WRB—April 2023 Film Supplement
Justice for Cate Blanchett
We can try to understand
A.O. Scott’s effect on man
Tár (2022) being shut out at the Oscars is a cultural disaster.
WRB Film Supplement Classified:
Film Supplement Editor seeks work after his current temporary position ends. He is a math and classics major from Notre Dame currently working on a business insights team. He also has experience in journalism and can produce all kinds of writing. He is open to just about anything and just about anywhere. If you are interested in hiring him, or if you know someone who might be, please contact him at steven dot hg dot larkin at gmail dot com.
In the NYT, A.O. Scott, who is leaving his post as film critic to review books, conducts an exit interview with himself:
But I’m not a fan of modern fandom. This isn’t only because I’ve been swarmed on Twitter by angry devotees of Marvel and DC and (more recently) “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” It’s more that the behavior of these social media hordes represents an anti-democratic, anti-intellectual mind-set that is harmful to the cause of art and antithetical to the spirit of movies. Fan culture is rooted in conformity, obedience, group identity and mob behavior, and its rise mirrors and models the spread of intolerant, authoritarian, aggressive tendencies in our politics and our communal life.
In the LRB, Nicholas Spice on Tár and historical disputes about the role of the conductor:
The origin of conductors’ music is usually attributed to Beethoven. In her interview, Tár rightly cites the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (1808) as a locus classicus in the history of modern conducting. The rhythm and rhetorical emphasis of its famous motif is not impossible for an orchestra to play without a conductor, but it’s far more effective with one. And then, as Wagner points out, there’s the question of the fermatas (pauses) – someone has to decide what Beethoven wants.
[The last couple hundred years really come down to fighting about what Beethoven wants. —Steve]
John Wick franchise section:
In The Ringer, Jake Kring-Schreifels on the franchise’s embrace of great stunt performers:
Although Stahelski always has tried to carve out meatier roles for his stunt cast, it didn’t take much to sell them on joining his martial arts fraternity. “You’re not going to get an opportunity like this for the first time with a director that doesn’t appreciate the martial arts and stunt world,” Zaror says. In many ways, Stahelski’s reputation, friendships, and longtime connections throughout the industry have given him a better understanding of the poorly shot, underused, and untapped players who have been bruising for bigger opportunities for decades. “These guys are carrying three films a year, doing all the action, choreographing, acting, helping write—that’s a lot,” Stahelski says. “To have a chance to [cast them] and see the people you really respect, it’s really cool.”
Meanwhile, as French stunt coordinator Laurent Demianoff choreographed the scene’s hand-to-hand and firearms action, Stahelski, Laustsen, and Rogers ran through “probably a dozen different concepts” of how to get the shot in one (seemingly) uninterrupted take. (“There’s only one seam in there, and that’s before we light the guys on fire in the kitchen,” Stahelski explains. “The rest is all one take.”)
The Paris Review sent four reviewers to three different screenings of John Wick: Chapter 4:
We hadn’t considered that we would potentially have to turn in our phones, but were relieved nevertheless. We were handed a very large stack of papers with a large John Wick logo at the top, containing detailed information about the franchise and a long explanation of the movie’s plot, which we chose not to read too closely for fear of spoilers. This heavy stack of papers was also where we first learned that the runtime was a whopping 169 minutes. This troubled us, mostly because we had had a lot of wine with dinner and were concerned that we would have to pee.
In Reason, Matt Welch blames excessive public subsidies for baseball stadiums on the Boomer self-absorption of Field of Dreams (1989). (Roger Angell: “such baloney, sweet and gooey”):
We have adjectives to describe the insistence on a superior past, and they tend toward the pejorative: vestigial, atavistic, reactionary. Exaltation of lost glory necessarily discounts the present; reimposing the ancien régime requires tossing aside today's players, often with casual recklessness. Audiences embraced Field of Dreams because it's a sumptuously shot, well-crafted movie with compelling actors and an Oscar-nominated score, yes, but also because they worried then—and continue to worry now—that something valuable is vanishing, that the best of baseball and the country of its birth is in the rearview mirror. That the only path to redemption is believing, twice as hard this time, in a fairy tale. One that narcissistically absolves our own active role in the decline.
