Thanks for the Use of the Hall - Archive

This archive contains posts from May 2007 to November 2008. More recent posts are at:

Name: Dan Sallitt
Location: New York, New York, United States

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Teuvo Tulio Retrospective: BAM, through November 24, 2008

On the basis of The Song of the Scarlet Flower (1938), which screened last night, I'm guessing that we should all pay close attention to the Teuvo Tulio retrospective, at BAM every Monday in November. In the film's first minutes, the Finnish director announces itself as a disciple of the Soviet school. using grand and heroic compositions, idealized lighting (the whole film seems to be shot on a beautiful sunny late afternoon), and a way of putting images together that is motivated more by poetic montage than by narrative momentum. The vague resemblance between Tulio's style and Boris Barnet's quickly gives way, though, to a distinctive directorial voice, marked by a solemn melodramatic conviction that inhabits and justifies the stylized grandeur of the imagery. And yet, though Tulio is able to invest love scenes with surprising intensity, and action scenes with a relaxed heroism, he has more on his mind than commercial excellence, and viewers may be surprised to find themselves lured into an ambitious art film that uses established conventions only to examine their ultimate implications.

I can't say I agree with J. Hoberman's position that Tulio is a "found object," not completely in command of his effects. Admittedly, there is something about the way the ellipses fall in Flower's narrative that is so unusual that we are free to wonder whether Tulio simply neglected to give us the obvious cues that his protagonist is a hopeless womanizer in need of correction. But those cues are the stuff of cliche - it's always better if a filmmaker can find a productive way to dodge them. And I think there's a lot of structural evidence in Flower that Tulio knew what he was doing when he started the movie like a love story, and then restarted it a few minutes later with a brand new and even more intense love story, and so on. I think it's fairly clear than he was orchestrating genre cues to guide us through a few surprises and confustions to an ultimately more complex destination. But the rest of the series may shed more light on the extent to which Tulio's art is conscious.

At the same time as the Tulio retro, there's a series of historic Finnish films screening over the next few weeks at Scandinavia House. For better or worse, the Scandinavia House series seems to reflect conventional wisdom about the highlights of Finland's cinema, and so at a minimum should provide a baseline with which to measure Tulio's audacity.

Labels: ,

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Assorted Screenings in NYC, November 2008

I haven't seen all the films I'm about to mention - this is just a general heads-up for the NYC film buff community about upcoming screenings.
  • In conjunction with its theatrical premiere of Un conte de Noël (A Christmas Tale), the IFC Center will feature a retrospective of Arnaud Desplechin's earlier work on November 5-13. The big attraction is the 2007 documentary L'Aimée, which hasn't played NYC yet: it screens on November 5 and 6 with Desplechin's wonderful and underacclaimed short feature La Vie des morts. Esther Kahn, which screens on November 12, should basically be seen every time it shows up in a theater. Here's a piece I wrote about Esther a while back; and here's an old blog entry on Comment je me suis disputé... (ma vie sexuelle), which screens on November 8 and 9.
  • Seems as if there are three to five underpublicized national film series playing NYC at any given moment. But the Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council (MIAAC) Film Festival, mostly at the Tribeca Cinemas and Museum of Arts and Design on November 5-9, looks a bit more daring than some. What jumps out at me are recent films by established directors Shyam Benegal, Ketan Mehta, and Adoor Gopalakrishnan, as well as an intriguing-looking Bengali art film called Shadows Formless, which premiered at Locarno last year.
  • BAM's increasingly essential New French Films series on November 12-16 contains a few can't-miss titles, including the latest film by Jacques Doillon, Le Premier venu (Just Anybody), on November 14. For me, Doillon ranks with Pialat, Breillat and Eustache among the great post-nouvelle vague French filmmakers, and I'm hopeful that he'll start to attract more attention soon, as many of his most acclaimed films have gone unscreened in the US. Also in this series is Mia Hansen-Løve's excellent Tout est pardonné (All is Forgiven), which I blogged about briefly a while ago.
  • Probably most of you know that Anthony Mann's Men in War is one of the best movies ever made, in which case I won't have to tell you that it's at MOMA on November 9 at 5 pm. It was interesting to read André Bazin's negative review of the film, reprinted in the current Cahiers du Cinema.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Good Dick: Sunshine Cinema, Now Playing

I met Marianna Palka at the Off Camera festival in Kraków, where both our movies were screening; but I didn't see her Good Dick until it opened in NYC on October 17 at the Sunshine Cinema. I told Marianna I'd write her with my reactions - but, instead of clicking the send button, I decided it would do no harm to post the email here.

Cześć, Marianna! (I miss Kraków in the worst way.) As promised, here are my reactions to Good Dick; sorry I didn't write earlier, but I imagine you've had enough business to attend to this week.

I enjoyed your film quite a bit. I appreciate films that move into sexual areas that we still find uncomfortable, and still relate the sex to our public, everyday selves. (I'm not talking about the abuse theme, which I think audiences actually know how to relate to; but rather the casual use of sex language and gesture in a mundane, non-eroticized context.) And I like the sense of mystery in the writing, the willingness to bring up material that is never developed, that points to a fuller world outside the world of the movie. One example I really liked is the brief argument about whether the boy is interested in the girl's money: it's resonant and could have been exploited further, but I like it better because it's shown as just one more defense mechanism. Likewise, it's cool that you don't return to the subject of the boy's past drug habits: most filmmakers couldn't have resisted.

I have one reservation about the film, which is more a question at this point than a hardened reservation. I felt as if there were two different emotional currents in the film, two different ways of orienting ourselves to the sexual subject matter. I actually liked both currents - there wasn't any point in the film where I wasn't enjoyably engaged - but I'm not sure whether the two currents work together smoothly.

One current is a contemplation of the mystery of the way sex expresses itself in the characters' personalities. This current easily lends itself to comedy, and in fact a lot of the pleasure that the film gives is in the comedy-tinged strangeness of your character's presentation: she seems so unknowable at times that we throw our hands up. One aspect of this current is that it easily generalizes to a view of the human condition in general: after a while we begin to see ways that we are like the character instead of different from her, and our comic reaction to her is connected to an acknowledgment that all sexual expression is mysterious and potentially disorienting. Another aspect of this current is that it is easy to turn the same light on Josh Ritter's character. His dogged persistence in trying to overcome the girl's extreme reluctance is so unusual that it seems a little pathological; and his love leads him to an unusually passive and subordinate sexual mindset (or perhaps is the result of such a mindset). And of course we note his junkie past, his homelessness, his dysfunctional secrecy among his group of friends. Your character is not the only damaged one in that relationship.

The other current is a therapeutic one, in which the character's sexual difficulties are seen as the result of trauma. The motion of the film in this current is the characters summoning the strength to confront their problems and arriving at a healthier (and presumably less sexually complicated) place. I found the scenes in the last part of the film quite moving: the big confrontation of your character with her father has an admirable compression that is the result of your using tiny details to suggest major emotional themes that could have taken up big chunks of another movie. And the lovers' reunion on Santa Monica Blvd., with its simplicity and lack of demonstration, gets its power, not from big emotionality, but simply from having no precedent in the couple's previous relations.

Still, I haven't recomciled the two currents completely. The pleasure I get from seeing the couple's sexual problems as representative of the human condition, and in a half-comic light, is hard for me to square with the pleasure in seeing those problems as an illness to be healed. And the therapeutic current also focuses pretty much entirely on your character, which left me with questions about whether the boy needed a bit of healing as well. Will he like the girl as much if she sheds some of her psychological symptoms?

I hope my admiration for your film comes across despite my having framed this discussion in terms of these questions. Have you ever seen Hitchcock's Marnie? It's the closest film I can think of to yours, in terms of theme and character structure.

Trzymaj się!
Dan Sallitt

Labels: ,

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Nights and Weekends: IFC Center, through October 16, 2008

The first think I noticed about Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig’s excellent Nights and Weekends is that the ups and downs of the central romantic relationship are presented to the viewer in a somewhat jumbled fashion, and certainly not in an order that illustrates the trajectory of the relationship. After an opening scene full of ambiguous signs – long-distance lovers Mattie (Gerwig) and James (Swanberg) pull each other’s clothes off just inside James’s doorway, but their sexual hunger is qualified by a dozen small practical difficulties that make the coupling anything but zipless – the lovers quickly devolve into a period of edgy quarrelling that acquires a threatening momentum, and then subside into gentleness and affection near the end of Mattie's visit.

I once compared Swanberg's style in Hannah Takes the Stairs to Pialat’s, and we see again in Nights and Weekends the same Pialat-like storytelling gaps and sense of entropy. But Swanberg/Gerwig are much more centered on characterization than Pialat, and the structural gaps in their films are largely generated by their concern with the problem of the actor. Pialat, less drawn to the inner life of his people, has to range more widely to find elements to disrupt the filmmaking process and create the illusion of randomness that both filmmakers arrive at.

By “the problem of the actor,” I refer to an intrinsic paradox in the filmmaking process that all filmmakers must confront in one way or another: films are planned to a greater or lesser extent, and tend to arrive at a state that was foreseen by the filmmaker; and yet actors characteristically conceive of their role in terms of open-ended exploration, and are hindered by having to arrive at a predetermined destination.

