- Cinema 53 presents An Evening with Judy Hoffman on Thursday, January 25 at 7pm at the Harper Theater (5238 S. Harper Ave.). The long-time Chicago documentary filmmaker will be screening excerpts of her solo and collaborative work as part of a conversation with University of Chicago historian and filmmaker Tracye Matthews and University of Chicago film scholar/Cinema 53 curator Jacqueline Stewart. Free admission.
- Cristina Herrera Borquez’s 2017 Mexican documentary NO DRESS CODE REQUIRED (92 min, DCP Digital) screens at the Siskel Film Center on Thursday at 7:45pm.
- Alexandra Dean's 2016 documentary BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY screens at the Music Box Theatre. Check venue website for showtimes.
- Wide(r) release: Bethany Ashton Wolf's FOREVER MY GIRL and Greta Gerwig's LADY BIRD.
2017 was awful, but the movies were good.
1. ZAMA (Martel)
2. PHANTOM THREAD (PTA)
3. ELOHIM / ABATON / CODA / ODE (Dorsky)
4. WONDERSTRUCK (Haynes)
5. VISAGES, VILLAGES (Varda)
6. THE FOUR SISTERS (Lanzmann)
7. DUNKIRK (Nolan)
8. THE FLORIDA PROJECT (Baker)
9. The Deuce, S1 (Simon, Pelecanos, Price, et. al.)
10. WESTERN (Grisebach)
11. Mindhunter, S1 (Fincher, Penhall, et. al.)
12. UN BEAU SOLEIL INTÉRIEUR (Denis)
13. ISMAEL'S GHOSTS (Desplechin)
14. LAST FLAG FLYING (Linklater)
15. ON THE BEACH AT NIGHT ALONE (Hong)
16. LOGAN LUCKY (Soderbergh)
17. THE POST (Spielberg)
18. WONDER WHEEL (Allen)
19. LOVER FOR A DAY (Garrel)
20. Top of the Lake: China Girl (Campion, Kleiman)
21. THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (NEW AND SELECTED) (Baumbach)
22. OKJA (Bong)
LADY BIRD (Gerwig)
Twin Peaks: The Return (Lynch)
GOOD TIME (Safdie Bros.)
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (Reeves)
Edo Choi is a film programmer and projectionist. He currently holds positions as both associate programmer and projection manager for the Maysles Documentary Center. He also works as a projectionist at the Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn.
Emily's fav 2017 experimental film, video & new media works in no particular order:
INCENSE, SWEATERS & ICE (Martine Syms, digital)
DISLOCATION BLUES (Sky Hopinka, digital)
TONSLER PARK (Kevin Jerome Everson, 16mm)
STRANGELY ORDINARY THIS DEVOTION (Dani Restack & Sheila Wilson, digital)
IT'S IN THE GAME '17 OR MIRROR GAG FOR VITRINE AND PROJECTION (Sondra Perry, digital)
++ WE WILL LOVE YOU FOREVER (Evan Meaney, virtual reality)
ONWARD LOSSLESS FOLLOWS (Michael Robinson, digital)
SEMEN IS THE PISS OF DREAMS (Steve Reinke, digital)
FEVER FREAKS (Frédéric Moffet, digital)
FILTER (Jaako Pallasvuo, digital)
10 things I watched & enjoyed from the past year, give or take a couple months.
