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A Score for Steamboat Bill

TCM's Classic Film Festival, History According to Hollywood, March 2015 Hollywood hosted the 6th annual TCM Classic Film Festival during the last week of March and fans could not have been happier. Nearly one hundred of the greatest movies ever made were screened at three original "cinema palaces": The Chinese and Egyptian Theatres, both built by flamboyant showman Sid Grauman in the 1920's; and the El Capitan, gorgeously restored over the last two decades by the Walt Disney Company. With multiple screenings in the same programming blocks, there was no way any patron could see more than a handful of the scheduled movies. This was my own inaugural season attending a TCM Fest, despite being a Hollywood native, a life-time worker in "the … [Read more...]

Cinema Outre

The Tales of Hoffmann (1951), A Film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, Newly Restored, Cinefamily, 2015 —   Michael Powell, in 1939, after a decade spent writing, editing and learning everything cinematic, teamed with Hungarian writer Emeric Pressburger  in what would become surely the most inventive, original pairing of their time. For the next two decades, the partners co-wrote, co-produced and co-directed unique, visually striking films including The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, A Matter of Life and Death and Peeping Tom. However, the collaboration considered by some critics to be their masterpiece was The Tales of Hoffmann. This dreamlike, Technicolor film of an operetta by … [Read more...]

Mr. Turner and Time

Mr. Turner, Written and Directed by Mike Leigh, 2014 — A windmill, a silvery river. From the right two women in peaked white Dutch caps walk into the frame, continuing on in a gentle diagonal along the river bank, talking together in intimate good-humored conversation. Is it sunrise or sunset? This is a question that will turn out to matter. They walk lower left out of the frame, revealing Turner behind them, a monolith, a stone of Stonehenge, on a rise. A Monolith Two girls return, a different pair, giggling together in complicit intimacy as they run up a flight of stairs. Turner has arrived! He strides through the rooms of a country estate, a good fellow at ease among his patrons, men who are as willing to debate the nature … [Read more...]

The Archaeology of Delusion

The Unknown Known (2014), Written and Directed by Errol Morris — Suppose I replace Moore's ‘I know’ with ‘I am of the unshakeable conviction’? -- Wittgenstein, On Certainty §86 Twenty-five hundred years of thinking about it and we are hardly closer to a definition of knowledge. We can't even decide whether it should be a noun or a verb, metaphysical or metabolic, particulate or discursive. But at least we know this: the worst thing you can do, maybe ever, is confuse knowing with believing, with certainty. According to Socrates, and Plato on Socrates via Vlastos, knowledge is something which, and only which, survives repeated testing in the process of elenctic inquiry. Me using you as a whetstone. True beliefs and certainties, in … [Read more...]

Last Dance: Tanaquil Le Clercq

Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq (2013), directed by Nancy Buirski — For balletomanes everywhere and people fond of late-1940's British movies; for Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale readers and "glorious Technicolor" aficionados; for girls and boys who hope to dance on stage at Covent Garden or Lincoln Center when they grow up; for members of Moira Shearer and Anton Walbrook fan clubs; for those who appreciate Brian Easdale film scores and Jack Cardiff cinematography; for hopeless romantics who become emotionally involved in rich, overripe stories of doomed love; for Martin Scorsese and Francis Coppola, who dusted off the overlooked work of fellow film director Michael Powell, late in his life, and helped to restore his most … [Read more...]

The Shack of Film

On the Occasion of ‘Agnès Varda in Californialand’, LACMA November 3, 2013 – June 22, 2014 — ‘Grand Dame of the French New Wave’ ‘Grandmother of the New Wave’ ‘Mother of the French New Wave movement’ !#&?! This is what happens to the woman artist at a certain age — She no longer is. She represents. Not herself. But what she has supposedly brought into being. Her progeny. I mean. Really! Varda’s no grandmother, she’s no great lady . . . She’s alive and well at Agnès in Californialand, an installation in which she is all ages. In the opening texts displayed on the walls of this first U.S. museum presentation of her artwork, Agnès Varda calls this little building in the center of one’s view, … [Read more...]

Six Years with God: The Trials and Legacy of the Source Family

The Source Family by Maria Demopoulos and Jodi Wille. 2013. Drag City Film Distribution. The Source: The Untold Story of Father Yod, Ya Ho Wha 13 and The Source Family by Isis & Electricity Aquarian. 2007. Process Media. ISBN 0976082293 — Everyone remembers the high-vibration rainbow salad sprinkled with kindness and brewer’s yeast, served to John Lennon or Warren Beatty sitting on paisley throw pillows, by flaxen-haired girls too young to remember a time before birth control pills. Or Woody Allen ordering a plate of mashed yeast in Annie Hall. Or the 4AM chanting sessions in the room out back, led by giant bearded man in the blinding white robe who spoke with the voice of God in the eternal now. 1970. While many in the … [Read more...]

In the Palm of the Hand

Cormac McCarthy’s Killing Machines — A friend tells me about the formatting - how with his script for The Counselor, the novelist Cormac McCarthy isn't even bothering with standard screenplay conventions anymore. Obtaining a copy I see that, sure enough, McCarthy has stripped away all the awkward visual notations that make screenplays so tedious to read. He opts instead for a minimalist layout, with a central column for dialogue, and block-like paragraphs for scene descriptions delivered with a minimum of camera notation. On the page the script looks almost like a Doric column - stark and Classical – which is appropriate given the tale’s astringent stoicism. The Counselor is also perhaps the first screenplay written about a new device … [Read more...]

Life Could Be a Dream: Relax and Rolex

 “The Act of Killing”, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012 — The death squad captain swaggers out of his local bar still humming ‘My Way’, while his victims rot in the river and the cleaning ladies toil through the night mopping up the blood. Subtract the victims and the stench, the toil and the blood from the scenario:  the killing and the killer remain. Filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing recasts the Indonesian mass killings of the mid 1960’s as a personal narrative told in lush dramatic reenactments conceived and directed, ostensibly, by the perpetrators.  It’s a film that quotes Bollywood gleefully. It also may seem to owe much to Bataille, Genet, and Pasolini, although all of them were responding in a historically … [Read more...]

Rooting for The Invisible War

I have known the film maker Kirby Dick for close to thirty years now and have had the privilege of watching him grow into one of the most important documentary film makers of our time. On the eve of the 85th Oscars where his film Invisible War has been nominated for Best Feature-length Documentary I thought it fitting to refresh ourselves with the review written by TQ regular Rita Valencia of this extraordinary film whose difficult subject, sexual assault in the military, delves into the matter not just to awaken the audience to this hidden tragedy, but was actually made for the primary purpose of being distributed to the military establishment to shed light and provoke actual changes in policy. On January 23, 2013 the House Armed Services … [Read more...]