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    cinema instructor, freelance writer and editor, occasional filmmaker
  • About my avatar
    Alain Delon as Mr. Klein
  • Favorite movies
    the kind they just don't make anymore
  • Favorite music
    Ralph Vaughan Williams, Steeleye Span
  • Favorite creative writing
    Walter de la Mare, Robert M. Coates
  • Favorite visual art
    Hans Richter, Alexander Calder

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  1. With Scorsese's Silence looming, it seems like an opportune moment to reassess this somewhat forgotten masterpiece--perhaps the most serious film about religion ever made in Hollywood. Contra the facile moral victories of A Man for All Seasons (a film I still admire, mostly for its brilliant lead performance), the central quandary of The Nun's Story is never settled. In the marvelously ambiguous final scene, it is unclear whether Sister Luke (a never better Audrey Hepburn), who has struggled for seventeen years to attain spiritual perfection, has succeeded or not. And Zinnemann's visual approach, as Arthur Nolletti, Jr. has observed in his excellent essay on the film, is as formally extreme as the classical Hollywood style would allow. Comparisons to Dreyer, Bresson, and Ozu are not inappropriate. The final shot continues to haunt me.
  2. This is a film I'll continue to wrestle with for years to come. It's full of intense contradictions I can't seem to resolve. The realist style and verbatim recitation of scripture have the outward appearance of integrity, but they also suggest the alibi of a filmmaker with no strong interpretative angle on the Christ story. Critics often overlook the fact that Pasolini launched the project in order to demonstrate the affinities between Christianity and Marxism--to use Christ to teach the church a lesson, so to speak. He chose Matthew for its populist qualities. (Mark seemed too crude, Luke too sentimental and bourgeoisie, and John too mystical.) And so we have a Jesus very much like Pasolini himself: revolutionary, anti-establishment, a man of the people, a loner. I think it was Naomi Greene who recognized Pasolini's intellectual solitude in his portrayal of Christ. We rarely see the effect that Jesus' words have on his followers (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount, shot in isolating close-ups). And by downplaying the miracles--which he later regretted including at all--as well as shearing the narrative of its eschatological passages, Pasolini deliberately misreads Christ's mission as social, not spiritual. Visually, I find it bracing, yet uneven. There are a number of striking images. Yet often the camera seems to have been entrusted to amateurs with poor marksmanship. During the longer speeches in Jerusalem, the visual style grows static, as though Pasolini has run out of ideas. But he does intelligent things with the figure of Christ. His youth, his intense gaze, and his dark robe (which stands out in contrast to the blanched settings) depart from every other interpretation of the character. The landscapes are also shrewdly employed. Once you get used to Jerusalem as a crumbling slab of concrete on a hillside more medieval than ancient, Southern Italy makes a surprisingly verisimilitudinous Palestine. And there's a powerful earthiness--indeed a rich sense of the earth itself--that grounds the film in reality. What I finally can't shake about the film is the tragic sense of a nonbeliever trying to access the mind of Christ, yet always remaining on the outside (but coming awfully close). And yet, because the director was also a poet, it's the one religious film I know of that has the power to make Jesus' words seem strange and otherworldly. Of course, it proved only to be a phase. Having gotten Christ out of his system, Pasolini never returned to an explicitly religious subject again.
  3. The extra "Flamenco" in the title is apparently there to distinguish it from Carlos Saura's previous study on the same subject. At first I was afraid that the film would be as superfluous as its title. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a great documentary (if you can call it that) that should be better known. Like Fados, it resembles a concert film, the entirety of the action taking place on a minimalist stage with decorous rear projection screens befitting of a 1930s musical. But the bold interplay of light (compliments of Vittorio Storaro), musical performance, and dance sustains a fluid cinematic space that catapults it somewhere beyond that genre. "A feast for the senses!" proclaimed the Hollywood Reporter. True enough. And perhaps something more than that. I was overwhelmed by the whole thing. After the lights came on, I became aware of a few other people in the theater. (I had walked in alone.) Two of them--an elderly Latina and a younger companion I assumed was her daughter--made eye contact with me. I seized the moment and exclaimed something like, "Wasn't that movie wonderful?" The older woman responded with "Oh, yes!" And then we talked for a few seconds about our favorite passages. Just then I noticed that the younger woman looked a bit bleary-eyed, as though she'd recently wiped tears from her eyes. This all happened two years ago, and it feels as fresh as yesterday. The movie has become a new favorite: a singular, sensuous experience as well as a valuable work of cultural preservation. And the context is celebratory. What's more--and here is the ultimate point of my longwinded story--it has the proven capacity to draw people together. Cinema at its most affirmative and healing. The final tracking shot, which connects the titular dance with the technology that will enable it to reach the rest of the world, is a beautiful expression of inclusivity. It worries me a little how this film--and Saura's recent forays into similar territory--has been taken for granted. Between Fados and Argentina (which I've yet to see), Saura is virtually alone in his aesthetic task, which makes him something of a cinematic folk hero.