We tend not to think of films like Nights and Weekends as actor-centric, because they are part of a wider trend in independent filmmaking to make films with non-professional actors, and to create circumstances in which amateur performances can be effective. Nonetheless, I’m having trouble thinking of any other film where the reactions of the actors to each other are so much the substance of the fiction, where we can see so plainly the actors processing information that they have received from each other. To some extent at least, the unusual front-loading of Mattie and James’ relationship crisis seems to emanate from the actors, who for whatever reason have crisis on their minds and keep steering each other into treacherous waters. The sense of discontinuity in Swanberg/Gerwig’s films comes not only from actual elisions in the story (which are not particularly radical), but also from the way the peaks and valleys of the actors’ interaction fall across the elisions in unexpected ways.

Swanberg/Gerwig’s acting improvisation is striking in the extent to which it evokes intelligence rather than awkwardness. They seem to want to stand clear of a common strategy (used heavily by Andrew Bujalski, to choose a familiar point of comparison) in which the awkwardness of actors working without a script is intended to simulate awkwardness between the characters. Because the actors here are very intelligent people, and no doubt because of careful editing room choices as well, the improvised dialogue in Nights and Weekends creates an unusual sense of awareness and responsiveness between the characters. It’s a pleasure to see a contemporary movie where improvisation is a challenge to the filmmakers to create more complex characters, rather than a way to finesse the need for acting chops.

After the contrapuntal emotional rhythms of its first half, Nights and Weekends charts a more emotionally steady course in its second half, which jumps a year to show Mattie and James in post-relationship mode, making tentative connections again during an impromptu, casual reunion. Here the film courts danger by becoming much more emotionally direct, with Mattie wearing on her sleeve her sudden, powerful desire for sexual reunion. Still, I found the second half as compelling in its clarity as the first half was compelling in its contradictions. Gerwig the actress is up front and center here, and she is something of a phenomenon. I think that the naturalistic style of the mumblecore movies, and their well-known reliance on amateur performance, makes it difficult for us to grasp that one of the important actors of the moment has emerged from them. Certainly Gerwig’s expressiveness grows from the documentation of a real-life personality, which seems to combine charm and intelligence with a lurking darkness and solitude. But most great cinema acting is based on such documentation. Gerwig’s ability to jump to high levels of emotionality while rooting her performance in mundane detail makes me wonder what she would have been like in the hands of a director of revelation like Cukor or Bergman. Probably not that much different…

Perhaps the clear emotional vectors of the second half are a setup for the movie’s startling climax, which uses sex as a pathway back into the conflicts and contradictions of the unconscious mind. The discomfort of this messy but authentic sexual encounter hangs in the air, casting its shadow on the couple’s stark farewell scene (which gives a final, unexpected flip to the romantic balance of power), and following us out of the theater. Could it be that the ongoing sexual revolution in international cinema isn’t likely to be a source of pleasure to audiences? Here at last we have an American film that portrays sex without indirection or self-censorship, effortlessly connecting it back to our emotional lives, dodging the usual pitfalls of simplification and sentiment, and we don’t seem to know what to do with it.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Wackness: Village East, Now Playing

Jonathan Levine's The Wackness is really good - why aren't people talking about it more? Just for starters, the three sex scenes between Josh Peck and Olivia Thirlby are among the sharpest and most sensitive ever put on film. Levine has a unique sensibility: tough-talking, almost hard-boiled, yet so emotive that his characters flirt with disintegration. How many directors could make a teenage protagonist self-possessed enough to play scenes with armed drug-dealers, and still have him whimper with pleasure in the arms of his far more experienced girlfriend? Certainly Levine is the best American director of actors to come along in a while.

The film has been playing since July 3 and is now down to two screens in one theater, the Village East.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Of Time and the City: Village East, August 8 through 14, 2008

DocuWeek, at the Village East and IFC Center from Friday, August 8 through Thursday, August 14, qualifies a selection of the year’s documentaries for Academy Award consideration. Without meaning to slight the rest of this year’s roster, I can’t help but note that Terence Davies’ Of Time and the City, which premiered at Cannes to great acclaim, is making a surprise, low-profile appearance at DocuWeek. It screens frequently at the Village East during the festival – check the schedule for details.


Friday, July 25, 2008

The Exiles: IFC Center, Now Playing

Kent MacKenzie's 1961 The Exiles, a semifictional account of the lives of American Indians in the rundown Bunker Hill neighborhood of Los Angeles in the late 50s, is a beautiful film, and its beauty is not merely a matter of MacKenzie's admirable compositions or his meticulous documentation of a legendary locale that has been destroyed. The beauty of The Exiles is the product of the artist's sensibility, which values the wholeness of observation over the demands of spectacle or drama. It takes a dedicated artist to show both the tribal singing of the exiled Indians, with its appeal to nostalgia and our sense of community, and the drunken violence that is intrinsic to this group's communal gathering, and neither to oppose nor to align our responses to the two elements. Note also how MacKenzie keeps watch over the tough girl who is nearly raped by one of the protagonists, even after her dramatic utility is expended: the care with which he shows her readjusting her clothing in solitude, accepting a wrap from a suddenly sympathetic onlooker, huddling in an open-topped car to wait out the all-night event from which she has excluded herself.

One regrets the film's neglect of natural sound, but the independent filmmaking culture of the time did not place a high value on aural integrity; and at any rate MacKenzie could have only simulated this integrity, as his equipment and circumstances no doubt mitigated against good sync-sound recording. I was not as predisposed to forgive the equally unreal soundtrack of Shirley Clarke's The Cool World, a superficially similar project which I recently caught up with – but Clarke seems to me to labor after the clichés of conventional acting and dramaturgy that MacKenzie instinctively avoids.

The Exiles is now reduced to afternoon screenings at the IFC Center, but it will play again at BAM on Saturday, September 13 at 4:30 and 9:15 pm.

Labels: ,

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Stellet Licht: Quad, July 25 and 27, 2008

Unless you're more alert than me, you have no idea that the Quad is hosting a Hola Mexico Film Festival, and that Carlos Reygadas's remarkable Stellet Licht (Silent Light) is screening there on Friday, July 25 at 3 pm and Sunday, July 27 at 1 pm. Here are my unusually fragmentary observations on the film, from my Senses of Cinema 2007 Toronto wrapup:

"Mexican director Carlos Reygadas’ Stellet licht (Silent Light) is one of the acclaimed Cannes titles that has already received extensive coverage – and yet commentators have had difficulty finding a conceptual framework to integrate such hot-button aspects as its conspicuous borrowings from Dreyer's Ordet (1955), not to mention the seemingly self-sufficient virtuoso tableaux that begin and end the film. It's becoming increasingly clear that Reygadas skews more postmodernist than modernist, and perhaps his suggestions of a unified aesthetic enterprise (like the clock that is stopped early in the film and started again after the climax) are red herrings. The extraordinary physicality of his camera style, and his fascination with large-scale systems (natural, organic and mechanical), serve largely to defamiliarise the world; and his visuals can be seen as an attempt to remove camera movements and compositions from their traditional interpretive role, and to invest them with a weight and a physics that renders them autonomous."


Four from Robert Hamer: BAM, July 28 through 31, 2008

Robert Hamer needs to be rescued from relative obscurity and recognized as a major director. His career trails off into a series of half-realized works in the 50s, but even these later films are worth exploring; and in the postwar 40s he was one of the finest filmmakers in the world. BAM is hosting a four-film Hamer retrospective on July 28 through 31 – the best films in it are not that rare, and the rare films in it are perhaps not Hamer's best, but it's nice to see Hamer get any theater space. Beginners should start with the celebrated 1949 black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets on Tuesday, July 29, and the 1947 sociological drama It Always Rains on Sunday (which I wrote about earlier this year) on Thursday, July 31. The 1954 comedy-thriller Father Brown (aka The Detective), screening on Wednesday, July 30, is to my mind the best of Hamer's 50s films, a bit silly in conception but touched by that stoical gravity that Hamer comes by so naturally – and it manages to use the priest-as-detective format without making a travesty of religious principles. BAM necessarily skewed its programming to capitalize on Alec Guinness's stardom – perhaps someday soon we'll have the opportunity to see the rest of Hamer's work, including the 1949 masterpiece The Spider and the Fly.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Assorted Screenings in NYC, June-July 2008

There are a few interesting or rare items on the NYC film calendars in the next few weeks. I haven’t seen everything I’m about to mention, so consider this post a heads-up for the adventurous.

