Thursday, April 10, 2014

Kings and Pawns: Internet 3.0 and Bujalski's Computer Chess

For those outside the academic world of cinema studies, the Society for Cinema and Media Studies is the super big sprawling academic conference for film studies in the world, featuring dozens of panels and hundreds of papers, and a good deal of drinking. This year's conference in Seattle was my first year attending, and I enjoyed many of the papers I heard, including one examining the special effects of Bringing Up Baby, the relationship between slow cinema and gallery spaces, and how data mining of scripts and trades can be used to improve narrative analysis and industry research.

I also got to present a paper, which was on a panel looking at how new media products were changing social and aesthetic precedents. My paper was somewhat of an outlier - focusing on Andrew Bujalski's Computer Chess - so I changed it to look at how the film can be seen as a response to Internet 3.0. You can listen to the paper below.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Link Round-Up: Stuff I've Been Writing

Much more over with the good folks at Variety, including the pretty funny Kevin Hart comedy About Last Night, the not particularly good but whatever horror film Haunt with Jacki Weaver in a small role, the deplorably stupid Down and Dangerous, and the deplorably moralistic and simply pointless Lucky Bastard. These kind of reviews are fun to write!

Over at To Be (Cont'd), the March discussion is between Abbey Bender and myself on the idea of timeless films, dated-ness, and the historical spectator. I wrote the fist post here. It also has gotten some great response over at The Dissolve through Noel Murray's excellent "Feedback" column.

Over at The Film Stage, I tried to find the Soderbergh side to his not-so recognizably Soderbergh film King of the Hill, which is now out on Criterion Blu (and has his 1995 feature The Underneath as a bonus feature).

Over at In Review Online, I dug further into Vulgar Auteurism with Paul WS Anderson's Pompeii, a pointedly disappointing work from the man. Never go without Milla again, good sir.

If you haven't heard Kent Jones on The Cinephiliacs, then something is very wrong with you.

On Letterboxd, by auteur:
George Cukor: The Philadelphia Story, A Woman's Face, Born Yesterday, The Marrying Kind, and A Star is Born.
Delmer Daves: The Hanging Tree
Johnnie To: Sparrow and Running on Karma
Hong Sang-Soo: Oki's Movie and The Day He Arrives
Teinosuke Kinugasa: Crossroads and A Page of Madness
Edgar Ulmer: The Light Ahead, Murder is My Beat, and Beyond the Time Barrier.
Silent Stuff: Chaplin's The Kid and DeMille's The Cheat

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Resnais's Science Fiction

Providence, Alain Resnais, 1977
It's right to talk about the science-fiction element in Resnais. But it's also wrong, because he is the only film-maker to convey the feeling that he has already reached a world which in other people's eyes is still futuristic. In other words he is the only one to know that we are already in the age where science-fiction has become reality. In short, Alain Resnais is the only one of us who truly lives in 1959. With him the word 'science·fiction' loses all its pejorative and childish associations because Resnais is able to see the modern world as it is. Like the science-fiction writers he is able to show us all that is frightening in it, but also all that is human. Unlike the Fritz Lang of Metropolis or the Jules Verne of Cinq cents millions de Ia Begum, unlike the classic notion of science-fiction as expressed by a Bradbury or a Lovecraft or even a Van Vogt - all reactionaries in the end - it is very obvious that Resnais possesses the great originality of not reacting inside science-fiction. Not only does he opt for this modern and futuristic world, not only does he accept it, but he analyses it deeply, with lucidity and with love. Since this is the world in which we live and love, then for Resnais it is this world that is good, just and true.


Resnais is an agnostic. If there is a God he believes in, it's worse than St Thomas Aquinas's. His attitude is this: perhaps God exists, perhaps there is an explanation for everything, but there's nothing that allows us to be sure of it.

—Jacques Rivette, in conversation with the editors of Cahiers du Cinema, issue 97, July 1959. From Jim Heller's Cahiers Du Cinéma, the 1950s: Neo-realism, Hollywood, New Wave.

