The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Films’

The Vegetated Sound Buffer of Your Dreams, and Other News

May 19, 2016 | by

A rendering from Studio Dror. Photo via Slate.

  • Remember that scene in The Squid and the Whale where the pretentious Jesse Eisenberg character says that a novel is “very Kafkaesque,” and his classmate says, “That’s because it was written by Franz Kafka”? In real life we have the opposite problem: the word Kafkaesque risks total meaninglessness. “The dictionary defines the adjective, incidentally, as ‘of, relating to, or suggestive of Franz Kafka or his writings; especially: having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality’ … But Merriam-Webster also admits that the word, which saw its first recorded use in English in 1946, ‘is so overused that it’s begun to lose its meaning,’ a word that a columnist for Toronto’s Globe and Mail argued is ‘tossed around with cavalier imprecision, applied to everything from an annoying encounter with a petty bureaucrat to the genocidal horrors of the Third Reich.’ ”
  • Every year brings with it another armload of Brontë-related biographies and ephemera: plays, films, novelizations, tea towels. Why? “I see no reason not to consider the Brontë cult a religion. What are People of the Book, after all, if not irrepressible embroiderers of fetishized texts?” Judith Shulevitz asks. “The Jews have a word for the feverish imaginings that run like bright threads through their Torah commentaries: midrash, the spinning of gloriously weird backstories or fairy tales prompted by gaps or contradictions in the narratives … Some Brontë fans—reader, I’m one of them—would happily work through stacks of Brontë midrash in search of answers to the mysterium tremendum, the awesome mystery, of the Brontës’ improbable sainthood. How did a poor and socially awkward ex-governess named Charlotte and her even more awkward sister Emily, who kept house for their father in a parsonage on a Yorkshire moor far from the literary circles of London, come to write novels and poems that outshone nearly every other nineteenth-century British novel and poem by dint of being more alive?”

The Rest Is Silence

April 11, 2016 | by

Chaplin’s trip abroad.

From the cover of My Trip Abroad.

In the fall of 1921, journalists were clamoring to know if Charlie Chaplin intended to play Hamlet. They asked him in Chicago at the Blackstone Hotel. They cornered him at the Ritz. His response each time was coy and evasive: “Why, I don’t know.”

Of all the unlikely questions they tended to ask him at this point in his career—“Are you a Bolshevik?” “What do you do with your old mustaches?”—the Hamlet question seems most out of place. Why would an actor known for his comedy and silence take on a famously verbose and tragic role? Hamlet, with his hemming and hawing, didn’t seem a natural fit for an actor in Chaplin’s position. But then, no actor had ever been in Chaplin’s position before. Read More »

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 »

May Those Tears Flow with Impunity, and Other News

April 4, 2016 | by

The ugly cry—proudly, defiantly.

