Paul Schrader/Dead Magazines
I have a piece at Artforum on Paul Schrader's Mishima (1985) and Mishima's only film as director, Patriotism (1966).
Not all of Schrader's films work for me, but in addition to Mishima and Affliction, I like his insomniac night-worker cycle: American Gigolo, Light Sleeper, Scorsese's Taxi Driver. There's a lengthy and interesting interview with him in the most recent issue of Rouge that's worth reading. Schrader is often open-minded and un-defensive about evaluating his own films and the choices he made in them. Here are two examples of things I've had trouble with in his films: (1) The bombast of Michael Been's songs in Light Sleeper and the over-insistent Philip Glass score in Mishima (although Giorgio Moroder's synth-rock score for American Gigolo works beautifully); and (2) The easy reaching for redemptive endings in Gigolo and Sleeper by pasting the ending of Bresson's Pickpocket on to them. But even this repeated Bresson gesture--I hear Patty Hearst also ends this way--bothers me less than it used to, and is even a bit touching in its slightly awkward doggedness.
I recently discovered to my surprise that one of Schrader's formative influences was the architect-inventor-filmmaker Charles Eames. Schrader wrote a lengthy essay on Eames for Film Quarterly in 1970 called "Poetry of Ideas"; it's available on his site in pdf form. In an interview in Schrader on Schrader, he speaks about his own strict Calvinist upbringing and how Eames introduced him to something new:
I had been raised in an environment that believed that ideas were the province of language, and that if you had something to say you used words to say it, and that if you wanted to speak of beauty or of spirituality you used words. This is what Calvin had used,, this is what Luther had used, this is what Knox had used. What Charles taught me, and taught me with great patience and dilgence, was that an image or an object can also be an idea.
So, for example, you have the word 'wineglass', a nine-letter linguistic concept, and you have this object, a wineglass, which is related to the word by a semantic code but which is not the same idea. And if you have a different wineglass, you have a different idea again, and again; and only when you appreciate that those ideas have as much validity as the word 'wineglass' will you be visually literate.
Eames taught me that there is a visual logic in life and that to be a poet, or a poet of ideas (which is what I called my piece), doesn't mean you have to use language. I was like Paul on the road to Damascus when I heard this. I had always believed that people who thought visually were inferior thinkers, and that painting was essentially an illustration of ideas, which is how it was taught at Calvin, rather than an idea in its own right. Whenever any truly powerful idea hits you it overwhelms you, and that just knocked me out and I was changed permanently.
Adrian's new column at Filmkrant is on "dead magazines":
[W]e must recognise the spectre of mortality which looms over Internet magazines - not to mention even more ephemeral sites such as blogs and 'listserv' discussions. How many of us print out the entire contents of the film pages we read on-line? One day, that may be the only trace left of them...On the other hand, the Internet gives us the spectacle of something that is just as ghostly but nonetheless gratifying: magazines that have reached their final issue, perhaps years ago, but still remain on-line, thanks to the good graces of whoever pays the archive bill.
In the comments to the previous post, Andy Rector wondered about the André Bazin unofficial tribute site, which seems to have vanished. A couple of years ago, I remember stumbling upon an interesting magazine called Cinemad and returning to it later to discover that it had gone poof, archives and all. And I've never manually archived the contents of this blog, simply assuming that nothing could possibly happen to it: a foolish assumption, perhaps?
Here's my nomination for archival resurrection of a "dead magazine": the CinemaTexas Notes archives that collect, in pdf form, hundreds of detailed program note/essays written in the 1970s at the University of Texas at Austin.
-- Dan Sallitt at Auteurs' Notebook: "I can’t think of too many current directors of Hiroki Ryuichi’s stature and skill who work almost exclusively from scripts written by others. Is he a modern-day Jacques Tourneur, submitting to random collaboration in order to explore the dimensions of his personality? Or does he have the clout to work with writers to develop material that is meaningful to him? He was unknown on the international scene before his excellent 2003 Vibrator - but the IMDb gives him 44 directing credits, and 33 of them are before Vibrator. Many of these are allegedly “pink films,” soft-core pornography. At what point did he turn into an important filmmaker?"
-- via Jim Emerson and David Hudson: At Test Pattern, Kathleen Murphy on Last Year at Marienbad and Jay Kuehner on James Benning.
-- Zach asks: "What Is Cinema (For)?"
-- David Hudson rounds up the new issue of Film Comment.
-- In that new issue, the following Marco Ferreri films have been announced for DVD release here: El Cochito, The Seed of Man, La Grande Bouffe, Don't Touch the White Woman, Bye Bye Monkey, Seeking Asylum, Tales of Ordinary Madness, The House of Smiles. For those, unlike me, who are familiar with Ferreri: might you have any specific recommendations among these films?
-- Blog discovery of the week, via David Cairns: Unsung Joe ("Where bit-part actors go when they die").
-- At The Evening Class, Michael Guillen posts a 2-part interview with Stephen Salmons, director of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, which I'll be heading out West to attend in a couple of days.
Two hands, one pulling back, the other hanging on: Dana Delany and Willem Dafoe in the cafeteria scene in Light Sleeper.