1. HYPERNORMALISATION, Adam Curtis
2. PERSONAL SHOPPER, Olivier Assayas
3. THE SQUARE, Ruben Östlund
4. GOOD TIME, Benny and Joshua Safdie
5. MINDHUNTER, David Fincher et al.
6. THE ORNITHOLOGIST, João Pedro Rodriguez
7. THE VILLIANESS, Jung Byung-gil
8. RISK, Laura Poitras
9. FACTORY OF THTE SUN, Hito Steyerl
10. TESSERACT, Charles Atlas et al.
1. LET THE SUNSHINE IN (Claire Denis)
2. Twin Peaks: The Return (David Lynch)
3. ON THE BEACH AT NIGHT ALONE (Hong Sang-soo)
4. GOOD TIME (Josh & Ben Safdie)
5. DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME (Bill Morrison)
6. NOCTURAMA (Bertrand Bonello)
7. RAISING CAIN: DIRECTOR'S CUT (Brian DePalma)
8. DAGUERREOTYPE/BEFORE WE VANISH (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
9. THE LOST CITY OF Z (James Gray)
10. SPLIT (M. Night Shyamalan)
1 (tie). MOUNTAIN CASTLE MOUNTAIN FLOWER PLASTIC (Annapurna Kumar,
1 (tie). BAD MAMA, WHO CARES (Brigid McCaffrey, 2016, 35mm)
3. SIXTY SIX (Lewis Klahr, 2002-15, Digital)
4. HEALING IN MY HOUSE (Jacolby Satterwhite, 2016, digital)
5. OUR OWN PRIVATE UNIVERSE (Ben Balcolm, 2016, digital)
6. SHAPE OF A SURFACE (Nazlı Dinçel, 2017, 16mm)
7. THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE (Aki Kaurismäki, 2017, digital)
8. THE BODY HEALS (Annelise Ogaard, 2016, digital)
9. NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER
(Joseph Cedar, 2017, digital)
10. GET OUT (Jordan Peele, 2017, digital)
11. TEHRAN-GELES (Arash Nassiri, 2014, digital)
12. STONES FOR THUNDER (Kera MacKenzie & Andrew Mausert-Mooney, 2018, digital)
13. MISSING IN-BETWEEN THE PHYSICAL PROPER (Olivia Ciummo, 2017, digital)
These are new films I watched and enjoyed in 2017. To my mind it was a good year for the kind of commercial cinema I enjoy. There were a handful of other new movies I saw in 2017 and did NOT enjoy. I see no need to mention them here. I was disappointed that there was no new Chipmunks movie this year. These titles are listed in alphabetical order. Thanks for reading.
20TH CENTURY WOMEN (Mike Mills, 2016, A24) DCP @ Tower Theatre, Sacramento - Screen 1
CASTING JONBENET (Kitty Green, 2017, Netflix) DCP @ Jesse Auditorium, True/False Film Festival
THE CINEMA TRAVELERS (Shirley Abraham, Amit Madheshiya, 2016) DCP @ Vilas Hall, Wisconsin Film Festival
DUNKIRK (Chris Nolan, 2017, Warner Brothers) 70mm @ Music Box Theatre, Screen 1
THE FLORIDA PROJECT (Sean Baker, 2017) DCP @ AMC River East 21, Screen 18
GOOD TIME (Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie, 2017, A24) DCP @ AMC River East, Screen 13
LADY BIRD (Greta Gerwig, 2017, A24) DCP @ AMC Dine in Theaters, Screen 9
THE LOST CITY OF Z (James Gray, 2016, Bleecker Street Media/Amazon Studios) 35mm @ Music Box Theatre - Screen 1
PATERSON (Jim Jarmusch, 2016, Amazon Studios) DCP @ Landmark Century, Screen 1
PETER AND THE FARM (Tony Stone, 2016, Cinema Conservancy) DCP @ Gene Siskel Film Center - Screen 2
SILENCE (Martin Scorsese, 2016, Paramount Pictures) DCP @ Music Box - Screen 1 Song to Song (Terrence Malick, 2017, Broad Green Pictures) DCP @ Landmark Century - Screen 5
SULLY (Clint Eastwood, 2016, Warner Brothers) 35mm at Market Square, Madison, WI - Screen 1
TONI ERDMANN (Maren Ade, 2016, Sony Pictures Classics) DCP @ Music Box - Screen 1
WONDER WOMAN (Patty Jenkins, 2017, Warner Brothers) 70mm @ Gateway Film Center, Columbus OH
