Friday, June 29, 2007

Around & About

-- There's a new issue of Cinema Scope. David Hudson points to it with useful excerpts and summaries.

-- Twitch has a post about the first big announcement of films for this year's Toronto International Film Festival. Among the main attractions so far: Hou Hsiao-hsien's Voyage of the Red Balloon; Ermanno Olmi's One Hundred Nails; Naomi Kawase's The Mourning Forest; Lee Chang-dong's Secret Sunshine; Alexander Sokurov's Alexandra; Bela Tarr's The Man from London; Carlos Reygadas's Silent Light; Jacques Rivette's Don't Touch The Axe; Ulrich Seidl's Import Export; Christophe Honoré's Les Chansons d'Amours; Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Ploy; the Coens's No Country For Old Men; and Roy Andersson's You, the Living. (Via Michael Guillen at The Evening Class.)

-- You simply must read Michael Sicinski's review of the omnibus film Paris, Je t'aime (scroll almost all the way down).

-- David Bordwell visits with James Mangold, whose new film, a remake of Delmer Daves's 3:10 To Yuma, is in post-production.

-- I've been combing through Steve Erickson's top 10 lists spanning four decades (40s through 70s), identifying 'gaps', and adding those films to my DVD rental queue.

-- Doug Cummings reports on new films by Martin Rejtman, Charles Burnett, and Lee Yoon-ki from the Los Angeles Film Festival.

-- Kevin Lee on the Donnell Media Center at the New York Public Library.

-- Anthony Kaufman on two new environmentally aware documentaries, Jennifer Baichwal's Manufactured Landscapes and Laura Dunn's The Unforeseen.

Thoughts on any of the above? Feel free to duck into the comments box.

Monday, June 25, 2007

James Naremore

For a very long time, my film reading was limited to journalistic writing, the kind exemplified by last year’s American Movie Critics anthology edited by Phillip Lopate. It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve belatedly come to realize and truly appreciate the value of academic writing on movies, especially the work of auteurist-sympathetic cinephiles who work in academia. James Naremore is a great example. I’ve read quite a bit of Naremore over the last few months, and thought I’d draw up a little guide of reading recommendations from a range of his work.

Three terrific books: (1) The Magic World of Orson Welles (1978/1989); (2) Acting in the Cinema (1988); and (3) More Than Night: Film Noir in its Contexts (1998). I'm looking forward to his new one, On Kubrick (BFI), which comes out next week.

A few good pieces worth seeking out:

(1) “Authorship and the Cultural Politics of Film Criticism” (Film Quarterly, Autumn 1990): Auteurism had been out of favor in academia since the high theory days of the 70s, but this essay takes an early step in cautiously reclaiming it, not ahistorically, but by acknowledging the intervening developments in film studies. It also takes passages from two reviews Godard wrote in the 50s (of Sirk’s A Time to Live and a Time to Die and Fuller’s Forty Guns) and analyzes them to illustrate Godard’s mixing of modes (romantic, modernist, avant-gardist and proto-postmodernist).

(2) “An ABC of Reading Andrew Sarris” (from Citizen Sarris, 2001, ed. Emanuel Levy): A light, charming autobiographical piece, perhaps modeled on Peter Wollen’s “An Alphabet of Cinema,” in which Naremore lists the letters of the alphabet A through Z, assigning each letter to something he associates with Sarris (e.g. “A” for auteurism, “B” for Bazin, “J” for Johnny Guitar, “O” for Max Ophuls, “R” for Red Line 7000, “V” for Josef von Sternberg, etc.)

(3) “Six Artistic Cultures” (written with Patrick Brantlinger, an introduction to the anthology they edited, Modernity and Mass Culture, 1991). A cultural typology, drawing from extensive historical study, detailing six kinds of cultures: high art, modernist art, avant-garde art, folk art, popular art and mass art. Broad in scope and erudite.

