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Posts Tagged ‘filmmaking’

A Staggering Array of Folk Art, and Other News

June 14, 2016 | by

An elephant pull toy from 1830–80, on display now at the New-York Historical Society. Image via The New York Review of Books.

  • When I’m on the job, I use periods in my writing all the time. They’re part of the buttoned-up, G-rated approachability that makes me such an asset to office culture. But when I’m off duty, you better believe the periods are the first thing to go, am I right? As Jeff Guo has noticed, “The period is no longer how we finish our sentences. In texts and online chats, it has been replaced by the simple line break … The modern line break is like the medieval punctus—an all-purpose piece of punctuation that inserts pauses wherever we’re feeling it. And the period has gained expressive powers after it was laid off from its job marking the ends of sentences. Now it’s an icy flourish we deploy against frenemies and exes. We should celebrate these developments. Writing is becoming richer. This is an exciting time. Period.”
  • And in German-Turkish relations, grammar is playing a pivotal diplomatic role: “With impressive courage, a hip-hop band called Einshoch6 left their native Munich to keep a longstanding date on June 4 and, as one of them modestly put it, ‘set Ankara on fire’ with a concert and teach-in. Young Turkish German-learners took lessons in how to turn tongue-twisting Teutonic sounds into the verbal pyrotechnics of rap. Their trademark is combining rap vocals with classical instruments (or electronic versions of those instruments) and strong percussion … Along with their own exuberant, random ravings they have experimented with rap versions of the poetry of Goethe, and their whole output is an unlikely by-product of the intense classical-music culture of south Germany. But they send out a message that mastering compound verbs and case-endings needn’t be done with a long, studious face.”
  • Hey, kid. Wanna get into the picture business? Don’t go to Tinseltown. It’s for chumps and floozies. Get yourself a one-way ticket to Marrakesh: “Morocco shares many of the advantages that first drew filmmakers to California: year-round sunshine, diverse landscapes, great old architecture and abundant available extras. Just recently Morocco and Britain signed a treaty giving each other reciprocal tax subsidies for film and television production. And since the UK and Morocco are in the same time zone, they keep the same business hours. My fascination with film was kindled in the New York editorial offices of a literary magazine, The Paris Review. My then boss, George Plimpton, recounted over lunch one day an adventure he had had long before—one of his stunts in participatory journalism—when he shipped off to Morocco to play a Bedouin extra on the set of David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia.”
  • Because your year in the arts isn’t truly complete until you’ve seen an old elephant pull toy in the same building as a roach motel, visit the New-York Historical Society, where a new exhibition features folk art from the collection of Elie Nadelman: “The more than two hundred objects on display range from clipper ship figureheads (‘It was not just a sailor who carved this but an artist,’ Nadelman remarked of a ravishing gilded eagle with detachable wings) to miniature carved animals, amid a trove of carefully selected pottery, exquisitely detailed needle-cases, and an early, ingenious earthenware roach motel—the glazed, funnel-shaped opening of which traps roaches lured inside by molasses. This staggering array of material is complemented by a dozen or so of Nadelman’s wondrous figurative sculptures, fashioned in weathered cherry or mahogany and often given an overlay of seemingly aging paint.”
  • In writing a book about indentured servitude in British Guiana, Gaiutra Bahadur faced a major research dilemma: no firsthand accounts existed by women. “Since indentured women were, for the most part, illiterate, they didn’t leave behind written traces of themselves. Just as there isn’t a single existing narrative from a woman or girl who survived the Middle Passage, the rare first-person accounts of indenture—there are three—are all by men. The stealing of the voices of indentured women, born into the wrong class, race and gender to write themselves into history, was structural. How could I write about women whose very existence the official sources barely acknowledged? To enter their unknown and to some extent unknowable history, I had to turn to alternative, unofficial sources. I looked for clues in visual traces and the oral tradition: folk songs, oral histories, photographs and colonial-era postcards, even a traditional tattoo on the forearms of elderly Indo-Caribbean women.”

Louder than Bombs: An Interview with Joachim Trier and Jesse Eisenberg

April 6, 2016 | by

Isabelle Huppert and Gabriel Byrne in a still from Louder than Bombs.

Readers of the Review know that the Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier is one of our favorite young directors. (See Issue 203 for a discussion of his first two features, Reprise and Oslo, August 31st.) His new English-language debut, Louder than Bombs, stars Isabelle Huppert, Gabriel Byrne, and Jesse Eisenberg. Last week we caught up with Trier and Eisenberg for a conversation that ranged from Knut Hamsun to The Karate Kid to David Foster Wallace. We also talked about the making of Louder than BombsRead More »

A Quiet, Meditative Place

March 7, 2016 | by

Joe Gibbons on his drawings from Rikers Island.