  4. Perhaps gynophobia is more precise. After watching The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, I had nightmares for weeks about that wooden figurehead with her blank, unfeeling eyes, cruelly downturned mouth, and tumescent nipples. In Jason and the Argonauts, I was equally fascinated with the bust of Hera, whose eyelids pop open when Jason calls on her, and the eerie way she whispers into his ear. Ditto the bizarre cobra dance in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. I adore these films, but realize now that there is a distinct current of horror feminae running through them.
  5. Okay, now you've made me self-conscious! I'm beginning to see the limitations of this genre...
  6. Dude. Yes. The scene with the wooden figurehead, too. Another permanent image from my childhood. The misogyny of those creations are only apparent with adult hindsight.
  7. What moves me about moving statuary? What are the best movies about statues that move? Next month, I'm doing a small presentation on the horror genre, and at some point, I'd like to steer the conversation toward one of my favorite motifs in le cinema fantastique: effigies that become animate. I suppose someone's already done a study in which they trace the through line from the myth of Pygmalion to E. Nesbit's "Man-Size in Marble" and Clark Ashton Smith's "The Disinterment of Venus" to Kelly Link's "Stone Animals." But for the purposes of this project, I'm mainly interested in film and television. The earliest example I can think of is The Magician (1926), which centers on a lurid dream sequence whereby a giant sculpture of Pan comes to life and starts carousing. Then there's Wegener's Golem trilogy, which draws its inspiration from the Jewish legend about a clay statue brought to life to protect a village in Prague. The preeminent example from my childhood is Talos, the skyscraper-sized automaton who awakens and terrorizes the crew of the Argos in Jason and the Argonauts (1963). Other, minor examples might include Dan Curtis's The Norliss Tapes (1973), a made-for-TV movie that climaxes with the statue of an ancient demon taking on flesh; a Night Gallery episode entitled "Last Rites for a Dead Druid"; and "Blink," an ingenious episode of Doctor Who that aired in 2007 and has since become a Halloween favorite. Are there any others? I'll consider expanding the query to include mannequins.
  8. I'm planning on grabbing this soon so I can show the Battle of Shrewsbury sequence for a film aesthetics course. I'm sure it looks terrific in HD. I agree that the cover art is underwhelming. But you've seen the U.S. one sheet, right? The one where Orson looks like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man? Bizarre.
  9. Since I don't have many go-to cinephiles, I tend to use lists like these to locate new ones. In this case, Jordan Hoffman, a critic who has until now flown under my radar, has captured my attention by being the only one to list both Into Great Silence and Of Gods and Men. A Serious Man also tops his list. Sounds like he'd be a natural for A&F membership, no? Since not a single person listed Golden Door in their personal Top Ten, and since Carlos Saura is nowhere to be found, I can only conclude that this poll is a sham.
  10. It's some kind of a list. What does it matter what you say about lists? I'm rather interested in what the academics are doing. Looks like Tom Gunning did a good thing by listing a lot of avant-garde titles.
  11. Apropos of our conversation, the Cinefamily has announced a colossal, complete retrospective of the films of Frederick Wiseman, which will span four years. Holy mackerel. The Cinefamily has outdone itself this time.
  12. Finally caught this today. Something tells me it would have been great fun to watch with a frenzied Sundance crowd. Isolated on the small screen, however, it comes across as visually conservative and thematically muddled. It shudders to life in the last 10 minutes with a genuinely subversive ending (a sort of negative transcendence reminiscent of Ben Wheatley's Kill List), but getting there is a bit of a chore.
  13. How disappointing! I know I'd be miffed if I drove out to Santa Monica to watch a film in 70mm only to be greeted with a Blu-ray. Good news, though: UCLA is going to start showing a lot more nitrate prints starting in January.
  14. My moviegoing has been in steep decline for a couple of years now. I used to go out 50-60 times a year; I'm currently on pace for about 20-30. As John mentioned, the retrospective scene in L.A. is very good, and the prospect of seeing a cherished classic in 35mm outstrips the desire to watch a new release digitally projected. The best part about seeing a movie at the Billy Wilder or the Samuel Goldwyn: no popcorn. I had an epiphany earlier this year. I was at the Laemmle Playhouse watching Cemetery of Splendor and the film began to freeze and skip. That's odd, I thought. Then, the theater manager came out, apologized, and explained that we were watching a Blu-ray. Until then, I was under the impression that we were watching a DCP! If I couldn't tell the difference, I thought, why shouldn't I wait to see it on Blu-ray, in the comfort of my own home, for a fraction of the cost? The social experience of going out to a movie is still important to me. My best friend dragged me to see Jason Bourne recently. My wife and I saw Love & Friendship on a date. Barring a few "event" situations, these are the only scenarios in which seeing a movie on its first run seems desirable to me.
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