Wednesday, August 29, 2007

So much has happened. Alberto Gonzales resigned as Attorney General. Another Republican was caught with his pants down (or his hands where they shouldn't be). The Beastie Boys were on Charlie Rose! What is the world coming to? Owen Wilson has tried to kill himself, and suddenly there were media mentions of Pagliacci: imagine, Owen Wilson can inspire Entertainment Tonight to make a reference to classical opera!

The world is going to hell in a handbasket, that's what's happening.

On various blogs: Michael Giltz is writing all over, and his blog is becoming a site where you can link to his articles in the New York Daily News, or on the Huffington Post website. George Robinson has written some nice stuff about Bunuel and Bill Douglas ( There's a little discussion on Dave Kehr's blog about the declining fortunes of film critics ("another one bites the dust") and it's prompted a few comments ( Joe Baltake has some interesting takes on forgotten films, such as four play-to-film adaptations of the late 1950s-early 1960s, cf. "Toys in the Attic", "All the Way Home", "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs", "Middle of the Night", and he makes the observation (how true, how true) that if you're a prestige picture and you fall short during award season, you're consigned to oblivion ( Carrie Rickey has some amusing comments on "Rush Hour 3" and the latest "Bourne" movie (

So that's some of the reading on the net from friends, acquaintances, and other interested (interesting) film people. And i've been recommending David Bordwell's long consideration on Antonioni and Bergman ( for the last few weeks.

This week: two press screenings so far, "City Streets" (directed by Rouben Mamoulian, with cinematography by Lee Garmes and original story by Dashiell Hammett) and the doc "Rouben Mamoulian: The Golden Age of Broadway and Hollywood". The doc was very problematic. It wasn't the lack of film clips... it was the fact that the commentators were all polite, but there wasn't any passion on display. I had a lot of problems with that doc "Broadway: The Golden Years" that PBS is always trotting out during its pledge weeks... the reason being that the guy who made it seemed to be a little naive... but he let the people loose, and when you have people like Maureen Stapleton, Charles Durning, Elizabeth Ashley, Patricia Neal, June Havoc, Ben Gazzara, Charles Nelson Reilly, Gretchen Wyler, and on and on, all enthused and delighted to tell stories... you can't miss. But there's something a little tepid in "Rouben Mamoulian: The Golden Age of Broadway and Hollywood". At least it tells the story in a straightforward manner. But it just seemed enervated.

Last night, watched the DVD of "Les Enfants Terribles". Still such an enchanting movie. Am i wrong to love it so much? I watched the extras, including the little TV interview with Nicole Stephane. I remember seeing her when she introduced "Le Silence de la Mer" at MoMA when there was the Melville retrospective.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Corrections department. The documentary on Ingmar Bergman is called "Bergman Island", of course, it's set on Faro Island, but the title is "Bergman Island" and the Sessue Hayakawa movie is "The Tong Man", not "The Tong Wars".

Friday, August 24, 2007

Well, it's Friday. A lot has happened in our neighborhood. Yesterday, there was the funeral for one of the firemen killed at the Deutsche Bank building. Today, when i got home, the police were right outside, taking statements from a bunch of kids (young people in their 20s); i didn't recognize any of them, they don't live in the houses on this block or across the street. But evidently the police have been called on earlier occasions, because these kids have been "disturbing the peace". Larry and i went to the Chinese takeout place, and when we got back, they were sitting on our stoop, and i barked at them to move. And they started screaming at me... and Larry freaked out. He was so frightened. But what can they do? And if they try something, we'll just call the police and add to their rap sheets. Why should i be polite to a bunch of hooligans?

Anyway, this was a great week. I saw: "Hannah Takes the Stairs", Rajnesh Domalpalli's "Vanaja", Elie Chouraqui's "O Jerusalem", John Turturro's "Romance & Cigarettes", Pernille Rose Gronkjaer's documentary "The Monastery: Mr. Vig & The Nun", two programs of short documentaries by the Cuban Santiago Alvarez: "Now", "L.B.J.", "Hanoi, Tuesday the 13th", "79 Springtimes of Ho Chi Minh", "El Tigre Salto y Mato... Morira... Morira", "Hasta la Victoria Siempre", "Cerro Pelado", Michael Gordon's "I Can Get It For You Wholesale" (with its script by Abraham Polonsky), and three silent films starring Sessue Hayakawa: "The Tong Wars", "The Dragon Painter" (an exquisite print; both directed by William Worthington), and Cecil B. DeMille's "The Cheat". These films provided amazing contrasts (for example: the very traditional filmmaking of "O Jerusalem" as opposed to the Marxist agit-prop of Santiago Alvarez; Rajnesh Domalpalli's approach to the use of music and dance in "Vanaja" as opposed to John Turturro's attempt at a working-class-musical in "Romance & Cigarettes"). I also watched some movies on TV, including the 1942 "My Sister Eileen", and that was an interesting contrast to "Hannah Takes the Stairs".

