Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What began to happen by the end of the 1970s (and which precipitated the ouster of Richard Roud) was the sense that the boutique status of the New York Film Festival had to change. There were changes in the film industry, and the rise of independent films in the United States. Actually, there had been a sidebar at the New York Film Festival, which was held at the Paramount Theater (which was the funny semi-underground space at Columbus Circle, which is now where one of the Trump buildings stands); this was the precursor of the Independent Feature Film Project. I remember seeing a few of the films in the series. If i'm not mistaken, one of the films was Victor Nunez's "Gal Young Un"; i remember Richard Roud saying that he felt this was an important change in American film, and that this independent and regional filmmaking would prove to be where the art of cinema would develop.

The trajectory of the New York Film Festival was, initially, as a two-week event held at Philharmonic Hall (which was, of course, one of the grand concert halls in New York City, though there were always problems with acoustics); then, it became an event where the Opening Night and Closing Night were held at Philharmonic Hall, but the rest of the screenings were held at Alice Tully Hall (a smaller venue, slightly over 1,000 seats, as opposed to the 3,000 of Philharmonic Hall). The shift meant that, in most cases, the films were scheduled for two screenings.

This still left the problem with those films which were defiantly non-commercial, even anti-commercial. How can you fill 2,000 seats for a film like "Othon" (by Jean-Marie Straub and Danielle Huillet)? Well, the answer is: you really can't. So there would always be those films where there'd only be one screening, because practical considerations had to come into play. I think there started to be some tension, because you couldn't keep programming films which you knew wouldn't attract an audience. Of course, for Richard Roud, this wasn't an issue: he felt that the education of sensibility was crucial, and that an audience would develop if information was provided. That's why he started the Cinema One book series with Penelope Houston and Tom Milne through the BFI (in the US, it went through several different publishers), and two of the books were his monographs on Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Marie Straub.

Yet in the earliest days of the New York Film Festival, there was the disparity between the Philharmonic Hall space and the films. I remember that Renata Adler mentioned this when she reviewed Jean Renoir's "Toni" when it was shown: the delicacy of this black-and-white film made in 1935, swallowed up by the cavernous space of Philharmonic Hall. The incongruity of showing a film like the Straub-Huillet "Not Reconciled" at Philharmonic Hall wasn't lost on anyone.

And now, with the many different spaces available to the Film Society, the festival has changed and grown. Within the last decade, there was a capital campaign which Richard Pena had undertaken; one of the results was the building of the Elinor Bunim Murray Film Center, a three-theater complex. This was in addition to the Walter Reade Theater; of course, a number of the Main Slate screenings are still held at Alice Tully Hall, but the variety of theaters has allowed. Last year, for example, in addition to the Main Slate, there were different sections: Emerging Artists (a focus on two filmmakers, the English Joanna Hogg and the Mexican Fernando Eimbcke), a Spotlight on Documentaries; two specific documentary foci, "How Democracy Works" and "Applied Science", as well as Revivals and Restored Film, a Retrospective, and Views from the Avant-Garde.

Is this expansion of the New York Film Festival really necessary? That i can't answer, but i'll say two things: as a curated event, even in the many sidebars, the quality of the films has been quite extraordinary. For example: among the documentaries shown last year were "Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq", "The Dog", "Fifi Howls from Happiness", "Manakamana", "What Now? Remind Me" and "Who Is Dayani Cristal?" All of those films were released or broadcast to great acclaim. The second point i'd like to make is that i understand all these film organizations are trying to change with the times, but i can't help but feel nostalgic for the days of the exclusivity of the old New York Film Festival. Even if you didn't like some of the films, you knew that there was a selection committee and that someone had fought for that film.

