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Showing posts from June, 2007

Serious Book Recommendation

I want to pull your coat to an excellent book that will be officially published in August, but which you can order right now. Take yourself to the website for Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals About the Mind by Margalit Fox. Now, as many of you know, Ms. Fox is a very talented journalist who writes obituaries for the New York Times; she also is, coincidentally, my wife. However, I am telling you sincerely and utterly without bias, that Talking Hands is an elegantly structured, stunningly clear book that elucidates the complexities of human language, a topic that should be of interest to anyone who is concerned with film.

Huh? You're asking why an interest in film should be accompanied by an interest in language. Perhaps I'm showing my age by noting that when I was in film school the structuralists and their offspring held sway, and a grounding in linguistics would have come in handy. One thing that Ms. Fox's book proved to me -- albeit quite indirectly -- is that th…

A Silky, Smooth Way to Die

Jean-Pierre Melville's 1962 film, Le Doulos, opens today at Film Forum and you should dash over and see it sometime in the next two weeks. In some ways, it's something of a dry run for his masterpiece, Le Samourai, a coolly deliberate, methodical noir, immersed totally in the mores and culture of a higly stylized French underworld. Of course, those of you who are just recovering from the end of The Sopranos will immediately recognize the utter falseness of this picture of criminal behavior and code, but Melville is without irony, a moralist to the core and, as Tim Cawkwell suggests in his intelligent (if not entirely convincing) The Filmgoer's Guide to God, creator of an existential world in which ethics takes on the role of faith.

As is the case in almost all of Melville's gangster films, the plot is vastly more complicated than it would be in a comparable American genre film. (The same may be said of Leone's westerns, which raises an interesting question: are thes…

Thrills Galore in the New Anthology Schedule

The three-month schedule for Anthology Film Archives came in the mail yesterday and the programming there for July through September is so exciting that I almost shrieked out loud in the bank. I'll just give you the highlights, of which there are many.

The theatrical premiere of Pedro Costa's Colossal Youth, along with six more features and three shorts by Costa;Four melodramas by Vincente Minnelli (on whom I did my long-ago master's thesis);A complete retrospective of the late Bill Douglas, including a documentary his life and work;A large Abraham Polonsky series that includes all three of his features and several films he wrote, including Don Siegel's Madigan, as well as Thom Anderson and Noel Burch's Red Hollywood;A huge Norman Mailer retrospective, with all of his films and some other oddities;Fassbinder's Bremen Freedom, which I don't recall having been shown in NYC since it was made in 1972;A series highlighting the work of three of the great Latin Ame…

A Woman's Touch

Last night I had the interesting experience of watching two films directed by Ida Lupino, The Bigamist and Outrage, on TCM. I'm surprised that no one has talked about Lupino and her ex-husband/producing partner Collier Young as pioneers of American independent cinema. Here are two films that essentially were made at the fringes of the studio system, dealing with issues that were largely taboo in Hollywood. They aren't great films -- Sarris is rather uncharitable in his assessment of Lupino in The American Cinema, she isn't a fluid director -- but they are interesting and, for the very early '50s, quite courageous.

What struck me about the two films is that Lupino's ostensible feminism, while thematically quite real, is not focussed on the empowerment of her female characters. The mere fact that she could make films about a rape victim (Outrage), out-of-wedlock children (Not Wanted and The Bigamist) speaks volumes about her concerns, but what is interesting about the…

You've got about 24 hours to catch up with the Kaurismaki

Yeah, I screwed up good. I confess and I apologize. If you are a regular reader of this blog you have a good idea what's been going on this month and won't be surprised that this happened. If you aren't, scroll down and read on.

Now, apologies out of the way, let me tell you to run to the IFC Center in Manhattan and see Lights in the Dusk, the last film in Aki Kaurismaki's "loser" trilogy. I never saw Drifting Clouds, the first film of this trio, but it's not hard to see how this deliciously deadpan black comedy fits with The Man Without a Past, the second film. This is minimalist narrative filmmaking at its most impressively precise, without a single false step.

Briefly, Lights in the Dusk -- a title more optimistic than the film itself -- is about Koistinen, a security guard at an ultramodern, glass-enclosed, soulless shopping arcade, who is seduced and set up by a blonde so icy she makes Hitchcock's glacial goddesses look like Tex Avery cartoons. …

Help Me Make Some Money

Hey, you know I'm worth it.

So click on the ads that appear on this site -- no not the political stuff I post on the side of the page -- although you should definitely click on those too -- but the banner ads up top (so far, mercifully small and for good causes, but I can't guarantee that will continue). If you click on these, I may see some money from the folks at Google.

Surely you'd rather it went to me than, say, Dick "I'm not part of the executive branch, I'm just hanging around looking busy" Cheney.

Here's Another Film for Your Ten-Best Lists

No, it's not the Kaurismaki (hey, I didn't lie, I just haven't told the truth; I was thinking of a job with the Bush administration).

Joking aside, Pascale Ferran's Lady Chatterley opens today in NYC, and it is an absolute must. When it played at Tribeca I wrote this:

Where has Pascale Ferran been for the last ten years? Her first feature, Petits arrangements avec les morts, was a wonder, her second, L’Âge des possibles,, I remember as something of a disappointment, but I’d be lying if I said I could remember anything more specific about it. Then she vanished from the radar here. She has a 1997 screenplay credit, Eat Your Soup, directed by Mathieu Amalric, then nine years of silence. So it was with as much wonder as anticipation that I awaited her new film Lady Chatterley, which had already won five Cesars including Best French Film and Best Actress for Marina Hands in the title role. More significantly, the reviews were uniformly enthusiastic and I have to admit that th…

Thrilling News on the DVD Front

Yeah, I know, I'm supposed to be telling you about the Kaurismaki (you know, I had to look up the spelling of his last name -- Aki wasn't too hard, thought). And I will do so shortly.

