House Logo
Explore categories +

Film Forum (#110 of 11)

The 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival

Comments Comments (...)

The 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival

TCM Classic Film Festival

The 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival

At the risk of invoking the spirit of the perpetually weary Lili Von Shtupp from Blazing Saddles, long before I ever hopped the red line train to Hollywood Boulevard in anticipation of the 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival last Thursday night, I had already been beset by a heavy sense of festival fatigue. Such bemoaning might seem misplaced coming from someone who attends exactly one festival a year—this one. But after a noticeable slump last year, in my energy and in the level of the festival’s programming overall, I had begun to worry that after eight TCMFFs in a row the dip in enthusiasm I’d registered last year might blossom into a full-on festival hangover before this year’s fun had even had a chance to begin. However, as news of the specifics of the festival began to trickle out, there became apparent a reason to suspect, if not outright hope, that 2018 might provide a tonic to address the comparatively flat spirits which earmarked the previous gathering.

The Birth of a Maverick: D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance

Comments Comments (...)

The Birth of a Maverick: D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance
The Birth of a Maverick: D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance

As one unsigned review of The Birth of a Nation in Motion Picture News famously opined, “In dramatic and photographic technique, it is beyond our present-day criticism.” Imagine a contemporary critic openly recognizing that a film was so advanced, so far beyond his or her comprehension, that it actively defied established nomenclature. Yet that’s precisely the type of territory where one finds oneself when discussing the work of D.W. Griffith, whose conception of film form was borne of his desire to wrestle cinema from the confines of novelty and elevate it to the realm of high art. His controversial socio-cultural outlook—okay, racism—isn’t sufficient enough grounds to disregard his enormous influence on both mainstream and avant-garde filmmaking. If anything, his unselfconscious, unwavering desire to essentially imprint himself on the cinematic image, even at the expense of his public perception, ultimately made him a martyr for the cause; as Stan Brakhage hyperbolically but poetically claimed, “hunks of Christ broke off in Griffith’s psyche.”

But it was more than just retaliation that drove Griffith to make this epic story of “Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages,” a film whose very title seemed to disregard and actively contradict the sentiments Griffith displayed throughout The Birth of a Nation. The narrative possibilities of film form fascinated Griffith, as did the freedom with which to integrate narrative style into the medium. The most common criticism leveled against Intolerance is that its overall story is nearly impossible to follow, which isn’t an unfair assessment. Its four interwoven sagas of human injustice—the “modern” story of a labor dispute in 1914 America, the Renaissance “French” account of the 16th-century slaughter of the Huguenots, the “Judean” tale of the Crucifixion, and the epic “Babylonian” depiction of the fall of Babylonia—likely work well enough on their own, but structured as they are, it can be damn near impossible to process them procedurally.

A Lover’s Discourse: Terence Davies’s Films

Comments Comments (...)

A Lover’s Discourse: Terence Davies’s Films
A Lover’s Discourse: Terence Davies’s Films

In a dark room, two women regard each other, the older one cloaked in shadow, the younger one better lit but turned away. The older is caring for her sick husband, wrapped up in bed sheets, while the younger thinks of killing herself due to the pangs of lost, despised love. “Sometimes it’s tough to judge when you’re caught between the devil and the deep blue sea,” she says, a little bent over, to which her staunch, stiff counterpart snaps back: “A lot of rubbish is talked about love. You know what real love is? It’s wiping someone’s ass, or changing the sheets when they’ve wet themselves, and letting ’em keep their dignity so you can both go on. Suicide? No one’s worth it.”

The moment comes late in Terence Davies’s new film, The Deep Blue Sea, which opens theatrically tomorrow, and a sneak preview of which began the BAMcinématek’s retrospective of the British director’s nine-film career (next week, Film Forum will screen a new 35mm print of 1992’s gently gliding The Long Day Closes). This Deep Blue Sea scene, coming late into the story of a London woman struggling to move on post-WWII and post-love, in some ways sets the tone for all of Davies’s work.

New York Film Festival 2011: My Week with Marilyn

Comments Comments (...)

New York Film Festival 2011: <em>My Week with Marilyn</em>
New York Film Festival 2011: <em>My Week with Marilyn</em>

At the Q&A following the press screening of My Week with Marilyn, director Simon Curtis said he fell in love with the two Colin Clark memoirs the script is based on because of the insights they provided into Marilyn Monroe. A funny thing must have happened on the way to Film Forum though. Either those insights just didn’t make it into the screenplay or else Curtis knows a lot less about Hollywood’s Lady of Perpetual Sorrow than I had thought was possible for any reasonably well-educated citizen of the developed world.

