When I began as a film critic, Jean-Luc Godard was widely thought to have reinvented the cinema with "Breathless" (1960). Now he is almost 80 and has made what is said to be his last film, and he's still at the job, reinventing. If only he had stopped while he was ahead. That would have been sometime in the 1970s. Maybe the 1980s. For sure, the 1990s. Without a doubt, before he made his Cannes entry, "Film: Socialisme."
The thousands of seats in the Auditorium Debussy were jammed, and many were turned away. We lucky ones sat in devout attention to this film, such is the spell Godard still casts. There is an abiding belief that he has something radical and new to tell us. It is doubtful that anyone else could have made this film and found an audience for it.
The latest on Blu-ray and streaming services, including "Best of Enemies," "Shaun the Sheep Movie," "Mississippi Grind" and "Don't Look Back" on Criterion.
Saturday, May 4, was one month to the day that Roger left this earthly plane. In honor of Kentucky Derby weekend I am posting this photo of Roger and I proudly sporting our hats at Churchill Downs. There have been several photos of us wearing hats over the years. For some reason hats delighted us to no end. And Roger was particularly fond of some of the more outrageous hats we wore. That day while we were watching the races we were so pleased that we could wear our hats both in doors and out. You can’t wear a hat in a movie theater.
Another brawl in the square Another stink in the air! Was there a witness to this? Well, let him speak to Javert! -- Javert, a character in the musical "Les Misérables"
I was an eyewitness to "Les Misérables."
After repeated exposure to that dreadful theatrical trailer-cum-featurette about how the singing is all done live on camera! -- It's live! It's Live! IT'S LIVE! -- I had no intention of seeing Tom "The King's Speech" Hooper's film version of the 1980s stage musical. But when it finally came out, some of the reviews were so bad that part of me wanted to see what the stink was all about. Still, I'm not a masochist; I don't enjoy going to movies I know I'm probably predisposed to dislike just so I can dump on them. On the other hand, there's nothing better than having your low expectations upended. I did enjoy that Susan Boyle YouTube video back in 2009, but that was all I knew about the musical. I remained curious but skeptical. And then ...
"All of us will always owe him everything." -- Glenn Kenny on Andrew Sarris, quoting Jean-Luc Godard on Orson Welles
Andrew Sarris, "who loved movies" (as Roger Ebert described him), was long considered the "dean of American film critics." Reading the accounts and appreciations of him today, I was surprised to see how many people perpetuated the myth that Sarris and Pauline Kael were like the print era's Siskel & Ebert who, instead of facing off with each other over new movies on TV week after week, carried on a robust public debate about auteurism and film theory for decades. That didn't happen. And that mischaracterization does a disservice to Sarris, to Kael and to Siskel & Ebert, all of whom were taking their own distinctive and original approaches to movie reviewing and criticism. I think what's most important on the occasion of Sarris's passing is to acknowledge that his substantial critical legacy cannot be defined in terms of anything Pauline Kael wrote about him and the politique des auteurs in 1963 -- and certainly not in the way his and the Cahiers du Cinema critics' views were misrepresented in Kael's famous snipe, "Circles and Squares: Joys and Sarris."
Let's get this straight: Sarris, who had spent some time in France and acquainted himself with the Cahiers du Cinema critics (Andre Bazin, Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, Rivette, Rohmer, et al.), published an essay in Film Culture called "Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962" (download .pdf here). In it he set out to explain the French notion of what he called "auteurism" for an American audience.*
Marie writes: I attended three different elementary schools; St. Peter's, Our Lady of Mercy (which was anything but) and finally St. Micheal's; where I met my Canadian-Italian chum, Marta Chiavacci (key-a-vah-chee) who was born here to Italian immigrants. We lost touch after high school, moving in different directions til in the wake of a trip to Venice and eager to practice my bad Italian and bore friends with tales of my travels abroad, I sought her out again.We've kept in touch ever since, meeting whenever schedules permit; Marta traveling more than most (she's a wine Sommelier) living partly in Lucca, Italy, and happily in sin with her significant other, the great Francesco. I saw her recently and took photos so that I might show and tell, in here. For of all the friends I have, she's the most different from myself; the contrast between us, a never-ending source of delight. Besides, it was a nice afternoon in Vancouver and her condo has a view of False Creek...smile...