  • Japanese director Naomi Kawase, who hasn’t had many NYC screenings, is getting some attention from Japan Society via its Japan Cuts series. Her 2007 feature Mogari no mori (The Mourning Forest) screens there on Wednesday, July 2 at 6:30 pm and Monday, July 7 at 6:30 pm; on the same program is Kawase’s 2006 documentary Tarachime. In addition, Japan Society has scheduled two programs of Kawase’s earlier documentaries: the first program screens on Thursday, July 3 at 6:15 pm and Saturday, July 12 at 3:30 pm; the second screens on Thursday, July 3 at 8 pm and Saturday, July 12 at 5:30 pm. Mogari no mori is the Kawase feature I like the least – I’m more enthusiastic about Sharasojyu (Shara) (2003) and Moe no suzaku (Suzaku) (1998) – but her short films are very hard to see, and my guess is that the dividing line between her fiction and documentary work is fuzzy. There’s a paragraph about Mogari no mori in my 2007 Toronto piece for Senses of Cinema.
  • The Tatsuya Nakadai retro at Film Forum contains two titles that I’ve been planning my life around ever since I saw the schedule. The biggie is the great Mikio Naruse’s 1957 Arakure (Untamed), which has a very good reputation, and which I didn’t think I’d ever get to see with subtitles. The other title is somewhat less promising, but still a must: Shiro Toyoda’s 1969 Jigokuhen (Portrait of Hell). Toyoda, a major director who is particularly good with actors, seems to have a spotty track record in his later part of his career, and this subject matter doesn’t sound as if it’s up his alley. But he followed Jigokuhen with the wonderful Kokotsu no hito (The Twilight Years) (1973), so I have hope.
  • BAM is showing Jacques Nolot’s excellent Avant que j’oublie (Before I Forget) on Sunday, June 29 at 4:30 and 9:15 pm as part of its Directors’ Fortnight series. The film will then have its theatrical premiere at the IFC Center on July 18. See that 2007 Toronto wrapup for a brief review.
  • NYC film buffs no doubt already have their sights on John Ford’s underrated The Horse Soldiers, playing at the Walter Reade on Sunday, July 6 as part of a William Holden retrospective. But they might want to stick around for the other film playing that day, John Sturges’s Escape From Fort Bravo. If my memory serves, it’s a worthwhile Western with nice hard-edged 1.33:1 compositions. Sturges directed a few other good films in the 50s and 60s, but this is my favorite. It screens at 3:30 and 8 pm, and The Horse Soldiers at 1 and 5:30 pm.
  • I’m hoping to poke around a bit in the Walter Reade’s upcoming Slovenian film series: the former Yugoslav republics harbored a number of good filmmakers about whom we know little. The only film in the series that I can recommend in advance is Janez Berger’s 1999 V leru (Idle Running), a smart comedy about indolent bohemian youth. It screens on Sunday, July 20 at 6:45 pm and Monday, July 21 at 3:30 pm.


Friday, June 20, 2008

The Last Mistress: IFC Center, Starting June 27, 2008

Catherine Breillat's most recent movie, curiously titled The Last Mistress in English (its French title, Une vieille maîtresse, would probably be best translated as "an ex-mistress"), opens at the IFC Center on Friday, June 27. I think it's Breillat's best work since Fat Girl. Here's what I wrote about it for my 2007 Toronto piece in Senses of Cinema:

"Catherine Breillat’s Une vieille maîtresse was reasonably well-received at Cannes, but not well enough for my taste: typed as a niche provocatrice, Breillat is never granted centre stage in the world film arena, even with her critically successful projects. An adaptation of a 19th-century novel by Jules-Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly, Une vieille maîtresse steps back from the grandiloquent philosophising of Romance (1999) and Anatomie de l'enfer (2004) and picks up the more multivalent discourse of earlier Breillat films like Parfait amour! (1996) and 36 fillette (1988). Of course, Breillat would not choose source material that did not challenge our conception of what a period film is supposed to be. At times, the movie seems to be about the attempt of a disreputable playboy (Fu'ad Ait Aattou) to find love and respectability with a young bride (Roxane Mesquida) and her surprisingly sympathetic grandmother (Claude Sarraute); more substantially, it depicts the long-term, intimate but unstable relationship between the playboy and a temperamental Spanish courtesan (Asia Argento); and, in passing, it documents society’s effort to understand and assimilate these difficult citizens. Breillat changes narrative gears several times, forcing us to plunge into an uncomfortable intimacy with the characters after an emotionally distant first act, and then letting our hard-won identification die away in a final section whose bleak ellipses reminded me of Bresson’s Lancelot du Lac (1974). Wrestling with the iconography and the mores of two separated centuries, Breillat throws out unexpected character and social observations like a Roman candle. Her vision of cruelty and empathy operating hand in hand in human nature gives her enormous freedom to inflect dramatic conventions, and she passes back and forth with assurance across the invisible barrier that separates sexuality from the rest of our lives."


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Happiness: IFC Center, June 23 and 28, 2008

One of my favorite films at last year's Toronto Film Festival, Hur Jin-ho's Happiness, screens at the IFC Center on Monday, June 23 at 2 pm and Saturday, June 28 at 5:20 pm as part of this year's New York Asian Film Festival. In my Toronto wrapup for Senses of Cinema, I wrote:

"My favorite Toronto premiere was the South Korean film Happiness, a jump up in quality from the previous work of the talented Hur Jin-ho (Palwolui Christmas [Christmas in August, 1998]; Bomnaleun ganda [One Fine Spring Day, 2001]). The story, about the love between a barely recovered playboy alcoholic (Hwang Jeong-min) and a fellow clinic patient with an incurable lung disease (Lim Su-jeong), is tinged with the sentimentality favoured by Korean melodramas. After only a few minutes, however, it becomes clear that Hur has achieved a quiet virtuosity in the rhythm and alternation of scenes, playing intelligently with the balance of intimacy and solitude, hope and despair, self-preserving and self-destructive impulses. Scenes are connected with unemphatic jump cuts that often end the action before its expected point of rest. The narrative is fatalistic on the large scale, but individual moments play with our expectations of how the emotional payload will be delivered, finding not only a calm that is not native to melodrama, but also an existential anguish that exceeds the requirements of the tearjerker. Beneath the emotive surface of Happiness, its melodrama is inflected with stoical detachment, right up to the beautiful desolation of the final crane shot.

"Happiness is a particularly nice surprise after Hur’s last film Oechul [April Snow, 2005], which seemed to show him being absorbed by the mainstream."

I'm also looking forward to two as-yet-unseen films by the excellent Ryuichi Hiroki (Vibrator, It's Only Talk) at the Asian Film Festival. Love on Sunday screens on Thursday, June 26 at 1 pm and on Sunday, June 29 at 1 pm; Love on Sunday 2: Last Words screens on Sunday, June 29 at 3 pm and on Wednesday, July 2 at 12:30 pm. All screenings of the Hiroki films are at the IFC Center.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Possible Cancellation: Sait-on jamais....

As some of you know, Monday's screening of Vadim's Sait-on jamais... at MOMA was cancelled. The print was held up in customs and may or may not arrive in time for the Wednesday, June 18 screening; if it does, another screening will be added on Sunday, June 22 at 4 pm. Call the MOMA film box office (212 408 6663) to confirm the screenings.


Thursday, June 5, 2008

Late Hawks: Anthology Film Archives, June 4 through 15, 2008

Anthology Film Archives' much-anticipated Late Hawks series began yesterday, and continues through June 15. An article I wrote on the series is up at the new Moving Image Source site.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ballast: BAM, May 31, 2008

Lance Hammer’s American art film Ballast, which premiered at Sundance this year, gets a NYC theatrical release from IFC Films on August 29. But you can preview it this Saturday, August 31 at 9 pm when it screens in BAM’s Sundance series. A quiet fable of despair and salvation among the impoverished residents of the Mississippi Delta, Ballast is visually overwhelming from its first shot: the camera work is simple and direct, but the natural light of the overcast delta gives Hammer’s widescreen, horizon-line compositions a palpable realism. (Is conventional film lighting necessary at all? Seems to me that most of the really dazzling effects I see are the result of imperfections that point up the limitations of the photographic image.) The first movement of Ballast, jumping mysteriously between solid blocks of image and sound that allude to the story rather than narrate it, is sublime: a documentary stalked by a horror film, a subtle infusion of naturalism with the uncanny. If the film ultimately settles into a more conventional form of storytelling, it retains an exciting connection with the intractable personalities of its non-professional performers and the darkling barrenness of the terrain. The proof of Hammer’s artistic intuition is that he hinges the story’s climax on a magical event that only a committed realist could get away with; the proof of his artistic commitment is that he lets the film’s bleak setting and ominous imagery have their way with the potentially heartwarming ending.

Labels: ,

Monday, May 26, 2008

Late Marriage: Walter Reade, May 28 and 31, 2008

Dover Koshashvili's remarkable 2001 debut has, I believe, not had a NYC screening since its 2002 theatrical run, and is in some danger of being forgotten. The story, about the fierce resistance that an Georgian family in Israel puts up when its son (Lior Ashkenazi) falls in love with an Israeli divorcee (Ronit Elkabetz), primes the audience for a Romeo-and-Juliet-style, love-conquers-all drama. Instead of triumph or tears, however, we get a grueling analysis of the mechanics of social pressure, which thrives on the divided feelings of its targets, and which seems even more formidable here because of its psychological fluidity. Koshashvili stages the film in five or six large set pieces, played out in continuous time and space, but with large gaps in between. The structure made me think of Dreyer's Gertrud - and once that association was in my head, I also picked up more than a hint of Dreyer's quiet implacability in the way that Koshashvili observes the emotionally charged situation without endorsement, as if there were no point in rooting or protesting. Late Marriage screens twice in the Walter Reade's Israel at 60 series: on Wednesday, May 28 at 4:15 pm, and Saturday, May 31 at 9:20 pm.

If you don't have a 9-to-5 job, you should also pay a visit to Keren Yedaya's daringly stylized 2004 Or (My Treasure), screening Monday, June 2 at 4:15 pm and Wednesday, June 4 at 4:30 pm. To my mind, these are the two finest films that Israel has produced.


Saturday, May 24, 2008

The First Legion: Walter Reade, May 26 and 27, 2008

The First Legion is the high point of the driest period of Douglas Sirk's career, the stretch between his adventurous independent American films of the 40s and the full-bodied Universal melodramas upon which his reputation stands today. Transitioning between Columbia and Universal in the early 50s, and stuck with a series of unpromising projects at both studios, Sirk went indie one last time to film Emmet Lavery's script (based on Lavery's own play) about the wave of enthusiasm that sweeps a monastery after an alleged miracle. Starting to move away from the distanced compositions and deliberate pacing of his 40s work, Sirk hints at the visual style that would flourish in his late films, deploying his actors as destabilizing foreground masses against the well-observed background of monastic life. The First Legion even culminates in one of the feverish plot twists that Sirk had to learn to master in order to ascend to power at Universal - but at this point in his career, for better or worse, he is still unwilling to abandon restraint and intelligence in the pursuit of melodrama. Almost never screened, the film plays twice in the Walter Reade's Charles Boyer series: on Monday, May 26 at 2 pm and Tuesday, May 27 at 4:40 pm.

