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Cineaste, N1FR, frieze

Cineaste grapples with politics even more than usual in its Fall 2010 issue, n+1's new online film review is unlike any other — in a good way — and frieze's selection for its "Life in Film" column this time around is a smart one. Plus, a few newsy items at the end.

But first, Cineaste. "There's Always Tomorrow (a remake of a much-inferior 1934 film, taken from a story by Ursula Parrott) more or less fell through the cracks, acknowledged by film scholars but strangely overshadowed by Sirk's other masterful Fifties melodramas such as All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, The Tarnished Angels, and Imitation of Life." Christopher Sharrett reviews the new Eureka edition. "Sirk himself was oddly dismissive of the film, to an extent suggesting a misreading of his own work, telling Jon Halliday in the indispensable Sirk on Sirk that its central character, Clifford Groves (Fred MacMurray) '...is like a naïve American boy who never grows up. And then Stanwyck comes back from his past. But she doesn't find a grown man. She leaves.' Sirk must have misremembered the film, since his précis hardly speaks to its central themes, which, together with his usual craftsmanship, makes it one of his greatest, most fully-realized accomplishments."

David Sterritt on Lubitsch in Berlin: Fairy Tales, Melodramas & Sex Comedies: "Some of his silent comedies are superb in every respect, but his more ambitious pictures often show too much eagerness to please and a partiality toward projects he wasn't yet prepared to handle. The films in Eureka's box set represent both ends of the spectrum, which reduces its entertainment quotient but enhances its value as a representative sampling and a historical resource."

Louis Menashe reviews Flicker Alley's two-disc release of Fedor Ozep and Boris Barnet's three-part serial, Miss Mend, "an action thriller pitting global capitalist forces against the young Soviet Union," quite the hit in Russia in 1926. "[I]t's the high adventurous energy of the film plus the powerful personalities conveyed by the cast, the good guys and the bad, on which the popularity of Miss Mend rests, not its political lessons. The latter are tepid by comparison."

"Newly restored and preserved to 35mm film and digitally remastered for DVD by the Outfest Legacy Project for LGBT Film Preservation and the UCLA Film & Television Archive, Word is Out's 30th anniversary rerelease is a welcome arrival," writes Maria San Filippo, "and, one hopes, not just for those teachers of LGBT history and filmmaking who have long made due with its previous availability solely on VHS. Along with the 1973 PBS reality series An American Family (whose eldest son Lance Loud was US television's first out gay personality), these must be the best known but least seen documentaries of LGBT liberation for those who weren't around in the 1970s, and the least rewatched among those who were."





Greg DeCuir introduces his interview with Želimir Žilnik by first recounting the remarkable biography and describing a few early documentaries before turning to one a film made in 1969: "Early Works is a film that exemplified the tendencies of the Yugoslav Black Wave: antitraditional form, polemical approaches, socio-critical concerns, oppositional ideology and, a fatalistic conclusion. This film can be viewed as the climax of the Black Wave movement (which lasted from 1963-72) and also its archetypal production. The thematic concern of Early Works was early Marxist ideology and its place within a revolutionary society. As Žilnik notes in this interview, the film contained many of the questions and doubts that were forming in the socialist world in the late 60s, after the Prague Spring and the various international student movements. Early Works also exhibited what would be the central feature of Žilnik's esthetic throughout his career: an adherence to utilizing nonfiction materials and style and their blending with sparsely-constructed fictional situations."

"Simone Bitton is that rare documentarian, a political activist with the eye and ear of a gifted director," writes Howard Feinstein at the top of his interview. "As she had done in Wall (2004), which probed the ramifications of the concrete barrier the Israeli government erected between its citizens and West Bank Palestinians, in Rachel (2009) she applies a light, almost lyrical touch to a socially charged issue. Here it is the 2003 death of 23-year-old American peace activist Rachel Corrie, who used her body as an obstacle in a nonviolent protest by the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) to prevent the destruction of Palestinian homes in Gaza by the Israeli military. A Caterpillar D9R armored bulldozer ran her over. Though she thoroughly examines the case, Bitton uses it in part to analyze the larger conflict."

