The Zero Theorem
Terry Gilliam's first science fiction film since "12 Monkeys" is an inventively designed but oddly inert satire on technology, God and the future of humankind.
* 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.
While Cannes's red-carpet crowd toasts the Coen brothers' tuneful "Inside Llewyn Davis," the parallel programs have also turned a spotlight on America.
"A man can be an artist ... in anything, food, whatever. It depends on how good he is at it. Creasey's art is death. He's about to paint his masterpiece." -- Rayburn (Christopher Walken), "Man on Fire" (2004)
While I've never been a fan of the late Tony Scott or Christopher Nolan, a few thoughtful articles in recent days have helped me see them in new lights, and got me to thinking about their resemblances as well as their dissimilarities. Several appreciations of Scott (especially those by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Bilge Ebiri, David Edelstein and Manohla Dargis), along with David Bordwell's incisive essay on Christopher Nolan ("Nolan vs. Nolan") got me to thinking about the common assumptions about these popular filmmakers, both of whom are known for quick, impressionistic imagery, intercut scenes, slam-bang action and a CGI-averse insistence on photographing the real world.¹ Regardless of what you ultimately make of their work, there's no question they've done it their way.
This is an attempt to look at both filmmakers through the prism of others' points of view, refracted in critical appraisals like the above.
Of course, Scott and Nolan have passionate admirers and detractors. Until Scott's shocking suicide last week (from a bridge, a landmark that figures hauntingly in the climaxes of several of his movies), I wasn't aware of many critics who championed his movies, but with a few exceptions the obits seem to have been more admiring than the reviews over the years -- understandably, under the sad circumstances.
Those who applaud Scott and Nolan's films see them as genre boundary-pushers (thrillers, action pictures, science-fiction, superhero movies); those who denigrate them see them as symptomatic of the debasement of resonant imagery in modern Hollywood movies. Both have been subjected to that worst of all critical insults, comparisons to Michael Bay:
"'Inception' may have been directed by Christopher Nolan, but Nolan's dreams are apparently directed by Michael Bay." -- Andrew O'Hehir, "Inception: A clunky, overblown disappointment"
"If it sounds like I'm describing Michael Bay, that's because I sort of am. What we like to think of today as the Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer aesthetic was, in fact, originally the Tony Scott aesthetic (often deployed in films made for Bruckheimer and his late partner Don Simpson). Only back then there was a lot more art to it." -- Bilge Ebiri, "To Control Something That's Out of Control: On Tony Scott"
One of Scott's notable defenders has been The New York Times' Manohla Dargis. She identifies him as a "maximalist" who used "a lot of everything in his movies: smoke, cuts, camera moves, color. This kind of stylistic, self-conscious excess could be glorious, as in his underappreciated film 'Domino' (2005)," which Roger Ebert also somewhat grudgingly admired, quoting a character to describe the movie itself as having "the attention span of a ferret on crystal meth." Dargis writes:
OK, this is where it really gets interesting. Forget the consensus Top 50 Greatest Movies of All Time; let's get personal. Sight & Sound has now published the top 250 titles in its 2012 international critics poll, the full list of more than 2,000 movies mentioned, and all the individual lists of the 845 participating critics, academics, archivists and programmers, along with any accompanying remarks they submitted. I find this to be the most captivating aspect of the survey, because it reminds us of so many terrific movies we may have forgotten about, or never even heard of. If you want to seek out surprising, rewarding movies, this is a terrific place to start looking. For the past few days I've been taking various slices at the "data" trying to find statistical patterns, and to glean from the wealth of titles some treasures I'd like to heartily recommend -- and either re-watch or catch up with myself.
I know we're supposed to consider the S&S poll a feature film "canon" -- a historically influential decennial event since 1952, but just one of many. I don't disagree with Greg Ferrara at TCM's Movie Morlocks ("Ranking the Greats: Please Make it Stop") when he says that limiting ballots to ten all-time "best" (or "favorite," "significant," "influential" titles is incredibly limiting. That's why I think perusing at the critics' personal lists, the Top 250 (cited by seven critics or more) and the full list of 2,045 films mentioned is more enjoyable pastime.
