Monthly Archives: July 2010

Austin Notebook: South by Southwest, 2010

From the Summer 2010 issue of Film Quarterly (vol. 63, no. 4). — J.R.

The typical challenge of any film festival report is to create a fictional narrative out of thin air, or a meaningful proposition out of chaos. And this becomes even harder in an era when layoffs of various film reviewers have coincided with a continuing erasure of any clear line separating criticism from advertising in most mainstream venues. The task isn’t far removed from the sort of pretense routinely made by reviewers, myself included, who presume to write ten-best round-ups at year’s end, overlooking the pre-selections already made by distributors and marketers and often arriving at unwarranted global conclusions based on the very finite sampling of what one has seen. This becomes only more obvious and arbitrary when it comes to generalizing about the handful of films one sees at a festival out of several dozens or hundreds, and then creating a narrative thread or some sort of thesis that can connect them all like beads on a string — a process that for me stands out in even greater relief since I retired from regular reviewing in early 2008.South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, commonly known as SXSW, is a combined film festival and “interactive” media conference held for both cinephiles and film professionals, followed immediately by a music festival that’s even bigger.

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A Little More on Truffaut

Yesterday, while reseeing François Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 for the first time in years at the Gene Siskel Film Center, just before doing a Skype interview with Ray Bradbury in California along with Bradbury’s biographer, Sam Weller, I was struck for the first time how different Truffaut’s and Bradbury’s historical groundings were. Bradbury’s novel, first published in the early 50s, clearly reflected the Cold War, whereas Truffaut’s English-language film (his only one) of 1966, two years before his secret discovery via detectives that his father had been a Jewish dentist, seems largely informed by his childhood experience of the German occupation of France, which he would only depict directly 14 years later, in The Last Metro.

The most surprising aspect of this for me is that I never thought of it earlier — but it becomes especially clear during the scene in which Montag (Oskar Werner) and Clarisse (Julie Christie) in a cafe secretly spy through a window an informer pause before mailing his malicious report on a neighbor to the police/fire department (which in the world of Fahrenheit 451 is the same thing), meanwhile making comments on his behavior (some of which are reproduced below in the subtitles). It also seems evident in the number of old, early-40s books that one sees being burned in the many book-burning sequences, as well as in the dingy scenes set in old-fashioned basements, attics, etc.… Read more »

PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN on DVD and the Irretrievable Past

It’s delightful to have Kino’s new “deluxe” edition of Albert Lewin’s Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, one of my all-time favorite examples of Hollywood romanticism, glamor, and lushness (as well as Technicolor), based on the film’s 2009 restoration, which I saw and Bologna and wrote about a little over a year ago. But while watching this edition’s extended comparison of the original with the restored version, I’m somewhat taken aback by the fact that the film I remember seeing in 1951, when I was still in grammar school, is closer to the unrestored version:

It’s obvious that the restored version is superior in terms of definition, lighting, and color. But rightly or wrongly, I remember the film in 1951 as being darker, at least in my mind’s eye — a film bathed in black more than auburn hues.

Could this be a matter of Proustian self-deception? Or could it point to a significant change in the film that I originally saw? I wish I knew. [7/8/10]

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Two French Godard Books: Informational Obstacles (and Teasers)

Here are two recent valuable acquisitions I’ve made via French Amazon — Antoine de Baecques’s 940-page biography of Jean-Luc Godard, the first one in French (after two in English, by Colin MacCabe and Richard Brody), published by Bernard Grasset, and Godard’s 107-page “book” version of (or companion to) his recent Film Socialisme, published by P.O.L, his usual publisher, and subtitled Dialogues avec visages auteurs (literally, “Dialogues with faces authors”).

It’s far too early to make any sweeping judgments about either book — which would be presumptuous for me to attempt to do at any point, given my less than perfect French — but a few first impressions are in order. De Baecque’s biography is full of interesting details, in particular ones drawn from formerly unavailable or unfamiliar documents, e.g., a letter from Pasolini to Godard about La chinoise, and, roughly two decades later, a letter from Godard to Norman Mailer about some of his plans for King Lear. But it also appears that De Baecque can’t be trusted very much when it comes to his handling of American criticism about Godard. A minor complaint (which I hope doesn’t sound churlish, given how flattering he is to me elsewhere in this book): he claims, based on the French translation of my autobiographical Moving Places, that I spent “half my time in Paris between 1966 and 1968″ seeing or reseeing Godard films on drugs; but in fact, apart from a couple of summer visits to Paris during this period (during which my Godard viewing goes unmentioned), my extended sojourn in Paris was between 1969 and 1974, and my accounts of watching Alphaville on grass and Band of Outsiders on acid on the pages he cites were actually in New York in 1965 and in London in 1970, respectively.… Read more »

IL CINEMA RITROVATO DVD AWARDS 2010

IL CINEMA RITROVATO

DVD AWARDS 2010

VII edizione

Jurors: Lorenzo Codelli, Mark McElhatten, Paolo Mereghetti, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Peter Von Bagh.

BEST DVD 2009 / 2010

BY BRAKHAGE: AN ANTHOLOGY, VOLUME ONE AND TWO di Stan Brakhage – The Criterion Collection (USA)

Released by Criterion in a stunning Blu-ray edition this discerning selection of 56 films made by avant-garde visionary Stan Brakhage between 1954 and 2003 received painstaking transfers from preservations conducted by Mark Toscano at the Academy Film Archive.

Our special award of distinction goes to this unprecedented project, which also includes documentation of Brakhage lectures and film salons and, in an accompanying book, concise essays and descriptions of the films.

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BEST SPECIAL FEATURES (BONUS)

Our BEST SPECIAL FEATURES  (BONUS) award goes jointly to:

(a) three recent Ruscico releases of classic Russian films (two previously unavailable films by Lev Kuleshov, ENGINEER PRITE’S PROJECT and THE GREAT CONSOLER, and Sergey Eisenstein and Grigori Aleksandrov’s OCTOBER)—both for their innovative handling of printed and illustrated commentaries by scholars and for their subtitles in many languages, despite the unfortunate fact that all three releases are identified on their covers only by their Russian titles and (b) the Filmmuseum with Filmmuseum München and Goethe Institut Deutschland release of G.W.… Read more »