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Undercurrent, Midnight Eye, Panahi and Rasoulof

The special section in the new issue of Undercurrent on Blake Edwards, who passed away last month, opens with an earnest appreciation Adrian Martin wrote back in 1987: "What knocks on the door of Edwards's most progressive films is the thrilling possibility of actually thinking and instituting self-other relations in a radically different way: multiple-partner arrangements with the option of bisexuality. This bears no relation to the sexual fantasies of the so-called permissive society: for Edwards, this is a fully and powerfully sentimental dream, a song of love."

Blake Lucas argues that Drive a Crooked Road (1954) is "a quiet Columbia programmer that has aged impressively, indeed magnificently," while Dan Sallitt finds that one of Edwards's "earliest and best films, 1957's Mister Cory can be placed into a category, if not exactly a genre, that was popular at the time: the color, usually widescreen drama of personal aspiration and loss, staged in beautiful and prosperous locations." And he outlines a few stylistic elements that distinguish Cory from the work of Edwards's contemporaries, Sirk, Ray and Minnelli.

"Almost half a century after it was made, Breakfast at Tiffany's remains a very Edwardsian picture, both sad (in particular, everything involving Buddy Ebsen's love for Holly when she was Lula Mae Barnes) and funny, graceful, and light," writes Miguel Marías. See, too, novelist Andrew O'Hagan (The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe) in the Telegraph on Tiffany's and Alex Cox in the Guardian on Audrey Hepburn. The occasion for both pieces is the film's return to a few theaters in the UK today.

Undercurrent editor Chris Fujiwara has a few notes on Experiment in Terror (1962) and What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966): "Lateness is the mark of Blake Edwards's career: he came late, as a director, to a Hollywood system already aware of itself as aging and shortly to die but still clinging to the prestige of a certain way of constructing the universe as an aesthetic object."

Then there's Jean-Pierre Coursodon on gender ambivalence and ambiguity in Victor/Victoria (1982) and Switch (1991); June Werrett considers the ways in which S.O.B. (1981) "pivots on the excremental"; Gregg Rickman revisits the late work and finds Edwards to be "a rebel very much of his times, but still a rebel"; Brad Stevens on Edwards in the 80s: "I realize that describing films such as Blind Date [1987], Micki + Maude [1984] and Skin Deep [1989] — films which were generally considered undemanding mainstream comedies, and are now long forgotten — as masterpieces will be controversial. But, looking at several of them again recently, they still seem to me at least as creative, sophisticated, and vital as any of Hollywood's acknowledged comedy classics, with which they share a sense of robust good health. Most 80s comedies exploited neurotic fears — fears of the human body, of femininity, of The Other, even of the emotional engagement encouraged by genre films (hence the extremely popular series of parodies such as Airplane! and near parodies such as the Indiana Jones series). Edwards regards these fears with a wry amusement that, in this context, has the force of a radical protest: even his undisguised and unashamed sentimentality functions as a critical tool, implicitly critiquing that knowing cynicism which had become so prevalent in American cinema."

Also in issue #7: Larysa Smirnova and Dmitry Martov discuss Jean-Claude Biette (1942-2003), a film critic at Cahiers du cinéma who later co-founded with TraficSerge Daney, with Pierre Léon, who's recently completed a documentary, Biette. The interviewers first note that Biette is still relatively unknown in the English-speaking world, despite "Adrian Martin officially adopting Biette's 'poétique des auteurs,' as opposed to the classic 'politique des auteurs,' as his working method; Bill Krohn trying to promulgate Biette's classification of film directors (réalisateur — metteur en scène — author — cinéaste) to enliven the debates around the auteur theory on a now-almost-defunct internet discussion group; and Andy Rector recently publishing in his blog Kino Slang an English translation of Biette's review of Straub and Huillet's Trop tôt, trop tard (1982)." Biette "reflects Léon's ambition of trying not only to reinstate the solitary figure of his friend and maître to his well-deserved place in collective cinephilic consciousness but also to fill in a larger blank page in the history of French cinema, giving voice to the generation of filmmakers 'lost between the New Wave and the 1990s.'"

The other day, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky selected this bit from Ricky D'Ambrose's piece in the issue, "Notes on Film School": "Aesthetics are translated into devices, form into technique ... Hence, close-ups become 75mm lenses, sumptuous images become filters and tungsten lights, the sound of footsteps becomes a cardioid microphone, locations become budgets, et al. ... What is important is not always that the image is an image, but that it is an accumulation of tricks and processes that allows it to become an image."

Chris Fujiwara remembers Hideko Takamine: "Calmly and without resentment the voice accuses the world of the film. We accept the voice as our delegate; the voice is claiming, for all of us, the right to a different life. Claiming it as an exile can make a claim, patiently, factually." He also picks out several highlights from last year's Viennale.

