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Resonant Hauntings

Raven Jackson’s All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (2023)

“Unleash the awards publicists!!!!” tweeted producer and Black List founder Franklin Leonard moments after SAG-AFTRA announced on Wednesday that its 118-day strike was over. We’ll soon see Emma Stone talking up Poor Things and Leonardo DiCaprio singing the praises of Lily Gladstone as actors, absent from festival red carpets since midsummer, return to the spotlight just as awards season begins gathering steam. Nominations are already out for the Gotham Awards, the European Film Awards, and the British Independent Film Awards.

More importantly, of course, an entire industry can get back to work making movies again. Not just actors, and not just writers who ended their own 148-day strike a little over a month ago, but also lighting, camera, and sound crews, effects teams, hair and makeup specialists, drivers, and on and on. “It will take longer than the strikes lasted for many people so long out of work to regain personal financial stability,” writes Mary McNamara in the Los Angeles Times.

McNamara blames the studios and streamers who, since May 2, when the writers went on strike, “repeatedly offered deals that [they] knew did not address well-documented industry trends and clearly stated union concerns, and when those deals were not accepted, the ‘negotiators’ walked away and watched their own salaries accrue while the strikers took side gigs and watched their savings vanish.”

Before we turn to the highlights of the week, let’s take a moment to remember three remarkable behind-the-scenes personalities. Marina Cicogna, an Italian countess whose fascist grandfather founded the Venice Film Festival, produced Elio Petri’s Oscar-winning Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970) and convinced Pier Paolo Pasolini to cast Terence Stamp in Teorema (1968). In 1967, she had three films at Venice, and when Luis Buñuel’s Belle de jour won the Golden Lion, she threw a party.

“I sent two small Learjets, one to Corsica to pick up Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and the other to Rome to pick up Jane Fonda and Roger Vadim,” she told Vanessa Grigoriadis in T Magazine in 2013. Cicogna passed away last weekend at the age of eighty-nine, and nearly every sentence in the Telegraph’s obituary is a name-dropper: Winston Churchill and Greta Garbo, for example, Sergio Leone, Lina Wertmüller, and naturally, Warren Beatty.

Doug Jones, a programmer and exhibitor who worked with SXSW and helped relaunch Vidiots, the vital nonprofit video store and cinema in Los Angeles, was only fifty-three. “As word of his death circulated among the filmmakers, programmers, and industry professionals who knew him, the outpouring of grief and emotion was remarkable for its intensity and sincerity,” write Jen Yamato and Mark Olsen, who gather remembrances in the Los Angeles Times.

As the founder of Celluloid Dreams, producer and sales agent Hengameh Panahi was a key figure in the theatrical launches of films by Takeshi Kitano, Jafar Panahi, Chantal Akerman, Jia Zhangke, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Todd Haynes, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Bruno Dumont, Marjane Satrapi, Marco Bellocchio, François Ozon, Bertrand Bonello, Gaspar Noé, and many others. After battling a long illness, she died last Sunday at the age of sixty-seven.

  • Back in January, Sundance premiered three debut features centered on stories of Black mothers, all of them directed by Black women. A. V. Rockwell’s A Thousand and One won a Grand Jury Prize, Savanah Leaf’s Earth Mama won an Audience Award in San Francisco, and Raven Jackson’s All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt is in theaters now. “Look hard,” writes Lovia Gyarkye in the Hollywood Reporter. “We’ve seen these women before. Their stories are scribbled in the indie margins of Hollywood history: the Gullah women anchoring Julie Dash’s radical drama Daughters of the Dust; Roz (Lynn Whitfield) and Mozelle (Debbi Morgan) in Kasi Lemmons’s haunting Eve’s Bayou; and Dorothy (Barbara O. Jones) in Haile Gerima’s kinetic narrative Bush Mama are just a few of them. Following their forebears, Rockwell, Leaf, and now Jackson have constructed distinctive cinematic styles that recast Black mothers as agents of their own lives instead of scapegoats of the state.”

  • “Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) in Martin Scorsese’s film After Hours (1985) is standing on my corner—Howard and Crosby Streets—in downtown New York,” writes filmmaker Lizzie Borden (Born in Flames, Working Girls) in the inaugural issue of the Talkhouse Reader. Borden pinpoints details in the movie that still “resonate” and draws a broader picture, too, of her neighborhood during the Ed Koch era. “Christo and Jeanne-Claude lived on Howard, on the other side of Broadway, in what they called a ‘miserable loft,’” she recalls. “Indie filmmaker Mark Rappaport and Scott and Beth B lived a few buildings north on Crosby. (The writer of After Hours, Joe Minion, worked as a production assistant on Scott and Beth’s 1982 film Vortex, starring Lydia Lunch.) A pre-fame Basquiat lived further up Crosby, near Houston, with Madonna . . . Clubgoers from the vicinity on their way to the Mudd Club often walked down Crosby, turning on my corner at Howard before taking the left onto Broadway. They came back the same way in the pre-dawn hours, just before the squealing, groaning garbage pickup trucks arrived at 5 a.m.”

  • Napoleon will be in theaters in time for Thanksgiving, and Michael Schulman profiles director Ridley Scott, “a growler, a grumbler, a barker, a chortler,” for the New Yorker. “Scott’s closest collaborators are trained to anticipate his aesthetic preferences,” writes Schulman. “Arthur Max, the production designer, named a few: ‘Smoke. Thick, crusty, shiny, black, thick paint. Heavy aging. Filth. Dirt. Textures of all kinds. Shiny glass mirrors. Chrome. Metallic, silky fabrics. Corrosion. Small, fine, delicate mechanisms.’ Janty Yates, his costume designer, avoids fluorescent fabrics for his films. ‘He prefers rich jewel colors,’ she told me. ‘He loves gold trim, but old gold. He loves shadow. He really doesn’t like green—and then suddenly he’ll like green. He’s quite a hummingbird.’ On The Martian, he surprised her by requesting a ‘pop of orange.’”

  • On the Criterion Channel, we’re currently presenting four features and four short works by documentarian Matt Wolf, whose films are “acts of cultural excavation, fascinated by forgotten and largely unknown figures and reliant on vast archives,” writes Conor Williams for Filmmaker. Williams worked as an archival assistant on Wolf’s Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project (2019), “an emotionally compelling portrait” of an activist who taped television news feeds around the clock for thirty years. Williams finds that in all of Wolf’s work, “it’s the particular archives he pulls from, and what specifically Wolf gleans from those archives, that is so powerful.”

  • Fantamas, a series of on-screen hauntings Dennis Lim has programmed for this year’s Thessaloniki International Film Festival, is on through Monday, and Film Comment is running Lim’s marvelous accompanying essay. He opens with a few quotes from Jacques Derrida, Gilberto Perez, and Christian Petzold, who has said that “the ghost is the figure of cinema.” As it happens, TIFF is presenting a Petzold retrospective through November 28. “At his best,” writes Adam Nayman for the Toronto Star, “Petzold splits the difference between heady, essayistic insight and gritty pulp fiction. His clipped, precise style suggests a cold sort of mastery, but what really makes him a singular filmmaker is his refusal to sacrifice intellect for intrigue and vice versa.” “And I am a Hitchcockian, I must say,” Petzold tells Outskirts cofounding editor Christopher Small.

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