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Otto Preminger (#110 of 10)

Holy Moly! Batman TV Series Now on Blu-ray and DVD

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Holy Moly! Batman TV Series Now on Blu-ray and DVD
Holy Moly! Batman TV Series Now on Blu-ray and DVD

It’s easy to forget that there was actually a time when Batman was fun. That time was 50 years ago, when the ripples of Fredric Wertham’s despicable anti-comic diatribe Seduction of the Innocent were still being felt. His book claimed that comics were sinful trash that converted the children—by God, the children!—into homosexual deviants. The television series Batman, which ran from 1966 to ’68 on ABC, knowingly acknowledged and lampooned Wertham’s seething, masturbatory harangue in a way that defied the era’s TV standards. Starring Adam West and Burt Ward, two unknowns cast largely for their affable faces, the series (now available for the first time on DVD and Blu-ray in a snazzy, wallet-purging boxed set from Warner Home Video) remains one of the format’s great cultural touchstones. Replete with double entendres for the parents and giddy inanity for the kids, it’s everything Susan Sontag loved and loathed about camp amalgamated into a half-hour lark.

Femme Modernes Julie Grossman’s Rethinking the Femme Fatale: Ready for Her Close-Up

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Femme Modernes: Julie Grossman’s Rethinking the Femme Fatale: Ready for Her Close-Up
Femme Modernes: Julie Grossman’s Rethinking the Femme Fatale: Ready for Her Close-Up

Has there been a film genre/style more fervently written about, debated, and theorized than film noir? Not just a staple of cinephilic lexicon (choosing between 1948’s They Live By Night and 1949’s Thieves’ Highway will define who you really are), but an ongoing source of inspiration for New Hollywood to present-day filmmakers (see Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad for the latest, and questionable, iteration), film noir has been and remains the quintessential cinematic forum to synthesize form and content, either in theory or practice. Thus, when a revisionist film or academic text attempts to realign the axis from which one comprehends these films, it should necessarily raise eyebrows. When that film or text succeeds, however, it’s cause for immediate attention and debate. Julie Grossman’s Rethinking the Femme Fatale attempts to be such a redefining work.

Seeking to dislodge more narrow-minded understandings of film noir as yielding readily identifiable archetypes, Grossman devotes a book-length analysis to accurately defining women’s roles in classical film noir while convincingly revealing the fallacy behind a long-standing myth of the genre: that its women are deceitful, malevolent, and hell-bent on male destruction. Rather, Grossman claims, careful examination and close readings reveal a dearth of femme fatales in most films noir; instead of simply attempting to rotely psychologize the women in these films as “fatal,” which “abstracts gender representation from the social world,” more attention to narrative detail and setting demonstrate the underlying factors that have led to this misrepresentation.

Toronto International Film Festival 2011: Wuthering Heights, Habemus Papam, & Kotoko

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Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>Wuthering Heights</em>, <em>Habemus Papam</em>, & <em>Kotoko</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>Wuthering Heights</em>, <em>Habemus Papam</em>, & <em>Kotoko</em>

Wuthering Heights: Midway through Wuthering Heights, Hindley blinks in disbelief at the grown-up, returning Heathcliff: “What the fuck…?” Long before this groggy-hooligan double take, Brit kitchen-sink realism maven Andrea Arnold has already left her gritty imprint on this version of Emily Brontë’s novel, shooting the rustic open expanses of 19th-century Yorkshire moors with the same splintery, handheld camerawork she used for the cramped housing project of Fish Tank. Immersive, elemental sensation is all: Blood from wounds is gently licked in extreme close-up, a character smelling another’s hair during a horse ride is a luxuriant event, wind and mud are virtually supporting characters. However, while Arnold’s provocative decision to cast Heathcliff with black actors (Solomon Glave as a youngster, James Howson as an adult) both reaches back to Brontë’s original description of the character and adds a new dimension to his romance with Cathy (played by Shannon Beer and Kaya Scodelario), her conception of the couple as feral creatures knocking between a rugged Eden and foppish civilization, unsubtly accented with multiple glimpses of snared critters, is blunt and amorphous. Designed to hack away at the ornamental crust created by years of genteel literary adaptations, it’s a visually forceful attempt at seizing the ardor of the novel that nevertheless pales next to the abyss of passion explored by Luis Buñuel in his own strange, 1954 visualization of Brontë’s classic.