For Caroline Abasta, Brillante Mendoza's Serbis (2008) "explores [the Philippines'] identity disorder — a condition which manifests itself in the deterioration of the family, issues around masculinity and femininity, sexuality as capital, the psychological underpinnings of religion and, finally, the cinema as both mirror and creator of identity." Yvette Biro on The Time That Remains (2009): "Only Elia Suleiman's deeply personal and wry wisdom could have resulted in this overwhelmingly rich, multi-faceted film, dedicated to the memory of his mother and father." Mike Mosher on David Laderman's Punk Slash! Musicals: Tracking Slip-Sync on Film: "This lively book examines British and American Punk — a term as worthy of capitalization as Imagist, Surrealist or Situationist — rock musicals from about 1978 to 1986."

Midnight Eye's editors and contributors, a dozen in all, have each drawn up a couple of lists looking back on the best and worst Japanese and other films of 2010. "The year 2010 was notable for two things from my point of view," writes Tom Mes. "Firstly, the seemingly sudden emergence of a rather large number of very diverse independent filmmakers, such as Daishi Matsunaga, Tsuki Inoue (whose Autumn Adagio was on my list last year), Kota Yoshida, and Kasumi Hiraoka (and to these we should add the breakthrough of Tetsuaki Matsue with Live Tape)… The year's other joyous development was the confirmation (as if such a thing were still needed) of the everlasting genius of Takashi Miike, in the shape of Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City and 13 Assassins, as well as repeated viewing of a number of his earlier works, which showed to have taken on entirely new dimensions. This too proved to be enormously inspiring - so much so that I sat down during the summer to pen a second book on Miike, scheduled for publication through FAB Press in 2011."

Jasper Sharp isn't quite as enthusiastic. This past year, he "completed a book, The Historical Dictionary of Japanese Cinema, which will be published by Scarecrow Press next year; launched a new film festival in London, Zipangu Fest; and witnessed the birth of my son, Thorin. In retrospect however, I don't think it was such a good year for Japanese cinema, nor indeed, cinema in general." Agree or disagree, but do scroll up and down that long, long string of titles and commentary.

Also new at Midnight Eye is Mes's interview with Shinya Tsukamoto and his accompanying review of Tetsuo: The Bullet Man: "It not only has the considerable legacy of the first two films to fight against, but also the spectre of the Tsukamoto / Tarantino / Tim Roth / Roger Avary version that never was. Seen from this angle, the film was and always will be up against a fantasy that is sweeter, cooler and better in everyone's heads than any actual hands-on film could ever be. Filling Tetsuo's boots is one thing, filling imaginary boots is quite another." Still, he argues, "Tetsuo: The Bullet Man IS a true Tetsuo film as well as a true Tsukamoto film. There is no doubt about this; it represents another step in the evolution of both."

"The story of how Haruki Murakami's much-loved novel Norwegian Wood made it to the screen is almost a movie in itself," writes Lindsay Nelson, who then relates that story, albeit briefly. "Fans of Tran [Anh Hung] will immediately recognize the film as his: Norwegian Wood is a story told in textures and colors" and it "seduces immediately on visuals alone."

A sliver of hope? "Iran's government opposes a sentence served on renowned filmmaker Jafar Panahi which jails him for six years and bans him from making movies for 20 years," reports Farhad Pouladi for the AFP. "'It is the judiciary which has passed the sentence and it is not the position of the government and the president,' said Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's chief of staff. 'We do not approve that Jafar Panahi cannot work for a long time based on this sentence,' Rahim Mashaie was quoted as saying by Shargh newspaper." But Pouladi also notes that "Rahim Mashaie's comments came in for sharp criticism from Iran's leading hardline newspaper, Kayhan."

For die taz, and yet in English, Ines Kappert talks with Rafi Pitts, who tells her that he's had no response from his open letter to Ahmadinejad. Still, he believes that having had it published in the Western press, chances that it will reach the president are relatively good. As for his colleagues' reaction to the sentencing of Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof, he notes that the Association of Iranian Filmmakers has "called on all film workers in the West to boycott the forthcoming Fajr film festival in Tehran. For filmmakers in Iran that means making a big sacrifice, because this festival is an important forum for showing their films." And as for his own call for a worldwide two-hour strike on February 11, "I know I'm asking a lot. But if it helps to save Panahi und Rasulov, then a two-hour strike is maybe not too much to ask. During those two hours, some people may start to think about what it would mean not to be allowed to work for twenty years."

Cine Foundation International has worked with Particle to create White Meadows, a new web and smartphone application "scheduled to deploy this week will allow anyone in the world to record a short video statement about Panahi and Rasoulof. There will be an ESCAPE button at top, allowing quick exit for those in countries where recording a statement would be dangerous. There will an option to have the screen black, and soon, voice distortion. The video statements will be recorded as mp4s, giving them maximum transmedia capacity, which essentially makes them broadcastable from any device that can show video."

As for The White Meadows the film, directed by Rasoulof and edited by Panahi, it'll be screening tomorrow at MoMA as part of Global Lens 2011.

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