Patrice Leconte's "journey to Cambodia in Dogora records his own attraction to a country where he once had visited and felt compelled to return with his camera in order to share his deeply emotional response to the landscape and its people," writes Cynthia Lucia, introducing her interview.

"Now playing on movie screens, or readily available on DVD, is a growing number of documentary films that engage incisively and intelligently with the issues in Afghanistan — documentaries that cover the war in a probing and in-depth way that today's mainstream news media cannot, or will not, provide." The Editors address a few — Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger's Restrepo, Carol Dysinger's Camp Victory, Afghanistan and Robert Greenwald's Rethink Afghanistan — and urge readers to "vote with your eyes and wallets and support films that keep the issues surrounding this war in the public eye."

John Fidler on Robert Burgoyne's The Hollywood Historical Film: "Despite numerous moments of insight and analysis, Burgoyne's short book succeeds best as a primer on history and film, not as extended analysis." For more, see James Curnow in Screening the Past.

A couple of weeks ago, I pointed to a batch of Cineaste's "Webtakes," reviews of relatively recent theatrical releases. Now online is Megan Ratner's take on Stéphane Brizé's Mademoiselle Chambon.

Dispatches: Colin Beckett on the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar, Richard Porton on Cannes 2010 and the Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival, Jared Rapfogel on the 11th Jeonju International Film Festival and Dennis West on Karlovy Vary 2010.

 

N1FR


The other day, I updated this entry with word that the first issue of n+1's new online film review, N1FR, was not rolling out slowly after all, but rather, appearing in full — here. This needs mentioning again. Besides Chris Fujiwara's piece on the slippery notion of "contemporary cinema" and N1FR editor AS Hamrah's roundup on eleven films and one book, you'll also find Christine Smallwood on Claire Denis, whose films are "permeable. Their energy is a recognizably human energy, fueled by the intensity, drive, musculature, and posture of bodies, by how they move. Even her landscapes — dusty roads, frozen snowy expanses, the jungles of Tahiti — are suffused with the sense of being looked at. They seem to absorb the gaze rather than reflect it back blindly."

Elizabeth Gumport: "One of the major differences between Kill Bill and Kick-Ass — besides the twenty-seven years that separate Uma Thurman from Chloë Moretz — is that Kill Bill is good and Kick-Ass is bad."





"The Headless Woman, written and directed by Lucrecia Martel, seems to have divided its small audience about equally into contemptuous detractors and bewitched fans," writes Benjamin Kunkel. "Even among people who didn't like the film, no one seems to have denied that the opening sequence is remarkable." It's "one those movies you talk about the whole way home. Did Véro merely run over a dog..." For more on this debate, see Mike D'Angelo at the AV Club. At any rate, for Kunkel, "The Headless Woman is an astonishing movie about an overdetermined and, in that way, highly life-like and familiar situation — at once very local, global, social, and sexual — in which something has gone badly wrong, and the wrongness is compounded by your inability to say exactly what."

"Ever since the 1990s we listened, heads nodding like bobblehead dolls, passing on the hagiography of the Indie Film Revolution." Richard von Busack ruminates on what's gone terribly wrong.

"Somehow, the sentence 'I grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts, in the 1980s' sounds depressing. In truth, growing up there was excruciating." Ben Maraniss: "I would like to say that movie aesthetics were defined for me by an auteur-based cinema of Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski, and the French New Wave, but the truth is that I carry the mark of Simpson/Bruckheimer, Golan/Globus, and Kassar/Vajna much more than the mark of any name directors. The legacy of these super-producers is a bafflingly embarrassing array of films that trail American culture like skunk spray."

