Thursday, December 31, 2009

Framework on Cinephilia, etc.

-- The new issue of the journal Framework has a cinephilia dossier edited by Jonathan Buschbaum and Elena Gorfinkel. I joined several others, including Jonathan Rosenbaum, Adrian Martin, Nicole Brenez, James Quandt, Zach Campbell, Chris Fujiwara and Laura Mulvey, in contributing a piece to it. For those with institutional access, the contents of the issue are available via Project Muse, Proquest, etc.

-- I haven't seen the film yet but Jim Emerson and Martin Anderson write about Avatar 3D causing eyestrain and headaches if the viewer looks away from the areas of the frame where the filmmaker wants you to look. André Bazin famously believed in the value of the spectator assuming an active role by scanning the film frame and choosing what to pay attention to. Avatar seems to be mandating the very opposite--by punishing viewer choice and agency with physical pain to the eye and the head!

-- The new season of the Cinematheque in Toronto features one of the films I've most wanted to see: Joris Ivens's A Tale of the Wind (1988). But alas, it's scheduled on a night when I teach. The European Foundation has assembled a 5-DVD Joris Ivens set which is rumored, at some point, to get a US release.

-- There's a new issue of Screening the Past, in two sections--of essays and reviews. Also: Senses of Cinema has a new issue.

-- A refreshingly candid interview with Manohla Dargis on women and Hollywood. Also: a reflection by her in the NYT on moving-image entertainments of the digital age.

-- At The Auteurs: Inspired by Manny Farber, B. Kite puts up a "Petite Mannyfesto"; and Zach on the book Manny Farber proposed in the 1970s but never wrote.

-- Sukhdev Sandhu has a brief piece in The Telegraph on "the decline of American cinema" during the decade. (via Jonathan Rosenbaum.)

-- At Jonathan's place, book reviews from the archives: Noel Burch's Theory of Film Practice; Citizen Sarris: American Film Critic; Rudy Wurlitzer's Slow Fade; and Susan Sontag's Under the Sign of Saturn.

-- Two reviews of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor's Gamer make me want to see it: Ignatiy Vishnevetsky and Steven Shaviro.

-- Michael Sicinski's latest reviews include the new films by Soderbergh, Herzog, Reitman and Tom Ford.

-- David Bordwell on why Akira Kurosawa was a "problematic auteur."

-- José Neves has a list of films old and new (many unfamiliar and interesting) seen at the Lisbon Cinemateca during the year. (via Matthew Flanagan, who covers the London Film Festival in the new Senses issue.)

-- Several good posts at the prolific Jeffrey Sconce's blog, Ludic Despair.


Blogger Michael said...

Thanks for the lynx, Girish.

Also, with a minimum of fanfare verging on stealthiness, Cinema Scope 41 is up:

December 31, 2009 12:03 PM  
Anonymous Just Another Film Buff said...

Thanks so much, Girish, for the compilation. I wish you, your family and friends a very happy and prosperous new year...

December 31, 2009 12:04 PM  
Anonymous sami said...

great summary. thanks girish, especially for pointing out A TALE OF THE WIND. has anyone heard if it is playing in New York?

December 31, 2009 1:20 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Rosenbaum said...

Girish, I have the 5-DVD Joris Ivens box set, and can recommend it passionately to anyone who can order it. Even though the set includes a book in untranslated Dutch that's over 500 pages long, everything on the DVDs (including A Tale of the Wind and much, much more--such as a 1980 film made with Jean Rouch, for instance, that's on the same disc) has optional English subtitles. All the right decisions have been made: for example, you can choose to watch This Spanish Earth with either Orson Welles' or Ernest Hemingway's commentary. And Marceline Loridan clearly supervised or helped to supervise the whole package.

December 31, 2009 1:36 PM  
Anonymous sami said...

thanks v. much jonathan. i see amazon has some links to sellers that have it.

December 31, 2009 1:41 PM  
Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

I can also strongly recommend that anyone with an interest in Ivens -- really, anyone with an interest in documentary -- go ahead and get the box set. Yes, it would be nice to have the book in English, but the set is a model for others planning comprehensive sets of filmmakers, especially those with often elusive films.

