and the Undead

Isabelle Adjani, Klaus Kinski, and Werner Herzog on the set of Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

We’re still coming to terms with the loss of Jean-Luc Godard, and we will never stop taking measure of his legacy. For the New York Review of Books, Hilton Als considers the women Godard cast as “the intellectual and emotional frame for his movies.” David Bordwell observes that Godard’s “deformations of story and style are the result of testing the limits of what cinema had done, and might do.” In a short yet dense piece for the New Left Review, Fredric Jameson boldly claims that Godard “was Cinema itself, cinema rediscovered at its moment of disappearing. If cinema really is dying, then he died with it; or better still, it died with him.”

Two new hourlong conversations make for essential listening. For the London Review of Books, Adam Shatz discusses Godard’s life and work with Claire Denis and J. Hoberman, and Film Comment Podcast hosts Devika Girish and Clinton Krute talk with Richard Brody and Blair McClendon about the career that spanned from Breathless (1960) to The Image Book (2018)—and about “the ways in which Godard’s films awakened them, in their formative cinephilic years, to the aesthetic and political potentialities of cinema.”

We’ve recently lost two figures who will likely always be remembered first and foremost for one film each—and both of those films were made in the mid-1970s. Between 1958 and 2017, Louise Fletcher appeared in well over a hundred films and television shows, but it’s her Nurse Ratched in Miloš Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) who stares back at us icily in our collective memory. Revisiting the film in 2003, Roger Ebert argued that, even though Fletcher won an Oscar for her portrayal of “a woman who has subsumed sexuality and humanity into duty and righteousness,” her performance remained “not enough appreciated.”

When Just Jaeckin directed his first feature, the soft-core erotic hit Emmanuelle (1974), he was already an accomplished fashion photographer. In the Metrograph Journal, Phuong Le notes that the release of Emmanuelle was delayed a few months by French censors, but when it finally opened at the UGC Triomphe on the Champs-Élysées, it carried on playing there for an astonishing thirteen years. “Today,” writes Le, “Emmanuelle has the reputation of being riddled with endless fornication, yet more often than not the women are seen at rest, stretched out pleasurably by a pool or lounging in bed under the tropical heat. Here, sumptuous sartorial details are as eroticized as the sex acts themselves.”

The New York Film Festival opens today, and previewing this year’s event in the New York Times, A. O. Scott notes that sixty years after its inaugural edition, the NYFF still “stands on the confident assertion that film is art.” In the New Yorker, Richard Brody recommends three films screening in the first week of the festival—“three radical varieties of epistemic cinema”—and Slant has rolled out its annual package of reviews of the films lined up in the Main Slate. On the Film at Lincoln Center Podcast, programmers Dennis Lim and Florence Almozini discuss the “standouts and hidden gems” in all five of the festival’s sections.

Across the Atlantic, the Pordenone Silent Film Festival will open tomorrow with the world premiere of a new restoration of Tod Browning’s The Unknown (1927), starring Lon Chaney and a young Joan Crawford. One of the highlights of the forty-first edition will be Ruritania, a program of films set in that vaguely Mitteleuropean make-believe land we only ever see in the movies. Pordenone will close on October 8 with Alfred Hitchcock’s The Manxman (1929), “a sharply beautiful film,” as Pamela Hutchinson wrote ten years ago, “and Anny Ondra’s sleepy-eyed romantic fool gives us a great Hitchcock Blonde before icy Grace Kelly was even born.”

Some reading to take with you into the weekend:

  • Starting tomorrow, Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), starring Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani, and Bruno Ganz, will be back on the Criterion Channel. Sight and Sound has republished the cover story from its Autumn 1978 issue, a beautifully written account of the film’s making by Beverly Walker. She had been hired as an advisor and found herself one chilly afternoon standing in front of the camera, “barefoot in the middle of a poor Czechoslovak farmer’s hut, dressed in a nun’s robe of white silk, surrounded by gypsies . . . True to his penchant for people scarred by society’s neglect, Herzog had become fascinated by the gypsies,” and he “expressed no sympathy for those complaining of bites from the army of fleas leaping off them. ‘It’s the justice of the flea!’ he said, immediately placing his loyalties on the side not only of the gypsy, but also of the flea.”

  • Garrett Bradley, who won a Directing Award at Sundance and an Oscar nomination for Time (2020), has an exhibition of new work at the Lisson Gallery in London on view through October 29. For frieze, Allie Biswas talks with Bradley about America (2019), “which honors early twentieth-century Black culture as a way of proposing new kinds of iconography”; Safe, the second in a new trilogy of short films; and her decision to relocate to New Orleans from Los Angeles. “New Orleans is a place that refuses to change; that refuses to look to the future in a lot of ways,” says Bradley. “It makes the genesis of our country visible in a visceral way and I think that’s why I’ve stayed—because I continue to be invested in how we got here.”

  • It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2012) is animator Don Hertzfeldt’s first feature and Sophia Monks Kaufman’s favorite film, period. Bill, a stick figure with a hat, finds the most mundane routines of his life to be near-debilitating challenges because an unnamed illness is causing bouts of memory loss and terrifying hallucinations. The ailment is left intentionally undefined. “I don’t want to put it in a box,” Hertzfeldt tells Kaufman at Little White Lies, “but if we were to very generally say the movie is about dying, then the ‘how’ is ultimately not really that important. The how is just details. What’s more important is, ‘What are we actually going to do with this knowledge?’”

  • Andrew Dominik’s Blonde is still infuriating Marilyn Monroe fans, who carry on rallying to her defense. Anna Bogutskaya’s piece for BBC Culture is a fine recent example. At 4Columns, Melissa Anderson calls Blonde “a sordid passion play garlanded with formal frippery, a florid, necrophilic epic that suggests Monroe was born for only one reason: to die.” The New York Times’s Manohla Dargis finds that Dominik is “so far up Marilyn Monroe’s vagina in Blonde that he can’t see the rest of her.” Responding to Christina Newland’s delicate sparring with Dominik for Sight and Sound, Charles Taylor, writing for Esquire, is particularly ticked off by the director’s comment that Monroe’s movies are “cultural artifacts.” So he “regards the work of, among others, Howard Hawks, Billy Wilder, Henry Hathaway, and John Huston as no more than cultural artifacts? Jump up and down Andy and let us hear ’em clank together.”

  • A new restoration of The Mother and the Whore (1973) is screening in the NYFF’s Revivals program, and artist Mekhitar Garabedian goes long on Jean Eustache’s first feature for Sabzian. “Eustache explores a love triangle written in a lyrical and sophisticated literary language,” writes Garabedian. “Eustache’s brutally honest dissection of post-May ’68 fatigue, when the promises of ’68 turned out to be shattered illusions—failed and meaningless—is also a critique of le couple libre, of the affective and sexual morals of sexual liberation. Love is not free and happy, concludes Eustache. Love is pain. Love is devastating, but it is perhaps also the only salvation. ‘Comes love, nothing can be done.’”

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