Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I think the Pierre Schneider discussion is in his big Matisse, but I'll check when I get home from CA tonight and bring/send you a photocopy of those pages. And sure, I'd love to see your film mags when we get together next. Btw, needing something to read yesterday I picked up an issue of The Believer, a 10x/year journal out of SF, essays, criticism, etc. Have you heard of it?

The first of the three DVDs we watched here that I couldn't remember in my email was Remains of the worth seeing again. Anthony Hopkins's imprisonment in his concept of his butler role lingers in my mind. In wonderful real-life contrast, visited here with an artist, Sas Colby, who is so free!


Saturday, April 08, 2006

I am new to Cinemascope, though I think I'll be a regular reader from now on. My first issue was their previous one, and it was quite good. I've been trying to find their latest issue, but Barnes and Noble and Kims are both out of it. I might just buy a subscription. Film Comment is quite good, as well. I'm also partial to Cineaction, a publiction out of Toronto (Robin Wood, a student of F.R. Leavis, is one of its editors). Cineaction usually has a few lenghty academic articles, as well as a few reviews, on both current and older films. I have the new issue of Cineaste, which is also very interesting: several interviews (Sidney Lumet, The Dardenne brothers, Michael Winterbottom), pieces on Bresson (kind of dissapointing) and a host of film/dvd/book reviews. I can bring a bunch of these magazines in next time we meet, if you'd like to take a look at them. (Or I can photocopy any articles that seem interesting to you.)

Where can I find the Pierre Schneider piece?

Cullen, I read the Bordwell piece, and Barbara Tuchman's definition of "good writing" comes to mind: "clear and interesting" (I think [I'll check and edit this] from "In Search of History" Practicing History 1981). I share Bordwell's interest, and I suppose we're all getting older, in "ideas and information," and when I think about reading art history and/or criticism (two critics in my pantheon are Calvin Tomkins and Adam Gopnik--both always clear and interesting), an example of reading facts that shed light on looking at an artwork that always comes to mind is Pierre Schneider's account of Matisse's painting The Piano Lesson (1916) at MoMA . It doesn't always work this way, but information Schneider provided in his discussion changed it from a painting I felt cool toward into one I happily spend time not only looking at but also thinking about and using as an example. Bordwell's foregrounding of the importance of writing well, since I care about this, is also welcome. And his piece, too, is concise, clear, and interesting (always a relief when one is asking for same). Thanks for sharing this.

Btw, is CinemaScope a journal you regularly read and/or would recommend? Any others?

Also, my only cinemexperience of the past week is Good Night and Good Luck--is there any reason not to be wholeheartedly enthusiastic about it? I saw the first half twice, and it was as edge-of-seat fascinating both times. When the credits rolled, I noted for the first time (where have I been)that Frank Langella had played Bill Paley...I saw FL in Edward Gorey's stage production of Dracula more than twenty-five years ago in Boston, and he was compelling then, so I had to rewind and watch his scenes near the end of GN&GL again, my memories of D (the first half of which I also saw twice...the boyfriend and I had gone way over budget to get the tkts, and a blackout occurred, just a few minutes after the limit that meant the theatre didn't have to give us free tkts to another performance, so of course we went way over budget again to go back and see it all the way through) in mind. All the performances in GN&GL seemed convincing to me...and talk about foreshadowing...from the first appearance of the journalist who ended up committing suicide, I knew. When the phone rang to tell George Clooney/Fred Friendly, while he and the CBS reporters were celebrating the Senate's decision to investigate McCarthy, I knew. Is that the actor's accomplishment? The film made me want to go over to the Museum of Broadcasting and watch some footage of Edward R. Murrow. As always, also love the b&w.


David Bordwell has written an attack on contemporary film criticism in the latest issue of Cinemascope. The above link will take you to an online text of his article. A compelling plea for critics to eschew cleverness and opinion for solid prose and insight. The timing is great, with Lopate's book and interview appearing within the past few weeks. I need to digest Bordwell's piece more carefully, but initially I agree with him. He thinks that both journalistic and academic critics both share the same failing: "muddy" writing, over-opinionated and too formulaic. Regrading formulas, he specifically sites film theory as having created a mechanism for bulk readings, rather than individual considerations, of movies.

A lot to consider. Bordwell also references several critics (Rivette, Bazin and Sontag) as being ideal models. I have several books by Andre Bazin, and have read several essays by Sontag, but I haven't come across Jacques Rivette's writings yet... I saw a colleciton of "Cahiers du Cinema" articles used last weekend and passed it up for some reason....strange that I can't think of WHY I wouldn't buy it, right now...


