Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Recent Reading

-- A few of the many pieces recently posted at Jonathan Rosenbaum's website: The introduction to Rivette: Texts and Interviews, the book he edited for BFI in 1977; "Eight Obstacles to the Appreciation of Godard in the United States"; a piece on the "documentary expressionism" of William Klein; an essay, first published in Film Quarterly a few years ago, on the work of Adam Curtis; and "The Life and File of an Anarchist Filmmaker" (on Emile de Antonio).

-- Jordan Mintzer on "the legacy and continuing relevance of the French critic Serge Daney". Also: Laurent Kretzschmar translates Daney's 1984 review of Henri Verneuil's Les Morfalous.

-- Mark Rappaport on his "artist's statement" for Rock Hudson's Home Movies: "When I was asked by a film festival director for a statement of the “director’s intentions” (directors are usually the last people you should believe when it comes to talking about what their films really mean), that’s what I wrote. I’ve been using it as publicity material ever since. So now it’s part of the official story. But nothing quite that grand was on my mind when I started working on what turned out to be Rock Hudson's Home Movies."

-- Catherine Grant posts a tribute (including a brief, lovely video she made) to the recently deceased film editor, critic and theorist Dai Vaughan.

-- Via Trevor Link: a very handy Hong Sang-soo bibliography.

-- David Bordwell: "Fortunately for peace in our household, I’ve found Kristin’s claims about German cinema well-founded."

-- An interview in Film Quarterly with Patricio Guzmán on his terrific documentary Nostalgia for the Light.

-- Terrence Malick's new film To The Wonder will be at Toronto in a few weeks. Also on the program are new films by Noah Baumbach, Sally Potter, Marco Bellochio, David O. Russell, Matteo Garrone, and others. Only a small proportion of the complete festival lineup has been made public so far.

-- Adrian Martin and I have now put up the complete contents of issue 2 of LOLA. Among the pieces recently posted are: a lecture delivered a few years ago by Meaghan Morris at the International Women's Film Festival; Justine Grace on cinema at the Venice Biennale; art critic/scholar Edward Colless on the "theory demon"; and two pieces by Adrian -- an essay on the film and media theory of Vilém Flusser, and the letters he exchanged with Cristina Álvarez López about the films they saw at the Rotterdam Film Festival. (Also: At Cine Transit, Cristina and Adrian translate an essay by Nicole Brenez into Spanish and English respectively.)

pic: via Brecht Andersch on Facebook.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


My first visit to Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna turned to be a total film festival experience, more so than any other I've experienced. I travel annually to Toronto's TIFF, and have attended festivals in cities like Rotterdam and Montreal but never before was I so strongly engaged with exploring the city itself, its streets and architecture, its restaurants, and witnessing its cultural life. In a nice scheduling touch, there were no screenings for a two-hour period during lunchtime, which permitted a leisurely meal with wine every day. And each night brought a public and festive piazza screening that was attended by hundreds -- the series included Lola, The Grand Illusion, Point Blank, Lawrence of Arabia, and Chaplin, among others. 

So, a half-dozen festival highlights:

(1) Sonnenstrahl (“Ray of Sunshine”, Pál Fejös, 1933). The only other film I’ve seen by the Hungarian Fejös is Lonesome (1927), made in Hollywood, an absolute stunner, with one of my favorite opening sequences in all of cinema. (Criterion is releasing it soon.) Sonnenstrahl, which he made in Austria, showed as part of a terrific program called “After the Crash: Cinema and the 1929 Crisis,” curated by festival artistic director Peter von Bagh. It’s a film about two young people, desperately poor, who meet on a bridge as they are about to commit suicide. We follow their struggle out of precarious straits and into a tenuous working-class existence. The film sets out to capture their small victories and little joys, even if abjection and disaster are often around the corner.