I mentioned that Richard Roud had ignored a number of significant filmmakers and film movements. By the end of the 1980s, this actually worked to my advantage. The reason was that the Asian-American International Film Festival picked up the slack. If Roud had no interest in films from Iran, well, that was ok, we showed Abbas Kiarostami's "Close-Up"; if Roud had no interest in films from Taiwan, that was ok, since we showed the early films of Edward Yang (all his films up to and including "A Brighter Summer Day") and Tsai Ming-liang. But Richard Pena's reign at the New York Film Festival was marked by a more flexible aesthetic. Richard Pena really did try to include films which marked significant advances, or films from areas of the world which had not been explored. He tried to make sure that the Film Festival was representative of the best of the current cinema, rather than representative of his particular perspective on the cinema. Now we're in the second year of Kent Jones's directorship of the Film Festival, and the retrospectives that have come under his supervision (Jean-Luc Godard last year, Joseph L. Mankiewicz this year) certainly are indicative of his previous work as a film programmer and curator. But one of the emphases seems to be having some Main Slate selections which are part of the award season package: last year, these films included "Captain Phillips", "Her", "Nebraska" and "12 Years a Slave". Perhaps notably there were also those films which caused considerable consternation; seeing the languid tableaux of Tsai Ming-liang's "Stray Dogs", it reminded me of the rapture i felt watching Marguerite Duras's "The Truck" while most of the audience were ready to riot. In this sense, the New York Film Festival remains true to itself, a test of the audience's endurance. It's nice to know some things never change.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

This year, the New York Film Festival will show the latest film by Jean-Luc Godard (his 3D "Goodbye to Language") and the last film by Alain Resnais ("The Life of Riley"); during the first New York Film Festival, Godard was represented by the omnibus film "RoGoPaG" and Resnais was represented by "Muriel"; what was so striking about "Muriel" was that it was greeted with what seemed to be universal derision. Of course, there were a few exceptions (Andrew Sarris and Susan Sontag wrote essays about the film which were salutary if not laudatory), but "Muriel" brought out the beast in a lot of people covering that first festival, including John Simon, Dwight MacDonald, Pauline Kael, Stanley Kauffmann, and Judith Crist.

In her classic essay "Film and the Radical Aspiration" (originally presented as a lecture at the third New York Film Festival), Annette Michelson gave one of the most articulated analyses of "Muriel"; here is her conclusion:

"The two explicitly political passages in these films are both distanced, bracketed as spectacles or diversions. In 'Hiroshima (Mon Amour)', the anti-war demonstration is inserted as a film sequence enacted within the film, while, in 'Muriel', the Algerian war is evoked, not shown, in an amateur movie, by an agonized verbal commentary (the account of a young girl's torture by French soldiers) in counterpoint to the series of innocuous amateur shots that parody the myth of barracks life hilarity.

"This sequence constitutes the most brilliant, the definitive articulation of the disintegration of a cinematic arena for political discourse. The despair over that disintegration is the film's central political 'statement.' The 'statement's' intensity, however, is further amplified through the further distancing of bracketed statement from itself (the distance between image and commentary). Its isolation within the texture of the total work, its particular, stylistic disjunctiveness, its own colorless color, are slightly at odds with the disjunctiveness and invented color of the whole. Through a speculative and stylistic refraction, Resnais proposes an image of the shameful scandal that generated the Fifth Republic. His trope is that of the caesura. The crack, the flaw, the rhythmic visual gap or caesura created by this interlude or 'diversion' is the form of Resnais's declaration of aphony. It declares his nostalgia for the film that could not be made; it incarnates the artist's struggle with the dissociative principle and the politics of dissociation."

Through her analysis of the usage of disjunction and dissonance as the structuring device of "Muriel", Michelson articulated the disapprobation which greeted the film at its New York Film Festival premiere, as the symbol of the extreme formal experimentation which was at the heart of Resnais's practice at that time. And it crystallized the negativity which surrounded most of the coverage of the New York Film Festival in its early years, as a site where the simple pleasures of movie-going were being elided in favor of works which demanded special attention.