Saturday, April 01, 2006

Not sure if people were listening, but yesterday on NPR Leonard Lopate had his brother Phillip Lopate on to discuss Phillip's latest book "American Movie Critics: From The Silents Until Now," and the role of the film critic in genearl. Great comments on Kael, Crowther, and many others. You can stream the show from NPR's website. Here is the link.

My computer is officially dead, so I'm working from NYU's computer right now. Once I can get my hands on a new computer, or retrieve my headphones from the office Monday morning, I plan on revisiting this interview and taking notes. I'll be sure to post some thoughts/comments once afterwards.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Ah, youth! A film a day... Your idea, Cullen, that "Kahn is very much the 'I' in an essay; Welles is like the personal voice that emanates from style" is quotable...I'll use it in ongoing discussions of whether or not we are allowed to say "I" in an essay. Of course, another question this comparison raises is the sort of earnestness of Nathaniel Kahn's wanting to "know" his dead father v. the, ..., hmmm, intellectual game (?) Welles is playing with truth v. fiction--maybe Kahn's purpose requires an explicit "I" but Welles's doesn't? Also, the playfulness...certainly, Vertov in Man with a Camera is the most playful of the three, but I hadn't really thought of Welles as playful at all--I think you're right. I missed the two lobsters on my first viewing, but I guess a clue to the playfulness theme is the opening scene of Welles doing magic tricks for the two children. And then there's the rollerblading scene in My Architect. Your connections are so welcome...a few more squares in our quilt. Sooooo, what fits next? Here, chez moi, we're eager to see Good Night and Good Luck, just out on DVD...of course, everyone but us has probably already seen it. What do you all think? And thanks for the Lopate tip...ten days of reading time are coming in April.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Finally--spring break, and a chance to blog a little. (I just updated my Cinema Journal, as well--hoping to write a little every day or so, which is dependent on my watching at least one movie a day, as is one of my goals.) I haven't seen Walk the Line yet.

One of the things I loved about F For Fake was how playful it seemed--along the lines of Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera. Both Welles and Vertov seem to know the constraints of movies, and they push right through them. Welles' metaphor of magic is a constant reminder that editing can create illusions, too, that what we are seeing might not have happened at all. The footage of De Hory and Irving seem in constant dialogue--yet they were filmed entirely independent of one another. But it never seemed arrogant to me, perhaps because there was a beauty to Welles' film I could forgive any immodesty. I actually laugh quite a bit at the movie, even though I've already seen it several times. Welles at the dinner table with two lobsters, the picnic scene with the dogs...even his talent gets a chuckle out of me, the way that seeing a great musician improvising his/her ass off on stage can.

The reason I chose F For Fake was because of its first-person narration, and its similarities to My Architect. Both narrators are also the directors, and there seems to be a double duty of leading the audience both on- and off-screen. Do Kahn and Welles function in a similar manner, though? For Kahn, I think you can feel the tension between him as a director and as a character within the film. There are moments that seem to really hurt him emotionally that really propel the film forward: what his film needs isn't always what he, personally, needs to know regarding his father. Kahn is very much the "I" in an essay; Welles is like the personal voice that emanates from style. (Not to say that one is necessarily "better" than the other.) Welles interacts with his characters, but on his own terms and in his own space; Kahn is never in his own space, on his own ground.

Aside from F for Fake's technical complexity (think about how many disparate elements Welles culled for this project) he seems to be digging into the meaning of film form. For what reasons do we believe a story is true? If we presume we're seeing a documentary from 5PM to 7PM on a Thursday night on The Discovery Channel, does that impact us at all? The deeper element of film genre (which Welles seems to elude like a ______ from a _______, the proper metaphor eluding myself at the moment) saves the opening/closing from being mere kitsch. So, Welles might trick a few viewers (like myself) into believing the Picasso story for a while, but it relates to a larger issue of what it means to be a spectator.

There's a lot more to say, but I'll stop here for now. Time to head to the library before my evening double feature at Anthology Film Archives--a collection of shorts by Alexander Kluge, and his film Yesterday Girl. Lopate has just released a gorgeous new collection (through the Library of America) called "American Movie Critics," an anthology of the best American film critics from Vachel Lindsay to H.D. to Pauline Kael to A.O. Scott.


