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Samuel Fuller (#110 of 10)

Hearth of Darkness Rob White’s Todd Haynes

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Hearth of Darkness: Rob White’s Todd Haynes
Hearth of Darkness: Rob White’s Todd Haynes

Perhaps the most salient point in Rob White’s auteur study of Todd Haynes comes within his discussion of B. Ruby Rich and her statement that Poison (1991), a pioneering film of New Queer Cinema, is “homo-pomo,” which involves appropriation, pastiche, and irony, among others. More importantly, she claims the movement’s films to be “irreverent, energetic, alternately minimalist and excessive…full of pleasure.” It’s an alteration of the last claim that defines White’s book, where he acknowledges that Poison is “witty and playful” (or pleasurable), “but it builds to an intense pathos.” That pathos—and its significance—is where White seeks footing within the oeuvre of a filmmaker who appears to operate with equal parts practice and theory in mind. After all, Haynes studied with prolific film theorist Mary Ann Doane at Brown University, which White sees as a potential influence on Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988), given the film’s preoccupation with “female subservience and the honorable authority of the medical profession,” which is a central concern of Doane’s classic monograph The Desire to Desire. Also on White’s agenda: navigating through the litany of cinematic influences on Haynes’s films and carefully investigating the various modes of transgression present throughout much of his filmography. Ultimately, the balancing act is an impressive mix of high and low criticism.

Low, in the sense that White has visibly reigned in the academic arsenal, making only glancing references to the likes of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari—names that will be (painfully?) familiar to anyone who’s logged hours as a grad student in cinema studies. In this case, the short shrift isn’t only welcome, but supplemental to the core of White’s analysis, as he refrains from bogging the films down in unnecessary theoretical explications. Though Haynes’s filmography is potentially riper for such discussions than others, White’s own delicate prose takes its place. For example, White states regarding Superstar that objects are “better described as deathlike than lifelike.” Such an acute approximation trumps paragraphs of theoretical examination. Moreover, the discussion leads to equally proficient conclusions; regarding Poison, the author states that “horror represents the politics of futile protest.” In stridently identifying these tendencies and qualities, White combines the best of critical and academic writing.

Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2011: The Day He Arrives and Men About Town

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Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2011: <em>The Day He Arrives</em> and <em>Men About Town</em>
Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2011: <em>The Day He Arrives</em> and <em>Men About Town</em>

Festivals are strange and wonderful environments. Being in a state of extreme film-watching (wherein your entire day is taken up by either sitting in a darkened room, thinking about what you just saw, or else trying to figure out what you’re going to see next) puts certain aspects of cinema into perspective. Watching films as diverse as Romain Garvas’s wild and angry road film Our Day Will Come, Andrei Zvyagintsev’s quiet and frosty Elena, and Sam Fuller’s zoom-happy Pickup on South Street makes one excited about all the different stylish possibilities of narrative storytelling. But a sort of paradox occurs: While growing large, cinema also shrinks. There are stirs of echoes between different time periods and filmmakers. Hong Sang-soo finds just as much utility in zooming on people’s faces in The Day He Arrives as Fuller does. Cinema has undergone many transformations, but it must go further still, always searching for new forms, rhythms, words (like Film Socialisme’s brazen use of Navajo English subtitles to explore the limitations of language) and modes of expression. We’ve had many waves, but from the shore (for we’ve only just begun to swim) the expanse of the ocean is endless.

Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2011: The Naked Kiss, Polytechnique, The Soul of Flies, Holidays in the Sun, & Father

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Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2011: <em>The Naked Kiss</em>, <em>Polytechnique</em>, <em>The Soul of Flies</em>, <em>Holidays in the Sun</em>, & <em>Father</em>
Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2011: <em>The Naked Kiss</em>, <em>Polytechnique</em>, <em>The Soul of Flies</em>, <em>Holidays in the Sun</em>, & <em>Father</em>