1. PERSONAL SHOPPER (Olivier Assayas, France) / A GHOST STORY (David Lowery, US)
2. BLADE RUNNER 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, US)
3. LADY BIRD (Greta Gerwig, US) / COLUMBUS (Kogonada, US) / PRINCESS CYD (Stephen Cone, US)
4. FACES PLACES (Agnes Varda & J.R., France)
5. THE FLORIDA PROJECT (Sean Baker, US)
6. VALENTINE (Paul Thomas Anderson, US)
7. NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER (Joseph Cedar, US/Israel)
8. LOGAN LUCKY (Steven Soderbergh, US)9. DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME (Bill Morrison, US) / WONDERSTRUCK (Todd Haynes, US)
10. IN TRANSIT (Albert Maysles, et al., US) / WHOSE STREETS? (Sabaah Folayan & Damon Davis, US)
Honorable Mention: THE LOST CITY OF Z (James Gray, US), WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (Matt Reeves, US), DUNKIRK (Christopher Nolan, US/UK), THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (NEW AND SELECTED) (Noah Baumbach, US), WHOSE STREETS? (Sabaah Folayan & Damon Davis, US)
Best 2016 Film That Opened in Chicago in 2017: TONI ERDMANN (Maren Ade, Germany)
Yet To See: PHANTOM THEAD, THE POST, THE SQUARE, THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE, BPM, EX LIBRIS, SHAPE OF WATER, LOVING VINCENT, COCO, JANE, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
1. Haley Lu Richardson, COLUMBUS
2. Kristen Stewart, PERSONAL SHOPPER
3. Saoirse Ronan, LADY BIRD
1. Richard Gere, NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER
2. Adam Sandler, THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (NEW AND SELECTED)
3. John Cho, COLUMBUS
Best Supporting Actress
1. Michelle Pfeiffer, MOTHER!
2. Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, Sylvia Hoeks, Carla Juri, BLADE RUNNER 2049
3. Charlotte Gainsbourg, NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER
Best Supporting Actor
1. Lil Rel Howery, GET OUT
2. Robert Pattinson, THE LOST CITY OF Z
3. Daniel Craig, LOGAN LUCKY
Best Films I Saw for the First Time in 2017
ANNE OF THE INDIES (Jacques Tourneur, 1951, US) ^
FOX AND HIS FRIENDS (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1975, West Germany)
GIRLFRIENDS (Claudia Weill, 1978, US)
L'IMPORTANT C'EST D'AIMER (Andrzej Zulawski, 1975, France)
PUNKING OUT (Maggi Carson, Juliusz Kossakowski, and Fredric A. Shore, 1979, US) ^
LE ROI DES ALUNES (Marie-Louise Iribe, 1930, France)
SEVENTEEN (Joel DeMott & Jeff Kreines, 1983, US)
TERJE VIGEN (Victor Sjöström, 1917, Sweden)
WORKING GIRLS (Dorothy Arzner, 1931, US) ^
Films by Nazlı Dinçel: REFRAME (2009, US), LEAFLESS (2011, US), HER SILENT SEAMING (2014, US), SOLITARY ACTS #4 (2016, US)
^ Presented by Chicago Film Society
1. LADY BIRD
2. THE SHAPE OF WATER
3. PHANTOM THREAD
5. GET OUT
7. A GHOST STORY
8. THE FLORIDA PROJECT
9. THE BEGUILED
10. TRAIN TO BUSAN
MAX’S LIST OF INCONCEIVABLE MOMENTS IN MOVIE CULTURE GOOD AND MOSTLY BAD, IN THE 2017
1. Selena Gomez poses for a picture on Josh Safdie’s lap
2. Errol Morris Tweets about a “Nathan For You” Episode
3. Max Sits Next to Olivia Wilde and Jaso Sudeikas In an Empty Metrograph Showing a James Gray Movie, Makes a Bad Joke To Olivia about His Pink Vitamin Water (She Laughs)
4. Max Spills His Reese’s Pieces In the James Gray Movie
5. Nancy Meyers’ Daughter Directs a Movie about Nancy Meyers Movies
6. Reese Witherspoon Stars in Nancy Meyers’ Daughter’s Movie About Nancy Meyers Movies
