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The Future of the Past Is Bright

Loretta Young and Spencer Tracy in Frank Borzage’s Man’s Castle (1933)

It’s good to see the silent era having a little moment. To anyone looking for a tight primer on Clara Bow while listening to Taylor Swift’s The Tortured Poets Department, Pamela Hutchinson’s got you covered at Silent London.

The Cinémathèque française, in the meantime, with support from France’s National Center for Cinema and the Moving Image, has spent the past sixteen years scouring archives around the world and reconstructing the original version of Abel Gance’s Napoléon that premiered at the Paris Opera in 1927. The first part of the new restoration, running three hours and forty minutes, will open this year’s Cannes Classics program, and the full seven-hour reconstruction of the silent epic will screen at the Seine Musicale in Paris on July 4 and 5 with live accompaniment from 250 musicians. In 2016, Paul Cuff told the story of the film’s making and many revivals in a terrifically entertaining feature for Sight and Sound.

For the first time in its history, Cannes will present an honorary Palme d’Or to a company. Founded in 1985 by filmmakers Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata and producer Toshio Suzuki, Studio Ghibli is the one-of-a-kind animation studio behind such films as Grave of the Fireflies (1988) and Spirited Away (2001). Miyazaki has just been named one of this year’s Time 100, and in the magazine, Guillermo del Toro calls him “the single most influential animation director in the history of the medium, and one of my top ten favorite storytellers in any audiovisual medium.”

Stateside, Tribeca (June 5 through 16) has rolled out its features lineup, and Filmmaker’s Scott Macaulay has plucked out several titles that his readers—and ours—will want to know about. The Stranger’s Chase Hutchinson spotlights nine features in Seattle’s 261-film lineup (May 9 through 19, and then virtually from May 20 through 27). And at, Brian Tallerico has the full lineup for this year’s Chicago Critics Film Festival (May 3 through 9).

All week long, writers have been paying tribute to Eleanor Coppola, who passed away last Friday at the age of eighty-seven. She was, of course, primarily known to the public as the wife of Francis Ford Coppola and the mother of Roman and Sofia, but as Glenn Kenny writes in his remembrance at the Decider, “she kept her own counsel in terms of how ‘recognized’ she wanted to be.”

The footage Eleanor Coppola shot during the agonized making of Apocalypse Now (1979) is what makes George Hickenlooper and Fax Bahr’s Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991) one of the most riveting behind-the-scenes documentaries ever made, and she was remarkably forthcoming in her 1995 book, Notes: The Making of Apocalypse Now. She was also an artist; her installation Circle of Memory was created in the wake of the tragic death of her son, Gian-Carlo, who was killed in a boating accident when he was only twenty-two. Late in life, she directed two features, Paris Can Wait (2016) and Love Is Love Is Love (2020).

Last year, Deadline’s Joe Utichi asked Sofia Coppola about dedicating Priscilla to her mother. “I know that she struggled with having a creative life of her own,” Coppola said. “My mom is more of a quiet observer, which I think I’ve taken from her into my work. I think that comes through; that aspect of her personality, or what I’ve inherited from her. That side of myself is deeply connected to her.”

Barbara O. Jones, who appeared in Haile Gerima’s Bush Mama (1979) and Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust (1991), passed away on Tuesday at the age of eighty-two. She’d worked with both Gerima and Dash when they were students at UCLA during the early days of the movement that would come to be known as the LA Rebellion. “Also billed as Barbarao, Barbara-O, and BarbaraO during her career,” writes the Hollywood Reporter’s Mike Barnes, “Jones appeared alongside Muhammad Ali in the 1979 NBC miniseries Freedom Road. He played a former slave and Union soldier elected to the U.S. Senate, and she was his wife.”

This week’s highlights:

  • Through Wednesday, MoMA is presenting what curator Dave Kehr calls “the long unseen, powerfully pre-Code cut” of Frank Borzage’s Man’s Castle(1933), starring Spencer Tracy as a man who lives by one rule—never get tied down—and Loretta Young as the innocent young woman who threatens to become the exception. Borzage’s “direction is the art of indirection, something borne out by other films in the MoMA retrospective,” writes the New Yorker’s Richard Brody. “Such indirections—involving gender, family, sex, and love—are more than mere whimsy. They embody Borzage’s vision of a far more cosmic paradox: his films are mainly romances, but they’re caustic and melancholy, suffused with pain and speeding toward doom.” In the Notebook, Imogen Sara Smith writes that Borzage’s films “always cast their eyes heavenward with exalted sincerity; they offer no sop to modern irony or cynicism. No one should watch them who is not prepared to be enraptured.”

  • From today through May 2, New York’s Film Forum will present twenty-one films directed by Ken Loach, who, at eighty-seven, has recently looked back on his lauded career—two Palmes d’Or and three Jury Prizes in Cannes and lifetime achievement awards from both Venice and Berlin—with Frank Falisi (Film Stage), Alex Ritman (Variety), and Anne Thompson (IndieWire). “Age has doused neither the fire in his belly nor the moral astringency of his gaze, resulting in characters who never plead for sympathy,” writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. “Instead of whining, they fight.” Catsoulis seems particularly taken by Loach’s debut feature, Poor Cow (1968), noting that “a recent rewatch convinced me I had failed to fully appreciate both the loveliness of its color-soaked images and the radical feminism of its stance.”

  • “I like movies that challenge me,” David Fincher tells Joshua Rothkopf in the Los Angeles Times, “movies that make me go: Really? You want to get this close?” The TCM Classic Film Festival will host the world premiere of a newly remastered 8K Imax version of Se7en (1995) tonight. “I think you have to understand that the conceit of it was you are sold a thriller, but it really becomes a horror movie,” says Fincher. “And by that, I mean horror movies at their essence are about things that you can’t control. You can’t control Michael Myers, you can’t control Bruce the Shark, you can’t control Linda Blair. That was a really compelling and interesting puzzle box to work your way out of.”

  • Matt Zoller Seitz recommends Daniel Bessner’s cover story for the new issue of Harper’s, “The Life and Death of Hollywood,” as a “brilliant and possibly definitive article about how things became so awful.” The industry is currently going through “probably the deepest and most existential crisis it’s ever been in,” one “head of a midsize studio” told Bessner last summer—by which point, as Bessner puts it, “Hollywood had become a winner-takes-all economy.” The CEOs who run the conglomerates that own most of the studios and streamers are paying themselves exorbitant salaries to make decisions based on short-term quarterly earnings. “Profit will of course find a way,” writes Bessner, and “there will always be shit to watch. But without radical intervention, whether by the government or the workers, the industry will become unrecognizable.”

  • Whether by accident or design, the Guardian has run two pieces this week on dedicated cinephiles less concerned with the future of Hollywood than with mining the riches of more than 120 years of cinema history. Kyle MacNeill tours the few remaining video rental outlets in the UK and discovers communities of regulars who prize the overall vibe—there’s a photo of the shelves at Snips Movies in Bebington, Wirral, that’s just breathtaking—and the selections that no streamer can offer. And Steph Green reports that clubs screening celluloid prints are proliferating and thriving all across the UK. “I’ve always collected vinyl, so this was just a natural progression to a harder drug for me,” says Dominic Hicks, founder of the Nickel in London.

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