Looking back, then: "I thought it was a very well put-together piece of schwarmerei." That's Orson Welles, giving his assessment of Casablanca (1942) in the early 80s, as quoted by Noah Isenberg for the Paris Review. Isenberg's new book, We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie, will be out any moment now.
"Provocative, slangy and typically running well under 90 minutes, the pre-Production Code Hollywood movies of the early 1930s can be addictive," writes J. Hoberman in the New York Times. "Warner Archive has been issuing—and is now reissuing—pre-Code movies under the rubric Forbidden Hollywood…. The third volume features six films by, and a documentary devoted to, the work of William A. Wellman (1896-1975)…. The most virtuosic of the anthologized movies is Other Men’s Women … On one hand, the movie is an industrial-strength ballet mécanique: Wellman stages a number of scenes atop and inside speeding freight trains. On the other, it celebrates the American vernacular in the form of Central California whistle-stops, working-class bungalows and Joan Blondell’s impersonating a tipsy hash-slinger out for a night on the town."
Hotel (1967), directed by Richard Quine, "is junk," writes Mark Harris for Film Comment, "but it is fascinating, revealing junk, heavy with an anxious, dawning knowledge that its era is about to end; the nominally opulent production values hang on the film like a slightly stale cologne that’s been slapped on to mask something worse."
Anatole Litvak's Blues in the Night (1941) "was released in a sweet spot just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor (22 days prior, to be precise), when studio/government saber-rattling was ramped up but before American war entry, when rah-rah propaganda to support the effort became nearly obligatory," writes Justin Stewart, also for Film Comment. "The timing might help explain the film’s loose-leash oddness—the unique mashing of genres (noir, musical, melodrama) that makes it close to sui generis."
And one more from Film Comment: Farran Smith Nehme gives us a lovely remembrance of the late Michèle Morgan, noting that in many of the obituaries in December, "her appeal is often missing—that smoky drift of sex and vulnerability that makes her best performances clutch at your heart."
At photogénie, Anke Brouwers reports on the recent Women and the Silent Screen conference: "In their own stubborn, self-assured, sometimes eccentric and always norm-defying ways—these female film pioneers led active, sometimes successful, sometimes frustrating lives at the center (or at the fringes) of the new art and industry. What these women had in common was pluck, nerve, and persistence."
"In Hollywood, [Fritz] Lang was considered somewhat of a tyrant on set and developed a nasty reputation among actors who found him difficult or impossible to work with," writes Kimberly Lindbergs at Streamline. Joan Bennett "seems to have triggered something maternal, sympathetic or amorous (rumors of an affair circulated on set) in the director. In her autobiography, Bennett described Lang as, 'exacting and demanding… sometimes abrasive.' She also explains that she had great respect for his talents adding, 'I performed better under his direction than at any other time in my career.'"
The recent passing of Debbie Reynolds has Bruce LaBruce thinking at the Talkhouse Film about "the spunky star’s film career, and, in some ways, how underappreciated she was." Her performances in Robert Mulligan's The Rat Race (1960) and Vincente Minnelli's Goodbye Charlie (1964) "in particular demonstrate a range and depth largely untapped in previous films."
By Leigh Singer for Sight & Sound
Also at the Talkhouse, Tony Palmer looks back on working with Frank Zappa on 200 Motels (1971): "When we met, he gave me 'the script' of his project—300 pages, some handwritten, some paste-ups, some incomprehensible, a few lyrics, and a frequent use of the word 'penis.' Ah, I said. He wanted me to 'visualize' it, he said. Ah, I said."
Recent Criterion essays:
- Michael Almereyda on Kirsten Johnson's Cameraperson (2016), "a buoyant film about the weight of the world."
- Michael Koresky on Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Fox and His Friends (1975), in which "economic fate and emotional fate become one and the same, and the social creature that is a human being shows himself to be irredeemable, whether exploiting or exploited."
- Ashley Clark on Ousmane Sembène's Black Girl (1966), "a brisk, memorably pointed tale based on one of his own short stories."
"Whether by design or simply unintended resemblance, film became the medium in which Freudian approaches to understanding the mind and its operations went global," writes Geoff Pevere for the TIFF Review. "Nothing marked the convergence of psychoanalytic practice and the movie-going experience quite as literally and vividly as dream sequences."