On Tuesday, Larry and i went to Carey Lovelace's birthday celebration; it was at the Firebird Restaurant, which was an amazing place on Restaurant Row West 46th Street. Actually, we had intended to stop by, have a drink (there was supposed to be a cocktail hour, starting at 6:30, with a dinner at 8), and then leave. We brought flowers... and then people started arriving. And it was one of those moments when my life flashed before my eyes, because every other person that came was someone Larry and i knew from the past. Carolee Schneemann, Judith Bernstein, Nancy Grossman, Tracy Moffat, Jane Dixon, Michelle Stuart (of course, she would be there, since she's Carey's partner). And some people from AICA, like Eleanor Heartney and Phyllis Braff. And Martha Wilson. And Ruby Lerner from Creative Capital. It was the kind of thing where we got there, and ran into Carolee and Judy outside the restaurant, we all went to the second floor (it's amazing: there's a little bar, and then a little cabaret anteroom, and then a room with banquettes, and then the large banquet room, which had mirrored walls and large reproductions of the drawings for the costumes for "Firebird"), and there were three people seated in the banquettes: one was a tarot card reader, another was a palm reader, and the other was a clairvoyant. Oh, yes, and Margo Jefferson was there!

So of course Larry and i have to talk to Margo and tell her about Gary.

I did have my palm read, and i did go to the clairvoyant (i skipped the tarot cards)... it was so depressing! I was told that i was a loving person, a very giving and kind person, that love was the most important thing in my life....

Hey, i don't want love! I want to be a cold-hearted son-of-a-bitch... like Christine Vachon or James Schamus. I want to be a success! I don't want to be loving!

(I was telling Gary, maybe i should drown the kittens - that'll prove i'm a real bitch! Well... Carmen actually took one of those kittens up to Yonkers! Now there are only two left. Obviously, Larry and i can't take those kittens, because we're both allergic to cats... and dogs. For the last week, i've had to take antihistamines, because i've had hives.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Well, it's another National Weather Service understatement: the initial claim was that it would rain on Sunday and clear up for the rest of the week. Well: it's now Tuesday, and the drizzle and rain haven't stopped yet. It's just so dreary....

But yesterday, i watched the screener of "Hannah Takes the Stairs", so now i can be all up on the conversation about the "mumblecore" generation of filmmakers. (If there's anything i've learned, it's never make a statement in jest that can be used again and again; if there's anything to be learned from Yvonne Rainer's example, it's never issue a manifesto, because it'll just be used again and again, as if you had no right to develop from that point, her "minimalist" manifesto, the infamous "NO to...." which originally appeared in the Tulane Drama Review - which has since become The Drama Review - and it's as if her work was stunted at that point, which i don't think is true.) But it was interesting to see it on the same day that TCM played the 1942 "My Sister Eileen" (it's first broadcast in more than a decade, if i'm not mistaken), because (of course) "My Sister Eileen" is the prototype of the young-woman-in-the-big-city genre. And how times have changed! In the first scene of "Hannah Takes the Stairs", Hannah and her boyfriend are taking a shower together.

I also watched "Design for Scandal". It's amazing how many professional women Rosalind Russell played in the 1940s: magazine editors and lawyers and judges and on and on. But the process that began in the 1950s was distressing: she had been an actress who was tough, she wasn't some demure heroine (that's the problem with her MGM years) but a woman who was the equal of the men around her (that's certainly true in "His Girl Friday"). But by the 1950s, she wanted audiences to like her, and her work got distressingly soft (cf. "Auntie Mame", "A Majority of One", "The Trouble With Angels"). What's terrible is that the same thing happened to Katharine Hepburn. What was it with these actresses? But then you see Russell in "My Sister Eileen", and she's just as acerbic and sharp and funny as ever.

Also went to the press screening of "Vanaja". It's the kind of movie that is difficult to explain... but like "Once" or "Colma" or "The Wayward Cloud" or "Antonia", it is a movie in which "music" is integral. And it's a movie that proves that "musicals" don't have to be formulaic. ("Vanaja" is a good contrast to "Marigold"; in the latter, the Bollywood tradition is mimicked, while in "Vanaja" the traditional Indian musical forms are featured.)

The brouhaha has died down about Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni. But it was exciting for a while, because it provoked a lot of writing, and it reminded me of the time when people would get so excited by a movie.