(4) “The Future of Academic Film Study” (in Movie Mutations, 2003). A conversation with Adrian Martin. I’ve included an excerpt below.

Also: available on-line are an interview with Naremore at Senses of Cinema; an excerpt on Marlene Dietrich from his book Acting in the Cinema; and the essay “The Death and Rebirth of Rhetoric,” also at Senses.

Along with Jonathan Rosenbaum, Naremore did the DVD commentary for the Corinth version of Welles’s Mr. Arkadin. It’s one of the best commentary tracks I’ve heard. He also edits the University of Illinois Press series of books on contemporary filmmakers, which has produced volumes on Abel Ferrara (by Nicole Brenez) and Abbas Kiarostami (by Jonathan Rosenbaum and Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa).


* * *

Truth be told, when I come upon writings on film by an English Lit prof, occasionally a slight prejudice kicks in. Perhaps I’ve seen too many such writings foreground the ‘literary’ elements of film (plot and dialogue, a novelistic approach to ‘rich’ character development) at the expense of taking hold, with both hands, of the full audiovisual complex of cinema, treating, as V. F. Perkins put it, “film as film.”

When I first encountered it, Naremore’s writing gave me a bracing corrective to this stereotype. In his Movie Mutations letters, Naremore speaks about his career as a palimpsest, each new stage of evolution overlaying upon previous influences and interests. He started out as a scholar of English literary modernism, and through the years fell successively under the influence of various intellectual movements: (1) New Criticism (which looked long and hard “at the art object and its inner workings” while rejecting extra-textual sources like biography or sociology); (2) the related figure of F.R. Leavis (a key influence on Robin Wood) and his group at Scrutiny; (3) auteurism, both its origins in France and the version that traveled to America via Andrew Sarris; (4) 70’s radical theory in the journal Screen, reflecting the three-pronged theoretical interventions of Sausserian linguistics, Althusserian Marxism, and Lacanian psychoanalysis; and (5) in the 80’s, the cultural studies movement.

But contrary to appearances, this was not a career made upon riding the waves of academic fad and fashion. The books and essays are impressive for the way in which they show how these developments and influences were absorbed and internalized to provide a broad range of tools with which to approach cinema, while also not forgetting about the history of film studies development, finding ways to put this history to work, instead of pretending it never happened.


* * *

A Naremore excerpt from the Movie Mutations letter exchange:

From the 19th century onward, liberally educated people from a variety of backgrounds have had at least four ways of responding to the onward march of industrial capitalism and state-supported ideology: they can become bourgeois (like most college professors), they can become anarchists (which means dropping out and behaving badly, like Rimbaud, Tzara and the Sex Pistols), they can become aesthetes (like Baudelaire, Wilde, Joyce, Woolf, and all the great modernists), or they can become revolutionary political activists (like Mother Jones, Lenin, Fanon and Malcolm X). One of the best dramatic representations of these alternatives is Tom Stoppard’s very funny play, Travesties, which imagines a crazy encounter between Tzara, Joyce, Lenin and an ordinary bourgeois in Zurich during World War I. For my own part, I often feel as if my personal subjectivity were split among the four positions. At certain points in my history, some of my selves can form alliances, but at other points, which are the true moments of crisis, the bourgeois, the anarchist, and the aesthete tend to get pushed aside by the activist. Where modern society in general is considered, one of the major crisis periods for artists and intellectuals was the 30s. Another was the late 60s, a period that left its mark on radical film theory in the 70s. As I write this response to you [September 2002], American capitalism appears to be pushing the world ever closer to war, and the contradictions in the system are once again becoming apparent. Perhaps a new crisis will develop, in which case it will become increasingly difficult for any of us to maintain a balance between cinephilia and social action.


* * *

A few links:

-- Order of the Exile, the website devoted to Jacques Rivette, is growing fast, adding good new material. More than reason enough to revisit some video-available Rivettes.

-- Zach has new posts on "The Tribalism of Cinephilia" (which includes another excerpt from the Martin-Naremore Movie Mutations letters) and on violence and film form.

