Thursday, February 28, 2013

An Act You Really Must See

The Unspeakable Act played at BamCinemaFest last summer, which I declared "Rapturous" at the time. I meant to write something long about the film, but sadly my notebook was stolen and I lost everything I had planned. Still, I can vividly recall much of the film, and it remains an early candidate for my favorite film of 2013.

Since then, I've gotten to known its director, Dan Sallitt, through our various paths in the NY repertory scene, and I've thoroughly investigated his writing and his other films. The result is the latest episode of The Cinephiliacs, timed with the release of The Unspeakable Act at Anthology Film Archives in New York, along with a retro of Dan's other films. If you are in New York and don't go to it, I seriously question your dedication to our cause.

On the episode, Dan brought in Alan Clarke's Christine, which tops my list of February filmic discoveries. Make sure to listen to the conversation over here. And here's the list below:

1. Christine (Alan Clarke, UK, 1987) - Streaming Via YouTube
2. Life and Nothing More... (Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 1992) — 35mm projection, Film Society of Lincoln Center
3. Two for the Road (Stanley Donen, USA, 1967) — 35,, projection, Anthology Film Archive
4. I Wanna Hold Your Hand (Robert Zemeckis, USA, 1977) — 35mm projection, Film Society of Lincoln Center
5. Where is the Friend's Home? (Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 1987) — 35mm projection, Film Society of Lincoln Center
6. The Night of Counting the Years (Shadi Abdel Salam, Egypt, 1969) — DVD
7. Modern Romance (Albert Brooks, USA, 1981) — 35mm projection, Anthology Film Archives
8. The River's Edge (Alan Dwan, USA, 1957) — 35mm projection, Anthology Film Archives
9. Man's Castle (Frank Borzage, USA, 1933) — 35mm projection, Film Forum
10. All the Ships At Sea (Dan Sallitt, USA, 2004) — DVD

Also Notable: The Mayor of Hell Town (Edward Mayo, USA, 1933), , Used Cars (Robert Zemeckis, USA, 1980), Some Call It Loving (James B. Harris, USA, 1973), Through the Olive Trees (Abbas Kiarostami, USA, 1994, Moonstruck (Norman Jewison, USA, 1987)

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Note on Contemporary Cinephilia

Cinephilia can no longer be contained by just a casual love of cinema; the word has almost transcended its epistemological meaning.  The new cinephile is not contained by classical categories (filmmaker, critic, academic) and certainly not by what (genre, auteur, nation) or how (theater, streaming) they take in. More than anything, the new cinephile is not a passive viewer of film. Blogs, lists, podcasts, fan art, supercuts, video essays, and more are all essential in the new cinephile world. There are no boundaries for how the cinephile can access or explore film anymore; the physical barriers (location, format, costs) have all been dismantled (in many ways, the cinephilie is essential to this in their collection and uploading of rare works to the Internet). What is only left, as Grisih Shambu has suggested, is the variation in commitment. It is thus essential to relocate cinephilia not in terms of what they are but how they are. The exemplary cinephile has as much output as input. He or she fight for their various films and aesthetic tastes, whether in journals, casual conversations, forums, comments, or tweets. Their cinephilia is not contained inside—especially not by the physical aspects of DVDs, VHSs, posters, or books. It is an engagement beyond the screen that defines the cinephile more than anything else. The cinephile is no longer the spectator, but the creator.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Aleksei German (1938-2012)

            In March of last year, I took a chance by watching a film I knew nothing about, based on a passionate post written by cinephile par excellence and friend Glenn Kenny. The film had the bizarre title of Khrustalyov, My Car! And I knew more or less nothing going in besides some plot revolving the night in which Josef Stalin died. Emerging two hours later, I still had no idea what I watched, but I knew the cinematic voice I had just seen was an authorial presence that didn’t just hold my hand, but shoved me in front of him while wearing a blindfold. I was barely able to process the images I had watched, but felt rapturously connected to them.

            In film history, German has always played a second fiddle to Andrei Tarkovsky in the way Mizoguchi has played fiddle to Ozu, though even Mizoguchi is a better known quantity in comparison. His films are impossibly notorious to track down. Not on DVD in either the States or Europe. Torrents and YouTube streams are sparse.