  • Man, being a beat poet must’ve been pretty far out if you were a man—I mean, the drugs, the politics, the … roads, and the being on those roads. But what if you weren’t a guy? Lynnette Lounsbury writes, “I loved the beat generation and the men in it. I loved how they shared themselves with each other and their readers, generously. But I always had, and still have, the sneaking and sinking suspicion that there would have been no place for me in that world. There were no Scarlett O’Haras in the beat world. There were women, certainly, but they felt like cardboard cut-outs, something to move around, admire, shift gently out of the way when necessary. In fact, the only women Kerouac and Ginsberg seemed to genuinely respect were their mothers … I found the beat women as outsiders in offside compendiums, as afterthoughts and even instigators, but rarely as the orchestrators and creators of their own place in literature.”
  • Advice for famous artists: take photographs, too. It can’t hurt. Ellsworth Kelly did it, and a new show demonstrates the degree to which his pictures influenced his canvases: “The images remain resolutely tethered to the formal concerns of his paintings, illuminating far more about his evolving thoughts on art and abstraction than they do about the time and place in which they were made … Most of the earliest works in the show, all taken in the seaside town of Meschers, in Southwestern France, are studies of timeworn surfaces: the weathered side of a barn, its boards haphazardly cobbled; a mismatched patch job in a wall, where the celestial mottling of old stone is interrupted by utilitarian brick; the side of a striped canvas beach cabana, mended enough times that it looks like a Japanese boro blanket … In both his photographs and his shaped canvases, Kelly was engaged in building an idiosyncratic visual alphabet, with each letter chiseled down to the bedrock of form, color, and scale.”
  • And advice for novelists: keep it snappy. I don’t got all day. Cynan Jones advocates for the very short novel: “Great short novels stay in the mind as objects, whereas, often, novels are ornate boxes with objects inside. Equally valid, but a different thing altogether, with a different mechanism of engagement … For years after my first short novel, The Long Dry, came out, and even though it worked, length was the chief reservation from publishers. They wanted a ‘full length novel’ … Well, as Beckett said, in response to criticism that his play Breath was short: “All of my works are full length, some are just longer than others.” It's extraordinary that the term ‘full length novel’ still abounds. If the novella exists, purely based on length, then the novellissimo must exist … Anything that will hold a heavy door open should be a novellissimo; anything that can be used to right a wobbly table, a novella.”
  • One of the main reasons I never cry, apart from an ill-advised inclination toward rugged stoicism, is that it fucks my face up. I look bad. But I see now that I should let it rip. The concept of the “ugly cry” comes, especially for women, with a shameful subtext: “American culture nurtures a robust association between our emotional expression and shame. We’re warned against tearing up in professional settings … We imply that untethered grief, by virtue of its excess, does not hew to the cultural expectation that beauty be placid and symmetrical, fundamentally unthreatening. Sometimes the very notion of the ugly cry seems, more than anything else, an inside joke: What woman has not been schooled in the doctrine of Western patriarchal standards of beauty? We know when we have transgressed—when we have become more than men can fathom … The hysterical woman’s power—for power she does possess—lies in her refusal to cry inside the lines, and from her dismissal of a westernized emotional doctrine that condemns passion as excess.”
  • In Ciro Guerra’s new film Embrace of the Serpent, Nathaniel Rich sees a skillful departure from the norms of what he calls “jungle quest films”: “There was a boomlet of jungle quest films during the eighties and early nineties, not all of them set in the Amazon, reflecting a dissatisfaction with what Jimmy Carter called the ‘moral and…spiritual crisis’ of modern society. The heroes of these films come to the jungle with predatory or utopian intentions, only to discover the folly of their ways. The plot tends to resolve with the explosion of a forest-clearing project: a river dam in The Emerald Forest, a logging road in Medicine Man, a missionary camp in The Mosquito Coast … Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Serpent, a finalist for best foreign film at this year’s Oscars, features the familiar fever-addled explorers, of vigilant jaguars and snakes baring their fangs, long pans of the jungle canopy, and indigenous tribesmen imparting portentous wisdom (‘The jungle is fragile; if you attack her, she’ll fight back’). But the film is strange enough to resist the worst of the old clichés, which is to say it resists moral certainty.”

New Year

January 4, 2016 | by

A still from The Thief of Bagdad, 1940.

One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats. —Iris Murdoch

The New Year comes as a relief: it’s like the morning after a good cry. You feel exhausted, yes, and hollowed out, but unburdened, too. What do you do? Well, you go back to work. You listen to music, return e-mails. Your calendar slowly fills, even though not so long ago January seemed like it would never come. “Happy New Year” is the one thing everyone can say to everyone else with confidence, and clearly we enjoy this, it’s a good way to begin a year, all together. Large things give way to small. There are friends, and there is kneading bread, and then there are the little shaded candleholders you picked up, supposedly discarded from a defunct restaurant in Central Park—and they do look pretty, even given the state of the world outside their little flames. Maybe you watch the movie about the narcissistic puppet or the ten-hour series about the miscarriage of justice in Wisconsin. Perhaps you KonMari your closets or take a month off drinking. Whatever you do, don’t panic. 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 »