July 22, 2014
I Love Melvin

A brief piece about a sweet film. The L Magazine, July 21.

The MGM musical I Love Melvin paired its young romantic leads - Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor - a year after their work together in Singin’ in the Rain. The film was one of five 1953 titles directed by Don Weis, whose others included an additional charming musical with Reynolds called The Affairs of Dobie Gillis. Weis would spend the bulk of his subsequent career working in television, where he would direct multiple episodes of shows including The Jack Benny ProgramIronsideM*A*S*HHawaii Five-OFantasy Island, and Remington Steele.

I Love Melvin will screen in New York at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) on Tuesday as part of the ongoing film series “Overdue,” co-hosted by film critics Nick Pinkerton and Nicolas Rapold. The film will screen on HDCam in a double-feature with Weis’s lavish 1954 musical The Adventures of Hajji Baba, whose color CinemaScope frames will appear within a new DCP restoration.   

July 16, 2014
The Tall T

A capsule review of a strong Western. The L Magazine, July 16.

The Tall T will be screening in New York at Anthology Film Archives on a 35mm print as part of the film series “Elmore Leonard (1925-2013),” which features several of the nineteen film adaptations of novels and stories by the recently deceased American writer. The series’s other highlights include Get ShortyHombreJackie Brown (Leonard’s favorite film adaptation of his work), Out of Sight, and the original film version of 3:10 to Yuma.

This last film was released in the same year as The Tall T, whose screenplay was adapted by Burt Kennedy from the Leonard story “The Captives.” (The source stories for both films can be found in the book The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard.) The lone Leonard adaptation written by Kennedy - a prolific author of Western screenplays and teleplays as well as a director of several film Westerns - was his second of four scripts filmed with director Budd Boetticher and lead actor Randolph Scott, following Seven Men from Now and preceding Ride Lonesome and Comanche Station.

The direct, straightforward storytelling powers and firm moral sensibilities of Boetticher and Scott merged for three additional Westerns that they made without Kennedy’s involvement - Decision at SundownBuchanan Rides Alone, and Westbound. This group of seven total films is informally known today as the Ranown Cycle, named after Scott’s production company. 

Boetticher struggled to make films after the Cycle’s close, in particular spending over a decade on the realization of a documentary about his friend the bullfighter Carlos Arruza. By the time of Arruza's 1971 release, Scott had long since retired from screen acting, having chosen to go out on a high note. The actor believed that his immediate post-Ranown Cycle performance as an aging former lawman called back into action in the Sam Peckinpah-directed film Ride the High Country was of a quality that he could never again meet.  

July 15, 2014
The Max Linder Collection

A capsule review of “The Max Linder Collection,” a new DVD release from the American distributor Kino Lorber. Film Comment, July/August 2014 (print-only). 

The DVD contains four restored films by the great silent comedian Max Linder - the features The Three Must-Get-TheresBe My Wife, and Seven Years Bad Luck and the short Max Wants a Divorce. In his brief life Linder made more than 400 films, around 80 of which still exist to be enjoyed.

The pleasures of Linder’s cinema can also be felt through the influence he had on younger comic auteurs. Charles Chaplin considered Linder his master, and Pierre Etaix fashioned much of his beautiful film Yoyo in tribute to Linder’s work. 

July 14, 2014
Re-creation: Olhar de Cinema

An article about the third edition of a promising Brazilian film festival, whose name is Portuguese for “Cinema Gaze.” Fandor, June 21.

This was my first year in attendance at the Olhar de Cinema Curitiba International Film Festival, and I would be happy to return. The third edition’s highlights, in addition to those mentioned in the Fandor piece, included CarrancaDr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the BombEyes Wide ShutFull Metal JacketGranpa’s RazorHard to be a GodThe IncompleteMaster Blaster – An Adventure of Hans Lucas on nebulosa 2907NPaths of GloryThe Second Game2001: A Space Odyssey, and Zanj Revolution. The festival is small, but its program is strong.

July 7, 2014
Olhar de Cinema

A listing of award winners at the third and most recent edition of a promising Brazilian film festival. Olhar de Cinema’s website, June 6. This listing is in English; the Portuguese-language version can be found here.