            But they are works of visceral cinema, exploring Soviet history from a Soviet perspective. This makes them feel inaccessible in a way to the Western viewer, but it is in that inaccessibility that I found myself in a trance by his absurdist dark humor, expressionist cinematography, and intensely swerving tracking shots. There are cultural clues throughout, one that I missed when I watched his films, and will continue to miss throughout my life. Tarkovsky’s films are universal—I dare a viewer to feel nothing as the bell rings out at the end of Andrei Rublev. German’s films are specific, built on a nation’s history of contradictions. But one doesn’t need to have lived Soviet history to feel the pains of those who did. I think of the pain in the protagonist’s face in Trial on the Road as he realizes the suicide mission he must commit. I see the pain in the young boy of My Frined Ivan Lapshin seeing what is happening in his society. And I see it in the utter confusion of the Doctor General of Khrustalyov, realizing how little power he has. The pain is not one for myself but of another, an entire country that is both distant and alien, yet all too human. In Tarkovsky, you see your own struggles. In German, you see that of another.

            I’m no expert on German, but when I learned he passed away in Russia yesterday, I felt a real loss in a way no director had made me feel. Perhaps because German’s films remain an unknown quantity-a sect of cinephilia still only left to those lucky enough to have taken a chance. My hope is that this feeling won’t remain.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Updates from the Beyond

I was honored to be invited by Paul Clark and Steve Carlson to participate in this year's Muriel Awards. A sort of alternative to the mostly boring Critics Circle Awards (as well as the certainly not boring Skandies), the Muriels includes a number of cinephiles voting in categories of 2012 film that range from the simple (acting, writing, editing) to the esoteric (Best film of 1987, Body of Work, Scene). I'll be writing about two of the winners, so look for that soon, and follow the awards here!

If you check out the latest issue of Film Matters, I review the very strange and wonderful book on John Carpenter's They Live by Jonathan Lethem. It's good!

I also have a couple of reviews out there: a longer piece on Like Someone in Love and a new piece on Night Across the Street. Read those at their respective locations here and here.

If you haven't been following The Cinephiliacs, check out episodes with Keith Phipps, Kevin B. Lee, and C. Mason Wells.

I have a long piece on Soderbergh's Side Effects and his relationship with Scott Z. Burns that I really hope to have published soon, but it currently sits in editing limbo.

You can follow my haikus on Letterboxd, which is now open to the public.

I usually tend to post my favorite "filmic discoveries" of each month on Twitter. I totally forgot to do January, so I'm listing them here in order (excluding 2013 releases):
1. Hi, Mom! (De Palma, USA, 1970)
2. The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (Mizoguchi, Japan, 1939)
3. The Ceremony (Oshima, Japan, 1970)

4. Sunday Too Far Away (Hannam, Australia, 1975)
5. Petulia (Lester, USA, 1968)
6. Blast of Silence (Baron, USA, 1961)
7. King Lear (Godard, France/Switzerland, 1987)
8. Face/Off (Woo, USA, 1997)
9. They're a Weird Mob (Powell, Australia, 1966)
10. Three on a Match (LeRoy, USA, 1932)

Also of note: Cairo Station (Chahine, Egypt, 1959), Greetings (De Palma, USA, 1968), The Tarnished Angels (Sirk, USA, 1957), In the Shadows (Arlsan, Germany, 2010), Slacker (Linklater, USA, 1991), and The Moderns (Rudolph, USA, 1988).

Sunday, February 17, 2013

I Need Your Cinephiliac Moments!

Hi everyone! I apologize about the lack of posting, and I am due a post just listing some of my random writing here and there, but this week I have a request from you. I am writing a paper for a seminar on canon-formation and new cinephilia, and I am centering it around re-writing the canon based on my oh-so favorite "Cinephiliac Moments" (see here for my original post on the subject). I want to list as many as I can, but I assume a list with multiple inputs from cinephiles like you that have very different tastes can lead to some better ideas. My real hope is that many of you will choose moments from films that aren't especially loved, or perhaps films that you find problematic but have that one moment that makes it all sort of worth it. (Just thinking of one myself—I'm not sure all of Robert Aldrich's Twilight's Last Gleaming works, but when he goes double split screen as the nukes rise out of the silos, man oh man is that cinema.) 

So if you could do me a favor and reach down into your cinephile data base and write down any you think of in the comments, that would be greatly appreciated. Once I finish the paper, I'll post our "new" canon for all of us to look at and argue about. 

Update: I am thankful for the responses below. A couple of notes. 1) Do not feel you need to explicate your situation, as long as it is understandable to what the moment is (ie. John Wayne walks away from the home at the end of The Searchers). 2) Feel free to list as many as you want. Seriously. Go nuts.