Synecdoche, New York
If we don't "go to the movies" in any form, our minds wither and sicken.
* 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.
Scout Tafoya analyzes the unique narrative of "Jauja" with Viggo Mortensen.
Donald Liebenson chats with actor/comedian/writer Patton Oswalt about his new book "Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life From an Addiction to Film."
A supporting actress smackdown; 25 essential short films; Scorsese on story vs. plot; "Guardians" needs more faith in itself; Warren, Jerry & Carlos Danger.
An FFC shares memories of the Los Angeles Theater scene.
Cohen Media Group has made a name for itself as a boutique DVD and Blu-ray label, bringing overlooked and under-appreciated works of cinema to new audiences.
An exhaustive list of Top 10s by RogerEbert.com contributors.
Video essays on Wes Anderson, including all seven chapters of "The Wes Anderson Collection" and all five chapters of "Wes Anderson: The Substance of Style."
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.
For the second in his ongoing series, filmmaker and blogger Scout Tafoya looks at the remarkable Cannes Film Festival of 1968, when the festival came to a screeching halt in the face of real-world upheaval. (Check out his amazing look at Cannes 1960 here.)The complete transcripts:Part 1
UPDATED (08/01/12): Scroll to the bottom of this entry to see my first impressions of the newly announced critics' and directors' poll results.
Vittorio De Sica's "Bicycle Thieves" (1948) topped the first Sight & Sound critics' poll in 1952, only four years after it was first released, dropped to #7 in 1962, and then disappeared from the top ten never to be seen again. (In 2002 only five of the 145 participating critics voted for it.) Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" (1941) flopped in its initial release but was rediscovered in the 1950s after RKO licensed its films to television in 1956. From 1962 to 2002 "Kane" has remained at the top of the poll (46 critics voted for it last time). This year, a whopping 846 top-ten ballots (mentioning 2,045 different titles) were counted, solicited from international "critics, programmers, academics, distributors, writers and other cinephiles" -- including bloggers and other online-only writers. Sight & Sound has announced it will live-tweet the 2012 "Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time" (@SightSoundmag #sightsoundpoll) August 1, and as I write this the night before, I of course don't know the results. But, for now at least, I'm more interested in the process.
Given the much wider and younger selection of voters in 2012, ist-watchers have been speculating: Will another movie (leading candidate: Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo," number 2 in 2002) supplant "Kane" at the top of the list? Will there be any silent films in the top 10? (Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin" and Murnau's "Sunrise" tied for #7 on the 2002 list, but the latter was released in 1927 with a Fox Movietone sound-on-film musical score and sound effects.)
Though there's been no rule about how much time should pass between a film's initial release and its eligibility (the Library of Congress's National Film Registry requires that selections be at least ten years old), most of the selections ten to have stood the test of time for at least a decade or two. The newest film on the 2002 list was the combination of "The Godfather" (1972) and "The Godfather, Part II" (1974) -- but they won't be allowed to count as one title for 2012.
Andrew Sarris, who loved movies, is dead at 83. He was the most influential American film critic of his time, and one of the jolliest. More than anyone else, he was responsible for introducing Americans to the Auteur Theory, the belief that the true author of a film is its director. Largely because of him, many moviegoers today think of films in terms of their directors.
When it comes to "Making of" documentaries, I put one above all others. It is "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse" (1991), a full-length feature about the filming of Francis Coppola's "Apocalypse Now". Nothing quite illustrates its impact like Francois Truffaut's statement: "I demand that a film express either the joy of making cinema or the agony of making cinema. I am not interested in anything in between." That the pain it captures eventually translated into cinematic greatness only serves to make it more compelling.
Marie writes: I've always found the ocean more interesting than space and for invariably containing more delights and surprises. Case in point, discovering the existence of an extraordinary underwater museum...
Marie writes: Allow me to introduce you to Bill and Cheryl. I went to Art school with Bill and met his significant other Cheryl while attending the graduation party; we've been pals ever since. None of which is even remotely interesting until you see where they live and their remarkable and eclectic collection of finds. (click to enlarge images.)
[This resurrected piece is my contribution to the Steven Spielberg Blogathon co-hosted by Adam Zanzie (Icebox Movies) and Ryan Kelly (Medfly Quarantine). Originally published in the (pre-home-video) December, 1982, issue of The Informer, a monthly publication of the Seattle Film Society, when I was just a wee lad, barely a quarter-century old.]
