Monday, February 07, 2011

The announcements of the deaths of Maria Schneider (3 february 2011) and then of Lena Nyman (4 february 2011) caused some comment about sexual expression in the cinema, since both these women will be remembered for their contributions to landmark films: Schneider with Bernardo Bertlucci's "Last Tango in Paris" and Nyman with Vilgot Sjoman's "I Am Curious - Yellow" and "I Am Curious - Blue". There was a time, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the idea of artistic freedom was being bandied about in terms of sexual liberation, and that was the prime marketing device behind many underground movies (from Robert Downey, Sr. to Andy Warhol-Paul Morrissey), as well as movies like Joseph Strick's version of "Ulysses", "Coming Apart", even "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice". Rather like the simultaneous deaths of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni on 30 july 2007, the proximity of the deaths of Schneider and Nyman became a cause for reflection, but one which obscured the very real differences between them.

In the case of Schneider: she was a rather wayward person who did not have much acting experience when she was cast by Bertolucci. She was only 19 years old, and the resulting notoriety didn't exactly help her find stability in her life. Lena Nyman was already an experienced actress in her late 20s; she had already worked with Sjoman on his film "491", and she had extensive experience on stage and in films, and she simply continued her career in Sweden, resisting attempts to try for an international career. Because of the profiles of Marlon Brando and Bertolucci, Schneider couldn't help but be thrust into the international spotlight, and she had nothing to fall back on.

If "Last Tango in Paris" is Schneider's most famous credit, she also was in some other notable films, such as Antonioni's "The Passenger" and Jacques Rivette's "Merry-Go-Round". Nyman had worked with Alf Sjoberg in the 1950s, and, as mentioned, she had a role in Sjoman's delinquent drama "491" prior to "I Am Curious"; one of the memorable films she was in after "I Am Curious" was Ingmar Bergman's "Autumn Sonata" where she played the handicapped daughter of Ingrid Bergman.

So much for that. Some movie oddities of late. Anthology Film Archives will be showing a documentary from Spain, Mercedes Alvarez's "The Sky Turns". From the press release, i assumed that the movie was a recent one. And the description (a woman returns to her hometown, which is a village in rural Spain which is rapidly losing population as most of the people have moved to the cities for jobs, etc.) didn't quite ring a bell. So i go to the press screening. And the movie is rather leisurely, with a unstressed panoramic visual style. But a lot of the shots look awfully familiar: have i seen other documentaries about this region of Spain? The village is Aldealsenor, it's located in northwest Spain. Then, about an hour into the movie, things aren't just familiar, i know i've seen this movie before! There's a scene with two neighbors talking across their yards, and one man is sitting on a makeshift chair, with a board placed on the seat, and after their conversation, the old man simple dismantles the chair. And it's followed by a scene in which a shepherd talks to a runner, and it turns out that both men are Moroccans who are transplants to the area. And they discuss the history of Muslims in Spain, the runner's being part of the Olympic team, the area's agricultural strengths. It's a very lovely, ruminative film, but where did i see it? And when? It turns out that the movie was actually made in 2005, so it's been knocking around for a while, but where was it shown previously? And i know i didn't see it within the last year.

We went to the opening for Lorna Simpson's exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum; while i was there, i noticed an older couple, and i tried to think where i'd met them before. Then i realized: i didn't know them, but i had seen them in a movie! They were Betty and George Woodman, and i had just seen the documentary "The Woodmans". I had really intended to write about "The Woodmans" after i saw it, but then, i couldn't really articulate my feelings. The crux of the film is the story of their daughter, Francesca, who had been a "promising" artist/photographer when she killed herself at the age of 22 in 1981. Here's a family of artists (George is a painter, Betty is a ceramicist, their son Charles works in electronic media): how does this tragedy define their lives? Because it does.

I thought the documentary (directed by C. Scott Willis) was well-done, but talking about the movie after the press screening, i felt a certain agitation. The agitation was: this was about real people, and how are we supposed to judge? They're not characters, they're people who've had to deal with a real tragedy. And whatever you say about that, it seems somehow impertinent.

And i'm not exactly innocent in this situation: when we were editing PAJ, we started publishing articles on the new trends in "art photography", and i remember there were articles on Joel-Peter Witkin, on the "pictures" artists (Sarah Charlesworth, Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons) and (yes) Francesca Woodman. And we knew we were in on something, because the big art journals (ArtNews, Art in America, Artforum) weren't touching this stuff, and within a year, that was all they were focusing on.

So the shift in sensibility which would elevate Francesca Woodman to an important artist (of course, there was the irony that this happened after her death) was part of the editorial development of PAJ as Larry and i tried to keep current. So i'm very aware of how Francesca Woodman's posthumous reputation began. And in the film, there is the dynamic, as George Woodman's work begins to gain artworld recognition as part of the "Pattern and Decoration" movement, which would be overtaken by the New Image painters, the "NeoExpressionists" and by the new art photography, just as his daughter's work would become a standard-bearer for art photography after her death.

There's so much to write about. I went to some of the press screenings for the Dance On Camera series at the Walter Reade Theater: i saw Nicolas Ribowski's "Les Reflets de la danse", Fabrice Herrault's "Claude Bessy; lignes d'une vie" and Anne Linsel and Rainer Hoffman's "Tanz Traume". That, plus attending Trisha Brown's concert at MoMA, made me think about the changes in the way dance is judged. Well, those plus "Black Swan", which is shaping up as the most hotly debated movie in recent months. Even more than "The Social Network", "Black Swan" really is a movie which has people up in arms and ready to fight!

As Audrey Hepburn says in "Love In the Afternoon": more later.


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