-- Andy Rector posts links to Chris Marker's Rememberance of Things to Come, now viewable online.

-- Todd Haynes's Superstar can also be viewed online, on Google Video. (Via The Listening Ear.)

-- David Bordwell on Japanese action cinema of the 20s and 30s.

-- Craig Keller at Cinemasparagus on The Sopranos.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Borde & Chaumeton



Way back in 1955, two Frenchmen, Raymonde Borde and Etienne Chaumeton, wrote A Panorama of American Film Noir 1941-1953, the very first book on the genre. The first English translation of the book, by Paul Hammond, didn’t appear till 2002.

Being Surrealists, Borde and Chaumeton tirelessly hunt for a handful of qualities in these films: oneirism, strangeness, eroticism, moral ambivalence, cruelty, death, sensation. It makes for a delicious read; I thought I’d excerpt a few bits to give you an idea of its flavor.

All through the book, the word “exemplary” is reserved for the highest praise. On Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street:

Censorship has been at work and we haven't seen the best scene: the killer, perched on a post carrying electric cables, listening with delight to the buzzing of the current that's going to electrocute the innocent lover. We've been deprived of an exemplary sequence here.

Henry Hathaway’s Niagara:

A strangulation scene filmed in cast shadows recalls certain De Chiricos. And then the hysteria of Marilyn Monroe singing "Kiss Me" and her voluptuous tossing and turning in a hospital bed happily reenliven the erotic repertoire. “I once had occasion to write,” André Bazin said, “that since the war cinematic eroticism had shifted from the thigh to the breast. Marilyn Monroe makes it descend somewhere between the two.” [I wonder when and where Bazin said this?—g.]

Howard Hawks’s The Big Sleep:

The sordid settings and their bizarre details, the brief but merciless fistfights, the furtive murders, the sudden reversal of roles, the “objects,” in the Surrealist sense of the word (such as the Khmer statue hiding a camera which takes pictures of the orgy scenes), the eroticism of blood and pain (Vivian kissing Marlowe’s bruised lips), the killer who lets himself be poisoned in order to go on concealing his accomplice’s name, the armed prowlers who watch over the nocturnal rendezvous and the environs of secret gambling joints, and lastly the wild dancing of the women: all this makes The Big Sleep a major event in the history of American cinema. Never will film noir go further in the description of a cynical, sensual, and ferocious world.

In the films of Josef von Sternberg:

[A]nguish is always accompanied by a certain sexual excitement. Baudelaire’s line could stand as an epigraph for his oeuvre as a whole: “The pain that fascinates and the pleasure that kills.” Sadomasochists will always be drawn to these mirage-memories of some new Gomorrah.

John Stahl’s Leave Her To Heaven:

This is the first time Technicolor has been used in a crime film. Up to this moment it had been reserved for exoticism, adventure films, and musicals. But then “the landscape is a state of the soul,” and John Stahl has contrived to accentuate the tragic aspect of the story by utilizing scenes of dawn and dusk, the rolling landscape, the color of dried blood, of the deserts of New Mexico, the oppressive solitude of a cabin lost in the verdure of the pine forests, and the glaucous waters of a high mountain lake.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur:

[A]n unjustly scorned chase film that contained, as well as the pursuit atop the Statue of Liberty, a very beautiful and strange sequence: a man on the run takes refuge in a cinema during the showing of a detective film. His derisory shadow glides along at the bottom of the screen at the instant the detectives in the film surround some gangsters. The voice of an actor, magnified by the sound system, invites someone to give himself up, and gunshots echo simultaneously on the screen and in the cinema.

True to Surrealism’s anti-religious spirit:

Elia Kazan has just botched a wonderful subject, the hold gangsters have on the unions, by giving in to religious imperatives (On The Waterfront, 1954). These commercial concessions are no longer tolerable. A Joris Ivens or a Georges Franju is needed here.

