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Federico Fellini (#110 of 11)

If They Could See Her Now Director Leigh Silverman on Sweet Charity

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If They Could See Her Now: Director Leigh Silverman on Sweet Charity

Heather Phelps Lipton

If They Could See Her Now: Director Leigh Silverman on Sweet Charity

Over the course of the past two decades, Leigh Silverman has spent most of her time as a director working on new plays, collaborating with writers and helping shepherd their work through years of development. Her partnership with playwright Lisa Kron led to her directing Kron’s quasi-autobiographical Well, which marked Silverman’s Broadway debut 10 years ago. At age 31, she joined that extremely exclusive club of female directors working on Broadway. That group has grown larger in the intervening years, and Silverman herself went on to direct the Broadway premiere of Chinglish by David Henry Hwang, with whom she enjoys an enduring collaborative relationship.

Under Silverman’s sure-footed directorial guidance, several actors and writers have received Tony recognition, but it was for her direction of the 2014 revival of the musical Violet that she finally garnered her first Tony nomination. Now Silverman is directing Violet star Sutton Foster in the New Group’s Off-Broadway revival of the 1966 musical Sweet Charity, playing at the Pershing Square Signature Center. We talked recently to the director about her current production and her relatively new foray into the world of musicals.

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Foreign Language

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Foreign Language
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Foreign Language

There’s a great line in Jules and Jim about fictions that “revel in vice to preach virtue.” It’s a mantra that practically explains why Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street enters this year’s Oscar race with five nominations, why another Italian, Federico Fellini, won the most awards in this category’s history, and why a third, Paolo Sorrentino, will win his first trophy here for The Great Beauty. As for a possible spoiler, don’t look to The Missing Picture (too form-pushing), Omar (too pro-Palestinian), or even The Hunt, whose Lifetime-grade simplicity becomes increasingly transparent with each new letter the members of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow’s tribes send to The New York Times, but to The Broken Circle Breakdown, a clumsily constructed musical weepie that suggests Inside Llewyn Davis as directed by Susanne Bier. Made in homage to the myth-making works of Fellini, namely La Dolce Vita, The Great Beauty’s study of a social class’s dissolution is so esoteric by comparison that it’s tempting to question its frontrunner status. But in reveling in the crumbling glitz of its Roman locales with the same ravenousness that Jordan Belfort shows for coke, fame, and snatch, it’s easy to imagine many of Hollywood’s reigning elite confusing it as a rise-and-fall chronicle of their own lives.

Roger Ebert in Illinois: A Tribute to the Man From His Permanent Stomping Grounds

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Roger Ebert in Illinois: A Tribute to the Man From His Permanent Stomping Grounds
Roger Ebert in Illinois: A Tribute to the Man From His Permanent Stomping Grounds

On Monday, April 1, the day after Easter, I was in Chicago with a few hours to kill before getting on an Amtrak train to go back south to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I went out to lunch with a friend, and he brought somebody who runs an AMC theater in the Near North Side, the one that shows the press screenings for critics. I mentioned to my friend’s guest that I had just moved back to Urbana, and was going to write about Ebertfest this year. He interrupted me and said Ebert wouldn’t be there this year—that he wasn’t doing well and had stopped going to his press screenings.

I got on my train and returned to Urbana thinking that what the guy had said about Ebert could probably count as a legitimate (albeit invasive) news item. On Thursday, April 4, I saw that Ebert had announced his “leave of presence,” thus breaking the news himself about a setback, health-wise. On Friday, April 5, in the morning, I saw the news that he had died. A couple of hours later, I walked outside to check the mail. Inside my mailbox was a manila envelope from the University of Illinois’s College of Media, and inside was my press pass to Ebertfest. I then headed toward the library, took a different turn than usual, and saw some flowers on the sidewalk in front of a house. “Somebody must’ve died,” I thought. Then I saw that there was a bag from Steak ’n Shakeamong the flowers, and a plaque that had been set in the concrete.

