"Returning to movie screens a full generation after its initial 1985 theatrical run, Claude Lanzmann's Shoah has in many ways become obscured by its reputation," writes Eric Hynes in the Voice. "From the very outset, the film was subject to extra-theatrical debate, hyperbole, and misunderstanding, trailed by Polish nationalist gripes and greeted stateside by a Pauline Kael-size backlash ('a long moan,' from an anti-Gentilian paranoid, was her bewildering angle). Steven Spielberg muddied matters by naming his very different project of filmed witness the Shoah Foundation; Jean-Luc Godard has spent the past two decades dialectically shadowboxing with Lanzmann's decision to omit historical footage; and a Holocaust industry, which the Voice's own J Hoberman ruefully dubbed 'Shoah business,' continues to flood screens with all manner of death-camp entertainment. But to talk of Shoah only in terms of moral compulsion or epic length is to miss the multitude of Lanzmann's decisions, his shot-by-shot brilliance — from revelatory tracks and pans to dramatically self-contained long takes — and dauntless commitment to crafting history as a totalizing work of cinema."
The New Yorker's own Richard Brody tackles Kael's review head-on: "[I]t's clear that she simply doesn't know what to think about it — and so, falls back on her own prejudices.... Pauline Kael's misunderstandings of Shoah are so grotesque as to seem willful. The wild subjectivity of her approach to the film — her writing about the feelings of her backside rather than the feelings of the people in the film or of its maker — suggests, overall, the basic problem with her criticism."
Writing for Artforum, Jonathan Rosenbaum notes that Alain Resnais and Jean Cayrol's Nuit et brouillard (Night and Fog, 1955) "in many respects made Shoah possible. Shoah even quotes Night and Fog about 43 minutes into the film — Resnais's low-angle dolly following grassy railroad tracks that lead to an Auschwitz crematorium is virtually reprised and extended, though Resnais's use of Eastmancolor is even more vivid. One shouldn't have to choose between these masterpieces. But it's important to stress that they aren't about precisely the same Holocaust and that their formal strategies for juxtaposing past and present are quite different. Night and Fog crosscuts between postwar remnants of the camps today in color and archival footage in black and white. Its Holocaust is pointedly not only Jewish (Jews in fact go unmentioned).... Shoah's focus is more sectarian."
David Fear reminds us that Shoah tops Time Out New York's list of the "50 best documentaries of all time." Larry Rohter interviews Lanzmann for the New York Times, while Richard Brody quotes a passage from an interview in French conducted a couple of decades ago. Back in the summer of 2009, Frederic Raphael reviewed Lanzmann's "shameless and readable autobiography," Le Lièvre de Patagonie for TLS. Shoah opens today Lincoln Plaza, on December 24 at the IFC Center and early next year in other cities.
"What can anyone possibly say about Spalding Gray that he didn't articulate more eloquently himself?" asks Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "Gray devoted his career to unraveling the mysteries of his own tortured psyche before the pain he endured after a car crash became unbearable and he ended his life. In deference to Gray's fabled eloquence and remarkable genius for introspection and rigorous self-examination, Steven Soderbergh, who collaborated with his subject on the performance film Gray's Anatomy, turns And Everything Is Going Fine into what's essentially a one-man show. Soderbergh follows Gray's alternately sad and hilarious life story through performance footage, home movies, and clips of Gray being interviewed on everything from The Charlie Rose Show to MTV and E!"
Bill Weber in Slant: "Gray became an avatar of WASP neurosis via his idiosyncratic wit and bone-dry, deskbound delivery, particularly after his Swimming to Cambodia was filmed by Jonathan Demme, and his gifts for recounting both quotidian and life-changing miseries — with occasional bursts of ecstasy — remain achingly funny and painful."
"His sad end is never mentioned in Fine," notes Karina Longworth in the Voice, "although it's obliquely, eerily suggested by certain words (Gray to an interviewer: 'I like telling the story of life better than living it') and images (the opening frame, from an ancient, highly degraded tape, is of an empty chair, which Gray approaches, trailed by a cloud of ghostly analog artifacts; incidentally/accidentally, Fine functions as a kind of museum tour through the history of dead video formats). Seen as his final monologue, the film is both an invaluable portfolio of his talent, and a tribute rendered in the style of its subject."
More from Ian Buckwalter (NPR), AO Scott (NYT), Henry Stewart (L) and Keith Uhlich (TONY, 4 out of 5). At the IFC Center.
