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Weimar Cinema, William S Burroughs, Passings

I believe we can consider this a recommendation: "A few times each decade, the Museum of Modern Art mounts a film retrospective so focused, inclusive, and downright eye-opening, that it begs to become a daily fix," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Weimar Cinema, 1919–1933: Daydreams and Nightmares is one such retro. Knock off work in time for the 4:30 shows — you can use this column as your doctor's note — or rush through your dinner to make the 7:30 ones, and don't forget weekends. MOMA's 75-feature survey of Germany's groundbreaking silent and fertile early-sound cinema invites total, obsessive immersion.... For the next four months, there won't be a better, richer, more compelling course in film history available anywhere in town."

The series opens today and runs through March 7. Dave Kehr in the New York Times: "Programmed by Laurence Kardish of MoMA in cooperation with the Deutsche Kinemathek and the FW Murnau Foundation, the series includes not only perennial classics like Fritz Lang's M (Dec 9) and FW Murnau's Nosferatu (Dec 12), but also dozens of titles that have been rediscovered and restored in recent years, many presented with English subtitles for the first time in the United States.... In the standard film histories Weimar is synonymous with Expressionism... But Expressionism was a short-lived novelty, taken up in a handful of films like Karlheinz Martin's long-lost From Morn to Midnight (Nov 21 and 22) and Hans Werckmeister's science-fiction curiosity Algol: Tragödie der Macht (Nov 29 and Dec 2) before the public tired of its grotesque exaggerations. Instead the lessons learned from Expressionism — the dramatic use of dense patterns of light and shadow; the creation of complex, emotionally charged spaces through sets constructed in a studio — were tamed and absorbed into a wide range of genres, from social satires like Ernst Lubitsch's 1919 Oyster Princess (Jan 23 and 26) to romantic melodramas like Hanns Schwarz's 1929 Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna (Jan 28 and 31).... Yet the revelation of the MoMA program is the large collection of comedies and musicals produced in the Weimar years. These are movies of wit, charm and lightness of touch that because they do not fit the traditional Weimar narrative of gathering fascist clouds, have largely been tossed out of the repertory. The same year that [Slatan Dudow's] Kuhle Wampe [1932, Jan 9] was depicting a shantytown for the unemployed with unsettling authenticity, a musical comedy called A Blond Dream (Nov 20 and 22 [image above]) imagined happy-go-lucky window washers living in improvised luxury in an abandoned trailer and competing for the affections of a dancer (Lilian Harvey) who dreams of going to Hollywood."

Mark Peikert talks with Kardish for the New York Press: "There is somewhat of a misconception of the films made in Germany between 1919 and 1933, based in part from a book written here, From Caligari to Hitler. Which is an excellent book but argues that, basically, the films of the period are all about madmen, evil geniuses and people taking over other people's souls. But in fact, there were an equal number of films that were musicals or comedies and much brighter works. And I wanted to be able to give a fuller and more comprehensive image."

"Of the four writers that composed the most visible works of the Beat canon, William S Burroughs was arguably the grittiest and most bedeviling," writes Joseph Jon Lanthier in Slant: "Harvard educated, a decade older than Ginsberg and Kerouac, and far better acquainted than either with the perils of hard narcotics, Burroughs played equal parts wicked mentor and cautionary Father Time to his cohorts. Due in part to this and to his obstreperous iconoclasm (his 'cut up' novels remain intermittently fascinating examples of deconstructive philology), his later association with punk and grunge is unsurprising (Patti Smith and Kurt Cobain were disciples). What's mostly neglected, however, is how lyrically plaintive the raunchy, episodic exploits of Naked Lunch and Junkie are; Burroughs's fetid groans make a lament like 'Howl' seem like calmly blue scribbles. Only the icon's inimitable voice provides a sufficient window to his ineffable sadness; the sonic equivalent of rancid sour mash dripping off a rusty nail, Burroughs's worldly dialect is secularly incantatory musique concrète. Yony Leyser's documentary William Burroughs: A Man Within knows when and how to use its subject's distinctive voice; some of the best footage here features Burroughs drawling out vacuous but intoxicatingly enunciated musings on love, art, and death while breaking bread with Andy Warhol."

Steve Dollar talks with Leyser for the Wall Street Journal: "'I thought this guy must be the most open, wild person who had led this insane life,' Mr Leyser said. 'But instead I learned that he was troubled and reserved.' The filmmaker made use of old Super-8 and VHS footage of Burroughs, taken by rock-star pals like Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore and retrieved from 'old, moldy boxes' in the homes of his everyday Kansas neighbors. And longtime Burroughs associate John Giorno gave Mr Leyser access to 'the Bunker,' the writer's old New York apartment in the basement of 222 Bowery, where many interviews were shot amid a décor and collection of effects that remain as Burroughs left them.... What emerges in William S Burroughs: A Man Within is a character who could write in outlandish graphic detail about then-forbidden — and, at times, science-fictional — sexuality in his novels of the 1950s and 60s, but who was squeamish talking about it in the flesh. This was a Burroughs who was generous in his affections for friends and acolytes, but whose avuncular veneer covered up a haunting loneliness."

More from David Fear (Time Out New York, 2 out of 5 stars), Stephen Holden (NYT), Nick Pinkerton (Voice) and Ryan Vlastelica (L).



What an exceedingly strange and sad mystery. "The premiere party for the movie Burlesque was just the sort of glitzy Hollywood affair that Ronni Chasen, a veteran movie publicist, loved, and as she had for four decades, she worked the room with relish," report Harriet Ryan, Andrew Blankstein and Martha Groves in the Los Angeles Times. "As celebrities, including Jane Fonda and the film's stars Cher and Christina Aguilera, mingled around a rooftop pool, Chasen moved among the revelers with a songwriter whose work she was promoting. 'She was happy-go-lucky and gossipy and fun, just like she always was," said Jim Dobson, a publicist who crossed paths with Chasen around midnight. Less than an hour and a half later, Chasen was dead, gunned down in her Mercedes in an assault that baffled police and made a woman who spent her career touting others, the talk of Hollywood. When word of the slaying broke, some studios canceled meetings and conference calls that had been scheduled to strategize their Oscar campaigns — Chasen's specialty. One publicist set up a reward fund and others closed their offices for the day." As of this writing, police still have no motive and no suspect.

"One of America's earliest child stars, long forgotten except for Internet nostalgia buffs and silent-film aficionados, Baby Marie — Marie Osborne Yeats — died Thursday at her home in San Clemente, Calif. She was 99." Robert D McFadden in the NYT: "She was a toddler when she made her debut in Kidnapped in New York, a 1914 potboiler with a tinkling piano to cue the drama. She made 28 more films in five years, including the memorable Little Mary Sunshine, her 1916 portrayal of a motherless 5-year-old whose love for a drunken father turns him away from the devil brew."

"Veteran Hong Kong director Wong Tin-lam died at 8:20pm on 16 Nov, aged 83," reports Stephen Cremin for Film Business Asia. "He made his greatest contributions to Cantonese language cinema in the 1950s and 1960s in a wide variety of genres including comedies, musicals and melodramas before entering the television industry in the 1970s. Since retiring as a director in the 1990s, Wong has concentrated on acting with memorable roles in the films of Johnnie To."

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(sigh) Who in the world pulls a gun on someone, much less shoots them, Very sad to hear about Chasen…. Much less important, but stinks for me, is that living in rural North Carolina, I doubt I’d ever get a fighting chance to see an extensive retrospective on something so illuminating as something devoted to Weimar cinema would be.

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