A call of discovery:

We finally arrive at one of the genre’s most indisputable successes. The Enforcer (1951) has revealed to the public the name of a director who will henceforth have to be contended with: Bretaigne Windust. His work has the documentary feel of Jules Dassin’s Naked City (1948) and the starkness of setting, the cruelty, and the sober tension of a world without hope of a Fritz Lang.

Well, Borde and Chaumeton didn’t know it at the time, but it turned out that the film was mostly directed by Raoul Walsh.


* * *

I watched The Enforcer, and another Walsh that is one of my favorites of lesser-known 40’s movies: The Man I Love (1947), with Ida Lupino. A strikingly modern film, open and upfront about sex, with characters choosing temporary liasions for economic or romantic expediency. Lupino is wonderful, playing a tough-headed, soft-hearted nightclub “canary.” The film makes uncommonly intelligent diegetic use of jazz, with Bruce Bennett playing a pianist with huge hands. (They cover the keyboard like a blanket.) At one point, he is doing Gershwin’s “The Man I Love,” and tells Lupino that his arrangement of it never saw any commercial action. “That’s because it was ten years ahead of its time,” she replies, referring to its modern qualities. Chris Cagle makes interesting points about the film’s blending of genres (musical, gangster film and the social problem film) and the film's own modern aspects.

All this makes me want to revisit High Sierra, White Heat, and They Drive By Night, the only other Walsh films I’ve seen. Care to recommend any other Raoul Walsh films? Tag Gallagher has a filmography (with star ratings) at the end of his Senses of Cinema profile of the director.


* * *

For those of you who are not aware of it, let me recommend for your RSS subscriptions, Dan Sallitt’s new blog, Thanks for the Use of the Hall. As a long-time lurker at a_film_by, I’ve admired Dan’s posts there, and it’s great to see him in the blogosphere. In addition, and I didn’t realize this until recently, Dan’s also made two films which I’m now eager to see. The Customflix site has high praise for them from Kent Jones and Arnaud Desplechin.


* * *

A few links:

-- Old but good, from last year: In The Nation, Gilberto Perez reviews Colin McGinn's book The Power of Movies.

-- David Bordwell's tribute to the recently deceased Rudolf Arnheim.

-- Dipanjan has a multi-part Ritwik Ghatak interview that he translated from Bengali.

-- Dave Kehr on Fox's 21-disc John Ford collection, expected later this year.

-- The Siren has a Father's Day John Ford post.

pic: Ida Lupino lights her pianist's cigarette at an after-hours rehearsal in Raoul Walsh's The Man I Love.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Pedro Costa One-Stop



I'm in the middle of a Pedro Costa retrospective at Cinematheque Ontario. To make it a little more convenient for people searching for writings on his films on the Internet now and in the future, I thought I'd collect those links here in a one-stop post.

-- The most detailed Costa overview I've seen so far is by James Quandt in the Sept 2006 issue of Artforum. Unfortunately, it's not online but a reduced and revised version serves as the introductory essay for the retrospective.

-- At Rouge: A lengthy, thoughtful, amazing lecture that Costa gave to film students in Japan called "A Closed Door That Leaves Us Guessing"; and an essay on him by the Japanese film critic Shigehiko Hasumi.

-- A collection of Costa posts at Andy Rector's blog, Kinoslang.

-- Tag Gallagher's "Straub Anti-Straub" in the current issue of Senses of Cinema.

-- A collection of writings, many of them on blogs, in no particular order: Mark Peranson's Cannes '06 report in Cinema Scope; Dave McDougall at Chained to the Cinémathèque; Darren Hughes at Long Pauses; Acquarello at Strictly Film School; Michael Sicinski's TIFF '06 report at Greencine; Doug Cummings at Film Journey; Daniel Kasman at d+kaz; Jason Anderson in Toronto's Eye Weekly; Dave Kehr on Casa De Lava; Tom Charity's Vancouver '06 report at Greencine; Ruy Gardnier at A_Film_By; and my own post on Costa from last summer.

