Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Film Capsule: Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Clouds of May (1999)

Clouds of May (1999)
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan

This deceptively modest feature, the second by Turkish master Ceylan, interrogates two of its director’s primary thematic interests, cinematic and familial concomitance, as parallel properties of inherently duplicitous origin. Returning home to a shoot a film featuring town locals, Muzaffer (Muzaffer Özdemir) finds himself caught up in the daily trials of extended family. His father battles town surveyors over land ownership while his mother fights health problems and his two cousins each learn the consequences of responsibility in their own way, the eldest by ignoring professional responsibilities to take part in the production, and the youngest by carrying an egg in his pocket for 40 days to earn a new watch. Never one to forsake his forebears, Ceylan nods to both Chekov and Kiarostami, the former via onscreen dedication, the latter in the film’s self-reflexive conceit, proposing a continuum suggesting the chasm between Through the Olive Trees (1994) and Winter Sleep (2014) to be not as wide as initially appears. (Nov 2, 4:30pm; Nov 4, 4pm at MoMA’s Ceylan series) [The L]

Feature: Nathan Silver and the Limits of Control

In the films of Nathan Silver, characters are constantly hurtling headlong into the unknown. Each of the thirty-year-old American director’s films have thus far featured protagonists suspended in a state of limbo, stuck between stations yet hell-bent on moving forward—though in most cases by taking a few steps back first. Even the titles of his projects—Exit Elena (2012), Soft in the Head (2013) and Uncertain Terms (2014) among them—suggest a kind of transitory or unsettled sense of existence; his latest, Stinking Heaven (currently in post production), projecting something even more intangible, an unexpected kind of purgatory perhaps. This liminal condition, however, is never quite alleviated within the confines of Silver’s narratives. In each case the central character is introduced in media res, continuing then to push on through their respective drama before arriving at a juncture of new, if equally ambiguous, concern and consequence. The end of one film, then, and the beginning of another we’ll likely never see.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Blu-ray Review: John Ford's My Darling Clementine (1946)

Released in 1946, My Darling Clementine, American iconoclast John Ford's first postwar film, stands at the nexus of tradition and progression in both its formal construction and ideological constitution. Ford's career-long consideration of the familial and vocational codes forged amid bygone epochs, whose historical infrastructures resisted by their very design the tides of encroaching commercial and cultural revolutions, played an ever more personal role in his work once he returned from a decorated stint in the U.S. Navy. Felt not as seismic shifts, but rather incremental tremors, this nascent social maturation is articulated in Ford's narratives, and in the story of My Darling Clementine in particular, through intimate exchanges between characters and depictions of municipal advancements alike. When the two converge, as they do in the film's centerpiece sequence, a coronation for Tombstone, Arizona's first church in which the notorious Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) nervously requests a dance from the town's prodigal darling, Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs), Ford's work attains a harmony rare in American studio filmmaking, its topical and cinematic breadth at once intimately sketched and historically attuned to the passage of time and its accumulated gravitas.

Film Capsule: Lav Diaz's Batang West Side (2001)

Batang West Side (2001)
Directed by Lav Diaz

Already intently interested in the intersection of moral malaise and conflicted criminality by the time of this early-millennium triumph, the uncompromising Filipino filmmaker would, with his fourth and first epic-length feature, once and for all establish a narrative model which he has since refined and recalibrated via various historical epochs. Set in suburban New Jersey, the film excavates in exacting detail the fallout from a murder of a Filipino-American youth and the psychological toll it takes on a detective whose own past triggers a reckoning with an immigrant culture’s capacity for violence. With its elaborately integrated flashback structure and ambiguously motivated protagonist, this classically paced, five-plus-hour procedural is at once more akin to the serialized television which was then taking hold in American home entertainment than the durational cinema which would soon make Diaz’s name, as well as a spiritual and political predecessor to the director’s recent, highly acclaimed Norte, the End of History. (Oct 19, 1pm at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's monthly Diaz series) [The L]

Fictionalizing the Past, Imagining the Future: An Interview with Michael Koresky

This interview, conducted in Brooklyn, New York in September 2014, was originally published at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Upon the release of his debut feature, Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988), director Terence Davies immediately established himself as one of Britain’s foremost filmmakers. And while the intervening decades of work have done little to disrupt Davies’s auteur status, his subsequent films and well-documented ideas related to individuality and perspective in cinema have no doubt complicated how audiences view his art. Terence Davies, a new book by Michael Koresky, staff writer and associate editor at The Criterion Collection and cofounder of the online film journal Reverse Shot, interrogates these issues by presenting the director’s four primary means of expression — autobiography, aesthetics, politics, and time — as a series of paradoxes through which his cinema has nonetheless accurately reflected a life of conflicted homosexuality.

