As Above, So Below
It's that rare found-footage film with a strong premise, a memorably eccentric style, and plenty of energy to burn. It's also poorly conceived, and hard…
* 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.
Haifaa Al-Mansour, Keith Stanfield, Matt Zoller Seitz and more discuss "Film & Cultural Politics" at Ebertfest.
Recent titles released on Blu-ray.
"People who are just getting 'seriously interested' in film always ask a critic, 'Why don't you talk about technique and "the visuals" more?' The answer is that American movie technique is generally more like technology and it usually isn't very interesting. [...] The important thing is to convey what is new and beautiful in the work, not how it was made - -which is more or less implicit." -- Pauline Kael, "Trash, Art and the Movies" (1969)
"By neglecting to analyze technique, Miss Kael can do no more than assert that a given film is new, or beautiful, hoping that her language will provide the reader with something parallel to the qualities implicit in the work of art." -- Charles T. Samuels, reviewing Kael's 1970 collection Going Steady (which includes "Trash, Art and the Movies") in the New York Times Book Review
"It is this implacable ignorance of the mechanics of filmmaking that prevails in all Kael's books. Yet she is never called on it. The reason, of course, is that her audience knows even less of these mechanics than she does, and professional film people do not wish to incur her displeasure by calling attention to it. She seems to believe that films are made by a consortium of independent contractors -- the writer writes, the cutter cuts, the actor acts, the cameraman photographs. In effect she is always blaming the cellist for the tuba solo." -- John Gregory Dunne, reviewing Kael's Deeper Into Movies (1973) in the Los Angeles Times Book Review
"To me, a good review, good criticism -- whether it's in the Cahiers du Cinema or Film Comment -- would be trying not to say, 'I don't feel,' or 'I don't see it the way you saw it,' but, rather, 'Let's see it. Let's bring in the evidence.'" -- Jean-Luc Godard, debating Kael in 1981 and challenging her approach to criticism
"Listen, you miserable bitch, you've got every right in the world to air your likes and dislikes, but you got no goddam right at all to fake, at my expense, a phony technical knowledge you simply do not have." -- director George Roy Hill in a letter to Kael (quoted in Brian Kellow's biography, "Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark")¹
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In her 1969 Harper's essay "Trash, Art and the Movies," Pauline Kael made her case for trash, saying semi-famously: "Movies are so rarely great art, that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have very little reason to be interested in them." But what separates "art" from "trash" (whatever she means by those labels) and is it really an either/or question? What if the differences have something (or everything) to do with "technique" (by which Kael, depending on which sentence you cite, might mean anything from technology to professional craftsmanship to directorial style)? After all, her favorite filmmakers (Altman, Peckinpah, De Palma, Godard, Spielberg) are stylists whose artistic vision (trashy vision?) is inseparable from their distinctive techniques. Even at a glance, you're not likely to mistake these auteurs' films for anyone else's.
So, I'd like to look into how the term(s) "technical" and "technique" are used by Kael (mostly in "Trash, Art and the Movies") and in those cherce quotations above. Way back when, Sidney Lumet said he considered Kael one of the most "perceptive and articulate" reviewers to come along in years, but that, like most critics, she lacked "any technical knowledge of how a movie is made." That mattered to him -- maybe especially after she said in his presence (after many spirited libations) that her job was "to tell him which way to go."²
Dunne, the occasional screenwriter, observed: "Few critics understand the roles of chance, compromise, accident and contingency in the day-by-day of a picture."³ I'd add that a failure to recognize the collaborative back-and-forth of the creative process -- and the industrial process -- of making movies (including contractual measures and union guidelines) also contributes to embarrassing critical misunderstandings that regularly find their way into print.
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.
Those who doubt how thoroughly the sensibilities of the French New Wave have been absorbed into the work of today's filmmakers (see discussion of the recently posted Opening Shot for Truffaut's "The 400 Blows") should check out Matt Zoller Seitz's series of video exploring the "scavenger-hunt" sensibility of Wes Anderson, "The Substance of Style," at Moving Image Source. Part 1 (of five) has been posted, with the rest to follow over the first week in April.