By the fifth New York Film Festival, a lot of the initial animosity towards the New York Film Festival started to abate; in 1968, Pauline Kael wrote:

"In recent years, the movie audience has split into the audience for popular films - the mass audience - and the art-house audience, and movies, once heralded as the great new democratic art, have followed the route of the other arts. The advances are now made by 'difficult' artist who reach a minority audience, and soon afterwards, the difficult artists, or their bowdlerizers, are consumed by the mass audience. Yesterday's interesting, difficult new directors become commercial, and their work becomes part of the film industry's anonymous product, which will never be compared to Chartres. Infrequent moviegoers are likely to be irritated when they go to a highly recommended art-house picture and find it bewildering and obscure. What they may not be aware is that in this new, divided world of film the commercial movies have become so omnivorous and so grossly corrupt that frequent moviegoers may, for the first time in movie history, be looking for traces of talent and for evidence of thought, and may care more for an 'interesting' failure than for a superficially entertaining 'hit.' During the last New York Film Festival, I, for example, was impressed by a film called 'Signs of Life,' written and directed by a young German, Werner Herzog, even though the film was maddeningly dull and lacked flair and facility, because Herzog was clearly highly intelligent and was struggling toward a distinctive new approach. As a casual moviegoer, I might have thought: What a bore! As a constant one, I thought: This young man, I hope, will invent the techniques he needs, and the movie itself is a sign of life."

The New York Film Festival became, for many of us, a de facto "academy" in which our cinematic sensibilities were educated, as "difficult" works were absorbed and investigated. In a sense, one of the delights of the festival was sitting in the audience for a particularly difficult film, and watching as a large part of the audience decamped during the course of the screening. Part of the comedy of the festival was the fact that, year after year, Richard Roud would insist on programming these filmmakers (Bresson, Jancso, Straub-Huillet, Marguerite Duras, Jacques Rivette) who were sure to try the patience of the movie audience. However, it should be stated that there were cracks that started to develop by the mid-1970s; although there were always films which had been programmed as a concession to popular taste, there was also a resistance by Richard Roud to some of the more innovative cinema, particularly in regards to formal radicalism as related to feminist and gay sensibilities (i'm thinking in particular of Chantal Akerman and Werner Shroeter; in both cases, their films were not screened at the New York Film Festival, but at The Museum of Modern Art due to the programming efforts of Larry Kardish and Adrienne Mancia). By the 1980s, when Roud willfully ignored the currents of international cinema coming from the Middle East and Asia (in particular, the films from Iran and the films from Taiwan), there was the beginnings of the disaffection which would cause his ouster. But for a quarter of a century, Richard Roud established the New York Film Festival as the site of a genuine education in cinematic sensibility. I can certainly say that i benefited from having my knowledge of cinema tested through screenings at the New York Film Festival from its earliest incarnation to the present.


Monday, August 18, 2014

The last month has been traumatizing: it's gotten so that it's hard to look at the news. Ferguson, Missouri; Gaza; Syria; the Ebola crisis in Liberia; the Ukraine... it's too much!

An artist i know on Facebook posted a statement to the effect that he's had to tune out some of the news, because if he dwelled on it, he would be too depressed. But it's not like he's insensitive; rather, he'd be almost paralyzed if he really concentrated on current events. And i know exactly how he feels.

But i'd like to try to focus on matters that i feel competent to write about, but even that's getting to be dicey. I didn't realize i was so depressed until about a month ago. So i shall explain.

In the last few days, there have been some discussions on Facebook among my friends. One was a thread started by the filmmaker Saul Levine; it began with a discussion about efforts to restore some films by Marjorie Keller. And it became a discussion about many filmmakers whose works are too little known or remembered. Of course, this is such a big issue now, when this whole history of the avantgarde cinema is muddled by conflicting perspectives. At one point, i mentioned a screening i attended (probably around 1970) of films by Jerry Joffen, and there was some comment about the fact that he was one of those filmmakers that was mentioned by a number of people (including P. Adams Sitney) as an influential artist. At one point, Bill Brand wondered when i was going to write about my memories of these filmmakers and artists, and i really didn't have a reply.

And the other day, Sturgis Warner posted a video interview with Jeff Weiss, with whom he'd worked. One thing that Sturgis mentioned was that Jeff believed in the theatrical experience, and he didn't want his work filmed or videotaped. And so Jeff Weiss's work exists in the memories of those who had the very good luck to be able to see it.

In a way, that's how it used to be with performance events. In the past, there was a reliance on eye-witness accounts: reviews, written testimony. Reputations were created through the critical literature of the time. It is through that critical literature that we have the records of great performances.