In The Ankler,takes a deep dive into the writing and rewriting of the script of Gone With the Wind (1939):
Selznick’s demand of absolute fidelity to Mitchell led to two tonally contradictory perspectives on slavery and its legacy. Rival groups of screenwriters among the many engaged on the script emerged: “Romantics” who leaned into the mythos of Moonlight and Magnolias, and “Realists” who amped up scenes of mistreatment to highlight the brutality of Scarlett’s character and even condemn the institution of slavery itself. Mitchell herself would give no guidance, responding to Selznick’s query about historically appropriate headgear for Mammy by saying “I refuse to go out on a limb over a head-rag,” and providing no advice thereafter. (Despite this reticence, in later years, she donated part of the proceeds from Gone With the Wind to fund the educations of at least 20 Black medical students at Morehouse College.)
Three from the LARB:
The film’s plot, uncomplicated in any arrangement, is not meant to be decoded or diagrammed but to be felt. It is never quite clear which eruptions of terror or ecstasy happen in what order, which euphemizing voicemails for grandmothers are what therapists might call positive self-talk and which are really pleas for the cocooning comfort of youth, of normalcy. The return to images, often of violence—of the muggings the three girls commit with Alien near the beach, of the Chicken Shack heist they pull off with a hammer and squirt guns to fund their spring break trip, the murder of a dozen Black men in the film’s climax—makes them seem ghastly but dreamlike, like video games, like fun.
Pat Cassels on the wave of “eat the rich” media:
Why did Hollywood choose to release so many stories of class conflict in 2022? Or is this simply a cinematic version of vulgar Marxism at work? Were the movies in 2022 reflecting the real-world preoccupation with wealth and social stratification? After all, giving the masses (or at least a mass audience) what they want is what Hollywood likes to think it does best. It’s the reason sequels, reboots, and cinematic universes are keeping theaters afloat. Even last spring’s Top Gun: Maverick satisfied society’s fundamental need for speed.
At the start of the film, Foster finds himself barred from the elevated world of the freeway. California terminology contrasts freeways with “surface streets,” a term far more popular in Los Angeles than anywhere else. Freeways are nimble and direct, at least in theory, while surface streets are slow and earthbound. Reyner Banham, in Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (1971), positions the freeway system as “autopia,” where near-mystical awareness was possible, in contrast to the vast swaths of residential neighborhoods that constitute the “Plains of Id,” where mundane life plays out.
- connects the loss of the projectionist to broader media trends:
A human DJ, even at a distance on the radio, is not an automaton providing you with music—they are another person listening to music with you. If you happen to find yourself entirely alone at a dance club—a melancholy proposition, to be sure—there is still at least one other person listening to the same music. And likely feeling just as melancholy as you are.
It’s the same in a traditional movie theater. Before digital projectors, no empty theater was truly empty. There had to be a person back there, in the box behind the bright light, watching that film with you. And you knew they were there, because they drew the curtain to the right format for the film. They focused the lens. They dimmed the lights. They changed the reels. They brought the lights back up.
In Metrograph, Beatrice Loayza on Todd Field’s three films, which “form something of a triptych plumbing distinctly American mythologies of individualism”:
Then there’s that bathing suit; remembering that the “Prom King,” as the other mothers in the playground have dubbed Brad, frequents the public pool daily, Sarah flips through a catalogue and purchases a red halter-style one-piece, a tummy-tucking model that she decisively orders one size down. She wears it all summer, performing the possibility of another version of herself—the fictional her contained in her books, the one who skips town with her lover and doesn’t chicken out. Similarly, Lydia Tár used to be Linda from Staten Island but now she’s someone else—her Berlin apartment, slick with Euro-cosmopolitanism, her worldly wisdom apparent in her “third-world” engagements. Has she rejected her true self or refused to settle? Will Sarah retire the one-piece or hold it tight?
In Damage, Sam Kriss on the Avatar franchise as an attempt to imagine an exotic world and an exotic way of life that ends up imagining Americans but blue:
But the Na’vi, of course, do not have any complex kinship networks; the only vestige of any meaningful social totality is the family. Two parents plus kids. Does that sound familiar? The Na’vi are Americans. They speak English. They pose for photos. They’re spiritual but not religious. We can no longer accommodate even negative images. Our society tries to conjure a fantasy of its own annihilation, and all it can come up with is itself.
[Kriss doesn’t mention this, but James Cameron repeatedly rejected ideas for the music of the Na’vi from the ethnomusicologist working on the first Avatar movie on the grounds that they were “too weird”. As if to really hammer the point home, he eventually asked for “a Na’vi Amazing Grace”.