(click images to enlarge)
A Jean-Luc Godard movie is required to bewilder, astonish, bore and infuriate its film festival audience -- especially the critical contingent. That's why it's there. JLG's "Film Socialisme," which may or may not be his last directorial effort, premiered at Cannes to a cacophony of criticism, rapturous and contemptuous. Some of it has also been exceptionally entertaining -- almost as much fun to read as the reviews for "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" last summer. In the case of Godard, however, the critical debates take on a nearly religious dimension as believers and debunkers argue over whether there's meaning to be found in the sacred text or whether it's all just an inconsequential, obfuscatory fraud.
I flew home from the Oscars to find half a dozen e-mails awaiting with the same unbelievable message: Variety had fired its chief film critic, Todd McCarthy. Its spokesman was hopeful Todd and its chief theater critic, David Rooney, who was also fired, could continue to review for the paper on a free lance basis. In other words, Variety was hopeful that without a regular pay check, McCarthy would put his life on hold to do a full-time job on a piecemeal basis.
Todd McCarthy reviewed films for Variety for 31 years. He was the ideal critic for the paper -- better, we now realize, than it deserved. His reviews and the reviews of Kirk Honeycutt at the Hollywood Reporter were frequently the first reviews of a new film to see print. Honeycutt fortunately continues.
What does Variety -- once known as "The Showbiz Bible" -- think it has to offer its readers? After Monday's news that the paper has jettisoned (what's the reverse of "ankled"? I forget...) veteran film critic Todd McCarthy, whose name was synonymous with Variety even before the publication's reviews had actual bylines, I don't see much future in the once-essential trade paper. Lay off the people who are your reputation, your authority, your influence, and what's left? Nothing. There will still be a batch of web and paper pages legally entitled to call itself "Variety," but so what? It's like one of those bands that tours under a once-famous name without actually offering the work of any of the names that made it what it was.
How much is that worth to you right now?
The thing about James Cameron is, he can get his mind around a project the size of "Avatar" and keep his cool. If it requires the development of untested technology, he takes the time to work on it. If he wants to create aliens human enough to be sexy and yet keep them out of the Uncanny Valley, he test-drives them. If it costs $250 million, as reported, or $350 million, as rumored, you reflect: That's a lot of money, but after seeing the movie I guess I saw most of it up there on the screen.
Lars von Trier's "Antichrist" is poised to detonate at the Toronto Film Festival. This willfully controversial director will inspire, as he often does, a storm of controversy, debate, critics clamoring to get into advance screenings that are already jammed, and a contentious press conference. Of the 400 or so films at TIFF this year, "Antichrist" was the first that sold out in advance. It was the same last May at Cannes, and that was before it has even been seen.
Von Trier was nothing if not canny in his title for the film. By naming it "Antichrist," he provides a lens through which to view its perplexing behavior. By naming his characters only He and She, he suggests the dark side of an alternative Garden of Eden, and then disturbing his ending becomes a mirror image of Christ welcoming the faithful into the kingdom of heaven. The title instructs us where to begin. If he had named the characters John and Mary, and titled the film "A Nightmare," what conclusions might we have arrived at?
It started for me with a letter from a Los Angeles filmmaker named Mike Williamson, who contacted me March 7 in outrage about a bait-and-switch involving IMAX. He paid an extra fee to see a movie in Burbank, and wrote the company in protest: "As soon as I walked in the theatre, I was disgusted. This was not an IMAX screen. Simply extending a traditional multiplex screen to touch the sides and floor does not constitute an IMAX experience. An IMAX screen is gargantuan. It is like looking at the side of a large building, and it runs vertically in a pronounced way. It is not a traditional movie screen shape....This screen was pathetic by IMAX standards."
If you will click to enlarge the graphic below, you will see that Williamson has a point. The illustration comes from Jeff Leins of newsinfilm.com, based on one with a useful article by James Hyder, editor of the LFexaminer, devoted to this issue. But documentation isn't really necessary. Most of us know what an IMAX screen looks like, and we instinctively know one wouldn't fit inside our local multiplex. What "IMAX" means in such situations is that the company has taken over the largest screen in the complex, removed a few of the front rows of seats, and moved a somewhat larger screen that much closer to the audience. The picture is not projected through large format 70mm film, but with dual "high end" digital projectors. Every digital projector ever introduced was "high end" at the time.