7. Tiffany Hadish’s Grapefruit Monologue In “Girls Trip”
8. Tiffany Hadish’s Story About Kidnapping Will and Jada Smith to go on a Swamp Tour (on Kimmel)
9. David Fincher Proves We’re All Still Perverts
10. Whenever I Finally Get to See Phantom Thread on 70mm Because My Family Decided on The Last Jedi for Jewish Christmas
1. Ben Shapiro Vs. Rosie O’Donnell Celebrity Death Match
2. Selena Gomez Has 131 Million Followers And Follows 316 People; One of Those People Is Buddy Durress
3. Mark Kermode’s Geostorm Review
4. Mark Kermode’s Rough Night Review
5. Deciding What To Laugh At When Multiple Jokes Happen At The Same Time in LEGO Batman
6. Max Telling a Bad Joke to Josh from “Drake and Josh” in a Vietnamese Sandwich Place (He Laughed)
7. Trump’s Loose Dentures Come Undone During Jerusalem Announcement
8. Mel Gibson Is Back In Movies As Though He Didn’t Say All Those Antisemitic Things
9. Mel Gibson Helps Expand the “Mommies and Daddies” Universe
10. A Scene I Won’t Spoil In “Father Figures,” Which Is Maybe My Favorite Installment in the “Mommies and Daddies” Universe
Michael W. Phillips, Jr.
The top 11 things I saw in 2017, from someone who never sees new movies anymore, and containing too many movies I either programmed or was paid to show publicly, and including some shorts so Patrick doesn't crab at me.
1. GET CARTER (Mike Hodges, 1971)
2. NAT TURNER: A TROUBLESOME PROPERTY (Charles Burnett, 2002)
3. HUMAN REMAINS (Jay Rosenblatt, 1998)
4. THE NEWTON BOYS (Richard Linklater, 1998)
5. THE BLACK TOWER (John Smith, 1987)
6. HAPPINESS (Alexander Medvedkin, 1935)
7. THE QUEEN (Frank Simon, 1968)
8. JUPITER ASCENDING (Wachowskis, 2015)
9. THE BLACK WOMAN (Stan Lathan, 1970)
10. WICKED CITY (Yoshiaki Kawajiri, 1987)
11. Coney Island Amateur Psychoanalytic Society's dream films (CIAPS, various years)
My 10 favorite films to receive their Chicago premieres in 2017.
10. FELICITE (Gomis, Senegal/Democratic Republic of Congo) - Facets
9. THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE (Kaurismaki, Finland) - Chicago International Film Festival
8. LET THE SUNSHINE IN (Denis, France) - Chicago International Film Festival
7. ON THE BEACH AT NIGHT ALONE (Hong, S. Korea) - Chicago International Film Festival
6. GOOD TIME (Safdie/Safdie, USA) - AMC River East / Webster Place
5. NOCTURAMA (Bonello, France) - Facets
4. TONI ERDMANN (Ade, Germany) - Music Box
3. FACES PLACES (Varda/J.R., France) - Music Box
2. HAPPY HOUR (Hamaguchi, Japan) - Siskel Center
1. TWIN PEAKS (Lynch, USA) - Cable T.V. / Music Box
Ten favorite films I watched for the first time in 2017.
CEMETERY OF SPLENDOR
I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO
I CALLED HIM MORGAN
LO AND BEHOLD
THE MURDER OF FRED HAMPTON
THE SHAPE OF WATER
20TH CENTURY WOMEN
TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN
1. FACES PLACES: At age 88 at the time this film was made, Agnes Varda's body may be winding down, but her curiosity about other people remains undimmed. Of this "buddy/road trip comedy," which she made with street artist JR, 33, I wrote, "I love this sportive, altogether magical film—it's light and simple and funny, and all the more profound for it." What's it about? History and memory. The power of imagination. Lost loves. Creativity and travel and solidarity. In other words, those things most fragile, and most precious.