Thanks for the links Girish, and Happy New Year.

December 31, 2009 3:47 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

Ever since James mentioned he was writing an essay for this volume, I've been eagerly anticipating it. Ordered it and check my mailbox every day for its arrival.

January 01, 2010 5:19 PM  
Anonymous adrian said...

Maya, you will also eagerly want the new book OUTSIDER FILMS ON INDIA with essays by James, Jonathan, myself, Tom Gunning ... it is quite a volume !

January 01, 2010 5:41 PM  
Blogger Filipe Furtado said...

Gamer is very worth seeing. Best Verhoeven-T. Scott-Miike meshup possible.

January 02, 2010 1:36 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, everyone!
The Ivens set sounds like a must-have: I've just requested my college library to acquire it. And I just noticed that Outsider Films on India will be available in the US in March.

-- A clickable link to that new Cinema Scope issue.

-- Troubling news: It appears that Warner is discontinuing many of their DVD titles.

January 02, 2010 11:47 AM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...


Very apt. If Miike is Ruiz without an obvious artistic motivation (and I write this as someone who prefers Miike's random acts to Ruiz's gestures), then Neveldine and Taylor, at least in Gamer, are Miike with Verhoeven's heart and Tony Scott's eye.

January 02, 2010 3:58 PM  
Blogger girish said...

At Moving Image Source: highlights of the year, picked by Jonathan Rosenbaum, Dennis Lim, Richard Porton, James Naremore, Bérénice Reynaud, etc.

January 03, 2010 9:27 AM  
Blogger girish said...

In the above collection, I particularly enjoyed Richard Porton's entry: "Although I didn't make it to the Viennale, Vienna's film festival, in 2009, the next best thing was the opportunity to peruse The Unquiet American, the catalogue of a retrospective, curated by Jonathan Rosenbaum, devoted to American comic films with a critical or satirical edge. Rosenbaum's lively entries bypass rigid generic boundaries to create an intriguing comic landscape where Billy Wilder and Jerry Lewis rub shoulders with avant-gardists such as Jack Smith and Manuel De Landa. I was particularly pleased to note the inclusion of one of the best dark comedies of the 1960s, George Axelrod's Lord Love a Duck (1966), and the sagacious decision to highlight Albert Brooks's work and exclude Woody Allen's. With some luck, a North American repertory cinema or cinematheque will reprise this series on our own shores."

And here's the link to the program that Jonathan curated.

January 03, 2010 11:35 AM  
Blogger Nathan said...

Jonathan, if you have the dutch box-set, it may be different (with the book), but my only beef with the french arte sets (which contain the same films) is that there is no complete filmography to accompany them. We therefore don't know which of Ivens's works aren't included, especially annoying in the case of Yukong (how much of that is missing?). It's a shame we don't know, because that would have made a grand double feature with Antonioni's Chung Kuo, also recently released on DVD in France.

January 04, 2010 9:17 AM  
Blogger Jonathan Rosenbaum said...

Nathan, Even though the Dutch book has skeletal filmographies (titles and dates only) for both Ivens and Loridan, these prove to be worse than nothing because of all the odd issues they raise, e.g., the 1945 William Wellman feature, THE STORY OF G.I. JOE, is actually listed as an Ivens film (!), with no apparent explanation offered. Although maybe this gets explained somewhere in the Dutch text.

I certainly can't prove this, but strongly suspect that it was Loridan who selected what was included (or excluded, as in some portions of HOW YUKONG MOVED THE MOUNTAINS).

January 04, 2010 1:40 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...


Odd that they listed it as an Ivens film -- however, Ivens did extensively work on it. The movie was originally his project, and would have been a documentary. He drew up a plan for it and pitched it, but, as these things often go, the military advisors didn't want Ivens and his crew on the Italian Front, so the producers made the film a fiction feature, shot in the United States and set in Italy, with Wellman as a director. Because Ivens had already done extensive research into the logistics of the project, he was hired as an advisor to oversee the realism of the film, specifically supervising all of the screenwriters.