New York Film Festival 2010: The Social Network

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New York Film Festival 2010: <em>The Social Network</em>
New York Film Festival 2010: <em>The Social Network</em>

David Fincher’s films coil around an invisible center. His protagonists chase after something that they don’t know and can’t see, sometimes spending years in the hunt. In his first several features (following a successful career as a music video director), the center held, and the characters uncovered the thing that they were looking for. Ridley zaps the alien; Pitt and Freeman catch the killer; Michael Douglas solves the game; Norton sniffs the masculine high of his inner Tyler Durden; Jodie Foster and daughter finally break out of the room.

But then something happened inside Fincher’s movies, something roving and difficult to place. Five years passed after 2002’s Panic Room, and when Fincher’s next film, Zodiac, came out in March 2007, many audiences didn’t know what to do with it. Like Se7en, it was a serial-killer movie, and Fincher used many of his standard techniques, which Matt Zoller Seitz and Aaron Aradillas discuss in a fine video essay: wide lenses, deep focus, swooping crane shots, low-angle tracking shots, crosscutting between events in different locations, shock cuts that punch us toward unexpected spots. A visual whirlwind took us on a search for the killer, but unlike in Se7en, where he’s uncovered, Zodiac spends nearly 25 years without finding him. In Se7en, the murderer walks into the police station and cries, “Detectives! I think you’re looking for me”; in Zodiac, the chief suspect looks directly into the camera and says, “I’m not the Zodiac. And even if I were, I certainly wouldn’t tell you.”

You, the Jury: Joan Crawford, Otto Preminger, & Daisy Kenyon

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You, the Jury: Joan Crawford, Otto Preminger, & <em>Daisy Kenyon</em>
You, the Jury: Joan Crawford, Otto Preminger, & <em>Daisy Kenyon</em>

Peter Bogdanovich observed that Otto Preminger’s films were “a trial in which the audience is the jury.” He wasn’t just speaking of Preminger’s penchant for stories involving the law and institutions; he was talking about Preminger’s style as a director. He preferred long, unbroken takes, and he used close-ups sparingly. A close-up is the most efficient way into a character’s psyche; Preminger resisted that efficiency, preferring to let the audience do half of the work—to be “the jury.” Preminger said, in an interview with Bogdanovich, “...every cut interrupts the flow of storytelling. When I want a close-up, I either have the people come closer to the camera or move the camera closer to them. But always with some motivation, not wildly. You can cut without being too obvious, but it still interrupts the illusion, unless you want to use a cut to shock the audience. But this is only a theory, and I am an enemy of theory.” Preminger’s almost-meandering long-take style creates a supremely unbalancing effect. You keep waiting for the opinion to be handed to you, you keep waiting for the judgment to be rendered for you, but it does not come.

The Eavesdropper: Lillian Ross

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The Eavesdropper: Lillian Ross
The Eavesdropper: Lillian Ross

In Lillian Ross’ 1952 Picture, believed to be the first making-of-a-movie book, director John Huston described Hollywood as, “a closed in, tight, frantically inbred, and frantically competitive jungle.” Ross is that jungle’s most experienced and attentive zoologist.

For over half a century, she has chronicled the industry’s aesthetic and financial turf wars in the pages of The New Yorker. The job produced 11 books, including Picture (about Huston’s The Red Badge of Courage, (originally published as a series titled “Production Number 1512”) but also the anthologies Reporting (1961) and Reporting Back: Notes on Journalism (1961); Moments with Chaplin (1962), about her long friendship with Charlie Chaplin; The Player: A Profile of an Art (1962, co-written with her sister Helen Ross), a series of actor profiles written in first-person; the satirical novel Vertical and Horizontal (1963); and most notoriously, 1998’s Here but Not Here, about her long affair with New Yorker editor William Shawn.