Thursday, February 2, 2023

Favorite (four), eighty-seven

Just like in my other eighty-six posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  Most of the films I have been glad to see but only a very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those and my hope is one or two will be good to you as well.

Sam Peckinpah's Ride the High Country
Timing is a critical part of appreciating certain works of art.  Sometimes you discover them when you're too young, sometimes when you're too old, and sometimes the timing is just right.  I have probably watched this early Peckinpah western 2 or 3 other times, never quite clicking with it like some of my peers.  But this time it was different.  As can be expected with Peckinpah, it takes you into some dark, uncomfortable places (Elsa's wedding night!)  What's less expected are the final minutes, the depth of humanity of Peckinpah's characters and the weight Peckinpah is finally able to leave you with as he pays tribute to the slow disappearance of a certain kind of main in a certain kind of world.

Robert Wise's Executive Suite
Wise could very well be an unfair victim of the auteur theory.  Although I have seen no where near his entire body of work, I'm a huge fan of The Set-Up and really like The Day the Earth Stood Still.  I watched this because it's one of Rosenbaum's 1000 essential films and man is it good.  It's unique in its exploration of corporate America and seems like a clear predecessor to Lumet's 12 Angry Men.  

Henry King's The Gunfighter
An extraordinary western that is most impressive in how many later noir films and later westerns it prefigures in its fatalistic setup.  King's direction is concise and sharp and it is the emotional weight he infuses into the story that makes the greatest impact.    

Jonathan Demme's Stop Making Sense
One of these films I thought I had seen until I watched it again.  The real star is Byrne who you can't take your eyes off of.  And if the measure of a good concert film, and I haven't seen many concert films in general, is if it entertains you while giving you a better sense of what the band looks and feels like then Stop Making Sense is hugely successful. 


Friday, January 20, 2023

3rd Reel Adventures

I’m super excited to announce our 3rd Reel Adventures at R.W. Norton Art Gallery. It will take place April 21st and our movie this time will be The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance starring Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne and Vera Miles and directed by the most famous director of westerns in the history of film, John Ford.

Our last Reel Adventures sold out. And we expect tickets to go fast again. Mark your calendars for April 21st and mark them for March 24th when general public tickets go on sale.

I can’t wait for another great night of food, fun (signature cocktail, team trivia and costume contest) and film!




Monday, January 16, 2023

Recommendations from Reel Adventures

For each Reel Adventures at R.W. Norton Art Gallery, in addition to the highlighted movie I’m providing a few other recommendations. Here are the first two sets of recommendations from Rear Window and Chinatown.




Saturday, January 14, 2023

Second Reel Adventures!

It was such a great, fun night last night at R.W. Norton Art Gallery for our second Reel Adventures! Much more to come but keep an eye out for our third one happening some time in the next 3-4 months.

Here's my talk on Rear Window:

Thank you all for being here tonight. I know many of you but for those of you who I don’t know, my name is Jeffrey Goodman and even though I directed a number of films, I’m here first and foremost tonight as a cinephile. Or as someone you can say has probably spent too much time watching and thinking about film.

I really appreciate everyone being here and I so appreciate Lewis and Ruth Norton and Emily Feazel who have been committed and tirelessly working to make this idea of a film club happen since it first came up.

Okay so I have about 5-10 minutes worth of words I’d like to share about tonight’s film. Hopefully it will give you a slightly deeper appreciation for what you’ve seen. And just before I start, I’m curious how many of you had never seen Rear Window prior to the announcement of tonight’s event?

Wow that’s great. Okay so here we go.

Alfred Hitchcock’s life nearly runs perfectly parallel with the birth of the medium of film. Hitchcock was born in 1899. Film in 1895.

Hitchcock began working in the era of silent film. His first ten films were silents and then he spent the rest of his career, all the way to 1976, making talkies.

I only mention all of this because I think it is critical to understanding Hitchcock’s relationship to the medium of film. I would argue, and we find examples in his career time and time again, that Hitchcock was not only interested in using the medium of film to tell stories. He was interested in finding stories that helped define what the medium could do, and more specifically, what film could do that no other medium or artform could replicate.

So Rear Window.

Start reading interviews with Alfred Hitchcock and at some point I promise you you’ll hear him use the expression “pure cinema”. For example, in an interview with filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, Hitchcock says, “Subjective treatment, putting the audience in the mind of the character is, to me the purest form of the cinema. I suppose Rear Window is the best example of it…close-up of a man; what he sees; his reaction to it. And that can’t be done in any other medium – can’t be done in the theatre, can’t be done in the novel.”

I want to spend the rest of my talk around this idea of pure cinema and Hitchcock’s exploration of it throughout Rear Window. Hitchcock is fixated on the same three shot sequence throughout Rear Window that in his opinion is something no other medium can do.

The first shot is a shot of Jimmy Stewart looking.
The second shot is a shot of what Jimmy Stewart sees.
The third shot is Jimmy Stewart reacting to what he sees.