-- UPDATE: See Michael Guillen's Pedro Costa Next Stop post from several months later.

-- In addition to these online pieces, let me strongly recommend: Mark Peranson's interview with Costa in the summer '06 issue of Cinema Scope (issue #27); and Thom Andersen's essay in the Mar/Apr '07 issue Film Comment.

If you can think of anything I may have missed, either online or print, could you please consider adding them in the comments? Thanks much!


* * *

A busy/fun weekend, socially and cinema-wise. On Saturday, I met up with three Toronto cinephiles and Cinema Scope and Reverse Shot writers, Andrew Tracy, Adam Nayman and Travis Hoover, for beers and a pub meal before the screening of Pedro Costa’s film In Vanda’s Room. Yesterday I returned to Toronto, saw Costa’s first feature, O Sangue, and had the chance to spend the evening with him. Except for Andy Rector’s, Pedro didn’t know of any other filmblogs and asked if I could send him a link to this post; I promised him I would. The retrospective continues, and I’ll return to Toronto mid-week for his short films, the documentary on Straub/Huillet, and their film Sicilia!.


* * *

Worrying news: It appears that the British Film Institute (BFI) is negotiating to outsource its book-publishing arm, an important outlet for the publication of scholarly writing on film. What’s more, the authors of those books have had no voice in the negotiations or decision-making process. Pam Cook (author of The Cinema Book) has set up a blog to track these developments. Among other things, the blog contains a letter to the Guardian by numerous writer/scholars, and a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the proposed outsourcing. This is troubling news for film culture worldwide…


* * *

Ousmane Sembène, 1923-2007.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Facets



DVDs of films old and new are tumbling into the marketplace faster than we can keep up with them, even with our movie-a-day habits. But there are still scores of reputed movies that show little sign of ever making it to DVD anytime soon. Some of those movies are still available on VHS, but only barely, at just a few places around the country (if that). I'm taking out a membership to Facets in Chicago so I can rent some videotapes by mail-order before my chances of seeing these movies evaporates entirely. I just made up a rental list for the next several months. None of these films is available on region 1 DVD as far as I know.

-- Bunuel: Death in the Garden; Fever Mounts in El Pao; The Great Madcap; Mexican Busride; Susana; El Bruto; A Woman Without Love.

-- Godard: Numero Deux; Comment Ça Va; Ici et Ailleurs; La Chinoise.

-- Rossellini: Age of the Medici; Blaise Pascal; The Messiah; Socrates; Era Notte A Roma; Augustine of Hippo; Amore; Fear; The Machine to Kill Bad People; Vanina Vanini; Return of the Pilot.

-- Hawks: A Girl In Every Port; Red Line 7000; Land of the Pharaohs.

-- Ruiz: The Golden Boat; On Top of the Whale; Three Lives and Only One Death; Life Is A Dream.

-- Ophuls: La Signora Di Tutti; The Bartered Bride.

-- Von Sternberg: Shanghai Express; Underworld; Crime and Punishment.

-- Rocha: Antonio Das Mortes; Black God, White Devil.

-- Antonioni: Identification of a Woman; The Mystery of Oberwald.

-- Becker: Rendezvous in July; Antoine and Antoinette; Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves; Modigliani.

-- Boris Barnet: By The Blues of Seas; The House on Trubnaya; Patriots.

-- Lubitsch: The Doll; So This Is Paris; Lady Windermere's Fan.

-- Tourneur: Experiment Perilous; Circle of Danger.

-- And several single titles: Marker's Le Joli Mai; Fuller's China Gate; Suwa's H Story; Renoir's Tire-Au-Flanc; Sirk's La Habanera; Murnau's City Girl; Dovzhenko's Zvenigora; Robert Kramer's Route One USA; Rivette's The Nun; De Toth's Pitfall; Van Der Keuken's Big Ben; Dos Santos' Memories Of Prison; Varda's Lion's Love.

