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Luchino Visconti (#110 of 9)

Interview: Ivo van Hove on Adapting Visconti’s The Damned for the Stage

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Interview: Ivo van Hove on Adapting Visconti’s The Damned for the Stage

Jan Versweyveld

Interview: Ivo van Hove on Adapting Visconti’s The Damned for the Stage

There are no half measures with Ivo van Hove. Whether he’s revisiting modern classics like Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge and The Crucible, or premiering David Bowie’s musical Lazarus, you can expect riveting—and in some instances controversial—theater fare from the Belgian-born director. So there’s great anticipation for his latest New York production: an epic staging of The Damned at the Park Avenue Armory, which runs from July 17 to 28.

The production, created for the Comédie-Française theater in Paris, premiered two summers ago at the Festival d’Avignon and is adapted from the Oscar-nominated screenplay for the 1969 film by Italian auteur Luchino Visconti. An operatic tale of decadence and greed, The Damned recounts the internecine struggles and disintegration of the powerful von Essenbeck family as they collude with the rising Nazi regime in 1930s Germany.

Hailed as a visionary, and sometimes dismissed as a provocateur, van Hove is currently in great demand in theater capitals across the globe. His upcoming international projects include the world-premiere stage adaptation of Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, opening in September at the Toneelgroep Amsterdam, van Hove’s home-theater base; a new adaptation of All About Eve, set to premiere next February in London’s West End; and Électre/Oreste, a combination of two Euripides plays that will be presented next Summer at the ancient Epidaurus theater in Greece. And it’s just been announced that van Hove will helm a new interpretation of the classic American musical West Side Story, slated for Broadway at the end of next year.

Recently, I had the chance to sit down with van Hove and talk about the experience of bringing new life to Visconti’s provocative The Damned.

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.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Tony Dayoub’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Tony Dayoub’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Tony Dayoub’s Top 10 Films of All Time

Editor’s Note: In light of Sight & Sound’s film poll, which, every decade, queries critics and directors the world over before arriving at a communal Top 10 list, we polled our own writers, who didn’t partake in the project, but have bold, discerning, and provocative lists to share.

When The House Next Door invited its writers to submit their Top 10 films of all time, I was faced with the usual conundrum: What does “Top 10” signify – best or favorite? After much consideration, I’m happy to say that the list I came up with could easily represent either. These are definitely personal favorites, but, in my not-so-humble opinion, they are also unassailable in their perfection, and could easily fall at the top of any all-time best list arrived at by consensus.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Budd Wilkins’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Budd Wilkins’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Budd Wilkins’s Top 10 Films of All Time

Editor’s Note: In light of Sight & Sound’s film poll, which, every decade, queries critics and directors the world over before arriving at a communal Top 10 list, we polled our own writers, who didn’t partake in the project, but have bold, discerning, and provocative lists to share.

Bearing in mind the fundamentally mercurial nature of any such list (at least as far as I’m concerned), apt to alter its constituent membership with the swiftness of a weathervane buffeted by hurricane-force winds, I hereby present the 10 films that rank as my current favorites.

Avant-Garde Traveler: Jean Epstein

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Avant-Garde Traveler: Jean Epstein
Avant-Garde Traveler: Jean Epstein

Jean Epstein is one of the great filmmakers cinephiles discover after deciding there are no more worlds left to conquer—and the effect is blinding and humbling. Like many such revelations, his work throws the map of cinema into disarray, knocking over the mile markers and headstones set up long ago by the official canon: surrealists over here, expressionism over there, social realism way over there. He was a little bit of each—none exclusively—and more. He associated with the surrealists, but the oneiric qualities of The Fall of the House of Usher (adapted by Luis Buñuel, who also served as assistant director on the film), like much of his work, are found in some unquantifiable space between special effects and elementary moods. Work that seemed to foretell the neorealist, social-realist, or magical-realist subdivisions just as often turned into daydreams, or intricate music boxes that deflated the heaviness of their own narrative concerns. A common sight—or sensation—in an Epstein film is the vast, oscillating sea, indifferent, unimpressed, a law unto itself, governing the internal physics of a given work, as well as the hearts of men and women.

