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Preservation Blog-a-Thon, “Russia,” Events, DVDs

The Auteurs Daily


"According to estimates, at least 50 percent of all films made for public exhibition before 1951 have been lost," writes Marilyn Ferdinand. "Move into the silent era, and the estimate shoots up to 85 - 90 percent. The nitrate film on which nondigital movies are recorded is flammable and highly susceptible to deterioration. All or parts of thousands of films have burned up, broken down, or ended up in a dumpster. We can't do anything to recover those films, but we can all help ensure that not another frame is lost by supporting the work of film preservationists, restorers, and archivists. To that end, Farran Smith Nehme (The Self-Styled Siren) and I dreamed up a fun way to do it. We're holding a blogathon to shine a light on film preservation and raise funds for the National Film Preservation Foundation."

For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon will take place February 14 through 21, and Greg Ferrara's got a video promo to watch and show, plus banners.

The Siren's a partner in another major project as well: "Like Melvyn Douglas in Ninotchka, I am fascinated by all things Russian," she writes in Moving Image Source, "but the idea for the Shadows of Russia film series, airing on Wednesdays in January on Turner Classic Movies, came about due to Cyd Charisse. I wrote a memorial tribute to her on my blog, Self-Styled Siren, and mentioned her brief turn as Galina Ulanova in Mission to Moscow. Up popped Lou Lumenick of the New York Post in comments, ready to discuss the movie, which had been an interest of his - his own word is obsession - for years."

Long story short, the series was conceived, programmed and is now on. For the Source, Farran Smith Nehme traces the very concept of the USSR in Hollywood ("What is striking about the anti-communist movies of the 1950s is how little they have to do with the actual concepts or practice of communism") and Lou Lumenick considers that obsession of his within the context of Hollywood's role in World War II. Fascinating stuff. For example: "While Mission to Moscow fails as propaganda aimed at the American public because of its preposterous lies, historian Todd Bennett argues that the film's rose-tinted picture of the USSR may have succeeded in keeping Stalin from making another deal with Hitler, which would have dragged out the war on the western front or worse. Mission to Moscow can also be partly viewed as payback from Jack and Harry Warner to American isolationists, who are consistently equated with the European leaders who appeased Hitler and even the Nazi-sympathizing saboteurs operating in the USSR. Right up until Dec 7, 1941, the Warners were being investigated by congressmen who accused them of violating the Neutrality Act by covertly encouraging America's entry into the war in films as varied as [Michael] Curtiz's The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex and Howard Hawks's Sergeant York, as well as a series of Technicolor patriotic shorts, including Curtiz's Land of Liberty, which, significantly, centered on a Jewish Revolutionary War hero played by Claude Rains."

Adds Glenn Kenny, "if you're lucky enough to reside in the tri-state area, as we call it, you can see this mind-bending picture [that would be Mission to Moscow, of course] on the big screen, followed by a panel discussion featuring Lou, Farran, my own self, and film historian Ed Hulse. It's at the BAM Rose Cinema, Tuesday, January 12 at 7 pm, and the details are here."



First, news from Rotterdam: "Fifteen films have been selected for IFFR's VPRO Tiger Awards Competition 2010. The lineup, like always comprising first or second feature films concurring for three equal top prizes of each 15,000 euro, includes five world premieres. For the first time the Rotterdam festival welcomes films for its main competition from Costa Rica and Georgia." Info on all the films follows, of course; the festival runs from January 27 through February 7.

Two-Legged Horse

"You can see what is probably the most significant filmmaking right now in Iran by going to YouTube and viewing the artless images of brutality in the streets of Tehran captured by scores of average Iranian citizens armed with cell-phone cameras." Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix: "This repression has also decimated the ranks of professional directors. Jafar Panahi has been shut down from making films since Offside in 2006, and Mohsen Makhmalbaf resides in virtual exile in Paris (where he operates a blog updating the world on the latest developments in his homeland). Small wonder, then, that this year's Boston Festival of Films from Iran at the Museum of Fine Arts is a shadow of its former self, reduced to five features (three of which, including new films by Abbas Kiarostami and Samira Makhmalbaf, were unavailable for screening), a few documentaries, and some shorts." Tomorrow through January 17.

"It's hard to believe it's been three years since the Austin Film Society premiered its first Middle Eastern film program, Children of Abraham/Ibrahim, as part of the Essential Cinema series," writes Josh Rosenblatt in the Austin Chronicle. "Yet here we are, three years older, and here AFS is, with a fourth batch of movies to screen, while over there, Jews, Muslims, and Christians are three years deeper into a 1,500-year-old calamity of violence and inherited hatred that's starting to look like it really won't be resolved until Judgment Day." Tuesdays, from January 12 through February 16.

"James Benning is as synonymous with observing the evolving American landscape as he is with 16-mm filmmaking, so it makes perfect sense that his first feature-length work in high-definition video would be an investigation of a German territory largely unfamiliar to the artist," writes Michael Ned Holte for Artforum. "In many ways, the construction of Ruhr, 2009, will be familiar to Benning's followers: For each of seven shots that constitute the two-hour work, Benning's frame remains fixed, allowing events—often subtle and frequently located at the threshold of wilderness and industry—to unfold before the camera in 'real' time, unhurried by the narrative expectations of mainstream cinema." Ruhr sees its US premiere on Monday at REDCAT in Los Angeles.