And Cameron isn’t even American. He’s a Canadian who can only imagine Americans. One of the best books of the last century is about this phenomenon. —Steve] [What I found evocative watching this movie is that the pan-Americanism that gives this world its whole metaphysics extends even to the whales, one of the only animals to routinely commit suicide. —Chris]
In The Hollywood Reporter, Rebecca Keegan interviews Ben Affleck:
I was talking to [cinematographer] Bob Richardson. He’s a genius. And I said, “Bob, what if I gave you a million bucks to save me five [million]? Could you do it?” And he goes, “Fuck, I’ll save you 10.” There are people who just have their hand on the wheel in ways people don’t understand. Your editor, producer, DP, first AD, production designer. The idea is you get really good people, and you say to them, “Look, if we’re able to accomplish what we set out to accomplish, you’re going to participate in a very significant way in the delta between what the movie costs to make and what we sell it for.” The people who were bonused on this movie, like Bob and all the crew, their bonus was a piece of the pool of the sale [to Amazon]. Almost all of them are, on a weekly basis now, the highest-paid crewpeople in history, by a multiple.
In Deadline, Damon Wise interviews Todd Field:
And for them to see Cate and I come along, wanting to experiment… oftentimes I would be chided by the script supervisor, who would say, “No, we can’t do that.” And I’d say, “Why?” And she’d say, “Because that’s not in the script,” or, “The script says this.” And I would say, “Yeah, well, some guy named Todd wrote that script, not God.” [Laughs] So Cate and I were holding onto each other as sort of dance partners that way. And we tried to keep a sense of play in it, which is what process is about. Oftentimes, we would be talking, and we would come to set in the morning and start walking around together and saying, “Well, this scene feels maybe a little too similar to a scene we did a week ago. What else can we do with it?” And then we might totally turn the scene on its side or on its head.
Its slew of awards and nominations—specifically for adapted screenplay and visual effects—celebrate the very areas where the film falters. The original novel offers timeless meditations on not only the graphic trenches of war but also the psychological battles that follow. “This book,” Remarque writes in the epigraph, “will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war.” Berger’s adaptation, however lauded on the awards circuit, misunderstands that tricky balance, leaning into the spectacle of combat and neglecting its more complex, less flashy aftermath.
There are two “indie” films that caught my mesmerized attention this fall: Aftersun, by first-time Scottish director Charlotte Wells, and Close, the second film from Belgian director Lukas Dhont. Both movies are insistently small-scale, aiming for intimate, almost imperceptible moments rather than the sort of grand affirmation The Whale tries for. They come bearing no messages other than their own inner dramas, dramas that elude closure for the higher pleasures of unanswerable questions.
As for the folk-horror pretense, it may just be a little bit of gamesmanship, undertaken with enough reverence for its reference points to ward off charges of bad faith. In interviews, Jenkin has implied that the chronological and ontological fuzziness of the film’s presentation is purposeful, and that an interpretively minded viewer could, if inclined, reconstruct some sort of linear, cause-and-effect explanation across multiple viewings. He should stop right there, though, because the achievement of Enys Men resides in its embrace of ambiguity, not as a get-out-jail-free-card or a means to an end but a source of pleasure in and of itself.
In the NYRB, Orville Schell reviews two books on the relationship between Hollywood and China (Erich Schwartzel’s Red Carpet: Hollywood, China, and the Global Battle for Cultural Supremacy, 2022 and Ying Zhu’s Hollywood in China: Behind the Scenes of the World’s Largest Movie Market, 2022):
“Now that US hegemony is being challenged by an ascendant China, the power dynamic has changed,” Zhu explains. “What’s at stake is more than competition between the old hegemon and the emerging hegemon; it is about whose version of the future will win the world’s approval.” The goal is “to reset the global narrative about China.” And what Beijing’s leaders wanted the world to know was that in their narrative, Western democracy was not the only kind of democracy, never mind that China’s version was the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and its version of the film industry prevented Chinese from honestly probing their own history. “If film helps a nation process its past,” Schwartzel reminds us, “China has left massive portions of its history unexamined.”
If you act fast, you can buy the dress in which Greta Gerwig danced the sambola in Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress (2011).
A free online book on the business of streaming.
Todd Field helped develop Big League Chew.
A24 is bringing Stop Making Sense (1984) back to theaters. [Girlfriends everywhere groan. —Chris]
[I’ve never wanted anything as much as I want Cate Blanchett as Lady Marchmain. —Steve]
“People are shipping out content so fast, and the fact that we actually sat down and spent considerable time on that, I think, naturally would elevate or maybe make a show more appealing to an audience,” [Jenna] Ortega said.
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