Friday, 27 October 2017

Recent readings

Finally, my article about Richard Quine has gone live so you can read it now over at La Furia Umana:

http://www.lafuriaumana.it/?id=706
The two best scenes in It Happened to Jane are set in the kitchen of her home. Her house is not shown in its entirety, only the living room and the kitchen, which is below the living room, but they inhabit these spaces with a wonderful ease and spontaneity. In the first scene Jane and George have a sweet conversation, and it becomes clear that he loves her but feels intimidated by her late husband. In the second they have an unpleasant conversation, and a turning point in George’s life. Having looked after her children and cooked for them for two days, his housewife moment in the apron, while she is in New York wining and dining with an attractive journalist, he now snaps, which unfortunately leads him, because of his frustration and jealousy, to stop just one word short of calling her a slut or whore. She asks him to leave, not so much upset as sad that he has sunk so low.
The last two weeks I have read several books and articles and instead of writing something new I will restrict myself for now to recommend some things others have written.

First the essay collection Durgnat on Film (1976), which consist of selected parts of Raymond Durgnat's previous books Films and Feelings (1967) and The Crazy Mirror (1969). The topics covered are many, such as style, realism, authorship, adaptations and discussions of specific films, filmmakers and comedians. It is very good, combining intelligent writing and a wide-ranging taste, with engaging criticism of the ideas of other critics and academics.
Suppose a film ends with the camera tracking back from the lovers embracing alone on the beach. This may mean 'how tiny and unprotected they are' or 'how frail and futile their love' or 'the whole wide world is theirs' or 'this is the moment of their destiny' (for plan views can suggest a 'God's-eye-view') or 'Good-bye, good-bye,' depending on which emotions are floating about in the spectator's mind as a result of the rest of the film. Hence style is essentially a matter of intuition. There is no possibility whatsoever of an 'objective', 'scientific' analysis of film style - or of 'film' content. It is worse than useless to attempt to watch a film with one's intellect alone, trying to explain its effects in terms of one or two points of style. Few films yield any worthwhile meaning unless watched with a genuine interest in the range of feelings and meanings it suggests. (p. 27)
To over-simplify, perhaps, Ophuls' camera movements suggest a mellow 'fatalism'. Everything ends where it begins. The world is a maze of ironies, of impermanence, of nostalgias. If Ophuls' camera moves, it is à la recherche du temps perdu. But it isn't possible to separate the camera movements from the décor through which it moves, and which it shows to us, or the dramatic context in which it occurs. (p. 55)
We do not agree on Howard Hawks though, whom he do not seem to get. He says for example of "pain, or waste" that it is something "which Hawks, more sentimentally ignores" (p. 80) but I do not agree with that at all. Pain is almost always there in Hawks, sometimes acute physical pain and often equally acute psychological pain, from the death of a loved friend or from some other loss, or from having to experience the downfall of a friend.

Durgnat has written several books and I can also recommend King Vidor: American, co-written with Scott Simmon. A good recent collection is The Essential Raymond Durgnat, edited by Henry K. Miller (which to some extent overlaps with Durgnat on Film).

Jennifer Jones in Vidor's incredible Ruby Gentry (1952)

A great contemporary film writer/video essayist who is strongly influenced by Durgnat is Adrian Martin and his collected work is to be found here: http://www.filmcritic.com.au/index.html (Well, eventually it will all be there, it is updated regularly.)

The next recommendation is a long article from earlier this year in The Paris Review. It is by Noah Gallagher Shannon and about Roger Deakins:

https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2017/05/09/master-light/
A strange but beautiful thing you will hear cinematographers say is that they conceive of each frame as, at first, completely black. The creative act lies in what to light and how—where to send viewers’ eyes, using each beam like a stroke or word. And Deakins thinks about this canvas of blackness not unlike the way blues guitarists—I’m thinking of the Keith Richards quote here—do the beats between notes: “The lighting of a film makes the pauses speak as eloquently as the words.”
Then two pieces from Bordwell and Thompson's extensive blog, both a few years old but which I read last week. One is about the style of Sidney Lumet, covering his whole career:

http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2011/04/21/endurance-survival-lessons-from-lumet/

The mid-1970s was the Great Barrier Reef of American cinema. Virtually no members of Hollywood’s accumulated older generations, from Hitchcock and Hawks through the 1940s debutantes (Wilder, Dmytryk, Fuller, Siegel) and the 1950s tough guys (Aldrich, Brooks) to the TV émigrés, made it through to 1980. Many careers just petered out. The future belonged to the youngsters, the so-called Movie Brats. In this unfriendly milieu, Lumet fared better than most. He tried a semifarcical heist film (The Anderson Tapes, 1971) that mocked the rise of the surveillance society, with everybody wiretapping and taping and videoing everybody else. He mounted a classic mystery (Murder on the Orient Express, 1974), a musical (The Wiz, 1978), and a free-love romance (Lovin’ Molly, 1974). Of the items I’ve seen from these years, the most daring is The Offence (1972). This study of a sadistic British police inspector’s vendetta against a child molester offers a sort of seedy expressionism. In another gesture toward psychodrama, long conversations with the perpetrator reveal that the copper is a bit of a perv himself.
The other piece is about journalistic reportage from film sets, whether for an article or a book, and the many problems with them. From Lillian Ross's famous tale of the making of The Red Badge of Courage (John Huston 1951) to an article about the making of Lady in the Water (M. Night Shyamalan 2006).

http://www.davidbordwell.net/essays/hearing.php
Still, you have to wonder what a book laying bare decision-making at Microsoft or Enron or the Oval Office would look and sound like. Would you meet epitomes of mature, moral, thoughtful behavior? Would you witness activity bereft of any hubris or self-regard? It’s doubtful, but anyhow we’ll never find out. No executives or politicians in their right minds would let an outsider into the suites when the deals are done. They know that uncontrolled publicity is bad publicity. By comparison, our moviemakers’ egotism seems touchingly naïve. Confronted with the opportunity to have a name journalist track a production, they must think: If people could only understand the process, they’d really appreciate what we do. Anyhow, how could the publicity hurt? (Answer: See previous paragraphs.) Insiders regularly forget that middlebrow journalism will always highlight every act of show-business venality it can find. Peter Biskind has made a career out of treating contemporary American cinema as a circus of lunacy and petty spite.
And last, a very fine article I read some time ago and now re-visited. It is by Sarah Berry and about the films of Jean Negulesco, with a particular focus on gender and women characters:

https://contrappassomag.wordpress.com/2015/05/12/writers-at-the-movies-sarah-berry-on-jean-negulesco/
Negulesco’s characterization of marriage is interesting in three ways, however. Firstly, he retains a Depression-era sympathy for women’s economic struggles and the practical necessity of marriage in a world of very limited options. Secondly, he presents women’s desire for a companionate marriage of equals in an entirely sympathetic light. Thirdly, women’s sexual desires are never condemned or presented as whorish by contrast with a virginal ideal (one could claim that Sophia Loren’s breasts are the star of Boy on a Dolphin, but she is also a three-dimensional character fighting for her impoverished village, as she points out to her “rich American” love interest).
That should keep you occupied for quite some time!


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