January 04, 2010 5:53 PM  
Blogger girish said...

DVD Beaver has posted the results of their annual poll of the best DVDs and Blu-rays of the year. (Scroll down about half-way to see the aggregate list.)

There are at least 4 films on Bill Routt's list that I'd never heard of: PURE SHIT (Bert Deling, 1975); CELIA (Ann Turner, 1989); EAGLE SHOOTING HEROES (Jeff Lau, 1993); and THE 5 DEADLY VENOMS (Chang Cheh, 1978).

Jonathan has a capsule review of CELIA.

January 04, 2010 9:02 PM  
Blogger Gareth said...

Celia is excellent, a fascinating study of - a rather extreme - childhood as well as a pointed analysis of 1950s Australia; director Ann Turner hasn't done anything half as compelling since, I think.

There seems to have been a real revival of Australian cinema of the 1970s on DVD, going beyond the major "Ocker" hits and the films that got arthouse (and mainstream) play overseas and revealing the more hidden treasures like Pure Shit (and some less accomplished, though very popular, films).

January 04, 2010 10:20 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Adrian Martin at Filmkrant on the unfortunate backlash against the Cinematheque Ontario "best of the decade" poll:

"Let's face it: film culture is unbelievably fickle. Those that, at one minute, it baptizes as eternal heroes, it crucifies a minute later. Nobody (it seems) wants to be caught nursing an old passion, or a stale beer. The Festival circuit, in particular, is maddeningly restless: the moment that Wong Kar-wai, Tsai Ming-liang or Bruno Dumont make a slip, the spotlight flicks onto someone younger, brighter, more stylish and innovative. Entire nations get the same treatment: Romania and the Philippines are 'hot' today, while Spain and Egypt are not - so enjoy your time in the sun while you can, because the international cycle will likely take a long, long time to come back to you! Even the glittery world of pop music is more forgiving and indulgent than this (just ask Mariah Carey).

I sometimes think that all cinephiles have taken to heart the Freudian formula which Woody Allen made famous in annie hall: "I wouldn't want to be a member of any club that would have me as a member". That is the contradiction or paradox at the heart of cinematic fickleness: you want to make a certain film or filmmaker or filmmaking country known, you want people to come and see it and love it just as much as you do - but the moment this passion is shared, it somehow becomes common, vulgar, suspicious, losing its special, embattled aura: if this many people now like it, it can't really be all that good or unique or worthy anymore."

January 05, 2010 11:15 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

As I commented over on Facebook, no one has to write a list they don't want to and no one has to read a list they don't want to. I survey the lists of people I admire out of curious affection. And now and then a title comes up that I chase after. But to be angry about the contents of a list? That just seems silly. And charges of elitism? As Quandt says in the FRAMEWORKS volume: "specious."

What validates and distinguishes a list for me is the uniqueness of its perspective. The Cinematheque Ontario list expresses a curatorial slant, in contrast to circles of critics in each major city polling for their favorites. Though, don't get me wrong, there's worth to the process of a bunch of critics sitting around quarreling. By example, here in San Francisco, I know that Dennis Harvey lobbied hard to grant recognition to a small film EVERYTHING STRANGE AND NEW, which needed championing to have any chance against the studio giants.

What I find interesting again is the use of the term "aura"; it's a hot button. It's as if the aura of a film contains the enthusiasm (in its true sense of the god within) that marks the sacred or soulful appreciation of a film. And that selfsame aura is threatened by commercial crassness. It's an ageold story. Some movies have such a strong aura that they can survive drifting on and off lists over the years. Fundamentally, it's the films that matter, no? The lists are confections from the boulangerie d'cinema.

January 05, 2010 12:58 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

Adrian, thanks for the heads-up on Outside Films on India, which is indeed something to be excited about. You might know that here in San Francisco we have our annual 3rd i Film Festival that promotes films from South Asia and India and I've learned so much the last few years watching their fare. I have yet to transcribe a wonderful conversation I had with Guru Dutt's son.

With regard to the FRAMEWORKS volume, I very much enjoyed your rally to arms. It has me and my circle all agitated over here in the Bay Area. I responded some here.

