Looking back over the year at what films moved and impressed us, it is clear that watching old films is a crucial part of making new films meaningful. Thus, the annual tradition of our end of year poll, which calls upon our writers to pick both a new and an old film: they were challenged to choose a new film they saw in 2013—in theaters or at a festival—and creatively pair it with an old film they also saw in 2013 to create a unique double feature.
All the contributors were given the option to write some text explaining their 2013 fantasy double feature. What's more, each writer was given the option to list more pairings, with or without explanation, as further imaginative film programming we'd be lucky to catch in that perfect world we know doesn't exist but can keep dreaming of every time we go to the movies.
How would you program some of 2013's most interesting films into double features with movies of the past?
Celluloid Liberation Front
Fernando F. Croce
The Ferroni Brigade
Ryland Walker Knight
Cristina Álvarez López
WHY: From The Clouds probably stands in as an amalgamation of all the films of the Straubs which I devoted myself to a crash-course late this year, but both chosen films seem to deal with apocalypses, one mournful, a mourning for the world in ways, another almost a celebration. But what both films seem to share is an awe, an awe that the world even exists, an awe that we are even alive. And there are similarities even in the fundamental differences, as nature does not come alive in La última película as it does in the Straubs, but in both cases our characters are perennially stuck in proscenium arches, only able to exist from the outside looking in. Nature is mysterious, transfixing, and ultimately absolute, unable to be contained by mere physical human experience. Yet there’s more! There’s an extended monologue nearing the end of La última película where Alex Ross Perry so defiantly laments the end of cinema and the end of the world that it ultimately becomes a total rectification and celebration of not just cinema and the world, but cinema as part of the world. This so reminds me of Panthea, in The Death of Empedocles, who turns her head from people and into off-screen horizons as she defies social order and her father. Perhaps uniting Martin/Peranson with Huillet/Straub (and ultimately perhaps with Ford) is this conviction that individual consciousness defies all, including death. Yet it’s the the wind and the trees and the leaves which Alex Ross Perry even speaks of early in La última película, which are still of most importance. It reminds one of one of Straubs favorite quotes from D.W Griffith: “What the modern movie lacks is beauty - the beauty of the moving wind in the trees, the little movement in a beautiful blowing on the blossoms of the trees.”
WHY: On the third viewing, it occurred to me that Martin Scorsese's three-hour, highbro drug extravaganza has much in common with films by Frank Tashlin. The commercial for Stratton Oakmont that opens Wolf is similar to the way Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? opens with a TV joke before changing aspect ratios. Wolf later includes television-inspired segments based on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Benihanas, and 90s MTV, and plays with aspect ratios throughout. Also similar are the highly stylized office scenes in these hopped-up, cartoonish, crass, and popular music-dependent films. (With its 60 music cues, Wolf is like a hook-based musical.) But even closer to Wolf are the Tashlin films that starred Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin (the best of which is Artists and Models). The Jerry Lewis link is obvious from the Quaalude crawling scene, even signaled by Jordan Belfort saying he had entered the "cerebral palsy stage" of the drug. But DiCaprio is no Jerry Lewis. While he is delightfully rubbery throughout (and hasn't used his body so well since Catch Me if You Can), he is always too self-conscious and too handsome to be a real Jerry. But at his best he is as louche as Dean Martin. (At his worst he is a De Niro/Scorsese pastiche, when he's biting his fist or nodding about "girlie mags.") But when he grins with a stripper on his lap in an early scene it's hard not to think of his infamous "Pussy Posse" days in the 90s, when he and his friends were considered a new Rat Pack. Just as Martin almost always played "Dino," in moments DiCaprio seems to be playing a version of "Leo." And the brilliant Jonah Hill is his Jerry. For a man who for years tried to make a Dean Martin biopic, playing with the Martin & Lewis pairing seems inevitable for Scorsese. But the problems with The Wolf of Wall Street are that, as good as it is, the pace and the compositions are never as crazy nor as beautiful as the best Tashlin movies. Wolf has fluttering money and confetti, but Artists and Models has fluttering comic books and dumped buckets of primary colored paint. Also, I don't think it's a problem that the marvelous Margot Robbie was often naked. DiCaprio and Hill use their bodies remarkably throughout. The problem is that, unlike her co-stars, or Tashlin's Jayne Mansfield, Robbie never uses her body for comedy.
WHY: Gravity is such a visceral adventure (and I don't care if the dialogue is clunky or the narrative basic, I'm too busy reaching for the floating spanner in 3D) that it leaves me kind of wrung out and so though it was my favourite new thing I saw this year I don't think I could watch it on a double bill with anything. But Cosmic Zoom (1968) being my other favorite space movie apart from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and being only eight minutes long, I think it would compliment Cuarón's survival epic nicely. While the feature is about the fragility of life in a vacuum, but never strays beyond our immediate orbit, the short terrifies with the vastness of the universe, the vastness and the emptiness. It was on TV all the time when I was a kid and it freaked my mind.
