Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Read my full review of M. Hulot's Holiday here at The L Magazine.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Tracy the Outlaw is a silent Western from 1928. An independent production by Foto Art Productions, it doesn’t look like most movies we remember from that same year – it neither has the artistic touches of Victor Sjostrom’s The Wind, the stylizations of The Docks of New York, or any of the technical or narrative proficiency that was the Hollywood standard by that time. And that’s exactly why Tracy the Outlaw is important: Hollywood isn’t everything, and outside of it were independent producers and distributors, making raw, unkempt, flawed, and wonderful movies.
But lacking stars, polish, prestige, and any sort of critical status, Tracy the Outlaw isn’t likely to make any appearances at revival houses, or even in history books. It’s a miracle that it was even brought to VHS (and in a pretty decent print) by Videobrary, one of many companies during the 1980s-1990s who specialized in overlooked niches of early cinema, including B-Westerns. There was also Sinister Cinema, Hollywood’s Attic, Nostalgia Family, and Grapevine, to name just a few. (The last two are still around, releasing material on DVD.) There was something special about those small VHS distributors – some sort of magic that seems to be lost in the age of internet. When I was 12, I ordered a video from Facets in Chicago, and suddenly I began receiving black-and-white photocopied catalogs and typewritten lists of old movies on VHS. They were coming from small towns in Maine like Thomaston. I have no clue how I got on this mailing list circuit, but I was flooded with titles I had never heard about. Sadly, I never kept them, as I’d love to see all the great movies I passed up on because of lack of access/information.
But now many of those companies are gone. I no longer receive those wonderful lists. Once in a while, I come across a trove of old Grapevine releases, or some other company. That’s how I found Tracy the Outlaw – three dollars, stuck on a shelf between such other potential gems as Ghost Patrol (a sci-fi Western from 1936) and Border Romance (a musical Western about fugitives from 1929) (both films were released by Sinister Cinema, by the way). The audience for these films was probably small when they came out, and it’s only dwindled in the passing decades. No major home video distributor would ever take these on – the chance of making a profit would be slim. That’s why Grapevine, Videobrary, and all those other companies were – and continue to be – so vital.
Read my full review of The Samuel Fuller Collection here at The L Magazine.
Friday, November 06, 2009
Read my full review of Death in the Garden here at The L Magazine.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Could you say a little about the word "Machetero," where it comes from, and why you chose it as your title?
The direct Spanish translation of the word "machetero" is someone who works with a machete. However, there is a cultural definition to the word that is unique to Puerto Rico. The "Macheteros" were sugarcane field workers who fought against Spanish colonial rule, and when the US invaded Puerto Rico in 1898 during the Spanish-American war, they fought against the Americans as well. In the late 1960s, Puerto Rican independence leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios started a clandestine armed organization called "Ejercito Popular Boricua" ("Popular Puerto Rican Army"). Puerto Ricans throughout the Diaspora called them "Macheteros".
The title of the film comes from a saying the Macheteros had, "¡Todo Boricua Machetero!" ("All Puerto Ricans Are Machetero!") which connected Puerto Ricans to their revolutionary past. When I thought more about that saying, it seemed to me that what the EPB was trying to do was to create this idea of the Machetero as warrior and protector of the Puerto Rican people in much the same way that the Samurai is in Japan.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Read my full review of Black Rain here at The L Magazine.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Friday, October 16, 2009
The L Magazine: What was the motivation for doing this series now?
Charles Silver: It seems like as good a time as any. I’ve been at The Museum of Modern Art for almost 39 years now, and I’ve been going to the movies for close to 60 (or maybe more) and I thought it would be good to go back and survey our film archive (which begins in the 1890s and goes up to the present day) and try to define the Auteur theory through the collection. There have been, in the past, other film history cycles at the museum, so it is not totally novel, but I thought that approaching it from the Auteur Theory would make the most coherent expression of film history, at least up until the point that the studios broke down, and we had films really by committees and computers. It is hard to argue that a lot of current movies could be the expression of individual artists although I think there are many exceptions.
Read my full interview with Charles Silver at The L Magazine.
Read my full review of Mother here at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Read my full review of Marlene here at The L Magazine.
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
Read my full review of Munyurangabo here at The L Magazine.
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
Saturday, October 03, 2009
Read my full review of Wild Grass here at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.
Thursday, October 01, 2009
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Read my full reviews here at The L Magazine.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Read my full review of Sweetgrass here at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Read my full review of Private Century here at The L Magazine.
