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John Cassavetes (#110 of 18)

Ivo van Hove on Directing Scenes from a Marriage and Angels in America

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Ivo van Hove on Directing Scenes from a Marriage and Angels in America
Ivo van Hove on Directing Scenes from a Marriage and Angels in America

Theater director Ivo van Hove has made a habit of breaching borders. Born in Belgium, he currently runs the internationally renowned Toneelgroep Amsterdam in the Netherlands and also brings his work to New York with welcome regularity. More significantly, van Hove makes an art of erasing the barrier not only between actor and audience, but also between one scene and another.

During the presidential 2012 election, his epochal production Roman Tragedies, which played at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, ran for nearly six hours without any breaks. Van Hove edited Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, and Anthony and Cleopatra to focus both the text and the theatrical experience on the relationship between politicians and the public. Audiences were encouraged to come and go where and when they pleased—even up onto the stage. The production became an exhilarating and indelible exercise in democracy, mounted by one of the reigning auteurs in global theater.

Storybook Characters: John Cassavetes’s Shadows at Jack

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Storybook Characters: John Cassavetes’s <em>Shadows</em> at Jack
Storybook Characters: John Cassavetes’s <em>Shadows</em> at Jack

“I’m not one of them storybook characters,” a charismatic young man assures his girl of the moment. As the plot develops, we watch the girl be seduced and then disillusioned by the man she thought was one-of-a-kind. Her hard lesson captures in microcosm the appeal of adapting John Cassavetes’s 1959 film Shadows to the stage, a project taken on two years ago by the ensemble company Hoi Polloi and now in revival at the company’s new theatrical home, Jack in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. Cassavetes’s film, his first, is a barely plotted, hyper-naturalized slice of life in the “shadows” of New York City’s jazz scene. The film’s credits call it an “improvisation,” a typically coy claim by Cassavetes to make his audience feel they’ve witnessed an authentic experience rather than a carefully crafted representation. (The film was made without a script, and most of the characters were given the same names as their actors, but that doesn’t mean the scenes were unplanned.) Bringing the film to theatrical life—scene by scene, line by line, gesture by gesture—is to be wiser than the girl. It is to be charmed but never tricked by those who claim to be “real,” but are, in fact, characters from a human imagination.

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

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

There are simply too many amazing films—thousands, really—that could occupy every slot on this list just as confidently as the ones that are here. So I chose great ones that, whether or not it was the authors’ intent, protest the way systems, traditions and institutions threaten to break or trap individuals. Some celebrate how people manage to hold onto themselves or each other during the assault. Others dramatize defeat (see numbers five, six, nine, and 10). This quality in movies is more desperately needed right now and more enduring over time than such film critic checklist items as technical virtuosity and screenplay structure. The vast majority of people who watch movies are the ones who bear the yoke, and last century’s problem was too many films made to satisfy those who wield the whip. We, the people, are still stuck in that false reality of virtual freedom, every time we turn on the TV, click through a corporate banner ad, or look up and see more billboard than sky.

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

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

List-making is an exercise in futility, but as futile exercises go, it’s one of the best. Over 10 brief bullet points, one maps out a condensed history of personal taste, a cartography of the canon made one’s own. I found it taxing and, by the end, exhausting, struck at every moment with crippling self-doubt. I wondered: Is my list exhaustive? Am I a victim of my own myopia? My confidence in these choices—which, truly, I love with all my heart—began to crumble under the pressure of a (I think universal) desire to not only be, but to seem worldly and omnivorous, to appear to have taken in everything and to conclude, finally, that these 10 films are definitively the best of all time. Which isn’t to say, of course, that I felt compelled to trade out canonical classics for idiosyncratic curveballs (though in the end I included a couple of both), but that while thinking through my favorites I couldn’t help but criticize myself for what was surely missing. Doubt gnaws away at you always, often like so: How much did I know about African cinema? Why are none of these 10 films directed by women? (Vagabond was a late and regrettable cut.) Why are there no silent films on my list? Are these films generally too recent? Should I feel guilty—and I mean this seriously—that each of these 10 films is an English-language narrative feature directed by a white male? What does that say about me as a person? Should I trade one of these films out for, say, Close-up, Paris Is Burning, or A Brighter Summer Day, each of which came extremely close to making the final cut but, alas, did not? The truth is that I don’t know. Maybe it makes me a shitty white critic with blinders on. But what I do know is this: I love these 10 films more than any other films in the world. I hope that’s enough.

Cindy Sherman and Her Many Guises

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Cindy Sherman and Her Many Guises
Cindy Sherman and Her Many Guises

Critical reactions to the current MoMA retrospective of Cindy Sherman have ranged from wildly enthusiastic to guardedly skeptical. Whatever your personal take may be, there’s no denying the artist’s prolific playfulness. Anyone who enjoyed dressing up as a child, or for Halloween costume parties, can relate to the thrill of being someone or something else, if just for a few hours. The initial appeal of Sherman’s work is this immediate identification.

On the surface, at least, for it doesn’t take long to note that as instantly appealing as her works are, with the exception of the grotesques and the more sexually explicit pictures, there’d a lot more going on in them than a childlike glee at all the makeup, costumes, and playacting.

Many of the works, most notably the Untitled Film Stills, reference the movie industry, and by extension popular culture. Publicity stills, as the show’s curator Eva Respini has pointed out, are snapshots rather than high art, discarded after they serve their function. Revitalizing this humble medium, Sherman captures female movie types, portraying ingénues, vixens, and vamps. A common reading of these stills is that Sherman is taking a critical stance on Hollywood female stereotypes. This is partly true, but a bit simplistic since many of the stills are genuinely haunting, and assert the power of the image even more than deconstruct it.