Out of the Furnace
"Out of the Furnace," about two suffering brothers (Christian Bale and Casey Affleck) in Pennsylvania steel country. hits some of the same notes as "The…
* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.
Sheila writes: BAFTA-award winning "Pitch Black Heist" is a 13-minute film directed and written by John Maclean, starring Michael Fassbender and Liam Cunningham (reunited after their 28-minute one-take scene in Steve McQueen's 2008 film "Hunger"). Here, they play two criminals hired to crack a safe. The only catch is that they must do their work in the dark: any light at all will trigger the alarm. Elegantly filmed in black-and-white, it's a taut fun little thriller with a twist ending. In case the video doesn't work here, you can also view it at Cinephilia and Beyond.
The Toronto Film Festival is universally considered the opening of Academy Awards season, and the weary moviegoer, drained after a summer of exhausted superheroes and franchises, plunges in it with joy. I've been attending since 1977, and have watched it grow from a bootstrap operation, with the schedule improvised from day to day, into one of the big four (with Cannes, Venice and Berlin).
Haneke, Riva, Trintignant
• Chaz Ebert at Cannes
Who will win the Palme D'Or? I expect top prizes for Michael Haneke for his film, "Amour," with Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, but I am terrible at the awards-guessing game. I think "Amour" is one of the very best films in the festival with its harrowing portrait of the mental and physical deterioration of an esteemed piano teacher after a series of strokes, and the husband who must bear witness to this as he takes cares of her.
Haneke's film is so mature and well done that its emotional impact builds quietly, from the core. You marvel at how he layers the scenes of a marriage so naturally that you know the couple has been together for decades in a relationship that is comfortable and emotionally enriching. And so when they make their choices you are right there with them emotionally until the bitter end, and there is no judgment about the choices made.
It's another day for umbrellas and rain slickers, not to mention sweaters. The Riviera is just not delivering the usual idyllic sunshine and warm Mediterranean breezes this year. The film market stands that border the beach in little cabanas have their doors closed for protection from the wet, and their inviting tables and deck chairs on the sand are vacant and dripping.
The first film in competition this morning, "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" by Alain Resnais, didn't deliver either, and I can only hope that the title is prophetic, and that the revered 90-year-old director ("Hiroshima Mon Amour," "Last Year at Marienbad") has some future masterpieces in store for us yet.
For "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet," Resnais assembled a large cast of famous French actors with whom he's worked over the years, including Sabine Azema, Anne Cosigny, Mathieu Amalric, Michel Piccoli and Lambert Wilson. This distinguished cast was supplemented by the young stage actors of the fledgling theater company Colombe. The visual techniques and acting style of the stage are pertinent to the look of "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet." In the film's press book, Resnais says, "In my films, I'm constantly looking for a theater-style language and musical dialogue that invites the actors to get away from the realism of everyday life and move closer to a more offbeat performance."
In just a week the French Riviera will come alive with the hoopla of the 65th Cannes International Film Festival, running this year from May 16 through 27. Despite the international proliferation of film festivals, like it or not, Cannes remains the biggest, most hyped, glitziest and most diverse event the world of film has to offer, the envy of every other festival.
As if the world at large also trembled at the import of the approaching festivities, previous Cannes festivals have been prefaced by volcanic eruptions, hurricane-force storms, national strikes, and bomb threats. What can we expect this year, when the festival officially becomes a senior citizen? Don't look for any rocking chairs along the Croisette, for one thing. Judging by the lineup of major directors represented in the Competition and other official sections, it's more likely that major revelations will be rocking the Palais. And if it's like other years, we can expect the festival will manage to rock a headline-grabbing major controversy or two as well.
For the fourth year in a row, Cannes will open with an American production, Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom," guaranteeing that name stars including Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton will be gracing the red carpet on Wednesday, May 16 for a glamorous kick-off. Judging by the trailer available online, the real stars may be the large cast of kids in a comedy/drama that looks to be strong on surreal wackiness.
