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Bright Lights 71, Hoberman's "Army of Phantoms," More

A new issue of Bright Lights Film Journal boasting six book reviews and the publication on March 15 of J Hoberman's An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War, accompanied by a series at BAMcinématek curated by the author himself and running from Friday through March 28, occasions a mini-roundup on books before moving on to new DVDs and other news.

Anyone who's read The Dream Life: Movies, Media, and the Mythology of the Sixties knows that this new volume from Hoberman, a prequel in a way, is an event. Nick Pinkerton in the Voice: "Moving from the immediate post–World War II period to Eisenhower's re-election in 1956, An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War collates action in Hollywood, Washington, DC, and around the 38th parallel, defining the era as one in which collective drama was 'elevated to a cosmic struggle against National Insecurity for possession of the Great Whatzit' by the movies. That 'Whatzit' refers to the doomsday device Ralph Meeker's swinging detective seeks in Kiss Me Deadly (1955 [image above]), one of several classic zeitgeist-condensations in the series, along with Johnny Guitar (1954), starring HUAC-friendly witness Sterling Hayden in the title role, with Ben Cooper tortured into naming names."

"An Army of Phantoms begins during World War II, as the Daily Worker heralds Warner Bros' Mission to Moscow," writes the L's Mark Asch. "'I'm intrigued by the fact,' Hoberman told me over email last week, 'that Hollywood's wartime height was also the period when American communists enjoyed maximum influence — the industry and the movement declined together, although not in the same way.' The fall of the American Left parallels TV's leveling of the Hollywood monolith — the movies becoming, Hoberman notes, just another segment of what was about to be called 'the media.' The HUAC neutralizes Hollywood's consciousness-raising New Dealers and Reds, and after Korea the movies read as manifestations of national fads in an economic climate where even six-year-olds are avid consumers (of Davy Crockett coonskin caps, for one). The book's structure traces a parallel arc, its initial focus on production histories and obsessive name-naming shifting to more cultural noise: following the cults of McCarthy and Monroe, James Dean and Elvis, the book ends with guilty lefty apostate Elia Kazan's celebrity-culture cassandriad, A Face in the Crowd, though Hoberman sees 'a somewhat optimistic trajectory,' suggesting to me that 'the "cultural noise" of 1956 set the stage for the development of a new left,' with which The Dream Life picks up."

Having introduced the bulk of Issue 71, another rich and eclectic collection of essays on classic, cult and newish films and their stars, Bright Lights editor Gary Morris turns to the books: "BL veteran Matt Kennedy discusses the new Liz and Dick bio, Furious Love, while Joseph Aisenberg evaluates Peter Biskind's Warren Beatty bio, Star. New (or second-time) contributors John Carvill, Ian Hetherington, Ronald Bergan, and Andryn Arithson review, respectively, Thomson's Humphrey Bogart bio, Withnail and Us: Cult Films and Film Cults in British Cinema, From Rajahs and Yogis to Gandhi and Beyond: Images of India in International Films of the 20th Century, and Asian Horror."

The latest issue of Offscreen to go online "puts a partial focus on my favorite film director, Andrei Tarkovsky," notes editor Donato Totaro, who writes one of two pieces on the filmmaker (the other is by Prakash Kona). Also here is Daniel Garrett: "Bergman's vision of cinema and the kind of questions and topics his work offers to philosophy — the contemplation of human existence and thought; the study of knowledge, logic, truth, and wisdom — are the subject of Irving Singer's book Ingmar Bergman, Cinematic Philosopher: Reflections on His Creativity, a small book that allows Singer meditation on magic, myth, and childhood; religion and love; and ambiguity and complexity."

Two related notes: There is, of course, a Bergman retrospective going on right now at the Berlinale; and, as Geoffrey Macnab reported in the Sydney Morning Herald last month, crime writer Henning Mankell is working on a film about his father-in-law.

Back to Bogart for a moment. To the couple of reviews of Stefan Kanfer's Tough Without a Gun mentioned earlier this month, we can add Phillip French's for the Observer, Michiko Kakutani's for the New York Times, Tim Rutten's for the Los Angeles Times and Tom Shone's for Slate.

 

DVDS


"Vermeer had his yellow, Yves Klein had his blue, and Vincente Minnelli had a shade of red all his own," writes Dave Kehr in the NYT: "a bursting, tactile one, with a texture somewhere between velvet and vegetable. It's a shade that rendered particularly well in the color processes of the 1950s and early 60s, when Minnelli was in his prime, and it bursts out all over the four remastered Minnelli films that have recently been released by the Warner Archive Collection: The Cobweb (1955), Tea and Sympathy (1956), The Reluctant Debutante (1958) and Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)."

DVD roundups. The AV Club, Gary Dretzka (Movie City News), Ed Gonzalez (House Next Door), Mark Kermode (Observer), Harley W Lond and Peter Martin (Cinematical), Paul Matwychuk and Heather Noel, PopMatters, Stephen Saito (IFC) and Slant.

 

EVENTS


This year's Documentary Fortnight 2011: MoMA's International Festival of Nonfiction Film and Media, opening today and running through February 28, "includes an international selection of 20 feature films; independent films from China; a look at the legacy of New Day Films, one of the first do-it-yourself film cooperatives; and two documentary performance programs." Nicolas Rapold has an overview in the Voice. Meantime, in the Wall Street Journal, Steve Dollar has more on TV Party: A Panorama of Public Access Television in New York City, a series on at the Museum of the Moving Image through Sunday.





