Drama is impossible today. I don't know of any. Drama used to be the belief in guilt, and in a higher order. This absolutely cruel didactic is impossible, unacceptable for us moderns. But melodrama has kept it. You are caged. In melodrama you have human, earthly prisons rather than godly creations. Every Greek tragedy ends with the chorus — "those are strange happenings. Those are the ways of the gods". And so it always is in melodrama. His career as a film director lasted more than 40 years, but Douglas Sirk (1900-1987) is remembered for the melodramas he made for Universal in Hollywood between 1954 and 1959, his "divine wallow": Magnificent Obsession (1954), All That Heaven Allows (1955), Written on the Wind (1956), The Tarnished Angels (1958, William Faulkner considered it the best screen adaptation of one of his novels), Imitation of Life (1959) -- all considered for decades little more than a camp oddity. Now audiences are beginning to look deeper at the films of Douglas Sirk, at how, in megafan Todd Haynes' words, they are "almost spookily accurate about the emotional truths". Now, lucky Chicagoans can enjoy "Douglas Sirk at Universal", matinees at the Music Box. More inside.
I first read "Ask the Dust" in 1971 when I was doing research for "Chinatown". I was concerned about the way people really sounded when they talked, and I was dissatisfied with everything else I had read that was written during the '30s. I wanted the real thing, as Henry James would say. When I picked up Fante's "Ask the Dust," I just knew that was the way those kids talked to each other—the rhythms, cadences, racism. Robert Towne on adapting John Fante's novel for the big screen. More inside.
"It has always been as if I carry chaos with me the way others carry typhoid. My purpose in writing is to transcend my existence by illuminating it." Crime novelist Edward Bunker, who died last Tuesday at age 71 (LATimes obit), became at 17 the youngest inmate at San Quentin after he stabbed a prison guard at a youth detention facility. It was during his 18 years of incarceration for robbery, check forgery and other crimes that Bunker learned to write. In 1973, while still in prison, he made his literary debut with "No Beast So Fierce", a novel about a paroled thief James Ellroy called "quite simply one of the great crime novels of the past 30 years" and that was made into the movie "Straight Time" starring Dustin Hoffman. Also a screenwriter ("Runaway Train"), Bunker appeared as an actor in nearly two dozen roles, most notably as Mr. Blue in "Reservoir Dogs." (more inside)
"When George saw 21-87, a lightbulb went off". "21-87" is an experimental film made in 1964 by Canadian avant-garde director Arthur Lipsett ,who committed suicide in 1986. "George" is George Lucas, who was obsessed by underground movies until "a little movie called Star Wars lured him to the dark side". (more inside)
“The problem is not to make political films but to make films politically.” In "Tout Va Bien", just released on Criterion DVD, four years after May '68 Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin examine the wreckage: fading workers' empowerment (page with sound), media fatuity, capitalist sprawl, global imperialist mayhem, interpersonal disconnections. "Tout Va Bien" is the story of a strike at a factory as witnessed by an American reporter (Jane Fonda) and her has-been New Wave film director husband (Yves Montand). Included on the DVD is also Letter to Jane (1972), a short film in which Godard and Gorin spend an hour examining the semiotics of a single, hypnotizing photograph of Fonda as she shares feelings with a Vietnamese villager. More inside.
Detailing the impossible. Louis Feuillade made more than 800 films covering almost every contemporary genre: historical drama, comedy, realist drama, melodrama, religious films. However, he was most famous, or infamous, for his crime serials: Fantômas (1913-14), Les Vampires, Judex (1916), La Nouvelle Mission de Judex (1917), Tih-Minh (1918) and Barrabas (1919). Critics panned his crime films, often savagely, because the preoccupation of French critics and film-makers in the 1910s and 20s was to elevate cinema -– and, ironically, back then the French saw their own films as lacking the artistry and sophistication of American ones, by Griffith or DeMille – to the level of art. It was years before Feuillade's films escaped the label of aesthetic backwardness. Now, critics have realized that what Feuillade has done is to offer us an alternative cinematic mode to Griffiths', one that continues in updated variants throughout cinema. It is predicated on a principle of uncertainty, that questions our understanding of the real. It is as fluid and elusive a tradition as a cat burglar, dressed in black on a night-time rooftop.
In search of lost time It was Jack Kerouac who first defined Robert Frank's genius, who found in it some echo of his own vision of a vast, broken-down, but still epic, America, peopled with restless and lonely dreamers. 'Robert Frank, Swiss, unobtrusive, nice,' wrote Kerouac in his now famous introduction to Frank's collection The Americans , 'with that little camera that he raises and snaps with one hand he sucked a sad poem right out of America on to film, taking rank among the tragic poets of the world'. Frank's exhibition, Storylines, opens this week at the Tate Modern in London.
Dazed and Sued. Three Huntsville residents who say they went to high school with Austin film director Richard Linklater accused him of using them as the basis for the girl-chasing, drug-taking characters in his film "Dazed and Confused" in a lawsuit filed last week, 11 years after the movie was released (Universal Studios, also included in the suit, is scheduled to release a special edition DVD of the movie Nov. 2.) More inside.
Agitator. Blood doesn't politely trickle in Takashi Miike's films: it gushes out in (warning: NSFW, graphic) improbable fountains, painting walls and filling up small cars. His trademark point-of-view shots are taken from places other directors wouldn't dream of: the bottom of a dirty toilet bowl (as a man falls into it after being killed); within the ear canal (as it is pierced by a metal spike); even from inside a character's vagina. He has depicted incest, drug abuse, teenage prostitution, violence against women and children and small dogs, and necrophilia -- and that was just in one film, Visitor Q, his take on Pasolini's Teorema. Miike has just introduced his latest movie, Izo, at the Venice Film Festival (.pdf file). Miike is less sure about why Americans are now embracing Japanese horror films. His country's horror genre is influenced by "kwaidan," traditional Japanese ghost stories that feature revenge and malice: "The stories always have the 'hatedness.' You always bring the feelings of hate [that] you don't see in American cinema". What freaks him out the most, however, is the everyday automobile accident. "Even in a film, I can't bear to watch it -- it's so much (about) how people are weak, to be just crushed with a car. It makes me feel really depressed".