Alain Resnais was 91

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Henry Fonda, Opposite Grave

“Will you take the driver, go by a floral shop, pick up some flowers and put them on Irving Cobb’s grave, you know and a say a prayer for both of us?”

-John Ford to Andy Devine during the making of How the West Was Won, recorded in Devine's Oral History at Columbia University.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Link Round-Up: New Views

I promise to get better at updating this quicker so anyone who wants to know what I'm doing will not be confused. So here we go.

I am now writing for Variety. Yes, *that* Variety. I am honored to join a team that includes Scott Foundas, Peter Debruge, and Justin Chang leading the charge, among many others. I'll have a few reviews in the month of February, but for now my first piece is on Freezer, a not so good movie about Dylan McDermott trapped in a freezer. Gotta start somewhere.

Were you looking for my Top 10 films of 2013? I talked about my choices with Keith Uhlich on The Cinephiliacs, which you can listen to both Part 1 and Part 2. My choices also come in a list-handy form on Letterboxd.

Thief came out on Blu-Ray via The Cirterion Collection, so I wrote about how Thief is still pretty awesome over at The Film Stage. I also edited this fantastic conversation on the film between Jordan Cronk and Nick Usen at To Be Cont'd.

Jean-Claude Van Damme re-teamed with Peter Hyams for Enemies Closer. Could have been better, but not the worst way to spend January at the movies. I reviewed over at In Review Online.

On The Cinephiliacs: Noah Isenberg, the author of the recent biography on Edgar Ulmer, and former Film Society of Lincoln Center slash New York Film Festival programmer Richard Pena. Both are excellent listens.

On Letterboxd...The Wolf of Wall Street, Dangerous Game, Chaplin's A Day's Pleasure, Herzog's Nosferatu the Vampyre, Howard Hawks's Red Line 7000 and The Big Sky, Cukor's The Women, Wellman's Lady of Burlesque, The Freshman starring Harold Lloyd, The Color Wheel, Shanghai Express, Hong Sang-Soo's In Another Country, Arthur Penn's The Chase, The Typhoon with Sessue Hayakawa, Aldrich's Emperor of the North, and Minnelli's Gigi.

I finished my graduate degree. More TK on what follows.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Images of the Day (2/4/13)

Meet Me In St. Louis (Minnelli, 1944)
Gigi (Minnelli, 1958)
Statues never lie.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Miklós Jancsó (1921-2014)

A scene from Silence and Cry (Jancsó, Hungary, 1968)

The “tracking shot in Kapo,” a little seen film by Gillo Ponecorvo, has become short hand for a type of aestheticization of the Atrocities of War, an easy out for criticism to label depictions of horror on moral levels via aesthetics. Many critics (including myself at times) often feel queasy attacking a film on moral grounds (the usual “what gives us the right to judge” connotations etc etc), but formal discussions become fair game to sneak such articulations in. This is our expertise after all.

Miklós Jancsó’s tracking shots don’t offer easy aesthetic answers in terms of their morality. Formally they are breathtaking: dollies, zooms, whip-pans, the whole works to create a lucid sense of space, one that is not about tracking us through a space, but disorienting us. Jancsó shifts emphasis throughout – information (ie. the characters) enters and exit the frame; they become the dominant center before suddenly retreating to the background. It’s different from what Robert Altman would do, because Altman treated everyone equally. Jancsó’s shifts are more sudden and jerky; scenes are always interrupted by the presence of new information.

If morality of films were only judged by their formal elements, Jancsó would be more damning than Kapo. Except Jancsó’s political explorations justify such aesthetics. He lived in a country that was literally torn: first during the war, and secondly between its Soviet influence and its Western aspirations. A film like The Red and the White, the agreed upon canonical title of his work, presents an seemingly unending war in which victors, villains, and victims are all one in the same. His idea of a tracking shot is not to sweep us up in emotion. It’s to throw us around into the shit.

Jancsó passed away yesterday. David Hudson provides more news here.