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Michelangelo Antonioni (#110 of 14)

Berlinale 2015 Knight of Cups

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Berlinale 2015: Knight of Cups
Berlinale 2015: Knight of Cups

With Knight of Cups, Terrence Malick achieves the sense of stylistic ossification that many accused his last feature, To the Wonder, of embodying. The difference is that the earlier film was still, in its own rather elemental ways, tied to actual flesh-and-blood characters on screen. In Knights of Cups, by contrast, Malick seems to have finally decided to do away with humans altogether. In some ways, this is the filmmaker’s 8 ½: a feature-length riff on his own creative frustration, with Christian Bale as his directionless stand-in, a screenwriter suffering from spiritual ennui. But then, of course he’s bored and frustrated: He lives in Hollywood, after all, and if works like The Day of the Locust and The Player have shown us anything over the years, what else is Hollywood but a cesspool of decadence and empty hedonism? To this ostensibly mind-blowing insight, Malick adds a fascination with landscapes and architecture that recalls Michelangelo Antonioni’s similar obsessions in the unofficial trilogy of L’Avventura, La Notte, and L’Eclisse—though Emmanuel Lubezki’s roving camerawork and the poetically hushed voiceovers on the soundtrack scream Malick through and through.

Death by Art Andrew Cooper’s Dario Argento

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Death by Art: L. Andrew Cooper’s Dario Argento
Death by Art: L. Andrew Cooper’s Dario Argento

“What the fuck is this bullshit psychoanalysis?” are the wonderful words spoken by Jeremy Irons’s Beverly Mantle in David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (1988), and if you follow the arguments of L. Andrew Cooper in his new book, the films of Dario Argento often share a similar opinion. Cooper claims Argento, though labeled early in his career as the “Italian Hitchcock,” spent his early, gialli-focused years lambasting and lampooning “Freudian proclivities,” most notably in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1969), which positions itself as a Psycho (1960) homage, only to jest at Hitchcock’s insistence upon closure via psychological ends. In fact, Cooper argues that aesthetics, especially beginning with Deep Red (1975), become a replacement for both psychoanalysis and narrative in Argento’s films, leading him toward an interest in visual excess, which would culminate in Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980), films that “in their combinations of wild visuals and storylines that challenge storytelling itself, were unlike anything the world had ever seen.” If the previous claim reads slightly clunky and definitely hyperbolic, it’s likely because Cooper’s book, on the whole, is torn between its academic and populist inclinations. Unlike Maitland McDonagh’s revelatory Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento, which strikes an invigorating balance of analysis, theory, and historicizing, Cooper states from the onset his desire to “eschew a traditional auteur approach.” Necessarily, this leads him down a rather predictable post-structuralist path, replete with deconstructionist close-reading after close-reading—all of them informative and knowledgeable, certainly, but few, if any, of them truly illuminating the depths of Argento’s oeuvre, beyond relatively fundamental distinctions between form and content and Argento’s non-normative subversions.

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.

Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2012: Two by Mark Cousins, Boy Eating the Bird’s Food, House with a Turret, & More

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Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2012: Two by Mark Cousins, <em>Boy Eating the Bird’s Food</em>, <em>House with a Turret</em>, & More
Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2012: Two by Mark Cousins, <em>Boy Eating the Bird’s Food</em>, <em>House with a Turret</em>, & More

Every year, the lovely spa town of Karlovy Vary—formerly known as Karlsbad—awakens from its long sleep to welcome hundreds of mostly young, backpack-toting film enthusiasts. For me, who’s been coming to the 47-year-old Karlovy Vary International Film Festival for about eight years, the place offers a comforting sense of annual déjà vu. There’s the solid Soviet-style Thermal Hotel where most of the action takes place: terrace meetings, the press room, the video library, and screenings in the five small, rather uncomfortable cinemas. There are also the delicious spreads at the Grandhotel Pupp (pronounced “poop,” a source of hilarity for most newcomers) and plenty of free wine and beer. Once you step out after a two-hour drive from Prague, the vibrant atmosphere hits you. And what you hear is the constant clamorous babble of cinephilic conversations between filmmakers, critics and the public.

Avant-Garde Traveler: Jean Epstein

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Avant-Garde Traveler: Jean Epstein
Avant-Garde Traveler: Jean Epstein

Jean Epstein is one of the great filmmakers cinephiles discover after deciding there are no more worlds left to conquer—and the effect is blinding and humbling. Like many such revelations, his work throws the map of cinema into disarray, knocking over the mile markers and headstones set up long ago by the official canon: surrealists over here, expressionism over there, social realism way over there. He was a little bit of each—none exclusively—and more. He associated with the surrealists, but the oneiric qualities of The Fall of the House of Usher (adapted by Luis Buñuel, who also served as assistant director on the film), like much of his work, are found in some unquantifiable space between special effects and elementary moods. Work that seemed to foretell the neorealist, social-realist, or magical-realist subdivisions just as often turned into daydreams, or intricate music boxes that deflated the heaviness of their own narrative concerns. A common sight—or sensation—in an Epstein film is the vast, oscillating sea, indifferent, unimpressed, a law unto itself, governing the internal physics of a given work, as well as the hearts of men and women.

First Impressions of The Tree of Life

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First Impressions of The Tree of Life

Fox Searchlight Pictures

First Impressions of The Tree of Life

Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life never stops moving forward. It begins with a Bible quote and ends with a transcendental meeting of found souls on a beach, and it has the structure of a child’s memories; it gathers in fragments, dreams, fancies, associations, glances, whispers, impressions. Most of it takes place in a small Texas town in the 1950s, and at a certain point, we see a truck that says “Waco, Texas,” which is Malick’s own hometown. We have no way of knowing just how personal this clearly personal film is, but there can be no question from what’s on screen that Malick is working from his own most intimate knowledge of what childhood felt like. Every short shot preserves a sense of mystery, of expectancy, so that we’re likely to feel like a character in a Virginia Woolf novel crying out, “Wait! Stop!”