Michelle Williams’s Marilyn is a thinking, feeling human being, but My Week with Marilyn’s script is so banal (“I’m not a goddess. I just want to be loved like a regular girl,” the poor girl has to say) that she relies almost entirely on body language and facial expressions to convey Monroe’s essence. Viewed from a distance or with dark glasses on, she looks remarkable like her, especially when she recreates the funny little dance Monroe’s character performs to amuse herself when she’s left alone for a bit in The Prince and the Showgirl, the god-awful romantic comedy Monroe was filming under the direction of her co-star, Laurence Olivier (brayed by Kenneth Branagh), during the week of the movie’s title.

Film Comment Selects 2011: City of Life and Death

Comments Comments (...)

Film Comment Selects 2011: <em>City of Life and Death</em>
Film Comment Selects 2011: <em>City of Life and Death</em>

Perhaps the most significant thing about City of Life and Death is that American viewers will finally get the chance to see it. A box office hit in its native China, Lu Chuan’s divisive epic about the Nanking massacre courted enormous controversy almost from the start. Pulled from Chinese theaters over an uproar about, among other things, the movie’s positive treatment of a central Japanese character, the picture was similarly yanked just weeks before its scheduled New York debut at Film Forum following stalled negotiations between the film’s then-U.S. distributor, National Geographic Entertainment, and the Chinese Film Board. Newly acquired by Kino International, City of Life and Death is now set for a May 2011 release following its New York debut at Film Comment Selects.

But is the film worth all the hassle? Clearly the depiction of a perennially touchy historical event remains a sore spot for a Chinese nation seeking to reinvent itself as a world power, but for the American viewer, it unfolds as one more mediocre historical epic, combining black-and-white Scope photography, half-drawn character sketches that edge toward the sentimental, and enough acts of brutality to insist on the significance of its own content. And while certainly no one would deny the significance of a brutal occupation that resulted in the murders of up to 300,000 people and the rape of tens of thousands of women, Lu’s film, unlike other recent movies dealing with the same events (even the forgettable John Rabe was far more intellectually curious), is stubbornly uninterested in historical analysis, only in dramatization.

Fran Lebowitz in Public Speaking

Comments Comments (...)

Fran Lebowitz in <em>Public Speaking</em>
Fran Lebowitz in <em>Public Speaking</em>

[Public Speaking opens on Wednesday, February 23rd at Film Forum in Manhattan.]

At first glance, Martin Scorsese seems like an odd choice to do an interview movie with Fran Lebowitz, a Brooks Brothers-wearing gadfly and gladiatorial talker famous for two collections of humor essays, Metropolitan Life (1974) and Social Studies (1981), and for her subsequent three decades of silence in print, which she attributes to sloth; her writer’s block is proverbial, and it seemed to be lying in wait for her even in the pithy articles that she did manage to write. Wes Anderson was originally set to direct a Lebowitz movie, but when his scheduling didn’t allow this, Scorsese took it on, and the result is Public Speaking, a film that lets Lebowitz hold forth on most of her expected subjects, regaling her director and his crew from her table at the Waverly Inn, a restaurant and semi-private club run by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, who initiated this project. Lebowitz has always made it her business to make friends in high places, and she has made her living through no-doubt exhausting lectures at colleges but also as a kind of court jester (this is Edmund White’s phrase, which he immediately took back as too mean in one of his memoirs) to the rich.

Godfrey Cheshire on Close-Up

Comments Comments (...)

Godfrey Cheshire on Close-Up

Janus Films

Godfrey Cheshire on Close-Up

Few figures in the history of movies leap from screen to become not just characters but paradigms, beacons that illuminate the paradoxical nature and power of the medium even as they exercise their own unique fascinations. The Little Tramp, Charles Foster Kane and a handful of others: these are the cinema’s resonant, iconic Quixotes, whose significance surpasses even the films that contain them. At the end of the 1990s we can add another name to their select company of unforgettables: Hossein Sabzian.

This review, the last I will write for publication in the year that marks the end of the century of cinema, concerns Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up, a 1990 Iranian feature that I recently named the most important film of the last decade and one of the 10 most important of the century. That estimation certainly reflects my own ongoing fascination with Iranian cinema, but it’s hardly idiosyncratic. In 1990, when few in the film world were cued to the growing potency of Iranian filmmaking, Close-Up was passed over by high-profile festivals including Cannes and New York, but won prizes in Montreal and Rimini. Its renown has grown exponentially since then. After being voted the best Iranian film in history in a worldwide survey of critics published by the Iranian magazine Film International, the film has ranked at or near the top of critics polls regarding movies of the 1990s conducted recently in Canada and Europe.

