Sunday, December 21, 2008

Robert Mulligan; Links



The filmmaker Robert Mulligan has died. Here's David Hudson's entry at Greencine. John Belton had an essay in the special Mulligan issue of The Film Journal a couple of years ago:

Mulligan is clearly not the author of his films in the same way that Ingmar Bergman is; he does not create his own characters or stories or write the dialogue. But Mulligan is a storyteller, interpreting the stories of others. As Mulligan describes his role, “Things have to sift through me. That’s me up there on the screen. The shooting, the editing, the use of music—all that represents my attitude toward the material.” In his role as storyteller, Mulligan interposes his personality and sensitivity between the tale and the audience; he makes the story his own by supplying attitude. It is this attitude or tone that becomes the true subject of a Mulligan film, not character or plot. Thus in a Mulligan film, no single individual—director, screenwriter, producer, or actor—stamps the film with his personality; the feelings generated by Mulligan’s view of specific characters in specific situations and settings are what count most.

Mulligan, as interpreter, chooses preexisting plots and characters for the stories of his films. His best films have been based on best-selling novels that have in common strong subjective narrations and settings that are inseparable from character and plot.

I know he's much admired but I've seen only two of Mulligan's films, To Kill A Mockingbird (1962) and Summer of '42 (1971). The former has been forever transfigured in my memory since I encountered Austrian filmmaker Martin Arnold's appropriation and deformation of it in his avant-garde classic Passage À L’Acte (1993).

I'm wondering: Do you have any favorites among Mulligan's films? Perhaps we can collect some ideas and recommendations here?


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Adrian Martin has a new essay--on William Klein. Here is an excerpt:

William Klein is a remarkable figure in film history, a law unto himself, ultimately beyond (while overlapping with) many movements and trends. To look at the 1964 footage that constitutes the first half of Muhammad Ali, The Greatest (1974) - with its lack of voice-over narration and its relentlessly energetic 'in the moment' reportage - one might imagine him to have issued from the American cinéma-vérité school of Leacock, Pennebaker and the Maysles brothers. But, crucially, there is no spurious objectivity in Klein: just one look at the deliberately ugly way he frames the boxer's Southern white 'owners' (another lateral 'defilement') in contrast to the open, generous way he films Ali and his intimate entourage, is enough to palpably convey who the filmmaker is for and against, who he likes and dislikes. So, there is an aspect of Klein that anticipates the cooler, more analytical - although still indirect - gaze of Frederick Wiseman's documentaries about every kind of social institution (prison, school, office, abattoir, monastery ... ) as well as the more loquacious essay-films of Chris Marker, who first encouraged Klein to turn his photographic eye into a cinematographic eye in the (literally) dazzling short Broadway by Light (1958).


* * *

More links:

-- Michael Newman at Zigzigger has one of my favorite 'end-of-the-year favorites' posts.

-- The latest (#3) in Ry Knight's wonderful series of 'quotation collage' posts.

-- A recent blog discovery: Some Landscapes, devoted to "landscapes evoked or depicted in the arts: painting, literature, music, film etc. and [...] the creation or alteration of landscapes by architects, artists and garden designers."

-- Beaucoup reading at The Auteurs Notebook including David Phelps (on Oshima--lots!), Danny Kasman, David Cairns, Andrew Tracy, and Glenn Kenny.

-- Michael Sicinski's December page has a number of interesting reviews including: Iron Man, Trouble the Water, Encounters at the Edge of the World, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, W., Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Frost/Nixon, and Slumdog Millionaire.

-- Several new and interesting posts at Ignatiy Vishnevetsky's blog, Sounds, Images, including a Bazinian entry called "The Ontology of the Recorded Sound."

-- Also, Ignatiy kicks off the newest Film of the Month, Julien Temple's Absolute Beginners (1986).

-- A sneak peek at the top 20 released and unreleased films of the year in the Film Comment poll at the FilmLinc blog.

-- Two recent and useful end-of-year posts at Joe Bowman's place, Fin de Cinema: on region-1 DVD releases, and the best and worst of television.

-- Catherine Grant has a links-filled post on Daniel Frampton's Filmosophy.

-- Ed Howard is hosting an Early Hawks blog-a-thon next month.

