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War Story

Director Mark Jackson’s drama is a chilly study in grief starring Catherine Keener as a war-zone photographer shattered by her experiences in Libya.

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Hercules

Dwayne Johnson tries, but he’s surrounded by poor CGI and a terrible adaptation of yet another comic book. Ian McShane steals what little movie there…

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

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* 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.

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A less kind and gentle Nora Ephron; Ira Sachs' favorite movies about love; Google Glass in film schools; Marlon Brando as cinema's Raging Bull; the impossibility of being literal.

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#139 October 24, 2012

Marie writes: The countdown to Christmas officially begins the day after Halloween, which this year lands on a Wednesday. Come Thursday morning, the shelves will be bare of witches, goblins and ghosts; with snowmen, scented candles and dollar store angel figurines taking their place. That being the case, I thought it better to start celebrating early so we can milk the joy of Halloween for a whole week as opposed to biding adieu to the Great Pumpkin so soon after meeting up again...

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Gangsters, renegades and rebels

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Today looks to be a day of renegades and gangsters from the start, with "Killing Them Softly" by Andrew Dominik, the second American film to premier in competition, first thing in the morning. The all-male cast is headlined by Brad Pitt, who also starred in the director's Oscar-nominated "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. " This is a talky tough-guy movie that is heavy on long interchanges among thugs with odd accents and/or speech impediments. Talking like a tough guy means modifying every noun with the f-word (and I wonder what the grand total would be for this film).

"Killing Them Softly" is set in New Orleans, although pains are taken to avoid any distinctly identifying landmarks. The grey, wet, boarded-up desolation of the landscape could only be the post-Katrina lower 9th Ward, and I found the film's fleeting glimpses of that more electrifying than the introduction of Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), a pair of lowlifes setting up a robbery with Squirrel (Vincent Curatola).

The two bumblers manage, just barely, to pull off the robbery of a high-stakes poker game, which makes it only a matter of time before they're marked men. It also makes Markie (Ray Liotta), the pudgy mid-level gangster who was running the game a suspect. Whatever higher authority these thugs answer to calls in its enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to sort it out.

The first and only woman, who is also the first and only black person in the story, makes her appearance one hour into the film. She's a prostitute who's treated like garbage in her approximately two minutes on the screen. This is not only a man's world, it's a white man's world.

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Maria Schneider comes to America

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Roger Ebert / September 14, 1975

LOS ANGELES--It was, said the critic Pauline Kael, perhaps the most important artistic event since the first performance of Stravinsky's "The Rites of Spring." She was referring to the 1973 premiere of "Last Tango in Paris," a film by Bernardo Bertolucci which dealt in explicit detail with a brief affair between a middle-aged man and a girl barely out of her teens. The man was Marlon Brando, long acknowledged as the finest screen actor of his generation. The girl was Maria Schneider, a 20-year-old with an innocent face, a woman's body and an electrifying presence.

Most of the film involved just two actors, and Schneider held her own with Brando in a stunning confrontation with sex and death. It was an astonishing performance. Maria Schneider quickly became the favorite "bad girl" of the movie press. She gave shocking interviews, she walked off a movie set and had herself committed to an asylum with the woman she described as her lover, she seemed to be surrounded by scandal. And then she made a film with another of Europe's top directors, Michelangelo Antonioni, and another major star, Jack Nicholson. The film was "The Passenger," and this time her screen image was altogether different: She was quiet, intelligent, even sweet.

Then Schneider dropped from view. She moved to America; signed with Paul Kohner (the legendary agent who represents Ingmar Bergman, Liv Ullmann and many other Europeans), turned down several big film offers, and moved into a house in the Hollywood hills. This interview, conducted in Kohner's office, is her first in the United States. She wore faded denims, smoked frequently, looked thinner and more intriguing than in "Tango," and seemed ready to revise her European image.

Q. Why California?

A. The main thing was the space. It was getting hard to breathe in Europe - it's too compact, too compressed. I lived in France about three years, traveling around a lot, and then I tried London, and about six months ago I settled on here.

