"Worse, she is misremembered, having inspired two unfair caricatures that have lived on in a pair of popular films. In Singin' in the Rain (1952), she is parodied as Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), a silent diva whose Brooklyn accent undermines her talking debut in a French historical drama.... More malignantly, Billy Wilder used Norma Talmadge as the obvious if unacknowledged source of Norma Desmond, the grotesque, predatory silent movie queen of his 1950 film Sunset Boulevard.... The Norma Talmadge Collection from Kino International corrects that lamentable situation by offering two Talmadge features from her glory years: the 1926 comedy Kiki, directed by Clarence Brown, and the 1923 melodrama Within the Law, directed by Frank Lloyd. Oddly, neither film is typical Talmadge. Kiki is a wholly anomalous comedy, with Talmadge as a Parisian street urchin who becomes a music hall star, and Within the Law strays from melodrama into crime-film territory. But there is enough here to get a sense of who Talmadge was and what her gifts were." More from Christian Blauvelt in Slant.
Dave Kehr: "As a companion piece, Kino is also issuing The Constance Talmadge Collection, a disc devoted to Norma's younger sister.... With a vivacity that looks forward to Carole Lombard, Constance conforms more to contemporary tastes than does her sister, though her art is not as substantial." More from Aaron Cutler in Slant.
"The wonders of modern medicine and the comforts of middle-class consumerism provide fuel for the hectic furies of Nicholas Ray's 1956 melodrama Bigger Than Life," writes the New Yorker's Richard Brody. It's out on DVD and Blu-ray next week from Criterion, which has just announced a fresh round of releases for June. Earlier: Evan Davis here in The Notebook; and Paul Brunick (Film Comment) and Scott Foundas (Voice).
Michael Atkinson on Agnès Varda's The Beaches of Agnès: "The one major woman filmmaker at work in the French New Wave, Varda has been for ages a sturdy, generous and astute female sensibility in a messy film culture usually overtaken with masculine whim, simultaneously embracing and feministically angry, and watching this new film, as with The Gleaners & I, is quite like contemplating the world over wine with an anarchist aunt." Also reviewed for IFC is Adrián Biniez's Gigante," which "can best be evoked as a South American Aki Kaurismäki comedy."
DVD roundups: Sean Axmaker and Allen Gardner (Hollywood Interview).
"Zhao Dayong's quietly stunning documentary about life in a remote Chinese mountain village will get a series of much-deserved public screenings at venues nationwide over the next few weeks," notes Nelson Kim who tracks Ghost Town's schedule from its current run at MoMA (through Sunday) to a screening at UCLA on April 27 at Hammer to Nail. dGenerate Films gathers fresh raves; earlier: Acquarello and the NYFF roundup.
The Kinoteka Polish Film Festival is running in London through April 13 and, in the Guardian, Chris Michael spotlights two entries: Snow White, Russian Red is "a flashy adaptation by Xawery Żuławski (son of cult director Andrzej) of the novel by Dorota Masłowska, who was all of 19 when her book stormed the Polish literary scene," while Katarzyna Roslaniec's Mall Girls "is straight-up social realism, and harder to watch for it." In the New York Times, Dan Bilefsky reports that Mall Girls "has provoked a national debate about moral decadence in this conservative, predominantly Catholic country, 20 years after the fall of Communism.... The film that started the discussion tells the story of four teenage girls who turn tricks in the restrooms of shopping malls to support their clothing addiction. It has attained such cult status that parents across the country say they are confiscating DVDs of the film for fear it provides a lurid instruction manual. The revelation that Catholic girls, some from middle-class families, are prostituting themselves for a Chanel scarf or an expensive sushi dinner is causing many here to question whether materialism is polluting the nation's soul."
"John Hurt, all of 70 years old, will receive a lifetime achievement award and his first British retrospective from the Bradford International Film Festival this week," notes Tom Seymour at Little White Lies. "It's probably about time. He's always had the talent, he's had some great roles, and he definitely has the longevity."
In Los Angeles, The Films of Jean Renoir is a series running at LACMA through April 10, while Brazilian Films of the 1950s screen at the UCLA Film & Television Archive through April 30.
Four documentaries, three of them rather shortish, by Iranian filmmaker Kamran Shirdel have appeared on YouTube: Women Prison (1965), Women's Quarter (1966), Tehran is the Capital of Iran (1966) and The Night It Rained (1967). Fascinating viewing, with subtitles. Thanks to Tom Luddy for the tip.
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