House Logo
Explore categories +

Paul Schrader (#110 of 22)

Toronto Film Review Paul Schrader’s First Reformed

Comments Comments (...)

Toronto Film Review: Paul Schrader’s First Reformed

TIFF

Toronto Film Review: Paul Schrader’s First Reformed

Everything Paul Schrader has done throughout his career has led him to First Reformed, potentially the finest entry in what my friend and former Slant contributor Jeremiah Kipp refers to as the writer-director’s “men in rooms” films. These include 1980’s American Gigolo, 1992’s Light Sleeper, and 2007’s The Walker, all woozy character studies of not-quite-alpha males drifting through impeccably maintained, utterly empty lives that are summarily upended. The spaces these men inhabit seem an extension of their preplanned existences. Look at the way, for example, Richard Gere’s high-end sex worker, Julian Kaye, in American Gigolo organizes his California apartment as if it were a sun-dappled monk’s cell, with Armani suits as his chaplain’s wardrobe and a luxury-linened bed as his altar.

Summer of ’90: The Exorcist III

Comments Comments (...)

Summer of ’90: The Exorcist III

20th Century Fox

Summer of ’90: The Exorcist III

“Georgetown 1990”: A college rowing team trains on the Potomac. Suited-up runners pass by. A tired movie way of introducing life at a big-city university. It’s been done a hundred times to code Harvard. But stay with it. Just a few minutes in, our skepticism about the racing shell turns sour in our mouths as we hear the details of a brutal serial killing, its victim a young boy, crucified on a pair of rowing oars. And that’s not the worst of it.

It’s 20 years after the events of The Exorcist, and, as it turns out, after the grim reign of a monster dubbed the Gemini Killer. Following the college athletics and campus atmospherics of the opening shots, we’re introduced—at first visually only—to Jesuit teacher Joe Dyer (Ed Flanders) and Detective Lieutenant Bill Kinderman (George C. Scott), linked for us to 1970 and to each other in a photograph we see on Kinderman’s desk.

A church is invaded by a howling wind. Statuary eyes open wide. Something very ancient and evil has returned.

Review: Glenn Kenny’s Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor

Comments Comments (...)

Review: Glenn Kenny’s Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor
Review: Glenn Kenny’s Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor

Art-making is too often discussed in terms that implicitly liken it to magic, thusly neglecting the truth that it involves work that resembles the day-by-day toils of many other ostensibly plainer occupations. With Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor, film critic Glenn Kenny quietly pushes against that mythology. A compassionate, pragmatic anti-sentimentality, or an attempt at one, serves as the through line for his examination of one the most mythologized of all screen actors. In his introduction, Kenny writes of “De Niro’s reluctance to do interviews, and his seeming stumbling while doing them, his famous taciturnity in contrast to his preternaturally vivid presence on screen, created a mythology that itself spawned a counter-mythology. It made De Niro as famous for being an enigma, a code that a journalist or critic with just the right amount of persistence and perspicacity could crack. But what if the answer is right in front of our faces, and always has been?” The author follows that with a quote in which director Elia Kazan (who worked with De Niro on The Last Tycoon) claims that the actor is among the hardest working that he’s collaborated with, and the only one who asked to rehearse on Sundays.

In other words, Kenny brings De Niro down to earth as a working artist, which serves to somewhat ironically reawaken your awe for the actor and the profound emotional nakedness that he once achieved reliably in one performance after another. Reading this, one wonders, not why De Niro drifted toward less immersive a-job’s-a-job roles, but how he plumbed himself as deeply as long as he did. The author emphasizes detail, connecting physical gestures from one role, sometimes mercilessly, to their repetition in another film (such as the reappearance of a “shoo” motion from Goodfellas in Awakenings.) He paints De Niro unsurprisingly as a master craftsman who’s intensely devoted to analysis and rehearsal, which he, somewhat, ineffably fuses with his personality and his soul. (I’m indulging my own mythology.) Following the familiar Cahiers du Cinéma “Anatomy of an Actor” template, Kenny discusses 10 “iconic roles” in De Niro’s canon that serve to shape the actor’s career as he evolved from galvanic acting titan to controversial “sell-out” to an inevitably mellower character actor who’s still capable, nevertheless, of imbuing a questionable project or under-respected performer with a bit of prestige by association.

New Trailer for Paul Schrader’s The Canyons

Comments Comments (...)

New Trailer for Paul Schrader’s <em>The Canyons</em>
New Trailer for Paul Schrader’s <em>The Canyons</em>

1. “Each of us, within, was as if devoured by a conflagration, and our hearts were no more than a pinch of ashes. Our souls were laid waste. For a long time now we had believed in nothing, not even in nothingness. The nihilists of 1880 were a set of mystics, dreamers, the routineers of universal happiness. We, of course, were poles apart from these credulous fools and their vaporous theories. We were men of action, technicians, specialists, the pioneers of a modern generation dedicated to death, the preachers of world revolution, the precursors of universal destruction, realists, realists. And there is no reality.”