Q. Americans have a thing about Southern California . . .

A. So do I. It's hard to talk to the people here. They're very shallow. All they talk about is their look, their hair and their screwing. But I love to act, and here is the place to come for the movies. Q. Paul Kohner said you were reading a screenplay based on "The Story of an African Farm."

A. Yes. It's a wonderful story. It's about a girl growing up in South Africa a century ago, and finding herself, and learning how to rely on herself. The story's so good, I want to make the film. I've had offers for a lot more money, but this project is by a director who's young and ready and wrote the screenplay himself. He'll care more than someone who was just paid to direct a story . . . and it's a good role for a woman. In most movies these days, women are just decoration. I'll never be that.

Q. So far you've been in two movies with two top directors, Bertolucci and Antonioni . . .

A. Six movies. Nobody knows, but I did six movies before "Last Tango in Paris." I don't think any of them ever played here. One was directed by Roger Vadim, after he made "Pretty Maids All in a Row." And I did some theater, and a couple of underground French movies. I walked out on one of them when I wasn't paid. I fought with the director, went back to Paris, and met Bertolucci. He offered me the role in "Tango."

Dominique Sanda was going to do it, but she got pregnant.

Q. And you got a sort of immortality, because the movie's already a landmark.

A. So much of that was because of Brando. He was wonderful to work with, for an actor like myself who was still beginning. He had just finished "The Godfather," and now this was also part of his comeback, and you'd think he'd want the advantage in all of the scenes. Actors always try to look their best. But he gave me the advantage, the material to work with. And he was brilliant when we improvised . . . the bathroom scene was improvised.

Q. And Bertolucci?

A. He's a great director, but . . . well, I was 20 when I did "Tango." Bertolucci made me wear very heavy black makeup under my eyes. Makeup on a girl who's too young gives her the wrong character, gives her a funny look. I argued with him, but with no luck. I don't know who he thought I was supposed to be. Marlon was such a good force on the picture. We were working like dogs with an Italian crew, filming in Paris, overtime and all that, and two crew members came down with stomach ulcers. And Marlon was the one - not Bertolucci, who goes on about being a member of the Italian Communist party - but Marlon was the one who brought sandwiches and wine for the crew and worried about them.

Q. After the film was released you were suddenly famous - or infamous - all over the world.

A. And Marlon told me about that, too. He was the first to tell me about the bad parts of fame. How the press can seize on everything and make it as sensational as they can. And there the European press is worse than the American. I think they'll print anything.

Q. There were some amazing quotes attributed to you.

A. I think I said a lot of them. After "Tango" came out, I amused myself at interviews by saying scandalous things, thinking they were funny. I talked about going out with men, women, I sounded promiscuous, I took it all as a joke. I see now it wasn't funny . . .

Q. And then you went to Antonioni . . .

A. For "The Passenger." It's an interesting thing about that film. It did better in America than it did in Europe. And Antonioni is supposed to be a star in Europe. I'm glad the Americans could watch something slower and more thoughtful for a change, instead of all the violence and crime. Still, I think Michelangelo has a problem with his English. He doesn't speak it very well, and I think some of the dialog in "The Passenger," which was supposed to sound real, sounded falsely poetic. Like when Jack Nicholson says, "What the hell are you doing here with me?" And I say, "Which me?" You see how wrong that sounds? And in another scene he says, "I met you before - you were reading" And I say, "That must have been me." Terrible!

Q. Are you looking at scripts from American directors now?

A. I'm looking at all kinds of scripts. Most of them are no good. Hardly any of them have interesting female roles.

Q. Paul Kohner was thinking out loud about the idea of a movie of Hemingway's "Across the River and into the Trees," which would be directed by John Huston and might star Robert Mitchum as the old colonel and you as the young contessa . . .

A. And be shot in Venice. I'd love to work in Venice. I lived there for a while. The light and the silence and all around the sound of the footsteps. You know, I saw Mitchum just last night in "Farewell, My Lovely." It stayed in my mind all night. I loved Jack Nicholson playing the detective in "Chinatown," but I much preferred this detective by Mitchum. What do you think of the . . . the chemistry if Mitchum and I were to be together?

