The last couple of weeks have brought an explosion of new film reading material, both on and off the Net. We all know the merciless law of currency that holds sway in the blogosphere, so before all this great new reading disappears like dust trails in our rear-view, I'll try to grab and affix some of it here.
To begin with: the first heavyweight year-end top 10 list I've seen, by James Quandt in Artforum. It's not online, alas, so I'm reproducing excerpts from it here:
1 & 2. Itinéraire de Jean Bricard (Jean-Marie Straub & Danièle Huillet) and Le Genou d'Artémide (Jean-Marie Straub).
3. The Headless Woman (Lucretia Martel). "Martel returns to the terrain of oblique unease among the rural bourgeoisie of Argentina in a trance film that leaves its audience as unmoored as its sleepwalking heroine."
4. Liverpool (Lisandro Alonso). "One expects formal precision from Alonso, here completing his trilogy about intractable men journeying solo through hinterland, but the film's emotional amplitude is new and welcome."
5. Tony Manero (Pablo Larrain). "...Alfredo Castro gives the year's male performance as a Travolta-obsessed psycho, fixated on Saturday Night Fever but living out Vengeance is Mine in Pinochet's Chile."
6. 24 City (Jia Zhang-ke). "The extent of Jia's nostalgia for pre-free market China becomes troublingly apparent in his latest bardic contemplation of the country's recent past."
7. United Red Army (Koji Wakamatsu). "In a resurgence of Japanese cinema, Wakamatsu's ferocious three-hour chronicle of Maoist student cadres in the 1960s vies with Hirokazu Kore-eda's lovely home drama, Still Walking. As a firsthand account of leftist infighting and auto-immolation, United Red Army readily joins Oshima's Night and Fog in Japan and Godard's La Chinoise."
8. Wonderful Town (Aditya Assarat) "...Thailand provided the year's best feature-fiction debut, Assarat's melancholy portrait of a young architect from Bangkok supervising reconstruction in a tsunami-afflicted town where occluded anguish quickly turns murderous."
9. Cleopatra (Julio Bressane). "Werner Schroeter's gorgeous but oddly impersonal requiem, Nuit de Chien, aside, Bressane's ultranutty vision of the Egyptian queen was the film maudit of 2008."
10. Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas).
In a very different list, also at Artforum, John Waters ties two films for first place: "(A) Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen) Does anybody not think this is the best American movie of the year (even though it was made in Spain)? Come on, it’s got a great script, the actors look like real movie stars, and Woody Allen films Scarlett Johansson with the same obsession Paul Morrissey had for Joe Dallesandro. Gives heterosexuality a good name! (B) Love Songs (Christophe Honoré) I may be the only person who would pick this as the best foreign-language movie of the year, but what do I care if you don’t like this hipper-than-thou bisexual French musical? When the sexy, smart-ass characters burst into songs about brain tumors, saliva, and human sandwiches, I get all teary inside and realize that this is the only romantic comedy I’ve ever really loved."
Adrian Martin's new column at Filmkrant takes up an issue that is being hotly debated in film studies: should films be studied as self-sufficient artworks or as objects that possess meaning only when examined within their social and historical context? The former approach is used by textualists or formalists. In Hilary Radner's words: "The formalist tendency is grounded in a desire to describe in as much detail as possible the processes and gestures of the film itself as an object and a medium... it seeks to isolate and to understand the specificity of film as art - to capture the weight and the portence of that art - of that which only cinema can do."
The focus of the latter approach, according to Richard Maltby, is on "the economic, political and institutional histories of distribution and exhibition, and on social histories of cinema's audiences."
Adrian reconciles the two vantage points: "The big question, at the end of the day, is surely: why should we have to choose between these two extremes? Has there ever been an aesthetic critic who truly believed that 'the world' played no part in determining the sense of a film? And has there ever been a historian-philosopher who entirely stopped watching and enjoying films as objects in themselves?"
The film reading trove of the week is the new issue of Screening The Past. There are two main sections to look at: a huge collection of review essays and a main section of featured articles.
