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Rushes. Wes Anderson, Chicago's Crime Culture, Nicole Kidman, Walter Hill

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NEWS
Radley Metzger's The Lickerish Quartet
  • Radley Metzger, whose groundbreaking erotic films helped set standards of style for both mainstream and arthouse cinema, has died at 88. His classics Camille 2000 (1969) and The Lickerish Quartet (1970) were featured on MUBI last year. Critic and programmer Steve Macfarlane interviewed the director at Slant Magazine for the Film Society of Lincoln Center's 2014 retrospective devoted to Metzger.
RECOMMENDED VIEWING
  • The Cinémathèque française has been on a roll uploading video discussions that have taken place at their Paris cinema. This 34 minute talk is between Wes Anderson and director/producer Barbet Schroeder.
  • The Criterion Collection has recently released a new edition of Michelangelo Antonioni's masterpiece Blow-Up, and has uploaded this stellar clip of actor David Hemmings speaking on a talk show about making the film.
RECOMMENDED READING
Howard Hawks' Scarface
It was Chicago that birthed both the gangster picture and the notion of street criminal chic, and it really took until The Godfather for there to be a major American film that took its cues from the clannish organized crime culture of the East Coast. Even the great New York gangster movies that came before The Godfather, like Raoul Walsh’s The Roaring Twenties and Budd Boetticher’s The Rise And Fall Of Legs Diamond, are based on an archetype born of the Second City. Most film historians will tell you that there are two definitive early gangster films: Underworld, directed in 1927 by Josef Von Sternberg, and Howard Hawks’ insurmountable 1932 Scarface. Both are set in Chicago, as were almost all early American gangster movies—Little CaesarThe Public Enemy, the whole lot. The gritty city stuck in the imagination of ’30s Hollywood much in the same way as Paris and Vienna did, less a real-world setting than a genre in and of itself. Films about criminal gangs go back to the early 1900s, but they depict their bad guys mostly as ragged, unshaven goons in flat caps. The seductive criminals of the silent era are swindlers and masterminds. The idea that coarse, murderous thugs could be flamboyant, magnetic, and sexy—that comes from the Chicago of Al Capone and John Dillinger.
Jean-Pierre Léaud in The Mother and the Whore. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
  • Two terrific pieces from Film Comment are now online. In the first, French director Olivier Assayas, whose name is in the air with the recent theatrical release of his film Personal Shopper, reflected in 1996 on legendary actor Jean-Pierre Léaud, whom he has directed several times...
Would he be surprised to hear me say that? It was his strength that surprised me, the compact density of strength that resided in him and that manifested itself as repressed power. What one might call poetic intensity—the intensity of an inner fire, or of a violence painstakingly harnessed at the cost of turning it back against oneself in the form of self-destructiveness—was a palpable presence in Jean-Pierre, like a supernatural gift, or rather a superhuman one: intolerable, unbearable, because of the pain of simply bearing it. And if you feel yourself being consumed by it, you will also have the very physical impression that you might be burned on contact.
"When I think of films I saw when I was a young fellow, so many of them that I really responded to were small, spare, European movies—from Bresson, for example, or Ermanno Olmi [Il Posto]. The size never interfered with one’s appreciation of the aesthetic values. In a way, it even reinforced one’s notions about the purity of the effort, as opposed to the Hollywood size and bulk."
Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut
In the past, Kidman became revelatory when she became sexual, when she acted for an indie director, when she sang onscreen, when she went ugly in an Oscar film — all modes, and genres, recognizable to (male) critics as prestigious. But when she appears in a so-called “women’s” picture, produced and dominated by women, it pauses or altogether prevents the recognition.

It’s doubly insulting: Matt Damon and Tom Hanks and Liam Neeson and Robert Downey Jr. and Will Smith and other once-revelatory men surf on seas of stinker parts, submitting to self-abjection in superhero roles, and still soar on the willingness of critics to take them seriously. Meanwhile, Kidman — like Witherspoon and Dern, like Stewart and Woodley, like so many actresses, of seemingly every age, who aren’t named Meryl Streep — has to prove herself as more than the sum of her pretty parts every time she comes onscreen.
Hawking’s aphorism “Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny” is the key both to Kelly’s direction and Gyllenhaal’s performance. Donnie Darkoeffortlessly and unselfconsciously borrows from unlikely bedfellows—Philip K. Dick and J.D. Salinger, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future. Kelly grounds Donnie’s hallucinations in a hyper-real depiction of daily life: family dinner table conversations; Donnie’s shrink sessions; his awkward courtship of Gretchen, with whom, in one of the film’s most poignant and sinister scenes, he watches Evil Dead in an otherwise empty theater—until Frank is suddenly sitting beside them. With cinematographer Steven Poster, Kelly choreographed extended gliding camera moves within which speed varies from dreamy slow motion to super-rapid pixilation, this temporal instability building to the high-velocity backward wind through the entire film as Donnie races to meet the death he avoided twenty-eight days earlier. They also devised a lighting scheme that makes it seem as if there is a dark cloud above the town and everyone in it. The effect is visually subtle, but it creates an aura of depression and anxiety, which is echoed in Gyllenhaal’s downcast gaze and slumped-over neck and shoulders, suggesting that the knowledge in his head is too heavy to bear. Donnie Darko would be unimaginable without Gyllenhaal’s performance, still the most memorable of a fine career. Donnie’s vulnerability, his mixture of tenderness and rage, his awareness of his own blighted future, and his outsized rescue fantasy make us want to save him; that desire might be our salvation as well. 
  • The lovely Spanish magazine Lumière has re-published the 31 favorite films of French New Wave director Jacques Rivette (as of 1982). Some come as no surprise (Max Ophüls's Le plaisir, Hitchcock's Vertigo), some a surprise (Michael Snow's La région centrale, Altman's The Long Goodbye), and some totally unknown, at least to us (Jean-François Stévenin's Passe-montagne).
Director Luc Moullet trying to open a Coke in 1998's Essai d'ouverture
  • And speaking of the New Wave, Nick Pinkerton has penned an excellent overview of what he's calling the "Second New Wave" of French filmmakers, which could include Jean Eustache, Philippe Garrel, and Luc Moullet:
If anything, perhaps some of these figures may have been drawn together by a sense of arriving after the great toppling of idols had been completed and the laurels had been collected. 
RECOMMENDED LISTENING
  • Sam Fragoso talks to American director James Gray (The Immigrant, the upcoming The Lost City of Z) for his Talk Easy podcast:
EXTRAS

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