-- At his blog Remains of the Day, Harmanjit Singh has an interesting entry that begins thus: "The practice of Actualism is to minimize, and finally remove, malice and sorrow in oneself, so that one may live happily and harmlessly. There is usually little argument on the happiness aspect, but there can be a lot of confusion about being harmless."

-- Dave Kehr in the NYT on the Murnau/Borzage box set, which, he writes, "also functions as a miniature history of the transition from silent films to sound. The free-floating camera and dramatic fluidity of the silents seem to screech to a halt with Borzage’s first all-talking picture, the 1929 Will Rogers vehicle “They Had to See Paris.” He recovers a bit of his camera mobility with the interesting 1930 “Song o’ My Heart,” a musical starring the hugely popular Irish tenor John McCormack, in which Borzage experiments for the first time with sound to create a bridge between lovers separated by space. But sound also constrains Borzage’s gossamer romanticism, and his films take on the straightforward, slightly embittered social realism that was beginning to dominate over at Warner Brothers."

-- David Bordwell: "Like many Hong Kong movies, nearly every one of Wong Kar-wai’s films went through multiple versions. But unlike many directors he seems to enjoy tweaking and rethinking his work. In production he shoots scenes, watches them, reshoots them, recuts them, and reshoots again. Editing and mixing involve the same play with variants. He adds different shots, juggles the order, adds or subtracts music at will. [...] His drive to redo his films seems to go beyond indecision or commercial calculation. Wong seems to have taken to heart his central theme of the transient moment, the fact that love can be extinguished at any instant. So why not change your films to match your mood today? Further, like Warhol, he seems to enjoy prodigality for its own sake. He enjoys conjuring up one variation after another, multiplying just barely different avatars, and draping in mist the notion of any original text. His films’ basic constructive principle—the constant repetitions that create parallels and slight differences, loops of vaguely familiar images and sounds and situations—gets enacted in his very mode of production."

-- Steven Shaviro on presses (in this case, Continuum) with extremely restrictive agreements that prohibit authors from disseminating their own work, thus limiting their readership. He writes: "Some of the best theory books of the last decade have received far less notice than they deserved, all because they have been caught in the limbo of this sort of publishing arrangement. [...] There obviously needs to be some sort of open access policy for scholarship in the humanities, as there already is to a great extent in the sciences. We don’t really get paid for our writing, except very indirectly in the sense that a scholarly reputation increases your “marketability” and hence the kind of salary you can get as a professor. In these cases, the policies of presses like Continuum (which I am singling out here only because of my own dealings with them; many other academic presses are just as bad) serve the interests neither of writers nor of readers. I don’t have a blueprint of how to get there (open access) from here (restrictive copyright arrangements), but a first step would be for those academics who, like me, can afford to forgo the lines on their vitas, to refuse to publish with presses that have such policies."

17 Comments:

Blogger Yoel Meranda said...

the only mulligan film i saw was come september. strongly suggested. just the first few shots are enough to prove he has an eye, and the story evolves wonderfully.

December 22, 2008 4:10 AM  
Blogger jesús cortés said...

I claim a place in the sun for "The stalking moon" (a good irony) wich is his best film and one of the last great westerns of the 60´s.

December 22, 2008 7:44 AM  
Anonymous ratzkywatzky said...

I agree with The Stalking Moon, and I also love Inside Daisy Clover and The Nickel Ride, which has an incredible performance by Jason Miller. With the revival of interest in 70s crime films, I don't know why this one is still unknown.

December 22, 2008 12:55 PM  
Blogger Filipe Furtado said...

I strong recommend both Love with a Proper Stranger and Baby, the Rain Must Fall (I should have wrote about both at The Film Journal, but as usual I was unable to do it during till the deadline). Also Mulligan's final film The Man in the Moon is wonderful (Adrian has a great essay on it at that Film Journal special).

December 22, 2008 2:56 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

I second Filipe's recommendation of LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER, which is my favorite Mulligan and I think the best of his Alan J. Pakula-produced films.

It's a great movie: Steve McQueen (playing a "jazz musician"--like Bobby Darrin in TOO LATE BLUES, which would make a great double feature with LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER) gets Natalie Wood pregnant, and she comes looking for him to get money for an abortion. He has all sorts of ideas about responsibility and decides he should marry here; she, in turn, is offended that he would marry her out of obligation. It doesn't even need Martin Arnold to slow it down--there's an amazing early scene, a two-shot going back and forth, where Wood first confronts McQueen. Every shot seems to linger just a little too long after they say their lines, like they're taking turns being uncomfortable. It gets so tense, you'd think the celluloid will snap.

