Megacities (1998), the first of Michael Glawogger’s limitingly named “Globalization Trilogy,” is screening as part of a retrospective of the filmmakers work at the Museum of the Moving Image. The film opens with an epigraph taken from William T. Vollmann’s The Atlas: “And perhaps in abodes of poverty, where health, learning, shelter and security are not birthrights, the soul is not a birthright either.” Like Vollmann, Glawogger has a deep interest in the struggles of human beings left behind in our modern global economic system. Both artists refuse to offer any tidy morals; their work is devoid of didacticism. What separates the two is their own role in the work. Vollmann, for better or worse, is always questioning how he, a writer already coming upon the subject with a certain amount of privilege, can truthfully write about his subjects without the shadow of their relationship doing more harm than good. Glawogger removes himself entirely from his work, but to call his films objective portraits would be incorrect. Their subjectivity, like all documentaries, is present even if it’s trying to hide: in the form of lighting, composition, editing, and sound.
“Architecture is my past life.” Craig Hubert recaps Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s four hour “master class” at the New Museum last Sunday.
“I’m not a good storyteller,” whispered Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul in the middle of a four-hour program devoted to his work at the New Museum last Sunday. It was a statement that, of course, not one person in the room agreed with. The audience, half-full, were all devotees of the placid figure at the front of the stage—who else would agreeably sit in uncomfortable mock-wood chairs for such a long period of time? The few who wandered in unknowingly, a common occurrence during museum-based events, left abruptly within the first hour. Sitting in the back of the theater, I watched each deserter carefully maneuver their way in the dark toward the door. The whole process seemed appropriate for a filmmaker who more than once mentioned the purification process embedded in his work.
Since the late ’60s, Rudolph Wurlitzer has produced five novels and a dozen screenplays that, rather than simply begin and end, just happen. Craig Hubert talks to Wurlitzer about his recent retrospective at Anthology Film Archives and the audio book release of his novel Slow Fade, read by Will Oldham.
The work of Rudolph Wurlitzer is impossible to contain, pin down, or wrap-up. A writer of immense talent, he has produced five dense, challenging novels and a dozen screenplays that, rather than simply begin and end, just happen. Everything in his work is fluid, constantly in motion: destination, identity, purpose are always changing, never stable. Crossing borders, Wurlitzer’s writing for film remains consistent and defiant. It’s hard to think of another writer who made the transition so easily without compromise.
I spoke to Wurlitzer after the opening weekend of a new retrospective at Anthology Film Archives, where he gave a reading (from the forthcoming reissue of Slow Fade) and had the chance to revisit some of his old films. A retrospective can often signal the end, but with most of his work now available to explore, for the first time in a long time, it seems more like a beginning. As Rudy told me, “I’m still on this side of the grass.”
Craig Hubert How was the performance on Friday?
Rudolph Wurlitzer It was very interesting reading with Will Oldham, who’s a very interesting guy. And he had another guy reading with him, Alan Licht, who’s a good composer and very smart guy. So it was fun to break up the whole reading—usually it’s sort of deadly to go and hear an old geezer read from his book, you know? So we figured out a way to do it was have a couple of readers and make it more sort of theatrical and have a narrative involved. My wife Lynn Davis, who’s a photographer, put 100 of her photos and slides in the background, blown up, moving across the screen. So that was great. That resonated with the journey of the book. So that was cool, we sort of survived that. The films, I saw two of my old films. It’s interesting, because films date more than books do, at least for me.
Clio Barnard’s new film The Arbor tells the true story of playwright Andrea Dunbar, “a genius straight from the slums.” The filmmaker discusses her unconventional approach to the doomed artist’s life with Craig Hubert.