It's wise to remember that, although the top of the poll may at first glance look relatively conservative or traditional, there's a tremendous diversity in the individual lists. Even the top vote-getter, "Vertigo," was chosen by less than one quarter of the participants.
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.
by Barbara Scharres
Cannes has become hot and uncomfortably muggy in a way that has me thinking longingly of the blankets and socks of earlier in the week. As the festival closes in on the final days, I'm hoping for some big excitement on the screen.
When the stiff, futuristic Brandon Cronenberg film "Antiviral" played a few days ago, it gave me cause to look forward even more to today's premiere of "Cosmopolis" by his father David Cronenberg, anticipating that the contrast between generations would also point up the difference between a wannabe and a seasoned master. Boy, was I wrong. I'm sorry to say that they're both among the worst films I've seen here this year. I've never been this disappointed in a David Cronenberg film.
"Cosmopolis" opens with a shot of a row of white stretch limos parked on a city street. The interior of one of them will become a primary location in this film, functioning as the office away from the office for mega-millionaire money manager Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), an arrogant and powerful 28-year-old. Seemingly inspired by the Occupy movement in the U. S., the story is set in New York in the near future (although what we see of the urban landscape never looks like anything but Toronto; even the CN Tower is seen in the background). The president of the United States is due at any moment, a situation tying up the streets with blockades and large-scale protests.
It's a wrap for the 2010 Muriel Awards, but although the winners have been announced, there's still plenty of great stuff to read about the many winners and runners-up. ('Cause, as we all know, there's so much more to life than "winning.") I was pleased to be asked to write the mini-essay about "The Social Network" because, no, I'm not done with it. (Coming soon: a piece about the Winkelvii at the Henley Gregatta section -- which came in 11th among Muriel voters for the year's Best Cinematic Moment.)
You might recall that last summer I compared the editorial, directorial and storytelling challenges of a modest character-based comedy ("The Kids Are All Right") to a large-scale science-fiction spectacular based on the concept of shifting between various levels of reality/unreality -- whether in actual time and space or in consciousness and imagination. (The latter came in at No. 13 in the Muriels balloting; the former in a tie for No. 22.) My point was that, as far as narrative filmmaking is concerned, there isn't much difference. To illustrate a similar comparison this time, I've used a one-minute segment out of "The Social Network" (Multiple levels of storytelling in The Social Network). You might like one picture better than the other for any number of reasons, but I find their similarities more illuminating than their differences:
Behold a most wondrous find...."The Shop that time Forgot" Elizabeth and Hugh. Every inch of space is crammed with shelving. Some of the items still in their original wrappers from the 1920s. Many goods are still marked with pre-decimal prices."There's a shop in a small village in rural Scotland which still sells boxes of goods marked with pre-decimal prices which may well have been placed there 80 years ago. This treasure trove of a hardware store sells new products too. But its shelves, exterior haven't changed for years; its contents forgotten, dust-covered and unusual, branded with the names of companies long since out of business. Photographer Chris Frears has immortalized this shop further on film..." - Matilda Battersby. To read the full story, visit the Guardian. And visit here to see more photos of the shop and a stunning shot of Morton Castle on the homepage for Photographer Chris Fears.
From the Grand Poobah: Our Far-Flung Correspondent Gerardo Valero writes: During Ebertfest, Monica and I were able to shoot a few videos which I downloaded in you tube and which I think you all may enjoy. Since she was the one to shoot most of the panel videos; they mostly consist of my own participation but there's plenty of stuff for everybody (our multiple presentations, dinner at the Green Room and what have you) I apologize in advance for the quality of the material. I tell Monica she would be fired from filming a Bourne movie because her cinematography is too shaky. Go HERE to see all the videos.Marie writes: this one is my favorite! Roger and Chaz at Stake n' Shake!
If all the year-end and decade-end lists (even though we realize the decade isn't actually over until 2011) have left you dizzied and depleted, take heart! Perhaps you've missed out on some of the more invigorating, far-sighted list-based ventures. Over at Some Came Running, for example, Glenn Kenny conducted an ingenious and fascinating project, going back and taking a look at the late Manny Farber's Best Films of 1951. Meanwhile, at The Crop Duster, Robert Horton is engaged in surveying the year's best -- in non-chronological order -- from, oh, about 1919 or so, to the present, posting a new list every Sunday. What fantastic delights are to be found in these itemized accounts...