Tribeca Film Festival 2012: Yossi

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Tribeca Film Festival 2012: <em>Yossi</em>
Tribeca Film Festival 2012: <em>Yossi</em>

At the end of 2002’s Yossi & Jagger, director Eytan Fox left us with a simple yet highly suggestive close-up of a man haunted by both grief and regret. Fox’s newest film, Yossi, picks up this man 10 years later and finds him still wrestling with inner demons. Even now, as a professional doctor, Yossi (Ohad Knoller) still grieves for Lior “Jagger” Amichai, the man with whom he carried on a secret love affair as a soldier in an Israeli army troop before he died in Yossi’s arms during combat on the Lebanese border. Worse, Yossi has yet to publicly acknowledge the affair; he remains closeted, resisting both the advances of a female colleague at the hospital and the urgings of a recently divorced male colleague, secretly trolling gay online-dating websites to get his fix.

One of Yossi’s virtues is Fox’s refusal to boil his main character down to an easy psychological framework. Fox and screenwriter Itay Segal mostly imply the reasons behind Yossi’s state of mind, trusting us to intuitively grasp the reasons behind his fragility. It helps that Knoller is a skilled enough actor who can wring maximum expressiveness out of minimal gestures; in his unkempt face and bleary eyes, Knoller allows one to see the strain of Yossi constantly bottling up his emotions.

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.

São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: Tales of the Night, Histórias Que Só Existem Quando Lembradas, & The Leopard

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São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: Tales of the Night, Histórias Que Só Existem Quando Lembradas, & The Leopard
São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: Tales of the Night, Histórias Que Só Existem Quando Lembradas, & The Leopard

São Paulo is enormous. Its 11 million-plus citizens make it the world’s seventh-most populated city, and the people have spread out across around 2,000 square kilometers (more than 750 square miles). Innumerable roads connect the city’s different parts to each other, and make it extremely hard to get around without using a bus or a car. This in turn leads to terrible traffic.

The traffic means that a Mostra filmgoer must be clever and careful, scheduling his or her film screenings so as to be able to make them all. Fortunately, the Mostra has placed 10 of its 22 screens this year within a half-hour walk of each other, all located around Avenida Paulista, a long, major street also full of businesses, banks, museums, and malls. If one simply stays in this area, one can fill one’s schedule nicely, as nearly every film on the program plays at least once within it. But any filmgoer would tell you that convenience only makes up part of the decision as to where to see a movie. The space’s comfort and the screen’s appropriateness to the film are also very key.

São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: The Seventh Satellite, The Mystery of the Lagoons, Andino Fragments, The Day He Arrives, & More

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São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: <em>The Seventh Satellite</em>, <em>The Mystery of the Lagoons, Andino Fragments</em>, <em>The Day He Arrives</em>, & More
São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: <em>The Seventh Satellite</em>, <em>The Mystery of the Lagoons, Andino Fragments</em>, <em>The Day He Arrives</em>, & More

A prominent Brazilian film critic said that he was most excited for the nine Elia Kazan films screening at this year’s Mostra. I said that the prints should be good, thinking about the complete Elia Kazan retrospective at New York’s Film Forum in 2009, which included beautiful new prints of On the Waterfront and Wild River, and about the fact that Kazan’s widow Frances was attending this year’s festival in person. “Yes,” he said, “I’m sure they’re all on film.”

The remark was surprising, until I considered it. I lived in New York for three years before moving to São Paulo last December, during which time I discovered a number of amazing films I would never have had exposure to otherwise, oftentimes on beautiful 35mm prints. Yet the city also instilled a kind of provincial thinking, leading me to assume that every other large city had the same resources. São Paulo is a wonderful place for filmgoing, with large series or retrospectives happening less than every two months, yet when you go to see an American or European film in repertory it’s often an imported print with French or English subtitles, with additional Portuguese subtitles projected electronically beneath. This was certainly the case with complete retrospectives this year devoted to major filmmakers as various as Claire Denis, Alfred Hitchcock, Luc Moullet, and Béla Tarr; one of the programmers of last year’s massive John Ford series told me he couldn’t find a single Ford print in Brazil.