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With Death in the Title. Allan King, Woody Allen, More

For Criterion's Current, Michael Koresky writes extensively on each of the five films in this week's Eclipse package, The Actuality Dramas of Allan King: Warrendale (1967), A Married Couple (1969), Come On Children (1972), Dying at Grace (2003) and Memory for Max, Claire, Ida and Company (2005). "King's early nonfiction features are generally considered part of the 1960s cinema verité and Direct Cinema schools of filmmaking, named alongside works by such pioneers of those movements as Jean Rouch, Richard Leacock, DA Pennebaker and the Maysles brothers. King shared with these artists a desire to capture life as it happened, as well as a questioning of the ethics of that desire and a self-reflexive acknowledgment of the camera's inherently mediating presence. But King's films... stand out from the field for their sheer sense of drama... From moments out of time, captured as unobtrusively as possible, King sculpts narratives with the finesse of a great scenarist."

A restruck and restored version of A Married Couple has just screened in Toronto and it's "perhaps King's crowning achievement," proposes Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times. A Married Couple is "a chronicle of a volatile marriage that often matches the devastating intensity of a similarly themed fiction film of the period, John Cassavetes's Faces."The subjects are Billy and Antoinette Edwards, onetime bohemians now living in suburbia with a young son. As with Warrendale, King and his crew appear to have gained the total trust of their subjects and spent weeks with them... Although grounded in observation, both films also have clear dramatic structures, and King acknowledged that he took liberties with chronology for the sake of narrative balance and emotional coherence. Warrendale builds to a long, draining sequence, filled with tantrums and tears, that begins when the children learn that their cook has died, and A Married Couple alternates between playful tenderness and knock-down, drag-out fights."

Back in Current, Adam Nayman looks back on his conversations with King in the later years of his life (King died in June 2009) and filmmaker Sami Kahn writes that "for me, Allan wasn't just one of the greatest nonfiction filmmakers of all time (as if that isn't enough), he was also a mentor, a beacon of light, and a steadying force during my darkest days. Watching his films and listening to him speak about them, on a daily basis, I learned the single most important lesson in filmmaking: at their best and most profound, movies are about working something out — something deep inside your soul, whether that's pain or anger or longing or love. With Dying at Grace, Allan admitted, he was confronting his own mortality, something he had avoided for a long time."

Reviewing Kino's new set Fantômas: The Complete Saga for the New York Times, Dave Kehr notes that, stylistically, the five-film series "still belongs to early cinema in the sense that it makes little use of the techniques of analytical editing and parallel montage that DW Griffith and others had begun to develop in the United States. Instead, Feuillade stages his scenes in the earlier manner, as they might be witnessed by a spectator sitting in the auditorium of a theater, using long takes to cover action presented within a proscenium space. For generations this early tableau style was dismissed by historians as primitive and uncinematic, but Feuillade's work is the perfect illustration of how dynamic and expressive it could be." More from Sean Axmaker; earlier: Andrew Schenker in Slant.

DVD roundups. Sean Axmaker, Peter Martin (Cinematical), Paul Matwychuk and Heather Noel, Noel Murray (LAT), Stephen Saito (IFC), Slant and Michael Tully (Hammer to Nail).





"The older Woody Allen gets, the more the nebbish-jester mask dissolves to reveal the pinched sneerer underneath," writes Fernando F Croce in Slant. "Can a longtime comedy writer really be this unwarmed by life? In You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, the writer-director's London-set roundelay of neurotics, muses, and frauds, the mysterious stranger of the cumbersome title turns out to be not Antonio Banderas (who joins Freida Pinto in playing insultingly 'exotic' objects of desire for the rest of the cast), but, as one character points out, the Grim Reaper himself. The fact that such moldy fatalism feels truer to Allen's worldview than, say, the faux-sensualism of Vicky Cristina Barcelona doesn't exactly ameliorate the sourness of this ensemble dramedy, which plays less as a critique of the characters' willful delusions than as a jaundiced hymn to their necessity."

"The metaphysical pessimism that constitutes Mr Allen's annual greeting-card message to the human race — just in case we needed reminding that our existence is meaningless — is served up in Tall Dark Stranger with a wry shrug and an amusing flurry of coincidences, reversals and semi-surprises," writes AO Scott in the NYT. "There are hints of farce, droplets of melodrama, a few dangling loose ends and an overall mood of sloppy, tolerant cynicism. At this point in his career — 40 features in about as many years — Mr Allen has both mastered his craft and grown indifferent to it. Does he take any pleasure in making these movies? Does he expect the audience to take any?"

More from David Denby (New Yorker), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Ella Taylor (Voice), Scott Tobias (AV Club) and Keith Uhlich (Time Out New York). Interviews with Woody: Dave Itzkoff (NYT) and Mark Olsen (Los Angeles Times). And earlier, the Cannes roundup.

Alison Willmore and Matt Singer: "Inspired by a description of writers given by Kurt Vonnegut in Timequake, not to mention Allen's prolific career, in this week's IFC News podcast we try dividing some of our favorite filmmakers into two categories — swoopers (like Allen, who tend to work quickly and seem driven by the urge to be continually creating) and bashers (like Terrence Malick, who appear to linger over their work, staying with it until it's exactly as they want it)."

Also opening today (in New York and Los Angeles) is 100 Voices: A Journey Home, a history of Jewish culture in Poland concentrating on cantors, the clergy specializing in the musical interpretation of prayer. For Rachel Saltz (NYT), the documentary "tries to cover too much ground," but Joseph Jon Lanthier gives the film three out of four stars in Slant.

 

IN OTHER NEWS


Catherine Grant "was very sad to hear, via Dina Iordanova's website, of the death of influential film theorist and scholar John Orr." She collects links to several of Orr's essays at Film Studies for Free.

"Irving Ravetch, whose playwriting career stalled on the brink of Broadway but who became half of one of Hollywood's most successful husband-and-wife screenwriting teams, creators of the Oscar-nominated scripts for Hud and Norma Rae, died Sunday in Los Angeles. He was 89." Bruce Weber in the NYT: "Mr Ravetch and his wife, Harriet Frank Jr, met as young writers at MGM and married in 1946 but did not begin collaborating until a decade or so later, when they worked together on an adaptation of William Faulkner's novel The Hamlet." That screenplay would become The Long, Hot Summer with Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward and Orson Welles. "There was not much left of the novel in the final film — '10 percent Faulkner' was Mr Ravetch's assessment — though Faulkner was said to have liked it. But it established a template of sorts for the screenwriting couple, who became known for adaptations that often reshaped their source material."

Also in the NYT, William Grimes: "Jill Johnston, a longtime cultural critic for The Village Voice whose daring, experimental prose style mirrored the avant-garde art she covered and whose book Lesbian Nation: The Feminist Solution spearheaded the lesbian separatist movement of the early 1970s, died in Hartford on Saturday. She was 81 and lived in Sharon, Conn.... Ms Johnston started out as a dance critic, but in the pages of The Voice, which hired her in 1959, she embraced the avant-garde as a whole, including happenings and multimedia events."

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