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Mildred Pierce (#110 of 10)

Hearth of Darkness Rob White’s Todd Haynes

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Hearth of Darkness: Rob White’s Todd Haynes
Hearth of Darkness: Rob White’s Todd Haynes

Perhaps the most salient point in Rob White’s auteur study of Todd Haynes comes within his discussion of B. Ruby Rich and her statement that Poison (1991), a pioneering film of New Queer Cinema, is “homo-pomo,” which involves appropriation, pastiche, and irony, among others. More importantly, she claims the movement’s films to be “irreverent, energetic, alternately minimalist and excessive…full of pleasure.” It’s an alteration of the last claim that defines White’s book, where he acknowledges that Poison is “witty and playful” (or pleasurable), “but it builds to an intense pathos.” That pathos—and its significance—is where White seeks footing within the oeuvre of a filmmaker who appears to operate with equal parts practice and theory in mind. After all, Haynes studied with prolific film theorist Mary Ann Doane at Brown University, which White sees as a potential influence on Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988), given the film’s preoccupation with “female subservience and the honorable authority of the medical profession,” which is a central concern of Doane’s classic monograph The Desire to Desire. Also on White’s agenda: navigating through the litany of cinematic influences on Haynes’s films and carefully investigating the various modes of transgression present throughout much of his filmography. Ultimately, the balancing act is an impressive mix of high and low criticism.

Low, in the sense that White has visibly reigned in the academic arsenal, making only glancing references to the likes of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari—names that will be (painfully?) familiar to anyone who’s logged hours as a grad student in cinema studies. In this case, the short shrift isn’t only welcome, but supplemental to the core of White’s analysis, as he refrains from bogging the films down in unnecessary theoretical explications. Though Haynes’s filmography is potentially riper for such discussions than others, White’s own delicate prose takes its place. For example, White states regarding Superstar that objects are “better described as deathlike than lifelike.” Such an acute approximation trumps paragraphs of theoretical examination. Moreover, the discussion leads to equally proficient conclusions; regarding Poison, the author states that “horror represents the politics of futile protest.” In stridently identifying these tendencies and qualities, White combines the best of critical and academic writing.

15 Famous Movie Bullies

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15 Famous Movie Bullies
15 Famous Movie Bullies

Serving as the latest bit of evidence that a camera, a cause, and a whole lot of headline-friendly promotion can net unwarranted prestige, the Harvey Weinstein-backed Bully begins its nationwide rollout this weekend, its demand to be liked carrying an ironic whiff of oppression. From the schoolyard to the psych ward, the bully was a cinematic staple well before becoming a hot-button news topic, and we’ve got examples to prove it. The meanies in Lee Hirsch’s new doc may commit acts of school-bus terrorism, but they’d cower to these soul-crushing jerks.

A Lover’s Discourse: Terence Davies’s Films

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A Lover’s Discourse: Terence Davies’s Films
A Lover’s Discourse: Terence Davies’s Films

In a dark room, two women regard each other, the older one cloaked in shadow, the younger one better lit but turned away. The older is caring for her sick husband, wrapped up in bed sheets, while the younger thinks of killing herself due to the pangs of lost, despised love. “Sometimes it’s tough to judge when you’re caught between the devil and the deep blue sea,” she says, a little bent over, to which her staunch, stiff counterpart snaps back: “A lot of rubbish is talked about love. You know what real love is? It’s wiping someone’s ass, or changing the sheets when they’ve wet themselves, and letting ’em keep their dignity so you can both go on. Suicide? No one’s worth it.”

The moment comes late in Terence Davies’s new film, The Deep Blue Sea, which opens theatrically tomorrow, and a sneak preview of which began the BAMcinématek’s retrospective of the British director’s nine-film career (next week, Film Forum will screen a new 35mm print of 1992’s gently gliding The Long Day Closes). This Deep Blue Sea scene, coming late into the story of a London woman struggling to move on post-WWII and post-love, in some ways sets the tone for all of Davies’s work.

Understanding Screenwriting #74: The Princess of Montpensier, Source Code, Meek’s Cutoff, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #74: <em>The Princess of Montpensier</em>, <em>Source Code</em>, <em>Meek’s Cutoff</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #74: <em>The Princess of Montpensier</em>, <em>Source Code</em>, <em>Meek’s Cutoff</em>, & More

Coming Up In This Column: The Princess of Montpensier, Source Code, Meek’s Cutoff, Devil’s Doorway, Hangman’s Knot, Mildred Pierce (2011), Cinema Verite, but first…

Fan Mail: I am so sad that the discussion of my incompetence to deal with Uncle Boonmee and its ilk did not continue. But you may be able to take another shot at it on my comments on Meek’s Cutoff below.

On the other hand, I am so happy that I get a chance to correct David Ehrenstein, a rare occasion. He mentioned I did not include the most famous line of dialogue in White Savage, “How are you today, Tamara?” The reason I did not is because it’s not in the film. It showed up in a review of the film, and everybody has always assumed it was in the film. That character’s name is Tahia, not Tamara. “How are you today, Tahia?” is pretty silly, but just not as silly as the frequently quoted line.

The Princess of Montpensier (2010. Screenplay by Jean Cosmos, François-Olivier Rousseau and Bertrand Tavernier, based on a story by Madame de La Fayette. 139 minutes.)

The Son of Intolerance: There are just not a lot of movies that deal with the civil war in 16th-century France between the Catholics and the Protestant Huguenots. You can see why: you’d piss off the Catholics or the Protestants in the audience or both. There is the 1994 French film Queen Margot, about Marguerite de Valois, but most cinephiles know about the period from the French story in Griffith’s 1916 Intolerance. What, you forgot there was a French story in Intolerance? Not surprising, since it is not nearly as compelling as the Babylon story and the Modern story. It also suffered the most in the cutting of the film, probably because Griffith realized it just did not stand up to the other two.