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#80 September 14, 2011

Marie writes: my brother Paul recently sent me an email sharing news of something really cool at the Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver. For those who don't remember - as I'm sure I've mentioned it in the Newsletter before, the Capilano Suspension Bridge was original built 1889 and constructed of hemp rope and cedar planks. 450 feet (137m) long and 230 feet (70m) high, today's bridge is made of reinforced steel safely anchored in 13 tons of concrete on either side of the canyon (click images to enlarge.)

Ebert Club

#77 August 24, 2011

Marie writes: the following moment of happiness is brought to you by the glorious Tilda Swinton, who recently sent the Grand Poobah a photo of herself taken on her farm in Scotland, holding a batch of English Springer puppies!


The Return of the Autobiographical Dictionary of Film

Ever since David Thomson's "A Biographical Dictionary of Film" was published in 1975, browsers have said that they love to hate Thomson's contrarian arguments -- against John Ford or Frank Capra, Coppola or Kubrick, for example.¹ Fans and critics can cite favorite passages of resonant beauty, mystifyingly vague and dismissive summary judgements, and entire entries in which the man appears to have gone off his rocker. And that's the fun of it.

To be fair, Thomson broke faith with (or has been suffering a crisis of faith in) American movies at least far back as "Overexposures: The Crisis in American Filmmaking" (1981), and he's been writing about his crisis ever since. To put it in a sentence that could serve as the ending of one of his entries: I am willing to believe that he loves (or once loved) movies even if he doesn't like them very much. (Wait -- how does he conclude the Katharine Hepburn piece? "She loved movies, while disapproving of them.")

When I encountered the first edition of this book, the year I entered college, I immediately fell in love with it because it was not a standard reference. It was personal, cranky, eloquent, pretentious, pithy, petty, ambitious... It was, as I think Thomson himself suggested in the foreword to the first or second edition (this is the fifth), more accurately titled "An Autobiographical Dictionary of Film." Many times over the years I have implored my employers or partners to license digital rights to Thomson's book so that it could augment and be integrated with other movie databases and references (at Cinemania, FilmPix,, but we've never done it. What, they would ask, is the "value-add"? (Really. Some people used to talk that way.) As a reference, its coverage is too spotty (Ephraim Katz's Film Encyclopedia is much more comprehensive but also has loads of incomplete filmographies), as criticism it's wildly idiosyncratic (nothing wrong with that) and as biography it's whimsically selective and uneven, leaving as many holes as it fills.


Hurt Locker: Georges Bataille and the visceral cinema of Kathryn Bigelow

Is there a more achingly resonant movie title than "The Hurt Locker"? Fortunately, the movie lives up to it. To say that Kathryn Bigelow's film is the most accomplished white-knuckle action movie of this young century, or that it is the most fully realized Hawksian picture in recent memory, is not to say that it's a movie about chases or explosions (though it features both, and puts the last several years of big-budget summer "spectaculars" to shame) or that it is anything other than a Kathryn Bigelow movie. It's all those things.

On "My Life as a Blog," Reid Rosefelt recalls how he became friends with Bigelow in the late 1970s (that's him below, after the jump, between Hannah Schygulla and Bigelow!) and how he knew from the beginning that she was destined to make intelligent, gut-wrenching, boundary-bursting, medium-expanding movies:

She had a tremendous fascination with how violence could be portrayed in the cinema, particularly as seen through the filter of a French writer and philosopher I had never heard of named George Bataille. I got the sense that Bataille was some kind of mélange of surrealism and eroticism and de Sade-like cruelty, but the precise way he blended them and what he put in of his own was vague to me then, and even more vague to me now. But what I did understand was that Kathy wasn't just looking back to the styles and techniques of Hitchcock, Peckinpah, Romero, Argento, etc.--she was attempting to build on a highly aestheticized foundation. She didn't want to ape anybody else, she wanted to make a kind of movie that hadn't been made before. This I understood well, as it was a commonplace in European cinema for filmmakers like Godard and Resnais to use literary ideas as a means to "reinvent" cinema. The difference, and it was a huge one, is that Kathy was reading different books. What she wanted to create was more visceral and stomach-churning--more of a punch to the stomach and a battering of the subconscious than a detached and modish Brechtian challenge for the mind. [...]


National Society of Film Critics: Waltzing and Happy

This just in:

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS *1. Hanna Schygulla (The Edge of Heaven) - 29 (Strand Releasing) 2. Viola Davis (Doubt) - 29 (on fewer ballots) 3. Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) - 24

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR *1. Eddie Marsan (Happy-Go-Lucky) 41 (Miramax) 2. Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight) - 35 3. Josh Brolin (Milk) - 29


Opening Shots: 'Beware of a Holy Whore'

View image: Dieters at the beginning of the shot.

View image: Dieters at the end of the shot.

From Scott Gowans, Web Manager, WOSU Public Media, Columbus, OH:

I had been reviewing films for four or so years before I decided to take some film courses at Ohio State. One intensive, joyful seminar was the work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, whose films had just been re-mastered and were showing in pristine condition at the Wexner Center on campus. His work is both frustrating, fascinating, illuminating, and always puts me on edge. For anyone who doesn’t get him or his work, I understand, and I’m also sorry. He’s hard to watch and abstruse, but when you get it, nothing looks the same anymore. My professor hates the way society attached the term ‘genius’ to anybody who shows above-average intelligence, but he had no problem with putting Fassbinder in the same class as Goethe and Shakespeare. One opening shot sticks with me, though I could site others. The first shot in “Beware of a Holy Whore��? has the camera at waist-level looking slightly upwards at Deiters (played by avant-garde filmmaker Werner Schroeter), who has brown hair spilling over his shoulders, and is dressed in a black cowboy suit. Behind him is sky. Deiters, whose role in the film is an odd photographer, delivers a soliloquy about Goofy (the cartoon character) in drag, who teaches kindergarten, gets beaten up by his students, meets Wee Willy, a gangster who is "the size of a 3-year-old," takes the crook home, and feeds him. Though the police arrest Wee Willy, Goofy refuses to accept that his new friend is less than perfect.

Roger Ebert

Fassbinder films capture a frantic life's desperation

In the 1970s Rainer Werner Fassbinder was a familiar presence at film festivals, invariably clad in black leather, a cigarette always in his hand, a scraggly mustache drooping over lips that seemed curled in constant ironic amusement. He traveled with a pack of friends, lovers and associates, and at Cannes, for example, you expected them all to turn up sometime after midnight at Le Petit Carlton, the little all-night bar where the party spilled out into the street.


Marcello Mastroiani, 1924-1996

In Rome Thursday night, they turned off the water in the Trevi Fountain and draped the monument in black, in memory of Marcello Mastroianni. The Italian actor, who died early Thursday at his Paris home, made about 120 films, but was best remembered for Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" (1960), in which he waded into the fountain in pursuit of an elusive sex goddess played by Anita Ekberg.

Festivals & Awards

Cannes all winners

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.