On Location Las Vegas

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On Location: Las Vegas
On Location: Las Vegas

Like many, I did my vacationing first by way of the movie screen, making all subsequent traveling the realization of romanticized visions. When I moved to New York, it was a thousand cinematic moments made real, an excitement that still continues in spurts, despite the inevitably of the city having become, simply, the place where I live. But wherever I go, for the first time, specifically, there’s some kind of filmic attachment. In Rome, there was the evocation of countless Fellini scenes, and in Iceland…well, there wasn’t much in Iceland, really, save the Blue Lagoon spa, a high-tech, seemingly impossible haven that I’ll always compare to a Bond villain’s lair. Las Vegas, where my partner and I recently went for our fifth anniversary, has its own unique link to the movies. One might even say the town has spawned its own subgenre. Defined by glitz and excess, it’s a place that was built to be photographed, so much so that I even started to feel guilty, as it inspired more snapshots from me than the whole of Vatican City. It’s also a veritable theme park for adults, preferably for those willing to, if I may quote the Showgirls tagline, “leave [their] inhibitions at the door.” The entire atmosphere is one of fantasy, which, thanks to film, has evolved through various stages of glorification. And the city, in an almost otherworldly way, welcomes those chasing that fantasy with, big, outstretched, glittering arms, standing as a mecca of gluttony, temptation, and, of course, sin. You don’t have to be bad to do Vegas right, but it helps, as the movies have certainly taught us.

Death by Art Andrew Cooper’s Dario Argento

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Death by Art: L. Andrew Cooper’s Dario Argento
Death by Art: L. Andrew Cooper’s Dario Argento

“What the fuck is this bullshit psychoanalysis?” are the wonderful words spoken by Jeremy Irons’s Beverly Mantle in David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (1988), and if you follow the arguments of L. Andrew Cooper in his new book, the films of Dario Argento often share a similar opinion. Cooper claims Argento, though labeled early in his career as the “Italian Hitchcock,” spent his early, gialli-focused years lambasting and lampooning “Freudian proclivities,” most notably in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1969), which positions itself as a Psycho (1960) homage, only to jest at Hitchcock’s insistence upon closure via psychological ends. In fact, Cooper argues that aesthetics, especially beginning with Deep Red (1975), become a replacement for both psychoanalysis and narrative in Argento’s films, leading him toward an interest in visual excess, which would culminate in Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980), films that “in their combinations of wild visuals and storylines that challenge storytelling itself, were unlike anything the world had ever seen.” If the previous claim reads slightly clunky and definitely hyperbolic, it’s likely because Cooper’s book, on the whole, is torn between its academic and populist inclinations. Unlike Maitland McDonagh’s revelatory Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento, which strikes an invigorating balance of analysis, theory, and historicizing, Cooper states from the onset his desire to “eschew a traditional auteur approach.” Necessarily, this leads him down a rather predictable post-structuralist path, replete with deconstructionist close-reading after close-reading—all of them informative and knowledgeable, certainly, but few, if any, of them truly illuminating the depths of Argento’s oeuvre, beyond relatively fundamental distinctions between form and content and Argento’s non-normative subversions.

Problem Solution Jordan Mintzer’s James Gray

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Problem Solution: Jordan Mintzer’s James Gray
Problem Solution: Jordan Mintzer’s James Gray

James Gray has achieved a small measure of success in the American film industry, and yet he remains elusive. He’s critically lauded, but he’s not a figure centrally discussed in the context of the independent or studio-film landscapes. He works with big stars like Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, and Gwyneth Paltrow, but years pass before he’s able to get projects off the ground. He’s a darling of the Cannes Film Festival, but is a niche flavor in the already niche world of cinephilia. He’s often labeled a “classicist,” but he has more in common with the post-classical mode of Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese. So, what the hell is James Gray, anyway?

That’s the question Paris-based Hollywood Reporter critic and Gray enthusiast Jordan Mintzer attempts to answer in his new book, James Gray. Comprised of interviews with Gray and his collaborators, along with storyboards, annotated script pages, production stills, and frame grabs, Mintzer’s volume is the first full-length study of Gray in any language. It is, unfortunately, only being published in France. But fear not: Synecdoche has released a bilingual edition that can be purchased on their website for a cool $65 USD.

