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Cineaste: Winter 2009

The Auteurs Daily

Night of the Living Dead

"Its critical thunder eclipsed at the time by the more lushly funded Planet of the Apes and 2001: A Space Odyssey (both of which brokered in discomfiting speculation about mankind's origins and destiny), Night of the Living Dead seems the more influential work forty years after the fact," argues Richard Harland Smith. "Eschewing heady preoccupations of past and future, the film grounds itself in the moment, favoring infection over evolution as a vector for change.... As it was ripped off, remade, referenced, and sequelized, the film's logline incubated to emerge as archetypal an American narrative as the frontier myth."

In a companion piece, part of the "Special Focus" on contemporary horror in the new issue of Cineaste, Robert Cashill reviews five new books on horror. More books under review: Peter Tonguette on two books about Vincente Minnelli and Henry K Miller on The Tenth Muse: Writing about Cinema in the Modernist Period and Moving Forward, Looking Back: The European Avant-Garde and the Invention of Film Culture, 1919 - 1939.

"With the introduction in 1967 of the first affordable portable video camera, the Portapak, filmmakers, artists, and purveyors of radical media suddenly found themselves armed with a motion-picture apparatus that offered a host of new tools and potentialities, new methods of expressing ideas and capturing reality, a new medium whose nature and parameters cried out for exploration and experimentation," writes Jared Rapfogel. "And in the decade or so of the medium's infancy, an explosion of exploration did indeed occur, as a host of pioneers set about mapping the possibilities offered by video. Given the enormous volume of creative activity that transpired in video's infancy, and the vast range of approaches, the project of encapsulating this period is an inherently daunting one. But Surveying the First Decade: Video Art and Alternative Media in the US, 1968 - 1980, the ambitious DVD box set organized and produced by Chicago-based Video Data Bank - one of the most important, committed, and longstanding of experimental video distributors - manages the task with great aplomb."

More DVDs: Adam Bingham on Criterion's Nikkatsu Noir collection, Jonathan Murray on The Saragossa Manuscript (related: Lee Arizuno in the Quietus on The Surrealist Visions of Wojciech Has, a season currently touring the UK), Amy R Handler on Kino International's Gaumont Treasures, 1897 - 1913, Martha P Nochimson on Ashes of Time Redux and, again, Adam Bingham, here with a roundup of releases of work by Maurice Pialat from Masters of Cinema and Artificial Eye: "Viewed today, six years after his death and twelve years since his last work, he emerges as a key figure in the development of that austere, uncompromising strain of French cinema that would achieve prominence in films like Louis Malle's Lacombe Lucien, Sandrine Veysset's Will it Snow for Christmas?, and Bertrand Tavernier's The Bait, and which today finds its nadir in such figures as the Dardenne brothers and Bruno Dumont. Pialat's early works anticipate these films' microcosmic stories of broken families and corrosive personal relationships, their emphasis on predominantly working-class characters and environments, and their concern with existential self-definition and the extent to which characters' identities and subjectivity can be shaped by personal agency as opposed to the environment and familial/social milieu in which they live. What is surprising, no less than it is astonishing, is how early in his career Pialat cemented this particular esthetic, and at a time when there was almost no audience for works of committed social realism."

"In his second feature, The Maid, Chilean director and cowriter Sebastián Silva draws on his own memories of family domestic help, still quite common among the middle class in contemporary South America," writes Megan Ratner. "Rural emigrants to the city, these women often begin in their late teens, tending to one family for decades. The film captures exactly the hived-off separation and inadvertent intimacy of such a live-in servant. In their Sundance Festival double prizewinner, Silva and cowriter Pedro Peirano expose this peculiar normality and the shifting female power that keeps it in precarious balance."

Interviews: James Morgart with Stuart Gordon, Cynthia Lucia with Cédric Klapisch and David Sterritt with Christopher Trumbo. Festival reports: Dennis West on Karlovy Vary, Richard Porton on Toronto and Gary Crowdus on the Montreal World Film Festival.

Image: Night of the Living Dead. Further reading: PopMatters' 40th anniversary special, October 2008.

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