(I'm presuming that most readers of this blog don't need to be hipped to the glories of Frank Borzage's History Is Made at Night and Ernst Lubitsch's Cluny Brown, which are also screening in the Boyer series.)


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Tracey Fragments: Village East, starting Friday, May 9, 2008

I already blogged slightly about Bruce McDonald's The Tracey Fragments. Anticipating its limited theatrical release in NYC on May 9, I blogged about it in more detail at The Auteurs' Notebook.

Labels: ,

Friday, May 2, 2008

Breakfast of Champions: Anthology Film Archives, May 3, 6, and 8, 2008

Alan Rudolph’s little-seen 1999 adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel received what might be charitably called mixed reviews. Rudolph has always been attracted to the grotesque, and here he dedicates himself to that principle without reserve, stylizing all his performers - Bruce Willis as a suicidal small-town used-car dealer, Nick Nolte as his cross-dressing boss, Albert Finney as writer/philosopher/bum Kilgore Trout - to the brink of parody. It seems like a formula for disaster, but Rudolph has a talent for keeping his eye on the serious emotions latent in absurd situations. And here he seemed more immersed in his material than he had in years, more willing to stand behind the curtain and let his clownish characters stumble toward their epiphanies under their own steam.

Breakfast was originally a Robert Altman project: Rudolph adapted it for him in the 70s, writing the script in eight days between drafts of Buffalo Bill and the Indians. After the Altman film fell through, the script was Rudolph’s dream project for years, and was finally realized thanks to Willis’ patronage, and presumably also to the success of Rudolph’s previous film, 1998’s Afterglow. (Willis does not get enough credit for the many eccentric projects to which he lent his bankable name.)

It screens at Anthology Film Archives as part of a series programmed by French critic/filmmaker Luc Moullet: on Saturday, May 3 at 9 pm; Tuesday, May 6 at 7 pm; and Thursday, May 8 at 9 pm. It’s hard to imagine the film ever finding too large an audience, but maybe it’s inching its way toward cult status.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Charly: Tribeca, April 27 and May 1 and 3, 2008

After her debut Demi-tarif, and even after the first 30 minutes of her second feature Charly, it wasn't clear to me that Isild Le Besco was going to find a way to integrate the sensual immediacy of her film style into a larger structure. But I think everything is going to be all right with her. As the film's young, enigmatic protagonist (Kolia Litscher) is adopted by the eponymous trailer prostitute (the excellent Julie-Marie Parmentier), Le Besco's fanciful, free-floating universe is invaded by psychology and fairy tale at the same time. To watch the semi-literate boy and his OCD-afflicted hostess get excited about an impromptu reading of Wedekind's Spring Awakening is to realize how many layers of meaning Le Besco has been sneaking in while we were listening to the tiny shocks of ambience change on each cut. After three days and nights, the trailer idyll culminates in a startlingly beautiful sex scene and the emergence of the boy protagonist as the author of his own fiction. Charly screens three more times at Tribeca: on Sunday, April 27 at 9:45 pm at the 19th St. East; on Thursday, May 1 at 10:15 pm at the Village East; and on Saturday, May 3 at 5:30 pm at the Village VII.

Labels: ,

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Paper Will Be Blue: Walter Reade, April 21, 2008

If you haven't made plans yet for tomorrow (and if you're not headed to BAM to see Tomu Uchida's rare and well-regarded Twilight Saloon), I recommend Radu Muntean's The Paper Will Be Blue, screening in the Walter Reade's Romanian film series at 6 pm on Monday, April 21. A 2006 Locarno premiere, Paper shares a subject - the Romanian people's moral confusion as the Ceauşescu regime teetered in December 1989 - with Corneliu Porumboiu's 12:08 East of Bucharest, but is closer in style and attitude to Cristi Puiu's superb The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. (Paper and Lazarescu share a writer, Razvan Radulescu, whom I'll be looking out for from now on.) Like Lazarescu, Paper racks up sharp observations of a large number of characters in a shifting geography, but does not use many closeups or focus on individual character development. After a stunning opening that shows off Muntean's skill in deploying the signifiers of documentary, the film perhaps takes on a bit of a static quality, not quite attaining the subterranean mythological development that Lazarescu's subject matter provides. But the film never loses its intelligence and its balance between satire and sympathy. Maybe there really is a new Romanian film movement after all....

Labels: ,

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Jean Eustache's Circle: French Institute, April 1-29, 2008

The French Institute, they of the horribly wrinkled screen, has sprung an impressive little retrospective on us with very little notice. Tuesdays in April will be devoted to Jean Eustache's Circle, with films by Eustache and other culturally related filmmakers. Most readers will probably be familiar with Eustache's devastating La Maman et la Putain (April 29 at 12:30 and 7 pm), which is not so rare these days that you have to watch it on that funhouse screen. But all five of the Eustache programs are excellent, though no two of them resemble each other enough for you to be able to predict what's coming next. I'm hoping that the French Institute's website is right about the documentary Le Cochon (April 22 at 4 and 9 pm) having English subtitles, as I don't believe it's ever screened here with translation - I have a feeling that we're going to get the unsubbed print, though. The non-Eustache selections are just as noteworthy: the best is probably Pialat's great L'enfance nue (April 15 at 12:30 and 7 pm), but the scarcest is Jacques Rozier's obscure Du côté d’Orouët (April 1 at 12:30 pm only).


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Les Yeux sans visage: Anthology Film Archives, Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I wrote a short piece on Georges Franju's Les Yeux sans visage for the Auteurs' Notebook. (The piece contains serious spoilers.) Les Yeux screens once more at Anthology Film Archives on Wednesday, March 19 at 7 pm.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Tracey Fragments: MOMA, March 14 and 18, 2008

Bruce McDonald's amazing The Tracey Fragments, which is slated for U. S. distribution by ThinkFilm on May 9, is screening at MOMA (on Friday at 6:15 pm and Tuesday at 7:30 pm) as part of its Canadian Front series. Here's what I wrote about the film for my Toronto 2007 wrapup at Senses of Cinema:

"Meanwhile, in Berlin’s Panorama section, Canadian director Bruce McDonald reinvented the cinema with his remarkable The Tracey Fragments, adapted by Maureen Medved from her stream-of-consciousness novel about a 15-year-old Winnipeg girl (Ellen Page) suffering dramatically from the slings and arrows of adolescence. McDonald undertakes to break the screen into an array of panels, of ever-changing quantity and attributes, each containing an independent image. Whether McDonald has created an entirely new art form or an N-dimensional version of an old one, it’s immediately clear that every law of the cinema is rewritten in this universe, and that even the most arid and academic forms of montage are transformed into infinitely flexible instruments. Knowing that he’s discovered the philosopher’s stone, McDonald tirelessly generates new formal prototypes every few seconds, and leaves us at film’s end with the sense that he could have kept going forever. What makes Tracey more than an impressive demo is its unity of form and feeling, the sense that its screen may have been shattered by its young protagonist’s hormonal violence, McDonald’s wild-eyed punkish sense of drama, and Medved’s vivid dialogue (“He touched me, he stuck his cock in me, and he said I love you, in that – exact – order!”). Old-school viewers may have a tough time adjusting to Tracey’s fragmentation, but even they might appreciate McDonald’s surprising compositional grace, which culminates in a beautiful, melancholy riverside tracking shot under the end credits."

I wouldn't be surprised if it were difficult to get into the MOMA screenings, given Page's well-deserved popularity in the wake of Juno. I hope to blog more extensively about Tracey soon.


Georges Franju: Anthology Film Archives, March 14-20, 2008

Starting this Friday, Anthology Film Archives will devote a week to French director Georges Franju, screening four of his features and a program of short works. Here's a scan of an L. A. Reader article (pages one and two) that I wrote on the occasion of a similar Franju retrospective in 1983.


Monday, March 10, 2008

It Always Rains on Sunday: Film Forum, through March 13, 2008

British director Robert Hamer is known here primarily for Kind Hearts and Coronets and the mirror episode of Dead of Night. He has only a few other major films to his credit, all clustered in the five years after World War II. Yet those few films are enough to mark him as a master. 1947's It Always Rains on Sunday is an unusual outing for Hamer, dense in social observation, crowded with urban debris that partly conceals his wonderful eye for stark, contained compositions. Hamer and his co-writers (Henry Cornelius and Angus MacPhail, adapting a novel by Arthur La Bern) set out to recreate the sociology of post-war London's East End, with the underworld shading imperceptibly into the put-upon working poor, women struggling with the slow-dawning prospect of economic independence, the Jewish community struggling in various ways for a foothold. Remarkably, the personal story in the foreground - a hard, pragmatic step-mother (Googie Withers) risks her family and security to shelter an escaped convict and ex-lover (John McCallum) - grows organically out of the film's sociological concerns, illuminating rather than distracting from them. Hamer is as confident in his regulation of a broad range of human activity as he is with static, lucid imagery: the solemnity and stoicism of his world view brings a quiet dignity, almost a heroism, to the humblest subject matter. It Always Rains on Sunday plays for a few more days at Film Forum.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Film Comment Selects: Walter Reade, February 14-28, 2008

A few of the films I most enjoyed at last year's Toronto Film Festival will screen in February at the Walter Reade's annual Film Comment Selects series, always one of the high points of the filmgoing year in NYC. I recommend:
  • Andrei Zyvagintsev's The Banishment, screening February 18 at 6 pm, February 20 at 3 pm, and February 25 at 2 pm
  • Jacques Nolot's Before I Forget (Avant que j'oublie), screening February 17 at 6:45 pm and February 21 at 3:15 pm (and picked up for theatrical distribution by Strand Releasing)
  • Nanouk Leopold's Wolfsbergen, screening February 16 at 5:30 pm, February 18 at 4 pm, and February 20 at 1 pm

If you poke around in my Senses of Cinema Toronto wrapup, you can find my comments on each of these films, as well as on Jacques Rivette's The Duchess of Langeais (Ne touchez pas la hache) and George Romero's Diary of the Dead, which are also screening.