(2) Maldone (Jean Grémillon, 1927). The title character is a bargeman who inherits an estate, leaves the gypsy woman he is wooing, marries out of duty, and finds himself nearly driven mad by his bourgeois life. It’s a thrillingly inventive film, deeply marked by its French impressionist moment, that puts an arsenal of effects to work: startling compositions and changes in shot scale, free cutting, expressive camera movement (including hand-held), unexpected super-impositions, and so on. Grémillon achieves a musical dynamism by modulating between passages of contrasting rhythm. Hubert Niogret of Positif corroborates the existence of this musical quality: “Grémillon began his career by playing background piano for silent films, and he himself composed the music for his later films, all documentaries.” David Cairns also observes: “…surprising how many classic French films take to the waterways: L’Atalante, of course, and also Gance’s La Roue. (Britain offers The Bargee and Young Adam. America doesn’t do canals.)”

(3) Man’s Castle (Frank Borzage, 1933). Hervé Dumont, former head of the Swiss Film Archive and author of the most sizable study of Borzage’s films, was at hand to give a lengthy and useful introduction. He characterized the two leads, played by Spencer Tracy and Loretta Young, as “aristocrats of the soul.” The film is about two dirt-poor lovers who live in a shanty-town sardonically named “Hooverville”. For Borzage, they are a world apart from everyone else, and not always for the better. The man is bitter, charismatic, self-loathing, cruel and (way down) hyper-sensitive; the woman is impossibly generous, un-possessive, beatific and resigned. This is a powerfully poetic, moving, and disturbing film that haunts me still. (See also: Joe McElhaney’s brilliant overview essay on Borzage’s films.)

(4) Le ciel est à vous (Jean Grémillon, 1944). An “aviatrix film” with a rich set of characters and an utterly convincing ‘realism’ of human interactions. It's a work brimming with grace notes and casually suspended sub-plots. (One of them concerns the aviatrix’s daughter and her secret passion for piano and music study.) The film’s protagonist is played by French actress Madeleine Renaud, one of my great revelations in Bologna. Jonathan Rosenbaum writes: “Part of what’s so remarkable about her four Grémillon roles is their range and their capacity to undermine patriarchal stereotypes: she plays an apparently meek housewife turned potential adulterer in L’étrange Monsieur Victor (opposite the extraordinary Raimu in the title part), a neglected “older woman” juxtaposed with a younger female star in Remorques and Lumière d’été (familiar parts to which she gives relatively fresh spins), and, most surprising, a hardworking housewife and mother turned aviatrix heroine in Le ciel est à vous.”

(5) Nieuwe Gronden (“New Earth”, Joris Ivens, 1933). A potent documentary, just 30 minutes long, and ingeniously bifurcated. The first half narrates the unbelievably heroic account of 10,000 Dutch workers laboring to reclaim fertile land from the sea, a project that was begun in the early 1920s and took 10 years. The conclusion of the project could not have been more timely: the Depression was just setting in. But then the grain market collapsed and the second half reveals how wheat, instead of being harvested and used to feed hungry millions around the world, was dumped, burned, thrown into the sea, to elevate grain prices. The film raises you high with a tale of human super-achievement and then slams you down with a brutal dose of capitalist reality. (It's available on this superb, 5-DVD, 20-film Joris Ivens box set that I picked up last year.)

(6) Me and My Gal (Raoul Walsh, 1933). This wonderful, energetic, and inventive comedy with Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett also showed as part of the Manny Farber tribute series curated by the Film Society of Lincoln Center a few years back. Farber wrote eloquently of the film: “It is really a portrait of a neighborhood, the feeling of human bonds in a guileless community, a lyrical approximation of Lower East Side and its uneducated, spirited stevedore-clerk-shopkeeper cast. There is psychological rightness in the scale relationships of actors to locale, and this, coupled with liberated acting, make an exhilarating poetry about a brash-cocky-exuberant provincial. Walsh, in this lunatically original, festive dance, is nothing less than a poet of the American immigrant.”

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Any thoughts or comments on these filmmakers or on film festivals in general? Please feel free to share.

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Recent reads:

-- Other reports from Bologna: Larry Gross at Film Comment; Kristin Thompson at her blog (see the bottom of her page for links to Meredith Brody's coverage at IndieWire); and Ehsan Khoshbakht at MUBI. Also: the Belgian website Photogénie, that I mentioned in my previous post.

