This week's New York Times Magazine is a special issue devoted to an argument: "Women's Rights are the Cause of Our Time." On Tuesday, Criterionreleases Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles on DVD. Friday sees the opening of The September Issue in New York and today's Observer features Amy Raphael's profile of Andrea Arnold, whose Fish Tank opens in the UK on September 11. Oh, and back in NYT, Michael Cieply reminds us that "93 percent of studio directors were male this year." Can such confluence be mere oincidence? Well, yes, of course. But a happy coincidence nonetheless.
As noted here, Dave Kehr, juxtaposing Jeanne Dielman and John Cassavetes's Husbands in the NYT, has come up with some intriguing observations about a strategic turn in the 70s. Akerman's 1975 masterpiece saw a limited theatrical run in January, which is when many first-string critics said their pieces about it; I gathered much of that here. But Criterion's Current has just run an essay by Ivone Margulies, author of Nothing Happens: Chantal Akerman's Hyperrealist Everyday: "When it came out, Jeanne Dielman was fully in tune with the European women's movement - 'Peeling Potatoes' was one of the articles in an issue of Les temps modernes edited by Simone de Beauvoir, and in Belgium the working rights of prostitutes were the subject of lively debate. The film's rigorous alignment of sexual/gender politics with a formal economy - showing cooking and hiding sex - was hailed by feminist critics as an impressive alternative to well-intentioned but conventional political documentaries and features. And many in the avant-garde felt vindicated that this narrative topically addressing women's issues was so plainly indebted to pure experiments with duration and series. Akerman's representation of a concrete, defamiliarized everyday was a defining feat."
"It's domestic ritual as abstract art," concurs Sam Adams in today's Los Angeles Times.
This year's September issue of Vogue is out and, as Gawker notes almost a little too gleefully, it's looking thin, ad-wise, while adding on Friday that the recession, for the time being, will be neither cramping Anna Wintour's style nor diminishing her power in the worlds of fashion and publishing. The September Issue documents the herculean feat of putting together last year's bulkier edition and, in the NYT, Eric Konigsberg talks with director RJ Cutler about the other intimidating presence in the film, Vogue creative director Grace Coddington.
The NYT's Maureen Dowd hopes Wintour keeps her edge: "We enjoy the editrix as dominatrix." For more background on the doc's making, turn to Philip Sherwell in the Telegraph; and Cutler lists a few favorite movies in Newsweek.
"I went to Créteil International Women's Film Festival in France with Wasp in 2004, stayed on for a few days and watched all these films by women," Andrea Arnold tells Amy Raphael. "I spent the whole time crying because there were so many films that had so much resonance for me, being female. It actually made me realise how male-dominated the film industry is in terms of perspective. If you think about a film being a very popular and expressive way of showing a mirror on life, we're getting a mainly male perspective. It's a shame. I saw a lot of fantastic films at Créteil that I never heard about again." Fish Tank, which premiered in Cannes, where it shared the Prix du Jury with Park Chan-wook's Thirst, has been picked up for the US by IFC, as Peter Knegt reports for indieWIRE.
Also in the Observer, by the way: Louise France meets Pedro Almodóvar and Penélope Cruz, who tells her, "Even when I was a little girl, I identified with him. This is the person I am interested in. Why does he see the world that way? Why does he understand women the way he does? I wanted to know this person who was brave enough to stand up for himself politically. When I was growing up, there was such a fear of change in Spain and he seemed to be the opposite." Broken Embraces, which also premiered in Cannes, opens Friday in the UK and will close this year's New York Film Festival.
Meantime, gleaning linkage from the past few days @theauteursdaily: New issue of World Picture; Michael Atkinson on Graham Greene, "for a short while the best film critic writing in English"; David Bordwell on transmedia storytelling; Mark Schilling (Japan Times) talks with Sion Sono about his new melodrama, Be Sure to Share; Chuck Stephens on Eclipse's Nikkatsu Noir set, out on Tuesday; and the Viennale program's up (hit the tabs to explore; October 22 through November 4).
Updates, 25/8: Sean Axmaker has nothing but praise for Jeanne Dielman - and for Criterion's extras: "[T]he most illuminating is Autour de Jeanne Dielman, a priceless 69-minute documentary shot on the set of the film on B&W videotape by actor Sami Frey. It's riveting to watch the communication between the 25-year-old Akerman and veteran star [Delphine] Seyrig, the young artist going on instinct and guts, the actress trying to find her way into the character and into the film, each speaking a different language."
"Need it be said that The September Issue would likely not exist if not for The Devil Wears Prada?" And Jeff Reichert's got another question at indieWIRE: "In a culture where the return of reality contest Project Runway is hotly anticipated, it's obvious that the public has some thoughts on fashion, so why doesn't The September Issue?"
Back to Jeanne Dielman. Michael Atkinson for IFC: "Before Akerman, no one had ever made a film examining emptiness, and made it so empty. It's a masterpiece that writes its own rules about how movies express themselves - you can't compare it to other films, not even Akerman's."
"It would be a cynical error to think you can 'get the idea' without actually watching Jeanne Dielman." Josef Braun explains.
Updates, 27/4: Melissa Anderson in the Voice on The September Issue: "If it feels perverse to cheer when Coddington's - lavish visions including a couture spread at the gardens of Versailles - ultimately dominate the magazine, it's a reminder of what a completely different era two years ago was." For Keith Uhlich, writing in Time Out New York, Coddington is "doc's breakout star... She counters her boss every chance she can get and provides the film with a much-needed emotional center."
"At its heart, it's really a movie about work, about the ways individuals compete with, grate against and inspire one another in the workplace," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon, where Andrew O'Hehir talks with Cutler.
Updates, 28/8: The September Issue "has little to say about fashion, the real ins and outs of publishing or the inner workings and demons of the magazine's notoriously demanding meanie-in-chief, Anna Wintour," writes Manohla Dargis in the NYT. "Rather, this entertaining, glib movie is about the maintenance of a brand that Ms Wintour has brilliantly cultivated since she assumed her place at the top of the editorial masthead in 1988 and which the documentary's director, RJ Cutler, has helped polish with a take so flattering he might as well work there."
"After seeing this film, I think it's safe to say that I'd sooner place my head into an open oven with a Zippo than work for Vogue," writes Ed Champion.
Updates, 29/8: "As a portrait of Wintour the person, RJ Cutler's documentary does little to dig under the surface of Wintour's iconic, impassive under bangs image," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "But as a meditation on art vs commerce, emotion vs rationality, and the role of fantasy merchants in the recently-burst economic bubble, The September Issue is both cerebral and accessible. If it's not as provocative as it could be, it's definitely entertaining."
"Cutler, who earned his documentary credentials producing Chris Hegedus and DA Pennebaker's The War Room (1993), has an eye for unlikely seducers," writes Amy Taubin in Artforum. "As James Carville was to Pennebaker's behind-the-scenes look at the 1992 Clinton campaign, so Coddington is to The September Issue. I hope she forgives the analogy."
Bookforum rounds up a batch of fashion-related reading.