I was pleased to serve on the New Views Competition jury at this year’s edition of the Olhar de Cinema (“Cinema Gaze”) Curitiba International Film Festival. The Competition’s three jurors - French film programmer Charlene Dinhut, Brazilian film researcher Ilana Feldman, and I - awarded our top prize to From gulf to gulf to gulf and an Honorable Mention to Time Goes By Like a Roaring Lion.

An article about the festival written for the website Fandor will soon be posted on this site.

July 4, 2014
Derek Jarman: The World Is All

An article about a great artist’s films. Fandor, June 8.

The piece discusses work by the inimitable Derek Jarman, whose life is being celebrated this year in England through the ongoing cultural festival “Jarman2014.”

I focus on Jarman’s feature films, though the director also made brilliant short work, including his segment of the omnibus feature Aria, his many music videos, and the likely innumerable films that he recorded in Super 8. His skills as a filmmaker existed alongside his talents as a gardener, installation artist, painter, sculptor, set designer, and writer. Cinema was an art form that gave him room to explore many others.

One way in which his legacy is felt today is through the impact he had on younger filmmakers, such as this site’s recent interview subject Joanna Hogg, who shot her first film with a Super 8 camera that Jarman had given her.     

July 3, 2014
Two to tango: Argentine films at BAFICI 2014

An article about some of the local fare at a wonderful international film festival. Sight & Sound (online-only), June 13.

The piece discusses five Argentine films that screened at the most recent edition of the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema, better-known as BAFICI.

These films were far from the only notable works at the 16th edition of BAFICI, though, much of whose appeal lay in the delightful grab-bag nature of its programming. One can sift through the catalogue for the festival’s most recent edition and find information about a vast array of new and older shorts and feature-length films hailing from many different countries and screening in several different projection formats. 

A guest at BAFICI this year could enjoy strong films including 3x3D, The 15th Stone, 20,000 Days on Earth, The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes, The Airstrip, Altar, The Archipelago, Arroz con leche, Big, Books, The Boy and the World, Burroughs: The Movie, The Cameraman, cityscapes, Congratulations Manoel de Oliveira: Intrusions, The Conquest of Faro, Correspondence, Costa da Morte, Cuatro corazones, Deus Ex, Dialogue of Shadows, Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater, Elvira Lorelay Alma de Dragão, Eyes, Fat City, Field of Dreams, Forest of Experimentation, Fragile as the World, Grand Illusion, Hoop Dreams, The Invisible Collection, Iranian, Journey to the West, The Last of the Unjust, Life of Riley, Los Angeles Plays Itself, Los Angeles Red Squad: The Communist Situation in California, Mahjong, The Man of the Crowd, Meditations on Revolution, Part I: Lonely Planet, Meditations on Revolution, Part II: The Space in Between, Meditations on Revolution, Part III: Soledad, Memorizing Lou, El Mudo, The Naked Room, Natural Sciences, Norte, the End of History, Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror, La Nuit, Only Lovers Left Alive, Red Hollywood, Redemption, Sentimental Education, Shivers, The Sound of the Shaking Earth, Stray Dogs, The Stuart Hall Project, Tea, Toros, Toros—Field, Toros—Window, Vertical Air, While I’m Singing, and A Woman’s Revenge.

I am certain that my list has excluded several highlights, including the bulk of a nearly all-35mm retrospective devoted to Uri Zohar (a key actor and director in Israeli film history), simply because I didn’t see them. The more good films that a festival screens, the more good films that a viewer will miss.

Two excellent films that screened at BAFICI this year are subjects of forthcoming articles of mine for the Australian Web publication Screen Machine. They are the top prizewinner of the festival’s international competition, a beguiling documentary portrait of the Iranian modernist artist Bahman Mohassess called Fifi Howls from Happiness, and the greatest discovery that I made in BAFICI’s “Restored Classics” sidebar, an indelible Mexican noir film from 1943 called Another Dawn. Links to both pieces will be posted on this site after Issue 7 of Screen Machine goes live.

July 1, 2014
Werner Herzog's Inner Landscapes

An article about two films directed by a young Werner Herzog. Fandor, June 3. 