What's happened with the traditional valuations of art is that the notion of the avantgarde has called into question traditional values. As Susan Sontag noted, "For instance, there is the kind of seriousness whose trademark is anguish, cruelty, derangement. Here we do accept a disparity between intention and result. I am speaking, obviously, of a style of personal existence as well as of a style in art; but the examples had best come from art. Think of Bosch, Sade, Rimbaud, Jarry, Kafka, Artaud, think of most of the important works of art of the 20th century, that is, art whose goal is not that of creating harmonies but of overstraining the medium and introducing more and more violent, and unresolvable, subject-matter.... Clearly, different standards apply here than to traditional high culture. Something is good not because it is achieved, but because another kind of truth about the human situation, another experience of what it is to be human - in short, another valid sensibility - is being revealed."

The problem hasn't been the acceptance of other valid sensibilities, it has been the devaluation and the lack of comprehension of the traditions of high seriousness, high culture. It is a situation of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as well as throwing out the bathtub.

But i've been observing a lot of the evolution (or devolution) of the arts in New York City since the 1960s; i've written about it, i've edited and published other people's writings about it, i've curated and produced and presented exhibitions and works about it.

None of that seems to matter any more. In the last few years, i've found out that whatever i have to say, no one wants to listen.

A few years ago, i was asked to write about the Judson Dance Theater on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary. I did; the article was never published. I never even heard back; i sent it in, as requested, and nothing. And that's happened to me so often. Or take this as an example of how much my opinion matters. Last summer, i suddenly got e.mails from someone i know, asking me about some performance artists of the 1970s. So i answered. How was i supposed to know that this person i know was involved in curating an exhibition about Performance Art of the 1970s? Except he hadn't seen a lot of the performance artists involved, so he had to ask someone who had seen them. My opinion was so important that i wasn't invited to the party; i wasn't even invited to the opening.

So when Bill Brand asked when i would get to writing about the art/film/performance since the 1960s, i wanted to answer, no one wants it. And i already know that. If that's not enough to make me depressed, i don't know what is enough.

Ok: i'll give another example. Two years ago, when the New York Film Festival was celebrating its 50th Anniversary, i wanted to write about the fact that so much of the actual history of the festival was being elided and ignored. The reason was simple: Richard Pena, who had been the director of the New York Film Festival for the last 25 years, had just announced his retirement. So the celebrations for the anniversary of the film festival were tied to events in honor of Richard Pena. Which is fine. Except that, during the spring of 2012, Amos Vogel had died. In 1962, when the New York Film Festival was started, the founders of the festival were Richard Roud and Amos Vogel. Richard Roud died about a year after his retirement from running the festival, but Amos Vogel was always at events at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and it wasn't unusual for Amos and his wife Marcia (who had served as the administrator of the festival in its earliest days)  to attend screenings for the New York Film Festival. So it would have been fitting for some sort of memorial event to have occurred during the anniversary celebration, to honor one of the actual founders. But it never happened. In fact, the Film Society of Lincoln Center totally ignored Amos Vogel. (Anthology Film Archives wound up having a series of screenings in his honor.) But no one seemed to care about the hideous slight that the Film Society of Lincoln Center was doing to Amos Vogel. Certainly, no one involved with the New York Film Festival.

I would like to write about these things, but i'd like to know that they won't just be ignored. But since that's been the case, it's left me in a quandry.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Can't even remember when the last time i blogged; it's been awhile, and yet i've been very busy. I have been seeing movies, going to screenings, everything from Rendez-vous With French Cinema to Open Roads: New Italian Cinema to Human Rights Watch Film Festival to BAM CinemaFest to LatinBeat. This year, there were many fine films, both in these festivals (as well as New Directors/New Films, the Art of the Real series, etc.) and in release. And there are still movies in release which i haven't had time to see, but at this half-way point in the year, it's a very strong year.

But before i get into the movies i've seen, i'd like to discuss something that happened in the last two weeks.