2. COLUMBUS: Years ago, the wise film critic James Monaco wrote, "Ideas and character, people and intelligence, are the life of any good movie." No film embodied that notion better this year than Kogonada's debut feature.
3. THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE: The mise en scène itself is droll in Aki Kaurismaki's ultra-dry Finnish comedy. It centers around a taciturn and tough, but goodhearted, restaurateur (Sakari Kuosmanen) and a Syrian refugee seeking asylum in Finland (the exquisitely deadpan Sherwan Haji). Reviewing it when it played at the Chicago International Film Festival, I found it "a wonderfully wry treatment of a cruel, sad reality" and said that "the two cagey leads are my favorite movie characters in a good long while." Make that of the year.
4. THE SON OF JOSEPH: Anything with Mathieu Amalric stands a good chance of making any list of mine. When I think of this film, I want to use the word "refreshing." That's partly because of its theme of renewal, but also because I covered it in the Spring. (That's when it played at the Gene Siskel Center's European Union Film Festival, one of my favorites of the Chicago year.) In my writeup, I said "writer/director Eugène Green's stylized, deadpan satire, turns out to be a non-ironic Christian allegory about love and resistance. While it's rather unclassifiable, I laughed much harder here than at many so-called comedies.
5. I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO. Back in February, I wrote, "When [James] Baldwin speaks of the 'death of the heart,' of our privileged apathy, of an infantile America, an unthinking and cruel place, he could be speaking of the Trump era. He feared for the future of a country increasingly unable to distinguish between illusion, dream, and reality. 'Neither of us, truly, can live without the other,' he wrote. 'For, I have seen the devil...[I]t is that moment when no other human being is real for you, nor are you real for yourself.' Let this movie inspire today's young dissenters, and let James Baldwin be our model of oppositional, critical thinking as we raise our angry voices against Donald Trump and everything he stands for." That still feels right.
6. TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN: Think of it as a TV movie or, per Violet Lucca, as being of a piece with the rest of his paintings, sculptures and "cross-media output." David Lynch's 18-hour work was laugh-out-loud funny and it was also, for great stretches, a beautiful experimental film. The "moving image work" that played most with the medium in 2017 was on TV! Lynch both subverted and gratified my generation's nostalgia, and played with the passage of 25 years in ways both poignant and unsettling. The opening credits showed the Snoqualmie Falls from a new angle, and the show went from there, making the familiar truly strange once again. There were so many moments I cherish, from Michael Cera's Wally Brando to Harry Dean Stanton crooning "Red River Valley." On a personal note: back in '90 or '91, I conducted a telephone interview with Duwayne Dunham, The Return's editor, for class. The assignment was to interview someone doing something we'd like to do in life. I couldn't get Lynch, my first choice, but Dunham'd directed a few episodes of the then-contemporary Twin Peaks and graciously agreed to talk to me. Kudos to my old friend on putting together The Return, a major accomplishment!
7. MUDBOUND: The life force runs through it. One of the finest ensemble casts of the year. This movie is so tactile it practically manifests the epigraph of the Hillary Jordan novel it adapts, from James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, in which Agee despairs of the capacity of writing to render the immediacy of the sensory experience he wishes to convey. Instead, he says, he would give us photographs, then "fragments of cloth, bits of cotton, lumps of earth, records of speech, pieces of wood and iron, phials of odors, plates of food and of excrement...A piece of the body torn out by the roots might be more to the point.
