With FilmStruck gone and no real alternative filling the void at present, Amazon is in a prime position to grab up fans of classic movies.
The competition film "A Castle in Italy," a lightweight comedy, seems strangely out of place.
Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's "Lovelace" tells the story of the eponymous porn star who stunned the world with her sexual talents in "Deep Throat" (1972), only to pay a dear price for her brief flash of celebrity. Linda Lovelace, as played by Amanda Seyfried, was a love-hungry, innocent young girl led astray by Chuck Traynor, a manipulative pimp of a husband, whose affection quickly turned into exploitation.
The Toronto Film Festival is universally considered the opening of Academy Awards season, and the weary moviegoer, drained after a summer of exhausted superheroes and franchises, plunges in it with joy. I've been attending since 1977, and have watched it grow from a bootstrap operation, with the schedule improvised from day to day, into one of the big four (with Cannes, Venice and Berlin).
The big loser in the 2012 Sight & Sound critics poll is... funny. OK, we know there are no losers, only winners! But, still, with the obvious exceptions of "Citizen Kane" and "Rules of the Game," this decade's consensus choices for the Greatest Films of All Time are not a whole lotta laughs, even though they're terrific motion pictures. There's not much in the way of chuckles or joie de vivre to be found in "Vertigo," "Tokyo Story," "Man with a Movie Camera," "The Searchers," "The Passion of Joan of Arc"... At least "Sunrise," "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "8 1/2" have healthy senses of humor, but "Kane" and "Rules of the Game" are the only movies in the top 10 with the propulsive vitality of (screwball) comedy. They are flat-out fun (even if they are regarded as "classics"). And with "Kane" bumped to #2 this time, The List has become, to paraphrase a great comedy from the 1980s, one less funny.
I say this as someone who believes that comedy is everything, and that drama is lifeless (or at least emotionally stunted) without it. Some might argue that comedy without drama is also limited and superficial, but I think comedy is more profound and complex -- and more difficult to pull off successfully. I can name plenty of comedies that capture a mature vision of human existence (if you're into that kind of thing -- like all of Buster Keaton), but a drama that (artificially) excludes humor is feels false and inert to me. [No, I'm not saying the other movies in the Top Ten are humorless or lack cinematic exuberance; just that their energy is not primarily comedic, as i feel Welles' and Renoir's are. To some extent, I'm talking about the overall tendency to value "seriousness" above "humor" in these sorts of exercises.] As for the 2012 Sight & Sound Top Ten, compare it with 1982 ("Singin' in the Rain," "The General"), 1992 ("L'Atlante") and 2002 ("Singin' in the Rain"). The lack of comedy on the new list hearkens back to the Somber Ol' Days of the 1950s, '60s and '70s. As somebody once said: Why so serious?
A quiet story of incestuous desire told with deadpan precision and a fair share of subliminal humor, "The Unspeakable Act" marks its writer-director's long-awaited cinematic breakthrough. Even though New York-based Dan Sallitt (born 1955) has been making movies from the mid-1980s on (he had three under his belt before this one), his media presence has been unduly under-the-radar throughout that period. With the new movie scooping The Independent Visions Prize at the 2012 Sarasota Film Festival, and then being picked up by Edinburgh, Karlovy Vary and - most notably - BAMcinemaFest (where it plays 24 June at 9:30 PM), it's high time to put Sallitt on the map of highly original independent American filmmakers, which is where he'd belonged right from the start.
"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.
Whenever research confirms something we feel we already knew intuitively, or from our own experience, there are always people who'll scoff and say, "Well, I could have told you that!" And maybe they could have, but that's not the point. Science is a discipline involving systematic observation and empirical evidence, not unverified hunches. Movies, of course, are optical illusions -- photographic, electronic and/or mechanical phenomena that exploit the peculiarities of our eyes and brains... and elicit all manner of feelings. They are science and they are sometimes art, and the methods of studying one or the other can be complementary.
Take one of my favorite David Bordwell posts ("Hands (and faces) across the table"), which has recently been revived (resurrected! It's alive!) through the eyes of science, thanks to DB's guest-blogger, Tim Smith ("Watching you watch 'There Will Be Blood'"), of Continuity Boy, the Department of Psychological Sciences at Birkbeck College, University of London, and The DIEM (Dynamic Images and Eye Movements) Project.
In 2008, DB wrote about the map scene in Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood," in which the camera remained fixed during a long take while the looks and gestures of the actors "directed" the viewer's gaze. He wrote:
In honor of the late Claude Chabrol, one of the great filmmakers of the French New Wave, co-author with Eric Rohmer of the first book on Alfred Hitchcock, maker of moral thrillers and autopsier of the dis-ease of the bourgeoisie ("Les Biches," "La femme infidel," "Le boucher," "La rupture," "Violette Nozière," "La cérémonie"...), here is my Opening Shot (and closing shot) piece for "La femme infidel:
A fairy-tale home in a wooded setting. Two women sit an an outdoor table in the shade of some tall trees. The camera glides across the lawn silently (we can't hear what they're saying, just barely audible laughter) at an oblique angle that takes us closer to the women, but not directly toward them. A big black trunk passes startlingly across the screen in the foreground. Then a smaller trunk comes into the shot, mid-distance, and nicely frames the image. That's all there is to the opening shot (which lasts less than 10 seconds), but to understand the context we have to consider the rest of the brief pre-titles sequence.
