August 29, 2014
Nuria Ibáñez [on The Naked Room]

An interview with the director of a remarkable recent film. (“500 Words” section), August 29.

The Naked Room is Spain-born filmmaker Nuria Ibáñez’s second feature-length documentary following 2009’s The Tightrope. The film is set entirely inside a children’s hospital in Mexico City and focuses largely on the faces of young people as they tell their stories to doctors during psychiatric consultations.

I haven’t seen anything like The Naked Room before, with its great plainness of form, sensitivity to suffering, and openness to human need. The only film to which I would compare it is Forugh Forrakhzad’s The House is Black - for the two films’ shared recognition of humanity, and for their shared spirit of warmth and kindness towards one’s fellows.

Since 2010 Ibáñez has run the Mexico-based production company Miss Paraguay Productions with director/producer Mercedes Moncada Rodríguez, whose remarkable film Magic Words (Breaking a Spell) received its U.S. theatrical premiere run this past May. 

August 25, 2014
Menahem Golan

August 25: The link above leads to a trailer for the film Love Streams, produced by Menahem Golan, who died August 8 at age 85. 

The Israel-born Golan was known best for prolifically directing and producing popular action films throughout the 1970s and 1980s. During this time, he also used the company he founded, The Cannon Group, to back several smaller arthouse films, such as BarflyShy PeopleTough Guys Don’t Dance, and Jean-Luc Godard’s inimitable King Lear.

Golan’s artisanal productions additionally included the last feature credited to American actor-director-writer John Cassavetes, which recently received its first-ever official North American home video release thanks to The Criterion Collection. This release comes not a moment too soon; Golan and Cassavetes’s collaboration thirty years ago resulted in one of the greatest movies ever made.  

August 24, 2014

A brief piece about a pleasurable film. The L Magazine, August 20.

Goshogaoka, directed by the American filmmaker and still photographer Sharon Lockhart, will be screening in New York on Tuesday, August 26th at Light Industry. This clever and original dance film (made in collaboration with Stephen Galloway, former ballet director of the Frankfurt Opera) will appropriately be screening on a double-bill with the short film A Study in Choreography for Camera, directed by Maya Deren.

The 16mm pairing highlights how the Russia-born choreographer and dancer Deren incorporated dance registers into her foundational American experimental films - which additionally included Meshes of the AfternoonAt Land, Ritual in Transfigured Time, and Meditation on Violence - as well as into her field research on Haitian culture and rituals, which led to her book-length study Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti and to her unfinished film of the same name.

The double-bill also emphasizes the still-living Lockhart’s longtime interest in capturing poetic beauties of everyday motion. Her films are consistently performance records, whether they be set in overtly artistic venues - such as the titular theater of Teatro Amazonas - or in more seemingly mundane settings, such as the workers’ haunts of Lunch Break and Double Tide.    

The film Goshogaoka is closely related to Lockhart’s series of twelve still photographs called Goshogoaka Girls Basketball Team. Lockhart made both works during an artistic residency in Japan, using members of a girls’ basketball team at a high school located in a Tokyo suburb as her actors and models. Below, she briefly discusses the relationships between these two works and their moment’s place within her career:

How did you come to make Goshogaoka? What inspired the film?

Sharon Lockhart: At the time I was looking for ways to make an ethnographic film while on a residency in Japan. I was considering the ways cultures look at each other and also thinking about movement and reading about the pioneers of postmodern dance. After encountering the girls’ basketball team at this high school I thought that all the parts fit together perfectly. Their activities were themselves an interpretation of American culture, so I knew that interpretive models would be foregrounded.

What do you believe to be the relationship between the film and your still photographs of the members of the Goshogaoka girls’ basketball team? 

In a way, the film reads like a photograph, and the photographs read like cinema. The photographs suggest movement and narrative, while the film suggests tableau and close inspection. In the photographs, the girls are aping movement, copying action poses caught by flash photography in magazines.

What place does Goshogaoka hold within the context of your work as an artist?

Goshogaoka started so many things for me. It was my first project working outside the United States and my first attempt at posing questions around intercultural interpretation. It was also my introduction to working formally with choreography. When I looked at the film again recently, I was surprised to see how many aspects of my work on it still seem relevant to me.

