Wednesday, January 25, 2012

PopMatters Feature: ReFramed No. 18 - Robert Culp's Hickey & Boggs

This time out, our discerning duo take on one of the last great LA noirs, directed by one of the '60s/'70s most recognizable TV stars.
Calum Marsh: Whether you want to call it the last great contemporary film noir or the first great buddy action film, Robert Culp’s Hickey & Boggs deserves far more recognition than the paltry sum it’s accumulated over the last forty years. It should come as no real surprise that the cultural high guard has ignored a film of this kind altogether—unless they come conveniently prepackaged with Point Blank-style arthouse frills, action flicks rarely find their way into the canon—but I’m genuinely surprised that a movie as fun and exciting as this hasn’t found at least some sort of niche audience to embrace it after all these years.

You’d think Hickey & Boggs would be an easy sell on pedigree alone: though clearly the passion project of director and co-star Robert Culp, the film has the distinction of being the very first screenplay written by Walter Hill, who went on to create The Warriors and, most famously, the Alien series. And it co-stars Bill Cosby, which should be reason enough to make this thing more widely known. As it stands, it languishes in seemingly permanent obscurity, going largely unseen and totally undiscussed. Honestly, why isn’t this thing a cult classic?

PopMatters Features: The Best DVDs of 2011 & The 40 Best Films of 2011

The last couple weeks has seen PopMatters roll out various film-related best of 2011 lists. I contributed to two of them, the Best DVDs of 2011 and the 40 Best Films of 2011. For the former, I provided some contextual thoughts on both my favorite DVD set and my favorite Blu-Ray of the year: Eureka/Masters of Cinema's 8-disc 'Late Mizoguchi' box set and Sony Music Group's import-only (but region free) debut of Edward Yang's 1986 masterpiece The Terrorizers (#16 and #9, respectively). For the latter, I once again wrote about my favorite film of the year, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, which came in at #14. And that's gonna do it for my year-end coverage, which was frankly exhausting. I hope you've enjoyed. New film and record reviews should be popping up around these parts within the week.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Record Review: Sunn O))) - ØØ Void / Sunn O))) Meets Nurse With Wound - The Iron Soul of Nothing

For a band who’s never moved at anything above a lumbering lurch and never played more than a few, nearly-indistinguishable chords per album, Sunn O))) have covered an impressive amount of ground over the last thirteen years. Their origins as an Earth tribute band has been so thoroughly circumvented, inverted, and reanimated that they’ve arguably eclipsed the legacy of their forebears by simply obliterating the trajectory from influence to experimentation to evolution. In this sense, it’s not so much disorienting as it is illuminating to revisit ØØ Void, Sunn O)))’s second release from 2000, recently reissued by Southern Lord. After all, it sounds exactly as you remember—or exactly as you’d imagine—which is to say: glacial-slow riffs, suffocating drones, mind-numbing minimalism. But despite the seeming familiarity, the chasm between ØØ Void and, say, Monoliths & Dimensions (2009), is vast, miles of sustain, canyons of bass reverberation, a vortex of strings, horns, and ghastly vox left in the wake of Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson’s titanic expansion of the parameters and ideology of drone metal.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

PopMatters Feature: ReFramed No. 17 - Chantal Akerman's Les Rendez-vous d'Anna

For their first foray into 2012, our team takes on an arthouse visionary from the '70s whose still incredibly vital today.
Jordan Cronk: Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman occupies a similar position to that of a few other directors we’ve touched on in the pages of ReFramed over the months—Thom Andersen, Aki Kaurismäki, Mark Rappaport—whose entire careers need to, in a sense, be reframed. These are all important filmmakers for various reasons, but Akerman represents arguably the most vital of all under-recognized directors. She’s still consistently working and producing at a remarkable level—her newest film, Almayer’s Folly, may be her best work in nearly two decades—but her brief arthouse star seems to have dimmed since her most visible and acclaimed period in the mid-1970s.

And unfortunately, even among cinephiles, her career seems to hinge solely on her groundbreaking 1975 film, Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. That film is a remarkable achievement on many levels and by any standard, bringing as it did a formal rigor and the observational tack of the avant-garde into a narrative framework, but it’s just one piece of a much larger career that encompasses shorts, documentaries, and even musicals. We’re not going to dive into her extreme experimental phase today, but the film we’ve chosen to discuss, 1978s Les rendez-vous d’Anna, is perhaps equally unique in her oeuvre, standing as it does on the precipice of her first wave, more narrative-ly inclined works and her successive hybridizations and experiments with documentary and self-reflexive forms of cinema.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Jean-Luc Godard's Vivre sa vie

Note: I wrote this brief description of Jean-Luc Godard's Vivre sa vie for the Cinefamily repertory theater, who are screening the film alongside Godard's latest work, Film Socialisme, on Monday January 23, 2012. Below is the unedited copy.

Jean-Luc Godard’s 1962 masterpiece Vivre sa vie (aka My Life to Live) was the fourth film the French New Wave icon shot in only two years. In the wake of the breakout financial and critical success of Breathless, Godard would initially turn inward with a strident work of cinematic political activism (La Petit soldat) before flowering flamboyantly with a day-glo tribute to the American musical-comedy (A Woman is a Woman). The stylistic extremity of these films would eventually streamline as Godard’s relationship with his new star of choice, Anna Karina, began to blossom in the early ‘60s, so much so that by the time of Vivre sa vie, Godard’s defiant aesthetic could be utilized as a microscope under which his emotions and skepticism toward Karina could be examined via his own formal constructions (note the use of the twelve descriptive tableaux as well as Godard’s preoccupation with framing Karina in close-up, but from behind her head).

One of Godard’s saddest, most influential works, Vivre sa vie eaves-drops the viewer into the vicinity of Karina’s bob-coifed Nana, a young, beautiful Parisian who dreams of becoming an actress only to fall into casual prostitution to makes ends meet. Though this was Godard’s first examination of prostitution and the sexual alienation of women—one of his longest-running thematic concerns and one that would reach its initial apex with 1967s Two or Three Things I Know About Her—many of Vivre sa vie's most memorable moments occur in brief narrative asides: Nana’s late night, tear-stained spiritual with Carl Th. Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (the film’s most devastating, iconic sequence), her existential café debate with philosopher Brice Parain, her seductive jukebox-accompanied stride around a smoky pool-hall, or even the unexpectedly tragic finale, which even Raoul Coutard’s camera diverts from, crystallizing Nana as both pariah and object of unattainable desire. [Cinefamily]