Lars von Trier's new film will not leave me alone. A day after many members of the audience recoiled at its first Cannes showing, "Antichrist" is brewing a scandal here; I am reminded of the tumult following the 1976 premiere of Oshima's "In the Realm of the Senses" and its castration scene. I said I was looking forward to von Trier's overnight reviews, and I haven't been disappointed. Those who thought it was good thought it was very very good ("Something completely bizarre, massively uncommercial and strangely perfect"--Damon Wise, Empire) and those who thought it was bad found it horrid ("Lars von Trier cuts a big fat art-film fart with "Antichrist"--Todd McCarthy, Variety).
I rarely find a serious film by a major director to be this disturbing. Its images are a fork in the eye. Its cruelty is unrelenting. Its despair is profound. Von Trier has a way of affecting his viewers like that. After his "Breaking the Waves" premiered at Cannes in 1996, Georgia Brown of the Village Voice fled to the rest room in emotional turmoil and Janet Maslin of the New York Times followed to comfort her. After this one, Richard and Mary Corliss blogged at Time.com that "Antichrist" presented the spectacle of a director going mad.
"One thing I'm willing to bet [about a "Revolutionary Road" screenplay written in the 1970s] is that it made the Wheelers a lot more sympathetic than they ought to be. It was a common misconception when the book was first published, even among good critics. Quite simply, Yates meant for the Wheelers to seem a little better than mediocre: not, that is, stoical mavericks out of Hemingway, or glamorous romantics out of Fitzgerald. Rather, the Wheelers are everyday people -- you and me -- who pretend to be something they're not because life is lonely and dull and disappointing."
-- Richard Yates biographer Blake Bailey in Slate (June 26, 2007)
Plot and thematic spoilers ahead.
"How do you break free... without breaking apart"? That's the rhetorical question posed as a tag line in this trailer (above) for Sam Mendes' titanic version of Richard Yates' 1961 novel "Revolutionary Road," starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.
But is that what "Revolutionary Road" -- the movie or the book -- is about? Does it even scratch the surface? I wonder if this is being sold as a story about two extraordinary people who might have fulfilled their promise... if they hadn't been stifled by the suburban conformist pressures of America in the 1950s. If only they'd broken free and gone to Paris where people really feel things!
Todd McCarthy of Variety, who's old enough to know better, writes at the end of his review of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button":
Still, for what is designed as a rich tapestry, the picture maintains a slightly remote feel. No matter the power of the image of an old but young-looking Benjamin, slumped over a piano and depressed about his fading memory and life; it is possible that the picture might have been warmer and more emotionally accessible had it been shot on film. It has been argued that digital is a cold medium and celluloid a hot one and a case, however speculative, could be made that a story such as "Benjamin Button," with its desired cumulative emotional impact, should be shot and screened on film to be fully realized. These are intangibles, but nor are they imaginary factors; what technology gives, it can also take away.
[Don't worry -- no spoilers.]
This makes about as much sense to me as blaming the weather on Doppler radar pictures. It may be the second-most misguided thing I've read about movies all year (after Patrick Goldstein's assertion that a "dumb summer comedy" is more worthy of contempt that a dishonest or inept film that expects its ambition to be taken more seriously).
OK, let's say the movie feels "cold" to you, and you attribute this feeling to something in the film. You could acknowledge the movie's predominantly wintry settings and sepia color pallete (exemplified by the fully digital image, set in the dead of night in an empty hotel lobby in the middle of the Russian winter, above). Or contemplate the loneliness of the emotionally detached title character/observer/narrator, who is born an old man in a decrepit body and is cursed to grow physically younger while watching everyone around him age and die.
And you might very well consider the Kubrickian sensibility of the director, David Fincher ("Se7en," "Fight Club," "Zodiac"), the most deliberate and precise of filmmakers. Not known as Mr. Warm 'n' Cozy -- even when working from a Gumpian screenplay by the writer of "Forrest Gump." If the film is dark and cool in tone, it's not because Fincher chose digital technology. It's because Fincher chose to make it dark and cool. You may dislike the countless ways in which the movie emphasizes these qualities (in every composition, every cut, every performance), but don't pretend it's the video that's doing it.