Photo: Andrew Lampert

Over a forty-year career, Joe Gibbons has become a legend in the world of experimental film. His work so thoroughly wrinkles the cloth woven by art and life that the question of which imitates which becomes moot. In his 1985 film Living in the World, he stars as a working stiff named Joe Gibbons, just trying to make it through the eight-hour day with his dignity intact. Existentially bereft, he laments, “I read the paper and there’s so much going on that I have nothing to do with.” He quits his job and turns to crime to make ends meet.

When the real Gibbons made headlines last year in an unlikely heist story, that same voice was quoted in the papers as evidence of his moral degeneracy and criminal intent. FORMER MIT PROFESSOR “ROBS” BANK, FILMS “HEIST, the New York Post said. And, later, in the New York Times: FILMMAKER JOE GIBBONS GETS A YEAR IN PRISON FOR A ROBBERY HE CALLED PERFORMANCE ARTRead More »

I Left Your Manuscript in a Cab, and Other News

March 2, 2016 | by

Patty Duke in Valley of the Dolls, 1967.

  • Today in comedies of errors: William Empson began work on The Face of the Buddha in 1932, but the book is only now being published. What took so long? Well, for starters, Empson gave the manuscript to a dangerous guy: “The man of letters John Davenport had left it in a taxi when very, very drunk, circa 1947 … Davenport was so embarrassed by his bungle that he did not confess to Empson until 1952. But his apology was far from accurate. Thanks to an inspired curator at the British Library (let his name be honored: Jamie Andrews), we now know the full story. What actually happened is that Davenport, still three sheets to the wind, handed the manuscript and its photographic illustrations over to that most colorful figure of 1940s literary bohemia, the Tamil poet and editor of Poetry London, Tambimuttu. Shortly afterwards, Tambimuttu quit London and returned to his native Ceylon, leaving The Face of the Buddha in the hands of his coeditor, Edward Marsh. And shortly after the handover, Marsh took ill and died. His papers remained unexamined until they were bought by the British Library in 2003. Andrews discovered Empson’s material two years later.”
  • While we’re on the joys of rediscovery, let’s bring Bob Dylan into the mix: “There have long been rumors that Mr. Dylan had stashed away an extensive archive. It is now revealed that he did keep a private trove of his work, dating back to his earliest days as an artist, including lyrics, correspondence, recordings, films and photographs. That archive of 6,000 pieces has recently been acquired by a group of institutions in Oklahoma for an estimated $15 million to $20 million, and is set to become a resource for academic study … With voluminous drafts from every phase of Mr. Dylan’s career, the collection offers a comprehensive look at the working process of a legendarily secretive artist … Seeing the archive may conjure a familiar feeling of astonishment at just how deep the well of Dylanology goes. There is always far more beneath the surface than anyone could guess.”
  • Tim Murphy reminds us not just that Valley of the Dolls is fifty years old now but that talk shows used to be a lot more combative, and all the better for it: “Jacqueline Susann, with thickly rimmed eyes, signature lacquered black hair and in a print mini-dress, went on the David Frost talk show. There, the notoriously scabrous critic John Simon eviscerated her before a live audience. What was Valley of the Dolls, he asked her, but ‘a piece of trash on which you can get famous, rich, known quick, and make money?’ Smiling gamely and (literally) leaning in, Susann, then fifty, asked him if his name was Goebbels, Göring, or Simon, ‘because you sound like a stormtrooper.’ She then told him Valley of the Dolls was ‘too sophisticated a story for you to understand, because it’s dirty!’ ”
  • Movie premieres used to be better, too, even when they were for art-house films by Samuel Beckett starring Buster Keaton: “Film premiered on September 4, 1965 … Rex Reed, in the New York Times, described the scene: ‘several hundred bikini-clad starlets’ surrounding the likes of Luchino Visconti, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Jean-Luc Godard, and then Keaton, looking ‘for all the world like the kind of man dogs kick,’ with ‘his pants a little baggy’ and ‘his hat a bit crushed.’ Keaton said it was the first time he’d ever been invited to a film festival. Critics mostly panned the movie—but then Keaton hadn’t given them much to go on. ‘Heck, I’d be the last one in the world to comment,’ he told Reed, ‘because I didn’t know what those guys were doing half the time.’ ”
  • The “shot reverse shot” is a fundamental filmmaking technique: you turn the camera on one character, then you turn another camera on whatever that character is looking at, and boom, you’re making movies. But the Coen brothers take the technique in another direction, according to Tony Zhou: their filmography “is full of shot reverse shots that feel both ‘kind of uncomfortable, and kind of funny,’ a visual evocation of the Coen brothers’ frequent use of isolated characters trapped in ‘situations they really have no control over’—and because of the choice of lens and placement of the camera, ‘you’re trapped with them.’ And that setup gives them a host of options when they want to emphasize or even exaggerate certain qualities of the characters talking or the situation the story has put them in.”