August 21, 2014
Heinz Emigholz: building in time

An article about a great filmmaker, published on the occasion of the world premiere of his most recent feature, The Airstrip, at the Berlin International Film Festival this past February. Sight & Sound Online, August 8.

The careful composition of German filmmaker Heinz Emigholz's The Airstrip presents both man-made and natural spaces in the service of an argument about how contemporary architecture reflects the path that the world has taken since the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing the utopian ethos of Modernism and leading to a time when, writes Emigholz, “to ‘level a city’ became a new architectonic term.” In its questing approach his film—whose moods shift between playful, meditative, sarcastic, and bluntly moral in relation to a scene’s environment—falls somewhere between philosophical inquiry and speculative fiction.

The Airstrip holds much in common with Emigholz’s previous fiction features, such as The Meadow of Things and The Holy Bunch, yet it is also deeply connected to a number of documentary films that he has made within a series called Photography and beyond, of which The Airstrip marks the 21st part. The series’s other installments, all remarkable, include (in their order of series entry) The Basis of Make-Up ISullivan’s BanksMaillart’s BridgesThe Basis of Make-Up IIMiscellanea IMiscellanea IIGoff in the DesertD’Annunzio’s CaveThe Basis of Make-Up IIIMiscellanea IIISense of ArchitectureSchindler’s HousesLoos OrnamentalTwo Projects by Frederick KieslerA Museum in EssenEl Greco in ToledoLeonardo’s TearsOn Board the USS Ticonderoga, Parabeton - Pier Luigi Nervi and Roman ConcretePerret in France and AlgeriaTwo Museums, and more films to come. 

August 18, 2014
Elaine Stritch

The link above leads to a trailer for the film Providence, directed by Alain Resnais and featuring a diverse ensemble of wonderful actors. They include the American actress Elaine Stritch, a sharp-voiced possessor of great musical talent and fierce wit who died July 17 at age 89.

Stritch belonged much more to theater than to cinema. She was known best for her roles in Broadway shows (including her brilliant work with Stephen Sondheim), and the films that provided her with her biggest showcases were documentary records of her stage work.

However, she occasionally found rich supporting parts in fiction films whose scenes she could steal with aplomb. Her role in Resnais’s film as the embittered, hard-drinking lover of a haughty younger British barrister (both of them possible products of a writer’s imagination) is among the most shining examples.  

August 17, 2014
Tosca's Kiss

A short essay on a beautiful musical documentary. Film Comment (“Sound & Vision” section), July/August. The article is print-only; the link above leads to the magazine’s website, where readers can order copies of the July/August 2014 issue. 

Tosca’s Kiss is a graceful 1984 study of several retired opera singers and musicians residing in Milan’s Casa Verdi, a home built by the Italian composer specifically to house such guests. The film was directed by the gentle and humane late Swiss filmmaker Daniel Schmid, who moved between fiction and documentary to make a total of 15 films that additionally include La PalomaHécate, and The Written Face. His absorbing, frequently mysterious films often feature strong melodramatic and musical components. Appropriately, after completing Tosca’s Kiss, Schmid went on to direct seven opera productions. 

This Film Comment piece about Tosca’s Kiss has been published in honor of a new restoration of the film, acquired by the distributor Icarus Films for U.S. and Canadian territories. The restoration (which premiered at last year’s edition of the Venice Film Festival) was personally supervised by the cinematographer of Tosca’s Kiss, Renato Berta, who also photographed seven other Schmid films.

Berta has not worked with Schmid exclusively. The still-active Swiss cinematographer is responsible for capturing the brilliant sunlight that cuts across a number of films signed by Manoel de Oliveira, Alain Resnais, Straub-Huillet, Alain Tanner, and others. To these eyes, Berta stands among the very greatest film artists, even though he has often shyly deferred credit to his directors.      

August 15, 2014
"Nobody in Hong Kong Had Dared to Touch It”: An Interview with Patrick Lung Kong

An article about a great filmmaker. The L Magazine, August 15. Thanks go to series curator Aliza Ma for research help.