8. PHANTOM THREAD: Speaking of playing with the medium: Paul Thomas Anderson's perverse, enchanted film did that at nearly every beat, all the while working within tradition—in his words, the Gothic romance with suspense, à la Rebecca. The movies features perhaps Daniel Day-Lewis's last word on screen acting, as a fastidious, elite dressmaker to royals and stars in '50s London. The world of couture is perhaps Anderson's most feminine milieu ever, although my father takes W Magazine, so who's to say? Phantom Thread is about the comic, sinister undercurrents of power dynamics in relationships, and the dark British sarcasm is, in its way, as witheringly funny as the violence of There Will Be Blood. Here the dressmaker's boxing partners are his lover (Vicky Krieps), an outsider because of her youth, nationality and class, and his icy sister and business partner (Lesley Manville), both stellar. It's their common ruthlessness that somehow unites these people. As usual, Anderson includes very strange shifts of tone and psychology, fascinatingly odd elisions. I can't decide if the metaphors at play here are profoundly deep, or if they stop at surfaces. Either way, what surfaces! At its best, this picture achieves the wistful, sumptuous grandeur of a Visconti, and his finale role allows Day-Lewis to range from stern patriarch to happy little baby.
9. THE SQUARE: A riotous study of absurdity, it seemed to resound with the themes of the year in ways large and small.
10. THE TRIP TO SPAIN. Another delightful entry in a series that's become one of the real pleasures of my filmgoing life. Come for the dueling impressions; stay for the poignancy of our middle-aged men of La Mancha, tilting away against the beat of the clock.
Michael Glover Smith: There were dozens of female directors working in the American film industry in the silent era. In the years immediately after World War II, there was only Ida Lupino. Why did Hollywood become more inhospitable to female filmmakers over time?
Therese Grisham: It happened at the end of the ‘20s and into the ‘30s. Part of that was the centralization of the movie industry (in Hollywood). Another part of it was unionization of work, the kind of strict categorization of work. Prior to that, men and women worked in all facets of filmmaking. We’re talking behind the camera: you weren’t just an “X,” you did various things. Once the jobs became categorized, that was no longer the case. And it seems inevitable at that point that the expendable people – we’re talking because it’s a patriarchal culture – would be women. So that (the silent era) was a real golden era: Lois Weber was a big production figure, as big and powerful as Cecil B. DeMille. She made so many films, and look at what has happened over time because of the erasure of women from Hollywood. Like Alice Guy Blache before her – who also owned her own production company, Solax, and made 600 films or something – there’s this whole rediscovery thing going on where these films have to be reclaimed, they have to be found, they have to be restored. That is far more typical now of women filmmakers historically than any men I can think of.
MGS: Lupino is not considered an “auteur” in a lot of critical circles to this day. Why do you think this is still the case?
TG: Look at what Martin Scorsese wrote about her in the ‘90s. He wrote her obituary (in the New York Times), and he had written about her before. He definitely considers her an auteur. But I think she was considered by some people to be kind of a hack. In many cases, that becomes just an excuse to dismiss a director. And also because of her acting career; that overshadowed her directing career. I think a lot of people didn’t take her seriously because of her acting career. This doesn’t have anything to do with people in the industry, by the way. This has to do with critics because she was taken seriously in the industry.
MGS: What do you consider the hallmarks of her work as a director in terms of form and content?
TG: In terms of content, I think she was abidingly interested in questions of gender in a way that perhaps feminists at the time didn’t really recognize because she’s very even-handed and non-judgmental about men. Which I find to be a beautiful aspect of her films. She has a way of being able to think herself into her male characters’ positions. She doesn’t vilify them. The only character she ever vilified in her films is the rapist in Outrage. It was reported by (co-writer/producer) Malvin Wald that she wouldn’t even look at (actor) Albert Mellen. He didn’t get a name. He was just “the rapist.” But otherwise she’s fair, non-judgmental and understands the predicament of men. The other thing is that she really focuses on the plight of women. That distinguishes her because while the “social problem film” was being made, it didn’t really focus on women. The predicament of women in the post-war period was of paramount importance to her and it gets carried over later into a film like The Trouble with Angels (1966). In terms of form, I think she’s consummate. Both in terms of what she managed to get from her actors – it was widely reported by people who worked for her that she was really great at drawing out the type of performance she wanted from the actors – but also, this is my predilection, I love her propensity to make the social problem film into noir. Particularly, the lighting, shadows and camera angles, that’s what I find so entrancing about her. That is a real strength.