Q. Dynamite.

A. (Laughs) And yet, you know, I always act with these men like Brando and Nicholson, who are much older than me. I wouldn't be with a man that age in my own life. And I think there'd be a problem in filming in Venice, too.

Q. The canals?

A. No, the insurance. You know, I have a problem in Italy since my last film with the companies that insure a film. I signed myself into an asylum for a friend of mine. They locked her up, and so I had to do it out of loyalty.

Q. That was in all the papers here.

A. And all the papers everywhere. But they never printed that I finished the movie.

Q. You did? I got the impression it was closed down. A. Oh, yes, I finished it. It was called "The Baby Sitter," it's a thriller by Rene Clement, who did "Forbidden Games." It's a good thriller, well made, nothing poetic about it. They took away two-thirds of my salary to keep the insurance people happy. The producer was Carlo Ponti. He'll come out ahead any way he can. When Clement wanted me for the movie, he wanted me to play the role that was negative. There were two girls in the movie, and one was perverse and destroyed, and of course that was the one he wanted me for. But Antonioni showed him "The Passenger," and then I got the other role. He only knew me from "Tango." God knows what people think I really look like and act like!

Q. After "The Baby Sitter," did you split for Hollywood?

A. More or less. I was supposed to make a movie in Paris with Jean-Luc Godard. You know, he works in eight millimeter now. He gave a brilliant press conference about it in Cannes. He explained to me that the actor would put up $40,000, and he would put up $40,000, and then we would make the movie together. I would have, too, but I didn't have $40,000. And I still don't.

Q. But "Tango" made millions and millions . . .

A. Ha! You know what I was paid? Five thousand dollars! That's all. I didn't even get a percentage of all those profits. Jack Nicholson told me that after "Easy Rider" made so much money, they gave him something more in addition to the little he made in the first place. But no Italian producer would ever do that. I'm glad I've got Paul as my agent. He'll look after things like that. I'm no good with money. Working on my own, I constantly got ripped off. I just can't handle money.

Q. How'd you meet Kohner?

A. I walked in off the street. I'd heard he was the top agent. My doctor was in the building next door. I came out from his office, saw Paul's sign, and introduced myself at the switchboard. "Who are you?" they asked. I said I was an actress who wanted him to represent me. They asked what credits I had - they thought l was a nut off the street. I said I'd worked with Bertolucci and Antonioni. They didn't believe me. Finally one person in the office did recognize me. I look a little different now, I'm thinner, I'm 23, I wasn't wearing makeup.

Q. Kohner seems sort of paternal toward you, protective.

A. Well, I don't need too much protection. I live a simple life. And Paul tells me, let's wait for the right role. People get lazy doing whatever is given to them. I'd rather wait and go broke than be forced to do a bad movie for money. Paul has Charles Bronson and Ingmar Bergman among his clients. He says, we can go big, like Bronson, or small, like Bergman. I'd rather go small.

Q. And in the meantime you're keeping life uncomplicated?

A. That's right. I don't own anything. Well, I own a pickup truck. I don't have any maids or answering services or any of those things. I spend my money on food and travel and cameras. I live in Laurel Canyon with some friends, including some writers. None of my friends are actors or directors or Hollywood types.

I'm not interested in that crowd. And I'll just hold out and look for a decent role for a woman. "The Story of an African Farm" looks about the best.

Q. What else is around?

A. Paramount wants me to do "Black Sunday," which is about terrorists, and I play a Palestinian guerrilla. That's their idea of a woman's role. But things are changing. Most of the members of my generation are gay, or bisexual, they have more open minds about sexuality, about what a woman's role can be, or what the potentials are.

Q. Did you say most of your generation?

A. Most of my friends, anyway. Or maybe it's just California. The theme from "Last Tango in Paris:" Theme From Last Tango In Paris (1972) by seasonwitch

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#29 September 22, 2010

Marie writes: Club member and noted blog contributor Tom Dark took this astonishing photograph near his home in Abiqui, New Mexico. The "unknown entity" appeared without warning and after a failed attempt to communicate, fled the scene. Tom stopped short of saying "alien" to describe the encounter, but I think it's safe to say that whatever he saw, it was pretty damned freaky. It sure can't be mistaken for anything terrestrial; like a horse pressing its nose up to the camera and the lens causing foreshortening. As it totally does not look like that at all. (click to enlarge.)