WHY: I admit that part of the appeal of this pairing is how counterintuitive it seems. Konchalovsky's white-blue-gray film is an evocative adrenaline factory. It's so cold that we see Jon Voight greasing up his own naked body before attempting to escape from his prison into the freezing night. Like hot fire on numb skin, Sun Don't Shine presents an opposite world: bright, oppressively hot, sticky, slickened with sweat. A damaged couple goes on their own trip with a mysterious destination. Both films share a deep-seated propulsion into the unknown. Past sins, perhaps never entirely explained, motivate these trips into the Alaska mountains and the Florida bayou. Their entire worlds are pervaded by a sense of dread inevitability and a loneliness even among other people. Closure may come, but at a cost. Runaway Train and Sun Don't Shine are films that can make you feel hot or cold and they connect these worlds of texture and sensation to a sense of survival and uncertainty. This double bill encapsulates a lot of what struck me most powerfully in my favorite films new and old this year: an aliveness to the world and its exhilarating, frightening, sometimes overpowering size.
CELLULOID LIBERATION FRONT
WHY: Besides the obvious similarities as far as their narrative content is concerned, what’s really striking about these two films is the diametrically opposite reaction they triggered. While Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s film was met by a touching, if posthumous, indignant stupor, Poitras’ film was shrugged off with a “anyway-most-of-my-emails-are-spam” kind of reaction. That’s puzzling, especially if we consider our proud and intransigent stances when it comes to Iranian filmmakers, Pussy Rioters and Ai Weiweis. The true thing is that Mr. Snowden is not as exotic as the aforementioned nor maybe as photogenic (even political dissent needs good PR). Well, what can we say? Perhaps he will become a dissident superstar in some far-off land…. Good news though for all those who nostalgically long for the bleak ol’ days of really-existing-socialism, cheer up y’all! The totalitarian dream lives on!
"Once, I had a dream of fame. Generally, even then, I was lonely." —David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress
WHY: Two immigrant tales on different sides of the story, both confined to imprisoning spaces. Two “lovers” enable a future and go down divergent paths.
WHY: Two men dream of flight and end up as cogs in the machine of war. Beauty & destruction as opposite sides of a single coin.
WHY: Sweeping romances. Love happens, ends, continues. Wind / light / time.
WHY: Portraits of morality-immune zones tuned to different degrees of satire, horror, and socio-analysis. Three takes on human awfulness with searing implications.
FERNANDO F. CROCE
WHY: The world reimagined via recitation and animation. Absolute mise en scène at opposite poles.
WHY: A woman’s fall back into drug addiction staged as satanic ritual ending in mass suicide by way of some of the wildest imagery I saw all year (set to the “All Tomorrow’s Parties”). A woman’s victimization at the hands of a mad family in a bizarre, arbitrary plot—shadowy atmospheres and dark souls are all what matter most here, as in the Zombie.
Also: NEW: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (Jeff Tremaine, USA) + OLD: Trail of the Vigilantes (Allan Dwan, 1940); NEW: To The Wonder (Terrence Malick, USA) + OLD: Enchanted Island (Allan Dwan, 1958); NEW: Computer Chess (Andrew Bujalski, USA)+ OLD: Berlin (West)/Andere Richtungen (Stuart Sherman, 1986)
WHY: Two of the most enjoyably nerve-wracking films I saw all year take place on moving vehicles in which a large number of “innocents” are held hostage by a few armed thugs. In The Incident, a highlight of Film Forum's "New Yawk New Wave" series last January, a couple of switchblade-wielding hoodlums (including Martin Sheen in his film debut) board a subway car in the Bronx and proceed to terrorize the passengers: a vivid cross-section of New York society—and New York character actors—circa 1967. In Captain Phillips, shown everywhere this fall, a gang of Somali pirates with machine guns board a container ship in the Indian Ocean, overpower a boat-load of unarmed merchant seamen and hold the ship's captain for ransom. Both films pepper their nail-biting suspense with social commentary and political outrage. The disenfranchised New York punks in The Incident are pretty loathsome characters who do it for kicks, the far more sympathetic disenfranchised Somalians in Captain Phillips do it for money, and because they have few alternatives. But in both films—spoiler alert—the day is saved by the US military. In The Incident it's an off-duty private with a broken arm played by Beau Bridges. In Captain Phillips it's what seems to be an entire fleet of the US Navy and a team of Navy SEALS. In neither film does it ever feel like a fair fight.
THE FERRONI BRIGADE
Double Trouble-Tsunami 2013
NEW: Rol' (2013; Konstantin Lopušanskij) + OLD: Nečajannye radosty [unfinished, destroyed; 2006 edit of the remains] (1972-74; Rustam Chamdamov)
NEW: Sexmonster! (2013; Thilo Gosejohann & Jörg Buttgereit [original theatre production]) + OLD: Clown (complete revised) (2003; Luther Price)
NEW: Kopfkino (2012; Lene Berg) + OLD: Eros Center Hamburg (1969; Günter Hendel)
NEW: Za Marksa... (2013; Svetlana Baskova) + OLD: Det drønner gjennom dalen (1938; Olav Dalgard)
NEW: Hawaii Five-0: "Olelo Pa'a" (2013; Joe Dante) + OLD: Wŏlmi-do (1982; Cho Kyŏngsun)
NEW: Obrana i zaštita (Bobo Jelčić, 2013) + OLD: Poslednja postaja (Jože Babič, 1971)
WHY: 2013 marked the year when we (sort of) said farewell to Steven Soderbergh, ending a remarkable and unique string of films about American life with a glammed-out Michael Douglas being lifted to heaven. I've been following Soderbergh's digital rebirth with interest and joy, but I must admit that over the last few years I've been at a loss to coherently explain their pleasures. Why did he include a shot of Matt Damon adjusting his wig in The Informant!? Why did he repeatedly break the 180-degree rule during a minor conversation in Haywire? And most of all, why do both those films feel more satisfying than if he hadn't? When I saw Luis Buñuel's masterpiece Él—coincidentally at the same time that Candelabra, deemed "too gay" for US theaters, swept the Emmys—I realized a good adjective for Soderbergh's purported swansong. Behind the Candelabra is Soderbergh at his most Buñuelian: a microcosm where the "normal" social order is bent into uncanny shapes and absurdity is pushed to such an extreme that it can't comfortably count as comedy.