Film Comment Selects also includes Richard Fleischer's admirable Mandingo (February 23 at 2 pm), a daring experiment in inverting audience identification; and Fleischer's rare 10 Rillington Place (February 21 at 1 pm and February 24 at 1:30 pm), which I've never seen.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Une Vie: French Institute, February 12, 2008

I wish the Alliance Française would fix the horrible wrinkle in their screen, so I could recommend films there with a clear conscience. But Alexandre Astruc's 1958 Une Vie doesn't come around every day, and it screens at the Florence Gould Hall on Tuesday, February 12 at 12:30, 4 and 7:30 pm. A surprisingly classical gesture from a filmmaker and writer who was associated with experiment and innovation, Une Vie is an adaptation of a de Maupassant story about a young woman (Maria Schell) trapped in a troubled marriage. Today's film buffs are probably more familar with the Cahiers critics' praise for the film than with the film itself; I like it a lot but haven't seen it in decades, and so will defer discussion.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Still Life: IFC Center, Now Playing

Jia Zhang Ke's excellent Still Life has received a lot of appreciative and thoughtful commentary since it opened at the IFC Center on January 18. I have just a few thoughts to add to the ongoing discourse.

1. Zach Campbell's fine blog entry zeroes in on an important question about Jia: what is he making films about? Is he telling stories about people, or about social and political change? I think it's fair to say that Still Life wouldn't have the necessary dramatic focus to succeed as a character drama if the social context were diminished; likewise, its texture of small observations about the social changes wrought by the Three Gorges Dam doesn't have enough direction to give the film its organization. And yet neither of these aspects is given short shrift: Jia cares about both the human stories and the social document enough to give the film a pleasing shape from either angle. I agree with Zach's suggestion that the film can be fully appreciated only as a form of play or tension between the kind of storytelling associated with stories about individuals, and the kind of film form associated with social observation.

2. One important fact about Jia that I don't believe has been discussed too much: he's really quite the entertainer. Unlike some of today's leading art-film lights, he doesn't ask the audience to dip into its reserves of patience or endurance: he wants everyone to have a good time. For instance:

a. He likes comedy, even routines, even tired old ones. Example: the deadpan timing of Sanming using his switchblade to turn the tables on the bully trying to shake him down for money. Or: the way that Sanming's brother-in-law's entourage enters the frame during the first boat scene: one at a time, each one eating noodles. Or: the resort to formula in establishing a comic-relief character by means of his Chow Yun-Fat imitation, then establishing the character's connection with Sanming via the shtick of their calling each other's cell phones to hear their ringtones. Or: the time-honored play of reprising that cell-phone shtick later in a serious context. Or: the amusing bit with the fan that turns left and right to cover the entire room, but refuses to spin. Or: Sanming's brother-in-law interrupting a conversation with repeated attempts to light a cigarette, eventually prompting Sanming to light it for him.

b. He peppers the film with manifestations of the uncanny. Some of these are so unreal that they stick out: the modernist building that becomes a rocket ship, the UFO over the water, the tightrope walker. Some are more plausible but still a surprise: the wall that falls over in the background as Sanming wanders Fengsie; later, the larger-scale shot of a demolished building collapsing in the cityscape behind the reunited husband and wife; the circuit board shorting out as Hong Shen bandages the injured worker; the costumed opera performers sitting in the corner of a room for no obvious reason. At least one uncanny effect is fully set up, but still stuns with its magnitude: the bridge that illuminates upon command, because a boss wants to entertain partygoers.

c. He has an overall sense of showmanship. An angry-looking boy puncuates a scene by entering a room, lighting up a cigarette, then leaving. Prostitutes make a dramatic, staggered appearance on a patio when summoned by a madam. Hong Shen uses a hammer to shatter a lock gracefully, with the aid of an elliptical action cut that opens the locked cabinet like magic.

d. Without meaning to undercut the gravity of Jia's social concerns, I think it's fair to include the film's many specific social observations as a category of entertainment. Jia uses the social commentary in a structural way, to give a little punch to scenes that would otherwise depict the wanderings of the characters in a languid, Antonioniesque manner. Each random encounter is introduced via one of the many social or economic consequences of the Three Gorges project: companies going bankrupt, demolition work, an endless supply of injured workers and displaced persons. It is perhaps easier to observe how Jia uses the social fallout of Three Gorges to organize the narrative than it is to determine what political position he might hold. In any case, there is no clear place to draw a line between the film's personal and social concerns: not only are the personal stories built around topical material, but the film also integrates social observation into its system of meting out pleasure to the viewer.

3. The sheer beauty of Jia's visual style tends to overwhelm me. On my second viewing of Still Life, I was struck by how much Jia relied on a single visual motif, which you can see several times in the illustrations for Chris Bourne's blog entry. This signature composition features a lead character in the foreground, usually from the waist or the knees up, usually from a slightly depressed angle; the water in the Three Gorges valley in the near background; and mountains or buildings on the other side of the valley rearing up to fill most of the top of the frame. Jia uses long lenses routinely, which has the effect of making the background larger and more present. This shot, which surely occurs twenty times in the film, maybe more, is typical of the way Jia generally composes one-shots; here, however, he weds his visual predispositions to the characteristics of his location with a fixity that I find unusual. Every quality of this shot, from its serenity to its sense of spectacle to its shared emphasis on foreground and background, seems to apply to Jia's art in general. But, more than just a mission statement, the shot is invoked in an almost ritualistic way, and this sense of visual ritual (which recalls the repetitive quality of the theme park imagery in The World - I don't feel a big transition from the artifice of that film's environment to the natural settings of Still Life, as Daniel Kasman does) is itself part of the experience that Jia offers.

Jia has another compositional tendency that one sees in all his films: a desire to unbalance the composition of two-shots, with one character a little closer to the camera than the other, and more massive in the frame. These shots are also usually from the waist or knees up, and have a contained quality, with both characters surrounded by a bit of space and creating a modest but distinct diagonality. The composition has a bit of 50s Ray-Sirk excitement about it, and isn't exactly in keeping with the spirit of today's art film, which often favors symmetrical compositions with minimal dramatic charge. Apart from the great beauty of these shots, their dynamism and diagonality is a call-out to a classical entertainment tradition that isn't so common on the world cinema scene at the moment.

4. The narrative structure of Still Life is amusingly reflexive, when you think about it. The first movement of the film is devoted to Sanming's story, and culminates with his decision to wait in Fengsie for his wife's boat to return, rather than pursue her. While Sanming is waiting, Jia has time to squeeze in Hong Shen's story, which runs its course between the 42 and 79-minute marks. Then he picks up Sanming again as his long wait comes to an end. So Jia evokes the passage of time without making the audience wait along with his patient protagonist.

Labels: ,

Monday, January 14, 2008

Cancellation: In the Meantime, Darling

Heads up: In the Meantime, Darling, by far the best of the early Preminger films playing today (January 14) at Film Forum, has been cancelled, and the showtimes of the other two films have been changed.


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Ford at Fox: Museum of the Moving Image, January 12 to February 24, 2008

I didn't spot the schedule for the Museum of the Moving Image's Ford at Fox series until the last minute. Some of Ford's most successful 30s work is coming up this weekend and next: I particularly like 1933's Pilgrimage, playing on Sunday, January 13 at 5 pm and Saturday, January 19 at 2:30 pm; and 1932's Air Mail, playing Sunday, January 20 at 2:30 pm. If your prejudice against Shirley Temple doesn't run too deep, you may also be pleasantly surprised by 1936's Wee Willie Winkie, screening Saturday, February 2 at 2:30 pm. Among the later, better-known work, I'd draw attention to the wonderful 1939 Drums Along the Mohawk, which I think is still slightly underrated - it screens Sunday, February 3 at 2:30 pm.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Otto Preminger: Film Forum, January 2-17, 2007

Film Forum is kicking off 2008 with a far-from-complete but nonetheless welcome retrospective of the formidable Otto Preminger, one of the most distinctive sensibiities in the history of American cinema. Just in case anyone out there is looking for guidance, here are my two cents about which titles in the series are required viewing.

