Nicolas Roeg, Les Blank, Fassbinder and More

With Insignificance (1985) out from Criterion last week (see the roundup), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) opening at Film Forum in New York tomorrow and, in the UK, Don't Look Now (1973) out on Blu-ray on July 4, following the BFI retrospective in March, there's a Nicolas Roeg mini-revival going on.

Writing about Insignificance and The Man Who Fell to Earth for Artforum, Darrell Hartman argues, "Past is present in the cinema of Nicolas Roeg. To simply call those extratemporal sequences that punctuate his work 'flashbacks' is to downplay the role that images of what came before play in his films. Such 'digressive' framing devices are, in many ways, the emotional and visual keystones of Roeg's work. In his heyday, from the 1970s until the mid-80s, Roeg was known as an envelope pusher. He employed nonlinear editing as part of an ambitious attempt to bridge space and time, cutting frames together with an eye toward enriching the interplay of associations in the viewer's mind. Thus a gesture at the center of one scene is overtly replicated in the next one, or one character seemingly responds to another, even if the two actions or people are decades or time zones apart. One rarely engages fully with the sloppy top layers of a Roeg film (the characters, the story). The real action takes place on a slightly creepy subliminal level."

Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York on The Man Who Fell to Earth: "It may be time to stop calling Nicolas Roeg's sexed-up sci-fi film that vaguely demeaning term — a cult classic — and start addressing it as what it is: the most intellectually provocative genre film of the 1970s. The allure of its perfectly cast star, David Bowie (emaciated and still months from going clean), overshadowed the content of the script in its day. Too easy, it was, to focus on Roeg's cheap-looking effects and the weirdness of the Thin White Duke himself — playing a forlorn alien who quietly builds an Earth-based space program — and ignore Roeg's rich testament to his own strange, adopted land: America."

In the Voice, Nick Pinkerton finds the film "undeniably long, Panavision-wide, but of questionable depth. While immortalizing Bowie's mantis-like exoticism, Roeg fails to connect to the longing for family reunion that drives the plot. Domesticity is more vividly imagined as part of Earth society's sickness, defied in a preposterous moment where Bowie slo-mo slaps a tray of chocolate-chip cookies from [Candy] Clark's hands. Like her, the viewer sticks out the bad for a chance at the extraordinary; Roeg's images are nearly reward enough."

Interviews with Roeg: David Fear (TONY) and Nathan Francis (Little White Lies). Sam Wasson talks with Theresa Russell about Insignificance and more for Criterion.

Update: From the Playlist: "The Essentials: The Films of Nicolas Roeg." Update, 6/26: Hilary Whitney interviews Roeg for the Arts Desk.

 



"So much of what you need to know about Les Blank can be found in the titles of his documentaries: God Respects Us When We Work, but Loves Us When We Dance, Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers, Sprout Wings and Fly, Spend It All, In Heaven There Is No Beer?" Steve Dollar in the Wall Street Journal: "Mr Blank's festive chronicles of indigenous American subjects, whether the Cajun musicians he often celebrates or the sensual grins that light up the funkily feminist Gap-Toothed Women, echo with a promiscuous, polyglot joy." Les Blank: Ultimate Insider, running at MoMA from tomorrow through July 11, "begins with Mr Blank's first film, 1964's Dizzy Gillespie, and continues into the digital era with the feature-length All in This Tea (2007), a trek to the far corners of China with American tea importer David Lee Hoffman — with an appearance by Werner Herzog, another favorite focal point."

"It's ironic, or perhaps typical," finds Nicolas Rapold, who talks with Blank for the Voice, "that Blank's most widely known work remains his (narrated) 1982 chronicle of a filmmaking friend who makes the ardors and travails of his work part of the show. Burden of Dreams — a Criterion Collection property, in a catalog of currently self-distributed titles that deserve exposure — tracks the now brand-named Werner Herzog through the perilous Ecuador shoot of reflexive Klaus Kinski jungle epic Fitzcarraldo (at one point nearly half-completed — starring Jason Robards and Mick Jagger). 'Yeah, I try to stay out of it,' Blank says of his contrasting approach. 'But I let my feelings get in the film.' The living detail of his coverage, his distinct but not intrusive stance, and the virtuosity of his film's editing (with collaborator Maureen Gosling) place the director closer to the Frederick Wiseman side of the spectrum rather than with Herzog the Great Explorer. The two influences Blank cites, in fact, both relate to craft, in the form of music synch: Pinocchio, and Serbian expat/Hollywood montage maven/former dean of USC film school Slavko Vorkapic."

 

NOT IN NEW YORK


Note that the entry on the Los Angeles Film Festival carries on expanding. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival is on through Sunday and the Philadelphia Weekly's got ten capsule reviews.

 



"A belated 'happy birthday' to Günther Kaufmann, who turned 64 last week," wishes Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. "If you are at all familiar with this Bavarian actor and his work, chances are you will remember him like this rather than like this. Not a towering figure in cinema history by any means, but a tangentially influential one, given the effect he had on a director for whom 'towering' would not be overstating the case. Rainer Werner Fassbinder was besotted with Kaufmann, and in 1971 he wrote a play based on their relationship. The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant was a berserk, angry, funny and ultimately exhausting analysis of sado-masochistic power games masquerading as love. In 1972, he made a film version. I wonder if Kaufmann watched it as part of his birthday celebrations. I would think not…. In 2005, The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant was adapted into an opera. The film has legs, as they say. Next month, there are two screenings of it at BFI Southbank. It's one of Fassbinder's most robust and punishing movies, almost on a par with his masterpiece Fear Eats the Soul, which is another picture born out of his destructive relationship with a male actor. Great director and everything, one of my favorites in fact, but he couldn't compartmentalize to save his life."

For those in Melbourne, Screen Machine has a to-do list.

 

IN OTHER NEWS


"David Rayfiel, a screenwriter who in a long creative relationship with the director Sydney Pollack and Robert Redford collaborated on many of their most successful films, including Three Days of the Condor, Out of Africa and The Way We Were, but usually chose to keep his work anonymous, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 87." William Grimes in the New York Times.

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  • David Ehrenstein

    When Fassbinder married Ingrid Caven he spent the wedding night with his Best Man — Gunther.

    He was fascinated by the fact that Gunther was the offspring of a German woman a black American G.I.

    Fassbinder’s Beware of a Holy Whore is about the shooting of Whity<.i> his Raoul Walsh-inspired Western through which he hoped to make Gunther a star.

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