As bedfellows, Behind the Candelabra and Él play off one another in intriguing ways. Both are twisted psychosexual romances where a rich, devoutly Catholic man seduces the object of his affections, culminating in a paranoid, nightmarish version of marriage. And both, in surreal fashion, end with the suggestion that despite how much one party victimized the other, maybe on some strange level they really loved one another after all. But what's interesting about placing them side by side are the backgrounds of their pathological leading men. Buñuel's object of satire was a fading aristocrat and lifelong adherent of the Catholic Church. In America, neither subject would fully click; we don't have aristocrats—at least, we like to think we don't—and Catholicism is not as entrenched a national institution. What we do have, though, are Las Vegas revues, Oscar telecasts, watermelon diets, celebrity divorces, sequined Santa hats, Jason Bourne, and Gordon Gekko. In short, we have pop culture. And one of the joys of Behind the Candelabra is how it turns American pop culture into a self-aware bizarro world (Dan Aykroyd as a no-nonsense manager! Paul Reiser as a no-nonsense lawyer! Debbie Reynolds with a thick Polish accent!) in telling the sordid backstage life of an entertainer your grandmother should know. Many of Buñuel's films are about the strictures of society fighting vainly against the forces irrationality; one gets the sense from late Soderbergh, and the subjects he chooses, that irrationality has already won and society carries on anyway. Wall Street millionaires pay prostitutes to listen to them; folksy family-men concoct corporate embezzlement schemes; and out west, casino money from out-of-towners has built a palace of Renaissance kitsch in the Nevada desert.
To follow the theme and double (or quadruple) the fun, pair This is the End with The Exterminating Angel.
NEW: Nobody's Daughter Haewon (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea) + OLD: Celine and Julie Go Boating (Jacques Rivette, 1974) WHY: Two stories of young women finding their way that double as a study in the lightest, subtlest, most budget-friendly kind of film surrealism. Rivette follows the Feuillade method of laying a thin filter of magic over everyday France, and like a Feuillade serial, his magnum opus doesn't treat the rules of its make-believe world with any pomp or gravitas. Hong Sang-soo's Haewon takes this even further: a metaphysical dramatic/romantic/coming-of-age comedy where all that separates reality from dreams is a simple cut, with no stylistic signifiers to distinguish them from each other or from the world of our own. For this reason, someone walking into the film blind might reasonably expect it to play out as a simple relationship drama. In reality—and I use that word with caution—it's as much a mindfuck movie as Celine and Julie or Mulholland Dr., where dreams and life reflect and complete each other, and full meaning can only come from tying the two together.
NEW: Arrested Development, Season 4 (USA) + OLD: Sátántangó (Bela Tarr, 1994) WHY: I happened to brave Sátántangó for the first time the weekend before Arrested Development made its return on Netflix, when everyone tried to decide if they liked it or not. That debate is best left for another time, suffice it to say that there are probably more failed jokes in a single episode of Season 4 than there were in the original run combined. But what's fascinating about the new Arrested Development is that it takes non-linearity to the point where the word "episode" no longer seems appropriate. If anything, it shows that the era of binge-viewing has opened up avenues of structure, where a season of television can function solely as a large concrete unit rather than a collection of mini-narratives that are capable of standing on their own. It's a method that wouldn't be viable if the release were spread out over weeks or months and dotted with commercials, and it finds a close cousin in (of all things) a Bela Tarr movie: an open-ended seven-hour odyssey that keeps moving back and forth in time to account for multiple viewpoints. Of course, the tempos are radically different, namely because Arrested Development has more plot material than it knows what to do with, and Tarr is the sort of director who'll put the plot on hold for several minutes so a character can eat a pickle. But this much is undeniable about Arrested Development 4.0: it shows that someone is testing the new possibilities.
WHY: I see an ideological continuity here that becomes almost comical because the evil party in the Curtiz film, John Brown, a radical Christian who fights against slavery, looks a lot like the radical never shown in Zero Dark Thirty, Osama Bin Laden. Interestingly, the enemy in Curtiz' film comes from within (in a way, secular Errol Flynn & Ronald Reagan are fighting against the heritage of the Mayflower: Christian radicalism), whereas Bigelow's hero has to search "the end of the world" to get her kill. But while both films are clearly serving propagandistic ends, the style to present "the lies of the victors" has radically changed. Where Curtiz remains within the melodramatic tool kit of '40s mass production cinema, Bigelow creates a pseudo-neutral tactile texture that qualifies as "personal art." I hope that it will take less than one generation to change the mainstream's perspective on Bigelow's film, which I find just as ideological biased as Curtiz' quite obviously racist tale.