And Girish--it's an honor to be linked to!

December 22, 2008 3:57 PM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

Girish - Up the Down Staircase and The Nickel Ride are probably my favorite Mulligan films. But the first one, Fear Strikes Out, and the last, The Man in the Moon, are highlights too. I actually don't enjoy To Kill a Mockingbird at all - it's odd to me that most people remember him for that one.

December 22, 2008 11:09 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

I have some gaps with Mulligan. Votes for Love with the Proper Stranger and Bloodbrothers, even though it changes the ending of Richard Price's novel. Music scores by Elmer Bernstein provide a major assist.

December 23, 2008 1:49 AM  
Blogger Campaspe said...

Another vote for Up the Down Staircase, because To Kill a Mockingbird doesn't need it. The Man in the Moon is also very good.

December 23, 2008 8:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another vote for Man in the Moon. Here's the link to Adrian's essay that Filipe mentioned:
http://www.thefilmjournal.com/issue11/balanceandlinkage.html

December 23, 2008 6:42 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Hello, everyone!

Thank you very much for all these suggestions. I can't wait to do a Mulligan immersion soon.

The semester is ended and retired, and the holiday season is upon us. I'm leaving this morning to go to India and spend some time with my parents and my sister and her family.

I want to wish everyone a happy holiday season, and a great new year. Take care, all. See you in '09!

December 26, 2008 8:28 AM  
Anonymous Blake said...

I think he was a great director and have seen all of his films except Bloodbrothers and (sadly, as it's especially well-regarded)The Nickel Ride. To me they all rate from good to superb and no one stands out as the defining one, but Baby the Rain Must Fall is my favorite, with Love with the Proper Stranger, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Other, The Man in the Moon and Fear Strikes Out ranking out a top half dozen. As memorial I watched Summer of '42 because I'd only seen it once. It's stunning--absolutely brilliant, as a climactic moment finds Mulligan visually qualifying the subjective atmosphere built around the young protagonist in a telling and very specific way, and releasing the woman to be a character she has not been before.
The tone of the movie transforms in a moment and the effect of this is very moing.

December 28, 2008 11:58 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Greetings and happy new year to all from Madras, India...!

I'm re-posting here an interesting comment Larry Gross just made on an old post on "Received Ideas in Cinema":

"thank you for posing this provocative question:

One mistaken critical commonplace that comes to mind stresses Kazan's direction-discovery of Brando, Dean and Beatty as the center of his achievement. What is ignored are Kazan's women. Vivien Leigh, Eva Marie Saint, Patricia Neal, Shirley Harris, Lee Remick, the older woman in Wild River Jo Somebody, Carroll Baker (!) Faye Dunaway all give close to career best performances under Kazan's direction. In no way, a feminist, Kazan films consistently foreground female sexuality in a singularly honest relatively non-exploitative fashion and this is a completely under-reported aspect of his art--given his historic role in the construction of male-hetero-icons."

January 02, 2009 7:10 AM  
Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

Happy New Year to you, too, G. Hope all that food is good and I hope you arrive back to the US sated on all fronts, not just the food one. Just wanted to say thanks here, finally, for the inclusion. Hanging out in SF this past summer was surely a highlight of my 2008 cinephile year. (I guess we should thank Michael for that! Thanks!)

January 02, 2009 4:10 PM  
Anonymous Movie Production said...

An interesting post Robert Mulligan movies, I have'nt seen much movies of him. Your post has critically illustrated the works of Robert Mulligan

Thanks
Kate

January 15, 2009 8:27 AM  
Anonymous Filipe Furtado said...

As this is the place to all Adrian Martin links let me point out there's a very good interview with him in the portuguese blog Ainda não começamos a pensar, it is in portuguese (and from what I understand its unlikely to show up in english), but it's great stuff and very worth to try to check out:
http://aindanaocomecamos.blogspot.com/2009/01/o-destinatrio-que-testemunha-uma.html

January 16, 2009 1:29 PM  
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