Even a quick glance at the list of films in competition yields an eye-popping number of famous names, including David Cronenberg (Canada), Michael Haneke (Austria), Abbas Kiarostami (Iran), Ken Loach (UK), Cristian Mungiu (Romania), Alain Resnais France), Carlos Reygadas (Mexico), Walter Salles (Brazil), and many more. This competition could be a veritable Olympics of the cinema gods...or not, as sometimes happen, because even world-class filmmakers and certified masters can disappoint.
"It's enigmatic and obvious, exasperating and beguiling, heavy-handed and understated, witty and poignant, all at once." -- Alex Ramon, Boycotting Trends
What I like most about Abbas Kiarostami's "Certified Copy" is its slipperiness. The Tuscan textures are ravishing (it takes place over the course of an afternoon in and around the village of Lucignano -- or does it?), Juliette Binoche and William Shimell are easy on they eyes and ears (good thing, too, since the movie is practically one long conversation -- or is it?), but for me the most enjoyable thing about it is the way the story and characters keep subtly (and not-so-subtly) shifting, refusing to be pinned down. I was fearing one of those overly literalized Kiarostami "button" endings, but this time (as Michael Sicinski observes in his impressive, ambitious essay at MUBI), the thesis statement is placed at the front of the film and it gets slipperier from there:
"Certified Copy" operates almost in reverse of most thematically inclined works of art, which plunge us into a falsely desultory universe and gradually reveal their master interpretive passkey. Kiarostami's film presents a concept, fully formed and cogent, and allows the rest of the film to set to work on that concept, breaking it into Heisenbergian particles, then bringing it back into solid shape, and on and on.
Marie writes: Each year, the world's remotest film festival is held in Tromsø, Norway. The Tromsø International Film Festival to be exact, or TIFF (not to be confused with Toronto.) Well inside the Arctic Circle, the city is nevertheless warmer than most others located on the same latitude, due to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream. This likely explains how they're able to watch a movie outside, in the snow, in the Arctic, in the winter. :-)
From the Grand Poobah: Netflix is great, but they don't have everything and seem to be weak on silent films. Here's a pay site streaming a large and useful selection of high-quality films, world-wide....
Marie writes: when Roger told me about this place, I signed-up to see if I could watch one their free movies? Yup! I can stream MUBI in Canada; though content will vary depending on where you live (that's also case with Netflix Canada) and so nothing new there. And after looking through their current catalog, I can report that they do indeed have some rare movies - stuff I've never found anywhere else. I even read that Martin Scorcese is a member.
The Grand Poobah writes: Twitter makes the world smaller...At Cannes I met Anupama Chopra, also known as @anupamachopra, a leading Indian film critic. She had just come from interviewing the great Mike Leigh. To my surprise I learned she had taken the famed course in magazine journalism at Northwestern, taught by my friend Abe Peck, who had become her guru. Is that two degrees of separation? Two years ago she was on the jury of Un Certain Regard at Cannes, and told us something startling: The festival doesn't pay the jurors' expenses. Times are hard all over. (click image)
The Grand Poobah writes: Derek Malcom is back at Cannes this year. The longtime Guardian film critic, now at the Evening Standard, is the local bookie for the festival, quoting odds and taking cash bets. No, really. He must pay off, because he's not afraid to come back every year. He's a former jockey. I was just about to ask him this year's odds when the guards opened the doors and we were all off to the races, scrambling for our favorite seats. (click image)
The volcano gods were in a snit on Monday, and I arrived in Cannes on Tuesday six hours later than planned, following some frustrating encounters with ticket agents in Frankfurt Airport. Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips was on my flight from Chicago, having had his entire original reservation canceled due to drifting volcano ash. I heard delay stories everywhere, and figured I got off easy.