But people still do: the press screening for David Lynch's "Inland Empire" was an example. It was a huge audience (the press screening was held at Alice Tully Hall during last year's New York Film Festival) and, yes, after about an hour, there was a slow trickle of walk-outs. ("Inland Empire" is hard to take in many ways.) But those who stayed, stayed to cheer. And i mean cheer.

In the NY Times today, there's an article about the very slow roll-out that will be given Todd's "I'm Not There", his biopic about Dylan. Actually, i can't wait to see it.

Dave Kehr's DVD review is about Luis Bunuel: there's the Lionsgate boxset of "Gran Casino" and "The Young One" (now the film seems almost classical, but i remember seeing it in the 1960s, and it seemed very scuzzy, almost unsavory... again, how times have changed) and the Criterion release of "The Milky Way".

This reminds me of George Robinson's comments about Bunuel on his blog (, which is that Bunuel is one of the most consistent filmmakers in history, though there is no single "masterwork" that people point to, the way they point to "The Searchers" for Ford, or "Citizen Kane" for Welles... and maybe that's why Bunuel is usually underrepresented in those polls about "the greatest films" because there are many choices (depending on your interest): there's "Un Chien Andalou" and "L'Age d'Or", there's "Las Hurdes" and "Los Olvidados", there's "Nazarin", there's "Viridiana", there's "Belle de Jour", there's "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie"....

In a way, i think that this whole Bergman fuss has been instructive, because so many of us (consciously or unconsciously) have internalized a very specific aesthetic... it's like the beginning of P. Adams Sitney's essay on Bresson (first published in the Anthology Film Archives reader Sitney edited for NYU Press and reprinted in the monograph that James Quandt edited for the Cinematheque Ontario), where he delineates the difference in approaches to cinema. It's the beginning of the essay "The Rhetoric of Robert Bresson" and i'll quote it here: "There are two irreconcilable critical paths open to the film critic. One takes cinema to be the heir to the nineteenth-century literary tradition, specifically the novel with its popular base. According to this tradition, Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Jean Renoir, and Josef von Sternberg are among the greatest artists of the cinema. I subscribe to the other view that sees cinema as a modern art and values it for its freedom from traditional fictional forms and for its intensity. The pantheon of this approach is more contestable, because the critics who share it are less willing to acdcept an orthodoxy. Nevertheless, the early Bunuel, some Russians from the twenties (Eisenstein, Dovzhenko, Vertov), Vigo, and some of Dreyer would probably be universally acknowledged."

Though i tend to be more eclectic, my affinities will always be with the modernist aesthetic.

But what does modernism in film look like now? "Hannah Takes the Stairs"? Well, we'll see what "I'm Not There" looks like....

Friday, August 17, 2007

It's been four days, today is Friday, and have been thinking a lot about many questions, such as the whole issue of value in film. This (of course) was brought up by the recent flurry of opinions expressed upon the deaths of Bergman and Antonioni. David Bordwell, Jim Hoberman, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Stephen Holden, A.O. Scott, Roger Ebert, Tavernier, to only mention a few.

Spent the last three days going to see the press screenings for the Latin Beat sereis which is presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Both "Madrigal" and "Fish Dreams" were beautifully done. "Fotografias" was a digital documentary, and meandered so much: it never seemed to come into focus, and there was so much footage devoted to the filmmaker's son. It started to seem like a glorified home movie, and i really found it distressing, because there seemed to be a political focus, but i could do without watching some little boy playing.

On his blog (, David Bordwell makes the distinction about jotting and real critical writing (this in his blog about the Bergman-Antonioni controversy). He mentions that that's the reason the entries that he and Kristin Thompson do are usually rather long, because they are trying to create a site of genuine critical thinking, rather than an opinion sheet. And i think that's important.

For so many of us, blogging is a way of jotting down ideas. It's replaced the writer's notebook. And in the blogs, what you find are often a lot of opinion, but not a lot of considered critical thinking. And this has affected the way that many of us write now, because the options for serious critical writing are limited.

But this is affecting all the arts. And the effects can be felt. When i was growing up, criticism was often advocacy (certainly, this was true in the case of Jonas Mekas and Jill Johnston, as examples), but there was a continual dialogue between critics and artists, and this also helped the art. This was certainly the case in terms of experimental/avantgarde/underground film. Jonas (in The Village Voice) acted as a kind of cheerleader, but there was a (small but committed) cadre of critics who were willing to treat these films with the greatest consideration. Obviously, one such person was P. Adams Sitney. Another was Ken Kelman. But also people like David Ehrenstein and James Stoller. This created a dialogue in which the films were not simply abandoned in the marketplace, which is what is happening now.

