1. “RIP Manoel de Oliveira : 1908 – 2015.” The Portuguese maestro, who began his moviemaking career in the 1930s, has died.
“Considering he’d reached the ripe old age of 106, there remained a steady stream of new stories about how Portuguese film writer and director Manoel de Oliveira still stubbornly attended to the craft of making movies, despite the odd health scare here and there. His last completed feature, the wonderful Gebo and the Shadow from 2012, confirmed that even in his advanced years, the simple poetics of cinema refused to elude him. Reports from the press in Portugal have announced his sad death. To say he had a great innings would be something of an understatement, but that doesn’t preclude a sense of shock; here was a director who began a major second wind during his seventies, with journalists collectively bemoaning that such creative fecundity should arrive so late in a man’s life. He kept on making movies for nearly 40 years longer.”
2. “Birds Do It, Bees Do It.” For The A.V. Club, Genevieve Valentine on the unsexiest show on TV: Mad Men.
“Peggy sets a pattern of low-stakes romantic disappointment that suggests she’d just as soon ignore the whole business. The rule of sex as a roadblock to real intimacy still stands, whether with hapless hippie Abe (who broke up with her after she nonchalantly stabbed him), or with Ted Chaough, who’s as close as Peggy has come to being affected by a relationship since Pete. But since Peggy’s greatest struggle for acceptance happens in a different arena than the personal, her romantic troubles aren’t nearly the blows to her character that workplace setbacks are. In fact, going into the final season, one of her steadiest relationships is her office friendship with onetime opponent and current right-hand man Stan Rizzo, who called her after hours just to shoot the shit after she switched agencies, and who now serves alternately as a reality check and a champion. But his feelings for her, the series suggests, are deeper than that: He’s kissed her before, once as a power move and once more genuinely, if emboldened by a little chemical assistance. It’s an open question whether they’ll give in to the entropy sex brings to relationships on this show, or maintain their own version of the Anna-Don Draper marriage: a sexless meeting of the minds.”
3. “Race and The American Movie.” Peter Labuza on how Edward S. Curtis’s In the Land of the Head Hunters uncovers, redevelops, and rethinks history.
“The progressive Curtis followed in the footsteps of other anthropologists who were convinced that documenting Native American tribes—with sound, with photography, with color, and, most of all, with the moving image—was the only way to preserve cultures of a dying world. But as Brian Hochman explores in his recently published book Savage Preservation, this question was built from a myth. Curtis, along with other anthropologists, often considered the tribes they were studying to be essentially primitive, less developed than their own cultures. To them, it was only part of natural evolution that they should leave their old ways, and thus ancient songs, dances, and rituals would disappear. And so they took to new developments in sound and image. Hochman writes, ’Despite indigenous assertions of agency—or perhaps especially because of them—ideas about human difference gave turn-of-the-century anthropologists and writers cause to authorize the technological changes that surrounded them [...] race produced media, in other words, even as media produced race.’”
4. “Deep Focus: Furious 7.” For Film Comment, Michael Sragow on the latest film in the Fast and the Furious franchise.
“What’s most seamless about the movie is the way Brian’s physical grace and emotional commitment grow out of Walker’s earnest embrace of his character. This performer updates the strong, silent type the way the young Redford did, by playing a figure who is aware, and self-aware, as well as hip. He isn’t afraid to show anxiety and vulnerability when Brian faces off with a scarily efficient martial artist like Thai star Tony Jaa. And he offers an ideal counterpoint to Diesel’s warm, brawny bluster. An epilogue centered on Brian simultaneously cements Dom’s acceptance of his comrade’s retreat from daredevil risks and expresses Diesel’s love and respect for his late friend and costar. In its use of images recorded over a decade and a half, it’s at least as resonant as anything in Boyhood. Unlike many memorials, it really is a celebration. By the time the words ’For Paul’ appear on screen, applause, not tears, is the appropriate response.”
5. “The Siodmak Variations.” For the Austrian Film Museum’s Following Film blog, Christoph Huber on the undervalued Robert Siodmak.
“Otherwise filled with delicate nuances (one remembers it as a quietly devastating film), Abschied is both upfront and remarkable in its use of sound—in fact it was the first sound production for Germany’s big studio UFA, entrusted to the newcomer Siodmak on the basis of his breakout success with Menschen am Sonntag. A good choice, as Siodmak shows a cinematic sensibility energized by enthusiastically exploring new opportunities and ideas—the sometimes daring stylizations of Siodmak’s Hollywood shadowplays seem within reach: Like Fritz Lang in M (1931), Siodmak shows an intrinsic understanding of the possibilities of sound, but gravitates towards entirely different tones and effects—again, one can intuit how both would fill the Hollywood noir vessel with their quite different, but equally doom-attracted Germanic predilections. Thus, in Abschied we get not only shots devoted solely to such new cinematic events as clocks ticking in close-up or the detailed study of a vacuum cleaner in use, but also moving, transient images like the long-held sight of an ashtray on a bedside table, in which cigarettes slowly burn up, while we hear a nearby couple’s off-screen dialogue, conjuring a startling intimacy and tenderness—a powerful juxtaposition similar in essence to the grand gesture at the end of Sidomak’s noir Christmas Holiday (1944) with its Wagner sweep on the firmament, but still resolutely small-scale.”
Video of the Day: A two-part conversation with Noah Baumbach, one a Q&A after a recent While We’re Young screening at Film Society of Lincoln Center, the other a 2010 Directors Dialogue with Brian De Palma moderated by Scott Foundas:
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.