WHY: Tokyo Drifter because I saw it with two Notebook contributors, both of whom I met for the first time this summer. And what can I say, it was just a delightful evening (one of these writers does a mean Straub imitation; the other's working on a book I cannot wait to read). So what to pair it with? 2013's great drifter, of course, who's actually wandering through the same decade as Tetsu. Not the same world, though. Obviously. Tonally, the films are polar opposites, and yet: both Llewyn and Tetsu navigate between and around alliances they're shut out of, if not right from the start, then eventually. Both odysseys escalate towards a surreality distinctive of their directors' signature style, and both end with a final confirmation of our drifters' status as loners. Tetsu embraces his aloneness as a heroic act in a world bleached white; Llewyn, grudgingly, in an alley grown dark, damp, and cold.
WHY: I watched John Ford's Donovan's Reef for the first time just a few weeks ago, which, as it turned out, was perfect timing. I hadn't realized it was a Christmas movie, so when my three-year-old daughter wandered into the room, I asked if she wanted to sit with me for a while. She crawled into my lap, watched attentively for a few minutes, then giggled and asked why those funny men were always fighting. If I'm especially sentimental with my fantasy double bill this year, it's probably because I'm writing from my parents' home, where I'm visiting for the holidays. Donovan's Reef and Claudia Sainte-Luce's The Amazing Catfish are both family films that are crammed full of life, tenderness, and just a touch of melancholy. At the heart of both are absent (or soon-to-be absent) mothers, who bring a vague but palpable vitality to the ramshackle families they've left behind. Shot by Agnès Godard, The Amazing Catfish is an impressive feature debut, and Lisa Owen's performance as the dying mother is key to its success. She has a great screen face—rivaling, almost, Lee Marvin's.
NEW: A Thousand Suns (Mati Diop, 2013) + OLD: Variations on a Cellophane Wrapper (David Rimmer, 1972) WHY: The new restoration of Variations was one of the very few movies I saw projected on film in 2013. It was also my favorite short in TIFF's Wavelengths program. Mati Diop is a digital native, and her latest video is a kind of time machine, as it revisits Djibril Diop Mambéty's Touki Bouki (1973). Everything old is new again.
WHY: Heralds of American fascism, each of their era. The two features (Bay and DeMille, brothers of cinema in their own way) brilliantly, uncomfortably ideologically perverse in their celebrations.
WHY: The two most unexpected, exquisite pastorals of the year, and each very far from the center: the Gioli, "avant-garde," the Ulmer..."passé-garde"?
WHY: The morals and politics, tendernesses, eroticisms, difficulties, and ecstasies of relationships, adult and teenaged, one echoing 60s histories, the other on the cusp of a revolution.
NEW: Les trois désastres (Jean Luc-Godard, Portugal)
OLD: Le rapport Darty (Jean-Luc Godard & Anne-Marie Miéville, 1989)
WHY: Very simple: two commercial commissions (Guimarães + 3D, Darty). Very complex: two commissions by Godard and Miéville.
WHY: Captivating genre formalism a century apart.
WHY: Two brilliant, miniaturist avant-garde shorts of cosmic record, to go with Welles' Shakespearean portrait-amalgamation of thrifty majesty.
WHY: Train travel circa a digi-serene 2013 (cf. Traveling Light) and a Depression-gritty recession-era 1973.
WHY: Two stranded girls: A fable of old age and a fable of childhood.
WHY: The 1920s American dream, via the 1920s and via 2013. Also: the singular cinematic face, the female star, the close-up.
WHY: Two very different but very elevated and torturous pictures of the feminine world in cinema.
NEW: My Name Is Negahdar Jamali and I Make Westerns (Kamran Heidari, Iran)
OLD: Ride Lonesome (Budd Boetticher, 1959)
WHY: In recent years, some of the best films coming out of the most unlikely parts of Iran (this one from Shiraz, the city of great grapes and poets) have rethought cinematic genres in different ways, and, occasionally, have managed to bring to the centre the marginalized, unsung heroes of Cinephilia in the country. It is in such context that My Name Is Negahdar Jamali and I Make Westerns shines; it hilariously recreates many familiar western settings while focusing on the life of a simple, poor worker/farmer who loves making westerns.
Heidari’s film shows Negahdar trying to make a new western with local friends and reveals how in the process he loses his house and family and eventually, like a traditional cowboy, is left on his own to vanish into a horizon.
The film, in its dry, hopeless feeling and its landscape of decadence, is much closer to Budd Boetticher than John Ford (whose legendary introductory line has inspired the title of this film). Negahdar is more or less a synthesis of both Boetticher and Randolph Scott. His minimalism and no-budget, semi- experimental films, like a crossover between the poorest of B westerns and Jack Smith, stands out as ultra primitive drafts of Boetticher’s westerns, and, on the other hand, his individualism puts him is the same category as Randolph Scott’s laconic avengers. In Negahdar’s guileless, unsophisticated westerns (that we see within this film), as much as this bittersweet portrait of the man at work, a burning passion for cinema, unprecedented to anything else I’ve seen this year, keeps stunning me. [The Siskel Film Center in Chicago will screen it February 15 and 16.]
RYLAND WALKER KNIGHT
WHY: One movie is about overcoming ghost rape and the other’s premise revolves around what amounts to a horrible roofie nightmare. Both are escape stories, too, but the system Carruth goes to great lengths to picture—while less “pure evil” than a rapist ghost—exists to exploit people and rob them of themselves much in the same way the men orbiting Barbara Hershey’s victim refuse to take her seriously until, wouldn’t you know it, the model home (poor representation of life) they’ve erected comes apart at the seams before their eyes. Naturally, the film ends with Hershey abandoning her home in turn. I put Carruth’s film second because, after a lot of pain, the drive of the second half of the film is about a pair of people doing their damnedest to find a common language, and build a new world, so that by the time you get its final images, you’re given the sense that such a possibility exists.