Brief Summertime: David Lean at Film Forum

Comments Comments (...)

Brief Summertime: David Lean at Film Forum
Brief Summertime: David Lean at Film Forum

To most people, the name David Lean means Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Many still remember its famous re-issue in 1989 on the big screen, and few question that film’s supposed greatness now, even though Andrew Sarris originally condemned it as “dull, overlong and coldly impersonal.” That’s not quite fair; Lawrence often seems to be about some kind of deep-dyed English dread of inadequacy, and whenever Lean gets sun-struck with his endless desert vistas, Peter O’Toole pulls the film back into the far-out agony of one very strange, sadomasochistic man. Before that, Lean had won acclaim and awards for The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), his first real epic, and an even vaguer movie than Lawrence. Despite fine acting from Alec Guinness and Sessue Hayakawa, Kwai raises issues of duty and madness only to scuttle them in one of the most confusing endings in film history. In Kevin Brownlow’s massive, definitive biography of Lean, it is revealed that the director and his collaborators didn’t know how to end Kwai, so they shot the climax in such a muddled way that it’s impossible to know how the bridge is destroyed. By accident? Deliberately?

Lichman & Rizov “Live” at Grassroots Tavern: Episode 2, “Ethnocore!” with Zachary Wigon

Comments Comments (...)

Lichman & Rizov “Live” at Grassroots Tavern: Episode 2, “Ethnocore!” with Zachary Wigon
Lichman & Rizov “Live” at Grassroots Tavern: Episode 2, “Ethnocore!” with Zachary Wigon

The original title for this episode was “My Black Eye,” due to the massive shiner I gave myself after faceplanting onto my bookshelf. But we thought about it and decided to go with “Ethnocore!” Why Ethnocore? It has something to do with the SXSW list, I promise. This time out, we’re joined by special guest and House contributor Zach Wigon to discuss the rather interesting topic of political films—trust me, it’s a topic that surprised me considering the answers. Also debated: the Lumet series currently playing at Film Forum and whether ol’ Sid is worth it. The best moment of the night goes to Vadim as he effectively eulogizes and praises the current trend of film criticism amid postulations that critics just aren’t appreciated by the public and that the Internet is the answer! W00t!

Special thanks to Zach for coming out and putting up with several lowbrow remarks. Next week’s episode should be even better: we’ll be going into uncharted territory with the Oscars. Will there be blood? Is a knocked up Ellen Page a shoe-in? Why do the Best Animated Picture nods always suck?! We’ll have S.T. VanAirsdale (The Reeler, Little Gold Men) joining us at the bar to help answer these questions and more. Until then, if you see us Vadim or ME (thanks ali) at the bar, buy us a drink. JL

 

Adulterers, Perverts, Lawyers, Criminals, Liars, Wimps, Snitches and Drunks: “Essential Wilder”

Comments Comments (...)

Adulterers, Perverts, Lawyers, Criminals, Liars, Wimps, Snitches and Drunks: “Essential Wilder”
Adulterers, Perverts, Lawyers, Criminals, Liars, Wimps, Snitches and Drunks: “Essential Wilder”

In honor of what would have been Billy Wilder’s 100th birthday, NYC’s Film Forum is currently hosting a retrospective titled “Essential Wilder.” Running until July 20th, the lineup features films co-written by Wilder either for himself or for another director (Howard Hawks, Mitchell Liesen and Wilder’s idol Ernst Lubistch, to name three). Wilder’s classics are represented, as well as films deemed by most to be “Lesser Wilder,” though a die-hard fan may take issue with that label: Wilder had a few misfires in his career, but only one of them is in this retrospective.

Because the series is called “Essential Wilder,” there are no screenings of Wilder’s horrendous Buddy, Buddy, nor are there any sightings of Jack Lemmon’s flat, naked ass from the otherwise mildly diverting truffle, Avanti. Film Forum also won’t be wearing Wilder’s Fedora nor reading The Front Page. In their places are movies about adulterers, perverts, lawyers, criminals, liars, wimps, snitches, drunks, and any combination from that list. Also present are numerous shots of the old New York, so many that Wilder should be mentioned in the same group of NYC directors as Lumet, Scorsese and Lee.

This week finds some choice Wilder works, and that aforementioned misfire. Thursday brings Witness for the Prosecution, a fun Agatha Christie mystery headed by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Laughton (both Oscar nominated), and made memorable by Marlene Dietrich’s supporting turn. Friday unspools Sunset Blvd., Wilder’s masterpiece and my second favorite movie of all time. It deserves a post all to itself at some future date.