After fast dash to the Palais des Festivals five minutes before the office that issues accreditation badges closed, I picked up my press badge and film market badge. The Cannes skies were dark and threatening, with fog hanging over the distant mountains. I hoped that this wasn't a sign of weather gloom to come.
Paris, Jan. 11 -- The phone rang at 5:30 p.m.. It was France's around-the-clock cable news station France24 asking if I could speak about the death of Eric Rohmer, live, in about 10 minutes. The news was very fresh in France and this was the first I'd heard of it.
Except for François Truffaut and Louis Malle, who both died relatively young, the most prolific talents of the French New Wave era are still at it. Claude Chabrol makes at least one film a year; Jacques Rivette and Alain Resnais released new features in 2009; Agnes Varda is busy mounting conceptual installations when she's not making her delightful documentaries; Jean-Luc Godard is still tinkering away on digital video.
You begin to think they're immortal -- that much like symphony conductors who live to ripe old ages because waving their arms around is excellent exercise, that "pointing into the distance" pose so characteristic of film directors may be a boon to their longevity.
We've lost a gentle and wise humanist of the movies. Eric Rohmer 89, one of the founders of the French New Wave died Monday Jan. 11 in Paris. The group , which inaugurated modern cinema, included Jean-Pierre Melville, Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Agnes Varda, Alain Resnais, Jacques Rivette and Louis Malle. Melville, Truffaut and Malle have died, but the others remain productive and creative in their 80s.
I have a quirky policy about writing of films from a film festival. In the early years, I tried to avoid an actual "review," especially negative, because I believed a film deserved a chance to open before I laid into it. This was grandiose--as if the world was awaiting my opinion. Then I began suggesting my thinking, without going into detail. Then, being human, I allowed that approach to enlarge into specific descriptions of films I really loved, or hated.
Alex Vo, editor of Rotten Tomatoes: No Meter when he needs it most.
That's now the strategy I use, with amendments. I can only review a film for the first time once, and if I've used all my energy in rehearsal, what have I saved for opening night? I'll reflect the general reception of certain films, however, if only in the spirit of providing news coverage. The first year I was here, I was one of four members of the American press. These days, with half the audience members filing daily blogs and twittering immediately after a film is over, it's simply all part of the festival process.
I've just finished combing through the list of films in this year's Toronto Film Festival, and I have it narrowed down to 49. I look at the list and sigh. How can I see six films a day, write a blog, see people and sleep? Nor do I believe the list includes all the films I should see, and it's certainly missing films I will see. How it happens is, you're standing in line and hear buzz about something. Or a trusted friend provides a title you must see. Or you go to a movie you haven't heard much about, just on a hunch, and it turns out to be "Juno."
Nicolas Cage in "Bad Lieutenant"
I can't wait to dive in. Knowing something of my enthusiasms, faithful reader, let me tell you that TIFF 2009's opening night is a film about the life of Charles Darwin. The festival includes the film of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road." And new films by the Coen brothers, Todd Solondz, Michael Moore, Atom Egoyan, Pedro Almodovar, Hirokazu Kore-Eda, Alain Resnais and Guy Maddin--and not one but two new films by Werner Herzog. Plus separate new films by the three key talents involved in Juno: The actress Ellen Page, the director Jason Reitman, and the writer Diablo Cody.
Okay, I've already seen two of those. They were screened here in Chicago (Page as a teenage Roller Derby in "Whip It," Cody's script for "Jennifer's Body," starring Megan Fox as a high school man-eater, and that's not a metaphor). I already saw more than ten of this year's entries at Cannes, including Lars on Trier's controversial "Antichrist," Jane Campion's "Bright Star," Gasper Noe's "Enter the Void," Almodovar's "Broken Embraces," Bong Joon-Ho's "Mother," Lee Daniels' "Precious," Mia Hansen-Løve's "The Father of My Children," and Resnais's "Wild Grass." A lot of good films there. Not all of them, but a lot.