Kriemhild’s Revenge

February 12, 2016 | by

Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou’s strangest collaboration.

Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou

Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou weren’t collaborators so much as co-conspirators: they  had one of the strangest, most fruitful partnerships in the history of film, an erotic and artistic alliance that helped the new medium establish an emotional and political grammar. In the course of their eleven-year marriage, the pair, who met in 1920, made roughly a dozen films, often with Von Harbou writing the screenplays—adapted largely from her own work—and Lang in the director’s chair. They shared an expressive aesthetic vision, an exacting work ethic, and an almost tyrannical unwillingness to compromise with others. They changed people’s minds about their movies and, in radical ways, they changed each other. Their dedication manifested in odd ways—even though, a year into their affair, the bloom had already gone off the rose, they continued to live together, work together, and keep up the pretense of monogamy for another decade. She looked past his philandering; he looked past her increasingly fascist politics; they kept a full calendar. “We were married for eleven years,” von Harbou said later, “because for ten years we didn’t have time to divorce.”

When they did separate, in 1933, the break was clean: not even a year later, Lang, having only recently claimed German citizenship, had fled the country. He said he’d met with Joseph Goebbels, who asked him to head the Nazified film unit of UFA—an experience that so spooked him he left that very evening. If his story is factually dubious, it makes emotional sense: Lang saw himself as having chosen art over nationalism. Von Harbou, who stayed behind, thought she had chosen art, too. And this is in many ways the problem at the heart of their romance: Who, if anyone, had betrayed whom? When love is so tied up in art, and art so tied up in politics, what does betrayal end up looking like? Read More »

Lesbian Whale: An Interview with Barbara Hammer

December 14, 2015 | by

Installation view of Lesbian Whale. Courtesy Barbara Hammer and Company Gallery.

Barbara Hammer is something of a legend in queer feminist and experimental filmmaking circles. In the seventies, she was the first lesbian feminist to make open, celebratory films about her sexuality. In the eighties, her films took their inspiration from structuralism, using paint, animation, and optical printing to explore notions of embodied spectatorship. By the nineties, she’d helped to pioneer “essay films,” an attempt to produce “a genealogy of survival” amid the thrust of identity politics. Her work foregrounded important queer figures in history—Willa Cather, Alice Austen, and Hannah Höch among them—and their historical erasure.

Hammer’s forays into suppressed queer history have evolved into feature-length documentaries. Tellingly, the subjects of these films are early twentieth-century lesbians—artists and writers whose official biographies often elide their sexuality. Lover Other: The Story of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore (2006), for example, is a moving portrait of the couple’s lifelong collaboration and love affair. Hammer’s latest work, Welcome to This House, a Film on Elizabeth Bishop (2015) follows the poet’s life from her bleak New England childhood to her ten-year romance with the architect Maria Carlota Costallat de Macedo Soares. Elliptical and poignant, it runs counter to mainstream accounts of Bishop’s life, many of which—right down to her Wikipedia entry—still omit these relationships and their impact on Bishop’s work.

On the occasion of her recent exhibition, “Lesbian Whale: Early Drawings and Paintings,” I spoke with Hammer about the radical changes she made in the sixties and about her approach to film.

Most of the historical women artists you’ve made films about—Claude Cahun, Willa Cather, Elizabeth Bishop—predate you. Is there a drive, perhaps, to create a sort of record for future generations, a record that you were deprived of? Your generation was denied open lesbian role models, with a few potential exceptions.

My role models were male artists, who I learned about by reading their biographies. It’s a unique way to go to “art school,” reading the life choices of Vincent van Gogh and Emile Gauguin. I was redefining myself between the ages of twenty-seven and thirty, and I noted that these artists I admired had taken great social risks. Gauguin, in particular, had left his family and a bourgeois job. I could do it, too, I thought, just in a different way. I left my husband in April of 1970 and came out in August of that year. I had no idea before then that I desired women. Isn’t it Wittgenstein who says one needs the language before one can think of the concept? I hadn’t even heard the L word until the middle of that summer. Read More »