Here's the Facets catalog search page.

The membership costs $24 a month for unlimited VHS or DVD rentals, and there is a shipping charge for VHS but not for DVD. Membership and rental details are available at this page.


* * *

A few links:

-- Robin Wood recently announced his retirement. DK Holm has a tribute to him at Screengrab. Holm also maintains an exhaustive Robin Wood bibliography on the Internet.

-- Acquarello posts a list of current and upcoming DVD releases.

-- David Bordwell on anthology (or omnibus) films.

-- The Siren on Albert Lewin's Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951).

-- Tucker Teague on Cindy Sherman.

-- Jonathan Rosenbaum blogs: "Goofus: a Latin declension of the middle-class Disney mutt, best known for his unbuttoned longjohns and his stammering, guttural dim-wittedness. McPherson: the lovesick, necrophiliac cop played by Dana Andrews in Laura. Let's suppose for the sake of argument that Walt Disney hired Otto Preminger to remake his own noir as a cartoon, a sort of animated True-Life Adventure."

pic: Godard's La Chinoise (1967).

Monday, June 04, 2007

Best Of The Nineties



Okay, so we're running just a tad late on this one, but I happened to remember the other day that there were two large and interesting Best Films Of The 90’s polls conducted at the end of that decade, one by Cinematheque Ontario and the other by Cinema Scope magazine, and neither is available on the Internet. This might be a way to put some of the poll results out there, within reach of future googlers of the world.


* * *

Cinematheque Ontario’s poll was a bit unusual in that the participants weren’t the general filmgoing public, journalists, or academics but instead film programmers, curators, and archivists worldwide. The top 40 films of the decade, in order of votes, were:

Dream Of Light (Erice); And Life Goes On (Kiarostami); Through The Olive Trees (Kiarostami); Drifting Clouds (Kaurismaki); Close-Up (Kiarostami); Breaking The Waves (von Trier); Sátántangó (Tarr); Flowers Of Shanghai (Hou); Taste Of Cherry (Kiarostami); Chungking Express (Wong); Hana-Bi (Kitano); The Thin Red Line (Malick); Histoire(s) Du Cinema (Godard); A Brighter Summer Day (Yang); A Moment Of Innocence (Makhmalbaf); Goodfellas (Scorsese); L’Eau Froide (Assayas); Mother And Son (Sokurov); Vive L’Amour (Tsai); Nouvelle Vague (Godard); Abraham’s Valley (Oliveira); Safe (Haynes); Dead Man (Jarmusch); The Sweet Hereafter (Egoyan); Unforgiven (Eastwood); Exotica (Egoyan); Sonatine (Kitano); Maborosi (Kore-eda); Naked (Leigh); La Vie De Jésus (Dumont); Fargo (Coens); Pulp Fiction (Tarantino); La Belle Noiseuse (Rivette); Van Gogh (Pialat); Three Colours: Red (Kieslowski); The Last Bolshevik (Marker); Dear Diary (Moretti); Crumb (Zwigoff); The Puppetmaster (Hou); Goodbye South Goodbye (Hou); Sicilia! (Straub/Huillet).


* * *

The Toronto-based film magazine Cinema Scope, in issue #2 (winter 2000), surveyed mostly journalists and programmers. The top 45 films in that poll were:

Breaking The Waves; Goodfellas; Chungking Express; Safe; Naked; Flowers Of Shanghai; Fargo; Hana-Bi; Pulp Fiction; Unforgiven; A Brighter Summer Day; Close-Up; Dead Man; L’Eau Froide; The Celebration (Vinterberg); The Thin Red Line; Underground (Kusturica); Taste Of Cherry; Three Colours: Red; Crumb; Mother And Son; The Puppetmaster; Through The Olive Trees; The Piano (Campion); Raise The Red Lantern (Yimou); Sátántangó; Dream Of Light; The Sweet Hereafter; Three Colours Trilogy; Crash (Cronenberg); Fallen Angels (Wong); L.A. Confidential (Hanson); Schindler’s List (Spielberg); Sonatine (Kitano); Vive L’Amour (Tsai); And Life Goes On; Hoop Dreams (James); Barton Fink (Coens); Drifting Clouds; Exotica; Goodbye South Goodbye; Groundhog Day (Ramis); Gummo (Korine); The Long Day Closes (Davies); Reservoir Dogs (Tarantino).

