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

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Special edition of Thumbnails with political articles: How to live with critics; Obama on the new health care bill; Trump says the poor can't be…

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Thumbnails 6/15/17

Thumbnails is a roundup of brief excerpts to introduce you to articles from other websites that we found interesting and exciting. We provide links to the original sources for you to read in their entirety.—Chaz Ebert

1.

"The Angels, They Forgot Her: The Tragedy of 'The Blackcoat's Daughter'": My in-depth appreciation of Osgood Perkins' brilliant directorial debut, published at Indie Outlook.

“‘Just because someone isn’t alive anymore doesn’t mean your exploration of the relationship you have with that person doesn’t continue,’ observed filmmaker Osgood ‘Oz’ Perkins during our interview this past March. He was speaking about his second directorial effort, ‘I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives in the House,’ which he had dedicated to his father, iconic actor Anthony Perkins. The director was only 18 when his father succumbed to AIDS-related pneumonia in 1992, and he told me that the film grew out of his inability to know the man who raised him. Much like its heroine, the picture is almost entirely confined within a haunted house, which carries echoes of Perkins’ father in every corner, from a snippet of ‘Friendly Persuasion’ that materializes on TV to the phrase, ‘cluck their tongues,’ which was memorably delivered by the actor in his career-defining role as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho.’ A palpable sense of loss also permeates every frame of Perkins’ debut feature, ‘The Blackcoat’s Daughter,’ a brilliantly crafted sensory experience that is designed to overwhelm its audience, ideally on a big screen. The picture recently received a limited theatrical release nearly two years after its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (where it was titled ‘February’), and I was fortunate enough to catch it at the 2016 Chicago Critics Film Festival. It’s a remarkable achievement, as viscerally effective as it is deeply personal, steeped in a sense of longing for a parental figure who no longer exists. I was so taken with ‘The Blackcoat’s Daughter’ that it made my ‘best of the year’ list, and a RogerEbert.com article where I claimed that the movie was ‘guaranteed to haunt your nightmares’ ended up being prominently quoted on the film’s Blu-ray case. You know a horror film has worked its magic on you when you sense its presence hovering over your bed at night.”

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2.

"A Letter to My Mother That She Will Never Read": A stunning essay from Ocean Vuong at The New Yorker.

“The first time you hit me, I must have been four. A hand, a flash, a reckoning. My mouth a blaze of touch. The time I tried to teach you to read the way Mrs. Callahan taught me, my lips to your ear, my hand on yours, the words moving underneath the shadows we made. But that act (a son teaching his mother) reversed our hierarchies, and with it our identities, which, in this country, were already tenuous and tethered. After a while, after the stutters, the false starts, the words warped or locked in your throat, after failure, you slammed the book shut. I don’t need to read, you said, pushing away from the table. I can see—it’s gotten me this far, hasn’t it? Then the time you hit me with the remote control. A bruise I would lie about to my teachers. I fell playing tag. That time, at forty-six, when you had a sudden desire to color. Let’s go to Walmart, you said one morning. I need coloring books. For months, you filled the space between your arms with all the shades you couldn’t pronounce. Magenta, vermillion, marigold, pewter, juniper, cinnamon. Each day, for hours, you slumped over landscapes of farms, pastures, Paris, two horses on a windswept plain, the face of a girl with black hair and skin you left blank, left white. You hung them all over the house, which started to look like an elementary-school classroom. When I asked you, Why coloring, why now?, you put down the sapphire pencil and stared, dreamlike, at a half-finished garden. I just go away in it for a while, you said, but I feel everything, like I’m still here, in this room.”

3.

"Why the Criminally Overlooked 'Happy Campers' Deserves Classic Status": Jim Hemphill makes his case for Daniel Waters' subversive gem at The Talkhouse

“Waters established his reputation as a screenwriter with a film that did become a classic after an unsuccessful theatrical release, 1989’s whip-smart and pitch-black comedy ‘Heathers.’ That film, a satire about murder and suicide that seemed at times to be in favor of both, was an arresting refutation of the empathetic, sensitive teen films being made at the time by people like John Hughes, Amy Heckerling and Cameron Crowe. Those movies followed Jean Renoir’s tradition of understanding that everyone has his or her reasons; the characters in ‘Heathers’ had their reasons too, but usually the reason was that they were assholes. In spite of the fact that ‘Heathers’ landed in theaters with a dull thud and only grossed around half of its $2 million budget, it made Waters an in-demand screenwriter on expensive studio projects. Hollywood clearly appreciated that Waters had a distinctive, brilliant comic sensibility – and then attempted to grind it out of him on movies like ‘The Adventures of Ford Fairlane’ and ‘Demolition Man.’ Luckily, Waters did occasionally find the perfect synthesis between his acidic voice and the demands of the studio system; ‘Batman Returns,’ in particular, is one of the smartest, funniest and most haunting movies of its era, and the large scale on which it’s mounted serves to amplify and enhance Waters’ preoccupations instead of suffocating them.”