The Karlovy Vary International Film Festival set sail on its 46th cinephilic voyage on July 1 with a screening of the opening-night film Jane Eyre and fireworks over the Hotel Thermal (the headquarters of the festival, and where a large part of the screenings are held). The festival closes on July 9 with Midnight in Paris. In between those dates there will be hours and hours of under-the-radar and greatest-hits offerings from previous festivals (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, The Turin Horse, Eighty Letters, etc.), a number of retrospective/archival sidebars highlighting contemporary Greek cinema and the films of Sam Fuller, Denis Villeneuve, Jerzy Skolimowski, and others, and a slate of competition films. The trickiest thing about large festivals—after you get used the idea that it really will be impossible to see absolutely everything even if you don’t sleep and learn how to teleport from screening to screening—is finding the right balance between countries/auteurs/old/new while always leaving room for the unknown, trotting off to those films you’ve absolutely never heard of. And so, in the hopes of maintaining some sort of equilibrium…

A Conversation with Alex Ross Perry About The Color Wheel

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A Conversation with Alex Ross Perry About The Color Wheel
A Conversation with Alex Ross Perry About The Color Wheel

I know Alex Ross Perry from the movies, from seeing him at repertory screenings in New York. Before I had even met Alex, I heard a rumor that he had made Out 1 T-shirts to commemorate the “I was there” experience of that rare, 13-hour film’s U.S. premiere. Who was this kid? Oftentimes I’ve been at screenings with just five people in the audience: Alex, a notable critic, a DP (who shot Alex’s films) and a publicist/programmer (who has a cameo in Alex’s latest film). It was rewarding, then, to see his second film The Color Wheel and see that the lessons from all those films had sunk in. Alex made a film that feels like films he seeks out—idiosyncratic and perfectly flawed, and awaiting discovery. I spoke with Alex about his film, and then asked him to make a list of some of his most memorable moviegoing experiences.

Cinequest ‘11: Midnight Son, New York Decalogue, Madly in Love, Sodankyla Forever, & The Glass Slipper

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Cinequest ‘11: <em>Midnight Son</em>, <em>New York Decalogue</em>, <em>Madly in Love</em>, <em>Sodankyla Forever</em>, & <em>The Glass Slipper</em>
Cinequest ‘11: <em>Midnight Son</em>, <em>New York Decalogue</em>, <em>Madly in Love</em>, <em>Sodankyla Forever</em>, & <em>The Glass Slipper</em>

Cinequest recently wrapped its 21st year. I attended the festival in its last few days, which is the equivalent of eating the frosting of a 10-layer cake. I didn’t see enough films to be able to make broad conclusions about the festival, but the small taste I did get enables me to say that this festival has one again, just as it always does, stuck to its promise of programming the new and uncharted in cinema. Though some of the films playing the festival, like Potiche, have built their reputations at places like Cannes, Berlin, Venice, etc., for the most part this is a festival whose programming is doggedly dedicated to bringing films to the screen that in many cases, up until their CQ premiere, are not on any one’s radars (films from first-time filmmakers and those that haven’t gotten much exposure outside of their home country or at other festivals).

Eclipse Series 5: The First Films of Samuel Fuller on Criterion DVD

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Eclipse Series 5: The First Films of Samuel Fuller on Criterion DVD
Eclipse Series 5: The First Films of Samuel Fuller on Criterion DVD

Tempting as it is to describe Samuel Fuller as the cinema’s brute poet, the three films included on The Criterion Collection’s fifth Eclipse series (“The First Films of Samuel Fuller”) encourage a more multifaceted reading.

Whether working as reporter or soldier, Fuller always had his hand in the arts, and he might be the living epitome of that old John Ford/Liberty Valance saw: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” His autobiography, A Third Face, pushed several friends and colleagues to an enthusiastic epiphany (“Sam Fuller won World War II!”) that I’m sure the stogie-chomping stalwart would have basked in for a delirious moment or two. But guaranteed the seriousness of his experiences would have intruded on this hypothetical reverie; for all his gruff joie de vivre, there’s a concomitantly profound sense of sadness underlying each and every shot of Fuller’s cinema.