When Blaise Cendrars is going at full speed, his presentation of humanity as a terminal condition, a diseased state that tends naturally toward self-destruction, can be a singularly exhilarating experience. Refusing the consolations of science and a naively optimistic belief in progress, he envisions man as fundamentally and mortally sick, with increasingly destructive warfare the inevitable expression of this sickness. In his classic 1926 novel, Moravagine, Cendrars draws on the picaresque form to send his titular hero—a crippled brute given to raping and murdering women—and his psychiatrist, the ironically titled Raymond Science (the book’s narrator) on a world tour in the years leading up to the Great War, taking them from Europe to America and back in a darkly comedic odyssey of destruction and non-enlightenment. If the offhand brutality of Cendrars’ merciless vision can occasionally be off-putting, the novelist’s headlong prose (as translated into English by Alan Brown) tends to swallow up these instinctive objections in the totality of its death-seeking embrace.

Auteur! Auteur! Mark Gallagher’s Another Steven Soderbergh Experience: Authorship and Contemporary Hollywood

Comments Comments (...)

Auteur! Auteur!: Mark Gallagher’s Another Steven Soderbergh Experience: Authorship and Contemporary Hollywood
Auteur! Auteur!: Mark Gallagher’s Another Steven Soderbergh Experience: Authorship and Contemporary Hollywood

Though Mark Gallagher has indeed set his sights on Steven Soderbergh for his second, solo-authored film studies monograph (the first being 2006’s excellent Action Figures: Men, Action Films, and Contemporary Action Narratives), it’s the book’s subtitle that reveals his true, and more compelling, interests: authorship and contemporary hollywood. In fact, a work like Another Steven Soderbergh Experience could arguably not have been written even just a decade ago (or would have been received with maximal skepticism), given that cinephilia still existed in a pre-Hulu state, not yet having seen the fruits of the Criterion Collection’s labor, where the complete oeuvre of Keisuke Kinoshita can now be seen in essentially the same place as Kristen Wiig’s return to Saturday Night Live. What’s at stake, it seems, is exactly how one discusses cinema (not movies, to use Soderbergh’s recent distinction) in a complex, thoughtful manner that would necessarily take into account both the modes of production and viewership prevalent in the 21st century, and not simply under the banner of a director’s intent or other films.

Skeptics may refuse to alter their methodological means—that being a purely auteurist line of critical inquiry. However, Paul Schrader has recently stated that even he, at 66 years old, has had his brain rewired by digital technology, to the extent that he finds it “harder and harder to sit for two hours straight. Even in a theater,” and goes on to claim that “the concept of movies itself is pretty much becoming a 20th-century concept.” Schrader’s words offer a nice segue into Gallagher’s, who states near the beginning of his book: “Soderbergh’s work illuminates many trends in industry practice, media authorship, technologies of film and television production and distribution, and motion-picture aesthetics.” Soderbergh’s intermediary status here affirms the very struggle of defining how to place a filmmaker-as-author now, especially one as prolific, in both output and medium vacillation. Gallagher’s intent is less to embark upon another attempt at auteur baiting (as the title ironically suggests), than casting Soderbergh as his fishing lure to demonstrate how he “complicates our recognition of authoring figures’ positions within global circulation networks.” Although Gallagher engages textual analysis in brief (more as evidentiary support than an end), the bulk of the book’s focus is in exploring alternative methods for understanding precisely what a screen author does in contemporary Hollywood.

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2013: The Rules of the Game

Comments Comments (...)

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2013: <em>The Rules of the Game</em>
Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2013: <em>The Rules of the Game</em>

Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game has been part of the film canon for so long that it’s valuable to remind audiences how gloriously alive and just plain fun it is. Low comedy walks hand and hand with tragedy and beauty throughout; the film is frothy one minute, nearly apocalyptic the next, and so you’re never fully allowed to gather your bearings. The Rules of the Game has a tone that could be symbolized by the escalating merry-go-round that prominently plays into the climax of Strangers on a Train—up and down, all around and seemingly totally out of control. The film, as Paul Schrader says in the Criterion edition’s liner notes, represents all of cinema’s possibilities in 106 minutes.

That controlled chaos is partially driven by anger and despair. Renoir often said that the film was a response to his frustrations with the bourgeoisie at a time in which France was clearly imperiled. In the late ’30s, France had just surrendered Munich to the Nazis as a gesture to cool mounting threats of invasion, a gesture that was clearly fated to fail. The unmistakable indifference and self-absorption of the wealthy elite—just one reason this film hasn’t aged one iota—in the midst of this potential disaster fueled Renoir’s anxiety. But Renoir, like most major artists, wasn’t content to mount a polemic, and probably couldn’t even if he wanted to. One of cinema’s most appreciated humanists, Renoir couldn’t help himself; he had to assert even the most misguided and contemptible people’s humanity.