Click above to REALLY enlarge...
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.)
Q. Watching "Juno" again, I think I've figured out why the story is bookended with a motif of chairs. Juno narrates her story beginning with "It started with a chair," and we gaze upon a big, worn-out, comfortable-looking chair. Near the end, she tells us "It ended with a chair," and we see a different chair, this time, a lovely slimmer, not-so-comfortable rocking chair. These two things illustrate the journey our hero has taken, that our security blanket in childhood becomes not so comfortable when our eyes are open to the realities of the world. Jerry Roberts, Birmingham, Ala.
View image Ramin Bahrani on the set of "Chop Shop."
Ramin Bahrani's first two features, "Man Push Cart" and "Chop Shop," live and breathe like few other films these days. (That's why they're two of my favorites of the current century.)
In an interview at IFC Blog, Bahrani gives a beautiful description of the kinds of movies he values -- and, in the process, indicates what makes him such a fine filmmaker. Of course, I also happen to feel the same way about movies, so no wonder I like his so much: Film is really 24 frames a second in the present, and I realize when you leave certain gaps, it allows space for the viewer to enter the film. That requires a viewer who wants to be engaged, who wants to have an emotional connection to a film, which should not be confused with films that elicit emotions like weeping and whatnot. You watch a certain movie, and the director puts you in a headlock through ways of dramaturgy, music, camera moves and excessive acting. It hits certain synapses in your brain and makes you cry, then you leave, and the next day you're having a hamburger and you don't really remember what the film was. Despite that those are the kinds of films that get lots of accolades and attention, it doesn't attract me as a person nor as an artist. I'm more interested in the ones — because of your participation — [that] seep into you, and two months later, are still a part of you. I don't know if I've accomplished this, but it's what I'm striving for.What he describes -- that space that allows the viewer to enter the film -- is a quality I particularly treasured when going through "No Country for Old Men" with the audience at the Conference on World Affairs last week. Although the first time you see it you're aware of pulse-pounding tension, suspense and unforseen eruptions of violence, the movie is really full of breathing room. Long wordless sequences encourage you to get inside the heads of the characters and see things through their eyes, to experience what they're thinking and feeling moment by moment: the opening sequence (which I played once without sound so we could simply look at the progression of images, then see and how they play off of Ed Tom's voiceover); Lleweylyn following the trail of blood to the two trees in the desert; Llewelyn methodically assembling the tools he will need to place the satchel in the vent; Chigurh tending to his wounds in the motel bathroom...
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.
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)
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.
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...
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...
View image Ingmar Bergman directs "Saraband."
So much for the alleged lack of intensity in discussing the work of the late Ingmar Bergman. Roger Ebert responds to Jonathan Rosenbaum's critical take on Bergman: I have long known and admired the Chicago Reader’s film critic, Jonathan Rosenbaum, but his New York Times op-ed attack on Ingmar Bergman (“Scenes from an Overrated Career,” 8/4/07) is a bizarre departure from his usual sanity. It says more about Rosenbaum’s love of stylistic extremes than it does about Bergman and audiences. Who else but Rosenbaum could actually base an attack on the complaint that Bergman had what his favorites Carl Theodor Dreyer and Robert Bresson lacked, “the power to entertain — which often meant a reluctance to challenge conventional film-going habits?" In what parallel universe is the power to entertain defined in that way? [...]
Rosenbaum writes, “Riddled with wounds inflicted by Mr. Bergman’s strict Lutheran upbringing and diverse spiritual doubts, these films are at times too self-absorbed to say much about the larger world, limiting the relevance that his champions often claim for them.” This statement is perfectly accurate about Dreyer if you substitute his name for Bergman’s, and perfectly accurate about Bresson, if you substitute the names and change “Lutheran” to “Catholic.” Indeed, Bresson has been called the most Catholic of filmmakers. [...]