Michael Almereyda’s Paradise begins with a slow tracking shot taken from a moving walkway in an airport. It’s a contradiction of movement and stasis: the camera and its holder are completely still, yet the ground beneath them perpetually propels them forward. Later in the movie, a character will comment that they love natural disasters because they “like that the earth is changing and moving.” Even the modernist architecture of the passageway—cool and steely lines converging in a distant vanishing point and whose hues fluidly shift from blue to green to purple—lends an aura of science-fiction to the shot, as though we are more than moving through a single corridor, but traveling beyond the liminal boundaries of our everyday world.
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
Read my full review of Jeanne Dielman, 23, qui du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles here at The L Magazine.
The history of film is anything but set in stone. New discoveries, much-needed restorations and increased availability often change our perspective on topics long since thought to be behind us. The most exciting and intriguing part of Kino's new 3-DVD box set Gaumont Treasures: 1897-1913 isn't the work of either of the already celebrated filmmakers—Alice Guy (among the very first women filmmakers) or Louis Feuillade (the stylized master of series such as Les Vampires and Judex)—but a relatively obscure name whose films have been absent from shelves, and whose legacy has unfortunately been overlooked: Léonce Perret.
Read my full review of Gaumont Treasures: 1897-1913 here at The L Magazine.
Read my full review of John Cassavetes' Husbands here at The L Magazine.
Read my full review of Hong Sang-Soo's Woman on the Beach here at Coupe Cinema.
Monday, August 17, 2009
When we first meet Texas Guinan in The Gun Woman – a character nameless except for the moniker “The Tigress” – she is outside of her saloon at night, lingering half in the shadows, lighting her cigarette. Pre-Dietrich and pre-Noir, Guinan has femme fatale written over every inch of her body — yet this was made in 1918, and it is a Western. The cinematic predecessors that influenced film noir (namely German Expressionist and American hardboiled literature, both of the 1920s) were years away from being developed. Yet there she is, a deadly, dangerous woman, lurking in the darkest corners of the Old West – our lady Tex, “The Gun Woman” herself.
Read my full review of The Gun Woman here at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.
In the introduction to his essential and illuminating study The Silent Feminists: America’s First Women Directors, film historian Anthony Slide remarks that during the early days of cinema, “not only were women making films, but contemporary observers were making little of the fact. It was taken for granted that women might direct as often and as well as their male counterparts, and there was no reason to belabor this truth.” In the intervening decades, much of the legacy of women directors in the silent era has been lost or forgotten — films no longer exist and filmmakers’ lives and careers are ambiguous at best. How to reverse this process with so little evidence, and so few films? The release of Ruth Ann Baldwin’s 49-17 on DVD, her second feature film as director from 1917 – and the first known Western to be directed by a woman – was certainly a big step forward towards documenting this history and making it available to the public.
Contrary to how it is generally perceived, “The Western” is in no means an exclusively masculine genre. The West wasn’t founded solely by frontiersmen, cattle ranchers and John Ford, and cowboys weren’t the only ones with six-shooters hanging at their side, warming their bellies with whiskey, running the bad boys out of town on their horses, or corralling the livestock as part of a hard day’s work. Women were alongside them, and in some cases in front of them, every step of the way...
Co-written by Jenny Jediny and myself.
The entries in the Rambo series, whether affectionately or derisively, are often referred to not by their original titles, but by the abbreviation “Rambo” plus whatever number film in the cycle they are referring to. Technically, this is only accurate for Rambo III. And while calling the fourth film simply Rambo might make this all the more confusing, the decision is ultimately quite significant. It heralds a new era for the Rambo franchise—a new generation of fans, a new film industry, a new cultural and political climate, and ultimately a new action hero. This is now sixteen years after the release of First Blood, and much more blood has been drawn since then, and many more wrongs committed. To stick by that original title would be to indicate that Rambo hasn’t moved beyond that initial film. But, as evinced by the other entries in the cycle, he clearly has, and throughout Rambo he will continue to change even more because, if anything, this latest film is all about movement, both as an aesthetic choice and narrative motif.
Rambo III is a mess—an irreconcilable mélange of the awesome and the absurd, the ridiculous and the serious. Obstructing the narrative is a slew of contradictions and irregularities that break up what is otherwise a reworking of its predecessor, Rambo: First Blood Part II. But for something that tries to follow so closely the path set out by the previous two films, it is a surprisingly distinct entry in the series. I say “surprisingly” not because the other films are so cookie-cutter – in fact, if anything can be said for the Rambo cycle, it is that each entry has its own individual feel and conception of the titular character – but because Rambo emerges as a different entity seemingly against the intentions of filmmakers. Rambo III is an unwieldy beast that offers no easy, clear-cut analysis or summation, and for this the film is at once a headache and a delight, and ultimately an enigma.
