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
Martin

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
Nazarín

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.   

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.

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