"E.T." is a universal film -- and I'm not just talking about the MCA company that released it. Steven Spielberg's latest celluloid fable is fast on its way to becoming the most popular movie ever made. Yet, unfortunately, critical attention has been focused primarily on the phenomenon of "E.T." rather than on the cinematic merits of the movie itself. So much has been said about "E.T." as an extraordinary entertainment, a masterfully orchestrated work of childlike wish-fulfillment, that people seem to have overlooked the fact that it's also -- dare I say it? -- a rich and resonant Work of Art. Perhaps Spielberg is too unassuming, too unabashedly populist in his style and (overt) subject matter to make critics sit up and take notice of what he's doing from shot to shot.
Nevertheless, "E.T." is connecting with millions of people worldwide -- and for good reason. Like "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," Spielberg's other masterpiece about intergalactic harmony and understanding (and perhaps the largest-scale abstract/experimental film released by a major Hollywood studio since Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey."), "E.T." is above all about contact, about the very nature of communication, and the system of signs we human beings have created to bring ourselves closer to one another: spoken language, gestures, symbolic objects, physical contact -- and any combination of the above.
The ad slogan for "Close Encounters" (hereafter referred to as "CE3K") was "We Are Not Alone," and both that film and "E.T." are about alienated individuals who try to break out of their isolation, who struggle to bridge the void between themselves and others. Perhaps the best way to get to the heart of these movies is to take a look at some of the ways Spielberg's characters communicate with (or fail to reach) each other -- and how Spielberg uses cinematic technique to bring film, characters, and audiences, into contact.
My recent post called "Framed" triggered memories of one the most evocatively titled books about cinema: Leo Braudy's "The World in a Frame." (What does it evoke? See quote from Martin Scorsese in upper right corner.) Published in 1976, the sub-title is "What We See in Films," and re-reading the introduction and early chapters reminds me that we no longer see movies the way we did back then. Technology has fundamentally altered our perceptions of what a movie is. Here's an observation (true at the time) from the intro, "Movies in Mind," that I find rather moving:
Incidental talk after a screening, fan magazine biographies, and film criticism -- all serve first of all to bring the short-lived image into a continuous world of ordinary discourse, to ensure its life beyond those moments in the dark, to make it exist. Unlike the products of the other arts [musical or theatrical recordings], movies are ephemeral. They aren't available, at least not yet, for easy reference on bookshelves, in prints, or on records. One of the first problems for the student of film is taking notes in the dark -- to catch for a moment the rapidly vanishing sound and image. So, too, the aesthetic situation of the movie audience in general is reminiscent of Homer's first audiences. Once the bard has sung a line, the audience can't demand to hear it again; and so the movie audience is passively drawn from scene to scene, with no ready text or score against which to judge their particular experience, with only the experience itself to generate its own standards, for when movies are repeated, unless you have a video-tape machine and can pirate fragments, they must be repeated in their entirety.
What Braudy describes there, of course, is the way all but those who worked in the movie business (from camera operators to editors to projectionists) had always experienced movies -- as events that occurred at a particular time in a particular place. When we buy a ticket to a theatrical screening, we're not purchasing anything concrete (besides the receipt that serves as proof-of-purchase for entry); we're just renting space -- a seat in an auditorium -- for a particular length of time while images are projected on a screen, accompanied by synchronized sounds. There's no guarantee that we will enjoy the images, or that we will find the experience worthwhile, only that we'll be shown the movie whose title is printed on the ticket.
It's quite easy for someone to enjoy film. Loving film is completely different. For those who see films enjoy them, yet only those who can read film truly love it and understand it as an art form.
Hitchcock is probably the most well known director of all time. There is no absolute answer to what his crowning achievement is. A lot of critics prefer "Vertigo." Taste varies from one film lover to the other. "North by Northwest", "Notorious", "Vertigo", "Rear Window", "The Birds", "Shadow of a Doubt", "Strangers on a Train", "Rebecca", "Suspicion", "The 39 Steps" and "Psycho" are among his most loved.
The truth is there is no such thing as one ultimate Hitchcock masterpiece, there are only favorites.
For Francois Truffaut, it was James Bond. In a 1979 interview with Don Allen in Sight & Sound, Truffaut said he felt "the film that marks the beginning of the period of decadence in the cinema is the first James Bond -- 'Dr. No.' Until then the role of the cinema had been by and large to tell a story in the hope the audience would believe it... For the first time throughout the world mass audiences were exposed to what amounts as a degradation of the art of cinema, a type of cinema which relates neither to life nor the romantic tradition but only to other films and always by sending them up."
As Ronald Bergan points out in his book "Francois Truffaut: Interviews), the Cahiers du Cinema critic turned nouvelle vague auteur was "recognizing postmodernism before the concept became current in the 1980s." Truffaut (himself known as "The Gravedigger of French Cinema" for his scathing reviews in Cahiers during the 1950s) died in 1984. Surely there were those for whom the French New Wave itself indicated the End of Cinema -- a decline in professional production values and, well, what Truffaut himself attacked as the tradition "the well-made film."
