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Showing posts from November, 2006

A Rediscovered Gem -- Are There More Here?

(This piece appears in a slightly shorter version in this week's issue of Jewish Week; however, it is not on their website, and I really want you to go to Brooklyn to check out this series.)


“New Wave” cinemas don’t spring fully formed from the heads of their young maverick directors. They have predecessors, even if only to give the young turks something to rebel against. This is nowhere more apparent than in the former Czechoslovakia, where the highly acclaimed New Wave of the mid-60s had a distinguished but little known set of forebears whose work fits nicely with the great modernist films of the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s.

BAMCinemathek is paying homage to the freewheeling spirit of Czech modernism with a selection of rare films beginning November 30. Among the films being screened are several that testify to the role that Jews and philo-Semites played in Czech cinema when it wasn’t being suppressed by the Nazis or the Stalinist.

Among the most striking of these films, The Distant Journ…

A quick reminder

If it has always been your life's ambition to see me in person . . . you need to do something more interesting with your life.

However, if you still have a yen to tell what you think of me to my face, you will have an excellent opportunity on December 4, two weeks from today, when I am appearing at the Barnes & Noble store at 82nd St. and Broadway in Manhattan at 7 p.m.

According to the listing on one of the many free-events lists for NYC, "Robinson summarizes all 54 portions that make up the Torah and gives us a brilliant distillation of 2000 years of biblical commentaries." Wow! I can't wait to hear that myself! But I guess that means we'll be there for a few weeks.


We're None of Us Getting Younger . . . .

Saw Michael Apted's 49 Up with the b.w. the other night. We've been following the series for 21 years now. I bought her the boxed set that goes up to 42 Up a few birthdays ago, so you can see we're pretty hardcore on this. Indeed, it wouldn't be much of a fighting point to suggest that these films are by far Apted's best work. (What then? His Bond movie?)

The new film is nicely judged and structured, as usual. Everyone from the last two films is back. They all look a bit more haggard, heavier, jowlier. There are several sets of grandkids and a few surprises but, as Margo observed over breakfast, nobody has changed much in the past seven years. Still, it's never dull and although the aging process -- loss of parents, loss of powers -- gives the new film a certain autumnal feeling, it's no more depressing than running into an ex-girlfriend/boyfriend who has put on 40 pounds. (Or looking in the mirror while shaving.)

What I found fascinating personally was how m…

An Apology and a Recommendation

Okay, I went over the top quite a bit in my attack on Hillary Clinton. Let's just say that she is my very last choice among potential Democratic candidates; I would reluctantly vote for her against anyone likely to get the Republican nomination. And, yes, I do hold her and Bill responsible for the health care fiasco; they offered a plan that was all tepid halfway measure and doomed it to failure by the way it was advanced.

Now, back to film. It has been a few months since I saw Fabian Bielinsky's The Aura, but the film left me with some deep, disturbing feelings. Like Bielinsky's Nine Queens, it's a quasi-noir, very much the product of the chaotic Argentine economic situation and the cynicism it bred. A taxidermist on a hunting holiday with a colleague accidentally kills a man and finds himself plunged into a complicated casino heist. Bielinsky, who died in June at the age of 47, joins the very short list of directors felled as they achieved a mastery of their craft -- …

Why the Destruction of the Voice Film Section Matters

There is an excellent rundown on the gutting of the Village Voice film section at The Reeler, a blog on NY film that I hadn't seen before Ira Hozinsky brought it to my attention. As I wrote in the comments section there, if there were other publications that covered the indie/alternative/avant-garde film scene in NY with the same thoroughness and the same clout, the fact that the assholes from New Times chose to wreck the section wouldn't be as significant -- it would be unfortunate because they dumped some good writers (and a few I won't miss), but not potentially tragic.

J.Hoberman remains, albeit with much less space in which to write, a problem for most print journalism today, thanks to TV and the success of the USA Toady (and that's NOT a typo). I don't know Nathan Lee personally, but found his Friday work in the NY Times to be pretty smart, and I'm delighted that he has a full-time job now. (No one should have to be without health insurance in this countr…

"New" Marcel Ophuls film coming up

Marcel Ophuls's career is littered with detours and potholes, sort of like the FDR Drive, but unlike that usually homely stretch of highway (it does look great at dawn, when the East River and Queens are gilded by the rising sun), he has several masterpieces to show for all the travails. Regrettably, he hasn't made a new film since 1994's The Troubles We've Seen, and that one was unshown here in the US for over a decade, except for a couple of one-time-only screenings.

Now Milestone Films has Troubles and will, I assume, be releasing it on DVD sometime soon. However, the film will have a truncated theatrical run at Anthology Film Archives over the weekend of November 17-19. I have already reviewed it for Jewish Week (here), and have nothing to add to that piece, other than to say that, while I think the second half of the film is something of a mess, it is well worth seeing for all the virtues that Ophuls brings to his documentaries, a cunning and sarcastic humor, profo…

Monsters From My Subconscious

Last night I dreamed I was back on the pre-Disney 42nd Street. This was as much my film school as Columbia, a string of last-chance houses where double-bills were the order of the day and you could catch some really great (or lousy) action films for next to nothing. The other great attraction of these theaters was that they opened at 9:30 a.m. and closed at 3:30 a.m. For a lot of working people, this was the only place they could go to a movie after a night shift. For me it was a place I go to a movie before or after class, cheap. (Yeah, and occasionally during class.)

So I dreamt last night that I was back there, early on a weekday morning, looking for a promising pairing. One theater was playing Ryan's Daughter with a title I can't recall now. But the one that remained in my mind after I woke up -- and the reason I'm recounting this fragment at all -- was part of a triple-bill:

Dracula vs. Gandhi

I guess this proves you can make this stuff up. But you have to be asleep to d…

Come Back to the Yurt, Lassie, Honey

Byambasuren Davaa co-directed The Story of the Weeping Camel, an elegant piece of semi-documentary filmmaking that was one of the bigger surprises of 2004. Davaa may not be the first Mongolian filmmaker, but with her new film, The Cave of the Yellow Dog, a solo effort, she becomes the first to inadvertently remake an American chestnut. Think of Yellow Dog as Lassie Come Homewith yak milk. The story is absurdly simple -- girl finds dog, dad hates dog, dad wants to leave dog behind when the family ups stakes and moves on, but dog saves youngest child and joins the family.

Davaa is trying hard to do something with the relationship of her characters to the vast, verdant landscapes of Mongolia, something like a John Ford western I suppose, but she allows her penchant for pictorialism to overwhelm any larger thematic concerns. She also seems bent on using film as a way to preserve a dying nomadic culture; the most telling moments in the film revolve around the encroachment of modern conveni…

Return of a Classic Film Book

I bow to no one in my respect and admiration for David Bordwell. When I was teaching film, I always used Film Art: An Introduction (which he co-authored with Kristin Thomson) as the textbook; it is, quite simply, the best intro film text I have read. His other work is equally important, incisive, insightful.

But one of his most important books -- and I'm told, one of his favorites -- has long eluded my clutching fingers, Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema. It has been out of print for a long time, and even on Bookfinder goes for a couple hundred bucks. But now, hallelujah, the book is available on-line in PDF format. Go here and download a classic.

And there's even more Bordwell at his website.