Preminger's career breaks down roughly into five parts.
  • Pre-Auteur, 1931-1944. Preminger's work before Laura has traditionally been ignored by film scholarship. Film Forum is showing three of the early films, all on January 14. In the Meantime, Darling is by far the best of the bunch - but if you're hardcore you're probably seeing the whole triple bill, and if you're not you can probably skip the early work altogether.
  • Fox Film Noir, 1944-1951. Laura made Preminger a name and ushered in his first major period, dominated by atmospheric chamber melodramas. If you see only one of these, make it the superb Daisy Kenyon, as good a film as Preminger or anyone else ever made. It screens with Laura (which never meant that much to me, for some reason) on January 2 and 3. My second choice would be the strikingly abstract Fallen Angel, screening on January 6.
  • Adjusting to Independence, 1952-1957. This grab-bag period sees Preminger experimenting with different genres, exploring widescreen, and generally taking the measure of the shifts in style that were occasioned by the advent of television and the adoption of new codes of realism. The must-see here is Angel Face, screening with Fallen Angel on January 6, and probably the best textbook from which to study the essentials of Premingerian style.
  • Big Subjects, 1958-1967. Preminger grabbed the public's attention, as producer and director, with a series of well-publicized, large-scale projects, often literary adaptations, often pegged to important social issues. I most recommend Anatomy of a Murder, the archetype for Preminger's Big Subject films, screening on January 4 and 5; and the Beltway epic Advise and Consent, screening on January 12.
  • Coping with New Hollywood, 1968-1979. Most people think that Preminger's last decade of work isn't his best - and Film Forum isn't showing any of these movies anyway.

I like other films in the series, but let's leave it at that for the sake of brevity. The Daisy link above contains some of my thoughts about Preminger, and here's a little something I wrote on a_film_by about Preminger's attitude toward characters.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Scarface: MOMA, December 16, 2007

It's always been hard for me to have an informal relationship with Scarface, because its legend looms so large in my filmgoing life. (I am talking about the original 1932 version. I will never get used to having to make that clear, just as some religious people probably bristle to think that "Madonna" might no longer mean the Virgin Mary to everyone.) When I began reading film literature, commentators often cited it as the greatest work of Howard Hawks, who has always seemed to me the greatest director in cinema history. (These days, I believe that it's more common for critics to give honors to other Hawks movies - Rio Bravo especially.) It was unavailable for screening for decades, like other films owned by Howard Hughes, and could be seen only at clandestine 16mm screenings until the 80s. And, once seen and assimilated into the canon, it became a touchstone, a key test case for what might be termed moralistic criticism. Every time I wonder whether a movie is getting too much pleasure from the exercise of power or violence, my thought process makes an obligatory stop: "But what about Scarface? What does this movie do that Scarface doesn't do?"

All Hawks' films work off of a genre background that creates expectations about how formally, how quickly, how emphatically scenes will play. And then the execution happens more casually and rapidly than expected, creating an illusion of realism, and releasing energy. Depending on the genre, different aspects of Hawks movies can become part of the genre background; and in Scarface I have the feeling that whole chunks of the movie, even scenes with important characters, exist primarily to establish its genre credentials. Despite an amusing reflexive bit in the first shot - in which a janitor bats impatiently at the elaborate Sternberg-like decor, trying to clear the set for Hawksian use - Scarface doesn't truly announce its Hawksian intentions until the violence starts flowing freely. But then the film knocks us back in our seats: not with especially graphic violence, but with the speed and frequency of the mayhem, and also with the directness of its presentation of such frightening material.

The exhilarating effect is hard to deny. What does Hawks do to prevent our celebrating the violence? I'm not really sure that he does anything. Certainly he does not spare us Tony Camonte's cruelty, or hide his crudeness and unattractive qualities. Neither is he much interested in condemning him, despite the studio's many distracting attempts to placate the Hays Office by inserting socially responsible commentary. One feels that Camonte interests Hawks the most as a character in the scenes where he plays parent and teacher to his team of hoodlums, revealing a childlike nature that is comically inadequate to grasping moral issues, and that makes him, if anything, more sympathetic to the audience.

One notes that the thrill of the violence doesn't prevent the film from making an honest account of human suffering. For instance, there is no sense of reversal or contradiction when a brutal shooting scene ends with a barrel of beer rolling into a basement apartment and presumably killing one of its offscreen inhabitants (we hear the wailing of a woman as the scene ends). In general, it doesn't seem that we need to identify with Camonte or his men to appreciate the violent scenes: in fact, the audience probably wouldn't mind much if one of our monster/protagonists met his end amid the sensory overload.

But the joy of combat is represented as well as its human cost. The most exciting and perfectly realized scene in the film, in which Camonte and his minion Rinaldo score a machine gun from the gang who is attacking the restaurant in which they are eating, is very similar in tone to the final shootout with the Burdett gang at the end of Rio Bravo - our excitement at the onscreen violence is intentionally conflated with Camonte and Rinaldo's adrenaline rush from being under fire. The fact that the protagonists are lawmen in Rio Bravo and ruthless gangsters in Scarface does not seem to be a key factor.

The conclusion I draw is that Scarface gets away with giving us enormous pleasure from unspeakable actions because it promotes in us a sense of intellectual and emotional mobility. It does not have to romanticize violence or violent people to get its effects; it does not have to create a narrative that denies us one perspective or another on the violence. In this context, our thrilled response to killing registers simply, a fact among other facts.

You probably won't read this in time, but Scarface screens again at MOMA on Sunday (tomorrow), December 16 at 2 pm.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, December 13, 2007

La Soledad: Walter Reade, December 13 and 14, 2007

In my previous post on the Walter Reade's Spanish Cinema Now series, I mentioned Jaime Rosales's La Soledad (Solitary Fragments). Turns out I liked it quite a lot: it's playing again this afternoon at 3 pm, and tomorrow (Friday, December 14) at 9:15 pm. In the comments section for the Spanish Cinema Now post, Spanish critic Miguel Marias and I have been talking more about Rosales (who is not one of Miguel's favorites). Along the way, that same comments section wanders into discussion of neo-Bressonianism, depictions of unpleasant family life, and silent movie accompaniment....


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Spanish Cinema Now: Walter Reade, December 7-27, 2007

I haven't seen any of the films in the Walter Reade's upcoming Spanish Cinema Now series (none of the new films, anyway - I saw Pilar Miró's The Cuenca Crime long ago, and wrote a short review at the time), but I thought I'd share my pre-fest notes.

  • The item I'm most anticipating is Jaime Rosales' La Soledad (Solitary Fragments), which screened in Cannes' Un Certain Regard section this year. Rosales made an impressive debut in 2003 with La Horas del dia (The Hours of the Day), a deadpan account of a Barcelona shopkeeper whose occasional murders seem unmotivated.
  • Iciar Bollain (the teenage actress in Erice's El Sur), whose film Mataharis is screening, did a very nice, character-driven drama in 1999, Flores de otro mundo (Flowers from Another World). Her 2003 followup, Te doy mis ojos (Take My Eyes), disappointed me, but I'm still keeping tabs on her.
  • Among the unknown quantities, Miguel Hermoso's Lola, la pelicula looks like a totally unpromising biopic of a famous flamenco dancer - except that the trailer reveals a really cool, old-fashioned widescreen compositional style, and even a nice action moment. I'm very curious.
  • Santi Amodeo's Cabeza de perro (Doghead) has a more interesting subject, but the trailer has a flashier, more suspect visual style. I'm rooting harder for Lola, la pelicula, but this looks like the most interesting of the series' unknown art films.


Friday, November 30, 2007

Romanian Film Festival: Tribeca Cinemas, through December 2, 2007

This is the second year that the Romanian Cultural Institute has sponsored a Romanian film festival at the Tribeca Cinemas, and both times I didn't find out about it until it was right on top of me. So maybe you don't know about it either.

There's a very juicy item in this program: Lucian Pintilie's first feature Reconstruction (or Reenactment) (1968), screening Sunday at 7:30 pm. I've never had an opportunity to see any of Pintilie's work before The Oak (1992) - and actually there wasn't that much work from him before that, as he sat out most of the Ceaucescu regime in Paris. I consider Pintilie a major dude - I'm an especially big fan of his An Unforgettable Summer (1994) - and I'll be there Sunday night with bells on.

If you're feeling adventurous, you might also check out Mircea Daneliuc's Jacob (1988) on Saturday at 12:30 pm. Daneliuc has talent, but I'm not sure yet how much: I rather liked his Mike Test (1980), was less excited about The Conjugal Bed (1993).

We've already missed the festival screening of Cristian Mungiu's Palme d'Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, but IFC has picked that up for American theatrical distribution. However, the program includes Mungiu's previous feature Occident (2002), screening on Sunday at 1 pm, and a collection of his short films, screening on Friday at 6 pm and Saturday at 8 pm. I had both good and bad feelings about 4 Months, but I'm curious to learn more about the guy.

The festival is also an opportunity to catch the late Cristian Nemescu's California Dreamin', which won the Un Certain Regard award at Cannes this year, on Friday at 8 pm and Saturday at 3 pm. The festival is screening the "Endless" (a mistranslation of "unfinished") 155-minute version, with Nemescu did not live to finish editing; word on the street is that the film will eventually circulate in a version shortened by Nemescu's collaborators, but purists may want to grab this opportunity. Here's what I wrote about the film in my Toronto wrapup at Senses of Cinema:

"Twenty nine-year-old Romanian director Cristian Nemescu was killed in a car accident during the editing of his feature debut California Dreamin'. His post-production team finished his rough cut, titled California Dreamin' (Nesfarsit), and screened it at Cannes, where it won the Un Certain Regard award. An ambitious farce about an American captain (Armand Assante) and his troops stranded in a small Romanian town by a stubborn, corrupt railway chief (Razvan Vasilescu) during the Kosovo conflict, Dreamin’ is practically an homage to Billy Wilder’s sprawling comedies, with the bewildered Americans at the mercy of the Romanians’ criss-crossing objectives, including the political maneuvering of the mayor (Ion Sapdaru) and the romantic schemes of the railway chief’s daughter (Maria Dinulescu). Nemescu and his co-writers Catherine Linstrum and Tudor Voican successfully mimic Wilder’s flair for topical reference and his vision of a world driven by self-interest. And, truth be told, Nemescu’s filmmaking skills are considerably more supple than Wilder’s: he’s a confident action director, has a great eye, handles erotic scenes with enthusiasm and, above all, has an instinct for how to use naturalism as a counterbalance to farce. Dreamin’ should have been, and probably would have been, much shorter than 155 minutes: as it stands, it assembles so much digressive material that the story’s momentum is weakened. While less than a complete success, the existing cut is an amazing calling card for a director who might have been more than a footnote to film history had he lived a few more months."