Now I understand why Cannes 2009 opened with Pixar's "Up." They knew what was coming. Has there ever been a more violent group of films in the Official Selection? More negative about humanity? More despairing? With a greater variety of gruesome, sadistic, perverted acts? You know you're in deep water when the genuinely funniest film in the festival is by a Palestinian in today's Israel, whose material includes a firing squad, a mother with Alzheimers, and a hero with dark circles under his eyes who never utters a single word.
And most of these films were not over quickly. Not that there's something wrong with a film running over the invisible 120-minute finish line, if it needs to, and is a good film. I regret that not all the 21 films in this year's selection were good. And that's not just me. The daily critics' panel for Le Film Francais was as negative as I've seen it, even giving a pas de tout ("worthless") to a film I would defend, von Trier's extreme but courageous "Antichrist."
In the past I have felt the elation of discovery at Cannes, seeing for the first time films like Kielowski's "Red," Lee's "Do the Right Thing," Coppola's "Apocalypse Now," Spielberg's "E.T."--and premieres by Kurosawa, Fellini, Bergman, Chen Keige, Fassbinder, Altman, Herzog, Scorsese. Titans bestrode the earth in those days. This year the only ecstatic giants, love them or hate them, were Lars von Trier and Quentin Tarantino.
I think I may have just seen the 2010 Oscar winner for best foreign film. Whether it will win the Palme d'Or here at Cannes is another matter. It may be too much of a movie movie. It's named "A l'origine," by Xavier Giannoli, and is one of several titles I want to discuss in a little festival catch-up. Based on an incredible true story, it involves an insignificant thief, just released from prison, who becomes involved in an impromptu con game that results in the actual construction of a stretch of highway. At the beginning he has no plans to build a highway. He simply sees a way to swindle a contractor out of 15,000 euros. He is sad, defeated, unwanted, apart from his wife and child, sleeping on a pal's sofa. What happens is not caused by him nor desired by him. It simply happens to him.
This is one of those movies that catches you in its spell. It's a hell of a story. There's a difference between caring what happens in a movie, and merely waiting to see what will happen. The hero, who calls himself Phillip, ends by bringing about an enterprise involving millions of euros, hundreds of workers and tons of massive earth-moving machinery, falling in love with the lady mayor, and becoming a good man, all without ever saying very much. I was reminded of Chance the Gardener In "Being There." Phillip is shy, socially unskilled, inarticulate, apparently the opposite of a con man. To repeat: There is a true story involved here. Some facts are offered at the end. The highway, which which the workers essentially built on their own, with the con man as "management," was completed on time, under budget and up to code.
May 20, 2009-The premiere of Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" will likely dominate the international press for days. The screening itself was a bit less than a crazy event than I had been expecting. After experiencing the wild, all-out adoration of Tarantino fans at a special Cannes screening of "Kill Bill I and II" some years ago, in which the audience consisted largely of French locals, I was prepared for anything.
The guards opened the Grand Theatre Lumiere a half-hour early, and even though I arrive at 7:55 am for the 8:30 am screening, it was already half full. Mild excitement was in the air, some cheers and applause were heard as the lights went down, and another smattering of applause when Tarantino's name appeared on the screen.
I was waiting for some kind of massive reaction at the end, but there really was nothing out of the ordinary. I've never been overwhelmed by Tarantino's films, although the crazed eclecticism of his work is a lot of fun. "Inglourious Basterds" worked for me as a satisfying whole better than most of his other films. He pulls together everything in his arsenal: action, extreme violence, misogyny, film history, pop music and pop culture, and a plot based on a wild premise that rewrites history.
The programming director of the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago is blogging from Cannes for us.
Thursday, May 14--You can't beat the weather here in Cannes. After the cold rain and dark skies in Frankfurt, where I changed planes yesterday, the perfect, summery temperatures and extravagant displays of flowers makes this town seem even more like a Mediterranean paradise than usual.