Finally, Rosenbaum laments how Bergman’s “mainly blond, blue-eyed cast members became a brand to be adopted and emulated.” Hello? Bergman worked in Sweden! Does he forgive Ousmane Sembene’s African exteriors and mainly black-haired, brown-eyed cast members? Or the way Ozu used all those Japanese? FYI: In a series of posts in a thread ("Rosenbaum disses Bergman in the NYT") at a_film_by, Rosenbaum elaborates:
"The article is meant to stir the pot, not close the lid."
* * *
"... I'm perfectly happy to listen to counter-arguments defending the beauty, seriousness, authenticity, and/or importance of Bergman's thoughts and emotions and what they contributed to our own thoughts and feelings. Maybe Bergman DID have something to teach us all about the Death of God. But will somebody please explain to me what this is? I'm waiting for someone to engage seriously with such issues--not assume that they're already settled and therefore unworthy of discussion."
* * *
"Not that this excuses anything, but my article went through many drafts, and some of the things I wanted to say necessarily got squeezed out--including more material about his theater work. (A dramaturge friend of mine is scandalized that there's been nothing written in the Times about Bergman's death by any of their drama critics.) For whatever it's worth, I'm something of a fan of one of Bergman's most unpopular and even scorned films, "All These Women" (but, then again, "Rhapsody in August" also happens to be one of my favorite Kurosawa films), and next weekend I'll be introducing and discussing "Sawdust and Tinsel" at a Bergman marathon organized by afb member Gabe Klinger.
* * *
"There are some very important Bergman films that I still haven't seen; I'm looking forward to seeing 'Fanny and Alexander' for the first time next weekend..."
* * *
He also wrote (though I can no longer find the post) that the piece was written at the request of a NYT editor (with whom Rosenbaum happened to agree that the obits were overpraising Bergman), and that he did not choose the headline or the insert quote himself.
I have long known and admired the Chicago Reader’s film critic, Jonathan Rosenbaum, but his New York Times op-ed attack on Ingmar Bergman (“Scenes from an Overrated Career,” 8/4/07) is a bizarre departure from his usual sanity. It says more about Rosenbaum’s love of stylistic extremes than it does about Bergman and audiences. Who else but Rosenbaum could actually base an attack on the complaint that Bergman had what his favorites Carl Theodor Dreyer and Robert Bresson lacked, “the power to entertain — which often meant a reluctance to challenge conventional film-going habits?" In what parallel universe is the power to entertain defined in that way?
View image This is not Bresson's pipe!
I'm always intrigued when critics and academics try to characterize themselves -- or the appeal of something they like -- primarily in opposition to something else that they don't like. Or vice-versa. I'm not just talking about contrarianism but, specifically, about attempts to define or justify something not by what it is, but by how it allegedly does not resemble another thing. Like Jonathan Rosenbaum recently did with his pantheon-gate-slamming, anti-Bergman piece (e.g., "His works are seen less often in retrospectives and on DVD than those of Carl Dreyer and Robert Bresson..."), or Prof. Ray Carney in his intro/promo for a series of independent films that flew "under the radar" at the Harvard Film Archive. Tell me what you think of Carney's "Now how much would you pay?" sales pitch: If we ask why many of these works are still lurking in the shadows or searching for a distributor, the reasons are not that hard to come up with. These films do not push dependable box–office ticket–sales buttons. Their characters are not “cute,” “charming,” or “sweet” in the "Napoleon Dynamite" way. Their stories are not “clever,” “crowd–pleasing,” or “feel–good” in the "Little Miss Sunshine" way. They do not feature big–name actors making “in–joke” cameos. Though most of these films are made by Gen–Y artists about Gen–Y characters, they don’t even fit the pattern of Gen–Y movies. Their male characters are not introverted and narcissistic; their female characters are not whiney or clingy; and their narratives are not reducible to the group–hug ethos that says everything will be OK if only you have friends. The films in this program do not pander to the prejudices or predilections of young viewers or attempt to flatter audience members of any age. They take the pulse of contemporary American life toughly and unsentimentally. They challenge the viewer to look at experience in new and potentially disorienting ways and, at their best, ask the viewer to think freshly about the untapped expressive possibilities of the art.It seems to me that this exclusive hard-sell approach shamelessly panders to the prejudices and predilections of young viewers and attempts to flatter audience members of all ages.
