The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘movies’

Staff Picks: Cairo, Cruising, Chrissie, Kmart

October 9, 2015 | by

Fire in Cairo

“‘How many reasons have I for going to Moscow at once! How can I bear the boredom of seven months of winter in this place? … Am I to be reduced to defending myself—I who have always attacked? Such a role is unworthy of me … I am not used to playing it … It is not in keeping with my genius.’” Thus Napoleon in 1812 in Lithuania, on the eve of his disastrous Russian campaign, which would destroy the French army and cost more than a hundred thousand French lives. The whole time, Napoleon’s aide-de-camp Philippe-Paul, Count de Ségur, was taking notes. His inside account of the debacle—now known in English as Defeat—was a bestseller when it appeared in 1824 and became a key source for War and Peace. Readers will recognize scenes from Tolstoy’s novel—but Ségur’s Napoleon is, if anything, even more vivid, because Ségur loves him and believes in him even when his genius lets him down. —Lorin Stein

The carnival that erupted in Cairo’s Midan Tahrir in 2011, and continued in one form or another for two and half years, has spawned any number of books and films. Maybe because the initial skirmishes were so chaotic, or because the outcome of the revolts is still unclear—although a Thermidorian reaction now stretches into the foreseeable future—a documentary approach to this history has often seemed like the best one. Matthew Connor’s book of photographs, Fire in Cairo, goes in a wonderfully different direction. Taken during the spring of 2013, prior the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, Connor’s photos are aslant and at times surreal. The violence of the revolts is present, even omnipresent, but as a mood rather than something concrete to look at. His shots, which have no captions, are full of fog, lasers, and common Cairene objects made mysterious through close-ups. There is also a gallery of portraits, many of whose subjects have their faces covered—by veils, helmets, or homemade gasmasks. The effect of the book, for me, was to make the revolution strange again—it brought me back to that exciting time when none of us knew quite what we were looking at. —Robyn Creswell Read More »

Jeanne Dielman Forever, and Other News

October 6, 2015 | by

A still from Jeanne Dielman.

  • The filmmaker Chantal Akerman, whose 1975 movie, Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, is arguably “the first masterpiece of the feminine in the history of the cinema,” has died at sixty-five. “Jeanne Dielman is a real-time study of a middle-aged widow who lives with her teenage son in a small Brussels flat. The film follows her as she completes drab domestic tasks and tries to make ends meet through occasional prostitution … The long, frank takes featured in Jeanne Dielman were a feature of Akerman’s work.”
  • As a theater director, Bryan Doerries aims to revitalize the power of the medium: his company performs Greek tragedies at full-tilt for audiences at schools, hospitals, prisons, and army bases, and his goal is catharsis in the fullest sense of the word. “Theater is able to do something that no other medium can achieve,” he says. “It leads disparate audiences into a profound communion … We have lost touch, as a culture, with the importance of coming together and confronting what it means to be human as a community. Theater, and tragedy in particular, has the power to do this … Theater still has the power to create a sacred space, in which we are transported out of our quotidian reality and brought into contact with the transcendent, the heroic, the mythic, and with one another. We still hunger, I think, for this experience, as people, as a culture. And in some ways, because it’s so rare, it’s all the more overpowering and effective when we encounter it.”
  • Today in unlikely longevity: New Hampshire’s Yankee magazine has been around since 1935, and it’s navigated, somehow, many epochal changes in media. What’s its secret? Listen carefully: cover fall foliage as if it’s Mardi Gras, never change, and appeal to a boring, affluent, aging readership. Yankee stands tall because of, not in spite of, its stupefying predictability: “There are tips on travel to destinations like Narragansett Bay, in Rhode Island, and recipes for Boston cream pie and needhams (an old-fashioned Maine candy made with mashed potatoes). Ads for regional businesses and New England wares still fill the magazine, which now comes out six times a year. The much loved Swopper’s Column—a classifieds page for unusual objects, which first appeared in the magazine’s fourth issue—was not discontinued until 2013.”
  • On Robert Zemeckis’s The Walk, which has at its center a stunt that cinema has been waiting for a long time: “Two twenty-first-century phenomena have changed the way moving pictures are made and perceived. The first is the accelerating use of digital technology and the inexorable rise of a cyborg cinema that, by combining animated and photographic images, compromises the direct relationship to reality that had long been the medium’s claim to truth. The second is the trauma of September 11, 2001, which for many provided the ultimate movie experience that was more than a movie—spectacular destruction, broadcast live, and watched by an audience, more or less simultaneously, of billions.”