What emerges most saliently from Mintzer’s interviews is Gray’s commitment to the idea of problem solution in creating his style. Gray is no proverbial Hitchcock, dreaming an ironclad vision of his films that then must be laid out to the letter. (“I don’t believe in vision. I think vision is overrated,” says Gray.) Instead, Gray’s style remains fluid and open to the necessary conditions of the production itself. A famous example concerns Little Odessa being set in the wintertime. “…It was written for the summer, with all the laundry lines during the final shootout,” Gray says. “But you have to make the movie when you get the money, so I made it then…I realized that the snow looked amazing, that it was something you couldn’t really reproduce. So I decided we should go shoot outside whenever it was snowing.” Anyone who’s seen Little Odessa knows that the deep melancholy of its characters’ struggles finds a rather apt metaphor in the falling, whipping snow that fills many gorgeous widescreen compositions.

SXSW 2012: The Comedy and Los Chidos

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SXSW 2012: <em>The Comedy</em> and <em>Los Chidos</em>
SXSW 2012: <em>The Comedy</em> and <em>Los Chidos</em>

Billed by one audience member as “our generation’s La Dolce Vita,” Rick Alverson’s The Comedy isn’t quite as beautifully elegant as the Federico Fellini classic. But it’s depiction of disaffection, fraught with punishing close-ups and squirm-inducing behavior, is a convincing picture of a generation in crisis, with a group of artists disconnected from both feeling and their art. All this from a movie that opens with tubby men in briefs spraying beer on each other in slow motion.

Swanson (Tim Heidecker) is a different breed of man-child, one whose immaturity exhibits itself in a kind of half-joking cruelty toward everyone, including his circle of like-minded friends. Straddled with a dying father and a considerable estate, he hides from his problems inside a floating metaphor (his yacht, bobbing along in the East River) anesthetized to most elements of everyday experience, encased in a protective shell of irony and sarcasm. This shell is represented both sartorially (ever-present blue sunglasses, jokey combinations of cut-off shorts and too-small button-downs) and in Swanson’s friends, which include Tim and Eric collaborator Eric Wareheim and a host of familiar musicians, from James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem to Richard Swift and Will Sheff.

Video Review: Lady Gaga’s "Judas"

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Video Review: Lady Gaga’s “Judas”
Video Review: Lady Gaga’s “Judas”

After the epic creation myth of Mother Monster in “Born This Way,” the video for Lady Gaga’s “Judas” feels modest by comparison; here she’s merely co-opting the foundational story of the entire Christian faith. Gaga presents the video as “a motorcycle Fellini movie,” and in a sense, that’s precisely what we get. She’s invoked the Italian auteur in the past, notably with the gigantic fish set piece of her Monster Ball Tour, and Fellini’s influence is apparent here in the pushing of Catholic iconography to lurid excess. But there’s also the hand of another Italian Catholic in the mix: Like Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of The Last Temptation of Christ, “Judas” centers the Passion narrative on the titular betrayer (played by Norman Reedus) and shifts the focus of the story away from violent spectacle toward sublimated sexual urgency.

A Movie a Day, Day 90: I Vitelloni

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A Movie a Day, Day 90: <em>I Vitelloni</em>
A Movie a Day, Day 90: <em>I Vitelloni</em>

“Here’s the question: Is ’I Vitelloni’ the work of an artist whose vision is just flowering—or that of an artist whose vision has fully ripened and is about to decay? I can’t decide,” wrote Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle.

That’s an interesting way to look at it, but I see Federico Fellini’s career more as a sine wave than an arc or a slow and steady ripening. Whatever drew Fellini to Jungian psychology, séances, psychedelics, and circuses made some of his movies too stagily fantastic for my tastes (Satyricon), while others are bathetically sentimental (La Strada, Nights of Cabiria) or both (Juliet of the Spirits). But studded throughout his career are masterpieces like 1973’s Amarcord, 1963’s 8 1/2, and 1953’s I Vitelloni, which use Fellini’s trademark mix of realism and fantasy with restraint, evoking a time and place and state of mind with exquisite precision.