"We remember Tati for three films: Mon Oncle, Playtime, and Trafic." Charles Mudede in the Stranger: "Now, what connects these three great comedies? For one, the character of Monsieur Hulot - he dominates the first film, is on the periphery of the second, and is at the warm but sad heart of the third. The films are also connected by a theme: the modernization of Europeans." Les Affaires de Monsieur Hulot runs at SIFF Cinema in Seattle from tomorrow through January 18. Earlier: "Jacques Tati, Coast to Coast."

"Sixteen new feature films will compete for the Golden Reel Award at the 41st Hungarian Film Week (Feburary 2 - 8) in Budapest," reports Theodore Schwinke for Screen. "The opening film at the annual Hungarian showcase will be So Much For Justice!, from director Miklós Jancsó. The historical drama is set in the 15th century and follows a young boy who is chosen as the new king of Hungary."

"The Berlinale will celebrate its 60th anniversary with an art installation and a public screening at the Brandenburg Gate, an exhibition of star portraits around town, and a wide variety of online services." Click for details on all these events. That free public screening, by the way? The newly restored, almost complete original version of Metropolis. The festival runs from February 11 through 21 - and has a new poster, too.



A few films opened in NYC yesterday, Sweetgrass being one of them, and that entry's been updated.

"Following on the grimy heels of Marina of the Zabbaleen (released here in September) comes Garbage Dreams, a second documentary about a poor community of trash recyclers on the outskirts of Cairo," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "But in the hands of the director and photographer Mai Iskander, this new film digs deeper into the politics of a life that few would choose but many depend on." More from Chuck Bowen (Slant), Mimi Luse (L) and Andrew Schenker (Voice).

A Year Ago in Winter

Also in the Voice, Vadim Rizov: "From the title down, A Year Ago in Winter has the vibe of one of those generic prize-winning novels about New England families falling apart in the dead of winter - tastefully 'understated,' deflecting criticism with sheer modesty. The emotional trains run strictly on time in Caroline Link's adaptation of a novel called (of course) Aftermath, which swaps Boston for Germany without missing a beat." More from Stephen Holden (NYT).



"In 1996, the African-American community in St Petersburg, Florida, erupted after a white cop, James Knight, fatally shot 17-year-old black motorist Tyron Lewis," writes Dennis Grunes. "A white resident, 15-year-old Chris Fuller, penned the first draft of a script, which even with likely polishing would remain a rudimentary thing about emotionally upheaved highschoolers. At 21, Fuller made Loren Cass, himself playing Cale, the taciturn garage mechanic, under the pseudonym Lewis Brogan, which with a wry shred of identity retains Lewis's last name, here, in the first position. Fuller also edited. The minimalist film marks the stunning debut of a major talent."

More from Ray Pride, who also reviews Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's Lorna's Silence: "The thriving, vital, punishing underclass of modern Europe remains their subject even as they move down the Belgian auto-route a piece, from the factory town of Seraing where they shot movies like Rosetta (1999) [and] L'enfant (2005)... The look of the film still bears the Belgian overcast of most of Dardennes' images, but shot on 35mm, rather than the usual 16mm, there's a different weight to the images, a thisness, not the impact of their handheld work, or a grittiness often used to indication a vérité-styled fiction. Even as the Dardennes remain fond of a close-in style, trailing at a subject's shoulders, moving with them through public space yet in a confined manner, there is a quiet beauty in their compositions, blocking of actors and their actors' faces, more solid, less tentative."



Peter Biskind's Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America won't be out officially for another few days, but the first reviews are already in. Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Lawrence Levi finds it to be a "totally entertaining, giddily salacious book... Beatty's ascent to stardom is, of course, inseparable from his legendary womanizing, and Biskind - a Vanity Fair contributor whose previous two books, Down and Dirty Pictures and Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, similarly balanced the nitty-gritty of filmmaking with dishiness - revels in the details."

The NYT's Janet Maslin isn't won over, though. "By the time Star picks up steam, in its long slog through the making of Reds and a relatively fresh discussion of the underappreciated Bulworth, this book's tediousness has taken root. What wakes it up is malice. The book goes out of its way to savage the critic Pauline Kael, who is said by Buck Henry to have been manipulated by Mr Beatty 'on a level unknown to man.' Mr Henry continues, 'Even I can't believe it, except that it was Warren.'"


Judge for yourself: Vanity Fair's running an excerpt, "Madness in Morocco: The Road to Ishtar," and in 2006, the magazine ran "Thunder on the Left: The Making of Reds."

Speaking books about stars, David Thomson has four out just now: Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper and Bette Davis. Like many, the Austin Chronicle's Kimberley Jones marvels at the man's output: "In just the last two years, he's produced, in addition to regular columns for the UK's Guardian, the chatty Have You Seen...?: A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films; a memoir, Try to Tell the Story; and November's book-length study The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder. He waited all of five days to put his stamp on 2010 with these four slim new releases, first published this summer in England and part of (one hopes) an ongoing Great Stars series.... The books follow the same schema as Thomson's Biographical Dictionary: a chronological dispatching of the star's filmography with a dash of character psychology. He diagnoses Bergman's film choices, for instance, as the product of a gravitational pull toward self-punishing parts: '[S]omething in the noble Ingrid craved being degraded, or brought close to ruin - anything that would require long, painful moral rehabilitation.'"

Meantime, look in on "Elia Kazan, Yasujiro Ozu, Akira Kurosawa"; updates on all three ongoing series have been posted. And there are all those best-of-'09/00s lists and awards to keep up with, too.

Images: Bill Morrison's Decasia (2002); Samira Makhmalbaf's Two-Legged Horse (2008); Caroline Link's A Year Ago in Winter (2008); Warren Beatty's Reds (1981).

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