"The women laugh and coo as the men emerge, docile clowns consoled by a friendly gaggle of children to whom they can pass on their dick jokes. This is Judd Apatow's vision of America, as realized in three self-help fables — from the unmediated crudity of The 40 Year Old Virgin, through the mock cryptoconservatism of Knocked Up, to the pseudosolemnity of Funny People." Christian Lorentzen takes him down hard, and James Wolcott loves him for it: "I am unsure as to whether I have read him before and I am as certain as anyone with amnesia can be that we have never met, and yet I embrace him as a soul brother."

"Criticism of Pedro Costa divides roughly into two camps," write Jeanette Samyn and Jonathon Kyle Sturgeon. "In one corner: Mark Peranson and Cyril Neyrat, who work mostly for Cinema Scope magazine. These writers build the legend of Costa as slum-saint, acting as his primary hagiographers." Mention is made of the "Vote for Pedro" t-shirts. "Now that Costa has emerged from relative anonymity, critics like Neyrat praise him as the paragon of a new cinematic authenticity.... The other critical camp accuses Costa of aestheticizing poverty, of making 'poverty porn.' This age-old indictment finds a champion in Armond White." But "White is really attacking a Bressonian-Brechtian tradition, one that denies the audience easy access to the character's point-of-view. This tradition spurns reverse angles and reactions shots, time-tested devices of escapist movies and TV. White reads this formalism as complacency; it is actually a vote — if we are going to have voting — for contemplation, a deliberate ethical maneuver against insincerity."

Nicholas Rombes conducts an experiment: "The surrealists André Breton and Paul Éluard used to enter movie theaters at random and stay only a little while, until the plot became clear to them and the films' images were drained of their power. In the Cineplex you can do the same thing all in one building. I did that one day this summer. What I saw was not excerpts from ten different movies, but one movie made up of ten interchangeable parts — the imperial power of Hollywood, still alive and well, surviving postmodern fragmentation and resisting détournement."

 

FRIEZE


There's a new issue out and a new phenomenon out and about that editor Jörg Heiser has "provisionally labelled 'super-hybridity.'" He explains what happened to mere hybridity and raises a few questions as to the nature and resiliency of this new strain.

Thomas Beard and Ed Halter, the founding directors of Light Industry in Brooklyn are evidently "currently editing the forthcoming publication Artists' Film and Video: An Anthology of New Writing." At any rate, for this issue's "Life in Film" column, they discuss the work that's influenced them most.

Quinn Latimer finds it "difficult to digest the curatorial conceit girding Matthew Barney: Prayer Sheet with the Wound and the Nail, which surveys the Drawing Restraint archive."

"The eighth installment of the site Santa Fe International Biennial is titled The Dissolve," notes Robert Storr. "Those responsible for it are the curatorial team of Daniel Belasco and Sarah Lewis and the architect David Adjaye who was invited to join them in solving the most vexed problem in exhibition craft: how to make a show of moving images that isn't a maze of black-box galleries." Storr, by the way, places Gerhard Richter's September in the context of history painting in a video at the artist's site — engaging viewing even if he may be overstating the case.

Paul Teasdale reports from the Era New Horizons International Film Festival in Wrocław and Eliza Williams reviews Beat Takeshi Kitano at the Fondation Cartier.

 

IN OTHER NEWS


"Directors Francis Ford Coppola and Jean-Luc Godard, actor Eli Wallach and historian Kevin Brownlow are this year's recipients of the Governor's Awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences," reports the AP. "Coppola will receive the Irving G Thalberg Memorial Award, the academy said Wednesday, with Godard, Wallach and Brownlow receiving honorary Oscars. The prizes will be given at a dinner November 13."

"La Commedia, the new film produced and directed by Amos Poe, one of the protagonists of the 'No Wave Cinema' — the underground film movement based in New York, and father of the American Indie cinema, will be concluded in time for the 67th Venice International Film Festival. The film will have its world premiere on Friday September 3rd, at Midnight in the Sala Grande (Palazzo del Cinema), Out of Competition."