-- Ignatiy Vishnevetsky reviews Beasts of the Southern Wild and Magic Mike; Ben Sachs discusses Magic Mike in the context of Soderbergh's body of work.

-- Steve Rybin at Cinephile Papers: "David Thomson on Actors".

-- Lots of good film reading at Yusef Sayed's website, Insane Horizon.

-- Andy Rector posts the translation of an interview with António Reis conducted by Serge Daney and Jean-Pierre Oudart in 1977.

-- Kent Jones and B. Kite exchange letters on Bresson.

-- David Cairns on Robert Siodmak.

-- Chris Darke interviews filmmaker Adam Curtis at Film Comment.

-- News from my hometown: the silent origins of Tamil cinema. (via The Bioscope)

-- Paul Ramaeker at The Third Meaning: "Mad Love: The Surrealism of the Supernatural Romantic Melodrama, Part One".

-- Katie Kitamura interviews Apichatpong Weerasethakul at the Asian American Writers' Workshop website.

-- Issue 1 of the journal Screen Machine focuses "on realism".

-- Jean-Claude Carrière: "Godard doesn't like a script. He likes to talk a lot but also to have some pieces of dialogue in his pocket just in case. Buñuel liked everything to be in the script except the technical. The word 'camera' was prohibited. That was his work."

Monday, July 02, 2012

The Internets Never Sleep

I've just returned from Bologna, only to be reminded of how fast Internet film reading piles up if you go off the grid for a couple of weeks. So here's what I've been catching up on:

-- The new Belgian website Photogénie features both a journal and a blog and is sponsored by the Flemish Film Culture Service. At Bologna, I had the pleasure of meeting and having a long conversation with Sam Roggen, a cinephile and scholar who works for the service and who has filed several reports from the festival (they are collected on the home page). In addition, the site features an essay by Tom Paulus called "A Lover’s Discourse: Cinephilia, or, The Color of Cary Grant’s Socks".

-- Lots of great reading: The much-anticipated first issue of the journal Frames, guest-edited by Catherine Grant and co-edited by Fredrik Gustafsson, has just appeared. The theme is "Film and Moving Image Studies Re-Born Digital?" I have a short piece in it called "A Universe of New Images".

-- The new issue of La Furia Umana is devoted to Leo McCarey, Jean-Claude Rousseau, Paul Vecchiali and José Luis Guerín.

-- The filmmaker Stephen Dwoskin has died

-- Andrew Sarris, 1928-2012: David Hudson collects links to a number of pieces.

-- Catherine rounds up an issue of the online cinema journal The Cine-Files that focuses on the French New Wave.

-- Jonathan Rosenbaum's essay on the films of Lisl Ponger, which appears in the new collection Film Unframed: A History of Austrian Avant-Garde Cinema, edited by Peter Tscherkassky.

-- New issues of Cinema Scope and Cineaste.

-- At Ted Fendt's blog: a piece by Eric Rohmer on 1.33:1.

-- Ignatiy Vishnevetsky uses a randomizing procedure to narrow down his Sight & Sound top 10 list, and discusses all that is common to three films (all from 1981) that pop up on his list.

-- Chris Fujiwara's blog posts from the Edinburgh International Film Festival; and an interview with him at Twitch.

-- J. Hoberman has a piece on the American reception of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's films.

-- Interiors, an online journal "in which films are analyzed and diagrammed in terms of space."

-- Michael Glover Smith watches a large number of Raoul Walsh films and summarizes their key common features.

-- Several new essays have appeared at LOLA: Alexander García Düttmann on Bresson's The Devil, Probably; Helen Grace on "aesthetic risk"; Sarinah Masukor on Harun Farocki; Janine Burke on Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method; and Cloe Masotta on Philippe Grandrieux's Masao Adachi.

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I'll be back on my every-two-weeks blogging schedule beginning next week, with an account of the film festival in Bologna. Meanwhile, please feel free to recommend any cinema reading or links you like in the comments below.

pic: Madeleine Renaud in Jean Grémillon's "aviatrix film" Le ciel est à vous (1944), one of my Bologna highlights.