David Davidson: "There’s a beautiful idea at the heart of the 100th issue of Trafic, which is to get 36 different writers to write their equivalent of Serge Daney’s 'Tracking Shot in Kapo'—to reflect on an important essay or film book that has personally marked them. The issue is at its best when the essays are the closest to the original spirit of Daney’s journal: cinephile, erudite, personal, heartfelt and as Deleuze would characterize Daney’s thought, both optimistic and pessimistic."
Leading video essay proponent Kevin B. Lee is blogging again, and he'll keep it up throughout his residency at the Harun Farocki Institut in Berlin, that is, at least through March.
Terence Nance's new short is "the unauthorized, heavily abridged, biographical, visual and supersonic moment about the fact that Johnny Allen Hendrix (aka Jimi Hendrix) knew how to skydive"
The new Brooklyn Rail features the first part of essay by Madison Brookshire that'll run over the next three issues, "Even The Dead Will Not Be Safe: Montage, History, and Cutting Art Museums." The February issue also features Rich Blint on James Baldwin on film and Keith Sanborn on Wolfgang Staehle, who's "given us, in his extended digital photographic record of Ludlow Street, not one but ten recordings of 24 hours each."
"A pulp legend onto itself," writes Michael Atkinson in Brooklyn Magazine, "Walter Hill’s 1979 The Warriors begins and ends under the Coney Island Wonder Wheel, but this isn’t the Coney of Morris Engel’s Little Fugitive (1953), when the resort town itself and its sky-high distractions epitomized the postwar leisure life America had earned with its worry and suffering and loss, as well as with the middle-class prosperity that followed…. Hill’s New York is of a different vintage, a spray-painted wasteland of peak crime and poverty and crumbling infrastructure, a place in which people were forced to live but did not willingly visit. In fact, the Abe Beame/Ed Koch-era New York on view here is more familiar to us than other eras’, if only because the films of the American New Wave, of which Hill was an adjunct, documented it so acutely."
"Isn’t it the job of an actor to play what he or she is not?" asks Graham Daseler in Bright Lights.
Kazuo Ishiguro on George Cukor's Holiday (1938)
Omar Ahmed has launched a series on Indian Parallel Cinema.
For Musings, Mike D'Angelo revisits The Counselor (2013), written by Cormac McCarthy, directed by Ridley Scott, and starring Michael Fassbender, Pénélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz, and Brad Pitt: "Not many people would salivate at a description like 'what you might get if you gene-spliced a slow-motion multi-car accident with a freshman comparative philosophy seminar.' (That’s not from a negative review—it’s my own best précis.) But not every movie needs to appeal to every taste. And a movie that makes a lot of folks mad is always more interesting than a movie that makes everyone shrug."
Writing for Film International, Christopher Weedman recommends "watching both versions of J’accuse as evidence of how Abel Gance was able to successfully reconfigure the original 1919 narrative for a new and equally important historical context." In 1938.
Also in Film International, David Finkelstein on Lynne Sachs's Tip of My Tongue (2017), "an 80-minute examination of one generation’s complex and diverse navigation between public and private experience."
"Provocative, politically engaged and formally daring, the films of the postwar generation of Japanese directors that emerged during the 1960s presented a rupture with the country’s studio-dominated past," writes Jasper Sharp at the top of his primer on the Japanese New Wave for the BFI.
"The go-to reference work in English about Naruse's films is Dan Sallitt's A Mikio Naruse Companion: Notes on the Extant Films, 1931-1967," writes Craig Keller at the top of his entry on Repast (1951).
Studio Ghibli's "independence affords its creators the luxury of protesting their industry’s innovative extremes, a last stand that’s become messy and thrilling as Ghibli’s aging founders seem to be winging it," writes Justin Charity at the Ringer.
Os&1s has posted a conversation with n+1 film critic A.S. Hamrah. The point of departure is Godard on Godard, a collection of Jean-Luc Godard’s film criticism written from 1950-1967, edited and translated by Tom Milne, whose notes, for Hamrah, "are equally as fascinating and illuminating."
For more interviews, many, many more interviews, see Monday's roundup.
IN OTHER NEWS
Hungary Today reports that "Dutch researchers at the Amsterdam-based EYE Film Institute have discovered one of the oldest extant Hungarian films: A Munkászubbony (The Work Jacket), first shown on January 12th, 1915. Lost for decades, The Work Jacket is one of the longest Hungarian silent films of the era."
