Monday, March 31, 2008

Since Wednesday, a lot has been happening.

One thing: this year, i was unable to go to the IRAs, but when i tried to come up with a ballot, i realized that my "schedule" (in terms of the screenings i'm invited to, etc.) is so skewed at this point that there was no way i could come up with anything cohesive. This realization came on Friday night, while i was watching "Michael Clayton". I enjoyed it, i thought it was an excellent tricky legal thriller, i thought the acting was excellent (though Tom Wilkinson was unusually over-the-top: normally one of those reticient, self-effacing actors, given the chance to play crazy, the inner ham becomes the outer ham), but then i realized that there were movies like "There Will Be Blood" or "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" (which turned out the be the big winner at the IRAs) or "Gone Baby Gone" which i haven't seen (i'll wait for them on Netflix, which is how i saw "Zodiac" and "Michael Clayton"; up next, "La Vie en rose" which i purposefully missed at last year's Rendez-vous With French Cinema, and then i missed every press screening, because the very idea of another damned show biz biopic was just too appalling for me, since i hadn't liked "Ray" and i detested "Walk the Line".... and this one was two and a half hours long). What could i offer? Movies like the Russian "The Italian" or the Iranian "The Willow Tree" or the Kurdish "Half Moon"... or Pedro Costa's trilogy ("Bones", "In Vanda's Room" and "Colossal Youth"), the three films by Manoel de Oliviera ("Belle Toujours", "The Magic Mirror" and "The Fifth Empire"), or the pair by Tsai Ming-liang ("The Wayward Cloud" and "I Don't Want to Sleep Alone")... or even things like the three James Benning films ("13 Lakes", "10 Skies" and "One Way Boogie Woogie 27 Years Later") or Ken Jacobs's "Two Wrenching Departures". If ever the sense of my status in terms of niche marketing was clear to me, it was when i was trying (this year) to come up with an IRA ballot. (To read about this year's IRA Awards, check out Michael Giltz's blog,

But on Friday, the NY Times carried an obit for Eleanor Winthrop, Nina's mother. My memories of her will always remain as someone very vital and strong in her beliefs. (It seems that one of the last things Mrs. Winthrop did was to contribute to Barack Obama's campaign; Larry found this information out from the Huffington Post.)

On Sunday, Manohla Dargis wrote an obit for Paul S. Arthur. That really had me in shock! Paul was one of those people i always saw at the press screenings for the New York Film Festival, and for New Directors/New Films. But this year, because i was rather preoccupied (talking to Debby, especially), i didn't really notice that Paul wasn't around. Though i did wonder where he was when Aza Jacobs's "Momma's Man" screened. Manohla's obit mentioned that he was recently diagnosed with melanoma. So sad. Two of my favorite memories: talking with Paul and Tony Pipolo after one of the programs at the Views from the Avant-Garde program in 2006, it was the program which ended with the Godard-Mieville short "Liberte et Patrie", and we were surprised (almost shocked) to realize that this was the first time that Godard and Mieville had ever acknowledged the avantgarde cinema, by including clips from Deren and Hammid's "Meshes of the Afternoon" and Kirsanoff's "Menilmontant"! Another favorite memory: sitting with Paul and Tony during the press screening of David Lynch's "Inland Empire"... as the movie went on, people started to get agitated and by the first hour, people started to leave, but we were continually engrossed and fascinated, and the minute it was over, Paul was so excited, and applauded, and he immediately launched into an analysis of the oneric vision of David Lynch. But his seriousness and his attention to detail, especially in terms of experimental cinema, were always singular.

Two weeks ago, we got a phone call, from the publicists at the Tribeca Film Festival, asking us to apply for accreditation. We did. (It's all online now.) Last week, we were informed that we were rejected for accreditation.

Yet in the last few weeks, the ranks of film critics have diminished considerably. Today brought the announcement of the retirement of David Ansen from Newsweek (it's reported by Anne Thompson in Variety: ; as she points out, this is added to the retirement or the firing of Jonathan Rosenbaum at The Chicago Reader, John Anderson, Jan Stuart and Gene Seymour at Newsday, Jami Bernard and Jack Mathews at The New York Daily News, Michael Wilmington at the Chicago Tribune, Eleanor Ringel at the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and the already mentioned firing of Nathan Lee from the Village Voice.

Not only that, but the Voice also fired Deborah Jowitt: there will no longer be any staff critics to cover dance. In the case of Deborah Jowitt: this is a real loss, because Deborah's 35 year tenure at The Village Voice made her not just a critic but the historian of all the trends and styles and developments of dance since the mid-1960s.