Born into the low-income, working-class surroundings of the Buttershaw estate outside Bradford, England, Andrea Dunbar would go on to be called “a genius straight from the slums.” Producing her first work for the stage at the age of 15, the British playwright’s short career ended in 1990 at the age of 29, from a brain hemorrhage in a local bar. Her life and work were prophetically intertwined: she left behind a concise body of writing (three plays and one adapted screenplay) that, while continuing a legacy of realism familiar in the British theater, was brutal in its honesty concerning class and gender. The characters in Dunbar’s plays are doomed from the start. So was the author.
Clio Barnard handles each of these layers deftly in The Arbor, a new film playing at Film Forum through May 12th. The work is not your standard bio-pic: Barnard smears the line between documentary and fiction, using a multitude of voices crisscrossing through various points of entry. Recorded interviews are lip-synced by actors verbatim, memories are reconstructed, and scenes from Dunbar’s work are restaged in the original environment, where the the actors will move back and forth from the scene to direct address with the viewer. The combination is strange and inviting, ultimately arriving at a more complex and multifaceted portrait of Dunbar, her family, and the environment they live in.
I recently corresponded with Barnard through e-mail, where she explained her interest in the story and the struggles in dealing with presenting private grief publicly.
Director Hong Sang-soo talks about process, collaboration, and drinking, without wasting a syllable.
Hong Sang-soo is often criticized for making the same film over and over again. It’s true, to a certain extent. His male characters are often artists of some kind—painters, directors, writers—who are socially and sexually inept, prone to episodes of drink-filled embarrassment and spontaneous arm-wrestling bouts. Formally, Hong returns to similar narrative structures and deliberate framing devices. This is not a criticism, though. What is remarkable about Hong, and viewing his work as something larger than the individual films attests to this, is how much he has been able to expand in what often seems to be a closed-off set of concerns, stripping away to arrive at something greater. The closest parallel I can draw is with the late novelist David Markson, who crafted a body of work that redefined what we think of as literature through the repeated, meticulous crafting of the same primary concerns.
A mini-retrospective of a handful of the director’s films opens at the Museum of the Moving Image on March 17. Mr. Hong, not one to reveal too many secrets, took some time to answer a few questions.
Craig Hubert reports on Harun Farocki, “the best-known unknown filmmaker in Germany,” and his turbulent relationship with the image. A retrospective of Farocki’s work is in progress at Anthology Film Archives.
Years ago, film scholar Thomas Elsaesser remarked that Harun Farocki was the “best-known unknown filmmaker in Germany.” The statement still rings true, at least in the United States, where his films received little to no distribution for more than half of his career. Things have changed in the last two decades, if only slightly. Born in the Czech Republic to an Indian father and German mother, Farocki’s early years were spent in transition, moving from Germany, to India, over to Indonesia, and back to Germany all before the age of eleven. Rebelling against his parents, he ran away from home several times as a child, eventually “following the beatniks’ example” and moving to West Berlin to live on the cheap. Farocki studied at the German Film and Television Academy in Berlin during the 1960s, after a brief spell at the Free University. He was eventually kicked out in 1968, along with fellow filmmaker and friend Hartmut Bitomsky and four other students, for occupying the school in protest and renaming it the Dziga Vertov Academy.
In Germany—all over the world, really—this was a period of intense political commitment. Groups like the Red Army Faction were growing stronger, their voices louder, with no sign of giving up or giving in. Critics first took notice of Farocki with Inextinguishable Fire (1969), an agit-prop film pamphlet concerning the West’s involvement in Vietnam and the vicious effects of napalm. Rough around the edges, the film opens with the director himself, sitting at a table in a bare room, all alone, reading the testimony of a napalm victim. There are no images to shock the audience. “If we show you an image of napalm injuries, you will close your eyes. First you will close your eyes to the pictures. Then you will close your eyes to the memory. Then you will close your eyes to the facts. Then you will close your eyes to the entire context,” Farocki plainly states. Then, looking straight into the lens—right at the viewer—Farocki stubs a cigarette out on his forearm.
In this week’s Damaged Goods, Craig Hubert explores directors Eric Rohmer and Jean Eustache, two archetypal members of the French New Wave.
