Peter Bogdanovich (#110 of 34)

Box Office Rap Insidious: Chapter 2 and the Twitter Index

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Box Office Rap: Insidious: Chapter 2 and the Twitter Index
Box Office Rap: Insidious: Chapter 2 and the Twitter Index

I imagine that predicting box-office grosses on a weekly basis in a pre-social media, pre-Internet environment would not only have been difficult, but virtually impossible to register with any accuracy, unless said prognosticator held a position of some esteem within the film industry. Let's give this pre-era a concrete date—say, roughly 1999. I choose this year not because of Y2K or the neat temporal markers brought about by a new millennium, but because that year introduced Brandon Grey's website Box Office Mojo, which specializes not just in forums meant for box-office speak, but seeks to function as a comprehensive, online database for the domestic and international grosses of every film released in North American theaters within the modern era. Now, 14 years later, the site offers such information dating back to 1980, a year significant to film history for many reasons, though more because it's a year that symbolizes the death of New Hollywood filmmaking and the full-on emergence of a blockbuster mentality within the studio system. The Empire Strikes Back was the highest-grossing film of the year; Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate was met with devastating financial and critical failure, to the extent that United Artists went bankrupt. Moreover, Peter Bogdanovich has suggested that contemporary film students possess no conception of film history prior to Raging Bull—also released in 1980.

A Hostage to Fortune Barry Forshaw’s British Crime Film: Subverting the Social Order

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A Hostage to Fortune: Barry Forshaw’s British Crime Film: Subverting the Social Order
A Hostage to Fortune: Barry Forshaw’s British Crime Film: Subverting the Social Order

Barry Forshaw has made a career out of studying the dames, pistols, machismo, and glistening city streets that define crime fiction; with previous books such as Death in a Cold Climate: A Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction and The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction seeking to provide a comprehensive survey of the genre, he's made himself, to quote the book jacket of British Crime Film: Subverting the Social Order, “the UK's principal expert on crime fiction.” Of course, film ain't fiction, so to speak, and his first book length effort on crime films is like a Webley revolver with a sticky trigger; it works, just not as fluidly or efficiently as one would like. With fairly cursory critical discussions, perpetual plot synopses, and adjective-driven lauding (“an acidulous commentary on class” or “a masterclass in film acting,” to name a couple) in place of detail-driven social criticism, Forshaw has placed himself between a Brighton Rock (1947) and a Kill List (2011), casting his historical net too wide for anything more than introductory textual assessment.

Forshaw is a straight shooter from his first sentence, a question: “Is it possible to read a nation through its popular entertainment?” From there, 15 chapters organized by theme and content rather than chronology attempt to map out British crime filmmaking's genesis, essentially commencing with early Alfred Hitchcock thrillers (and Criterion Collection staples) The 39 Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938) to demonstrate “that Britain's long tradition of crime cinema may offer a more nuanced, intelligent and politically informed analysis of British society from the 1920's onwards than more overtly respectable 'heritage' cinema.” Serving as his thesis, Forshaw proceeds to discuss hundreds of films (the book is thoroughly researched) on the grounds of subversive elements, from politics (Basil Dearden's The League of Gentlemen, from 1960), to violence (Peter Medak's The Krays, from 1990), and homosexuality (Basil Dearden's Victim, from 1961). The problem is that Forshaw spends only a page or two on each film; by the time he's given a rough summation of the narrative, his attention to its subversive social qualities is short changed by his self-admitted “celebratory” stance on the subject matter.

New York Film Festival 2011: Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel

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New York Film Festival 2011: <em>Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel</em>
New York Film Festival 2011: <em>Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel</em>

For a film that reveres the down-and-dirty independent filmmaking ethos that legendary B-movie producer Roger Corman exemplified, it's ironic that the talking-heads interviews in Alex Stapleton's documentary Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel feel so self-conscious. Where did Stapleton get his ideas about framing shots, The King's Speech? Interview subjects—including Corman himself—are often pushed to the sides of cinematographer Patrick Simpson's frames, with lots of negative space to look at; it's as purposeless and distracting as all those stupidly arty shots cinematographer Danny Cohen pulled off in last year's very un-Corman-like Oscar-winner (unless Simpson really, genuinely thought he was doing something original and, well, “rebellious”). And what's up with Stapleton's decision to go to the French electronic-pop duo Air, of all people, for the film's odd score?

But I would imagine no one goes to a documentary like Corman's World expecting cinematic interest. We go expecting, if not necessarily insights into the man himself or his work, at least a good overview of his life and legacy. For the most part, that's basically what we get here. From his younger days starting out as a script reader at 20th Century Fox, to his frustration at getting no credit for his successful script revisions for 1950's The Gunfighter, which him to leave Fox to produce and direct films for American International Pictures, to his eventual founding of New World Pictures and its eventual flameout as Jaws and Star Wars changed Hollywood forever, Corman's World briskly—as briskly as Corman made movies—hits the highlights of his career.