That Time When Beckett Made a Movie, and Other News

September 18, 2015 | by

Beckett scrutinizes a filmstrip. Image via Moving Image Archives

  • In 1965, an elderly Buster Keaton starred in film, a little experiment in cinema by one Samuel Beckett—an unlikely collaboration, but an inspired one. The movie was almost entirely silent, and shot largely in the first person; Beckett regarded it as an interesting failure. Now there’s notfilm, a documentary about film. “Beckett’s twenty-two-minute film dealt in striking ways with many aspects of motion-picture history, and more generally, the nature of spectacle, of perception, and of being perceived by self and others … the film was shot over eleven days, with the camera chase, then a five-minute scene on some stairs, followed by a seventeen-minute sequence in a room.”
  • In which Kafka gets real, very real, maybe too real, in a letter to his father: “You asked me recently why I maintain that I am afraid of you … we were so different and in our difference so dangerous to each other that if anyone had tried to calculate in advance how I, the slowly developing child, and you, the full-grown man, would behave toward one another, he could have assumed that you would simply trample me underfoot so that nothing was left of me. Well, that did not happen. Nothing alive can be calculated.”
  • Today in provisional libraries: at the Calais migrant camp, a British volunteer has set up “a book-filled haven of peace.” “The shed is filled floor-to-ceiling with books: chick lit, thrillers and a neat set of Agatha Christies line the shelves, alongside a large atlas, a few dictionaries and grammars, and the thin green spines of children’s learning-to-read books. More books spill out of boxes stacked in the corner, and pens, notepads, bags of clothes, a globe, a guitar and a game of Battleship … I am taken aback when a man who has been flicking through various novels for at least half an hour, including classics like Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, settles on a thin picture book about kittens. When I ask him if he really likes cats, he shrugs, mumbles a thank you, and leaves.”
  • And while we’re on libraries, here are some items you can now check out at various centers of knowledge around the country: cake pans, snow shoes, ukuleles, American Girl dolls, mobile hot-spot devices, sewing machines. “Services like the Library of Things and the ‘Stuff-brary’ in Mesa, outside Phoenix, are part of a broad cultural shift in which libraries increasingly view themselves as hands-on creative hubs, places where people can learn new crafts and experiment with technology like 3-D printers.” Rent-A-Center must be shaking in its corporate boots.
  • Where does porcelain come from? Edmund de Waal endeavors to find its origins: “Trace the origin of any physical object, from the Mona Lisa to an iPhone, and there will be a mass of human labor and human stories lurking behind it, no matter how purely a product of the solitary artist or glossy factory it might seem to be. What is striking about porcelain, however, is that while it appears to be the acme of artistry, it is, by and large, the result of relentlessly standardized piecemeal work.”

Calvino Late to the Movies, and Other News

September 8, 2015 | by

Italo Calvino, no doubt pondering a film to which he has arrived in a less than timely fashion.

  • Today in strange testing procedures involving nonsense words: Oxford applicants in classics and oriental studies, among other fields, are asked to translate phrases from invented languages with names such as Dobla and Kalaamfaadi—and the sample texts are full of charmingly, aggravatingly old-world stock phrases. “The scullery-maid loves the footman.” (Pante sirar tomut.) “Does the dowager rebuke the earl?” (Clarut tikehar mage.) For their seeming silliness, though, the tests are a strong indicator of your aptitude with languages. “It’s entirely possible that the kind of intellectual agility such languages call for is a hidden strength in many students who don’t know they have it. The thing that looks most intimidating might be the thing that should inspire confidence.”
  • Fifty years after they were first published on seven-inch vinyl, rare and excellent readings from James Baldwin, John Updike, William Styron, Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud, and James Jones have been rediscovered and reissued by Calliope Author Readings. They date to a time when (a) recording technology was still gloriously analog and (b) giving readings was still a novelty, rather than self-promotional essential: “Calliope began in the 1960s as a pioneering venture in the early days of literary recordings. With little more at their disposal than a passion for books, optimism and sheer nerve, three young entrepreneurs in Boston persuaded some of the most original twentieth century American authors to read from their works.”
  • Toward the end of his life, Francis Bacon had ascended into art-world renown; he spent most of his time drinking and seething. A new memoir from Michael Peppiatt, who became the artist’s “scribe, drinking partner, estate agent, confidante, gatekeeper and admirer, and the recipient of lavish dinners, drinks, flats, paintings and acquaintances,” captures Bacon in decline: “Dazzled by the endless procession of big-name wines in similar bars, Peppiatt seems not to notice that Bacon repeats the same maxims again and again, almost word for word—stock phrases on painting about ‘immediacy’ and the ‘nervous system’ and a rehearsed bit on the nothingness that stretches before and after life—as if prepping his initiate to write about him. Impressive once, cumulatively they are undermining, especially when heard sober.”
  • Italo Calvino loved to go to the movies. And he put forth a convincing case for arriving late, too—an argument I plan to use the next time I’m dragging my friends to a movie fifteen minutes after it started. “Italian spectators barbarously made entering after the film already started a widespread habit, and it still applies today. We can say that back then we already anticipated the most sophisticated of modern narrative techniques, interrupting the temporal thread of the story and transforming it into a puzzle to put back together piece by piece or to accept in the form of a fragmentary body. To console us further, I’ll say that attending the beginning of the film after knowing the ending provided additional satisfaction: discovering not the unraveling of mysteries and dramas, but their genesis; and a vague sense of foresight with respect to the characters.”
  • Like many of us, Dennis Cooper loves GIFs; unlike many of us, he’s written a novel in GIFs called Zac’s Haunted House, and has finished another. “Cooper finds the GIF work ‘weirdly very emotional.’ And with GIFs, he contends, ‘fictional emotional displays and “real” displays are made indistinguishable … There is also, for Cooper—and, it would, seem, much of the Internet-using public—something inherently comic about GIFs. The comedy, he says, is of a particularly physical kind. He has noted before that GIFs in which real-life people fall off bunk beds or have other accidents are often edited so that we don’t see the painful consequences. And yet, as the action is repeated indefinitely, with a ‘kind of heartlessness,’ the implications of the violence seep out nonetheless.”

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 »

My Day

August 5, 2015 | by

The Broadway Melody of 1929 won the Oscar for best picture. The highest-grossing film of the year, it was the first all-talk musical, and MGM’s first musical, period. It contained a groundbreaking Technicolor sequence.

Even if you’re not a cinephile, the film’s a great, pre-Code watch. While the acting is certainly dated, and the story somewhat melodramatic and lurid—it centers around a sister-act love triangle—it’s an emotionally and visually satisfying spectacle. Read More »