Molly Haskell speaks with Matt Zoller Seitz about "From Reverence to Rape," "Love and Other Infectious Diseases," "Steven Spielberg: A Life in Films" and more.
Sheila writes: I came across a really fun and innovative video from 2011, titled "100 years of style in 100 seconds." Combining dance and fashion (and also a shifting background to show the passage of time), the video brings us through the history of style over the course of a century. It's so well done and a lot of fun!
The National Film Registry accepts public nominations of films for preservation. Cary O'Dell looks at what letters and emails from the public tell us about our feelings about our film heritage.
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.
Kenneth Lonergan's "Margaret" was written in 2003, filmed in 2005 and stuck in post-production for six more years. The 150-minute version briefly released theatrically last year was an inchoate masterpiece, perhaps, but a masterpiece nevertheless. The DVD/Blu-ray release, July 10, will feature two versions of the film -- the theatrical release and a new "extended cut" by Lonergan that, he says, better reflects his current vision for "Margaret." As he told Indiewire, "The cut that was released was the cut I delivered. They're both the director's cut; they're just different cuts."
Paul (teenage Patti Benton's boyfriend in Paul Mazursky's 1978 "An Unmarried Woman" -- a specimen of living, breathing upper-class urban cinema that belongs in the same genus as "Margaret") would no doubt observe that Lonergan's movie is "flawed." (Or, as Patti says: "I liked it. Paul thought it was flawed.") And it is. "Margaret" rapidly unravels in the last third or so, along with the turbulent world of its teenage protagonist Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin). I don't want to get into the plot or characters at all here (I want to wait until I see Lonergan's "extended cut"), but let me say that this movie features four of the most mesmerizing and complex characterizations I've ever seen in any movie: Paquin's Lisa, Jeannie Berlin's Emily, J. Smith-Cameron's Joan and Allison Janney's Monica (the latter a one-scene cameo).
According to the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the New York Film Critics Circle, the two best films of 2010 are David Fincher's "The Social Network" and Olivier Assayas's "Carlos." I've no quarrel with that. In fact, those two movies are at the top of a list I made for a critics' poll that will be published any day now because they're both masterful, multi-layered works that I found as stimulating to think about as they are engrossing to watch. Both the LA and NY groups chose "The Social Network" as best picture and "Carlos" as best (and most) foreign-language film -- all five and a half hours and 11 languages: English, French, German, Spanish (with a Venezuelan accent), various dialects of Arabic, Russian, Hungarian, Italian... LAFCA left no doubt about its esteem for both movies, with "Carlos" coming in as first runner-up for best picture and Fincher and Assayas sharing the director's prize. (Both groups also gave "Black Swan" their best cinematography prizes.)
Complete lists of the winners are below, but I wanted to take this opportunity to make some comparisons between these two movies. No, I don't think either of them has much to do with "realism," but both build their disputed nonfictional narrative webs around rather opaque, fictionalized central characters who are seen as heroes by some, villains by others, and neither by the movies themselves. Both "Carlos" (the revolutionary alias of Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, played by Edgar Ramirez) and "Mark Zuckerberg" (the Facebook founder played by Jesse Eisenberg) are projections -- like profiles compiled by intelligence agencies or... Facebook pages. Either film could begin with a version of these words, which preface each of the three parts of "Carlos":
This film is the result of historical and journalistic research.
Because of controversial gray areas in Carlos' life, the film must be viewed as fiction, tracing two decades in the life of a notorious terrorist.
His relations with other characters have been fictionalized as well.
The three murders on Rue Toulier are the only events depicted in this film for which Ilich Ramirez Sanchez was tried and sentenced.
The Drugstore Publicis bombing is still under investigation.
Actress Jill Clayburgh, whose portrayal of women in the 1970s helped define and and reshape the role of leading lady, died last week of chronic lymphocytic leukemia at her home in Lakeville, Connecticut; she was 66. She's best known for her Academy Award nominated roles in "An Unmarried Woman" (Winner: Best Actress Cannes 1978) and "Starting Over." Roger has remembered her on his site: Jill Clayburgh: In Memory.
One of my favorite movie lines ever, impeccably written and delivered so that it has stayed fresh and funny for me every single day since I first heard it 30 years ago:
"We saw the new Lina Wertmuller film.... I loved it. Phil thought it was flawed."
