Sunday, October 20, 2013

Blu-ray Review: Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face [Criterion]

Considering the popular perception of the French as culturally high-minded and intellectual, it's not surprising that the country's film industry has produced comparably few horror movies. Such an elemental genre, it stands to reason, simply held little intrigue for filmmakers working in the wake of such artistic luminaries as, say, Jean Renoir, Robert Bresson, Jacques Tati, and Jean Grémillon. And yet the handful of examples that survive, particularly from France's fertile mid-century period (Henri-Georges Clouzot's Diabolique, certainly, and, despite its fantastical elements, Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast as well) are indelible entries in the canon. Perhaps the most singular work to emerge during the era was Cinémathèque Française co-founder Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face, from 1960, a work of a wizened cinephile playfully exploiting the genre's most primal strategies while employing outlying techniques familiar to fans of American film noir and the then-burgeoning nouvelle vague.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Blu-ray Review: 3 Films by Roberto Rossellini Starring Ingrid Bergman [Criterion]

In May of 1950, Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini married Swedish actress-turned-Hollywood-icon Ingrid Bergman. Earlier that year, the two had welcomed a son amid a flurry of tabloid gossip and moral accusations. The pair met less than a year prior, after Bergman had expressed interest in working with Rossellini, and though each were married at the time, a personal and professional relationship developed, resulting in perhaps the most fruitful collaboration in cinema history to that point. Despite the outside conditions (both director and star were constantly harassed by the media during these years), it stands to reason that it was this very environment that inspired such emotionally and aesthetically brave decisions on the part of Rossellini, who had already helped popularize his home country's neorealist movement throughout the preceding decade.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

New York Film Festival 2013: Rithy Panh's The Missing Picture

How Near, How Far

Within the documentary form, there have developed an array of permutations. Among other examples, the observational, participatory, and expository strains of nonfiction filmmaking work as effective tools for representing subjects in relatable terms. But what if no such iconographic record is possible or, at the very least, is of dubious political or personal origin? In such cases, a popular method of actualization has proven to be reenactment, a performative method that goes some way toward dramatizing the narrative while aligning it with more traditional cinematic storytelling modes. In a handful of cases—most recently in Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, an unsettling account of Indonesian death squad leaders under the Suharto regime in the late 1960s—filmmakers have been fortunate enough to have access to the actual subjects of their inquiry, thus employing these individuals to effectively restage the events in question. Cambodian director Rithy Panh utilized a similar technique in his 2003 film S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine, wherein the assailants of the title relive their gruesome crimes, often in the exact location where they originally transpired.

Fandor Feature: Behind the Music

Form versus function in the modern music documentary.

Along with the requisite blockbuster properties, the spring and summer months tend to bring counter-programming titles to a more discerning cinephile, particularly those who may not live in one of the nation’s greater metropolises and thus aren’t afforded the luxury of a local film festival or art house to program such fare all year long. This past summer/spring season, for example, you may have seen Jeff Nichols’ Mud, Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, or Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine playing across town from your Man of Steels, Pacific Rims, or World War Zs. With the advent of video-on-demand and various such streaming services to augment theatrical runs, however, an even more niche subset of cinema has become a viable alternative to the multiplex. Take documentaries, which have experienced some notably beneficial exposure through such means and, in particular, one of the more popular forms of non-fiction filmmaking, the music documentary, which has flourished recently in its own modest way. What’s especially struck me about this year’s rock docs, however, is the near-universal acclaim they’ve garnered from mainstream critics while leaving much of the academically-inclined crowd content if unenthused.