The festival kicked off to the world Wednesday night with the first red-carpet walk by the jury, and the Pixar folks with their 3-D animated feature "Up", but for most of us in film-industry jobs, the festival is already well underway with press screenings, market screenings, and press conferences.
View image It's the third door on your...
Kathleen Murphy has written a stunning piece over at Testpattern called "The Haunted Palace." (I've been waiting weeks for it to appear so I could send you there.) Although primarily about Alain Resnais' "Last Year at Marienbad," the article moves through those haunted corridors, into Stanley Kubrick's Overlook Hotel, passing through doors (and walls) into the worlds of Max Ophuls, Luis Buñuel, Josef von Sternberg... As you wander through the maze of this "Lady from Shanghai" hall of mirrors you'll catch glimpses of ghosts around every corner -- not just the phantom images of particular movies, but insights into a spectral world Dave Kehr has described as "the lost continent of cinephilia."
From Kathleen's magnificent guided tour of the grounds: Once upon a time, movie-loving folk actually, in the words of Susan Sontag, "arranged their emotional and intellectual lives around an art that was 'poetic and mysterious and erotic and moral all at the same time.'" We thrived on films such as "Vertigo" (1958), "L'Avventura" (1960), "Jules and Jim" (1962), "My Life to Live" (1962) -- works that, like [Ophuls'] "Letter From an Unknown Woman," plunged into the very DNA of the cinematic imagination. We happily drowned, not in narrative alone -- or even at all -- but in the seductive images, spaces and faces conjured by the formidable magic of the medium....
View image In 3-D, you'd swear Muriel was nibbling your proboscis. By the way, that's not her real phone number.
Although you probably think they are a reference to the 1963 Alain Resnais film,¹ or Bette Davis's bald uncle, The Muriel Awards are in fact named after Paul Clark's guinea pig. The one named Muriel.
The 2007 Muriel Awards are chosen by an elite body of web-based life forms who are united in their love of movies. Among them is Dennis Cozzalio, whom I have been meaning to congratulate on his handsomely redesigned blog, the renowned and beloved Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. (Admire the new logo! Steal his Oscar predictions! Compare them to Roger Ebert's! Compare them to Ali Arikan's and his drawing of Daniel Plainview!)
Meanwhile, over at Silly Hats Only, Paul is handing out the Muriels to the deserving... Muriel recipients. (We're not supposed to say "winners," are we?) Acting as his own Price-Waterhouse and Jon Stewart combined, he began handing them out February 13 and will continue until February 29, at which point his presentation will actually be longer than the Academy Awards. (I think that's a Bruce Vilanch joke that Whoopi didn't use. Or maybe she did.)
Among the categories announced so far are 50th Anniversary Award for Best Film, 1957 ("The Seventh Seal"), 25th Anniversary Award for Best Film, 1982 ("Blade Runner"), 10th Anniversary Award for Best Film, 1997 ("Boogie Nights") -- and the Less-Than-First Anniversary Muriels for Best of 2007 go to...
View image Genre picture? Marketing label?
Charles McGrath wonders if critics and the public give genre work enough credit. In "Great Literature? Depends Whodunit," published in Sunday's New York Times, McGrath makes a case for pulp fiction that applies to movies as well as to literature. Often behind the generic labeling, he says, is: ... the assumption that genre fiction — mysteries, thrillers, romances, horror stories — is a form of literary slumming. These kinds of books are easier to read, we tend to think, and so they must be easier to write, and to the degree that they’re entertaining, they can’t possibly be “serious.”