This piece is published on the occasion of the film series “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: The Cinema of Patrick Lung Kong,” which begins today in New York at the Museum of the Moving Image. The Hong Kong virtuoso’s first North American retrospective contains seven of the thirteen films that he directed, along with one produced by him (Patrick Tam’s San Francisco-shot Love Massacre) as well as John Woo’s film A Better Tomorrow, a remake of Lung Kong’s The Story of a Discharged Prisoner

A Better Tomorrow was produced by Tsui Hark, who is also a director known for films such as Peking Opera BluesOnce Upon a Time in China, and Time and Tide. Hark will appear with Lung Kong on the opening night of the Moving Image retrospective to present him with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Lung Kong, with customary cheer, told me his feelings about Hark: “He is a real filmmaker, and he knows a lot about motion pictures!”

Aliza Ma discusses Lung Kong’s work below:

Aliza Ma: Patrick Lung Kong’s output marks a turning point in Hong Kong cinema between changing historical and social milieus and aesthetic and economic impulses. In the 1960s, after the Cultural Revolution in Mainland China, the Hong Kong studios began making Mandarin-language films for export, and Cantonese-language filmmaking almost ceased completely until the early 1970s. Lung Kong was one of a few filmmakers that responded with an ardent mission to bring the Cantonese language and local culture into theaters. At a time when filmmaking was a swift assembly line, he worked as an iconoclast, taking his time and carefully crafting a series of uniquely human films.

August 3, 2014

A brief piece on a touching film. The L Magazine, July 30.

Martin will screen on a 35mm print Monday night in New York as part of the Nitehawk Cinema’s ongoing vampire film series “BITE THIS!" The series’s additional highlights include the underrated The Hunger (whose gentle depiction of a marriage’s end counts as one of the most moving that I have ever seen in a film) and Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre, both of which will screen in DCP.

Director George A. Romero, who considers Martin to be his most artistically successful film, is likely known best for his zombie chronicles, especially the excellent original versions of Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead as well as the fine Day of the Dead.

As Martin shows, however, the still-active Romero is capable of making strong works about other horrifying subjects, whether they be vampirism, medical plagues (The Crazies), or straightforward psychopathy (Bruiser). He brings a keen humanist sensibility to each work. His chief theme is how societies exclude many of their members by labeling them as monsters. Accordingly, the worst creatures in his films are often generals, politicians, and wealthy people, with sympathy going to their victims and to anyone that tries to fight these powerful beasts.

The American critic/filmmaker Scout Tafoya helped me think about Martin and Romero’s other films while I was working on my L Magazine blurb. He also shared some words about them that I am printing below:

Scout Tafoya: Many great fiction films have shown audiences New York. Martin is one of the few to shed light on Pittsburgh. The film is an unflinching, nonjudgmental, and heartbreaking look at blue-collar life there, and it plays with time in fascinating ways. John Amplas’s strange, feral performance as Martin fits right into a surprisingly intimate story about people trying to keep their diaspora traditions alive. Romero nailed the details of their lives. He does his job as a social realist, even when making films about vampires, witches, and zombies.

July 30, 2014

A brief piece about a troubling film. The L Magazine, July 30.

Nazarín will screen on 35mm in New York as part of the BAMcinemátek film series “Buñuel.” The extensive showcase of movies for which Buñuel claimed authorship (not counting the U.S. propaganda shorts and Spanish studio films that were likely made by him anonymously) is devoted to one of the very greatest of filmmakers.

Buñuel made films in four different countries over the course of nearly fifty years. In addition to Nazarín, his wonders include Un Chien AndalouL’Age d’OrLas Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan (aka Land Without Bread), Los olvidadosEl brutoÉlThe Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la CruzThe Young OneViridianaThe Exterminating AngelSimon of the DesertBelle de JourThe Milky WayTristanaThe Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, and That Obscure Object of Desire.

Buñuel assumed Mexican citizenship in 1949 and kept a home in Mexico until his 1983 death. He realized Nazarín as one of twenty films (more than half of his official filmography) that he directed in the country between 1946 and 1965 with the help of many brilliant native collaborators, perhaps most notably the cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa.    

The director’s best-known films today are likely the anarchic-spirited comedies that he made in Spain and in France at the beginning and end of his career. Yet the great Mexican works that Buñuel made in between - several of which, like Nazarín, boldly showed problems facing the nation’s impoverished people - reward at least as much attention.  

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.   

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