I can't even remember when i joined Facebook, but i know that i joined because Norman Wang (who has been living in Hong Kong for the last two decades) sent me an invitation. Since i had no idea of i'd ever visit Hong Kong again, i figured that this would be a way to stay in touch. And Norman is one of those people who always posts photos of what he's doing, people he's with, his activities at film festivals, et al. And soon, i was in touch with a lot more people through Facebook, in some cases, people i hadn't seen in years.

Anyway, about a year ago, i got a "friend" request from someone i haven't seen in maybe 15 years (at least). When i knew him, he had dropped out of the Rhode Island School of Design, and he was stripping at gay clubs. We were trying to get him to go back to school, we were trying to convince him to start doing art. (His particular interest was multimedia installations.) But there were problems, he got sucked into that whole club scene.

I had no idea what had happened to him. And then i got the "friend" request. On his page, it seems he did graduate from college (though not from an art school), and for a while he was working in a hospital. But he started working for a "house music" company. He was also engaged, and there were a lot of photos of his fiancee on his FB page. One thing that was so noticeable was her enormous breast implants. The "selfies" that he posted on his page showed that he'd been bulking up; i hate to say it, but there was obvious steroid usage.

Then, two weeks ago, on his page, someone posted "RIP"; then more of his friends posted. There was a posting from an aunt, asking what had happened. And then a posting from his mother. The police had been in contact with her, and she had been asked to come and identify the body, as well as make arrangements.

There was a distinct dichotomy: there was his family, there was some anger, and there were his friends, who all expressed their sorrow and the "fun" they shared. In fact, there was a thread in which his aunt expressed her anger over his friends and his lifestyle, explaining that the family had become concerned and was about to intervene but he had died before that could happen. After a day, it was deleted. Friends are just posting their condolences, and a few memorials. One thing that did come out was that he had died, and his fiancee was in the hospital. I have no idea what happened, and i don't feel that there's any way i can find out.

It was a shock: he hadn't reached 40 years of age.

Last week, in The New York Times, there was one of those paid obits, and i was in shock: Claude Simard had died. He was an artist and gallerist (he was the co-owner of the Jack Shaiman Gallery). The photo that was published in the Times showed a very heavyset man: i didn't recognize him.

This pointed out that i hadn't seen Claude in about five years. But there was a time, about 25 years ago, when i saw Claude every week. We'd been part of a group that would take an aerobics class on Thursdays; the class was this marathon, which would last for about two hours. Claude and i were among the group that always stayed through until the end. And that was also the period when Chelsea was becoming the neighborhood for art, after the gentrification of Soho. At that time, Claude was very thin. He'd also been doing some performances, often in galleries or museums in Canada (Claude was originally from Quebec). We published a piece that Claude wrote about his performances in PAJ.

We went to the memorial service for Claude last Wednesday.

I can't get over the fact that these people, one a contemporary, the other much younger, have died.

Time must have a stop, and sometimes it does.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

April 29, 2014 and it's been a month, not bad actually but rather trying in terms of (once again) health issues. The beginning of April saw a spate of medical appointments, and everything's checked out: the problems resulting from my kidney stone have all abated. But then, i got this cold which seems to be going around, and it seems to linger, three weeks now!

However, back to the movies. In the last month, there haven't been as many screenings as in the past two months. For one reason, most of the screenings were connected to the Tribeca Film Festival, but it's been three years since i've attended the Tribeca Film Festival, so i have no idea how the festival has been developing. During the times when i got to go to the Tribeca Film Festival, there were always a few notable foreign films which somehow had fallen through the cracks, films from China or Thailand or Iran, but that doesn't seem to be the case now. There were always a lot of documentaries, and evidently the documentary section remains quite strong. 

One subgenre in the documentary field that seems to be flourishing is the art documentary. Some that i've seen recently include "Breaking the Frame" (about Carolee Schneemann), "Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton", "20,000 Days on Earth" (about Nick Cave), Tacita Dean's "JG", "Visions of Mary Frank", "Sol LeWitt", and "Llyn Foulkes One Man Band". One documentary which played at Tribeca that garnered attention was "Regarding Susan Sontag". (Evidently, Robert De Niro Jr. has finished the documentary he's been working on about his father, and it's supposed to air soon on HBO.) The question with these films is whether or not they make the creative impulse comprehensible, if they find a way to create a cinematic equivalent for the creative act.