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.
Q. I just viewed Charlie Chaplin's classic "City Lights" for the first time, in film a class. After letting the film's spell settle on us, my professor asked us to consider the final scene: specifically, what does the Girl really "see"? Most of our answers felt pretty obvious -- she sees the truth that the man she had loved is the Tramp, and not a millionaire, she sees that he is still the same person she loved and she accepts him, etc.
From Gavin Breeden, Charlotte, NC:
When I think of great opening shots, my mind quickly goes to Francios Truffaut's 1959 masterpiece, "Les Quatre Cents Coups" (aka "The 400 Blows"). I may have to break the rules a bit here and consider the entire opening credits sequence rather than the first shot though I think Truffaut would approve since he broke many cinematic conventions of his day with this film.
Lisa, a friend of mine, was for many years Variety's correspondent in Paris. In the countdown before the Oscars, I found these observations fascinating.
Dirt! The Movie" for practical and personally rewarding solutions
View image To some, it's just another genre picture. Composition, color, movement, texture, shapes, faces, expressions, bodies -- that's where you begin to experience what this montage sequence is "about."
If film is first and foremost a way of seeing (and I believe that to be the case, even if not everyone sees seeing the way I do), then what we see in a shot, or a series of shots, is as important as... as anything. The movie is what the film does, as the mind is what the brain does. One of my oft-used analogies is Picasso's "Guernica." Now, you can know or not know what the painting is "about" -- the story it depicts, the historical-political events upon which it is based. You may even sense the emotions the artist is expressing and the techniques he's using to express them. But all those things don't even come close to adding up to "Guernica." "Guernica" is a large composition designed to evoke responses in the viewer. That's where you begin to discover the thing itself.
All of which serves as an introduction to one image from "No Country for Old Men" that I would like to point out (separate from the longer piece[s] I'm working on now). It's a second or two of film that occurs just after Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), who is being chased through the desert by a truck at night, jumps over a river bank and glances back and up to see how close his pursuers are. It involves seeing dust produced by the braking truck, illuminated by the headlights as it breaks over the edge of the bank, darkly silhouetted against the light from above. It's Moss's POV, and it's a detail we notice because he notices it. The hounds of hell are loose on his trail (or will be in moments), but here's this moment of sinister beauty develops from it, and sticks around just long enough to register before more urgent matters assert themselves.
It's a directorial (and photographical) coup in many ways, but I was delighted to discover that it's one of those images the Coens visualized in advance and actually chose to record in an early version of their screenplay (which deviates from the finished film in several significant aspects): Moss is almost to the steep riverbank. Another whump of the shotgun.
Shot catches Moss on the right shoulder. It tears the back of his shirt away and sends him over the crest of the river bank. Moss airborne, ass over elbows, hits near the bottom of the sandy slope with a loud fhump.
He rolls to a stop and looks up.
We hear a skidding squeal and see dirt and dust float over the lip of the ridge, thrown by the truck's hard stop. That moment, in the middle of a deadly chase, is a "privileged moment" of a kind that, perhaps, Francois Truffaut did not have in mind when he coined that phrase, but it sure is one. For all we know, it could be the last play of the light that this man will ever see -- and we share the site with him. It's natural, it's what perhaps anyone in this situation could see, but the Coens make sure that we do see it. The next several images I don't want to describe right now, but they are among the most electrifying and surreal in all of cinema -- at least since the relentless approach of the nightmare dog in Buñuel's "Los Olvidados" (1950). But at this moment, we're awash in sensations: the squeal of the tires, the clang that tells us something or someone is getting out of the unseen truck atop the bank, the cold river into which the wounded and disoriented Moss is about to plunge...
View image Luis Buñuel's "Los Olvidados" (1950).
But I just wanted to point this out, and that they wanted to be certain it was not just in the film, but even in the screenplay (which in other respects is somewhat different than the film itself). Writers often do that kind of thing, and the credit (or blame) for a shot or sequence will usually be attributed to the director, even if it was right there in the script. But it is the director who bears responsibility for realizing those images, and sequencing them, and presenting them so that they do what they need to do. The Coens, being their own writers, directors, producers and editors, pretty much understand what they're looking for. And they recognize what they've got when a miracle drops in their lap: the birds, and shadows of birds, over the highway in "Blood Simple"; the pelican plopping into the ocean at the end of "Barton Fink").