The Berlinale juries are set and the festival's announced that an Honorary Golden Bear will be presented to costume designer Milena Canonero, while Berlinale Cameras will be awarded to producer Nansun Shi, Geoffrey Rush and film critic and author Samir Farid. The 67th edition opens on Thursday and runs through February 19.
The Tribeca Film Festival's announced that its 16th edition will open with Chris Perkel's documentary Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives on April 19. "The premiere will be followed by a special concert featuring performances by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Jennifer Hudson, Earth, Wind & Fire, and many more, taking opening night beyond the screen to honor the legendary music executive and producer." The festival then runs through April 30.
"What Los Angeles needs is its own version of Wavelengths, in which the experimental/avant garde meets the international leading-edge, in a program that extends over several days to a week, hopefully in a setting which encourages walking and taking public transit." That's Robert Koehler, writing for filmjourney about a week ago. Locarno in Los Angeles is not a direct fulfillment of that need, but the festival, whose inaugural edition will run from April 21 through 23, is pretty unique, bringing over ten titles from last summer's Locarno Film Festival. Co-curated by Koehler and Acropolis Cinema founder Jordan Cronk.
Trailer for Val Guest's Expresso Bongo (1959)
"Mel Brooks has been named this year’s recipient of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts’ Fellowship," reports Robert Mitchell for Variety.
Amanda Kernell’s Sámi Blood has won the Dragon Award for Best Nordic Feature at the Göteborg International Film Festival, reports Jorn Rossing Jensen at Cineuropa. Also, Jesper W. Nielsen’s The Day Will Come has won Best Danish Film and Best Original Screenplay at the Danish Film Academy awards, the Roberts. And, as Aurore Engelen reports, Bouli Lanners's The First, the Last has won Best Film and Best Director at the Magritte Awards in Belgium.
The San Francisco Film Society has announced that Michael Almereyda will be "the inaugural recipient of the Sloan Science in Cinema Filmmaker Fellowship, which will support the development of the screenplay for his upcoming narrative feature project about Nikola Tesla."
"The 2017 Texas Film Awards are coming up on March 9, and the Austin Film Society has just announced the full lineup of honorees," reports the Chronicle's Marjorie Baumgarten. "Add actress Shirley MacLaine and producer Sarah Green to the previously announced honorees: filmmakers Jeff Nichols and Hector Galán, and actor Tye Sheridan."
"Published by UnionDocs Center for Documentary Art, World Records brings together the voices of scholars, critics, makers, and curators who offer new and complex perspectives on documentary to challenge and extend its margins." And the first call for submissions has just gone out. Via Catherine Grant.
IN THE WORKS
From Rebecca Ford and Alex Ritman in the Hollywood Reporter: "Eva Green and Gemma Arterton will star in drama Vita & Virginia, based on the true story of the love affair and friendship between literary icon Virginia Woolf and author Vita Sackville-West. The film will be directed by British helmer Chanya Button (Burn Burn Burn) from a script by Eileen Atkins based on her own play of the same name, which debuted in 1992."
"Alec McCowen, who has died aged 91, was an actor of dazzling technical brilliance whose career encompassed the classics, new plays, two remarkable one-man shows and an abundance of TV and film, including lead roles in 1972 in Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy and George Cukor’s Travels With My Aunt." The Guardian's Michael Billington: "'I have always wanted to be an entertainer rather than an actor,' McCowen once wrote, but the truth is he was both: he could immerse himself in a character but also hold an audience spellbound."
"Richard Hatch, the Golden Globe nominee who starred on both the original Battlestar Galactica TV series as well as the mid-2000s reboot, died Tuesday after a battle with cancer. He was 71." Aaron Couch has more in the Hollywood Reporter.
Peet Gelderblom has a new series at Filmscalpel, Pretty Messed Up, introduced by David Verdeure: "Movie mash-ups are perhaps the most cheeky of video essays…. The videos of Peet Gelderblom take the mash-up into conceptual territory, fully using the form’s potential as a tool for essayist critique and questioning."
Browse on via links roundups from the Film Doctor and John Wyver. Recent roundups at DC's: Arthur Lipsett and Leos Carax.