And Girish, you are the perfect spokesman for the new cinephilia. Just look how you've gathered us all together!

January 05, 2010 1:08 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you for your post, Maya!

David Bordwell has an interesting entry today on 'showing' vs. 'telling':

"The very distinction has some ancient ancestry. Plato and Aristotle both distinguished between verbal narration, as in the Homeric epics, and theatrical presentation. Aristotle, always more interested in craft than Plato, went on to point out that the distinction couldn’t be absolute. Epic narration could include simulated conversations, for example. Aristotle did not, so far as I can tell, urge composers of epics to avoid “showing” or dramatists to avoid having characters report offstage action.

Today’s bias in favor of “showing” is probably traceable to the emergence of the modern novel. “Dramatize, dramatize!” Henry James (a failed playwright) advised the novelist. That is, make the action on the page seem vivid and palpable. It was Joseph Conrad, not D. W. Griffith, who first claimed that his purpose was “to make you see.” A major trend in the theory of prose fiction ca. 1900 was the effort to turn words on the page into a surrogate for visual storytelling; hence the very term “point of view” and James’ comparison of unfolding narrative to a “corridor” that we traverse. It remained for Percy Lubbock, in The Craft of Fiction (1921) to sum up this trend. “A novel is a picture,” he claimed, and he suggested that novels, either “panoramic” ones like Vanity Fair or “dramatic” ones like The Awkward Age, can make us forget that they are actually verbal contraptions:

The art of fiction does not begin until the novelist thinks of his story as a matter to be shown, to be so exhibited that it will tell itself. [...]

Now I’m all for presenting the story through pictures. Show, don’t tell can challenge the screenwriter and director to get story points across through imagery and character behavior rather than expository dialogue. One mark of filmmaking skill is to guide the audience to make inferences rather than simply take in bald information. The question is: How far to go?"

January 06, 2010 11:04 AM  
Blogger girish said...

-- At The Auteurs, Gabe Klinger conducts a "best of the decade poll"...100 years ago! Participants include Kent Jones, Miguel Marias, Bernard Eisenschitz, Olaf Moller, Jean-Michel Frodon, etc.

-- To all fellow Cassavetians. Here's a freebie download: a vinyl rip of music from and inspired by the film FACES. (Via Darren.)

-- Geoffrey Macnab at the Independent:

"The low-budget rock'n'roll biopic is fast emerging as British cinema's favourite new genre. Anton Corbijn's Control (2007), about Joy Division's ill-fated lead singer, Ian Curtis, kick-started a wave of films that has continued with Nick Moran's Telstar (about record producer Joe Meek), and now Sam Taylor-Wood's Nowhere Boy (about the youthful John Lennon) and Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (about Ian Dury). A feature is being planned about The Kinks and there have also been a rash of British-made feature documentaries about everybody from Scott Walker to Joe Strummer and Dr Feelgood. The new wave of rock biopics follows on from films like 24 Hour Party People, Backbeat and Stoned. [...]

Costume dramas and literary adaptations remain staples of our national cinema. We have kitchen sink realism and a fairly robust tradition of making low budget horror films, but we don't do sci-fi especially well. We don't make Westerns. We don't have the budget for more than a handful of war films. If British film-makers want to tell stories about colourful, larger-than-life characters, it is only natural that they turn to the gallery of British rock and pop icons [...] Julien Temple has described his many music films, starting with The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle in 1980 and continuing with Oil City Confidential and his forthcoming Kinks biopic, as part of an ongoing history of "rebel culture in England either side of the 1970s.""

January 07, 2010 2:34 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I've been continuing to update the Robin Wood thread with newly appearing tributes on the web (including a 9-page pdf of a festschrift in CineAction).

Meanwhile, David Hudson at the Auteurs has also been updating his Robin Wood collection of links.

January 09, 2010 10:53 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Manohla Dargis has an article on the use of the zoom in THE HURT LOCKER. It's great, and atypical, to see newspaper critics engage with film form in a sustained way.

