Dearden, Brooks, Gance, Harrington, Sabu, More

"The title of Basil Dearden's London Underground, a four-DVD Eclipse Series box set from Criterion Collection covering the late 50s and early 60s work of the British director, is a bit deceptive," finds Steve Erickson in Gay City News. "To be fair, Dearden's work was often prescient about the coming rebellions of the 1960s, depicting the beginnings of the black and gay civil rights movements. However, he did so from a well-intentioned but square outsider's perspective. There's a world of difference between Dearden's visions of interracial couples in Sapphire and All Night Long and the excoriations of Japanese director Nagisa Oshima, recently honored with his own Eclipse box set, aimed at his country's discrimination against Koreans. Dearden's noble politics are often expressed through plodding filmmaking. Still, he beat a seemingly more progressive director like Oshima to the punch in one respect. Dearden took on the subject of homosexuality when it was still illegal in Britain, creating a landmark of gay cinema with Victim. Oshima wouldn't get around to addressing it until 1983's Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence."

Melissa Anderson for Artforum: "Though succumbing occasionally to the creaky, heavy-handed dialogue typical of social-awareness films, Victim remains a thoughtful, sober work (particularly when contrasted with the hysteria of another high-profile, lavender-themed movie made the same year on the other side of the Atlantic: William Wyler's The Children's Hour). The corrosive effects of the closet and self-loathing are unsparingly examined across class lines and age groups."

"A character-driven tale of driven characters whose professional triangle trumps their romantic one, Broadcast News (1987) takes place after the fall of the Equal Rights Amendment and before the fall of the Berlin Wall — a time when gender wars and cold wars (rather than infotainment and political scandal) led the news." Carrie Rickey for Criterion: "James L Brooks's comedy about people for whom work defines life stars Holly Hunter as the quintessential 80s heroine, juggling career and love, ethical lines and deadlines — and charts the era's shifts in the field of reporting. But more than a snapshot of a specific time and profession, Broadcast News is Brooks's keenest study to date of human relations, and his most fully realized film. Hunter, Albert Brooks, and William Hurt are individually and collectively superb, caroming off one other as newshounds who venture outside their comfort zones."

For Josef Braun, Broadcast News represents "the zenith of a particular kind of Hollywood film, one Brooks has made a career of, sometimes winningly, sometimes disastrously (How Do You Know), sometimes problematically while under the impression that this is As Good As It Gets. His are brainy, ambitious comedies with an interest in group dynamics, social milieux and romantic frustration, that delve into their characters' eccentricities rather than simply use those eccentricities for superficial color."

Criterion's releases of Sam Fuller's Shock Corridor (1963) and The Naked Kiss (1964) amount to "august treatment for two films that essentially jumped from 42nd Street to the Cinémathèque Française, with little support from American critics," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "With The Naked Kiss Fuller achieved a kind of freedom rare in American filmmaking: the freedom to pursue his own highly idiosyncratic style as far as it could lead him, far beyond Hollywood's institutional limits of reason, plausibility, good taste and, possibly, common sense. He was always himself — he couldn't help it — but he was superlatively, extraordinarily himself in these two ever-astonishing films." More from Alonso Duralde (Movieline) and Keith Phipps (AV Club). Earlier: Last week's roundup.

DVD roundups. Sean Axmaker, Ed Gonzalez (House Next Door), Mark Kermode (Observer), Harley W Lond (Cinematical), Paul Matwychuk and Heather Noel, Stephen Saito (IFC), Michael Tully (Hammer to Nail) and Mike Wilmington (Movie City News).

 

IN NEW YORK


Nicolas Rapold for Artforum: "Kevin Brownlow's Abel Gance: The Charm of Dynamite gets its title from one account of the snowball fight in Gance's Napoléon (1927) — so notable was the French silent-film pioneer's ability to rally the troops, even in an era when spectacle was often measured in mobilized masses. Part profile and part compilation, the 1968 film is being paired with Nelly Kaplan's short 1963 doc on Gance at the Museum of Modern Art, where his antiwar epic J'Accuse (1938) will also screen. The program shows a filmmaker whose career sometimes seems stuck under the sign of rediscovery — from Brownlow's seminal written history from 1968, The Parade's Gone By (where Gance is the climactic figure), to Kaplan's chronicles (which include a 1980s postmortem look), on through Flicker Alley's reconstructive DVD editions of La roue (1923) and J'Accuse."

 

Tonight in New York, at Participant, "the writer and curator Bradford Nordeen has programmed an evening of Curtis Harrington films for the new monthly screening series Dirty Looks, starting with two of the director's experimental shorts, Fragment of Seeking (1946) and On the Edge (1949), and ending with Tracy (1983), a Harrington-directed episode of the TV soap Dynasty. Harrington, who assisted Kenneth Anger on some of his early films, made his first independent feature in 1961, Night Tide, which starred a young Dennis Hopper. He fell in with the Roger Corman crowd and directed some films for Corman, then found his niche as the director of horror-inflected melodramas which usually starred blowsy ladies of a certain age like Shelley Winters and Ann Sothern. In the 1980s, Harrington started directing for episodic television; he died in 2007. I recently spoke with Nordeen about his Harrington program and why this director remains such an intriguing cult figure."

Beginning tonight, "the Japan Society welcomes Sabu to New York, feting the director with a six-film retrospective, Run, Salaryman, Run!," notes Steve Dollar at GreenCine Daily. "Though amply championed by the thrill-addicted crew that runs the New York Asian Film Festival and featured at the 2009 New York Film Festival (for the atypical maritime period piece Kanikôsen), Sabu seems to be under-appreciated in the English-speaking market. His immensely likable capers are grounded in quotidian realities that suddenly blow up into man-in-peril action comedies. But they're more screwballsy than psychotronic, and Americans (myself included) who fetishize the work of Japanese cult auteurs love our Miikes, Nishimuras, Tsukamotos and Wakamatsus for their unabashed taste for the extreme, the fantastical, and the transgressive."

"Strongman, Zachary Levy's lump-in-the-throat portrait of an aging muscleman, is an outsider tale of unforced rawness and lilting poignancy," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the NYT. More from Aaron Hillis in the Voice. At the IFC Center for one week.

Before and After Woody: A Critical Appreciation, two days of screenings and discussions, happens at the 92nd Street Y in Tribeca tomorrow and Friday.

 

FESTS


The seventh Slapstick Festival kicks off in Bristol tomorrow and runs through Sunday.

The Berlinale (February 10 through 20) has unveiled a few last titles lined up for its Panorama program and announced another roster of names who'll be dispensing expertise during the Berlinale Talent Campus, including Jury President Isabella Rossellini, cinematographer Edward Lachman, István Szabó, Ralph Fiennes and Kerry Fox.

 

IN OTHER NEWS


Selections from the new Winter 2011 issue of Filmmaker are up, including Ray Pride's interview with Mike Ott (Littlerock), Scott Macaulay's with Neil Burger (Limitless), Howard Feinstein's with Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives) and Jason Guerrasio's with Michelle Williams (Meek's Cutoff).

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  • Robert Regan

    The serious problem pictures in the late fifties and early sixties, including Victim, were about people who thought about doing something “wrong”. There was another one where Stuart Whitman almost molested a child. That way they could be sympathetic because they didn’t actually do it. Pf course, if you commit adultery in your heart…

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