MGS: My favorite section in the book is the one on “home noir” where you talk about the “submerged feminist energy” in film noir. How does Lupino’s work relate to this concept?
TG: Oh man, I think her early films are largely home noir. I would say Hard, Fast and Beautiful, Outrage and The Bigamist are all different keys of home noir. You have this kind of retrograde or arrested home in Outrage that harks back to an earlier time when Victorian mores and Victorian patriarchy are in place. Even though that patriarchy is kind of softened externally, it’s still kind of there with this outrageous house, which on the outside looks almost like a California bungalow but on the inside is perfectly Victorian. And then, this is my speculation, (production designer) Harry Horner adds that horrible cage to the outside, you know that rose trellis that’s like a big claw over the house? Every image is of entrapment.
MGS: Like she’s a prisoner in her own home?
TG: And not only that but her mother is also a prisoner in this very unspoken way. And, in Hard, Fast and Beautiful, it’s really a modern counterpart of that where, even though that house is contemporary for that time, Millie and Florence’s encroachment into areas where they don’t belong is punished. Millie takes over the living room because she doesn’t have an office and she’s an ambitious woman. And Florence takes over the garage, which is the male domain, to practice tennis. Those elements make me laugh; the domestic space is so intrinsic and vital to her films.
MGS: One of my takeaways from this book is that she had to be shrewd in dealing with the men around her in the industry. She pretended to know less about cinematography than she did in order to get cooperation from her D.P.s but she also extended this attitude to studio execs and censors.
TG: She buttered them up and then she brought down the iron fist. She got her way. She was criticized for that, unfortunately, by some feminist critics who wanted to draw perhaps too close a parallel between her life and her work. I also think: what choice did she have? It was either do things the way she did them, which, as you say, was shrewd – buttering these people up and getting what she wanted – or not getting things done at all. What other thing would she have done? She couldn’t have hung out with ‘50s housewives, a bunch of women who were repressed and suppressed and boring and domestic. She wasn’t like that. Yet she paid a price because she was a powerful woman but she also played that domestic role with Howard Duff (her third husband and co-star in the sitcom Mr. Adams and Eve). You can see her, even in that role, the gender tension between her and Howard Duff, which is a lot of what the show is about, in a really dark I Love Lucy way. Her persona is so suppressed and yet she exceeds it but she shouldn’t. So that’s very painful because of when she was born. Things didn’t start being brought to light in any collective way until the early ‘60s with Second Wave Feminism and all that. I think a lot of feminist critics haven’t understand that and they’ve held her to account in a way that she shouldn’t be.
MGS: Which of Lupino’s films would you first recommend watching for someone unfamiliar with her work?
TG: It wouldn’t be The Hitch-Hiker. It’s a great film noir about masculinity but to me it seems like an anomaly in her work. There are no women in it even though it stems from men trying to hoodwink their wives and escape domesticity. I think I would choose Hard, Fast and Beautiful. The fact that it’s a film noir, the fact that it’s a really unusual melodrama – I mean, some people have called it a “maternal melodrama” in which the mother is vilified and I don’t agree at all. It gives perspective on those things. And there are some fantastic chiaroscuro shots – like the hotel room in Europe, (which externalizes) the chaos of Millie’s subconscious. It pretty much has it all.
Therese Grisham will sign copies of Ida Lupino, Director following a free screening of HARD, FAST AND BEAUTIFUL at Facets Multimedia on Monday night. More information can be found on the Facets website.
Kyle Cubr: What was your relationship with Emily Dickinson, both her body of work and her personal life, before A Quiet Passion?