At the very start of The Ballad of Little Jo, Josephine Monaghan finds herself caught in the dichotomous, reactionary web of nineteenth century American morality. Pregnant out of wedlock, her family takes possession of her child and sends her packing. On the road, a traveling salesman picks her up, seemingly engaging her as his assistant only to pawn her off to a couple of violent cowboys who chase her deep into the woods. Escaping, she flees to a local shop but finds hostility instead of sanctuary. Good girls would never get themselves in such a fix, it seems. When Josephine holds a pair of men’s trousers up in front of the mirror, the female shopkeeper warns, “Its against the law to dress improper to your sex.” Rejecting society’s label of “whore” because she wasn’t their idea of a “saint,” Josephine’s only recourse is the ultimate transgression: to cross the gender divide itself, from “Josephine” to “Jo.”
Watching Dazzle, I couldn’t help but thinking of the song “At the Window of Vulnerability.” Most of the (in)action occur by a window; not only does it look out over an Amsterdam street and a river, it also acts as a screen through which a young woman (Georgina Verbaan) projects her own anxiety and guilt. We never see her engage in the world around her, which seems to be one of her biggest problems. Throughout the film, she talks on the phone to a complete stranger (Rutger Hauer), retelling to him the various events she has seen through the window, such as a junkie masturbating in the street or a mouse that commits suicide by leaping into the river. She sees desperation, but is not moved to enact any change herself; contrarily, the open spectacle of need inflicts upon her a great guilt, which she feels is unwarranted. Unable to cope, she reaches out to the stranger on the phone, a doctor in Buenos Aires, who is confronting his own doubts about his profession and his life...
Read my full review of Dazzle here at The L Magazine.
In the grand tradition of epic poetry, FILM IST. a girl and a gun fuses found footage from cinema’s past and ancient Greek text, by the likes of Sappho, Hesiod and Plato, into 24 frames-per-second of kinetic ecstasy. Combing the vaults of international film archives and the Kinsey Institute, Austrian artist Gustav Deutsch returns to Tribeca with the third installment in his Film ist (“Film is…”) series, bringing to light some of the most entrancing and indelible images of early cinema that you’ve never seen. The spectacles range from purple-tinted bodybuilders to Annie Oakley, nudist athletes to stop-motion flowers that blossom before the camera’s eye, stag film models to gun-toting women. Using the Greek writings as intertitles, Deutsch orchestrates the images into a five-act structure: Genesis, Paradeisos, Eros, Thanatos and Symposion. Within this framework, seemingly disparate images collide, creating a new cinematic world of gods and goddesses...
Read my full review of FILM IST. a girl and a gun here at The L Magazine.
It is only fitting that the French Institute would choose to open its World Nomads: Haiti film series with Jonathan Demme's The Agronomist (2004), a documentary about Jean Dominique, who (among other things) happened to found Haiti's first Cine Club at the French Institute in Port-au-Prince in 1961. Co-curated by Demme with filmmaker David Belle (founder of Ciné Institute, Haiti's film school) and the French Institute's Marie Losier, the series — along with its companion Haitian Documentary Series at The Maysels Institute — makes available a national cinema that has received far too little exposure, either in theaters or on DVD.
Read my full coverage of World Nomads: Haiti here at The L Magazine.
On the one hand, it's obvious why Departures won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. It's overflowing with a familiar cloyingness that won't alienate audiences, and yet there's ample "foreign-ness" to make it appealingly exotic. Recently laid-off Tokyo cellist Masahiro Motoki returns to his hometown with his wife (J-pop superstar Ryoko Hirosue) and secretly begins work as a mortician. Ashamed, he keeps it a secret from her — and, expectedly, she and the town find out and ostracize him.
But then there's the influence of Juzo Itami's uncouth, bodily humor, which exerts itself in Depatures through Motoki's boss, played by Tsutomu Yamazaki of Itami's Tampopo and The Funeral. Whether slobbering over fried chicken, making off-color jokes about rotting corpses or using Motoki as a "human model" for the ritualistic preparation of the body (which includes stuffing gauze in unwanted areas), Yamazaki brings a much-needed inappropriateness to the film. His zest for pervy unpretentiousness does not go unappreciated.
Originally published in The L Magazine.
Robert Duvall plays Parker (here called Macklin) with an understated hardboiled demeanor. No cracking wise here — Duvall understands that he is playing a businessman whose cool head and emotionless disconnect isn't a sign of sociopathy but of his integrity. After foiling a hitman's attempt on his life, Macklin discovers that an organization known as The Outfit is after him for knocking over one of their banks. No beating around the bush, he goes straight to the man responsible for placing the hit, Menner (Tim Carey, with his characteristic élan), robbing him of all his poker winnings and demanding $250,000 for the inconvenience of almost being killed.
