Sunday, March 27, 2011

There seems to be a problem: i'm having a tough time logging onto my Blogger account, and i can't leave comments on some friends' blogs, and it takes a while for me to get back to this site. I don't know why, it says that cookies have been disabled on my computer, but i haven't done anything to do that. I did defragment my computer after i backed up my files of movie stills and then deleted them on my computer. But that shouldn't affect the rest of my computer. Oh, well.

So much has happened in the past week. The international news has been unsettling (to put it mildly): the problems in Japan seem overwhelming and compounded by the ever-present threat of nuclear disaster; the Middle East continues to explode, but is American intervention in Libya really an option? Of course, on the show business front, the news was dominated by the death of Elizabeth Taylor. A lot of ink was spilled about her status as the last of the Hollywood goddesses (yes, there were many other stars, but there are few goddesses). Other notables deaths this week included Richard Leacock (with D.A. Pennebaker, a pioneering figure in the cinema verite movement) and Lanford Wilson (one of the major American playwrights and a stalwart of the off-off-Broadway movement). And this week brought the last press screenings for New Directors/New Films: "Attenberg" and "Fwd: Update on My Life" with "Shut Up, Little Man!" Other press screenings this week: "Le Quattro Volte" (which i missed at the New York Film Festival), Naruse's "Floating Clouds" (part of the upcoming "5 Japanese Divas" series at Film Forum), and "Obsession" and "Phantom of the Paradise" (part of the upcoming Brian De Palma series at BAMCinemathek). Seeing "Phantom of the Paradise" on the day when Lanford Wilson's obit appeared was a reminder of the off-off-Broadway scene. The star of "Phantom of the Paradise" was William Finley, who was (at the time) one of the lead actors of Richard Schechner's Performance Group (Finley was the star of the Performance Group's production of "Dionysus in 69", which De Palma had filmed). The character that Finley plays is named Winslow Leach, a nod to De Palma's friend Wilfred Leach, the theater director (with whom De Palma had co-directed his first feature film, "The Wedding Party", which had Jill Clayburgh and Valda Setterfield in the cast). And the female lead is (of course) Jessica Harper, who had been working with Richard Foreman when De Palma saw her. I didn't make it to the IRAs last night, because i felt at such a disadvantage: since half of 2010 was spent in Europe, i didn't feel comptent to venture an opinion on what had been released in the US in 2010, though Berlin certainly got its fair number of American commercial releases. But it was difficult to see foreign releases, and so a lot of those movies ("A Prophet", "I Am Love", et al) were problematic, i.e., i didn't get to see them. And tonight is the first part of Todd Haynes's miniseries of "Mildred Pierce" starring Kate Winslet. There has been so much happening on the dance front: last week, Martha Graham's company, Trisha Brown and Yvonne Rainer all presented concerts. And last week brought the AICA Awards, but it was crowded and i didn't stay. We did go to the press preview for the Glenn Ligon exhibition at the Whitney Museum, and that show was certainly thought-provoking. So there is a lot to write about.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Since awards week, there has been screenings for Rendez-vous With French Cinema, some revivals of French classics (Bresson's "Diary of a Country Priest" and Truffaut's "The Soft Skin", which bookended the recent French series for me), and New Directors/New Films. But the catastrophes in the world have taken precedence.

Japan is devastated by the most powerful earthquake to have struck since these have been recorded. But a continual danger: the nuclear reactors in Japan, how stable are they and what happens in a meltdown.

And closer to home: last week brought intense flooding to the area, including incredible damage to parts of New Jersey and Connecticut.

Turner Classic Movies has had some amusing programming. The "guest programmer" this month turns out to be staffers at TCM, and in some cases the films will be TCM premieres. I'm looking forward to "Caught", which i continue to think is one of Ophuls's best movies; one premiere last week turned out to be "A Taste of Honey", which i caught a while ago when it was shown on one of the cable channels (HBO or Showtime, can't remember). It was interesting to see, especially after watching "Georgy Girl" again last week. The change from kitchen-sink England to Swinging England wasn't really that dramatic, there are always those touches of humor in the kitchen-sink movies which point to what would develop. (In "A Taste of Honey", it can be found in such scenes as the ones where Jo and Geoff go to the fair, and go shopping for baby things.)

Yesterday (Sunday) there was a whole night devoted to Joan of Arc films. The 1949 "Joan of Arc" (mostly directed by Victor Fleming) was disconcerting to see: watching it on high-definition television, it's so obvious that a lot of the scenes were done against painted scenery. The opening at the cathedral, for example: the whole scene is fake, right down to the painted rays of sunlight! I hadn't seen that film since i was a child, and it was almost intolerable. And Ingrid Bergman is beautiful but fatuous: her nobility gets tiresome, and she's relying on her luminosity in a way which is patently false. "Saint Joan" is even more of a disaster than i remembered (and i've seen the movie several times). What did Graham Greene do to the play? I'm not even talking about opening it up, i'm talking about the wholesale removal of the Shavian wit! And Jean Seberg just has no finesse: she's so earnest!

Of course, Dreyer's "La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc" and Bresson's "Proces de Jeanne d'Arc" were examples of true piety. And restorative: they show how the subject can be approached with real artistry.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

So much has been happening in the last three weeks (since i last posted). Of course, internationally, the political situation has never been more volatile, and the Middle East is in absolute turmoil. And in this country, the union-busting efforts of the politicians in Wisconsin have caused a real surge of activity.

But (let's face it) for those of us who toil (in some fashion or other) in the movies, the past few weeks were all about the end of award season, i.e., the double hammy of the Independent Spirit Awards (feb. 26) and the Academy Awards (feb. 27). And it really was a double whammy this year. So many people complained about the shows, but (really) who cares about the shows? When were award shows ever "good"? The Tony Awards used to be relatively tasteful and timely, but Broadway is relatively classy as opposed to the agreed-upon crassness of Hollywood. This year, Peter Knegt at IndieWire asked me to participate in the "Who Will Win/Who Should Win" poll. At first, i was hesitant (what hesitant? i wasn't going to do it) but then i decided, what the hell. So i sent in my "Who Will Win" choices, and i did pretty well in guessing the general mood. But no "Who Should Win", because (really) i have no stake in it and i don't really care. People tried to generate suspense by suggesting alternative possibilities (could Annette Bening pull out a last minute upset? will Melissa Leo's faux-pas in taking out her own "For Your Consideration" ads in the trades hurt her?), but i had a feeling it wasn't going to happen.

So the shows went on, and were (mostly) dreadful. And who cares? The winners were the winners, i guessed most of them, the people who got the awards were as expected and were as deserving as any others.

But what was interesting about this year's Academy Awards turned out to be the various indicators about the industry at this time. And that's something i want to go into, so i shall at a later date.

In terms of movies: i spent two weeks seeing French movies, the press screenings for Rendez-vous With French Cinema, which i bookended with a press screening for Bresson's "Journal d'un Cure de Campagne" and a press screening for Truffaut's "La Peau Douce". One amusing fact about Truffaut: i don't know whether it was conscious or not on his part, but the American titles of many of his movies are better than the original French titles, because the American titles are alliterative and catchy. Thus: "La Mariee etait en noir" became "The Bride Wore Black", "La Sirene du Mississippi" became "Mississippi Mermaid", "Domicile Conjugale" became "Bed and Board". "La Peau Douce" became "The Soft Skin". I wound up seeing eight of the films in the Rendez-vous series, and i have to say it wasn't such a bad year. But the absolute rigor and power of Bresson, and the glancing mastery of Truffaut, are virtues that the French cinema is not likely to repeat. Again, more on that later.