"This long shot then zooms in, with purposeful wobbliness, to give you a closer look at the fast-moving evacuees. Widely used during the 1960s and ’70s in American and European cinema (and probably borrowed, in turn, from documentary film), the zoom shot has made something of a comeback, reintroduced by directors like Steven Soderbergh to suggest an earlier era (and filmmaking ethos) or to mock the same (as in the “Austin Powers” comedies).

One of the masters of the zoom was Sam Peckinpah, perhaps best known for his 1969 masterpiece, “The Wild Bunch.” As the critic Amy Taubin has observed, Ms. Bigelow is a “daughter” of Peckinpah, specifically because her “double-faced critique of — and infatuation with — the codes of masculinity reveals the hysteria beneath their seeming rationality.” Put another way, like Peckinpah, Ms. Bigelow is brilliant at both delivering and dissecting male violence, which is why “The Hurt Locker” is at once so pleasurable and disturbing. You thrill to the violence even as you understand its horror, and your horror is doubled because you are thrilled: this is true in “The Wild Bunch” and in “The Hurt Locker.”

A zoom simply reframes an image (instead of cutting in closer, which Ms. Bigelow also does), but, when deployed fast and with a tremble, as it is here, it can also serve as a kind of visual punctuation, like an exclamation point. Ms. Bigelow creates a somewhat similar zoomy effect in the editing with her propulsive use of close-ups and very long shots: she consistently brings you within panting distance of the characters only to switch to a bird’s-eye (or insurgent’s) view and back. This accordionlike editing, along with the zooms and hand-held camera work — which at times feels almost frantic even as it remains utterly controlled — all help to destabilize the visuals, which adds more edge to the already tense setups."

January 09, 2010 11:16 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Speaking of zooms, here's a good essay by Chris Fujiwara in Hermenaut, "Zooming Through Space," that discusses Rossellini, Mario Bava, Jess Franco and Tarkovsky. An excerpt:

"The institutional use of the zoom in documentaries and TV news mirrors its underground use in home movies/video and pornography. Filmmakers zoom in on event-fields not subject to their prior control, like sporting events and impromptu encounters with politicians, celebrities, and suspects on live cop shows. But the opportunism with which the zoom greets reality is also a subjection, a submission. In zooming, the filmmaker con-fesses a powerlessness to intervene other than optically in an event whose flux s/he is doomed merely to follow. The filmmaker always lags behind the event: The zoom compensates for this delay, but it also registers it.

Unwilling to accept this implied helplessness, Hollywood long banished the zoom from its productions, designed as they were to show complete mastery of everything visible. Silent film maverick Allan Dwan tried an early experimental zoom lens in 1929 for Tide of Empire and was dissatisfied with it. Forty years later, he said: "Even today it doesn't have the effect of movement, but the effect of extension. It just seems to open up instead of move." Zooming didn't catch on in Hollywood until the mid-Sixties, with the success of foreign films to which the zoom lent a Now aura: A Hard Day's Night, A Man and a Woman, etc.

Through its ordinary use in films and TV, the zoom has come to seem "real," even though it denies the cinema's illusion of reality, offers nothing to bolster that illusion (cf. Dwan's comment). Forgetting its negativity, we've learned to accept the zoom as part of how the world looks when represented, even though it has no correlative in our own unmediated experience of the world."

January 09, 2010 6:00 PM  
Blogger Gareth said...

I just saw the sad news that Eric Rohmer passed away - after, of course, a long life and a tremendously productive career.

January 11, 2010 1:08 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Yes, terrible news, Gareth. Ironic that Rohmer published Robin Wood's first essay--on PSYCHO for Cahiers du Cinema--and they've passed away with weeks of each other.

January 11, 2010 2:38 PM  
Blogger Gareth said...

I didn't know of the Rohmer-Wood connection (I just found a nice interview with Wood wherein he discusses that acceptance). I must cue up a Rohmer film this evening or tomorrow as I haven't revisited him for several years and haven't seen his final few films.

January 11, 2010 3:11 PM  
Blogger girish said...

David Hudson at The Auteurs is maintaining a fast-mushrooming collection of tribute links to Rohmer.

January 12, 2010 7:18 PM  

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