These “queering” techniques, as Koresky defines them, are present in every aspect of Davies’s process, and throughout the course of the book the author provides thematic, stylistic, and narrative evidence of the filmmaker’s very unique, very personal approach, one which Davies initially utilized as a way of confronting past traumas and which he has more recently employed as a conduit to realize the works, words, and worlds of others. Proceeding achronologically, in a manner akin to his subject’s prescribed methodology, Koresky is able to map a cumulative history of Davies’s very intimate artistic practice. To hear him tell it, the process of writing the book — the first on Davies ever written by an American author — was every bit as challenging and illuminating as his initial encounters with the director’s work and the critical conjecture which has often clouded popular perception of the filmmaker. As such, Terence Davies is a superlative compliment to Davies’s filmography, as well as an essential rejoinder to years of confusion and misconceptions.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Los Angeles Repertory Recommendations: October 2014

This story first appeared in the Oct. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

On Oct. 25, downtown L.A.'s REDCAT arts center will host a special screening of Andy Warhol's and Paul Morrissey's Chelsea Girls, presented in its original dual-projector, split-screen setup. Filmed at Manhattan's famed Hotel Chelsea and Warhol's legendary Factory studio, this fascinating and invigorating audiovisual experiment is at once a primer on Warhol's troupe of talents (Nico, Brigid Berlin) and transgressives (Mario Montez, Eric Emerson) and a moving study of still lives.
631 W. 2nd St.

The second edition of the China Onscreen Biennial will hit various venues throughout the city in October, but two rare screenings at the Billy Wilder Theater (located at the Hammer Museum) stand out amid the contemporary selections. From different vantages, The Old Well (Oct. 18) and River Without Buoys (Oct. 26) -- two modern classics from "Fourth Generation" director-producer Wu Tianming -- approach issues of political unrest with similarly stark realism, together formulating a continuum between past and present Chinese struggles.
10899 Wilshire Blvd.

October is always special at Cinefamily. Cult oddities abound, along with a few auteur titles. Check out a silent double bill of West of Zanzibar and The Unknown (Oct. 4), two classic body-horror collaborations between star Lon Chaney and director Tod Browning. Later in the month, there's William Castle's B-movie The Tingler (Oct. 25 and 26), as well as an evening with Castle disciple Joe Dante and the "preview cut" of his '80s classic Gremlins (Oct. 30).
611 N. Fairfax Ave.

This month, LACMA's Tuesday Matinees series flaunts four classic titles: Josef von Sternberg's cabaret romance Morocco (Oct. 7), starring Gary Cooper and Marlene Dietrich, and Gregory La Cava's enduring rags-to-riches comedy My Man Godfrey (Oct. 21), which will both screen digitally; and Cecile B. DeMille's epic Cleopatra (Oct. 14), with Claudette Colbert in the title role, and Ernst Lubitsch's cross-continental love triangle Angel (Oct. 28), also featuring Dietrich, which will be shown on 35mm.
5905 Wilshire Blvd. [THR]

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Video Essay: Wavelengths 2014

This short video essay, featuring critic Kevin B. Lee and myself discussing some of the highlights of this year's Wavelengths program, was edited by Kevin and recorded during the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. [Fandor]

Film Capsule: Anthony Mann's The Man from Laramie (1955)

The Man from Laramie (1955)
Directed by Anthony Mann

This mid-50s classic, the fifth and final Western Anthony Mann would make with his most fruitful collaborator James Stewart, is indicative of not only its creator’s psychological interest in the genre film but also the aesthetic advancements of an ever-evolving medium. An early example of the relatively short-lived CinemaScope format, the film, attuned as it is to the photographic capacity of a then-fresh technology, appropriately stands as one of the era’s most beautiful. Exploited with expert skill, the anamorphic breadth is employed in service of not just exterior expanse, but also the synergistic arrangement of actors against imposing landscapes and amongst opposing bodies. Stewart’s mysterious migrant, willfully integrated into an unwelcoming Southwest community, seeks revenge for his brother’s death at the hands of an unknown member of the town’s patriarchy. By blurring motivational and emotional lines between characters and the brotherhoods they claim to uphold, Mann is able to facilitate a brutal complexity in a genre with traditionally concrete moral codes. (October 1, 6pm at Lincoln Center, as part of the New York Film Festival’s revival program)

Blu-ray Review: Raoul Walsh's Distant Drums (1951)

If Raoul Walsh's Distant Drums remains a noteworthy film, it's more so for various technical and contextual characteristics than any particular narrative or stylistic nuances. Which in one sense is understandable, but in another is a shame, as it's one of Walsh's most fleet, memorable entertainments. Released toward the end of the journeyman director's remarkably prolific and fruitful tenure at Warner Bros., this 1951 release saw an ambitious filmmaker capitalizing on the innovations of a lucrative studio industry without forgoing his empathetic attraction to vulnerable characters. Without question the film's advancements in the field of sound and Foley effects (including the recording and employment of what's come to be known as the "Wilhelm scream," a stock loop of a man screaming in agony which has since been used in hundreds of productions), as well as cinematographer Sidney Hickox's Technicolor flair, is important from a historical standpoint. But there's likewise much to admire in the film's unique sense of period, locale, and the complicated negotiation between personal and professional pursuits in which its characters engage.