Here's an excerpt from Adrian's review of a new book on Brian De Palma:
Eyal Peretz’s frequently stimulating, occasionally baffling exploration of ‘De Palma’s cinematic education of the senses’ (the book’s subtitle) looks not at the entire oeuvre – not even a standard approximation of the entire oeuvre (for many major works do not rate a mention) – but mainly three key films, Carrie (USA 1976), The Fury (USA 1978) and Blow Out (USA 1981), with a Coda devoted to Femme Fatale (France 2002). In those films, it looks at very few, usually short passages (from Carrie, for example, hardly the first two minutes). De Palma is consistently conjured, in a manner that surpasses even the most excessive auteurism, as a kind of Godhead – a visionary, indeed – in that the book eschews any information about the films’ production circumstances, and fails to meaningfully discuss any of his contributors from either cast or crew. Apart from a brief note on paranoid cinema and an obligatory (but original) consideration of the Hitchcock legacy, Peretz does not compare De Palma’s films with other films of their time, or with films by other directors. In terms of its dialogue with the traditions of film criticism – in particular, the many hundreds of articles, in many languages, devoted to De Palma – the book is a startling tabula rasa: in 55 pages – 55 pages! – of densely detailed notes, there is not a single reference to any previous writing on the director. [...]
However [...] I found myself (almost despite myself) very engaged with this book; this successful diversion of a reader’s preconception is the mark of a good and interesting critical/theoretical work. (Why read something that merely confirms what I already think I know about De Palma, in the language that has already confirmed it?) [...]
To Peretz, nothing that happens in a De Palma film – no gesture, line of dialogue, bit of behaviour, camera angle or scene transition – is natural, obvious or common-sensical; on the contrary, all is ‘strange’, bizarre, in urgent need of interpretation. The word strange appears multiple times on many pages; indeed, this book could have been subtitled (with a nod to Raymond Durgnat) The strange case of Brian De Palma. Becoming Visionary launches itself from where the best De Palma criticism wisely begins: from the sense that everything in these films is grandly unreal, illogical, unbelievable, risible, grotesque, a live-action cartoon. So much for the stuffy old business of character psychologies (and believable performances), dramatic/comic themes and coherent, and fictive-world meanings!
-- Campaspe, the Self-Styled Siren, is interviewed at Film in Focus.
-- At Sight & Sound, critics pick their favorite DVDs of 2008.
-- Dave Kehr in the NYT on the just-released Douglas Fairbanks DVDs.
-- David Bordwell on films of the 1980s.
-- New at Jonathan Rosenbaum's place: pieces on Chris Marker's Sans Soleil and Elizabeth Subrin's Shulie.
-- Jon Jost has a new post that begins: "Thomas Friedman, columnist for the Gray Lady of New York, who pontificates twice weekly in the Times “opinion pages,” is, by any accounting, almost always wrong."
-- Matt Zoller Seitz on Budd Boetticher at Moving Image Source.
-- Dan Sallitt on Jean-Daniel Pollet at Auteurs' Notebook; and on Jean-Gabriel Albicocco's 1961 debut feature La Fille aux yeux d'or ("The Girl with the Golden Eyes"), at Thanks for the Use of the Hall, which now has a new URL.
-- Catherine Grant collects "Online Film Audio-Commentaries and Video Essays Of Note."
-- A flurry of new posts (including on Bazin) at Harry Tuttle's place, Screenville.
-- The latest Serge Daney essay to be translated and added to Steve Erickson's site: "For a cine-demography".
-- Chris Cagle on TCM cinephilia.
-- Ian Thomson on Pasolini in the Times Literary Supplement.
-- There's a new issue of Criticine.
-- In City Journal, by Kay S. Hymowitz: "Love in the Time of Darwinism: A report from the chaotic postfeminist dating scene, where only the strong survive."
pic: "Telekinesis: Thought to be the ability to move or to cause changes in objects by force of the mind." From Brian De Palma's Carrie.