Read my full review of The Outfit here at The L Magazine.
Filming the story almost entirely in a cluttered, half-finished home, Kim Ki-young makes full use of narrow corridors and glass-paneled sliding doors to emphasize the sense of global paranoia that runs rampant throughout The Housemaid. Filming through chairs, banisters and windows, he turns the home into an inescapable prison of unrepressed passions. Once the skeletons come out of the closet with a vengeance in the film's second half, it is as though the outside world ceases to exist. This pulp-chamber drama reminds of something that Gil Brewer might have penned for that publisher of lurid poetics Gold Medal. In fact, both Brewer's 13 French Street (1951) and The Housemaid both share a common nightmare of corruption of the middle class home and the perversion of its moral system.
Read my full review of The Housemaid here at The L Magazine.
If 10 Rillington Place weren't based on real events, it would take the warped mind of Jim Thompson to imagine such paranoid, psychosis-driven characters as the soft-spoken serial killer John Reginald Christie (Richard Attenborough) and his dim-witted, unknowing cohort Timothy John Evans (John Hurt). Christie is a closet deviant who lures desperate women to his home under false pretenses of being a doctor. The illiterate Evans moves his wife and child into the apartment above Christie because it's all he can afford. His life is nothing but two rooms the color of rotting mouse fur, filled with furniture his wife neglected to pay, and a child on the way that he can't afford. Unfortunate circumstances have thrown the group together, and while Christie's phony doctoring seemingly offers Evans and his wife a way out of this purgatorial existence, it's only the beginning of a descent into murder, madness, and the overbearing weight of guilt that's enough to bury any man alive and make them wish for the gallows...
Read my full review of 10 Rillington Place here at The L Magazine.
From Benten comes The GoodTimesKid (2005), the second feature from Azazel Jacobs (whose latest film, Momma's Man, was one of the best films of 2008, and is available on DVD from Kino). With the exception of a brief prologue, the film unfolds throughout the course of a single day as the unspoken ennui and anxiety of a trio of alienated misfits manifest themselves through spontaneous relationships and mad dashes for wild, illogical dreams...
Also, just out from Sunrise Silents is a never-before-available silent film, Mantrap (1926), starring that iconic flapper of the silver screen Clara Bow (who was only twenty-one at the time of the film's release). And while her role as the titular "It" girl from It (1927) certainly defined a bobbed-hair zeitgeist, it has also come to be the sole definer of her career (outside of the cartoon she inspired, Betty Boop). Mantrap's arrival on DVD is a welcome reminder of the flirtatious charm and uninhibited sexuality that were the key ingredients of Bow's comedic style...
Read my full review of The GoodTimesKid and Mantrap here at The L Magazine.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Bardelys the Magnificent (1926) marks Gilbert's fifth collaboration with director King Vidor, who also led Glibert to two of his greatest triumphs with The Big Parade (1925) and La Boheme (1926), breaking him out of the “pretty boy” mould and giving him challenging, meaty roles which brought his hitherto untapped acting potential. Vidor, similarly an unfortunately forgotten figure, was one of the top filmmakers of the 1920s, with a rarely equaled gift for naturalistic yet poetic storytelling, effortlessly moving between comedy, romance, drama and — as Bardelys the Magnificent proves — action, as well. A comic swashbuckler in the Douglas Fairbanks tradition (and one of the few that actually deserves the comparison and rivals any of the master's own films), Bardelys the Magnificent features Gilbert as a notorious ladykiller of the court, handing out lockets with snippets of his hair (which really come from a wig) like there's no tomorrow. When his abilities to win any woman are challenged, Gilbert masquerades as a wanted rebel in order to win the damsel’s hand. Unfortunately, he also wins the attention of the law, who want to hang him for his crimes against the king.
Read my full review of Bardelys the Magnificent here at The L Magazine.
Considered one of the great actors — of both stage and screen — of his day, John Barrymore is the subject of an eponymous new box set from Kino, featuring four of the performer's silent pictures made between 1920 and 1928. Showing off his wide range of skills and charms, the set reminds us why the performer was once so beloved by audiences, and why he deserves to continue to be so. Despite his stage training and theatrical family background (he came from a long line of actors, and his siblings were the equally renowned Lionel and Ethel), John had a natural presence on screen. He may be best remembered for his screwball hamming in Twentieth Century (1934) opposite Carole Lombard, but he is anything but histrionic or over-the-top in these four films. His subtle but communicative control of bodily and facial gestures, debonair persona and iconic good looks make for a commanding screen presence.