NEW: Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, 2013) + OLD: Journey to Italy (Roberto Rossellini, 1954) WHY: It’s impossible to not hurt people. The secret of life is that it’s always possible to love them, too.
WHY: One of the many traps of the auteur theory—a sensibility that’s wildly overdue to be cut down to size—is that it ignores the writer’s contribution. Pauline Kael, in her inimitable fashion, ruined a good idea in her book “Raising Kane” by reconsidering writer Herman Mankiewicz’ fundamental role in the making of Citizen Kane. Underlying this failed project—and its failings immeasurably set back its cause—is the notion that classical Hollywood cinema is most of all written, with the director and cast interpreting the written word. The death in August of Elmore Leonard, for me the greatest and most essentially American writer since Twain, compelled a revisit to a few of the screen adaptations of his novels and stories. At the same moment, Life of Crime, written and directed by Daniel Schechter and starring Jennifer Aniston, yasiin bey a.k.a. Mos Def, John Hawkes, Will Forte and Tim Robbins, marked the only good closing night gala at the Toronto film festival in years, maybe decades. Schechter respects the classical Hollywood model of serving the author; his adaptation of Leonard’s zippy, twisty, funny novel “The Switch” is faithful, which gives it fuel for the sustained sequences that typically provide Leonard’s narrative spine. Hollywood has usually botched Leonard, even though he consciously thought in cinematic terms, a stylistic trait present from his earliest 1950s Western novels and stories. The reasons for this are myriad, but it often boils down to hack executives and writers thinking they can improve his stories by inadvertently deleting the things that work (usually dialogue, or the dry humor) and/or adding things that don’t (say, a love interest for the star). As writer, Schechter avoids these mistakes, keeping (with one exception) every one of the novel’s best scenes and ideas, even more so than Scott Frank’s similarly solid and faithful adaptation of Leonard’s “Get Shorty.” He also understands that his writing comes alive on screen largely through casting. His choice of bey and Hawkes as, respectively, ex-cons Ordell and Louis reflect on Tarantino’s choice of Samuel L. Jackson and Robert DeNiro as the same characters ten years older in Jackie Brown, based on Leonard’s “Rum Punch” and one of the few other good Leonard adaptations. The new pair, like their writer-director, play it lower key than the flashier Jackson-DeNiro-Tarantino, and it may be even better. All of Schechter’s actors have his screenplay, and more importantly, “The Switch,” in their bones. This is the first interesting role Aniston has had since Office Space, and she gives off every indication that she read Leonard from cover to cover, and maybe more than just “The Switch.” This is a movie that argues for the wisdom in not doing things that will get moviemakers into trouble. If you’re doing the author’s work, trust the damn author.
When Leonard was a young writer in the mid-1950s, he wrote Westerns set in late 19th century southeastern Arizona and western New Mexico from a desk in his Michigan home. He had spent a little time in the region, but despite his Westerns’ almost photorealist detail and deep basis in the area’s extraordinary history of Anglos vs. Apaches vs. Mexicans, the fiction is largely made up and precisely executed. Hollywood studios began to warm to his Hemingway-esque narratives, and in 1957, Leonard saw his breakthrough. His 1955 story, “The Captives,” was adapted by writer Burt Kennedy for The Tall T, starring Randolph Scott and directed by Budd Boetticher. “Three-Ten to Yuma,” written in 1953 for Dime Western Magazine, was bought by Columbia and adapted by writer Halsted Welles, with Delmer Daves hired as director and Glenn Ford and Van Heflin as co-stars. Both movies are fondly embraced by auteurists as “films by” Boetticher and Daves. This is profoundly misguided on many levels, most of all since the attentive viewer will quickly notice how thoroughly written both movies are. (I also took a viewing of the 2007 re-make of 3:10 to Yuma, starring Christian Bale and Russell Crowe—and scene-stolen by Ben Foster—but its gross disregard for the original story is so stupid and disastrous that it’s barely worth mentioning, placing it in the category of most Leonard page-to-screen versions.) Kennedy’s choice to embellish Leonard’s lean, raw story with side notes like chatty children, goofy old coots and a rollicking bull ride, along with some overwritten scenes between Scott and Maureen O’Sullivan for a semi-love story is the sort of thing Leonard usually witnessed when other writers took on his texts. Worst of all, he tries to create some pseudo-bonding between Scott’s stalwart hero and his evil captor, Richard Boone, a false psychology notably missing from Leonard. Welles similarly tried to do some supposedly clever expansion of the brief original story by throwing in business involving a wife back home on the range and a miscalculated decision to change the hero’s (Heflin’s) profession from a deputy on assignment to a poor, desperate ranch owner. Although Welles keeps the surface bits of Leonard’s ending, he dispenses with the author’s innate sense of storytelling irony for a corny bit of romantic hoo-hah. He was only six years into his prodigious writing career, but Leonard received an early lesson in how Hollywood writers managed to expand his fictions and thereby diminish them.