Monday, November 19, 2007

Humphrey Jennings: Anthology Film Archives, November 23-25

For those who are spending a lonely Thanksgiving in New York (I don't mean to presume that all of us film buffs are socially damaged; perhaps you are simply getting away from your extremely close-knit families for a few hours), think about seeing some of the Humphrey Jennings documentaries that Anthology Film Archives has programmed this Friday through Sunday. Jennings's best films - which I take to be the short Listen to Britain (1942) and the feature Fires Were Started (1943) - are records of the home front in World War II England. (He died in an accidental fall in 1950, at age 43, before fully coming to grips with peacetime.) Following the principle of counterpoint, Jennings used the intrinsic import of his subject matter to justify his concentration on delicate formal issues, and his films are a series of quiet collisions of self-sufficient audiovisual environments. (Listen to Britain is explicitly introduced as a film about sounds, in case the viewer needs help in identifying Jennings' hyperaware pursuit of the poetry of reality.) It sometimes seems to me that pre-Bazinian critics lacked the language to get at what Jennings was up to, so that the literature on him is heavy on slightly misleading references to montage and surrealism.

Fires Were Started screens on Friday, November 23 at 9 pm and Saturday, November 24 at 8 pm; Listen to Britain is part of "The Films of Humphrey Jennings: Program 1," which screens on Friday, November 23 at 7 pm and Sunday, November 25 at 5:30 pm; and also screens with Kevin Macdonald's biographical Humphrey Jennings: The Man Who Listened to Britain on Saturday and Sunday, November 24 and 25, at 3:30 pm.


Monday, November 5, 2007

Croatia Rules

I don't know whether Croatia makes high-quality films, or whether the Croatian series at the Walter Reade is unusually well curated, or whether I'm just having good luck. But my nearly random sallies into Croatian film culture keep coming up roses.

The high point so far is Rajko Grlic's terrific 1981 film Samo jednom se ljubi, bearing the English title The Melody Haunts My Reverie, even though the Serbo-Croatian title, taken from a popular postwar song, translates as You Love Only Once. Like the Sternberg of Dishonored or the Renoir of La Chienne, Grlic is such a powerful director that he can tell the story of a man ruined by love and yet create a competing, more alluring and exuberant narrative purely through the manipulation of tone. As original in its mysterious, bemused performance style as in its mastery of light and color, Samo jednom se ljubi will screen no more in this series, but subtitled VHS tapes can be had online for $4 or $5 plus shipping.

Much more casually executed, Tomislav Radic's 2005 Sto je Iva snimila 21. listopada 2003. (What Iva Recorded on October 21, 2003) is ostensibly the video experimentation of a 15-year-old girl playing with her first camcorder. What she documents is the fracturing of her bourgeois family on the occasion of an ill-fated dinner for a prospective business partner. Radic's sharp, undemonstrative observations and the effortless performances are complemented by the organizing idea that filming is an act of revenge upon one's family. It looks as if Iva is available on subtitled DVD.

Very few people are attending this series, which must be endangering Lincoln Center's plan to stage equivalent retrospectives for the other former Yugoslav republics. If you want to get a piece of my lucky streak, the upcoming Croatian films I'm most hoping to catch are Lordan Zafranovic's Occupation in 26 Pictures (1978) on November 6 and 11, Zvonimir Berkovic's Rondo (1966) on November 9 and 10, and Branko Bauer's Face to Face (1963) on November 11 and 13. To whet your appetite, here's a quote from Stojan Pelko's piece on Bauer in Ginette Vincendeau's Encyclopedia of European Cinema: "What Hitchcock and Hawks were for the French politique des auteurs, Bauer was for the young film critics in 1970s Yugoslavia. By discovering him, they rediscovered the notion of auteur and genre."

Labels: ,

Outer and Inner Space

There are a lot of ways to look at Warhol's Outer and Inner Space: as time spent with Edie Sedgwick, as a commentary on or exercise of star power, as play with technology, as technology playing with our viewing experience and Edie's performing experience. But, underlying it all, giving excitement to whatever angle we choose to consider, Outer and Inner Space is a vision of paradise. Paradise here is characterized by:

  • an audience with a beautiful woman;
  • strange and beautiful light - gleaming, silvery foreground elements against the pervasive blackness of unexposed emulsion;
  • multiples of everything!

For this reason, I think the Museum of the Moving Image made a mistake when they projected the film on Saturday with only the sound track from the right projector. Agreed, it was possible to hear Edie's words more clearly than when two inferior sound tracks compete for attention. If the screening had been advertised as a special event for scholarly purposes, no one could object. But, in paradise, everything should be capable of everything. Giving unequal weights to the left and right projections just felt so wrong.

Labels: ,

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Madonnen: MOMA, November 9, 2007

Maria Speth's second feature, Madonnen, premiered at this year's Berlin Film Festival in the Forum section, and will screen on Friday, November 9 at 6 pm in MOMA's valuable annual Kino! series of new German films. Madonnen is less visually striking than Speth's first feature The Days Between (which won a Tiger at Rotterdam 2001, and also played MOMA): the stunning, contained widescreen compositions of the earlier film have become more relaxed and naturalistic, in keeping with Madonnen's more spontaneous ambiance and time jumps. But both films share an interest in the kind of rebellious nature that threatens a character's membership in society. One senses that Speth identifies with this quasi-criminal posture; and yet Madonnen maintains an analytic perspective that transcends issues of sympathy. Try to catch it: I haven't heard anything about a distribution deal for the film, and I don't believe The Days Between returned to NYC after its Kino! screening.

Labels: ,

Monday, October 29, 2007

Alfredo, Alfredo: Film Forum, November 7, 2007

Pietro Germi's last film, Alfredo, Alfredo, doesn't have a reputation or a cult following as far as I know. But I definitely think it's his best work, both his most sophisticated and the most emotionally revealing. I don't want to talk too much about it until I resee it at Film Forum on November 7. But try to catch it if you're interested in Germi at all - it doesn't screen often.

The rest of Film Forum's Germi series is worth your while as well. My overall take on Germi: the early neorealist work doesn't do that much for me; the 50s melodramas are more interesting, with The Railroad Man the best of the bunch; and the cynical comedies that made his international reputation, Divorce Italian Style and Seduced and Abandoned, are a big step forward for him, and his best work until the alleged failure of Alfredo.


Friday, September 21, 2007

Arnaud Desplechin in Focus: Museum of the Moving Image, August 6-14

I can't think of a recent NYC retrospective with a higher concentration of great cinema than this one. For two weekends in early October, Cahiers du Cinema and the Museum of the Moving Image present four films by the extraordinary French director Arnaud Desplechin, each double-billed with a film of Desplechin's choice. For me, the peak of Desplechin's career is Esther Kahn (October 6, 3 pm), an experience that somehow makes other films seem pale in comparison until its spell wears off. (Here's a review of Esther that I wrote for Tone and Groove a few years back.) But not far behind is the better-known, ambitious social study Comment je me suis disputé... (ma vie sexuelle) (October 7, 3 pm). Desplechin did NYC audiences the favor of selecting a set of remarkable companion films that don't screen often, including the best films of Alain Resnais (Je t'aime, je t'aime - October 14, 6 pm) and François Truffaut (Les Deux anglaises et le continent - October 7, 6:30 pm).


Sunday, September 2, 2007

Vanaja: Cinema Village, Now Playing

I caught Vanaja at Toronto last year and liked it a lot. Here's what I wrote in my diary afterwards (cleaned up slightly): "A nice surprise. It starts out with acting that's broad but fast, fun, and interesting, and with a lively, kinetic sense of camera and cutting. The musical numbers are quite good, filmed simply and with attention to the performance. Then the plot darkens, and the film turns into a full-fledged art movie, complicating each character until he or she is no longer an archetype, but a mixture of base and noble elements. Right to the ending, the movie keeps complicating its effect, and leaves itself unresolved. It's like a more mundane (in a good way) Chokher Bali, with a plausible mapping of character onto society."

I'll add that Vanaja somehow reminded me a bit of Michael Powell. Perhaps that's because the characters' physicality is invested with a sense of archetype, even though the story uses the characters in a more intricate way.

Director Rajnesh Domalpalli was an engineer before going back to film school, and Vanaja was his Columbia thesis project. The film was shot in the state of Andhra Pradesh, in the Telugu language.

The film will probably play only this week at Cinema Village, but will move to the Imaginasian in September.

Labels: ,

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Le Banc de la désolation: MOMA, August 19, 2007

If you're a Chabrol fan and haven't yet disposed of tomorrow afternoon, go to MOMA for the 5 pm screening of Le Banc de la désolation, which is quite good. Even if you can't make it, you might want to budget some time to catch the other 70s TV films that MOMA is screening in its Chabrol series: the other one that I've seen so far, L'Invitation á la chasse, is also quite personal and well worth your while.


