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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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#259 August 19, 2015

Sheila writes: In the films of Spike Lee, the characters often break the fourth wall and speak directly into the lens. There's a break in the action, and the dialogue spoken to the camera feels almost like it's from a documentary, with the "talking head" giving us more information for context. In this cut from the wonderful video-site "Press Play," watch the best To the Camera moments from Spike Lee's films.

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R.I.P. Albert Maysles; What ISIS really wants; Silencing "India's Daughter"; Ford's crash stirs subconscious fears; Profile of "Hangover" producer Scott Budnick, advocate for prison reform.

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Elizabeth Taylor, pagan goddess

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Camille Paglia is known for being both brilliant and wacky (possibly wacko) -- often at the same time, which is probably when she's at her most inspired. A founding contributor at (and co-star of "It's Pat: The Movie"), Paglia spoke on the phone to Salon editor Kerry Lauerman yesterday after the news of Elizabeth Taylor's death, and offered up an extraordinary tribute. I just wanted to share some of it with you. Lauerman begins by quoting something Paglia wrote about Taylor in Penthouse in 1992:

"She wields the sexual power that feminism cannot explain and has tried to destroy. Through stars like Taylor, we sense the world-disordering impact of legendary women like Delilah, Salome, and Helen of Troy. Feminism has tried to dismiss the femme fatale as a misogynist libel, a hoary cliche. But the femme fatale expresses women's ancient and eternal control of the sexual realm." Paglia takes it from there:

Exactly. At that time, you have to realize, Elizabeth Taylor was still being underestimated as an actress. No one took her seriously -- she would even make jokes about it in public. And when I wrote that piece, Meryl Streep was constantly being touted as the greatest actress who ever lived. I was in total revolt against that and launched this protest because I think that Elizabeth Taylor is actually a greater actress than Meryl Streep, despite Streep's command of a certain kind of technical skill. [...]

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Nicole Kidman: David Thomson's plaything

David Thomson, or "David Thomson"? Critic or stalker?

David Thomson is often described as a "film critic," but film criticism is not quite what he does. Nor is he a journalist or a biographer or a historian by any traditional definition of those terms. Thomson is a cinephile, a fantasist and an autobiographer, who writes about movies -- and the characters in them, and the people who make them -- as his possessions, imagined aspects of himself.

In the introduction to his best-known book, the idiosyncratic and provocative "A Biographical Dictionary of Film," he admits that, in writing about movies, he is unavoidably writing about himself -- and, indeed, the book might be better titled "An Autobiographical Dictionary of Film." All film criticism (and all writing, fiction or "non-fiction") is to some degree autobiographical, and Thomson has been more aggressive and up-front about his obsessions with his fantasy-objects, from Warren Beatty to Nicole Kidman, than most. But I'm not sure his treatment, or imaginative possession (sexual and otherwise), of his not-at-all-obscure objects of desire is any less tabloid-creepy because it is presented as critical nonfiction rather than as gossip or on some fanatical fan blog, except that Thomson's writing is better.

Last week, Kidman's reps said Thomson had misrepresented himself in the one telephone interview he did with Kidman for his ostensible biography, being sold under the title "Nicole Kidman." From The Daily Mail: According to the star's publicist Wendy Day: "Nicole has never met David Thomson. She has only spoken to him briefly on the phone about her acting processes and various films.

"He's a well-respected film writer and she accepted the interview only because she was under the impression he was writing a series of film essays." So, if Thomson is going to write about movie-fed fantasies, and he's decided to focus his on Nicole Kidman, what are his ethical responsibilities when it comes to soliticiting her unknowing cooperation in his enterprise? A review in the New York Times, which calls the ostensible biography "a weird and unseemly mash note," offers several quotes from the book, including:“I should own up straightaway that, yes, I like Nicole Kidman very much. I suspect she is as fragrant as spring, as ripe as summer, as sad as autumn and as coldly possessed as winter.... That’s why I’m writing this book, I think, to honor desire."

“Just as I take the breakup with Cruise as the liberating and altering experience in Kidman’s life, so we have to see that Tom was changed, too."

“I dare say she wakes up some nights screaming because she felt it [aging, losing her looks] was about to happen. (Not that I can be there to witness it — or stop imagining it.)��? Thomson also speculates about what might have happened on the set of "Eyes Wide Shut," in this excerpt from the book published in the Sunday Times of London:

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