Thursday, October 31, 2013

October Screening Log

Color coded via Dan Sallitt's method (Current or upcoming releases not included). Click on the titles to writing when applicable.

1.    Only Yesterday (Stahl, USA, 1933)
2.    The Dawn Patrol (Hawks, USA, 1930)
3.    Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (Altman, USA, 1982)
4.    Manila in the Claw of Light (Brocka, Philippines, 1975)
5.   L'Intrus (Denis, France, 2004)
6. Arabian Nights (Pasolini, Italy, 1974)
7. La Notte (Antonioni, Italy, 1961).
8.   La Chembre (Akerman, Belgium/USA, 1972)
9.    A Song Is Born (Hawks, USA, 1948)
10. Providence (Resnais, France, 1971) 

No Placement Because I Have No Idea What To Do With This Yet: Historie(s) Du Cinema (Godard, France, 1988-1998)

Also Notable (No order besides color categorization): Smile (Ritchie, USA, 1975), Air Force (Hawks, USA, 1948), La Libertad (Alonso, Argentina, 2001), The Chase (Ripley, USA, 1946), Hail Mary (Godard, France, 1985), The Book of Mary (Meiville, France, 1985), Rapado (Rejtman, Argentina, 1992), The Uninvited (Allen, USA, 1944), Hotel Monterey (Akerman, France, 1972), News from Home (Akerman, France, 1977)

Rewatches: His Girl Friday (Hawks, USA, 1946), Paris, Texas (Wenders, Germany/USA, 1984).

Friday, October 25, 2013

Kurosawa, Cinephilia, and Seven Samurai

Kurosawa is part of a contentious tradition now with Bergman and early Fellini in cinephilia for not making "open" movies. The main claim would be that their perfectly executed, pictorial frames do not allow for interpretation beyond what they present. These films do not require explanation in the way that their counterparts - Mizoguchi, Rosselini (only the latter works) and Antonioni respectively – make films that are only legible to those who have truly engaged with cinema. While I could point to Andrew Tracy’s piece in Cinema Scope at the time of the AK100 Criterion set (“prompts the question of why his presence among the most active and engaged sectors of present-day cinephilia feels so pallid,” a sentence that certainly doesn’t engage in any sort of exclusion process) or even David Bordwell’s defeatist attitude (“I still find most of his official classics overbearing, and the last films seem to me flabby exercises”), this would be falsely presumptuous to lay the blame on contemporary shoulders.

Instead, we can go all the way back to Cahiers Du Cinema to find the origins of such debate. Luc Moullet on Drunken Angel: “Its aesthetic pretensions…surpass in their grotesqueness anything even the European Cinema has produced,” and Ikiru: “As for the ending with the swing, confronted by such a piece of idiocy and affectation the audience is left speechless.” Jacques Rivette too, who notes “those ‘picturesqure qualities that made for the facile success of The Seven Samurai, of which we may now rightly ask whether it was especially aimed at the export market.” And Godard’s famous comment, “merely a more elegant Ralph Habib.”  Bazin was more cautious, noting his own (and I’d admit my own) preference for Mizoguchi, while writing “I wonder whether, instead of considering Kurrosawa’s cosmopolitanism as a commercial compromise, albeit of superior quality, we should not rather see it from now on as a dialectical progression pointing the way forward for the Japanese cinema.”*

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Three Images for the Day (10/15/13)

Ordet (Dreyer, Denmark, 1955)
Only Yesterday (Stahl, USA, 1933)
The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, Denmark, 1928)

Only Yesterday image courtesy Gina Telaroli.

Monday, October 14, 2013

NYFF Capsules

While I’ve been podcasting through much of NYFF, I did not have that much chance to talk about my two favorite works at the festival, and one of high merit. Capsules below:

Only Yesterday (John M. Stahl, USA, 1933)
Few will be able to question a dogmatic stance that John Stahl’s Only Yesterday is a towering masterpiece of the classical melodrama given its rarity (not even on VHS!), but be assured such a work is deserving of the praise. As soon as the film’s seemingly trivial depiction of Black Tuesday (but delightfully so—suicide never seemed so funny) begins to feel staid, Stahl suddenly shifts toward innocent love, bitter disappointment, and ultimately the value of life an unappreciated life. John Boles moves through his wife’s fancy dinner party, unable to answer any questions about the crisis until he locks himself in his office. With the gun loaded, he notices a private letter for him, leading him down memory lane to a young woman named Mary Lane (Margaret Sullivan) he met during the war and then abandoned, while she became the woman who does not forget (for reasons both emotional and physical). Movement seems to be the game that Stahl plays. Either the camera moves, or the characters move, often in opposition, passing just for a second. The narrative involves passing movements as well, these rare chances when diagonals of life can finally cross, but only for a moment, and one that may lack recognition (Stahl’s was the first adaptation of Letters from an Unknown Woman, but where Ophuls highlights physical tragedy, Stahl turns toward the metaphysical). A meet cute ends first as a comedy, secondly as a tragedy, and thirdly as something beyond us entirely, a navigation of emotional territory rarely felt in the American (or any) cinema. When the two lovers finally collide first via a slow exchange of silent close-ups and then finally via words, each phrase out of Boles’s mouth is an emotional dagger, cutting right into Sullivan’s heart. But her continued gaze and affectation is the core of the film—she is willing to let this man reveal his own hollowness, and unwilling to believe their night was not destiny. Sullivan comes from a theatrical background, but her close-ups stand in stark relief, a blank face also a canvas of tears held back. While it’s wrong to create pointless value judgements, Stahl does silent, black and white close-ups in a way that rival any devastation created by Douglas Sirk, sometimes letting the gaze of Sullivan carry all the pain in a way much riskier than a gambit by Sirk’s spilling of emotions. His work is toward a quiet reverence that always respects its protagonist, and never once falters toward anything of pity. She is a triumph of human testament to live despite (a word beyond her vocabulary). The ending of Only Yesterday, both in terms of narrative and the carefully constructed mise-en-scene of the final bedroom, brings to mind Dreyer’s Ordet. There is no literal transcendence for this melodrama, but there is instead an emotional one.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Link Round-Up: NYFFing It Up

These people are having way more fun than most of my first dates do.
The New York Film Film Festival ends this weekend, but my coverage is only about halfway complete, starting with this piece (my first) for Reverse Shot on the latest Romanian comedy, Corneliu Porumboiu's When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism. It's a strange little work that tries to articulate a number of concerns related to art and theory, and I hope the piece (made palatable by Reverse Shot's tremendous editor, Michael Koresky) is worth your time, especially if you've seen it.

On podcast duties, there are two for you - first up, how about some experimental cinema? Views From the Avant-Garde featured over 200 films this year, and somehow fellow Columbia alum and now OSU PhD candidate James Hansen joined me to work through films by Luther Price, Nathaniel Dorsky, Jodie Mack, Stephanie Barber, and a few more. Back in something a little more mainstream (though not by much), Boston's darling Monica Castillo talks about the latest from the Coens, Tsai Ming-Liang, Phillipe Garrell, and Joanna Hogg from the festival.

To Be (Cont'd) continues this month with a discussion on Francis Ford Coppola's Twixt between Bill Ryan and Keith Uhlich. Ryan gets the ball rolling here.

On Letterboxd: Russian Ark, Il Grido, The Rapture, Written on the Wind, Trent's Last Case, and Paid To Love.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Masters of Cinema, Red River, and Me

Big News! I am pleased to announce that I'm joining the team at Masters of Cinema to be a occasional booklet editor. What is Masters of Cinema, you say? In short, they are the "Criterion Collection" of the United Kingdom, and have put out many of the same films with the highest quality transfers. They've also put out things you can't get in the United States, like Le Pont Du Nord, Van Gogh, and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, and then they've done releases for major works like Lang's M, Ozu's Floating Weeds, The Blue Angel, and next year Computer Chess! (you can see a full list here). More than that, each booklet is more than just an essay, but a collection of canonical articles, interviews, and rare photos to go with it. The upcoming Mizoguchi box set, for example, has a booklet that runs 344 pages!

My first big project, as it turned out, happened to be a favorite: Howard Hawks's Red River. It's an excellent transfer of this amazing film, and the booklet I edited includes essays by Andrew Sarris and Suzanne Liandrat-Guigues, plus interviews with editor (and The Thing credited director) Christian Nyby and writer Borden Chase. The Blu-Ray also features a video conversation with two of my favorite cinephiles: Dan Sallitt and Jaime Christley. Finally, I have a small essay in the booklet as well, talking about the differences between the now canonical Book Version and the rarer, hard to find Voice Version. 

Anyways, major thanks to Craig Keller for bringing me on the team—it's a total honor to work with and investigate these fantastic films and bring them all to you. As a treat to get you all excited, one of the things I pulled during my archival research was The Chisholm Trail, the original short story by Borden Chase that ran in the Saturday Evening Post starting on December 7, 1946. We didn't have room for it in the book, and since it is now out of copyright, I am presenting the first part here for your reading enjoyment—the second chapter should be especially interesting for fans of the film, as it paints Joanne Dru's Tess in a very different light. Enjoy!