-- Patti (Lisa Lucas), the 15-year-old daughter of Jill Clayburgh's title character in "An Unmarried Woman" (1978) by Paul Mazursky
BTW, I'm struck that studios hardly ever make mainstream movies like this anymore, naturalistic, humanistic comedy-dramas about adults who look, talk and behave like adults -- or like15-year-olds, depending on the circumstances. "An Unmarried Woman" is flawed, and I love it. (Clayburgh's shrink still drives me up the wall, but I never doubted that she was a dead-accurate caricature. Now I think she's hilarious; I used to just feel outrage that she was so full of shit and granola: "Guilt is a man-made emotion.... Turn off the guilt.")
Even if the movie plays like a '70s period picture in some ways (and it did then, too -- because it was made and set in a recognizable '70s New York movie-milieu), it's as smart and honest and observant as ever. Almost shockingly so, given what's passing for adult drama on big screens right this minute....
László Kovács (May 14, 1933 – July 22, 2007)
Kovács emigrated to the United States with his lifelong friend Vilmos Zsigmond, who became another great Hungarian-American cinematographer.
For me, perhaps the most indelible image in Kovács' work is the last shot of "Five Easy Pieces" (Bob Rafelson, 1970), a long stationary take of a gray, rainy stretch of Pacific Northwest highway, stuck in the muddy pavement outside an isolated gas station. The only camera movement is a slight pan. All the loneliness, frustration and alienation of the whole movie culminates (in a diminuendo, if that's possible) in this damp, atmospheric image.
Other notable Kovács films include:
"Psych-Out" (Richard Rush, 1968) "Targets" (Peter Bogdanovich, 1968) "Easy Rider" (Dennis Hopper, 1969) "That Cold Day in the Park" (Robert Altman, 1969) "Getting Straight" (Rush, 1970) "Alex in Wonderland" (Paul Mazursky, 1970) "The Last Movie" (Hopper, 1971) "What's Up, Doc?" (Bogdanovich, 1972) "The King of Marvin Gardens" (Bob Rafelson, 1972) "Paper Moon" (Bogdanovich, 1973) "Shampoo" (Hal Ashby, 1975) "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (Steven Spielberg, 1977 -- additional photography) "New York, New York" (Martin Scorsese, 1977) "The Last Waltz" (Scorsese, 1978 -- additional photography) "Ghostbusters" (Ivan Reitman, 1984) "Mask" (Bogdanovich, 1985) "Say Anything..." (Cameron Crowe, 1989) "Radio Flyer" (Richard Donner, 1992) "My Best Friend's Wedding" (P.J. Hogan, 1997)
A follow-up on contrarian criticism, from an Artforum section published in 2002, after the death of Pauline Kael, called Prose and Cons:
When Artforum invited me to write 800 words on Pauline Kael, I asked the editor why we couldn't dispense with 799 of them, as I could certainly summarize my opinion of Ms. Kael with even greater economy than that with which her opinions had for so many years been splashed across movie ads and even, for a time, theater marquees. Besides, the definitive autopsy on Ms. Kael's oeuvre had already been performed, twenty-one years earlier, in the pages of the New York Review of Books, by Renata Adler ("The Perils of Pauline"), and I consider Adler's an impossible act to follow. I have a fond memory of devouring that essay with Susan Sontag, peering over each other's shoulder, in the donut shop that used to occupy the corner of Third Avenue and Fourteenth Street, both of us nearly gagging with laughter at the sly, inexorable trajectory of every sentence, the devastating conclusion of every paragraph, the utterly damning thoroughness with which Ms. Kael's grotesquely inflated, even sacrosanct reputation had been laid out like a corpse for burial. [...]