But Dave Kehr has some news on his blog that is much too exciting not to spread around. Rumor has it that we can expect a big box set of John Ford silents from Fox sometime near the end of the year. Kehr talks about it at length here.

Now wasn't that worth dropping everything for?

General Housekeeping

I'll have something to say about the new Aki Kaurismaki in the next day or so. For the moment, however, just a couple of notes.

I'm considering adding advertising to this page, mainly because being a full-time freelance writer is so goddamned remunerative. If you are opposed to this change, quite frankly I agree with you. There's too much advertising on-line and elsewhere. As regular readers know, I live in New York City and there are times when I'm awestruck by the grotesque ingenuity with which corporations foist their drivel on the urban landscape, not to mention the incredible annoyance of being bombarded with glorified TV commercials at the movies and ballparks. I'd love to tell you the old Soupy Sales line about taking those pictures of the presidents from Mommy and Daddy and mailing them to your old pal George, but I guess I'll let the opportunity pass me by. I'm not saying, by the way, that I'm definitely going to put advertising here, just that …

New Italian Films at the Walter Reade

The Film Society of Lincoln Center is midway into their annual survey of Italian film, a program that has become as important as the Rendezvous with French Cinema. This year, I've been up to my ass in alligators for almost all of the press screenings, but I did manage to see on film for Jewish Week, and my review, which did appear on their pages, didn't make it to the website. So here it is:

In the eight months following his liberation from Auschwitz and recovery from typhoid and malnutrition, Primo Levi took a roundabout journey home from Poland by way of Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Romania, Austria and Germany. He documented that strange odyssey in his second book, “The Truce” (also know as “The Reawakening”), a surprisingly humorous and immensely moving volume that should be as well known as his more famous writings about the death camps.

It is that volume, rather than its better-known brethren, that is the jumping-off point for a new documentary by Davide Ferrario, “P…

Another Film Festival on Its Way

Just a quick note to pull your coat to the New York Asian Film Festival 2007, which will be playing at the Japan Society and the IFC Center starting June 22. With so much of the world's most interesting films coming from Taiwan, Korea and Thailand these days, this is an event well worth your time. Besides, where else could you see "a screening of Pakistan’s first splatter film, HELL’S GROUND, with the producers and director in attendance and a magical mystery tour of Pakistani exploitation cinema featuring highlights from some of its most infamous movies, personally selected by the madmen behind the Mondo Macabro DVD label" -- you really can't make this stuff up and why would you want to?

You can check the festival website here, but you'll pardon me if I'm more interested in the retro screening of John Woo's Hardboiled or Patrick Tam's After This Our Exile (an appropriate title for his first directorial effort in 17 years), than in a Pakistani splatter…

More sadness

When I noted the death of our female cat Stella in a recent post, I never suspected that I would be reporting less than two week later that her brother Walter would be following her so soon. What we thought was the inevitable outcome of Stella's liver problems turned out to be something else, either a contagious disease or something that both cats ingested somewhere in the apartment. And sometime around 2-3 a.m. Friday, Walter died, too. I buried him next to his sister in one of his favorite cardboard boxes, with an old sweater of Margo's and a down vest of mine, both of which he had annexed for himself. Suddenly the apartment is uncomfortably quiet, especially at night, and I am dreading Monday when I will find myself here alone for the first time in over seven years.

Stan Brakhage on the Radio

Have I mentioned UbuWeb and the Internet Archive before? (Hey I've been doing this for 18 months and if you think I remember every post, you're giving me way too much credit, but I appreciate the vote of confidence.)

UbuWeb and the Internet Archive are two of the great resources available on the Internet, repositories of vast amounts of film, music, radio and text that runs the gamut from B westerns and live concert tapes (on the Archive) to Ubu's incredible collection of avant-garde radio programming. It's all free and, so far as I can tell, legal, right there for your downloading pleasure.

The reason I raise this now is that UbuWeb has recently added a really thrilling collection, a 20-episode radio show that the late Stan Brakhage recorded in 1982 at the University of Colorado radio station, KAIR. In addition to the shows themselves as MP3 files, they also have a PDF file of complete transcriptions of the programs. I have very mixed feelings about Brakhage as a filmma…

Beefing Up the Ten-Best List

Well, it's been a great week for new releases in New York City. (If you don't live here, my apologies and condolences). I'm pretty sure that two of the new releases playing in town will be on my ten-best list come the new year (the secular new year -- not Rosh Hashanah, although it might be amusing to do a Jewish ten-best list every fall).

The first is one of the delayed openings from last fall's New York Film Festival, Manoel de Oliveira's delicious Bunuel hommage, Belle Toujours. Back in October this is what I wrote and I see no reason to take back a word:

Of the handful of films I managed to see in the first two weeks of screenings for the New York Film Festival, Manoel de Oliveira's latest offering, Belle Toujours, a sprightly sequel to Bunuel's Belle de Jour, is by far the most satisfying. At slightly over an hour in length, the film is compact, funny and elegantly crafted by the soon-to-be 98-year-old director, at once a loving tribute to his fellow Ibe…