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Rebel Without A Cause (#110 of 5)

50 Essential LGBT Films

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50 Essential LGBT Films
50 Essential LGBT Films

You’ve sported a red equal sign on Facebook, watched Nancy Pelosi show Michele Bachmann her politically correct middle finger, and read some of those other lists that have compiled lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) films, hailing usual suspects like High Art and Brokeback Mountain as gay equivalents of Vertigo (oh, don’t Citizen Kane me; we’re talking regime upheaval here). Now, as you continue to celebrate the crushing of DOMA and Prop 8 (and toss some extra confetti for Pride Month while you’re at it), peruse Slant’s own list of LGBT movies you owe it to yourself to see. Curated by co-founder and film editor Ed Gonzalez, this 50-wide roster is a singular trove of queer-themed gems and classics, spanning the past eight decades and reflecting artists as diverse as Kenneth Anger, Derek Jarman, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. You won’t find The Birdcage among our ranks, but you will find Paul Morrissey’s Trash, Ira Sach’s The Delta, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, and Céline Sciamma’s Tomboy. Consider the list a hat tip to what’s shaped up to be a banner LGBT year, particularly on screen, with lesbian romance Blue Is the Warmest Color taking top honors at Cannes, and Xavier Dolan releasing the masterful Laurence Anyways, which also made our cut. R. Kurt Osenlund

Nicholas Ray Blogathon: Poet of Violence

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Nicholas Ray Blogathon: Poet of Violence
Nicholas Ray Blogathon: Poet of Violence

“Violence is never an end, but the most effective means of access…[having] no other purpose than to blast away the accumulated debris of habit, to create a breach—in brief, to open up the shortest roads.” —Jacques Rivette, “Notes on a Revolution” (1955)

I. Introductory

The films of Nicholas Ray, more than any other contemporary American director’s, were singled out by the up-and-coming Cahiers du Cinéma crowd (on the cusp of their own splashy Nouvelle Vague) as justification for their politique des auteurs—more a personal stance on critical practice than dogmatic superstructure, and long since codified and ossified by academic film criticism into hierarchy-happy “auteur theory.” What attracted critical minds like Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer, and others to Nicholas Ray and his oeuvre—bored stiff as they were by the risk-averse, respectable, and ultimately neutered “cinema of quality”—was the stamp of the personal and the element of danger they discerned in his films, whether that meant the improvisatory handling of actors with a touch deft enough to coax remarkable performances out of even non-professionals; the “superior clumsiness,” cited by Rivette in “Notes on a Revolution,” resulting in “a discontinuous, abrupt technique that refuses the conventions of classical editing and continuity”; or the purely visual flourishes Ray relished—ranging from the sweeping, vertiginous helicopter-mounted shots in They Live By Night to disorienting, subjective POV compositions like the “rolling camera” during a car crash halfway through On Dangerous Ground, its very title indicating the source of Ray’s critical appeal.

Film Comment Selects 2010: Over the Edge

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Film Comment Selects 2010: <em>Over the Edge</em>
Film Comment Selects 2010: <em>Over the Edge</em>

Over the Edge suffered from timing. Jonathan Kaplan’s 1979 film finished production around the time teenage gangs were fighting in theaters over The Warriors; the studio, worried that this new teen movie would cause more violence, shelved it. But like White Dog, another studio film deemed too dangerous to be seen, its reputation grew. A 1981 HBO screening led to bookings at New York’s Public Theater, which in turn led to showings in small art houses across the city. Edge recently came out on DVD and last night it opened Film Comment Selects. Film Comment editor Gavin Smith talked before the screening about how delighted he was “to give this film the premiere it never got but deserved,” and the eager sold-out Walter Reade crowd clapped throughout. I couldn’t help but think of John Frankenheimer talking about his 1966 flop Seconds: “It went from failure to classic without ever being a hit.”

Going Through Splat (Or Not) with Stewart Stern

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Going Through Splat (Or Not) with Stewart Stern
Going Through Splat (Or Not) with Stewart Stern

Stewart Stern—it seems to go almost without saying—is best known for writing the screenplay to the seminal American classic, Rebel Without a Cause. This iconic film has overshadowed the rest of his output, which included collaborations with Nicholas Ray, Paul Newman and Marlon Brando (above, with Stern and Bea Lillie), as well as an Emmy for writing the 1976 TV miniseries Sybil. “He gets tired of talking about Rebel,” filmmaker Jon Steven Ward told me. And Ward should know: he produced and directed Going Through Splat, shooting hours of interview footage with the now 84-year old Stern that covers the writer’s life-or-death ordeal as an infantry leader at the Battle of the Bulge; his clashes with Nicholas Ray over Rebel re-writes; the early loss of James Dean; and the slow descent into writer’s block that effectively ended Stewart’s screenwriting career.

Determined not to be one of those reporters who can’t see past Rebel Without a Cause, I arrived at Stern’s house armed with questions about his scripts for Rachel, Rachel and Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams. Over mugs of herbal tea, we spent the morning talking about flying in a harness around and around the wings of Seattle’s Intiman Theatre (he has done this, on his 70th birthday, no less), and of the “overripe sense of reality” that, as a young actor, he brought to the role of Bloody Clifford in a production of Henry VI, where his homemade “severed head of the last Plantagenet I killed” drew both gasps and raves. I did manage to ask some of my prepared questions, yet in a roundabout way, Rebel, as you’ll see, won out.