The distinction between highbrow and lowbrow — between genre writing and literary writing — is actually fairly recent. Dickens, as we’re always being reminded, wrote mysteries and horror stories, only no one thought to call them that. Jane Austen wrote chick lit. A whiff of shamefulness probably began attaching itself to certain kinds of fiction — and to mysteries and thrillers especially — at the end of the 19th century, with the rise of the “penny dreadful,” or cheaply printed serial. The market and public appetite for this stuff became even larger in the early years of the 20th century with the tremendous growth of pulp magazines, which specialized in the genres and eventually even added a new one: science fiction. I think of genre conventions as something akin to sonata form in music, or the chord progressions from a popular standard that jazz musicians may use as a foundation. The familiar prototype is just that: a recognizable structure upon which a craftsperson (even an artist) can create almost anything at all -- even turn it inside out or blow it apart.
View image Wim Wenders' "Kings of the Road" (or literal English translation: "In the Course of Time"). You may recognize the poster image from outside the theater in which "Duck Soup" is playing in Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters." This movie can also save your life.
An ad hoc bunch of 51 online movie enthusiasts (online movie critics, bloggers, et al.), organized by Edward Copeland, the eponymous proprietor of "Edward Copeland on Film," recently composed our unordered lists of up to 25 most significant (or enduring or even favorite) "foreign-language" talkies.
Eduardo (as he might be known in, say, Mexico or Spain or Uruguay or Nicaragua or Puerto Rico) took on the gargantuan task of tabulating the ballots and coming up with the initial list of 122 nominees. As he explains: I set a few guidelines for eligibility: 1) No film more recent than 2002 was eligible; 2) They had to be feature length; 3) They had to have been made either mostly or entirely in a language other than English; 4) Documentaries and silent films were ineligible, though I made do lists for those in the future if this goes well. In all, 434 films received votes, not counting those that had to be disqualified for not meeting the criteria.In order to make the final ballot, films had to receive at least three "votes." I'm happy that most of my initial choices made the finals. And there were five I've never seen, so I have these to look forward to: Elem Klimov's "Come and See," Sergio Corbucci's "The Great Silence" (a spaghetti western), Wong Kar-Wai's "In the Mood For Love," Bela Tarr's 7.5-hour "Satantango," and Hayao Miyazaki's anime "Spirited Away." (And I've never made it all the way through "Amelie" or "Chungking Express.")
This exercise also reminded me of a bunch of movies I need to re-watch, because it's been too long (at least 20 years) and I don't remember them very well, including: Jacques Rivette's "Celine and Julie Go Boating" (always hard to see, but available on Region 2 DVD, at least), Carl Theodor Dreyer's "Days of Wrath," Lucino Visconti's "The Leopard," Kenji Mizoguchi's "The Story of the Late Crysanthemums" (and, for that matter, "The Life of Oharu," which deserved to be on the list and which I have on import DVD), and Edward Yang's "Yi Yi" (which I've been meaning to revisit since his untimely death).
Best of all, the list serves as a reminder that the vast majority of these films, available on DVD, are easier to see now than they have ever been since they were made! Most are just as easy to borrow from NetFlix as "Wild Hogs."
For my Own Personal List, and some observations about the preliminary results, click to continue...
Meanwhile, if any of the participants -- or any readers -- would like to publish their own lists, please feel free to do so in comments! I'll show you mine if...
While I was gone, the New York Times printed a magnificent appreciation of Michelangelo Antonioni written by Martin Scorsese, called "The Man Who Set Film Free." This piece, which begins with Scorsese recalling the profound effect of seeing "L'Avventura" for the first time in 1961, is so moving, and so perceptive, that I think it ranks with the best work Scorsese has ever done in any medium. Reading it brings tears to my eyes -- like a great film does.
Scorsese traces how the film keeps redirecting, reshaping, and dissolving the narrative before our eyes. Is it an "adventure" or an intrigue, as the title suggests? Or a missing-person mystery? Or a detective story? Or a love story? Or a betrayal/revenge story? But right away our attention was drawn away from the mechanics of the search, by the camera and the way it moved. You never knew where it was going to go, who or what it was going to follow. In the same way the attentions of the characters drifted: toward the light, the heat, the sense of place. And then toward one another.