CRISTINA ÁLVAREZ LÓPEZ
WHY: What happens to a couple when the woman is left alone at home while the man goes out to work? Without stating it directly, both Angel and Jealousy investigate this question. Commanding the men’s attention, an important telegram or a commitment at the theatre cannot wait; but the films stay with the women, accompanying them in their dissatisfaction and portraying their wounded pride. In these two films, it is enough to simply invoke the issue of jealousy once (just as a suggestion, or a game) for it to emerge and spread like a virus, able to cause either tragedy or renewal.
The luxurious house in which Maria (Marlene Dietrich) lives with Frederick (Herbert Marshall) and the claustrophobic attic that Claudia (Anna Mouglalis) shares with Louis (Louis Garrel) become settings that reveal the needs of the women, conveying to us what they have and what they lack. Perhaps these women ask unreasonable things of the men who love them; after all, as Dietrich says, “It’s the privilege of a woman not to make sense. Men who expect women to be logical are likely to be failures in love.” But the directors, instead of judging these central characters, conspire with the impulsive, irrational, illogical feelings born within them, opting for a narration full of ellipses and gaps, sudden revelations, unexpected shocks, things unseen and unsaid.
Whether in a witty, sophisticated comedy that presents life as theatre (Angel), or in an intimate drama of autobiographical reminiscence where theatre is life (Jealousy), Lubitsch and Garrel tell the oldest story in the world—a couple threatened by the appearance of a third person—but do so with an intensity and emotion that cinema seldom achieves. Finally, what is at stake here is something that marks every Garrel film: an idea of love that responds to two, contradictory forces, both its birth and its duration. And that is the very same dilemma that Lubitsch confronts us with in Angel, perfectly condensed in this declaration from Frederick: “I don’t measure in terms of seconds, but of years”. English translation by Adrian Martin.
WHY: The creative well of body snatching is apparently inexhaustible: the premise is returned to every twenty years with such regularity that it seems now a cinematic tradition. With each new iteration the milieu is duly contemporarized, but so too is the central metaphor—as the reality of McCarthyism recedes into history we continue to fear the conformity its presence entrained, whether heralded by casual militarism (in the Ferrara) or corporate ‘Starbucking’ (in the Wright). These films each tell us the same thing: our individualism is being threatened. Back to back, they tell us something more: our individualism has always been threatened, but at least we always fight back.
WHY: Jean-Claude Brisseau’s small-scale, ultra low-budget, very personal film—about phantoms, lost love and a new friend—displays an allusive, playful, ingenious relation to many mainstream genres and sub-genres: romantic melodrama, supernatural fantasy, mystery thriller, chamber drama. Brisseau, as is customary, runs the entire gamut from everyday whimsy and potential erotic frisson through to cosmic terror and other-worldly visions. In my year’s viewing it connected to a little-known Hollywood film I watched online, The Second Woman, given little credit even by the genre fans who have mentioned it. (The link in-between these two would be Jacques Rivette’s Story of Marie and Julien, 2003.) The Second Woman is a minor but beguiling movie in the tradition of Spellbound (1945), Secret Beyond the Door… (1947) and a few dozen others which conjugate a man (Robert Young) bent out of mental shape by grief, a new, inquisitive woman (Betsy Drake) in his life, embodiments of artistic creation, an elaborate house (or apartment) with strange rooms and eventful corners, and ghosts of every kind: real, imagined, faked, metaphorical. And where Brisseau has yet to receive his full due in world film culture today, Kern (1909-1966), also a songwriter and successful TV director in the ‘50s and ‘60s, scarcely ever received any.
For this assignment, the brief was: pair an 'old' film and a 'new' film, each seen in 2013. Instead, I offer two old-new films, each rediscovered in their own way for the first time in 2013, and each in their own way the most moving cinematic moment(s) of my year.
First, an untitled film, or rather, one whose title I won't share. A fragment, really, just seven seconds long, nearly silent, and certainly without speaking. 'Shot,' if you can call it that, by an app that records video from Skype, and thus far never seen any larger than 320 × 240 pixels. A film I made, accidentally, in 2010, its existence forgotten since then, which somehow arrived in 2013 as new and, importantly, complete. A film that presents at most a single gesture, or maybe two.
This fragment has made me smile and cry more than any other in 2013.
I've told you nothing of it. Publicly, it has never existed, never been seen except by my own eyes. Privately, it makes sense only as a tiny piece of a much larger history, to which only two people could ever be privy. I wonder if, were this private diary to survive, it could ever be understood.
Sappho's poems survive only in fragments.
Second, a silent film, lovingly restored by cinematic saint Kevin Brownlow, and projected on 4K at the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival in front of a crowd much too sparse. The Big Parade (King Vidor, 1925) is the story of a long-distance relationship—begun in tenderness, trampled by circumstance, sustained by faith, and reunited by commitment. It is other things as well; there's tenderness and comedy, both to be found in brotherhood, and the tragedy and revelation of disillusionment's double-edged sword. But most of all, this story is of unfaltering love. To be close, then to be far away, then to draw close again; to hobble and stumble and run to hold your love again.