Terence Davies: I discovered her when I was eighteen. Claire Bloom was reading some of her poetry. “Because I Could Not Stop For Death” was the first poem I had heard, so I bought a little anthology and read them. It wasn’t until fifteen years ago that I started rereading her and then I started reading some biographies with extraordinary love and richness behind them. I thought I’d love to do a film about her, but it’s a chamber piece. You can have a chamber piece that can be symphonic in its own way. I thought it was an extraordinary achievement what she produced considering she was ill most of the time.
KC: Do you have a favorite poem of hers?
TD: Yes, “Because I Could Not Stop For Death” I reason because its short and absolute. “This Is My Letter To The World” is the saddest. Those probably are my favorites, but I go back to a lot of her work.
KC: In the past decade, you’ve seen your output ramp up a bit, especially in the last two years with two films. What would you attribute your increase to?
TD: It was by sheer accident. It wasn’t planned I can assure you. SUNSET SONG, everything that could go wrong on a film, did go wrong, and it dragged on long after it should have finished. We kept on having to get extra bits of money for the post production. In the meantime, it dragged on for long that I wrote and directed the Emily Dickinson. But it was an absolutely sheer accident.
KC: How do you feel about the difference between digital film production and shooting on celluloid?
TD: [Digital] is as important as the coming of sound. Two, maybe three, years ago you couldn’t do the shots that you can get with digital today. It’s extraordinary. What these people can do digitally is breathtaking. When we were doing SUNSET SONG, the actors weren’t used to plowing with horses so we had a man on a tether leading. My team told me, “Don’t worry. We can take him out.” I wondered to myself how can you take a man out whose tethered to the horse? It was just brilliant. I don’t understand it at all but I think it’s fabulous.
KC: Do you have any projects you plan to shoot on film?
TD: No, it’ll all be digital from here on out.
KC: What films or filmmakers have influenced you?
TD: Any American musical of the 50’s. I love American musicals. The oddest part is I find myself influenced by small films that aren’t particularly interesting in any large way but I still draw something from them. All influences kind of come out of you in a refracted form so I can’t say I’m influenced by “this” director or “that” movie. I just know that I’m influenced by the films that I’ve seen and that I love and still love. There are a few where I’ve thought oh I should have made that myself but it’s too late now.
KC: A Quiet Passion seems to hold no religious conviction. How would you say your religious upbringing and subsequent shift to atheism factor in?
TD: I think it’s not about religious conviction. Rather, it’s about something more important and that is the nature of the soul. One of her quests was if there’s no God, then what does the soul mean? She never comes down and says no there’s no God or yes there is. She always manages to imply that there might be a ‘Third Event’ as she calls it. That in itself is a kind of suffering because it calls into question how do you live your life. If there is just extinction, why should we be moral or ethical at all. But of course you have to be because life would be unbearable. Also, I think what heightens the sense of what the soul is and how do you guard it because she never received any recognition during her lifetime. It’s the same with the music of Anton Bruckner. They are the greatest cycle of symphonies for me and are deeply spiritual. He was a firm believer in Catholicism. He believed that there was a God and a heaven. There’s one point in the 9th Symphony, which was unfinished, that there’s a huge discordant climax. It’s massive. For a moment, he thinks, “Perhaps it’s a lie?” and then he says his goodbye to God. For her, I think it’s the same. There will come a point where we all have to face dying and how will we go about it shows our conscience. Her dying alleviated her suffering but I’m sure during her bought of lucidity that it must have crossed her mind.
KC: What’s next for you?
TD: Two things. I can’t believe it either. An American film called “Mother of Sorrows” which is being written by Richard McCann. Well, that part is already finished I should say. Now we’re raising money to cast it. The other is I’m writing a film about Siegfried Sassoon one of the greatest British war poets during World War I. He got along with Rupert Brooke (another English poet of the time) who ended up dying, but Siegfried survived. He was gay and married like a gay man did during those days. Then he converted to Catholicism of all things. I can’t believe it. It’s fascinating stuff though.
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