One film which i finally got to see was Pawel Pawlikowski's "Ida"; it's rather a surprising film, since i'm familiar with Pawlikowski's previous feature films, "Last Resort", "My Summer of Love" and "Woman In the Fifth". Pawlikowski's family emigrated from Poland to England when he was fourteen; he attended university in England, where he studied film, and then worked in documentary before making his first feature film, "The Stringer", in 1999 (it's the only one of his feature films i haven't seen). But "Ida" is a taut, highly concentrated study of a young novice who is required to spend time with her family before she takes her final vows: her family turns out to be an aunt she doesn't know. The film is in black-and-white, it's set in Poland in the 1960s, and it deals with the repercussions of the Polish treatment of the Jews during World War II. It's quite a resonant and haunting film, bracingly unsentimental, and with flashes of humor. 

Seeing "Ida" after seeing films from Rendez-vous With French Cinema, New Directors/New Films, and The Art of the Real, it reminded me of two things: 1) films have always been quite seductive in terms of bringing specific cultures to us, and the strength of "Ida" is in the details of Polish society which are presented; 2) many films are made in a post-nationalist context, in which filmmakers find stories in other cultures. Pawlikowski had been developing a career in Great Britain, but "Woman In the Fifth" (which is the least successful of his films) indicated that he was looking beyond Britain (it's set in Paris), and now he's made a film in Poland (where he was born) which has proven to be his most impressive film to date.

But the question of nuance, of the specific details which provide the impetus for a film, is as important in documentary as in fiction, and too often, these are being eroded. "Ida" shows how engrossing a film so enveloped in nuance can be.




Saturday, March 29, 2014

It's been more than a month since i posted a blog, and it's been a busy month: there were screenings for the annual Rendez-vous With French Cinema series, there were the press screenings for New Directors/New Films, and then there were press screenings for "The Art of the Real", a series curated by Dennis Lim for the Film Society of Lincoln Center. In addition, there were several events, such as the press preview of the Whitney Biennial (the last to be held at the Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue).

During the last month, there were the announcements of a number of deaths; in terms of film, three of the great filmmakers to emerge during the 1960s, Miklos Jancso (from Hungary), Alain Resnais (from France) and Vera Chytilova (from Czechoslovakia), died within the last month. All three had helped to define the modernist aspirations of their national cinemas. Chytilova, of course, was not just one of the major Czechoslovakian filmmakers, but also a notable feminist artist; while some of her colleagues, such as Milos Forman and Ivan Passer, chose to emigrate, she chose to remain in Czechoslovakia, in spite of the frustrations of political censorship. Her most famous film was the anarchic comedy "Daisies"; i've seen three other feature films, her first feature, "Something Else" (which i remember for the beautiful black-and-white cinematography, which rendered some of the scenes, such as the gymnastic exercises, remarkably abstract), "The Fruits of Paradise" and "The Apple Game". Jancso's "The Round Up" and "The Red and the White" announced a startling talent, a visionary filmmaker who used a constantly moving camera to reveal historical pageantry. For me, his most galvanizing films were those which also used music and stylized movement to convey emotional epiphanies; my favorites would include "Cantata", "The Confrontation" and "Red Psalm". Jancso was the most prominent of the Hungarian filmmakers from the 1960s, but others would include Pal Gabor, Karoly Makk, and Marta Meszaros (at one time, Jancso and Meszaros were married).

From 1959 through 1965, all "new" French films were classified under the rubric of the "New Wave", but we soon learned that there were different groups. Chiefly, there was the group which was classified as the critics from the Cahiers du Cinema (Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, Rivette, Rohmer, Doniol-Valcroze) and those filmmakers who were part of "the Left Bank" (Resnais, Chris Marker, Agnes Varda, Henri Colpi, aligned with prominent writers such as Alain Robbe-Grillet, Jean Cayrol, Marguerite Duras). Although there was a tendency to concentrate on the thematic continuity of Resnais's early career (specifically, the power of memory), his early films showed a great stylistic variety in abstracting dramatic construction. Throughout his career, Resnais's interest in formalism was a defining characteristic. For those of us who grew up in the 1960s, Resnais's early features ("Hiroshima Mon Amour", "Last Year at Marienbad" and "Muriel") seemed to define one of the most radical approaches to film form.