WHY: It happens ever so often: our ignorance causes truly great directors to get lost in a twilight zone. This is precisely why, for instance, Georges Sadoul traveled a lot working on his Histoire générale du cinéma: impossible to complete from one single perspective, it required an immersion into cinematographical contexts of different cultures. Paulo Rocha’s films are among the most beautiful, exquisite and generous gifts of the Portuguese cinema. At the very end of 2012 he died, leaving us with a film of farewell. Ours is a sad time: slowly, one by one, the leaders of the nouvelle vague generation are passing away, and Paulo Rocha was the leader of Portuguese novo cinema. If I Were a Thief...I'd Steal fits into a sequence of astonishing, incomparable сinematographic testaments alongside La noche de enfrente by Raúl Ruiz and Michelangelo Eye to Eye by Antonioni. I am not at all sure one should embark on the discovery of Rocha’s cinema starting from this very film; quite the contrary—it rewards you more the better you know director’s oeuvre. The story of an adolescent Vitalino, who bids farewell to his dying father in 1917 and moves over to Brazil, alternates with fragments of Paulo Rocha’s earlier work, as if it were a greatest hits album of his previous nine films. Rocha has always been fascinated by strangers who were trying to carve out a place in a rapidly changing scenery and landscape, be it the transformation of new Lisbon in The Green Years (1963) or the lingering death of a fishing village in Change of Life (1966). He enjoyed the right to feel a stranger himself: finding a role model in the writer Venceslau de Morais who served as a consul of Portugal in Japan, Rocha took a long break to spend 16 years as a cultural attache in Tokyo. If I Were a Thief...I'd Steal tells the story of a final journey. It casts a last glance over the life of its creator and all of it that is going to be left behind for us. The boy Vitalino laments having no material mementos of his late father, since in a plague outbreak all the belongings of the dead have to be burnt. The last words of the film are a voiceover by Luís Miguel Cintra: ‘Vitalino, don’t be scared. The world is bigger than what your eyes can see’.
WHY: I always felt that Miike’s features had a lot in common with Frederick Wiseman’s documentaries. Olaf Möller once described Wiseman’s films as meditations on civilization and the colossal effort the latter requires to come into being. Miike is no stranger to interpreting social institutions, either, and his latest, Shield of Straw, looks less like a mere movie and more like a case study from a Social Philosophy textbook. The sentimental conventions of standard cop action fare are exaggerated here to the point of absurdity as swarms of people sacrifice themselves to obey the letter of the law, which may, for all we know, protect the absolute evil as long as formalities are observed and the protocol is respected. So which matters more, the foundations of civilization or individual lives? What defines us as repositories of societal values? A deeply unpleasant movie, Shield of Straw is sure to cause continual moral discomfort while offering no answers yet positing that civilization, indeed, comes with a dear price and takes colossal effort.
WHY: Two chamber-piece masterpieces about death, grief and sorrow. As Franz Kafka once wrote: "There is no need for you to leave the house. Stay at your table and listen. Don't even listen, just wait. Don't even wait, be completely quiet and alone. The world will offer itself to you to be unmasked; it can't do otherwise; in raptures it will writhe before you."
WHY: I already did the very similar comparison last year. Maybe the reason is that Oliveira and von Bagh are among my favourite directors and it’s an incredible pleasure to perceive their work together.
WHY: Very natural double-feature. Pirika on Film is in a way a sequel, remake and reconsideration of maestro Žilnik’s splendid debut.
WHY: The former a genre-hopping short that I and other jurors recently awarded the top prize at Curto Circuíto in Santiago de Compostela, the latter a superlatively directed martial arts caper in which Sonny Chiba beats everyone to death. Both movies are ridiculous. Sydney-born James McFay’s Australian-Japanese co-production begins as a terribly acted melodrama before ditching its protagonists in favour of a casually hilarious martial arts scene filmed in a single take along the x-axis—à la Oldboy, to which this is a presumably better homage than Spike Lee’s apparently unavoidable misfire. Ozawa Shigehiro’s earlier feature—perhaps the best looking film of its genre ever made—provides top-to-bottom delirium as Chiba proceeds through an endless stream of nemeses in a quest to rescue an oil heiress. If Burning Hearts sustains a somehow romantic register, The Street Fighter is a dazzling and outrageous statement on how violence precludes love.
WHY: Two portraits of musicians: aproned to set the table and swaying to his daughter's singing-song, papa pantomimes a grand conductor with a butter knife as baton on the verge of the war (Curtiz); each stroke of the bow across the man's cello seems to channel its motion into the gestures of a woman gardening, a filmmaker cutting his film (Beavers). The music that incites the action of other movies is itself the action here, a physical gesture, arising from domestic labor and conveyed across to bodies to synchronize relations across rooms (and shots). Why the city symphony as living room recital? Gesamtkunstwerks these aren't: certainly not rituals of the leisure class mounting from a slow, rapping recitative to swirling motions, colors, and melodies à la Mamoulian—or Markopoulos. The process of domestic labor has no culmination, no end: here, music, gardening, and Hollywood romances are only as good as they last. Instead, the suggestion of Curtiz's and Beavers' favorite shot—the braid-like pan from one room, one character, one gesture, one sound, one object to another—is that it is the function of these working craftsmen, at far poles of an aesthetic spectrum, simply to interlace gestures and noises from neighboring rooms into a gradually harmonizing series of calls and responses. So a rickety fence post in the Curtiz assumes various connotations to papa's musician daughters, inside the house, who structure their work around the sound: the director's labor is just an extension of their own, domestic and otherwise, to coordinate the action in perfect polyphony. Or to orchestrate the action into an endless series of reactions with camera-as-baton.