CHAMPAIGN-URBANA -- Michael Tolkin, the writer-director of 1994's "The New Age," which played at Ebertfest on Thursday, surveyed the packed house from the stage of Champaign's historic Virginia Theater and said, "This now doubles the number of people who saw this film on its first release."
We tend to remember long takes that call attention to themselves as such: the opening shots of "Touch of Evil" or "The Player"; the entrance to the Copacabana in "GoodFellas"; all those shots in Romanian movies, and pictures directed by Bela Tarr and Jia Zhangke... And then there are the ones you barely notice because your eyes have been guided so effortlessly around the frame, or you've been given the freedom to explore it on your own, or you've simply gotten so involved in the rhythms of the scene, the interplay between the characters, that you didn't notice how long the shot had been going on.
For this compilation, "Deep Focus," I've chosen eight shots I treasure (the last two I regard as among the finest in all of cinema). They're not all strictly "deep focus" shots, but they do emphasize three-dimensionality in their compositions. I've presented them with only minimal identifications so you can simply watch them and see what happens without distraction or interruption. Instead, I've decided to write about them below. Feel free to watch the clips and then re-watch (freeze-frame, rewind, replay) the clips to see what you can see. To say they repay re-viewing is an understatement.
Quentin Tarantino told a BAFTA audience in London last month that he'd like to remembered for a body of work, like Howard Hawks.
This sparked a discussion between Anne Thompson and Jack Mathews of moviefone.com over at the indieWire-hosted Thompson on Hollywood (cross-posted at Slate Film Salon) -- a "dueling blog" about whether Tarantino (who told the New York Times that he worked quickly to get "Inglourious Basterds" ready for Cannes because he "wanted to have a masterpiece before the decade's out") can be said to have produced "a legacy of greatness":
JM -- ... No question, he has proven his greatness to his hardcore fans, among whose numbers many critics and film scholars can be counted. But in the 16 years since "Pulp Fiction," he has not come close to matching that film's brilliance. His movies, while enjoyable to watch, are self-indulgent games for him. If "Inglourious Basterds" is a great war movie, "Blazing Saddles" is a great Western. They're both fun but that's all they are.
AT --Wow. Do movies have to educate us?
It's a movie. No, it's a ride. No, it's a movie and a ride! Variety reports that Koreans have been lining up for 4D "ride films," beginning with last year's "Journey to the Center of the Earth." The 4D, "five-sense" version of "Avatar" now features
more than 30 effects during the 3D film's 162 minute run, including moving seats, smells of explosives, sprinkling water, laser lights and wind. Despite the much higher $15.80 ticket price (an average ticket costs $6.90), screenings are regularly sold out.
"We (started to) prepared the 'Avatar' 4D ride last summer," says Tom Oh, prexy of 20th Century Fox Korea. [...]
"There is no 4D theater like ours around the world. CGV's 4D plex is the first in the world that fully offers five-sense experiences with a movie title," says Kim Daehee, publicity manager of CJ-CGV.
Coming: 4D versions of Chris Columbus's "Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" and others.
Are we circling back around to flight-simulator theme park attractions built around movie "narratives," like Disney's 1987 Star Tours "Star Wars" ride? (Or, for that matter, like 1955's Peter Pan's Flight at Disneyland?) At what point does the experience cease to become a movie experience (as we've known it since the beginning of the 20th Century) and become a virtual reality simulation? The "ride movie" has nearly become a (sub-)genre of its own since "Raiders of the Lost Ark" perfected the form -- and movies are often based on video games or even amusement park rides ("Rollercoaster," "Pirates of the Caribbean"), so is this just another gimmick -- like William Castle's Percepto process for 1959's "The Tingler," or Universal's Sensurround for 1974's "Earthquake" (and other "immersive" disaster movies), or John Waters' Odorama for 1981's "Polyester"? Have we been here before (just another element in a cross-promotable "transmedia storytelling platform"), or is this something "new"? And, in any case, does it (or 3-D) satisfy the same appetites that have traditionally attracted people to movies? Now that they're retro-fitting existing movies for additional dimensionality, what would a 4-D Eric Rohmer movie be like? How about a 4-D "My Dinner with Andre" -- with the smell of real dinner? Would a 4-D Rob Zombie movie allow the audience to actually feel the pain of the victims onsceen?
Meanwhile, Wim Wenders is making 3-D movies in Italy...