On Sunday night, Larry and i went to the New Directors/New Films party. As soon as we got there, we started talking with Irene Meltzer Richard from the Film Society of Lincoln Center. And both Larry and Irene said the same thing: they wondered where the omlettes were! (Omlettes are always served at the Directors Party at O'Neal's for the New York Film Festival; but this was Josephina's for New Directors/New Films.) I kind of miss the makeshift parties we used to have for New Directors... one time the party was held at a loft downtown, another time, the food turned out to be several of those five-foot heroes. It was at one of those parties that i remember talking to Whit Stillman and his wife (that was the year that "Metropolitan" was included in New Directors). This brings me to the fact that we ran into Whit again, and (of course) Whit and i talked about his aunt, Eleanor Winthrop. That's how i met Whit and his wife, initially: Whit and his wife would come to see my performance pieces, because his cousin Nina was in them.

But i told Whit i was astounded that his aunt was already 30 when she got married to Nathaniel Winthrop. (That was in the obit.) And Whit told me, that's true, after she graduated from Wellesley in 1940, the family was mortified when, a decade later, she still wasn't married. It looked like she was going to be a "career woman", which was another way of saying an old maid. But then she married Nathaniel Winthrop, after taking a job as governess to his four children. And then she had four children of her own, including two girls, Kate and Nina. And i told Whit that when i saw "The Last Days of Disco", i really broke up when Chloe Sevigny says the line about living dangerously, "I'm a kindergarten teacher," because we had all been at a party at Nina's when someone asked Kate what she did, and that was her response.

But i've known Whit since 1981 (when i met Nina). The NewFest is going to celebrate its 20th Anniversary: if that's true, then i've been friends with Jeff Lunger for 19 years. A little while ago, i was reading an article about Ilene Chaiken and "The L Word", and the article mentioned Annie Philbin of the Hammer Museum as the model for the character of Bette (Jennifer Beals). And that kind of floored me, because i don't think of Annie as some high-powered art honcho... i still think of Annie as the person who was going to the Whitney Independent Study Program in 1980, when one of her best friends was Elizabeth Streb, and Elizabeth was one of my best friends, too. I ran into Annie at a party a few months ago, and i told her that i was thinking about writing something about the summer of 1981, when Elizabeth and Annie got summer jobs at a restaurant on Fire Island, and they rented a houseboat, and i spent a few weekends when i went out there to visit them on that houseboat docked at Cherry Grove. And one weekend, i split my time, because i started out visiting Elizabeth and Annie at Cherry Grove, but then i went to another section of Fire Island to visit Arlene Zeichner (who was working at Anthology Film Archives) and Anne Thompson (who was working at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, as the editor of Film Comment). Annie and Elizabeth were friends, but at the time, Annie was living with a musician, Gretchen. But Annie and Elizabeth needed to make money during the summer, Elizabeth had a dance concert coming up at Dance Theater Workshop in the fall, so they got these jobs at Cherry Grove.

And i've known Ken and Flo Jacobs since i was 15... so when i see "Momma's Man", the experience is one where the idea of any sort of critical objectivity is just impossible.

And this is more and more the case. What can i say about "I'm Not There"? At one time (and i don't think he would dispute this) Todd and i were very close friends. I know his work since his shorts made in college: "Assassins" (his movie about RImbaud and Verlaine) and the notorious "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story". That doesn't mean that i give his movies a pass. If anything, i'm often harder on them than i would be if i didn't know Todd and hadn't a clear idea of his conceptions, because often, his movies have fallen short of what he's wanted to do. A big example: "Velvet Goldmine". Perhaps if he had been able to use the David Bowie music, that would have brought a real center to the film. As it is, i felt "Velvet Goldmine" was a failure. But i felt, for all its unevenness and its flaws, "I'm Not There" really succeeded in achieving Todd's vision.

But it seems as if film criticism is no longer a career option. And i was saddened by the deaths of Eleanor Winthrop and Paul S. Arthur.

In show business: Jules Dassin died today at age 96, a week after the death of Richard Widmark. Richard Widmark gave one of his finest performances (rivalled by his work in "Kiss of Death", "No Way Out", "Panic in the Streets" and "Pickup on South Street") in Dassin's "Night and the City". Dassin seemed to be very active: he was involved in commentaries and interviews for the Criterion Collection DVDs for "Night and the City", "Thieves Highway", "Brute Force" and "The Naked City". And "Rififi" is one of the classic noirs of all time. But Dassin remained active, and was still involved in those Criterion editions of his films. Yes, he was 96, but he was still active.


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