WHY: Two great genre films. Two great crime films. Two great films which deals—each in it’s own way—with stolen objects. In Statues Also Die: objects called “art”; in Pays barbare: images. These two films share a theme, but the methods they use are different, even though Gianikian and Ricci Lucchi here are moving closer to the audiovisual (rather than the primary visual), and hence, closer to Marker. What is interesting with these two films is that both are against representation. Seen as they were, the objects in Statues Also Die, and the images in Pays barbare, says nothing of the people who made them/are in them. But they say a lot of the people who took them. And since we’re talking in terms of the genre, we’ll call them criminals, or rather, bad guys. Or why not representatives?
WHY: Purest of pleasures. The pleasure of images, the pleasure of bearing witness to cinematic mastery, and the pleasure of the emotional depths which grant them volume and weight. In Passion (as often with Godard) the depths are intertextual, cinematic; in Inside Llewyn Davis, melancholic, moral. Godard's and the Coen brothers' cinemas are cinemas of alternative—Godard with his diabolic rejection of story, acting, reality; the Coen brothers in their own sly rejection of the cliché of success. We see Film as we have never before seen it on screen—chaotic, fecund, contradictory, heterogeneous. We see also New York as we have never before seen it on screen—steely, dim, ravenous, unwelcoming: a psychogeography hitting all the melancholic chords. Besides the pleasure principle, something else may link these two works: the assholes which fill them. Godard's asshole Jerzy is an autocratic and sexist film director, and the Coen brothers' asshole Llewyn is a failing oversensitive musician. Although their entourage is entirely peopled by assholes—music and film producers, annoyed sisters, irritable bosses, unfriendly strangers—our heroes' assholeness emerges from an artistic truth inside them, a kernel of anger and rejection to the falseness surrounding them. Assholeness as a philosophical stance of negation, one from which emerges humor (let's be honest, who doesn't love to see assholes gallivanting across a screen?), which is their common ground. For both films are hilarious. Hilarious and maddening, hilarious and saddening, hilarious and beautiful, but always hilarious.
WHY: The loose connection in my mind between these films, which I saw a week apart from each other in July, is the problem of taming visual or narrative romanticism so that it expresses more than grandiose wish-fulfillment. The hyperreal pictorialism of Scherson's film is balanced, not only by a growing sense that the dreamlike story is a projection of its young protagonist's psychic landscape, but also by the surprising honesty and intimacy with which the characters express themselves. The romanticism of Dwan's film is clearly traceable to the wonderfully expressive lighting of the great cinematographer John Alton, whose domain of shadows and glowing backlight seems as if it could oversell a simple B Western. But Alton, no prima donna, is always willing to be circumscribed by dramatic structures; and the unpretentious Dwan's proclivity for long shots and spatial integrity nicely complements Alton's visual idealism.
WHY: Two filmmakers with a shared interest in the interrelation of landscape, politics and cinema. Two narratives about serial killers that eschew a sensationalist approach, refusing to show a single image of their subjects—Ted Kaczynski and Norio Nagayama—or their victims, or include additional commentaries. Instead we get formally rigorous explorations of the places and conditions in which the men lived and thought, and voiceover narrations by the filmmakers only, which provide biographical details. Two audio-visual works of art that foreground the influence of environment upon social position, psychology, and the inventions of the medium.
WHY: In Yeezus and 80s Godard alike, collaborators—actors or musicians or vocalists or models—are reduced to phantasmagorical burps. To West, they are echoes in the background of his burnt-out vision of the mainstream: that is, the cliché par excellence, the ultimate expression of inane artificiality. The video for "Bound 2" infamously absorbed and expanded this artifice, shifting between his mercilessly incompetent blathering against a faded colour background to the sustained hyper-fakery of a Honda CRF250 mock-pietà speeding through a world of supersaturated platitudes and bromidic desktop screensaver imagery. By the time the song "New Slaves" explodes with that final sample, Frank Ocean has receded into the shadow, taking West’s most famous high with him: “too high again…” Following Sauve qui peut (la vie), Godard’s cinema was populated with fey and/or imbecilic characters paralyzed by archetypes, insulating the director’s nihilism with an aggressive form of the Tarantino-style mise-en-abyme appropriation/quotation of the early films. In advanced form, these clichés spin off into infinity and the characters are left simply going through the motions, stuck with just the empty roles. The Gyöngyhajú Lány sample in "New Slaves" is where the curtain drops for the first time. We see past Kanye’s ruthlessly foregrounded shallowness and glimpse into the empty, debilitating void. Later, in "Bound 2," after a string of angry, compelling, myopic songs in the middle of the album, this same sadness re-emerges. Stylized beyond anything resembling good taste, Yeezus plays like distant signals emanating from a distorted past—“I need you right now”—that the dissonant West is unable to reclaim. And yet, as with the Godard, the final note is a positive one. To quote Dave Kehr: it is “an aesthetic victory pulled from the jaws of utter nihilism.”
NEW: Bunheads, Episode 18: “Next!” (Amy Sherman-Palladino, USA) + OLD: Up, Down, Fragile (Jacques Rivette, 1995)
WHY: To Jem Cohen, paintings are to be looked at endlessly, and all this looking infects the viewer. Objects like eggs or a frying pan are worth searching the tableaux for and tallying. Attention to the world summons information; to look and listen deliberately, changes who you are. To Yannick Bellon, daughter of Magnum photographer Denise Bellon, photographs fix in space what motion pictures glide around. In this remembrance of things to come, objects are forgotten memories triggering encounters, and Bulle Ogier's mouth moves in sympathy with all the different sides of a guy she walked away from so he could become the man she would someday love, forever, nevermore.