Matt -- as writer, editor and narrator -- not only compares images that Anderson has lovingly quoted and reinterpreted from the works of Francois Truffaut, Orson Welles and Charles Schultz (and Bill Melendez, director of the Peanuts television specials), but teases out subtler influences at play in Anderson's work -- his features ("Bottle Rocket," "Rushmore," "The Royal Tennenbaums," "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," "The Darjeeling Limited), shorts and commercials, including his famous American Express ad based on the Opening Shot of Truffaut's "Day for Night." (Coming in Part 2: Martin Scorsese, Richard Lester and Mike Nichols.) Says Matt:
Anderson draws much inspiration from French New Wave filmmakers, including Jean-Luc Godard, a clear influence on his cutting, and Louis Malle, whose "Murmur of the Heart" heavily influenced the tone of all his films. But towering over the rest is François Truffaut, an impresario in the Welles tradition, but a warmer and more earthbound auteur.
That's what some people tell me. Maybe I do. I look myself up in Metacritic, which compiles statistics comparing critics, and I find: "On average, this critic grades 8.9 points higher than other critics (0-100 point scale)." Wow. What a pushover. Part of my problem may be caused by conversion of the detested star rating system. I consider 2.5 stars to be thumbs down; they consider 62.5 to be favorable. But let's not mince words: On average, I do grade higher than other critics.
Now why do I do that? And why, as some readers have observed, did I seem to grade lower in my first 10 or 15 years on the job? I know the answer to that one. When I started, I considered 2.5 stars to be a perfectly acceptable rating for a film I rather liked in certain aspects. Then I started doing the TV show, and ran into another wacky rating system, the binary thumbs. Up or down, which is it?
Gene Siskel boiled it down: "What's the first thing people ask you? Should I see this movie? They don't want a speech on the director's career. Thumbs up--yes. Thumbs down--no." That made sense, but in the paper it had the effect of nudging a lot of films from 2.5 to three stars. There is never any doubt about giving four stars, or one star. The problem comes with the movies in the middle. Siskel once tried to get away with giving thumbs up to a 2.5 star movie, but I called him on it.
View image Imprinted on/in your head...
In Steve Erickson's novel "Zeroville," a young man with a tattoo of Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in "A Place in the Sun" imprinted on his shaved head arrives in Hollywood in the summer of 1969. Raised a strict Calvinist (not coincidentally like Paul Schrader, writer of "Taxi Driver"), his hunger for, and obsession with, movies has a religious fervor to it.
He develops protective feelings for a young girl in the Hollywood fast-lane (echoes of Travis Bickle and Iris). He takes her to the Fine Arts for a revival of "A Place in the Sun." The audience laughs at some of the "dated" moments, and the girl (Isadora, who goes by Zazi -- as in "... dans le métro" by Louis Malle, 1960?) thinks it's silly. He is devastated. But one night she watches the movie, alone, on TV. It is a revelation to her. "The thing is, that movie last night is a completely different movie when you watch it by yourself. Why is that? Movies are supposed to be watched with other people, aren't they? Isn't that part of the point of movies -- you know, one of those social ritual things, with everyone watching? It never occurred to me a movie might be that different when you don't watch it with anyone else. And that movie... [...]
"That's a movie you see alone and it gets into you. I've been up all night. I said it was silly when we saw it together, but that was way off. There's nothing silly about that movie. Twisted and deeply f---ked up, yeah... but silly, no. Too twisted not to be private, you know?
"I mean, five hundred or a thousand people or however many it is in a theater -- what are they going to do with a movie like that? There's too much common sense floating around the room, and what you have to do with a movie like that is give up your common sense, which is easier to do when it's just you alone. It just seems... radical, any movie that, like demands your privacy, because it's, you know... a movie like that makes common sense completely beside the point, and you're one on one with it, in the living room by yourself rather than the theater with all those people, and watching it is like being naked and you can't be naked like that with strangers, you can't even stand the idea of it, and you know that after you're finished with it, much more with a movie like that than any stupid horror flick, some deep dark shit is going to be waiting at the bottom of the stairs... so I just couldn't sleep. That movie's like a ghost. Watch it and you become the thing or person that it haunts. Last night, the movie became mine and no one else's."
Q. I noticed the letter in the Answer Man from Daniel Stender of Ames, Iowa, who had a project of paintings of scenes from movies featuring people dressed in bear suits but who could only think of two titles, "The Shining" and "The Science of Sleep."
View image Jean-Luc Godard, Pop Star.
Following up on my recent posts about the commercial realities behind mid-century European "art films," and the various ways critics make sales pitches to exclusive audiences: Here's something fun and provocative from a 1964 French TV interview with Jean-Luc Godard, excerpts of which are included on the extras disc for the Criterion edition of "Contempt." (I transcribed the subtitles.) Like famed producer Bruce Dickinson, Godard put his pants on one leg at a time, but once they were on he made hits:
Q: Jean-Luc Godard, with "Contempt" you're once again on everyone's lips....