"A safely stylized orgy of generic juvenile malaise, You Wont Miss Me follows soft-middled and vaguely disturbed actress wannabe Shelly (Stella Schnabel) through a series of alienating metropolitan encounters with puerile acquaintances and casting directors to construct a portrait of maddeningly fatuous interpersonal resistance." Joseph Jon Lanthier in Slant: "The scenarios that make up the vignette-oriented narrative, most of which involve hesitant sexual encounters, platonic confrontations, or hideously awkward auditions, suggest a virtual playbook of anti-social behavior with interludes of pseudo-reflective voiceover narration... Schnabel, who co-wrote the script with second-time director [Ry] Russo-Young, has a natural, frazzled demeanor throughout that suits her character's desultory recalcitrance, and effectively plays straight to the few sprinkles of aggressive humor."
"It'd be easy for anyone eager to use the new coinage 'Cinema of Unexamined Privilege' in a sentence to note Russo-Young's collaborations with [Joe] Swanberg and [Lena] Dunham," writes the L's Mark Asch, "or the fact that Shelly is an actress without gigs but with a family cabin upstate to crash at. But there is, in scenes of Shelly auditioning for plays, indie films and 'multimedia' productions, a caustic examination of the current lo-fi movement and the depth of the emotional nakedness its auteurs are in the habit of soliciting from their friends: doing improv exercises for a film, raw-to-bleeding Shelly blows mumblecore darling Greta Gerwig off the screen with a tantrum held over from an earlier scene, prompting a lecture, from director Aaron Katz, about the separation of art and life." The film is "a Cubist character portrait, made more so by Schnabel's striking features — cascading hair, wide face, deep eyes, hawk nose — and shapeshifting intensity, from vamp to victim, pathos to bathos."
More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Tom Hall, Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Nick Schager (TONY, 3 out of 5), Leslie Stonebraker (NYP) and Michael Tully (Hammer to Nail). Interviews with Russo-Young: Mark Asch (L), Megan Conway (BlackBook), Stephen Saito (IFC), Damon Smith (Filmmaker) and Michael Tully (Hammer to Nail). She lists her top ten films of all time at Ioncinema and walks us through a scene at indieWIRE.
ALSO IN NEW YORK
"Although Koji Wakamatsu's latest acclaimed film Caterpillar is included in the Shadows of the Rising Sun: Cinema & Empire series, the two titles that stand out most in Japan Society's stirring four-film survey of post-war psychology are Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence and Devils on the Doorstep," argues Simon Abrams in the New York Press. Michael Atkinson for the L: "Shot in a propulsive panic and in stark black-&-white, [Devils on the Doorstep] feels awfully Japanese New Wavey — the sweaty ghosts of Oshima, Imamura, Kobayashi & Co are deliberately ouijaed — but it's Chinese, and sets up a crazed no-exit scenario in an occupied northern village in 1945: a splenetic Japanese soldier and his ass-covering translator are mysteriously dumped on the town reprobate, with menacing instructions to hold and not fold — and not let the news leak to the local J-forces.... Oddly banned in China (and condemned by the censors as 'vulgar,' in counterpoint, we can assume, to Zhang Yimou's lanterns and silk), the film could hardly be more vociferous in its spitting hatred for all things Japanese. So of course The Japan Society is showing it."
"The Beijing-born, New York-based filmmaker Miao Wang follows three cabbies around her old hometown in the picturesque documentary Beijing Taxi, filmed over several years leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics," writes Mike Hale in the NYT. "The cabbies have interesting and poignant things to say about being left behind in China's rush to modernize, and Ms Wang; her directors of photography, Ian Vollmer and Sean Price Williams; and her editor, Sikay Tang, have produced an attractive and seamless set of images of working-class Chinese life." More from Diego Costa (Slant, 2.5 out of 4) and Nicolas Rapold (Voice). At Brooklyn's reRun Gastropub Theater.
The NYT's Manohla Dargis on the latest from Johnnie To: "Vengeance isn't as narratively ambitious as Election and its sequel, Triad Election, his severe and sweeping gangster epic; and there aren't any scenes here as complex as the virtuosic opening of Breaking News, with its 10 minutes of controlled chaos and liquid camerawork. Mr To certainly delivers bullets and bodies in Vengeance. Yet there are also pockets of calm here when he lingers over this group of men simply enjoying one another's company, which suggests he might have been rewatching some late Howard Hawks. Mostly, both newcomers to Mr To and longtime admirers should be prepared for a master class in directing." More from Glenn Heath Jr (Slant, 2.5 out of 4) and James van Maanen. At the IFC Center.
Spanish Cinema Now opens at the Walter Reade and runs through December 23. James van Maanen has an overview.