The Nouvelle Vague seemed to proclaim the French film industry as one of the most exciting places for the development of cinematic aspiration: there were filmmakers who were making films which attempted to redefine, extend and subvert normative formal and narrative structures, and those filmmakers were also connecting to audiences. This was the promise of the cinema: that there could be an art which could be of the utmost intellectual and formal rigor, as well as an art which would prove to be popular. Resnais had achieved this with his first two features, "Hiroshima Mon Amour" and "Last Year at Marienbad"; French cinema had become synonymous with adventurous filmmaking, and that continues to be the expectation which fuels the interest in the annual Rendez-vous With French Cinema. And so any comments on the films i saw during this year's edition of Rendez-vous With French Cinema must be tempered with the kinds of expectations which one brings to the films.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The weather continues to be atrocious: it has been one of the coldest winters on record, with below freezing temperatures going on for a month, and every week a major snowstorm. But this is happening throughout the US, not just in New York City. But we're really suffering through a particularly bad winter.

The last week has brought a number of events, but i'll concentrate on movies.

First: Turner Classic Movies does have an agenda, a hierarchy as to what is important and what is not. As anyone who watches TCM knows, February has always been "31 Days of Oscar", showcasing Oscar-winning and/or Oscar-nominated movies (with an overlap into March, since February doesn't have 31 days). Now, in the last week, two more major film people died: one was the Danish director Gabriel Axel (whose "Babette's Feast" won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1987) and the other was Shirley Temple (who was awarded a special "juvenile" Oscar in 1934). This, in addition to the previous week's loss of Maximillian Schell and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Well, Shirley Temple is the only one who rates at TCM: immediately upon the announcement of her death, TCM prepared one of those "TCM Remembers" spots, and a tribute to Shirley Temple on the TCM website, and an announcement that there will be a day devoted to her films in March (as soon as 31 Days of Oscar is over).

Now, yesterday, "The Young Lions" was shown (it was nominated for several technical awards in 1958); this was a TCM premiere (it was a 20th Century Fox film) and there was a little intro by Robert Osborne (it was shown at noon) to announce the fact. Now, this would have been a perfect opportunity to acknowledge Maximillian Schell (who was making his debut in American films with "The Young Lions"; the importance was that the occasion of being brought to the US to be in this film allowed Schell to work in NYC, where he appeared on Broadway and also did several live television broadcasts, one of which was "Judgment at Nuremberg"; when it came time to make the movie, Schell repeated his performance as the defense attorney and won an Oscar). No; no acknowledgement of Schell, nothing.

Second: the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) awards were this weekend. Because of distribution patterns, several movies which have been award favorites here in the US were excluded (most notably "Dallas Buyers Club"), but this whole award season has been one of extremes, but also one of great variety. I hate watching award shows, and i didn't bother watching the BAFTAs, but Cate Blanchett's speech was much discussed: she sidestepped the whole "issue" of Woody Allen by dedicating her award to the memory of her friend, Philip Seymour Hoffman. (Blanchett, of course, is nominated for her part in Allen's "Blue Jasmine".)

One death which really affected the art world was the sudden death of Hudson, the proprietor of Feature Gallery. Roberta Smith wrote a highly appreciative obituary in The New York Times yesterday.

Today, there was a discerning obituary about Stuart Hall in The New York Times (written by William Yardley), who died last week. Hall's importance in the development of "cultural studies" was duly noted, but also his assessment of the decline of cultural studies: "If I have to read another cultural studies analysis of 'The sopranos,' I give up," Mr. Hall said. "There's an awful lot of rubbish around masquerading a cultural studies."

In January, there was a lot written about the Sundance Film Festival; the Berlin Film Festival just finished its annual run. I hope i'll be able to get to more screenings, but this weather has been tough! It's supposed to warm up this week, but next week there's another plunge into freezing! I just want this winter to be over!