Eric Rohmer, an early writer for Cahiers du Cinéma and one of the most well-known names of the French New Wave, was a director thought to be out of touch with his contemporaries; he neither drifted toward the mainstream like Truffaut nor toward militancy like Godard. It’s said he was more-or-less ousted from his position as editor of Cahiers, which he inherited following the death of Andre Bazin, due to his perceived lack of interest in the roiling politics of the period. Rohmer’s films have been attacked, over a long career, for their conservative undertones and literary attributes; a familiar criticism of the filmmaker is that his work is all talk and nothing else, and is therefore un-cinematic.
Craig Hubert discusses two gems from the 2011 New York Film Festival: Invasion, an Argentine film with a controversial past, and Dreileben, three conjoined horror films from three different directors.
A program as large and sprawling as the New York Film Festival, which opens this Friday, is impossible to boil down. There is no theme to latch onto and each day presents numerous opportunities, a grab-bag of festival favorites, marquee projects, revivals, and experimental offerings. The festival doesn’t bask in the celebrity glow of Sundance or Tribeca, nor does it narrow its scope to one genre or national cinema. In truth, it makes for an odd group of films collected together uneasily under the festival’s banner. Polanski, Cronenberg, and Scorsese are the big names up front and attending screenings of their pre-ordained and lauded films at the festival amount to not much more than seeing the films earlier than everyone else. The joy of attending a great film festival is discovery—catching the gem that hasn’t already played Cannes and Venice on the way here, the one buried so far deep in the schedule that it almost doesn’t exist. Often, its a film you may never have a chance to see again.
In the inaugural entry of his new column Damaged Goods, Craig Hubert discusses Went the Day Well? and United Red Army, two films with different perspectives on the complexities of war.
Brazilian-born Alberto Cavalcanti moved through the French avant-garde of the ’20s and the British documentary system of the ’30s before arriving at Ealing Studios in 1942 to direct Went the Day Well? a film that folds the former traditions into a wartime revenge thriller. Based on a short story by Graham Greene, the narrative concerns a sleepy British town cunningly infiltrated by German soldiers in disguise—they arrive, not brutes, but genteel and seductive, drinking tea and giggling with the ladies of the village. As the ruse is overturned, the film progresses unexpectedly toward the hard-edged and poetic.
In this week’s Damaged Goods, Craig Hubert discusses New Hollywood, Dennis Hopper’s Out of the Blue and Monte Hellman’s Cockfighter. Hellman’s mind-bending new film, Road to Nowhere, is out this Friday.
“Golden age” is a term regularly batted around when discussing American cinema of the 1970’s, a controversial label if there ever was one. A lot of people have a lot of opinions about how this whole thing started, or even what it was exactly. Some say it was a detour, a wrong turn in the right direction away from the inevitable money machine. Some claim it was an anti-establishment, fiercely political, angry, and revolutionary movement. The term New Hollywood is often used as shorthand for a small group of filmmakers who produced distinctive work in the period: Scorsese, Coppola, Altman, and Spielberg being the biggest names. Some authoritative accounts say it all started with Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Others feel the whole thing shot off with Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969). When it burned out, who knows, though it’s fairly certain that Dennis Hopper (or Michael Cimino) probably had something to do with it.
In this week’s tasty, deep-fried Damaged Goods, Craig Hubert makes a feast of MoMA’s Les Blank retrospective, on through July 11.
In a career spanning forty-plus years of almost continuous work, the filmmaker Les Blank has developed one of the more astonishing bodies of work in American film, most of it completely under-the-radar. In many ways, his films must remain in that state—much of the power and charm of his short documentaries derive from their homespun attributes. Rarely do they feel like movies in the traditional sense; they unfold at a leisurely pace, personal but never investigative, hardly interested in conventional narrative. They have less in common with the advances in documentary form (although they share common methods) practiced by the practitioners of direct cinema and cinéma vérité, and more with the work the Lomax’s were doing in the previous decades for the Library of Congress. It’s helpful to look at Blank as an historian or folklorist, surveying the land to document hidden cultures and traditions before they’re lost.