Time Out New York's Fall Preview features a list of the season's "30 must-see films." In the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Cheryl Eddy previews first-run and repertory fare headed to the area in the coming months. But how was the summer? For Vadim Rizov, writing at GreenCine Daily, it "was as bad as predicted, a nearly unbroken stream of mediocrities broken up by the undisguisably disastrous."

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Another great collection of links David. I just started reading through some of them, and it’s a very mixed bag of goodies. Fujiwara’s article is thought provoking and brings up a number of issues that deserve further consideration, really, it would be better as several articles since each paragraph seems to contain some idea worth exploring in more depth. The David Skerrit article on Lubitsch is rather less sucessful, and seems almost lazy in it’s look at the Lubitsch set. A mostly personal take, with the standard history lesson thrown in, Skerrit doesn’t engage with the films in a very deep or meaningful way, and seems to allow personal impressions to color his thoughts on the films far too much for my taste. Perhaps If one were more tuned in to Skerrit this could be of use, but since I was interested more in Lubitsch and the films than I was about this man’s feelings about them, the critique doesn’t rise much above the level of a decent newspaper review. A similar problem is evident in Elizabeth Gumport’s poor article on Kick Ass. “Kill Bill is good and Kick Ass is bad.” Well great, I’m glad that’s cleared up. How could anyone ever have doubted it given Gumport’s assertions. I would say argument, but there’s precious little actual matter to her thoughts. She’s content to take a straight reading as given and garnish it with some rather stale “points” on good bad movies and other hoohaw. it isn’t that her ultimate point on Kick Ass being conservative or of little worth is necessarily wrong, but there would be little way of knowing one way or the other based on her glib take on the film, and even less insightful references to Kill Bill which, I guess, we are to agree with her thinking regarding its merits, since there is nothing much to base the comparison on in her article other than her line about Gogo’s metal ball providing punctuation. A real engagement with Kick Ass would at the very least have to entertain the possibility that the things she brings up against it are possibly intentionally being used as a criticism of the culture rather than a blanket celebration of it, but then that wouldn’t allow her her screed. Nicolas Rombes article on Cinema Hopping is much more interesting as he relates his experience and understanding of the group of films playing at a multiplex based off of small samplings of each. He manages to personalize his piece, but still provide a level of argument to support his assertions despite the constraints of his method of viewing each film. I don’t necessarily agree with each point he raises, but I certainly appreciate his taking ownership of the his criticism rather than simply giving them as if they came from a higher power, and his effort to really explore the films he dropped in on even though his time with them was brief. He got more from his twelve minutes with a film than Skerrit and Gumport did with full viewings.
Oh, I should add, now that I’ve finished it, Benjamin Kunkel’s article in n+1 on The Headless Woman is really first rate. It examines multiple perspectives on the film, provides a possible take of its own, and also grounds Kunkel’s viewing experience and the film in a critical and cultural history. An excellent read about a film that manages to be elusive in its ultimate meaning, but still compelling in its detail.
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Wow. Great to see Zilnik getting a full-length in-depth interview! Pleasant surprise. However, a mistake in your wrap-up: “Early Works” is not a documentary film. Also, I see that this interview is centered around Zilnik’s new film “Old School Capitalism.” I wonder why you guys made no mention of this film?
Interesting takes, Greg, many thanks! FWIW, I like mixed bags (for example, I’m a Coppola fan), and while N1FR’s first collection is as… well, messy (in the most positive sense) as, say, any given issue of Bright Lights or Senses of Cinema, it’s the difference in voices and frequencies, you might say, that make all three publications so much more lively and less predictable than some of the more academic journals, on the one hand, or run-of-the-mill entertainment journalism on the other. Nice catch, Bobby. I’ll tweak that sentence. As for Old School Capitalism, by the time I got to this piece, I could see that this entry was already ballooning up all out of proportion, so I’ve had to choose only one or two bits from each piece. I thought that, for most readers, the paragraph that puts Zilnik into historical context simply might be the more helpful one.
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Understood. I’m glad you included it in the notice anyway.

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