At what point do critics turn into fashionistas, more concerned with dictating today's styles or appealing to hipper/holier-than-thou posers than addressing the movies themselves? To me, this seems like such an adolescent approach: "Yeah, man! Disco sucks!" We all do it on occasion, but some rants are more effective than others.
There's a terrific discussion at The House Next Door about Carney and his complaints about the lack of mainstream media coverage (greatly exaggerated by Carney) for the series he cannily sold as anti-mainstream. (What did the filmmakers themselves think of that approach?) I don't know how well Carney's laboriously insular sales pitch actually worked, selling exclusively to a crowd that wants to flatter itself as anti-mainstream and elite (or elitist). But for me Carney's prose (perhaps especially his patronizing use of the term "Gen-Y," which in his hands sounds more than ever like a personal lubricant) destroys any credibility he might have as someone capable of understanding what makes an interesting movie. All I know is what he dislikes about commercial and Sundance-indie stuff, which is pretty much the same crap we're all sick of. But what does that have to do making a series of "under-the-radar" movies sound appealing? Are these films worth seeing just because they're NOT "Napoleon Dynamite" or "Little Miss Sunshine"? Wow, what a recommendation.
Does Carney's approach turn you off as much as it does me? Do so-called "mainstream" anti-intellectualism and Carney's bitter and equally reactionary anti-anti-intellectualism seem like two sides of a coin?
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.
One of the year's most subtly extraordinary movies opens in Chicago today: Ramin Bahrani's "Man Push Cart." (See Roger Ebert's review here). As readers of this blog know, I first encountered it at Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival in May and my experience with it was like falling in love, and not fully realizing it until the final credits were rolling. And that's exactly what's great about it: I never felt like I knew where it would go, or that it was straining to fit a traditional narrative structure; I just became absorbed in the daily (and nightly) struggles of this one human life, an almost invisible man in New York City. Roger sees in it "the very soul of Italian Neo-Realism"; I see the purity and minimalism of Bresson and Ozu. We're both right.
Here's part of what I filed from the Overlooked: Alfred Hitchcock supposedly said that while most movies are a slice of life, his were a slice of cake. He's right about the last part, although most movies are not slices of anything resembling life as most of us experience it. But "Man Push Cart," the film by Ramin Bahrani, a director born in Iran and raised in North Carolina, is not only an exquisitely realized slice of life but a slice of filmmaking perfection. I didn't know, as I became absorbed in this portrait of a New York City street vendor whose life is slowly slipping from his grasp (like his heavy pushcart on one occasion), that it would become one of my favorite movies of recent years until moments after its inexplicably magnificent ending.
All I can tell you is that when the moment came, a thought flashed through my mind: "Wow, I would just end the movie right here -- wouldn't that be great?" And then, one more shot, and the movie was over. So, yes, I felt absolutely in synch with the vision of the filmmaker (whose manifest influences include some of my favorite directors: Robert Bresson and Lodge Kerrigan -- not to mention Albert Camus' "The Myth of Sisyphus"), but the film also had me so completely in its spell that it subtly prepared me for arrival at this ending (which, in formulaic conventional movies, would hardly be considered a conclusion at all). It just felt absolutely, ideally right. (Hitchcock also liked to say he played the audience like an organ; "Man Push Cart" is no less masterful, but its method and effects are not the bravura manipulations of Hitchcock but the subtle, underplayed shadings of Bresson or Yasujiro Ozu.)
On the most prosaic level, the story of Ahmad (Ahmad Razvi, a former restauranteur who'd never acted before), a Pakistani-American who pushes (or pulls) his breakfast cart to 54th and Madison every day, could be seen as something of a downer. But, as Roger Ebert is fond of saying, no good movie is ever depressing -- because the experience of being in the presence of such artistry is elevating. (A friend and I, in the grips of a paralyzing mutual depression, once made a pilgrimage to "GoodFellas" and the experience -- though it's hardly an upper of a movie -- temporarily, at least, lifted us out of our low-seratonin stupor because it was just so exhilarating to watch something so beautifully composed and performed.) "Man Push Cart" is that kind of movie. I posted an Opening Shot Project entry for "Man Push Cart" here. Please come back after you've seen the film and let me know your impressions. It may be my favorite movie of the year.