Craig Hubert discusses Anthology Film Archives’ new film series, Talking Head.
The phrase “talking head” has become something of a pejorative catch-all when discussing what is wrong with documentary film. Initially associated with television news magazine productions, in which closely framed floating heads provide the connective tissue of sound-bites in service of the persuasive overhead narration and archival footage, the style is now widely used in feature documentary as well. It is commonly put to use by filmmakers when tackling historical subjects which have a perceived objective truth—this mode of documentary seems designed to enforce an argument, not to encourage further questions. Talking Head, a new series at Anthology Film Archives, presents a collection of films which undermine this practice. Using components from the expository mode, most often that debased talking head, these films invert perceived conceptions of how a traditional documentary is structured.
Craig Hubert discusses The Warped World of Koreyoshi Kurahara, a box set gathering five Japanese New Wave films directed by Koreyoshi Kurahara.
The Japanese New Wave, for all its stylistic and thematic diversity, has been marginalized in the strained narrative of cinematic history. In the United States, recorded histories tend to leave only a small corner for world cinema, a dwindling space occupied by a handful of “masters.” This is not to discredit the few names who do receive recognition; these directors certainly deserve the close critical readings and repertory programming they’ve received. But this insular history of cinema, which privileges films and filmmakers who embody preconceptions of freedom and subversion, limits the depth of national cinemas and the conversations they engage in with society. The Criterion Collection has been making significant changes to this notion with the simple fact of making these films available to see. They have been long supporters of the Japanese New Wave, releasing many of the films from the period on DVD, and have made a huge dent with the release of The Warped World of Koreyoshi Kurahara, a box set produced by their Eclipse label, gathering five of the genre-jumping films directed by Kurahara for Nikkatsu studios—a compendious study of the questions and concerns of post-war Japanese cinema.
Craig Hubert sits down with Jason Zinoman, the author of Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror, to discuss horror films’ capacity to enthrall, terrify, and addict audiences.
“Horror has become so pervasive that we don’t know even notice how thoroughly it has entered the public consciousness,” writes Jason Zinoman in Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror. An account of the genre’s period of transition from the cheap seats to the art house, from the margins to the mainstream, the book sets out to find a place in the shabby history of cinema for seminal directors like Wes Craven, John Carpenter, George Romero and Tobe Hooper. I spoke to Zinoman on the phone about the origins of the book, the connections between theater and horror, and the direction of the modern horror film.
Craig Hubert What were your earliest experiences with horror? Were you a fan from an early age, or is it something you came to appreciate later in life?
Jason Zinoman I’ve always been fascinated by horror ever since I was a little kid talking to my friends in third and fourth grade about the plots of Friday the 13th, which we hadn’t seen but we had heard about from the grapevine, usually somebody’s older brother, which was how you learned about horror films before the age of the internet. I didn’t really get truly obsessed with horror film until I saw Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, which I saw with a couple of friends. It was one of these movies that was so incredibly disturbing and so unsettling that when it was over me and my friends sort-of were silent and looked at each other awkwardly. It was the first movie I saw that wasn’t a fun scare. It was an intense scare, a scare that kind of stopped me. It stuck with me and made me wonder, ‘what was it about that movie that really—first, why was I so horrified; two, why did I kind of like it?’ After that I started to search out more and more horror films and that’s when I started to stumble upon a lot of the movies I write about in the book. I’ve always been fascinated by horror, but I went in a different in my career; I covered theater on Broadway and Off-Broadway. Then I read Peter Biskind’s Easy Rider, Raging Bull I thought, well, if I could do something along these lines but about the horror scene, and try to figure out through reporting how these seminal movies from this golden age of horror were made, then I could both try to explain how these really fertile films, artistic films, were done but also try to figure out, I guess in a certain way, what it was that I was attracted to in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer way back.