G: So much the better if it helps the movie.... I wouldn't really care as long as they go to my movies. That's what's important.
Q: What do you think of reviews?
G: I think much more highly of them than most people do. It's probably because I was a critic once, and I said a lot of bad things. I was cruel and mean to a lot of people. And though my opinions haven't changed, when I read bad reviews, the important thing for me is the discussion that's taking place. Whether it's good or bad is not the issue for me....
Q: Do you believe there's such a thing as a fair review?
G: (shrugs) Yes, but criticism isn't an artistic creation. It will always be inferior. Seventy-five percent of critics are only in that line of work temporarily. That's why critics are always bitter and sad towards those they praise and those they disparage.
Q: You became a director after having been a critic. Do you think it's a step up?
G: Yes, being a critic was a good experience. It's good training.
Q: Doesn't it run the risk of stifling the imagination?
G: No. It made me love everything. It taught me not to be narrow-minded, not to ignore Renoir in favor of Billy Wilder, or something like that. I like them both, even though they are extreme opposites. [...]
Q: ... Even with all her clothes on, ["Contempt" star Brigitte Bardot is] still a gold mine. [...] Those who would like to see Miss Bardot undress in a movie made by a bad or vulgar director wouldn't dare go see it. But with you their conscience is clean because it's art --
G: Good for them. They're right. If they find her pretty, as I do, there's no --
Q: Some of your films have been failures. How does that affect you?
G: One of my films in particular, "Les Carabiniers," wasn't even a failure. It was... nothing at all.
Wish you were here! Sorry I haven't posted for a while. A death in the family, followed by the Conference on World Affairs (where I'm going through "Chinatown" with the audience, as well as serving on other panels) has kept me from my laptop. (See article in the Boulder Daily Camera.)
Roger Ebert (who is greatly missed this year -- but promises to be back for the 60th CWA next year) has been maestro of the Cinema Interruptus program for about the last 30 years. Maura Clare, the CWA's incomparable Conference Coordinator and Director of Public Affairs, sent me a list of all the amazing films Roger has shown over the decades, which I thought I'd share with you:
1970 – 1974 – No films were shown. Most panels were about an hour long, and were series titled. Roger participated in panel discussions about Unisex, The Future of X-Rated Films, Meditation, The Devil’s Advocate: Moving Pictures, TV: The Man With the Power Saw, and Prurience.
75 – Using the series title Persona, CITIZEN KANE was shown and discussed by Roger every day at the Fox Theater on The Hill. In Addition, Roger participated with others on series titled What the Declaration of Independence Does Not Mention: A Right to Property, The Mythology of the American Experience, The Changing Understanding of What is Human and What is Natural in Human Nature, Created Equal but Everywhere Unequal.
76 – NOTORIOUS (the first Uninterruptus/Interruptus) every day at 4 pm at the Fox Theater on the Hill, using the series title How to Read A Movie.
77 – THE THIRD MAN every day at noon in the Memorial Forum, using the series title Decoding a Movie
78 – 8 1/2, every day at noon in the Memorial Forum, using the series title Analyzing a Film.
79 – LA DOLCE VITA (first of plan to study LA DOLCE VITA at least once every decade) every day at noon in the Memorial Forum, using the series title Analyzing a Film.
80 – AMARCORD every day at noon in the Memorial Forum, using the series title Analyzing a Film.
81 – CRIES AND WHISPERS every day at noon in the Memorial Forum, and the series title changed to Films.
82 – TAXI DRIVER every day at noon in the Memorial Forum, series title Analyzing a Film.
83 – LA DOLCE VITA every day at noon in the Memorial Forum, series title Analyzing a Film (second of every decade study).
84 – Roger did not arrive until Tuesday, and using the Fiske Planetarium Tuesday through Friday he discussed two Werner Herzog films, GOD’S ANGRY MAN and HUIE’S SERMON, one Ranier Werner Fassbinder Film BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT, one Louis Malle film MY DINNER WITH ANDRE, Errol Morris’s GATES OF HEAVEN and Les Blank’s WERNER HERZOG EATS HIS SHOE. All these were at noon.
85 – CASABLANCA every day at noon in the Memorial Forum series title Film.
86 – THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE every day at noon in the Memorial Forum series title Film.
87 – THREE WOMEN every day at noon at Macky Auditorium (first Macky use), series title Analyzing a Film.
88 – THE THIRD MAN every day at noon at Macky Auditorium series title Analyzing a Film,
89 – OUT OF THE PAST every day at noon at Macky Auditorium series title Film.