So it became a love story. But that dissolved too. Antonioni made us aware of something quite strange and uncomfortable, something that had never been seen in movies. His characters floated through life, from impulse to impulse, and everything was eventually revealed as a pretext: the search was a pretext for being together, and being together was another kind of pretext, something that shaped their lives and gave them a kind of meaning.
The more I saw “L’Avventura” — and I went back many times — the more I realized...
View image Whose films matter today?
Andrew Sarris, quoting himself, reminds us of what a big deal the late Michelangelo Antonioni -- and Euro-movie staples Ingmar Bergman, Francois Truffaut, Alain Resnais, Jean-Luc Godard, et al. -- were in the late 1950s and '60s, at least in metropolitan centers like New York: My own 1961 review in The Village Voice continued in the same vein. “As long as the great foreign films continue to trickle into New York at the present snail’s pace, the enthusiasm of discerning moviegoers will have to be concentrated on one phenomenon at a time. 1959 was the year of 'Wild Strawberries' and 'The Four Hundred Blows,' 1960 belongs to 'Hiroshima, Mon Amour' and 'Picnic on the Grass' [Jean Renoir]. So far this year it has been 'Breathless,' but now it is time for another blast of trumpets. Beginning April 4 at the Beekman Theater, 'L’Avventura 'will become the one first-run film to see in New York. The sixth feature film of Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni, 'L’Avventura' will probably be even more controversial than its French and Swedish predecessors, which have been conveniently misunderstood as problem tracts of old age, childhood, juvenile delinquency, miscegenation, nuclear warfare, or what have you.
“With 'L’Avventura' the issue cannot be muddled, Antonioni’s film is an intellectual adventure, or it is nothing. The plot, such as it is, will infuriate audiences who still demand plotted cinema and potted climaxes. A group of bored Italian socialites disembark from their yacht on a deserted island. After wandering about a while they discover that one of their number, a perverse girl named Anna, is missing. Up to that time, Anna (Lea Massari) has been the protagonist. Not only does she never reappear, the mystery of her disappearance is never solved. Anna’s fiancé (Gabriele Ferzetti) and her best friend (Monica Vitti) continue the search from one town to another, ultimately betraying the object of their search by becoming lovers. The film ends on a note of further betrayal and weary acceptance, with the two lovers facing a blank wall and a distant island, both literally and symbolically.”
So when exactly did I tire of Antonioni to the point of Antonioniennui? I am not sure. It may have been about the time of "The Red Desert" (1964), which I disliked, and well before "Blow-Up" (1966), which I liked enormously, unlike the late Pauline Kael, who dismissed it with a yawn.
It must be noted that at the time I waxed rhapsodic about "L’Avventura," I had not yet seen any of his five previous films.... "L’Avventura" was received here like a smashing debut film, and from then on it seemed just like more of the same, only less so, with "La Notte" (1961), "L’Eclisse" (1962) and most exasperatingly of all, "The Red Desert."... Whose films today spark similar sensations, and love-or-hate debate? Living directors about whom your opinion really seems to matter, whose films are considered "must-sees" by serious moviegoers? The Coens? Quentin Tarantino? Brian DePalma? Steven Soderbergh? I'm asking. I don't think film festival mega-stars like Lars von Trier or Abbas Kiarostami or Wong Kar-Wai are nearly well-known or influential enough to have this kind of impact, on movie fans in general or on other filmmakers. Are any of the candidates European?
ADDENDUM: Another way of looking at it: Is there a filmmaker whose style is so recognizable that it could be parodied -- and mainstream moviegoers, from their 20s to their 40s, would know what was being parodied, as was the case with Bergman, who was lampooned by the likes of "SCTV," Woody Allen, and "Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey"? (Then again, could a television comedy show as smart and aware of the diversity of culture and pop culture as "SCTV" exist today? Actually, such a thing did exist not all that many years ago on HBO: "Mr. Show with Bob and David.")