Read my full review of The John Barrymore Collection here at The L Magazine.
The attraction of the enigmatic has rarely been so strong as in a pair of French avant-garde films, one returning to DVD and one new to the format. Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad (1961) and Stanislav Stanjoevic's Diary of a Suicide (1972) share not just two actors — the sphinx-like Delphine Seyrig and the inscrutable, deadpan Sacha Pitoeff — but also a common romanticized ideal regarding the mystery of narrative. The central action of both films is, essentially, one character telling a story to another, though this hardly does justice to either of the films' richly nuanced scripts or the entrancing performances of the actors. Both films feed off our desire for resolution and clarity, and in denying — or drawing out — our needs, they become commentaries on listening and perception as much as storytelling.
Read my reviews of Last Year at Marienbad and Diary of a Suicide here at The L Magazine.
Concurrently a modernist fantasia and urban nightmare, Au Bonheur Des Dames focuses on the rivalry between a fast-rising department store, Ladies' Paradise, and a small mom-and-pop storefront across the street. A 20-year-old Dita Parlo (that vision of monochromatic beauty from Vigo's L'Atalante and Renoir's Grand Illusion) stars as the young woman caught between the two businesses. Arriving in Paris to work in her uncle's small fabric shop, Parlo finds the sky literally raining advertisements — planes overhead are dropping flyers for Ladies' Paradise. In an urban montage that rivals the surreal multiple-exposures of Murnau's Sunrise and Walter Ruttmann's Berlin: Symphony of a Big City, Parlo is accosted by visual representations of the clamor and crowds of the metropolis, a sequence which culminates in the excessive splendor of Ladies' Paradise, a department store to end department stores. A palace of fast-moving crowds, shiny objects, grand staircases and sickeningly ornate architecture, the department store is a beastly manifestation of all of consumerism's grand promises.
Read my full review of Au Bonheur Des Dames here at The L Magazine.
The fourth in a series of eight films chronicling the role of the ninja in Japan's turbulent feudal past, Shinobi no Mono 4: Siege (1964) opens at the dawn of the Tokugawa Period, as a peace treaty between the reigning Shogun and his rival clan, the Toyotomi, is signed. The treaty, however, is just the calm before the storm, as the Toyotomi get word of the Tokugawa's secret plotting to destroy them once and for all. Coming to their rescue is legendary ninja Kirigakure (series star Raizo Ichikawa, who made nearly 100 films in his fourteen-year career, cut short by his death at the age of 38), but when he is kidnapped in a cunning ambush by enemy ninjas, even he must wonder if defeat is inevitable.
Read my full review or Shinobi no Mono 4: Siege here at The L Magazine.
Known mostly for his Weimar-era silent films, Fritz Lang's career as an exile in Hollywood is all too often overlooked not only by audiences, but also by home video distributors. His 1927 sci-fi epic Metropolis (1927) may get all the buzz, but it's hard to deny that it is heavily marred by wife Thea von Harbou's cloying and sentimental script. Far better are Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler (1922) and M (1931), neither of which have lost any of their edginess or grit after over seven decades, and both of which are available on nicely restored DVDs by Kino and Criterion, respectively. Slowly but surely, his near-forgotten American films, many of which are either on par or superior to his work in Germany, are making their way to DVD. Just released today is his near-forgotten Man Hunt (1941), an anti-Nazi thriller whose masterfully and subtly crafted suspense rises above any mere label of propaganda.
Read my full review of Man Hunt here at The L Magazine.
"The street was mine," P.I. Mike Hammer lamented in Mickey Spillane's One Lonely Night back in 1952, acknowledging a loss of security and identity as The City mutated out-of-control into a messy, violent, overpopulated asphalt jungle. Forty-one years later, the phrase echoed loudly throughout Joel Schumacher's nightmare of urban discontent, Falling Down (1993), which is being rereleased today in both a Deluxe Edition DVD and Blu-Ray. Time has only shown how bold and audacious Schumacher's film was, from its claustrophobic opening highway scene borrowed from Fellini's 8 1/2 to a high-noon showdown on a Venice Beach pier that recalls the hardboiled romanticism of Jean-Pierre Melville. And then there's the matter of its anachronistic central character, a noir protagonist straight out of the 1950s who defies notions of hero and antihero, victim and villain. Out of work, prevented from seeing his daughter on her birthday by a restraining order, and stuck a traffic jam on a sweltering summer morning — Michael Douglas just snaps. Abandoning his car, he crosses Los Angeles on foot, exacting vengeance for all of society's hypocrisy and corruption.
Read my full review of Falling Down here at The L Magazine.