“Don’t tell me the jive session has beat off without baby!” In this week’s Damaged Goods, Craig Hubert takes a stroll through pre-code Hollywood and highlights the feminine undertones of some classic films of the era.
The period of film history generally referred to as pre-code Hollywood is something of a misnomer. In truth, the small pocket the term calls attention to is actually post-code, or, to be more specific, between codes. In the wake of Jazz Age decadence, Hollywood was the prime target for moral crusaders concerned with the stronghold movies had on the popular imagination; the sensational lives on and off the screen put intense pressure on the shadows of the studios to clean up their content. This four-year Golden Age—from March 31, 1930, when producers and distributors promised to properly follow the guidelines of the newly penned code, and July 2, 1934, when a group was brought in to enforce it—produced a body of work within the studio system that crackled with mordant humor, social consciousness, and sexual confidence. For a mass medium that many claim, then and now, was nothing more than a dream factory, a product plant for escapism, many of the films made during this short period dealt directly with foundational myths of the country—and burst them wide open. This is on full display in Film Forum’s Essential Pre-Code series, running from July 15th through August 11th.
Damaged Goods on radical Godard-collaborator Jean-Pierre Gorin’s remarkable California Trilogy.
“You can’t be a foreigner in a language other than your own,” intones the narrator of Routine Pleasures (1986). Framed as a statement, it is a simple line that will be questioned, in multiple ways, throughout the work of Jean-Pierre Gorin. After a brief but fertile period working with Jean-Luc Godard, creating formally challenging and politically dense moving image experiments under the name The Dziga Vertov Group, Gorin moved to Southern California, eventually joining the staff at the University of California San Diego. It was during this period that the “California Trilogy” was born: a set of films as experimental as his work with Godard, but broader and less dogmatic. Gorin approaches his subjects from a distance, but without relying of conventional forms of narrative documentary—the films read like pages from a journalist’s notebooks, filled with questions, concerns, and various approaches toward the material at hand.
“A movie without at least one live music performance is like a Pope without artificial teeth.” So says Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki in a conversation with Damaged Goods about his remarkable new film Le Havre.
Aki Kaurismaki, earlier in his career, made a mischievous joke, stating that he wished “to make a film that will make Robert Bresson seem like a director of epic action pictures.” I wouldn’t dare attempt a better description of Kaurismäki’s almost thirty-year career. His films, including the outlandishly absurd Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989) and the Cannes award winning The Man Without a Past (2002), are deadpan but sincere, ironic but infused with a real love for human beings and their place in the world. His new film, Le Havre (2001), is the tale of Marcel Marx, a former bohemian and current shoe shiner, who, with the help of the local community, helps hide a young African immigrant from the police. The film plays to Kaurismäki’s strengths, and comes out the better for it, resulting in one of the best works of his long career.
Kaurismäki generously answered a few of my questions through e-mail.
Craig Hubert How do you usually begin a project? Does it start with character? Location?
Aki Kaurismäki There is no usual way. Once it started with a match. Twice, when forced to write without any idea, from a simple fact: a man comes from the north to the Capital. Le Havre started with character, story and location.
CH What is your writing process like? Do you plan extensively or do much research?
AK After I get the idea, I let the subconscious do the job for some time. After a month, or two or three, I sit down and print the screenplay out of my poor head.
Damaged Goods talks to John Landis about the director’s varied career, the “wild energy” behind his films, and why he loves monsters.
It almost seems unnecessary to provide an introduction, or summarize in some way, the career of John Landis. Let’s just say, even if you don’t realize it, you’ve probably seen one of his films—possibly even a few of them. Even my parents know who he is. His most famous films were made in the often overlooked post-movie brat period of American Cinema, the New New Hollywood, and mixed comedy and horror in ways that seem more influential now than their forbearers, who receive most of the credit. Because of their popular success, and their origins in trash comic books and dirty-seat monster movies, the films Landis made never received their proper critical respect.