Monday, August 6, 2007

Ruggles of Red Gap: MOMA, August 15 and 31, 2007

I've always been amazed that Ruggles of Red Gap was adapted twice before Leo McCarey got his hands on it, because his version seems so pure an expression of his sentiments and style that I can't imagine the material predating him (or predating the rolling of the camera by more than a few minutes). Ruggles is not only one of the best films America has produced, but also the most eloquent cinematic valentine that America has ever received. MOMA is screening it on Wednesday, August 15 at 6:30 pm and again on Friday, August 31 at 8:45 pm.

Though they don't deal directly with Ruggles, here are links to two posts on a_film_by (from May 2004 and Feb 2006) in which I discuss McCarey's style.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Drama/Mex: IFC Center, Now Playing

I wish that Drama/Mex, which I saw last year at Toronto, were a little bit more about something. But Gerardo Naranjo is a natural filmmaker: he writes very funny dialogue, still manages to keep his characters plausible and human, and above all has a great eye. The trailer deceptively makes the film look like a slam-bang action fest, but even there you can get a glimpse of Naranjo's beautiful hand-held widescreen tracking shots, which maintain a closeup-based visual plan while giving equal attention to the city and beachscapes of Acapulco.


Monday, July 9, 2007

Pietrangeli Revisited

Now that I've had a chance to refresh my memory of Antonio Pietrangeli's Io la conoscevo bene (I Knew Her Well) at BAM's Friday screening, I'd like to upgrade my formerly tentative recommendation and urge you to catch the director's equally rare La Visita (The Visitor) at BAM on July 26.

The subject matter of Io la conoscevo bene is a bit reminiscent of Chabrol's Les Bonnes Femmes, with the childlike, winsome Stefania Sandrelli bearing all the hardships that Chabrol distributed among his ensemble. Though the material is thoroughly pessimistic, Pietrangeli's filming is ecstatic: each moment of the protagonist's disoriented and disorienting life is a glittering mosaic tile, a graceful movement through a visually inviting space. While the script connects data points and comes up with a descending line, the direction harmonizes the gliding camera with the character's hopefulness and capacity for joy.

I do wish that Pietrangeli had been more willing to capitalize on the essential artiness of his style, that the film had been less overt in pointing us to themes and less determined to fit its heroine's Brownian motion to a story arc. Still, we need to make a place for Pietrangeli in the history of 60s European cinema.

Labels: ,

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Lady Chatterley: Cinema Village and Lincoln Plaza, Now Playing

If you haven't seen Lady Chatterley yet, you should get a move on: it lost two of its five US theaters in its second week. And, to my surprise (because I was so-so on director Pascale Ferran's first two features), it's amazing. In a way, it's got the typical structure of a character-based movie, in which a character begins at state of mind A and winds up at state of mind B after experiencing a series of events. And it's also got the typical M.O. that accompanies that structure, where the audience is expected to project its direct experience of those events onto the character, as an aid to understanding how the character might plausibly change. What's not typical is that the events are sex scenes, and that the sex scenes are paced and graded accordingly, as if they were the battle scenes in a war movie or the heist scenes in a caper movie. The film's 168 minutes go by quickly, thanks to what I think of as the Rio Bravo principle of construction: the running time is covered by only a few scenes, each of which is concise in conception but contains a number of small elaborations that protract the scene without losing narrative focus.

Lady Chatterley is an idealized vision of sex so good that it transforms life, and it could easily have insulted our intelligence. But Ferran's depiction of sex is remarkably devoid of prurience, and it's exciting to see characters who are at the same time shy about carnal matters and yet direct in their expression of desire. And Marina Hands gives one of those astonishing performances that are so ingenuous that one can't imagine the actor apart from the character.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Thing from Another World: MOMA, June 17

My first mission as a young cinephile was to absorb the filmography of Howard Hawks; as a result, I often find that I've practically memorized a Hawks film, yet haven't gotten around to revisiting it in decades. It can be a lot of fun to bring one's more mature sensibility to bear on a film that's part of one's DNA.

I saw The Thing from Another World last week at MOMA for the first time in 21 years, and found it even more brilliant and organic than before. This time around, I was struck by how political the film was, and how completely the politics were a function of form. Hawks and his scriptwriters (Charles Lederer and the uncredited Ben Hecht) conceive the movie as a struggle for supremacy between two genres: the fairly new 50s sci-fi genre, and the adventure/action genre that his protagonists improvise. In the movie's rendering, the sci-fi genre is intrinsically liberal: the scientists are consumed with the wonder of extraterrestrial life, think only of making a mutually enriching contact. But the protagonists are soldiers whose instincts, even before the Thing's agenda is clear, are conservative: assume the worst, be armed, head off catastrophe. The struggle between genres is not just a nuance: scenes are built around the collision between different styles of acting, different ideas about where the plot should go. (The genre conflict peaks in the hilarious scene where Carrington, the head scientist, declaims in theatrical terms the urgent need to keep the Thing alive, only to be hustled unceremously out of the frame when commanding officer Hendry mutters under his breath, "Get him out of here.")

The film's stand is unambiguous: the conservatives have the correct opinion in every dispute, the conservatives win in the end and can afford to be generous to the defeated liberals. One cannot legitimately call the film fascist. Not only does Hendry talk a good game about not enjoying giving orders, but the film demonstrates its openness in action, most concretely in the very funny plot thread in which soldier Dewey Martin, who comes up with most of the film's good ideas, eventually stops waiting for Hendry to rubber-stamp his decisions, with Hendry's approval. The film enjoys deflating the cult of authority.

More than any director I can think of, Hawks depends on genre for his effects, needs to play against an established genre backdrop. He devotes a fraction of his cinematic resources to building up genre presence, but the bulk of his resources to executing dialogue and action in a casual style that explodes the genre mood, releases the potential energy in the genre abstraction. Todd McCarthy's bio of Hawks mentions that RKO was puzzled about why a powerful director like Hawks wanted to waste time on a cheap sci-fi thriller. I'm not surprised at all: I can imagine Hawks thinking, "Cool! A new genre to play with!"

Godard (or was it Truffaut?) once called Hawks the most intelligent of American directors. It seems like an odd comment at first: Hawks certainly does not give the most intelligent interviews among American directors. But The Thing illustrates the point beautifully: Hawks felt empowered to construct an entire movie around a series of problems that are solved on-screen, quickly and without fuss.

The Thing will screen again at MOMA on Sunday, June 17 at 3 pm.

Labels: , ,

Friday, June 1, 2007

Antonio Pietrangeli, BAM, July 6 and 26; and Other Italian Matters

I'm going out on a limb to recommend these films, as I haven't seen them since the 80s. Italian director Antonio Pietrangeli had a small reputation in the 60s, died in an accident at the end of the decade, and hasn't been spoken of much since. But his films made a strong impression on me when I ran across them, and the two titles I liked the most are playing in BAM's July "Leading Ladies of Italian Cinema" retrospective. In my memory at least, the movies are intimate, closeup-laden, female-centered, and quietly emotional. My favorite, La Visita (The Visitor), screens on July 26; before that comes Io la conoscevo bene (I Knew Her Well) on July 6. I don't know of much literature on Pietrangeli in English; Paolo Vecchi wrote a nice entry on him in The Encyclopedia of European Cinema, edited by Ginette Vincendeau.

The series runs from July 6 to 29, and contains other films I like, including Luigi Comencini's Bread, Love and Dreams, which was a big hit in its day.

As the subject is Italian cinema: the Walter Reade's annual "Open Roads" series is coming up June 6-14. For those who want to explore, I found trailers for a lot of the titles at the site. The best known film in the series is The Family Friend by Paolo Sorrentino, who's placed a few films in competition at Cannes; for some reason I'm also interested in In Memory of Me, and maybe even Schopenhauer, just because it sounds so weird.

These days I'm big on finding online trailers when I want to research festivals.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Spy in Black: MOMA, June 3 and 6

Many readers of this blog are hip to this film already, but Michael Powell's The Spy in Black , at MOMA on June 3 and June 6, doesn't come around all that much, and it's quite good: to my mind, clearly better than its companion piece Contraband, and the approximate beginning of Powell's most intensely creative period. (Not coincidentally, it's also the first time Powell worked with screenwriter Emeric Pressburger, whose loopy grandeur seems to have kicked Powell up to a higher level of artistic ambition.)


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Opera Jawa: Asia Society, May 20, 2007

This one might have slipped by some of the NYC film buffs: Opera Jawa, the acclaimed 2006 film from Indonesian director Garin Negroho, is screening tomorrow night at the Asia Society at 7 pm. I recently caught Negroho's previous film Of Love and Eggs, and he's definitely a stylist to watch, though I haven't got the measure of him yet. Opera Jawa was part of Peter Sellars' New Crowned Hope series, which premiered at Venice 2006.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Daisy Kenyon: MOMA, June 9 and 18, 2007

Mark your calendars for MOMA's June 9 and June 18 screenings of Preminger's Daisy Kenyon, one of Hollywood's most lucid and mature melodramas, inexplicably underrated for decades. (Anyone out there have more information on screenwriter David Hertz? On the basis of Daisy alone, I reckon him one of best; and he also has a credit on History Is Made at Night....) For some background information, take a look at the 24fps roundtable discussion of Daisy from a few years back, featuring Zach Campbell, Damien Bona, and myself.