Yet i know that though i'd like to write longer pieces, with a blog, it just doesn't seem as feasible. It's like state your opinion and get it over with. But why is that your opinion? (In short: as David Bordwell said, the arguments that Jonathan Rosenbaum used about Bergman were the ones which many of us voiced in arguments since the 1970s, when a more "formalist" approach to film theory, as exemplified by Peter Wollen's "Signs and Meaning in the Cinema" and Noel Burch's "Theory of Film Practice", helped to define a specific orientation to cinema studies. And the decades of trying to define a formalist approach to cinema was suddenly rushed into a single op-ed piece, when that piece represented the dozens of pieces which had preceded it.)

If i may quote Pauline (in the foreword to her collection "Going Steady"): "To be a casual critic of movies is to be no critic at all, and for one whose interest is more than casual, it's painful to write about movies just occasionally, or to order. What is missing is the connection - or context - in which movies are a continuing art. In such frustrating circumstances each review one writes has to take for granted a whole succession of unwritten reviews that would have established the basis for one's criticism."

And if i may be so bold: for me, the connection - or context - for my interest in film is one which goes beyond mere reportage, or even mere criticism. My interest in film as an art is part of my interest that developed from growing up in NYC during the period when NYC was the center of so much art activity. Not just film, but dance and painting and poetry and performance and music. And so the death of Elizabeth Murray, so much a part of my personal history, is part of this context. Just as the article a few weeks ago about the troubles with the Elizabeth Streb Dance Company is also part of the context.

The New York Film Festival has announced its slate for the next festival, and so many of the names - Todd Haynes, Ira Sachs, Gus Van Sant, Noah Baumbach, Julian Schnabel - are part of that same context.

The context of my life, of the people i knew, the people i was friends with, the people i was close to....

On Tuesday night, i turned in to "Law & Order: SVU"... i'd been watching the news on Channel 5, so i switched to Channel 4 about half an hour into the show... and there was Patrick Byrnes! He was playing a bartender....

Every so often, one of the Showtime stations will play "Metropolitan", and though i never check the schedule to find out when it will be on, if i run across it, i always watch a few minutes. It's so strange to remember meeting Whit and his wife so long ago, because of Whit's cousin, Nina Winthrop.

It's like seeing "Rocket Science" and realizing later that Derek Yip had worked on that film!

But when i try to write, that entire context is there... at the end of 2006, i tried to write an essay about my puzzlement over the shifts in critical standards, and i tried to explain the context from which i began to think about film and art. But i never finished that essay, because it was just getting so long and i had no idea where it might "fit".

But perhaps now, with the continual critical deployments over the merits and reputations of Bergman and Antonioni, there is a place for that type of contextualization.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Political news: this just in. Karl Rove is set to resign at the end of August.

What the hell took him so long? In this case, i hope he has some terminal illness. As the saying goes, good riddance to bad rubbish.

Much sadness. Just read the obit on Elizabeth Murray. Am at a loss. Has it been almost 30 years since the time that Bob Holman and Elizabeth met? The last communication i had from Bob was about Elizabeth resting but feeling stronger, and about a visit from Dakota and his wife and the grandchildren. And Daisy and Sophie are now adults. I remember when they were born... i remember those Christmas parties Bob and Elizabeth would have. I loved her retrospective at MoMA... it was perfect for the new spaces, one of the few where the paintings were scaled just right for those towering ceilings. I'm glad that Elizabeth lived long enough to see that happen.

The grey cat that had the kittens a few months ago (not the greay-and-white one that had the kittens in our backyard) has had another litter! This time, in the front, she's keeping those kittens in the evergreen bushes in the front! More kittens!

Friday, August 10, 2007

What a week!

On Tuesday, we went to sleep with the weather service saying there was a chance of thundershowers and a possible thunder storm; we awoke to people calling us, because a tornado hit Bay Ridge! It actually hit three streets in the area: 58th Street (in Sunset Park) and then 68th Street and Bay Ridge Avenue (in Bay Ridge). So less than a mile from our house.

But our house is fine. And now it's raining again.

Tuesday, August 7, was the 9th anniversary of Kenny's death. Not that i don't think about Kenny, but it's not like Larry and i commemorate these occasions. A little while ago, i was telling Larry that i miss Kenny, but i also would hate to think what he'd be like if he'd lived, i mean, he would be an old junkie pushing 40 with AIDS. Tom A. called us; he really misses Kenny.