View image Harriet Andersson in Ingmar Bergman's "Summer with Monika" (1953). US tagline: "A Picture for Wide Screens and Broad Minds."
Jonathan Rosenbaum puts another nail in Ingmar Bergman's coffin in today's New York Times ("Scenes From an Overrated Career"). As important as Bergman was to the rise of European "art film," especially in the 1950s and '60s, Rosenbaum says, Bergman -- who was more a theatrical director than a cinematic one -- wasn't really adding anything new to the art of film, and his work hasn't held up over time: Sometimes, though, the best indication of an artist’s continuing vitality is simply what of his work remains visible and is still talked about. The hard fact is, Mr. Bergman isn’t being taught in film courses or debated by film buffs with the same intensity as Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles and Jean-Luc Godard. His works are seen less often in retrospectives and on DVD than those of Carl Dreyer and Robert Bresson — two master filmmakers widely scorned as boring and pretentious during Mr. Bergman’s heyday.
What Mr. Bergman had that those two masters lacked was the power to entertain — which often meant a reluctance to challenge conventional film-going habits, as Dreyer did when constructing his peculiar form of movie space and Bresson did when constructing his peculiar form of movie acting.
The same qualities that made Mr. Bergman’s films go down more easily than theirs — his fluid storytelling and deftness in handling actresses, comparable to the skills of a Hollywood professional like George Cukor — also make them feel less important today, because they have fewer secrets to impart. What we see is what we get, and what we hear, however well written or dramatic, are things we’re likely to have heard elsewhere.
So where did the outsized reputation of Mr. Bergman come from? At least part of his initial appeal in the ’50s seems tied to the sexiness of his actresses and the more relaxed attitudes about nudity in Sweden; discovering the handsome look of a Bergman film also clearly meant encountering the beauty of Maj-Britt Nilsson and Harriet Andersson. And for younger cinephiles like myself, watching Mr. Bergman’s films at the same time I was first encountering directors like Mr. Godard and Alain Resnais, it was tempting to regard him as a kindred spirit, the vanguard of a Swedish New Wave.
It was a seductive error, but an error nevertheless. The stylistic departures I saw in Mr. Bergman’s ’50s and ’60s features — the silent-movie pastiche in “Sawdust and Tinsel,” the punitive use of magic against a doctor-villain in “The Magician,” the aggressive avant-garde prologue of “Persona” — were actually more functions of his skill and experience as a theater director than a desire or capacity to change the language of cinema in order to say something new. [...]
It’s strange to realize that his bitter and pinched emotions, once they were combined with excellent cinematography and superb acting, could become chic — and revered as emblems of higher purposes in cinema. But these emotions remain ugly ones, no matter how stylishly they might be served up.
Michael Atkinson, who I quoted earlier in the week, makes some similar criticisms, yet comes to a different conclusion: "[N]owhere... is there a lazy, unambitious or unoriginal directorial moment."
I think there's some truth in both Rosenbaum's and Atkinson's assessments, but Rosenbaum seems more interested in asserting his own personal pantheon than in evaluating Bergman's oeuvre. Yes, the reputation of Bergman's work, and its former sense of vital importance, has undeniably receded. After all, it had practically nowhere else to go, given Bergman's overwhelming stature in the '60s and '70s. (On a personal note, I haven't felt compelled to watch or re-watched any of his films in years -- except "Persona" -- although I still treasure "Fanny and Alexander," and have fond memories of his early, funny pictures like "Smiles of a Summer Night" and "The Devil's Eye.") That's why, honestly, I haven't been able to write about Bergman myself this last week: He feels like an indistinct memory to me, safely enshrined as "classic" but almost taken for granted. Nevertheless, I've put some of his films at the top of my Netflix queue ("Shame," "Hour of the Wolf") in hopes of getting reacquainted.