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Name That Director!

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UPDATED 01/28/10: 2:25 p.m. PST -- COMPLETED!: Thanks for all the detective work -- and special thanks to Christopher Stangl and Srikanth Srinivasan himself for their comprehensive efforts at filling the last few holes! Now I have to go read about who some of these experimental filmmakers are. I did find some Craig Baldwin movies on Netflix, actually...

Srikanth Srinivasan of Bangalore writes one of the most impressive movie blogs on the web: The Seventh Art. I don't remember how I happened upon it last week, but wow am I glad I did. Dig into his exploration of connections between Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" and Jean-Luc Godard's "History of Cinema." Or check out his piece on James Benning's 1986 "Landscape Suicide." There's a lot to look through, divided into sections for Hollywood and World Cinema.

In the section called "The Cinemaniac... I found the above collage (mosaic?) of mostly-famous faces belonging to film directors, which Srikanth says he assembled from thumbnails at Senses of Cinema. Many of them looked quite familiar to me, and if I'm not mistaken they were among the biographical portraits we used in the multimedia CD-ROM movie encyclopedia Microsoft Cinemania, which I edited from 1994 to 1998, first on disc, then also on the web. (Anybody with a copy of Cinemania able to confirm that? My Mac copy of Cinemania97 won't run on Snow Leopard.)

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TIFF 08: Revolution and starvation, personal and political

"The war is over. The revolution has just begun." -- Che Guevara (Benicio Del Toro), after Cuban guerillas have overthrown Batista's dictatorial regime on New Year's Day, 1959, in "Che"

Even without titles or credits, the running time of the gorgeous digital print of Steven Soderberg's "Che" that screened at the Toronto Film Festival was listed as 261minutes (that's four hours and 21 minutes for those of you without calculators). The working title for the epic was "Guerilla," then "Che," and despite Benicio Del Toro's fully-lived performance as Che Guevara, a more suitable title might be "Revolutions." Because this doesn't feel so much like a biopic as a documentary portrait of the recipes for political revolutions, successful and failed, in Cuba and Bolivia. The titles may rhyme, but nobody's going to mistake "Che" for "Ray."

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Elected: 100 Must-See Foreign Films

Kenji Mizoguchi's "Sansho Dayu" (aka "Sansho the Bailiff").

The ballots came in from all over the web. Edward Copeland tabulated them (and found nice stills for all the winners), under the supervision of Nobel Peace Prize-winner Jimmy Carter. OK, I don't know about that last part, but Edward did some great good work here.

He's calling it "The Satyajit Ray Memorial Anything-But-Definitive List of Non-English Language Films." Copeland writes: "The name comes, of course, from the great Indian director who failed to land any of his acclaimed works on the final list of 122 nominees."

In all 174 people chose their top 25-or-so non-English-language talkies made before 2002 (nominees had to be at least five years old). The Top 100 is here -- accompanied by comments from people who chose them. (Comments and vote totals for the other 22 nominees are here.)

My top choice was Kenji Mizoguchi's "Sansho Dayu" (which came in at #46 and is available on a Criterion DVD), about which I wrote: If I had to choose just one movie –- one movie –- above all others on this list, Mizoguchi's would be it. I've long felt that if there were a god, the closest expression we're likely to find on this earth is in this movie. It's not the only film on my list that gives me goosebumps whenever the title is mentioned, but I don't believe there's ever been a greater motion picture in any language. This one sees life and memory as a creek flowing into a lake out into a river and to the sea.That seems a little florid to me now (it was the night before I left for Toronto, and I was trying to tie together the imagery in the first and last shots of a masterpiece), but the emotions, and the awe, are genuine.