90 – RAGING BULL every day at noon Macky Auditorium series title Film.
91 – CITIZEN KANE every day at noon Macky Auditorium series title Analyzing a Film.
92 – SILENCE OF THE LAMBS every day at 4 pm (first 4 pm showing) Macky Auditorium series title Film.
93 – JFK every day at 4 pm Macky Auditorium series title Analyzing a Film.
94 – LA DOLCE VITA (third of every decade study) every day at 4 pm at Macky Auditorium series title Analyzing a Film.
95 – There was no CWA in 1995.
96 – PULP FICTION at Muenzinger Auditorium every day at 7 pm (designated 19:00 in the program) series titles no longer used.
97 – FARGO every day at 7 pm (19:00 in program) at Macky Auditorium.
98 – DARK CITY (film selection changed after program went to press, program says VERTIGO) 7 pm at Macky Auditorium.
99 – VERTIGO every day at 7 pm at Macky Auditorium.
2000 – CASABLANCA every day at 4 pm (first 4 pm scheduling) Macky Auditorium.
01 – FIGHT CLUB every day at 4 pm at Macky Auditorium.
02 – MULHOLLAND DRIVE every day at 4 pm at Macky Auditorium.
03 – FLOATING WEEDS Sunday then Tuesday through Friday, 4 pm at Macky Auditorium; TOYKO-GA Monday only 4 pm at Macky.
04 – THE RULES OF THE GAME every day at 4 pm at Macky Auditorium.
05 – LA DOLCE VITA (fourth of every decade study) every day at 4 pm at Macky Auditorium.
06 – THE LONG GOODBYE every day at 4 pm at Macky Auditorium.
Q. I was watching "Godfather II" the other day and remembered that the scene with Vito sitting on the steps with his family, after he has killed Fannuci, was originally intended to lead into an intermission, which was scrapped somewhere along the way. I'm pretty sure James Cameron never intended on having an intermission for "Titanic," but let's pretend the studio asked you, an up and coming editor, to find a place to insert one. Even though you know it was wrong and that Cameron would surely kill you, where would you have put an intermission? (Frank Mendez, Dallas, TX.)
The Festival International du Film, held annually in Cannes, France, has become the world's most prestigious film festival—the spot on the beach where the newest films from the world's top directors compete for both publicity and awards.
Louis Malle, who died last week at 63, was a director whose movies caused scandal sometimes for their content, sometimes for their style, sometimes for both. The respected French filmmaker, married since 1980 to actress Candice Bergen, died Thursday at their home in Los Angeles, from lymphoma.
Q. I hear there's a remake of "Casablanca" in the works with Kevin Costner and Demi Moore in the Bogart and Bergman roles. True? (James Portanova, Fresh Meadows, N.Y.)
With the rugged features of a matinee idol and the physique of a trapeze artist, Burt Lancaster might easily have been typecast by Hollywood. But although he celebrated his physical grace and was not shy about appearing in action pictures, there was another side to his acting, right from the first: an angry, intellectual, introspective side that led him to give some of the best performances of his generation.
With the rugged features of a matinee idol and the physique of a trapeze artist, Burt Lancaster might easily have been typecast by Hollywood. Although he celebrated his physical grace and was not shy about appearing in action pictures, there was another side to his acting, right from the first: An angry, intellectual, introspective side, that led him to give some of the best performances of his generation.
HOLLYWOOD - When he was asked to play the Sundance Kid in "Butch and Sundance: The Early Days," William Katt knew there was one thing he did not want to do. He did not want to see "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." He hadn't seen it when it came out in 1969, and he wasn't going to see it now: "I must have been doing something else in 1969. And now if I wanted to play Sundance, I wanted to be free to go at it without preconceptions, without the Robert Redford performance in my head."
This is ridiculous, I told myself. You've interviewed Ingmar Bergman. Robert Mitchum. John Wayne. You got through those okay. Why should you be scared of Jeanne Moreau? Simply because she's the greatest movie actress of the last 20 years? Simply because she's made more good films for great directors than anybody else? Simply because something in her face and manner has fascinated you since you sat through "Jules and Jim" twice in a row? She's only human; it's not like she's a goddess.
Some people daydream and some people don't.
It was a night in New York to hover over a bottle of burgundy, one's elbows on the table and talk of human love, of myth, of decency...and incest. They had not all seemed to belong in the same sentence before tonight, but now - well, "Murmur of the Heart" is not an ordinary film. Hardly.