Michel Gondry at Centre Pompidou in Paris: there's the poster, here's the page with details and here's the NYT's AO Scott discussing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Update: The Playlist's Kevin Jagernauth has news from the opening, where Gondry "revealed that he is adapting Philip K Dick's Ubik for the big screen. Named by Time magazine as one of the 100 greatest English-language novels of our time, the metaphysical tale follows a man who works at an anti-psi security firm that blocks telepathic spying other sorts of supernatural trickery. When the company is hired to tackle a job on the Moon, things go a bit awry."

Susan King in the Los Angeles Times: "An uplifting biographical drama from Ethiopia about an Olympic runner, a drama from Ghana looking at slavery from an African point of view and a documentary about an LA mother trying to save her daughter from gang life are among the eclectic films screening at the 19th Pan African Film Festival," opening today and running through February 23 in Culver City.

 

OPENING TODAY


Bill Weber in Slant: "An anecdote, but a weighty and frequently evocative one, Zero Bridge unassumingly takes the perspective of its 17-year-old protagonist Dilawar (Mohamad Imran Tapa), a lanky dropout who engages in petty theft between stints with his uncle's construction crew and work on tourist houseboats in Srinagar, a lakefront city in India-controlled Kashmir. Writer-director Tariq Tapa's debut feature establishes a sense of Dilawar's unmoored late-adolescent anxiety from the first scene, handheld camera pacing with him on the titular bridge as he waits for his criminal mentor, anxiously answering an aggressive cop's questions." More from Mike Hale (NYT), Brandon Harris (Hammer to Nail), Ella Taylor (Voice), Keith Uhlich (Time Out New York, 3/5) and James van Maanen. At Film Forum through March 1.

"Do dreams, especially the portentous kind that you cannot easily shake off, predict the future?" asks Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "That question is investigated in The Edge of Dreaming, a deeply personal film by Amy Hardie, a Scottish science documentarian whose world was shaken after she experienced a series of related nightmares." At the Rubin Museum of Art through February 26.

 

GRIMLY REAPING


"Kenneth Mars, who has died aged 74 from pancreatic cancer, was cherished by audiences for his unhinged comic performances in two of the writer-director Mel Brooks's finest and funniest movies, The Producers (1968) and Young Frankenstein (1974)," writes Ryan Gilbey in the Guardian. "Asked in 2001 what he would change about the perception of himself, he replied: 'That I am only a comedic actor — I would like to be considered for more dramatic roles.' Small wonder, then, that he cited as his favorite among his own work the little-seen 1971 drama Desperate Characters, in which he appeared opposite Shirley MacLaine and gave what the critic Roger Ebert called 'a deeply felt, complex performance' as a New York lawyer whose marriage is disintegrating." More from Edward Copeland, Dennis Cozzalio, Matt Singer (IFC) and Scott Weinberg (Cinematical).

"David F Friedman, a film producer who cheerfully and cheesily exploited an audience's hunger for bare-breasted women and blood-dripping corpses in lucrative low-budget films like Blood Feast and Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS, died on Monday in Anniston, Ala," reports Bruce Weber in the NYT. "He was 87."





"Some of my most vivid childhood memories revolved around the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis and his production partner David F Friedman," writes Marc Campbell at Dangerous Minds. "Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs! and Color Me Blood Red were taboo pleasures for a kid entering his teens… In many ways, I credit Friedman for creating the DIY in-your-face energy that would later manifest in punk rock." And he posts Maniacs in full.

PopMatters' Bill Gibron has put together "A David F Friedman Primer"; 20 years ago, Steve Dollar spent a day with the man. More from Mike Everleth.

"The Irish actor, TP McKenna, who starred in numerous films and TV dramas in a career spanning five decades, has died at the age of 81," reports the BBC. "Film was a natural home for his talents and he played alongside some of the most famous actors of the 20th Century on the big screen including Dustin Hoffman, Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum." Update: More from Michael Coveney in the Guardian.

 

IN OTHER NEWS


"Farran [Smith Nehme] and I are all gassed up and ready to roll as we proudly host our second film preservation fundraising event, For the Love of Film (Noir): The Film Preservation Blogathon." And, like the Siren, Marilyn Ferdinand is indexing the plethora of contributions from writers from all over. "This year, the Film Noir Foundation is our special valentine, and they've honored us by earmarking our funds for a very special film: The Sound of Fury, aka Try and Get Me (1950), with blacklisted director Cy Endfield at the helm, and starring Lloyd Bridges and Frank Lovejoy. A nitrate print of the film will be restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive, using a reference print from Martin Scorsese's personal collection to guide them and fill in any blanks. Paramount Pictures, which now owns the film, has agreed to help fund the restoration, but FNF is going to have to come up with significant funds to get the job done. That's where we come in."

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Mac
Never rent ‘The Wizard of Gore’ if you’re planning on watching it with a girl you like who’s really into The Replacements.
Dave Friedman’s 1990 autobiography “A Youth in Babylon: Confessions of a Trash-Film King” is one of my favorite books about the movies. Unfortunately, it ends with the release of “Blood Feast” and he never got around to writing a sequel.
Hoberman’s ‘The Dream Life’ is a terrific book. One of the best cultural, historical film books I’ve ever read. I’m sure ‘An Army of Phantoms’ will be well worth reading too as he tackles the 50’s political hysteria culture. Curious that The New Press website can’t find a better front cover image since they – you know – are publishing the book! Amazon has a much better image.

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