The piece discusses the wonderful early Herzog films Fata Morgana and Land of Silence and Darkness, both of which have recently been added to Fandor’s viewing library. Fandor’s other titles by the filmmaker, which can be found at its Herzog page, currently include Aguirre, the Wrath of GodCobra VerdeEvery Man for Himself and God Against All (aka The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser), FitzcarraldoHeart of GlassLessons of Darkness, My Best FiendNosferatu the Vampyre (available in both its English-language and German-language versions), Stroszek, and Where the Green Ants Dream

Several of these films count among the director’s best works. Some strong Herzog films not currently available on Fandor include Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Cave of Forgotten DreamsThe Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver SteinerGrizzly Man, Happy People: A Year in the TaigaHeraklesHow Much Wood Would a Woodchuck ChuckLast WordsPortrait Werner HerzogPrecautions Against Fanatics, La Soufrière, and The White Diamond.    

Of additional interest to Herzog fans should be two films about him directed by American documentarian Les Blank, Burden of Dreams and Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.

Herzog’s devotees include the Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Sepúlveda, who took the German director’s work as a point of reference for his excellent recent debut feature, The Quispe Girls. Sepúlveda discusses Herzog’s influence on him with me in a Fandor interview that will be published in early August.  

June 29, 2014

A review of a modern love story. Cineaste, Summer 2014. The article is print-only; copies of the issue can be ordered through the Cineaste website (to which I have linked above).

My article discusses the recent American film Her, directed and written by Spike Jonze (birth name Adam Spiegel). Her is Jonze’s first feature whose screenplay he wrote alone, following two film collaborations with the screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich and Adaptation) and one script co-authored with Dave Eggers (Where the Wild Things Are).   

Many viewers with whom I have spoken have found Her to be narrow-minded in its view of a well-off male loner (played by Joaquin Phoenix) who creates a female electronic Operating System (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) to keep him company inside his large apartment. I sympathize with their feelings, while also finding the film a beautiful study of two individuals confronting a romance’s challenges. Technically, she isn’t human; actually, most of the relationship’s shortcomings are his.

The Cineaste piece gave me occasion to revisit several of Jonze’s music videos, as well as to discover his short film I’m Here, made on a commission from Absolut Vodka. The tale of two robots (played by Andrew Garfield and Sienna Guillory) attempting to build a life together resonates strongly with Her, as well as with Jonze’s other film works. As has often been the case for his films, I’m Here is creepy, misogynistic, and moving.   

June 28, 2014
City Streets

A brief piece about an urban romance. The L Magazine, June 18.

City Streets was the second film directed by Rouben Mamoulian, a humanist artist of Armenian descent who would follow it with his three most celebrated films - his still-shocking screen adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (starring Fredric March), the delightful and risqué musical Love Me Tonight, and the moving melodrama Queen Christina, which stars Greta Garbo in one of her most sympathetic roles.

City Streets was also an important early film for both of its leading actors. The twenty-one year-old Sylvia Sidney would go on to play working-class heroines for much of the 1930s, including in Alfred Hitchcock’s film Sabotage and in Fritz Lang’s first three American films (FuryYou Only Live Once, and You and Me). The thirty year-old Gary Cooper had made his screen debut in Henry King’s The Winning of Barbara Worth five years prior to City Streets and would continue to play leading roles in films for thirty years after its release.

Mamoulian’s film recently screened on 35mm in New York at the IFC Center as part of the theater’s ongoing series "Original Gangsters," which will include a DCP screening of Angels with Dirty Faces tomorrow. The series lineup of important Hollywood gangster films from the 1930s further includes Little CaesarThe Petrified ForestThe Public EnemyThe Roaring Twenties, and Scarface: The Shame of a Nation.

People interested in thinking about how these films and gangster films from other eras relate to each other are advised to read the American writer Robert Warshow’s essay "The Gangster as Tragic Hero," which works as great social analysis in addition to great film criticism.

Additionally, for those interested in strong films and film criticism, I recommend this thought once published by Henry Stewart: “I’ve come to believe the best way to destroy bad art is to ignore it, to elevate what’s great so that audiences and creators alike will see more of it.” Henry elevated great art on a regular basis during his time as The L Magazine's Film Editor, a post from which he has recently stepped down. (His predecessor, Mark Asch, will return to editing the L's Film section.)

His writing often conveys the sense that it is addressed directly to readers, with the hope of introducing them to wonderful films he has seen. Speaking just for myself, Henry has changed my life for the better by giving me opportunities to watch and think about so many gems. I wish him well with his future work.

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