Here is a small sample of the poll participants and their top 10 choices:

Paul Arthur: The Age Of Innocence, And Life Goes On, Films of Robert Beavers, JLG/JLG, Lessons Of Darkness, My Own Private Idaho, New York Ghetto Fishmarket, Outer And Inner Space, Sátántangó, To Sleep With Anger.

Nicole Brenez: A Child’s Garden & The Serious Sea; Le Dernier Chaman; Green Snake; Hard Boiled, Ile De Beaute, Le Repas Des Guepes; Ma 6T Va Cracker, Made In Hong Kong, New Rose Hotel, Sombre, Starship Troopers.

Michel Ciment: Abraham’s Valley, Edward Scissorhands, Eyes Wide Shut, Flowers Of Shanghai, Miller’s Crossing, Smoking/No Smoking, Through The Olive Trees, Ulysses’ Gaze, Underground, Van Gogh.

Manohla Dargis: Beau Travail, Fireworks, Flowers Of Shanghai, The Portrait Of A Lady, My Sex Life, or How I Lost An Argument, I Am Cuba, Underground, Chungking Express, Sátántangó, Les Amants Du Pont-Neuf.

Steve Erickson: Les Amants Du Pont-Neuf, Ashes Of Time, Breaking The Waves, A Brighter Summer Day, L’Eau Froide, Exotica, Fast, Cheap & Out Of Control, Safe, Sátántangó, The Second Heimat.

Ed Halter: Austin Powers, Boogie Nights, Crumb, Fame Whore, Films of Martha Colburn, Happiness, Heavenly Creatures, Instrument, Showgirls, Velvet Goldmine.

J. Hoberman: Conspirators Of Pleasure, Crash, D’Est, Lessons Of Darkness, Fallen Angels, The Long Day Closes, The Puppetmaster, Sátántangó, Side/Walk/Shuttle, Tribulation 99.

Mike Hoolboom: 100 Videos, Alpsee, Films of Sadie Benning, Archeology Of Memory, B-Side, The Blood Records, Fate, Local Knowledge, Mother Dao, Sink Or Swim.

Alex Horwath: Crash, Flowers Of Shanghai, Gabbeh, Goodfellas, Fireworks, Idiots, Irma Vep, Jackie Brown, My Own Private Idaho, Nouvelle Vague.

Shelly Kraicer: Actress, Ashes Of Time, A Brighter Summer Day, A Chinese Odyssey I & II, Flowers Of Shanghai, In The Heat Of The Sun, The Puppetmaster, Raise The Red Lantern, Swordsman II, Vive L’Amour.

Andréa Picard: Flowers Of Shanghai, Beau Travail, L’Humanité, Sátántangó, L’Eau Froide, The Last Bolshevik, La Vie De Jésus, Mother And Son, Maborosi, Twilight.

James Quandt: Abraham’s Valley, Dream Of Light, Flowers Of Shanghai, Histoire(s) Du Cinéma, The Last Bolshevik, Nouvelle Vague, Sicilia!, Taste Of Cherry, Van Gogh, Vive L’Amour.

Jonathan Rosenbaum: Actress, A Brighter Summer Day, Dead Man, D’Est, Eyes Wide Shut, Inquietude, The Puppetmaster, Sátántangó, When It Rains (Burnett), The Wind Will Carry Us.