4.

"The House Is Black": Ebert Fellow Emma Piper-Burket pens an excellent article on Forough Farrokhzad's 1962 documentary short at Reverse Shot.   

“It's this mass targeting of the vulnerable (refugees) and misunderstood (Muslims) that recently brought ‘The House Is Black’ to the forefront of my mind. Farrokhzad wrote, directed, and edited this poetic, 21-minute document of a leper colony in Northern Iran, and it’s the only film she ever made. Her cuts are often jarring, the unexpected relationship between sound and image create a feeling of almost 360-degree immersion in the space. The rhythm of the edits and her juxtaposition of poetic visuals with an unwavering gaze on the inhabitants of the leper colony create a gentle directness that forces the viewer to absolutely focus on her subjects. It’s a film that reminds you that societies are good at creating outcasts. Since ancient times, lepers around the world have been refused entry into civic life, forced to wear bells, live in isolation, and in some cases be criminalized for their condition. In a way, it feels like we have not come very far. We are still isolating and marginalizing; Executive Orders 13769 and 13780 come awfully close to criminalizing. America’s deeply problematic relationship with Islam is well documented and discussed, but it persists. Immediately following the election, amidst shock and grief, there was a momentary trend among the liberal elite to look at white working class America with a compassionate eye—how did the divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’ grow so wide? Aren't we part of the same country? But this kind of reflection—and the necessary follow-up of inclusion—was short-lived. In the months since January the dividing lines have only deepened. Horror after horror coming out of the Trump administration has only served to further vindicate “our” point of view, the sentiment becoming ‘We were right, they were wrong. Ignorant people elected an ignorant president and now look at the mess we are in.’ Leprosy is perhaps the most extreme example of the us-vs.-them condition that colors every society.”

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5.

"'Old Enough': A Girlhood Cult Classic Tragically Lost in Coming-Of-Age Canon": Ebert Fellow Sasha Kohan unearths an essential picture at Film Inquiry.

“I never fully appreciate the differences in how female characters are portrayed when directed by men versus women until I see something like ‘Old Enough.’ It’s a wonderful thing, to see women and girls in film playing with and up against each other in ways that are neither annoying to us nor antagonistic to each other, neither silly nor self-serious – they just are. The major difference in seeing female characters under the eye of a female director is that the audience is rarely manipulated into taking sides. This was the most significant part of ‘Old Enough,’ to me. Lonnie and Karen are our protagonists, for sure, but the entire cast of characters and family members are all somewhat, impressively (even in the much smaller roles) well-rounded and not totally predictable – which isn’t always easy in these seemingly classic summer stories of child protagonists and their semi-dysfunctional families. Silver’s treatment of the parents was particularly realistic and restrained. Although characterization of Karen’s father (Danny Aiello, Sal of ‘Do the Right Thing’) could be accused of leaning on some stereotypes, even he isn’t a one-note figure. It seems like he’s being set up as a hard-ass when Karen’s brother Johnny (Neil Barry) shows up late to help him work, but the tense family moment quickly dissolves into laughter and a teasing dance – a mood change I was relieved to be surprised by. Likewise, Lonnie’s mother (Fran Brill) seems like she’s set to be an all-too-classic distant nag in the beginning, discussing mundane upper-class scheduling details at the breakfast table and giving Lonnie a hard time for not wearing the headband she’s told she looks so cute in (she prefers experimenting with a long scarf tied around her forehead). To my pleasant surprise, however, Lonnie’s mother gets a number of other scenes to show the other sides of her maternal personality – she is surprised, but certainly far from angry, when she catches Lonnie trying on her jewelry and makeup: ‘I just…didn’t know you were into that kind of thing.’”

Image of the Day

At The LA Times, Jen Yamato provides us with an inside look at Quentin Tarantino's New Beverly Cinema ("It's like 'Cheers' for movie lovers"). 

Video of the Day

Lindsay Ellis' 40-minute analysis of Mel Brooks, "The Producers" and the ethics of satire about Nazis is one of the best video essays I've seen.

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