"Content, as I see it, is a series of connecting shocks arranged in a certain sequence and directed at the audience." Sergei Eisenstein, you are so right! (I wish I liked your movies more.) Shocks as content -- the junior-high equation [ART = FORM + CONTENT] trembles, previously secure elements threaten to swap sides. What Eisenstein theorized about cinema goes for writing, too: words as shocks; shocks arranged in a certain sequence. Words call up images and the images recur, mutate, cross-refer as the words extend in linear space and the reading-experience extends in time." -- Richard T. Jameson, "Style vs. 'Style'" (Film Comment, March/April, 1980)If Michael Bay turns everything up to 11 and assaults you until you feel bludgeoned and numb, the Coens do the very opposite. Bay, from the Alan Parker school of airless imagery, tries to shut you down, to restrict your imagination to fit his literal forms. (If you feel like cattle being funneled through the slaughterhouse, so be it.) The Coens open up the doors of perception, so that you become hyperaware of the many vibrant sensations -- light, color, sound, motion -- that are in the world around us every day, the kinds of living details to which most (flat, inert, mechanical) films just aren't attuned.
So, one brief shot of the dust in the headlights -- it's a small thing, but it makes all the difference. It's just one of the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, and one reason I emerge from a movie like "No Country for Old Men" feeling like my senses, my emotions, my mind, have been stimulated, invigorated rather than dulled.
View image Marlene Dietrich, "The Scarlet Empress" (Josef von Sternberg, 1935). A pivotal moment of (re-) birth after providing her country with a male heir -- though not one fathered by her husband, royal half-wit Grand Duke Peter.
View image "Scarlet Empress": "... one of those extraordinary women who create their own laws and logic..." Beds, dreams, filters.
Memory starts one image pinging off others across time and movies. Ruminating upon the Close-Up Blog-a-thon at the House Next Door (which, obviously, I can't stop doing), I see close-ups flowing into and out of one another, dreams within dreams within nightmares, on themes of memory, loss, identity, the process of consciousness and the end of consciousness -- you know, the stuff movies are made of.
View image "Once Upon a Time in the West" (Sergio Leone, 1968): Mrs. Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale) arrives in Sweetwater to find her family slaughtered. After the funeral, she is alone in a big bed in a small room in a vast new land.
View image Final shot, "Once Upon a Time in America" (Sergio Leone, 1984): David "Noodles" Aaronson flops down in an opium den to smoke away his pain and drifts off into a narcotic dream...
In the Godardian spirit of making a movie as a critique/analysis of other movies, here's a free-association visual essay/commentary on close-ups (with inserts, jump cuts, switchbacks, flashbacks, flash-forwards...) that got synapses firing in my brain as I flipped through shots in my memory -- and my DVD collection. Looking back, most of them seem to be filtered, obscured, freeze-framed or reflected faces of characters reaching an impasse or a reckoning -- largely from the endings of some of my favorite movies. I wish I could actually cut the film together, so that I could show them in motion, control how long each shot remains on the screen and fiddle with the rhythms (flash cuts, match cuts, reversals of motion), but I don't know have the technology or the know-how for that at the moment. So, imagine this as a (sometimes perverse) little movie, a "found footage" montage sequence... Kuleshovian, Rorschachian, Hitcockian, Gestaltian, however you want to look at it. I suppose it's also a look in the mirror.
Hope you can see the associations, juxtapositions, oppositions, contradictions I was going for, although I'm not sure I consciously understand all the leaps myself. They just flowed together this way. Feel free to make your own connections. (And, of course, be aware that you may find spoilers surfacing. With a broadband connection all 38 enlarge-able images should load in about 10 seconds.)
View image Final shot, "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" (Robert Altman, 1971): The camera moves in on Mrs. Miller (Julie Christie), in an opium den while snow drifts outside.
View image Flash cut to final shot of "Petulia" (Richard Lester, 1968): Petulia (Julie Christie), in labor, feels the hand of someone (husband? lover? doctor?) on her cheek just before she blacks out under anaesthesia.
View image Flash cut to final close-up, "Le Boucher" (Claude Chabrol, 1970): Drained and devastated after a long and harrowing night-trip to the hospital, Helene (Stephane Audran) drives herself to a dead end and stares across the impassible river in the cold light of dawn.
View image Flash cut to final freeze-frame close-up, "The 400 Blows" (by Chabrol's New Wave compatriot, Francois Truffaut, 1959): Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud) reaches the ocean at the edge of the continent. Where to go from here?
View image Flash cut to final moment of final shot: "Nights of Cabiria" (1957) (Federico Fellini): Cabiria (Giulietta Masina) pulls herself together, puts her game face on, looks into the camera and smiles through tears in a tender moment of quiet triumph. Another of the most famous movie-ending close-ups.