Here's the Top 25:

1. "The Rules of the Game" (Jean Renoir) 2. "Seven Samurai" (Akira Kurosawa) 3. "M" (Fritz Lang) 4. "8 1/2" (Federico Fellini) 5. "Bicycle Thieves" (Vittorio De Sica) 6. "Persona" (Ingmar Bergman) 7. "Grand Illusion" (Jean Renoir) 8. "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" (Werner Herzog) 9. "The Battle of Algiers" (Gillo Pontecorvo) 10. "The 400 Blows" (Francois Truffaut) 11. "Fanny and Alexander" (Ingmar Bergman) 12. "Tokyo Story" (Yasujiro Ozu) 13. "Rashomon" (Akira Kurosawa) 14. "Ikiru" (Akira Kurosawa) 15. "The Seventh Seal" (Ingmar Bergman) 16. "Ran" (Akira Kurosawa) 17. "Jules and Jim" (Francois Truffaut) 18. "The Conformist" (Bernardo Bertolucci) 19. "La Dolce Vita" (Federico Fellini) 20. "Contempt" (Jean-Luc Godard) 21. "Breathless" (Jean-Luc Godard) 22. "Ugetsu Monogatari" (Kenji Mizoguchi) 23. "Playtime" (Jacques Tati) 24. "Au Hasard, Balthazar" (Robert Bresson) 25. "Andrei Rublev" (Andrei Tarkovsky)

(continued...)

Bad news: "Amelie" made the list (though only at #92). Good news: "Life is Beautiful" (which isn't) wasn't even nominated!

Stop wasting your life. Get watching.

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The 100 Greatest Directors of... what?

View image Number 74.

I was not familiar with TotalFilm.com, until I spotted a link over at Movie City News.

Thanks a lot, guys.

The link was to a pair of articles listing Total Film's choices for "The Greatest Directors Ever" Part 1 (100 - 49) and Part 2 (50 - 1).

Will I return to this site? I think probably not. Why am I linking to it now? Because it's my shameless attempt to stimulate discussion, which I hope will be on a more informed level than this list. Or maybe it's just to have a laugh. Or a moment of sadness. What do I think of the list itself? Well, let's see:

Baz Luhrmann is #97.

Tony Scott is #74, just edging out Milos Forman, Kenji Mizoguchi, Satyajit Ray, Carl Theodor Dreyer, and Buster Keaton, who comes in at #88.

Bryan Singer is #65, two slots below Robert Bresson, who immediately follows Sam Raimi.

Rob Reiner is #35.

Michael Mann (#28) is on the list, but Anthony Mann is not.

Bernardo Bertolucci is... not on the list.

Otto Preminger is... not on the list.

Richard Lester is... not on the list.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder is... not on the list.

Max Ophuls is... not on the list.

George Cukor is... not on the list, but George Lucas (#95) is.

Andrei Tarkovsky is... not on the list.

Eric Rohmer is... not on the list.

Claude Chabrol is... not on the list.

Luchino Visconti is... not on the list.

Vittorio De Sica is... not on the list.

Michelangelo Antonioni is... not on the list. Not even the top 100.

What's worse are the little names they have for each director. Sophia Coppola (#99) is "The dreamer" ("Dreamy, brave and cool, this Coppola is doing it for herself"). Singer is "The new Spielberg." Robert Altman (#26) is "The outsider" -- oops, but so is Hal Ashby (#58). Somebody ran out of labels. Well, at least they are not outside all alone; they are outside together. Sam Fuller (#50) is "The hack." Mike Leigh (#49) is "The grouch." Quentin Tarantino (#12) is "The motormouth."

OK, that's enough. Have at it if you feel like it. If you don't feel like it, you'll probably live.

ADDENDUM: A reader, spleendonkey, describes TotalFilm as a British magazine aimed at teens and pre-teens, designed to broaden their film horizons. For the record, here's the mag's description of itself on its subscription page:In 2007, Total Film celebrates its tenth year of being the only film magazine that nails a monthly widescreen shot of the whole movie landscape. It’s the essential guide for anyone who’s passionate about movies - whether they’re into Cruise or Cusack, Hollywood or Bollywood, multiplex or arthouse, popcorn or - er - sweetcorn. Each issue is pumped full of reviews, news, features and celebrity interviews on all the latest cinema releases. The all-new home entertainment section, Lounge, is the ultimate one-stop-shop for everything you should care about in the churning world of DVDs, books, videogames and, occasionally, film-related novelty furniture. The mag regularly features highly desirable, Ebay-friendly FREE stuff - exclusive film cells, posters, postcards, DVDs… We’re currently in discussions with Health & Safety operatives about sticking a magical compass to the cover when "His Dark Materials" comes out. Subscribe to Total Film now, or forever be belittled by precocious children in discussions about what’s best and worst in movieland.Doesn't sound all that different from Entertainment Weekly to me, but there you go...