Monday, March 13, 2006

L for Late

Finally watched F for Fake last week...I guess I could wonder about the presence of Welles, his "I" voice...he is on-screen, doing magic tricks, telling us what's going on, participating in parties, sharing his essayistic discourse about truth and lies, etc., most of the 88 minutes. I found it interesting but also borderline annoying--yet another egotistical male--and then I watched Peter Bogdanovich's brief discussion of it, included in the DVD's supplementary materials, and realized if I'd watched that first, I'd have been more sympathetic to F for Fake's lack of linearity. Certainly Bogdanovich is. I also watched a bio of Welles, produced for European TV, among the DVD's supplementary materials, and not only was I uninformed about the great difficulty Welles had getting his later films finished and distributed but also, about his wise and generous personality. I especially liked his responses to questions from an audience, apparently college students or even particularly film students, articulate, funny, and on occasion even humble. So my next move would ideally have been to watch FfF again with my new-found sympathy. The library copy, however, was L for Late and they wanted it back.

Since my film watching is regrettably so limited (other than those watched for our blog, the only other I've seen is Walk the Line, just in time to be able to say I saw two of the nominated films this year, up from only one last year, for a la-di-dah Oscars party--costumes, betting pool, wine tasting), or perhaps among blogmates I should say shamefully, I can ruminate over this I-voice issue only, for the moment, in My Architect, the Dziga Vertov film, and F for all three, the filmmaker is on-camera throughout. Nathaniel Kahn's role is to reveal his father, to discover truths about who he was, and perhaps arguably parallel is Orson Welles's role to reveal Elmyr de Hory along with larger questions about truth and lies in art (and pull one last trick on us). Kahn is at one end of the spectrum of egotism, annoyingly and improbably impassive throughout revelations about his father that nearly brought tears to my eyes; Welles is at the other end, thrilled with his clever magic tricks and spiralling expose of de Hory, sure that we want to see the process and product (we see shots of the cameras filming him, for example, and we hear his cameraman's thoughts) of his exploration. I'm not sure how Vertov fits into the spectrum--he was whimsical, deft and amusing while both Kahn and Welles were weighty with import, on-screen less, bicycling lightly through his visual symphony and making me laugh at his antics. In a way, the non-linear self-indulgence in his concept is sort of like that of Welles. I don't remember laughing at MA or FfF...

...and that's all for now--I know Cullen's seen FfF...anyone else?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Still haven't watched F for Fake--maybe tonight (overdue fines kick in tomorrow)--but spent another enjoyable evening talking about film till past midnight with Cullin at French Roast--we missed our blogmates, knowing they would only add to the fun. Cullen had recommended and loaned me Dziga Vertov's Man with the Movie Camera (1929), a Russian "silent" film, because earlier on our blog, from a web definition of essays that I'd given to my new (sprg '06) Essay Writing class, Vertov was described as "[p]erhaps the original essay filmmaker" (

Vertov's film is a 68-minute visual urban symphony--it's so musical and so urban--but let me quote from the DVD case:

Described by Dziga Vertov ... as an "experiment in the language of pure cinema," Man with the Movie Camera is perhaps the most dazzling and sophisticated work not only of Soviet but of world silent cinema. In part it is a "city symphony," although its urban landscape is actually a film synthesis of shots taken in Moscow, Kiev, Odessa and elsewhere. In part, it is a panorama of and a manifesto on the nature of socialist society in the late 1920s. But it is especially a revelation of the possibilities of non-acted, non-fiction films: We see the cinema projectionist show the reel we are actually viewing; the "star" is the film's actual cameraman at work; the shots we see him take will reappear elsewhere as we see the film editor create emotional and intellectual moments from unrelated lengths of footage....This stunning new DVD edition .... features the potent score composed and performed [in 1996 or 1997] by the Alloy Orchestra, following music instructions written by Dziga Vertov.... (c 1996 Film Preservation Associates)

Sometimes, the play of visual rhythms reminded me of Busby Berklee's films and the sound of Gershwin's "An American in Paris," and I was never bored--it's very playful, and, I perceived, anti-Communist, but I could be wrong about that. I was also reminded of every other film in which the filmmaker metacognates--Day for Night, etc. [Here's a list I'd love to see expanded.] And seeing Vertov riding his bicycle with one hand while winding the movie camera with the other
(wait a minute, that's 3 hands...???) [is that how it worked? hand-wound filming? hand-wound/bicyclist-powered everything metaphors abound...] while filming was very amusing. I'd watch it again (and the informative extra stuff), especially if I found an uninterrupted 68 minutes (or more) lying around. I never heard his name before reading it on the essay-definition website, but Cullen says his name is very well known to film buffs. See how much we have to learn?!! [c'mon, blog to learn!] I'd like to read something about him...maybe he's in my newly-purchased documentary film history books, gathering dust under last week's Times...