The coercive effect of Kael's technique was not simply contrarian, which might have had its praiseworthy aspects; "For Keeps" makes it clear, as Adler noted years ago, that this is a critic who brooks no contradiction and turns herself into a pretzel to stun the reader into agreement that a worthless film has moments that outshine, and outmerit, actual masterpieces, if for no better reason than that the film was made by one of the directors she routinely fawned over, like De Palma. When it suits her, Kael does a complete volte-face and fetishizes the transcendent artistry of De Sica's "Shoeshine," for example, or treats us to an extremely long, extremely ill-informed analysis of how things work in Hollywood to explain "why today's movies are so bad." It is, perhaps, the absence of any real sensibility rooted in any consistent method of analysis that makes Pauline Kael's collections of reviews the kinds of books I don't like having in my house. She's not a real voice but more like a suet of arbitrary, extemporized pronouncements. She is Gertrude Stein's Oakland; There's no there there.
Pauline changed criticism in a number of ways:
... Taking film criticism to the average filmgoer. She wrote for people who went to movies, not for those who read magazines--a technical distinction, but an important one. [...]
She validated film reviewing. Difficult as it is to believe today, at the height of America's countercultural upheaval movies truly mattered: It mattered which movies were made, which movies audiences saw, and what they thought of the movies they did see. Godard was important, Bunuel was important, Paul Mazursky and Hal Ashby were important. Art was not happening in the museums; it was in the streets and movie houses. Kael was the pied piper of reviewers who made readers believe that movies, even disreputable movies, were important. If movies were important, it followed that movie reviewing was important.
A considerable achievement, and I wish I could say a wholly beneficial one. Cultural history has not been kind to Pauline. She was able to rail against critical snobbery and High Art, defend mass-audience taste and extol "trash" because she never feared for culture. She knew that there would always be standards. Because she had standards. She appreciated great art and literature and opera; no amount of "trash" could change that.
Not long before she died, Pauline remarked to a friend, "When we championed trash culture we had no idea it would become the only culture." That's exactly the point. She and her foot soldiers won the battle but lost the war. Mass taste has become acceptable taste, box-office receipts the ultimate measure of a film's worth. The pop films Kael most loved, such as "Hud" (1963), if made today, would be considered art-house fare.
Returning to her writing after so many years, I'm still puzzled by a central ambivalence in her judgments that seems to gravitate around the notions of "art" and "trash." In her celebrated essay "Trash, Art, and the Movies" (Harper's, February 1969)--the closest she came to a general statement of intentions--she wants to celebrate the gaudy pleasures of cinematic vulgarity: "I don't trust anyone who doesn't admit having at some time in his life enjoyed trashy American movies.... Why should pleasure need justification?" She directs withering scorn at those stuffed-shirt humanists who admire "Judgment at Nuremberg" or "Wild Strawberries" but can't appreciate "The Thomas Crown Affair" (1968). But she's equally at odds with anyone who likes trash a little bit too much, likes it enough to think that "trash" is perhaps a term of doubtful use: "If an older generation was persuaded to dismiss trash, now a younger generation, with the press and schools in hot pursuit, has begun to talk about trash as if it were really very serious art." It doesn't help that her examples of yesterday's kitsch now mistaken for art are "Shanghai Express" and -- amazingly for someone who would go on to grossly overpraise the Hitchcock imitations of Brian De Palma -- "Notorious." She goes in circles on this theme, churning up perplexities about pleasure and puritanism, bourgeois complacency and radical transgression, without ever coming to a comfortable resting point. What is clear is that there is no party of which she wishes to be a member; if she has to declare for anything it will be the sovereignty of her own taste.
LOS ANGELES - Paul Mazursky, in 1980, is very much an outsider in contemporary Hollywood. At a time when the bosses of the major studios are engaged in games of musical chairs, when few studio chiefs give any thought to long-term filmmaking philosophies. When the creative deal is more highly regarded than the creative film, when bloated budgets are poured into films that will become either monster hits or complete write-offs...at a time like this, Paul Mazursky is so out of date he seems almost Victorian.
Hollywood, California – “It all comes down to one very simple fact,” Paul Mazursky was explaining. “Betsy and I have been married for 24 years, and during that time almost all of our friends have been divorced. The usual way these things work out is that, after the divorce, you find yourself either seeing more of the woman, or more of the man: It's hard to stay neutral.
In 1954, a young New York actor named Paul Mazursky hung up his beret, combed his hair into a ducktail and went to a casting call for a movie named "The Blackboard Jungle." He got the job. He left behind a bohemian existence in Greenwich Village and set out for Hollywood and an acting career that somehow never quite got off the ground.