These is a genuine, out-in-the-open, love of cinema on display in every frame of his work that is hard to ignore, an infectious buzz behind the camera that makes you think this is a man who could do nothing else but be involved in the movies. It was a thrill to sit down with Landis, a few days before his mini-retrospective at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and talk about his early days on the studio lots, his phenomenal run of successful pictures, and a dirty joke about a critic.
Craig Hubert Your films are steeped in a classical Hollywood tradition, with a lot of playing around with genres. When did you first become interested in film? What was the first film you saw?
John Landis I’ve said this so many times. When I was eight years old I saw a movie called The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), at the Crest Theater, which is still there on Westwood Boulevard. I had what’s called suspension of disbelief. I went nuts. I was enchanted by it, and I went home and asked my mother who makes the movie, and she said, ‘the director.’ Which was surprising. So literally, from the time I was eight, I wanted to be a director. So I had an advantage, which was I knew what I wanted to do.
Damaged Goods talks to Wim Wenders about his most recent film Pina and his choice to film the late choreographer’s work in 3D.
Wim Wenders, since early in his career, has been a filmmaker who moved effortlessly from documentary to fiction, sometimes within the same film. His work often displays a masterful handling of rhythm and space, two components fully on display in his new documentary Pina. Ostensibly about the work of recently deceased choreographer Pina Bausch, the film is really about mourning and celebrating life though artistic practice. At a hotel in Midtown Manhattan after the New York Film Festival screening of Pina, I sat down with Wenders to talk about his introduction to Pina Bausch, dance on film, and the use of 3-D technology.
Craig Hubert How were you first introduced to the work of Pina Bausch?
Wim Wenders A quarter of a century ago—one day, one beautiful night, in Venice, Italy. I was really looking forward to a beautiful dinner, walking on the Piazza San Marco, and my girlfriend saw this poster, a retrospective of Pina Bausch that night. She said, ‘We have to go see this!’ and I said, ‘No! Not under any circumstances will I spoil this beautiful evening by going to see a dance show.’ I didn’t have a high opinion of dance and what I had seen hadn’t really touched me. But my girlfriend was persistent, as you might have guessed, and that evening changed my life.
Jerzy Skolimowski’s Deep End, in revival at BAM, throws viewers headfirst into a disorienting, isolating era. Craig Hubert explores the film’s bad-trip vibe.
An ominous ringing tone, a drip of blood, suddenly crashing cymbals—you’d be forgiven for believing you’re about to watch a horror film. Then the camera starts to move, slowly, the image obscured by swaths of red—akin to something out of Brakhage—as the wistful strum a of Cat Stevens song begins to play. As the music breaks, so does the image—to a tracking shot of a boy on his bike, the open road, something altogether different. These transitions, the clashing of wildly contradicting tones and styles, the refusal to be pinned down one way or the other, are a constant in the work of Jerzy Skolimowski.
Skolimowski’s early life was occupied, it seems, by everything but film: he was an accomplished jazz drummer, a published poet, and had produced a play by his early twenties. His first film projects were as a writer, working with Andrzej Wajda in 1960 and two years later with Roman Polanski on Knife in the Water (1962), a film which would break with the standard traditions of Polish Cinema—a new cinema that was spare, young, angry, and politically minded. Skolimowski’s first feature, Rysopis (1964), was scraped together during his short time at Lódz Film School, established themes of lost innocence that would be explored again and again throughout his career; it would also prove to be the first in a loose string of films he made over the next few years in Poland, each better than the next, that showed an artist coming into his own, establishing his own concerns, his own point of view. After running into problems with his films being censored in Poland, Skolimowski began to move. Filmed in English, Deep End (1972) is often considered the beginning of his British period, even though a majority of the film was actually shot in Germany. This displacement creates an odd sense of place in his films that is sometimes jarring, other times confusing, but always unique—the unfamiliar view.