(tip: Steven Santos)
In 1959 Jean-Luc Godard famously proclaimed that tracking shots are a matter of morality -- an inversion of fellow Cahier du cinéma critic Luc Moullet's formulation that "morality is a matter of tracking shots" ("morale set affaire de travellings," sometimes translated as "morality is in the tracking shots"). The evangelical theorists behind what became known as the French New Wave had a tendency to ascribe moral values to cinematic style and technique.¹ André Bazin and the late Eric Rohmer, especially, championed the moral as well as aesthetic superiority of mise en scène over montage, of Hawksian "invisible cutting" over dictatorial Eisensteinian editing, and of deep-focus over a more selective, shallow depth-of-field. Bazin praised directors such as Orson Welles and William Wyler (in collaboration with cinematographer Gregg Toland) for staging shots so that "the viewer is at least given the opportunity to edit the scene himself, to select the aspects of it to which he will attend."
As David Bordwell summarized:
Their "deep-focus" style, he claimed, produced a more profound realism than had been seen before because they respected the integrity of physical space and time. According to Bazin, traditional cutting breaks the world into bits, a series of close-ups and long shots. But Welles and Wyler give us the world as a seamless whole. The scene unfolds in all its actual duration and depth. Moreover, their style captured the way we see the world; given deep compositions, we must choose what to look at, foreground or background, just as we must choose in reality. [...]
[Bazin wrote that deep-focus] "forces the spectator to participate in the meaning of the film by distinguishing the implicit relations" and creates "a psychological realism which brings the spectator back to the real conditions of perception."
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.)
In the nearly three days since I learned of Eric Rohmer's death, I've been looking over his filmography, which has stimulated a flood of fond recollections. Few directors have left behind so many enjoyable, stimulating, gorgeous movies -- photographed by none other than Nestor Almendros until the mid-'80s, a beau mariage made in cinema heaven. I was trying to think of a Rohmer film I actively dislike... and I can't. (There are a few I haven't seen, a few I like more than others, a few I don't remember very well...) But a surprising number of them still live among my favorite movie-memories: "Perceval," "Summer"/"The Green Ray," "My Night at Maud's," "The Marquise of O...", "Pauline at the Beach," "Le beau mariage"...
At The Crop Duster, Robert Horton, who was discovering these movies at the same time I was, recalls Rohmer by resurrecting his terrific 1984 piece on "Pauline at the Beach," and by lightly tracing his own life through cinematic encounters with the director's movies in an entry he calls "A Rohmer Datebook."
First, a swell mini-overview from the former:
Rohmer has been on a hot streak lately. Keep in mind he was a slow starter compared to some of his friends in the French New Wave. Rohmer made short films during the 1950s, and he was editor-in-chief of Cahiers du Cinema, the magazine in which Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol et al. vented their auteurist spleens, from 1957 to 1963. Those other fellows had already collected an armful of international awards by the time Rohmer completed his first widely-recognized feature, "La collectioneuse," in 1967 (though he had been directing for some time already). That film was part of his contes moraux--Moral Tales--and the next entry, "Ma nuit chez Maud" ("My Night at Maud's," 1968), brought him shoulder to shoulder with the world's leading filmmakers. After he finished the Moral Tales, Rohmer took time out to pursue projects with settings completely different from the palpably modern landscapes of the six Moral Tales; predictably enough, "The Marquise of O..." (1976) and "Perceval le Gallois" (1978) were two of the best and most intriguing works of the decade.
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.
Arthur Penn's "Night Moves" (1975) is one of the great movies of the '70s. As a detective picture about a private eye with flawed vision -- in this case, a small-time independent dick and former football player named Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman), who'd like to think he's Sam Spade -- it would make a great double bill with "Chinatown," released the previous year. Yesterday, when the news came of French director Eric Rohmer's death, a lot of people who apparently hadn't even seen "Night Moves" (or, perhaps, a Rohmer movie) were freely quoting Moseby's famous wisecrack in pieces about Rohmer without providing any context for it:
"I saw a Rohmer film once. It was kind of like watching paint dry."
It wasn't long before it even became a Twitter meme: #nightmoves. (See examples below, after jump.)
What some (not all) of the quoters didn't seem to realize or remember is that Harry's remark, as scripted by Alan Sharp, is a brittle homophobic jab at a gay friend of his wife's. (Watch the clip above.) Ellen (Susan Clark) invites Harry to join her and Charles (Ben Archibek -- that's him at the end of the clip) for a movie: Eric Rohmer's classic "My Night at Maud's" (1970), about an engaged man (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who spends a long, memorable night in conversation with a divorcee (Françoise Fabian). Moseby is asserting his macho credentials, and ends the scene by teasing Charles about going bowling again sometime. "You seem to get some weird kind of satisfaction from this sort of thing, don't you?" Charles replies. Later that night, Harry drives by the theater as the movie is letting out and sees something indicating that his wife may be having an affair.