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Bergman and Antonioni: Commercial moviemakers

View image "Zabriskie Point" -- an Antonioni movie on the cover of LOOK magazine in 1969: "Had he violated the Mann Act when he staged a nude love-in in a national park? Does the film show an "anti-American" bias? As a member of the movie Establishment, is he distorting the aims of the young people's 'revolution'?"

Watching Ingmar Bergman's "Shame" (1968) over the weekend (which I was pleased to find that I had not seen before -- after 20 or 30 years, I sometimes forget), I recalled something that happened around 1982. Through the University of Washington Cinema Studies program, we brought the now-famous (then not-so-) story structure guru Robert McKee to campus to conduct a weekend screenwriting seminar. McKee, played by Brian Cox in Spike Jonze's and Charlie Kaufman's "Adapation." as the ultimate authority on how to write a salable screenplay, has probably been the single-most dominant influence in American screenwriting -- "Hollywood" and "independent" -- over the last two decades. Many would say "pernicious influence." (Syd Field is another.)

It's not necessarily McKee's fault that so many aspiring screenwriters and studio development executives have chosen to emphasize a cogent, three-act structure over all other aspects of the script, including things like character, ideas, and even coherent narrative. Structure, after all, is supposed to be merely the backbone of storytelling, not the be-all, end-all of screenwriting. But people focus on the things that are easiest to fix, that make something feel like a movie, moving from beat to beat, even if the finished product is just a waste of time.

The film McKee chose to illustrate the principles of a well-structured story that time was Ingmar Bergman's "The Virgin Spring."

"Shame" is another reminder that Bergman's movies weren't solely aimed at "art" -- they were made to appeal to an audience. Right up to its bleak ending, "Shame" is a rip-roaring story, with plenty of action, plot-twists, big emotional scenes for actors to play, gorgeously meticulous cinematography, explosive special effects and flat-out absurdist comedy. I don't know how "arty" it seemed in 1968, but it plays almost like classical mainstream moviemaking today. (And remember: Downbeat, nihilistic or inconclusive finales were very fashionable and popular in mainstream cinema in the late 1960's: "Bonnie and Clyde," "Blow-Up," "Easy Rider," "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry"...),

It's important to remember that Bergman and his fellow Euro-titan Michelangelo Antonioni, who both died on the same day last week, were big-name commercial directors -- who also helped moviegoers worldwide see the relatively young, originally low-brow, populist medium in a new light: as a (potential) art form. (The Beatles, who in 1964-'65 were the most popular youth phenomenon on the planet, even wanted Antonioni to direct their second feature, after "A Hard Day's Night"!) And if they hadn't been so popular and famous, they would not have been so influential. These guys won plenty of high-falutin' awards at film festivals, but they were also nominated for Oscars in glitzy Hollywood.

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My problem with "Blue Velvet"

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If you want to understand David Lynch, maybe the place to start is with his paintings. He paints in a style he describes as "bad primitive art," and says that one of his paintings works if you feel the desire to sink your teeth into it.

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Interview with Maria Schneider

It was, said critic Pauline Kael, perhaps the most important artistic event since the first performance of Stravinsky's "The Rites of Spring." She was referring to the 1973 premiere of "Last Tango in Paris," a film by Bernardo Bertolucci which dealt in explicit detail with a brief affair between a middle-aged man and a girl barely out of her teens. The man was Marlon Brando, long acknowledged as the finest screen actor of his generation. The girl was Maria Schneider, a 20-year-old with an innocent face, a woman's body and an electrifying presence.

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