Anyway, Wednesday i went in the screening for Zhang Yang's "Sunflower". I liked it a lot, though the similarities to movies like "To Live" and "The Blue Kite" make "Sunflower" seem a little "de trop".... but there really are many things to admire in "Sunflower", not least of which is the performance of the child in the first section, Zhang Fan. Though Gao Ge (as the teenage Xiangyang) and Wang Haidi (as the adult Xiangyang) were fine, it was Zhang Fan (as the 9 year old Xiangyang) who was truly memorable.

Though going proved to be easy (the R and D lines seemed to be on schedule), getting back was really a nightmare. I waited at the 59th Street stop for almost an hour. A lot of N trains came by, six in fact, but no Rs.

So after the commuter mess on Wednesday, you'd think there'd be crews out trying to make sure that it didn't happen again. No such luck. Thursday going from Bay Ridge was easy, but (again) coming back was a nightmare.

Yesterday, i went in to Anthology for the press screening of Bill Douglas's trilogy: "My Childhood", "My Ain Folk" and "My Way Home". I realized i'd seen the first two films, but somehow i never saw the last. I think this was a brilliant and moving work, seen as a whole, and it reminded me of the recent screenings of Pedro Costa, because of the emphasis on the lives of what used to be called lumpen-proliteriate. I also liked the fact that Douglas waited to make "My Way Home", because he wanted the same young man as the lead, and the character was now an adult, so Douglas waited for the boy to grow up.

And "My Way Home" also takes the character to his service in the Middle East... and it reminded me of the fascination with the desert which informs "Lawrence of Arabia" and Gavin Lambert's "Another Sky".

But the point: getting back was hell. I got the the subway station at Broadway-Lafayette at 4:10 PM, and i didn't get home until almost 6! What should have been a forty-five minute subway ride, stretched out to almost two hours!

I thought i was going crazy. Two days in a row. So today, when there was a press screening fo Bill Douglas's "Comrades", i just couldn't face getting on the subway!

So instead i taped Fritz Lang's "Man Hunt" (which i think is one of his best 1940s films) and now i'm watching it....

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The last few days have been rather unusual, in that the deaths of Antonioni and Bergman brought forth a volley of e.mails and message board postings and on and on. It's actually been exhilarating. On Carrie Rickey's blog, i expressed my distress that Bergman and Antonioni are being lumped together because of the proximity of their deaths. Bergman (for me) was one of those filmmakers who always seemed so... 50s! Like Fellini and Kurosawa. And Antonioni was very much a filmmaker of the 60s, in the same way that Resnais was. It has nothing to do with age, it has to do with the period when the filmmaker gains prominence, and when the concerns of the filmmaker seem to match the period.

Bergman was pre-modernist, and was (intellectually) almost pre-existential. Antonioni was a modernist, and was post-existential, that is, he was someone for whom the issues of theism (as an example) were no longer issues. Bergman was still wrestling with the concerns of God, meaning and man. Antonioni was dealing with the problems of men and women in a post-industrial society.

It's been a fascinating adventure, because the passions aroused have been so heated. For example: on IndieWire, Michael Koresky wrote a very touching and emotional tribute to Bergman. Stephen Holden wrote two very fine appreciations of Bergman and Antonioni for the New York Times. Then, on the op-ed page of the New York Times, Jonathan Rosenbaum weighed in with a scathing denunication of Bergman, as if to put him in his place. But Jonathan's denunciation is just as much a matter of intellectual taste as he claims the reverence for Bergman is.

But it's all been exciting, and i do feel like i should write something about all this.

On other fronts: yesterday, Larry and i saw Jeffrey Blitz's "Rocket Science" and when it started and i heard the narrator, my immediate response was "Little Children, Jr.", another attempt at a mordant satire of suburban life.

One movie i watched over the last few days was "10:30 PM Summer", the Jules Dassin attempt at a Marguerite Duras adaptation. It was amazing, because it was well-done, yet utterly wrong-headed! I'm sorry i missed the screenings of "Le Camion", but i simply adore that film! It's one of my very favorite movies of all time!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Well, it's August 1st and no one else has died. I'm surprised that in discussing Bergman and Antonioni, no one has brought up Resnais. In the 1960s, Resnais was the other director held in high esteeem. (Godard was far more controversial: in fact, in the US, you could count on one hand the critics who praised Godard, and those would be Richard Roud, Andrew Sarris, Susan Sontag, and Pauline Kael.) Resnais (with "Hiroshima Mon Amour" and "Last Year at Marienbad") was the other director who brought out the most strenuous analyses.

It's just surprising to me that Resnais seems to have been forgotten, especially since his latest movie, "Private Fears in Public Places", was recently released.