The Spectacle Theater, "Williamsburg's tiny bootlegs-and-rarities screening room, hosts the second annual Doomsday Film Festival & Symposium, featuring a selection of rare-to-infamous apocalyptic films, plus DJ'ed parties and several talks." The L's Mark Asch interviews festival director Andrew Miller.
Cheryl Eddy introduces an interview in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: "Christmas is here early, horror geeks: not only is a brand-new print of 1980's Maniac playing the Castro Theatre, but director William Lustig will be in attendance. After the big-screen experience, make sure Santa knows you want the extras-packed 30th anniversary DVD, released by Lustig's own Blue Underground label, wrapped in bloody butcher paper under the tree."
"Daniel Nearing knew what he was getting into when he set out to make a movie based on Sherwood Anderson's classic 1919 story cycle Winesburg, Ohio," writes Ed M Koziarski in the Chicago Reader. The book "is famously unfilmable. Framed by the stories of an author on his deathbed and a young journalist with an ailing mother and a yearning to leave town, Winesburg plumbs the regrets and repressed longings of several dozen residents of a town patterned after Anderson's native Clyde, Ohio.... Chicago Heights, filmed in digital black-and-white, transposes the story to a contemporary-anachronistic African-American milieu in the south suburbs of Chicago. When Chicago Heights played in August at the Film Center's Black Harvest film festival, Roger Ebert called it 'brilliant' and wrote: 'Nearing finds an approach that in 90 minutes accomplishes the uncanny feat of distilling the book's essence.'" At the Gene Siskel Film Center for one week.
The focus of Criterion's excellent "Friday Repertory Roundup" is on Europe this week, but there are plenty of stateside goings on listed as well.
"It's a great moment to be watching movies, and this year a ten-best list would be an absurd constraint," writes the New Yorker's Richard Brody. He's got a top five, all "head and shoulders above the year's other releases," followed by 20 "worthy successors." That top five, in order: Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island, David Fincher's The Social Network, Sofia Coppola's Somewhere, Noah Baumbach's Greenberg and Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan.
This week's issue of Time bulges with the "Top 10 of Everything of 2010," 50 lists in all, among them Richard Corliss's "Top 10 Movie Performances" (#1: Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest) and "Top 10 Movies." His #1 is Toy Story 3, which also tops Tom Shone's list, the key to which, he writes, and "the reason Toy Story edged ahead of The Social Network and Blue Valentine beat out Winter's Bone — is emotion, a curiously absent feature of this year's motion pictures." And while he also lists his top performances (#1: Jeremy Renner in The Town), James Franco was the "Movie Star of the Year."
Michael Atkinson for IFC.com: "For the fifth year running, we tally up the Other Year's Best — the films that made it to DVD (or onto US home video in any format) but not to theatrical, which generally meant they posed too much of a marketing challenge. As in, the films were either too odd, too original, too archival, too subtle, too something. DVDs still stand as our go-to B-movie-distribution stream of choice, although as I've barked every year, video debuts are still not eligible for any year-end toasts or trophies. Except ours." #1: Abbas Kiarostami's Shirin, out from Cinema Guild: "The Iranian master's most innovative, and taxing, anti-movie, in which he adapts a classic Persian legend full of romance and swordfights but only as an off-screen rapture enjoyed by dozens and dozens of women in the audience, watching the film that isn't there.... Sounds simple, but self-reflexivity gets refluxed and refracted right back at ya."
"If you're going to do a top 10 list, you must actually rank your 10 favorite films," argue Will Leitch and Tim Grierson. "You can't cheat. We've gone through hundreds upon hundreds of top 10 lists and have compiled this helpful list of top 10 rules for critics doing their top 10s. Think of this like a butterfly ballot: You have to follow these rules, or your list will be disqualified."
Fun browse: Google Zeitgeist 2010.
IN OTHER NEWS
Film Quarterly's posted samples from its new Winter 2010 issue: Editor Rob White talks with Cristi Puiu about Aurora and with Olivier Assayas about Carlos. Alberto Toscano considers Charles Ferguson's Inside Job and Sabina Guzzanti's Draquila: Italy Trembles as "investigations of what Naomi Klein calls 'disaster capitalism.'" Paul Julian Smith: "While [Pablo Larrain's] Post Mortem's ending is brutally closed, the conclusion of [Kelly Reichardt's] Meek's Cutoff is defiantly inconclusive. But what both of these remarkable films reveal is that when a familiar history is viewed from the margins (from a place of insistent, and resonant, incomprehension) we see it, with a shock, as if for the first time."