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Posts Tagged ‘Films’

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 »

Existentially, I’m Getting a Hamburger

October 26, 2015 | by

I watched the 1972 film adaptation of Play It As It Lays the other day; the whole movie is streaming on YouTube for free now. I wanted to reject it outright because its mood was not exactly the same as the novel’s—the quality of the bleakness was different. But, I mean, when you think about it, what would you want a movie of Play It As It Lays to look like?  Read More »

The Battle of the Butt

August 10, 2015 | by

From the theatrical release poster for Cold Turkey.

Before he found success with All in the Family and its spin-offs, Norman Lear wrote and directed Cold Turkey, a cynical 1971 antismoking comedy that is, to date, his only credit as a film director. It’s showing August 13, 15, and 17 at New York’s Anthology Film Archives as part of their One-Film Wonders series, a collection of cinematic one-offs and also-rans.

Cold Turkey has the kind of stupefyingly ridiculous premise we need to see more often in our movies: in a bid for good PR, a big tobacco company promises twenty-five million dollars, tax free, to any town whose residents can stop smoking for a full month. (Their magnanimity earns them comparisons to the Nobel Peace Prize.) The 4,006 residents of Eagle Rock, Iowa, are up to the challenge, at least once their minister—played by Dick van Dyke, typically affable and guileless—goads them into action. Read More »

A Conversation About Our Secret Life in the Movies

November 3, 2014 | by

In-the-Movies-Edit

A detail from the cover of Our Secret Life in the Movies.

When the writers Michael McGriff and J. M. Tyree lived together in San Francisco, they set out to watch every film in the Criterion Collection. Their new book, Our Secret Life in the Movies, is a coauthored mash note to cinema classics from Andrei Tarkovsky to Michael Mann: a novel in fragments, vacillating between fiction and autobiography, with more than thirty pairs of stories inspired by the films they watched together. Part collage and part homage, Secret Life follows two boys as they come of age in Reagan-era America, where the video store is the locus of the imagination and the fear of a nuclear winter looms large in the collective conscious.

McGriff and Tyree sat down together to discuss their impetus for the project, the enigma of writing about moving images, and their influences in literature and film alike.

J. M. Tyree: I’m trying to remember how we got the idea for Our Secret Life in the Movies.

Michael McGriff: We were roommates in San Francisco, both teaching in the Creative Writing Program at Stanford, and I somehow convinced you that it would be a good idea to watch the entire Criterion Collection that year.

JMT: We were living in that wonderful place near Mission Dolores, a block away from where Alfred Hitchcock created the fictional grave of Carlotta Valdes in Vertigo. The Criterion project was a real Y-chromosome thing, wasn’t it? We were watching two or three movies a day, eating a lot of pizza, drinking a lot of sambuca. I think our book evolved naturally from the feeling that movies and life seep together out there in the fog.

MM: We started writing these pairs of stories. For each movie that fascinated us, we’d both write one story. A double take on the film. We decided to leave our names off the individual stories and let the book have a life all its own.

JMT: Then the stories started connecting and linking up and merging and growing and taking over—cue The Blob. Why did you want to write a book about movies?

MM: I’ve always gone to film as my primary source of inspiration. Tarkovsky and Bergman taught me how to be a poet just as much as reading Tranströmer and Neruda. Read More »

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Taste It!

August 11, 2014 | by

Menahem Golan, the B-Movie auteur, is dead at eighty-five, the Times reports. In the course of his prolific career, Golan—who directed more than forty films and produced more than two hundred—worked with Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, Charles Bronson, and Vanessa Redgrave; though he had a hand in several distinguished productions, he and his cohort trafficked in unabashedly debased material. The Golan milieu is one of superabundant corn-starch blood and suspenseful synthesizer sound tracks. As the Times has it, they “churned out movies about ninjas, cyborgs, chain saws, and the likes of Teenage Bonnie and Klepto Clyde (1993).”

A bit of YouTube spelunking has led me to The Apple, a 1980 musical written, directed, and produced by Golan—perhaps one of the most gloriously catastrophic concepts ever committed to celluloid.

“A young couple enters the world of the music industry, but also the world of drugs,” the IMDB description reads, as if those worlds have ever been separate—and to that synopsis, allow me to add that the movie takes place in a dystopian future that’s very, very, very far away: it’s set in 1994. (“Life is nothing but show business / in 1994,” one song tells us, helpfully.)

In The Apple, Boogaloo International Music (BIM) controls the world—in the movie’s one prescient plot point, the citizenry is addicted to “the Worldvision Song Contest,” a talent show almost identical to American Idol or Eurovision. Any similarities to the actual future end there. BIM, headed by the nefarious Mr. Boogaloo, judges the success of its performers by counting the number of heartbeats in the crowd; when a sweet young couple threatens to overtake BIM’s pre-selected stars in the heartbeat rankings, Boogaloo throws the contest, invites the innocent couple to his swanky corporate HQ, and has his henchman drug the young woman. Things get progressively worse from there.

Above is a clip of the musical’s title track, “The Apple,” in which the entire cast is transported to Hell and the classic forbidden fruit is dangled before our unsuspecting heroes. “Juju Apple / Voodoo Apple,” sings a mildly hunky shirtless guy. “Take a little bite / Spend a splendid night / In our garden of delights.” 1994, man—it was wild!

If Menahem Golan is, as I write, in transit to some kind of afterlife, I hope it’s infinitely more pleasant than the one depicted in The Apple.

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