1. “How Jaws took a bite out of America.” Glenn Kenny on how, forty years ago, a little movie filmed on Martha’s Vineyard changed everything.
“Watching Jaws today, the film shows its age from the very start. The cheesy TV-movie typeface of the credits, the hair and clothes, the normalization of smoking — all very ’70s. But there’s more. Jaws, especially relative to its more frenetic ostensible inheritors, has a control and a coherence that’s cinematically classical, as opposed to classic. It doesn’t shrug off death the way so many of today’s big summer movies do. Five people fall victim to the shark in Spielberg’s movie. Asked how many people were killed in his 2013 blockbuster Man of Steel, director Zack Snyder replied, ’Probably five thousand.’ Jaws takes its time, letting the horrors wrought by the shark’s destructive path sink in. Actress Lee Fierro, as the mother of a young child killed by the beast, has one of the film’s most memorable moments when she slowly approaches Roy Scheider’s Sheriff Brody and then slaps him in the face, saying: ’My boy is dead. I wanted you to know that.’”
2. “News from Space.” J. Hoberman on two very different New York shows, the New Museum’s “Report on the Construction of a Spaceship Module” and the Studio Museum in Harlem’s “The Shadows Took Shape.”
“[Ikarie XB-1’s] screenplay was adapted from a story by the Polish science-fiction writer Stanisław Lem that has never been translated into English. Perhaps because Lem’s ’scientific’ anti-utopian satires were written in thinly veiled opposition to the bogus achieved utopia of Soviet communism, his work has a degree of post-Soviet nostalgia. The stakes were so much higher then; the targets that much more absurd. In any case, Lem’s distinctive mode of deadpan, splenetic humor—elaborated, for example, in the philosophical bureaucratic infighting occasioned by the discovery of an indecipherable extraterrestrial message in his 1968 novel His Master’s Voice—suffuses the New Museum exhibition. With his abstruse color-coded philosophical systems, elaborated in charts and diagrams illustrated with pictures cut out of girlie magazines, Slovakian polymath Stano Filko, the exhibition’s most prominently featured artist, seems like a character Lem might have invented.”
3. ”The Fisher King: In the Kingdom of the Imperfect.” Over the Criterion Collection website, you can now read Bilge Ebiri’s essay on the Terry Gilliam film.
“But who is Jack Lucas? Listen closely to his opening tirade against yuppies in his DJ booth, and you may realize that he’s describing himself: ’These people…they don’t feel love, they only negotiate ’love moments’...They’re repulsed by imperfection, horrified by the banal, everything that America stands for.’ (When we next see Jack, at his palatial apartment high in the sky, the first words out of his mouth are ’I hate my cheeks.’ Repulsed by imperfection, indeed.) Even after he loses everything, Jack’s worldview remains largely the same. Drunkenly speaking to a Pinocchio doll beneath the golden statue of William Tecumseh Sherman at a corner of Central Park, Jack reflects: ’You ever read Nietzsche? Nietzsche says there’s two kinds of people in the world. People who are destined for greatness, like Walt Disney and Hitler. Then there’s the rest of us. He called us ‘the bungled and the botched’...We sometimes get close to greatness, but we never get there.’”
4. ”Li’l Quinquin and The Wire: Crimes in a Small Twon and a Big City.” Back to J. Hoberman, this time in The New York Times, on two major Blu-ray releases.
“While The Sopranos and Mad Men were character-driven, The Wire mapped a system, specifically a failing city with an African-American majority, seen through the prism of broken social institutions—including the police, the public schools and a daily newspaper. Praising the show in The Times in 2003, A. O. Scott called Mr. Simon ’the Balzac of postindustrial Maryland’ and wrote that The Wire ’invites us to reflect on our workaday relations with our bosses, our colleagues and ourselves.’ The Complete Series belongs in every public library, along with John Dos Passos’s ’U.S.A.’ trilogy, James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan books, and the novels of Theodore Dreiser. Revisited seven years after its finale, The Wire—a show whose ambition and scope are matched by its skillful editing, pungent dialogue, deep ensemble and overriding sense of place — feels less timeless than perpetually and disturbingly timely.”
5. “Global Discoveries on DVD: Then and Now, Hither and Yon.” Below is a snipped from Jonathan Rosenbaum’s column in the new issue of Cinema Scope.
“Among the many pleasures I found in the smartness of Alex Garland’s Ex Machina were its complex set of responses to other SF films (not to mention Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which it provides with a thoughtful sex change): most clearly Solaris (including even the use of a Jackson Pollock canvas to ’reply’ to Tarkovsky’s employment of Brueghel’s ’Hunters in the Snow’), but perhaps also John Boorman’s Zardoz (1974) in a few aspects of its production design and its periodic rape fantasies. So bearing in mind the Henri Langlois concept that the present is always served by being cross-referenced with the past, I re-watched Zardoz (on Twilight Time’s welcome new Blu-ray) a day later, and also tracked down my polemical defense of it in my ’Paris Journal’ in the July-August 1974 Film Comment—only to discover that I’d reviewed it alongside Solaris more than 40 years ago, when the critical reception of science fiction was far more skeptical in the mainstream press than it is today. (I suspect that I was thinking back then mainly of Pauline Kael’s scornful ridicule of both 2001 and Zardoz.)”
Video of the Day: The trailer for Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp:
Links for the Day: A collection of links to items that we hope will spark discussion. We encourage our readers to submit candidates for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org and to converse in the comments section.