View image Photo by David Bordwell
When I met David Bordwell at Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival last spring, he had recently returned from Hong Kong with a cool new Fuji FinePix camera, a model that wasn't available in the United States. It's really good in low light and he had the luscious pictures to prove it -- what he called his Wong Kar-Wai shots.
View image Photo by David Bordwell
"Hong Kong just LOOKS like one of his films," says the Jacques Ledoux Proffessor of Film Studies, Emeritus, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Bordwell, as all film students know, is the author of such books as "Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment," "Figures Traced in Light:" and "The Way Hollywood Tells It." He and his wife, Dr. Kristin Thompson (who has a book coming out called "Frodo, Fantasy and Franchises: The Lord of the Rings and Modern Hollywood"), are also the authors of the two most popular film textbooks, "Film Art" and "Film History."
View image Photo by David Bordwell
David made me the star (or, as Robert Bresson would say, the "model") of some impressively elaborate, Coen Bros.-style demonstrations shots, taken in movie mode, inside the warm light of the Virginia Theater between movies. Kind of like intricate, hand-held crane shots, from close-up to long shot and back again. But these eye-popping Hong Kong images were so delicious I asked him if I could post a few to share with you. Feast your eyes! (And Christopher Doyle -- eat your heart out!)
(More images after the jump.)
"Barry Lyndon": Let's begin again...
Some great (and maybe not-so-great) movies reward repeated viewings; others you may savor only once or twice. The newly redesigned Slate.com has asked several movie people what movies they've seen most often. (On my own personal list: I never tire of the crackling artistic life in "Nashville," "Chinatown," "Citizen Kane," "E.T.," "North By Northwest," "Trouble in Paradise," "Fight Club," "Donnie Darko," "Double Indemnity," "Stranger Than Paradise," "Stop Making Sense"... Then there's "Animal Crackers," any Buster Keaton movie [but especially "Our Hospitality," "Sherlock Jr." and "Steamboat Bill Jr."], "Waiting for Guffman," "Dazed and Confused," "Boogie Nights" -- oh, and "Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy," an unheralded comedy masterpiece...)
Among the choices in Slate's "The Movies I've Seen the Most":
Writer-director Paul Schrader (author of the indispensible book of film criticism, "Ozu Bresson Dreyer"): Robert Bresson's "Pickpocket." (Duh -- he's used the ending twice in his own movies, "American Gigolo" and "Light Sleeper.")
Enlarge image: "It's... It's a f- flaw... in the iris."
At his excellent movie blog, girish (aka Girish Shambu) savors those all-important "cinephiliac moments": ...these are small, marginal moments that detonate an unforgettable little frisson in the viewer. The important thing to remember is that these are not moments carefully designed to exert great dramatic effect—not that there’s anything wrong with those—but instead they are fleeting "privileged" moments writ small that we find ourselves strongly attracted to, perhaps even disproportionately so given their scale and possible (lack of) intention. I daresay an appreciation (enthusiasm? passion?) for such ineffably or uncannily wonderful moments -- the kinds of serendipitous just right touches (gestures, expressions, line readings, camera movements, framings) that Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy used to celebrate in "Moments Out of Time" at the end of each year in Movietone News and Film Comment -- is what characterizes a real movie lover. It's the so-called "little" things that mean everything; they transform the mundane into the extraordinary.
The Real World: Atlanta.
The New York Times Book Review wastes nearly four pages on the dumbest, most banal crap about (ostensibly) movies and movie criticism that I have ever come across. It's called "How to Write About Film" and it's an attempted review by Clive James of the Philip Lopate compilation of film criticism that was published a few months ago, called "American Movie Critics: An Anthology From the Silents Until Now."
What's really puzzling about this drivel is that James not only doesn't know what the auteur theory is, he doesn't know what movie criticism is -- and he hasn't a clue what movies are, either. I find it difficult to believe he's ever seen one. Or, at least, a whole one. And no matter what projected images may have passed before his eyes, it's mighty obvious he hasn't seen anything at all.