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Film Histories Caroline Martel on Industry/Cinema

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Film Histories: Caroline Martel on Industry/Cinema
Film Histories: Caroline Martel on Industry/Cinema

As you walk up the stairway at the Museum of the Moving Image, you’re greeted with a screen. On the left side is a black-and-white, silent, documentary image of young women dancing outdoors; on the right side is a tinted, silent, documentary image of a woman alone, twirling her dress. Perhaps curious, you approach, sit on a bench, and put on a pair of available headphones. The film on the right, Thomas A. Edison’s Annabelle Serpentine Dance, from 1894, you might recognize by face, if not by name. But playing on the left is a lesser-known work that holds equal entertainment and documentary value: the Bell Telephone Company of Canada’s 1920 film How Business Girls Keep Well.

Film canons and best-of lists are consistently built on a fiction, which is that the people building them have actually seen every movie ever made and can select the best accordingly. But a quick look at a list like the British magazine Sight & Sound’s recently released poll among more than 800 critics for the top 50 films of all time, which consists almost entirely of feature-length fiction works from the United States, Japan, Russia, and a few Western European countries, suggests this isn’t the case. The States alone have produced more than 500,000 “ephemeral films” (a term coined by American archivist Rick Prelinger, who also gave the statistic), short works created to advertise, promote, educate, and even entertain, and made both by corporations and by private individuals.

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

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Aaron Aradillas’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Aaron Aradillas’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.

How do you distinguish a movie that’s one of the greatest of all time from one of your all-time favorites? Is there a distinction? Making a top 10 list of the greatest movies of all time made me realize that there is and there isn’t. For example: John McTiernan’s Die Hard is one of my favorite movies, but it didn’t make this list. On the other hand, Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s Un Chien Andalou is one of the greatest movies ever made, but it didn’t make this list either. Maybe it would’ve been easier to choose movies in specific genres and categories. For example: Most people would argue that Singin’ in the Rain is the greatest musical of all time. It certainly is one of them but I’d make the case that Saturday Night Fever is just as monumental an achievement in the musical genre.

But the task at hand is to make a list of the 10 movies I consider to be the greatest ever made. Following the model of the Sight & Sound critics’ poll, I consider this list to be fluid and not set in stone. Surprisingly, I didn’t agonize over this list that much (I agonize more when I make my year-end list). My choices are movies that continue to speak to me long after I can anticipate every line of dialogue, every edit, or plot point. I feel I will never fully understand why I consider these movies to be the greatest ever made. So, if some of my choices baffle you, take comfort in knowing they baffle me, too.

Werner Schroeter: Palermo oder Wolfsburg

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Werner Schroeter: <em>Palermo oder Wolfsburg</em>
Werner Schroeter: <em>Palermo oder Wolfsburg</em>

Watching it in the Museum of Modern Art retrospective, I couldn’t help thinking how Fassbinder-like Werner Schroeter’s Palermo oder Wolfsburg seemed, but in reality the arrow of influence points the other way: Schroeter influenced Fassbinder. Such are the confused anxieties of influence, particularly with overlooked geniuses less famous than their contemporaries. If Schroeter is one, his secret lies in being protean. Palermo oder Wolfsburg starts out looking occasionally like neo-realism and gives way to something far more conspicuously theatrical. On the other hand, examined closely, the artifice is there from the start, and the affinity may be more to Brazilian filmmaker Glauber Rocha. Like Rocha, Schroeter harnesses the aesthetics of poverty to thrillingly radical ends. There’s the stagey, costumey feel to his work, and his characters that seem more like types, narrower but more vibrant than if they were verisimilar. In terms of technique, there are the discontinuities: between shots, between image and sound, subverting a logical progression to form a more disjointed but also more ample narrative, beyond the strict necessities of plot.

The Indelicate Delinquent in Manic Winter: An Evening with Jerry Lewis

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The Indelicate Delinquent in Manic Winter: An Evening with Jerry Lewis
The Indelicate Delinquent in Manic Winter: An Evening with Jerry Lewis

On the occasion of his 86th birthday last Friday night, Jerry Lewis was in his element: water. He was drooling it onto his feet, wrapping his lips around the rim of a glass, and drinking from a pitcher. Abetted by his on-stage interviewer, comedian and TV cop Richard Belzer, the legendary nightclub performer, jack-of-all-film-trades, and philanthropic veteran of the Muscular Dystrophy Association met the expectations of fans who packed 92nd Street Y’s Kaufmann Auditorium on Manhattan’s Upper East Side by cutting loose with the brand of shameless clowning that has kept him rich and famous since the Truman Administration. Casually crossing his legs and sending a shoe flying into the first row, musically cutting off a Belzer follow-up question with “Was I throoooough?”, and fixing the perpetrator of a solitary laugh with a cartoonish, sneering turn of the head that dates back to his white-hot dual act with Dean Martin, Lewis was primed to give his audience a good time, and what was billed as a tribute by the fraternal comedians’ group The Friars Club morphed into a two-hour reciprocal love-in between childlike idol and uncritical idolators. “I’m nine, and I’ve always been nine,” Lewis self-diagnosed during a breather from his antic agenda. “The beauty of nine is that it’s not complicated.”

15 Famous Movie Mustaches

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15 Famous Movie Mustaches
15 Famous Movie Mustaches

Brightening theaters this weekend is Illumination Entertainment’s take on Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, which features Danny DeVito as the voice of the fuzzy and colorful eco-guardian. DeVito’s Lorax sports one bushy tuft of facial hair, its overgrowth stretching past the width of his waistline. The rest of cinema’s most memorable mustaches can’t boast that same disproportionate bulk, but they’re not to be undervalued. Two are among the most iconic physical traits in film history, four make up one big whiskery package deal, and one is so indelible that its wearer spawned the name for a whole style of ’stache.

São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: Carnaval Atlântida, Kill or Run, & Neither Samson Nor Delilah

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São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: <em>Carnaval Atlântida</em>, <em>Kill or Run</em>, & <em>Neither Samson Nor Delilah</em>
São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: <em>Carnaval Atlântida</em>, <em>Kill or Run</em>, & <em>Neither Samson Nor Delilah</em>

How many readers have heard of Atlântida Cinematográfica? The studio opened in Rio de Janeiro in 1941, and grew popular over the next two decades for its stream of chanchada films. These were light, exciting black-and-white musical comedies, often Hollywood parodies. At its height, Atlântida would put out five a year using the same small group of directors and actors. Don’t think of them as cheap rush jobs, though. On the contrary, these well-made movies are joys.

This becomes clear from one of the first shots of Atlântida founder/producer/director José Carlos Burle’s 1953 film Carnaval Atlântida, one of three chanchadas I watched Thursday in good Cinemateca Brasileira prints. (A fourth, Sputnik Man, also screened.) The camera moves toward a door with the name “Cecílio B. De Milho” on it, and we see the growling, pacing, cigar-chomping studio boss (Renato Restier) inside. He’s making an epic about the Trojan War. He needs box office, baby, and he needs a star to get it, but against his better judgment goes with two unknowns. The first, a moon-eyed, mustachioed, bow-tied fop (José Lewgoy), is enlisted to play Paris. The second, meek Professor Xenofontes (Oscarito), teaches classical history at a girls’ school, and is thus the best possible person to play Helen of Troy. Yet when it comes time to shoot, our leads refuse to kiss each other, wrestling each other to the ground instead, and destroying fake palm trees as they do.