Paolo Cherchi Usai: Les Amants Du Pont-Neuf, Bad Boy Bubby, Breaking The Waves, Exotica, God’s Comedy, Raise The Red Lantern, Seven, Stairs I Geneva, Through The Olive Trees, Lo Zio De Brooklyn.


* * *

Now, I’m a bit ambivalent toward canon formation exercises. On the one hand, I eat up these lists like cake. I can spot many if not most of my favorite filmmakers and films of the 90’s here. I think almost all of the above films are well worth seeing; many of them are amazing films.

But the flip side of the creation of a canon is that it also represents one step in the direction of forgetting many worthy films. Often lost in the shuffle are at least three (non-mutually exclusive) kinds of films: (1) Certain genres, considered either ‘lightweight’ or ‘disreputable’; (2) Entire types of cinema, like avant-garde; and (3) ‘Imperfect’ films that are nevertheless well worth seeing.

So I’d like to ask you to chime in, if you like, with suggestions of 90’s films absent from the above lists that may or may not be among the ‘best’ of the 90’s, but are films, however lofty or humble, consecrated or degraded, that are worth seeing, worth not forgetting….

Perhaps I could kick things off by offering ten worthy 90’s teen films I cherish: (in no specific order) U.S. Go Home (Claire Denis); Clueless (Amy Heckerling); Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy (Martin Arnold); Fucking Åmål (aka Show Me Love, Lukas Moodysson); Dazed And Confused (Richard Linklater); Pump Up The Volume (Allan Moyle); Rushmore (Wes Anderson); The Doom Generation (Gregg Araki); Metropolitan (Whit Stillman); and Election (Alexander Payne).

Pic: Claire Denis's Beau Travail doesn't turn up on the two aggregate poll results above, probably because it was released late in 1999.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

South Indian Food

I'm spending the weekend scrubbing and spiffing up my bachelor pad. I haven't done much entertaining in a while, and I've resolved to begin having my friends over so I can make South Indian food for them. Tomorrow my pals Becky & Clare are coming over, and very soon, B & B. My mom's been sending me Word files with meticulously detailed Tamil food recipes. I've been hitting the Indian store for ingredients. They always have fresh cilantro leaves in stock--crucial for South Indian cooking.

When I moved to Buffalo 20 years ago, there were no Indian restaurants here. Western food was alien to me; I'd never even had a slice of pizza. It took me forever to shake my Indian food withdrawal. That first semester, we (groups of Indian students) would make weekend trips to Jackson Heights in NYC, Devon in Chicago, or Garrard St. in Toronto, for food alone. We'd rent a jalopy, drive hundreds of miles into the night, check into some fleabag motel four to a room (couldn't afford better), and spend all weekend stuffing ourselves.

And then one fellow grad student, who was Sikh, convinced his parents to move to town and open a restaurant. Since then, about a half dozen Indian places have opened their doors. But (and this is true all over North America and in Europe too) the overwhelming majority of Indian restaurants serve North Indian food. So, a South Indian like me is still left out in the cold...

But suddenly, last month, a godsend: Palace of Dosas, a vegetarian South Indian restaurant run by a Tamil family, came to town. The menu has all the essentials: Masala Dosa, Idli, Vadai, Utthappam, etc. plus a traditional Tamil thali meal with Sambar and Rasam. It's also redoubled my desire to dip into my mom's reservoir of recipes and start whipping up this stuff at home.

I've flirted with the idea of firing up a South Indian food blog but I'm not sure how realistic that is, given the time commitment (and constancy) that any serious-minded blog venture demands. I've set my sights a bit lower and I'm in the process of collecting links to the Indian food blogosphere. I'd like to create a new section in my blogroll for it this summer.

Speaking of dosas and Tamil food, Zach turned me on to the legendary Thiru in Washington Square Park last year. Today, Zach reports that he's on an episode of Rachel Ray's show. (Here's an interview with Thiru, by the way.) On my last trip to New York in March, I had a chance to chat with Thiru for a half hour. What a hard working, humble, inspirational man....

Pic: One of my mom's saris.