Let’s take a look at an example.

FIRST CLIP

And you find this same three-shot formula throughout Rear Window - a man looks, he sees, he responds, he looks, we see what he sees and we feel what he feels.

Hitchcock believed this was pure cinema or purely cinematic or only something the medium of film could do. I want to show you one other clip where Hitchcock talks about this three-shot sequence, or The Kuleshov Effect as it is formally called. I’ll save a deeper explanation of The Kuleshov Effect for another talk.

SECOND CLIP

Another concept Hitchcock would often talk about is the idea that cinema is and should be a visual medium. Hitchcock felt that as a filmmaker, whenever possible, you should show rather than tell the audience your story. Again, like the three-shot sequence we talked about that Hitchcock felt was pure cinema, Hitchcock viewed visual storytelling and using the camera rather than dialogue to tell the story as a method that was more pure and differentiated cinema from theater or any other artform.

There are numerous examples throughout Rear Window of Hitchcock’s mastery as a visual storyteller whether it’s the opening shot of Jefferies where in one shot, no dialogue, we learn where we are, who the principal character is, all about his work, and even how it caused his accident. Or even the quick scene we saw earlier where, without any dialogue, we understand the neighboring couple is newly married.

In speaking about movies that relied more on dialogue, Hitchcock would describe them as lazy or as merely photographs of people talking that bear no relation to the art of the cinema. Hitchcock believed the coming of sound in film was in some ways a backward step and he wanted to avoid relying too much on it as a storyteller. Perhaps one of the reasons Hitchcock was such a master at visual storytelling and was able to “write” with the camera was because he got his start in silent cinema. In fact, some people say he always remained a silent filmmaker.

I’ll end with one last thought.

As many of you know, I was a French major in college and first discovered my love for film while living in France. And ever since, I have probably had more of a French perspective on film than an American one. Any way, I’m a big fan of the way the French film critics look at film and as I was preparing for tonight I came across the following view by one of the French film critics I admire.

He said you could even look at Rear Window as structured in a way that speaks about the medium of film. He explained that the first part of the film, when Jefferies is simply watching his neighbors, represents a spectator. The second part of the film, as Jefferies becomes more involved thinking and talking about his neighbors, represents a projector – someone projecting his thoughts on who his neighbors are and what they are doing. And then the final part of the film represents a director as Jefferies gets involved in solving the Thorwald case and directing Lisa, Stella and Doyle’s respective efforts.

So it is for all the reasons above that I think Rear Window has great merit and represents one of the great examples of a film that gives you something that only the movies can give you. And it is also why I thought it was a great choice for our second Reel Adventures.

Thank you.


Saturday, January 7, 2023

Reel Adventures

Here was our trivia and my talk from our first Reel Adventures at R.W. Norton Art Gallery. Can't wait to do it again this Friday for Hitchcock's Rear Window!

ROUND ONE
• Who do the glasses belong to that are found in the Mulwray’s pond?
• What trick of the trade does Gittes use to find out what time of night Mulwray left the reservoir?
• Gittes uses another trick of the trade when he first meets Yelburton. What does he take from his office?
• What department did Hollis Mulwray work for?
• A long take is a shot without any _________?


ROUND TWO
• What narrative device does Polanski use to demonstrate that Ms. Mulwray is nervous during the scene when Gittes starts talking about the connection between her father and her husband?
• What is the name of the club where Gittes goes to meet up for lunch with Noah Cross?
• What does Gittes borrow from the desk clerk at the Hall of Records?
• What do they beat Gittes with in the orange grove?
• What does Gittes do to Evelyn’s car to make it easier to follow her?


ROUND THREE
• What is one of the lines of voiceover from the film?
• To emphasize the point that the audience is seeing everything from Gittes’ perspective, Polanski often put the camera here while filming Jack Nicholson.
• Like a chorus in a song that the song comes back to, to give the song a certain structure, it is not uncommon in films to repeat certain stylistic gestures. In Chinatown, there is the repetition of the sound of a car horn in the final scene. In what scene, did we first hear the car horn honking?
• In what Los Angeles neighborhood does Gittes take a ride on a boat?
• What is playing on the radio during the scene at the morgue?


BONUS ROUND
• In what Parish was one of the main actor’s previous characters famously killed?
• John Hillerman who plays the character of Yelburton would go on to have a starring role in a hit 1980’s TV show. Name the show.
• Detective fiction that began appearing in the late twenties often served as source material for the movies that became film noir. Hammer is to Spillane as Marlowe is to Chandler as Spade is to this author.


TALK
I wanted to welcome everyone. My name is Jeffrey Goodman. I know many of you but for those I don’t, I’ve directed a few movies and spent a countless amount of time watching and thinking about film.

I wanted to thank Lewis and Ruth Norton and Emily Feazel who have been open to the idea of a film club from the first day it came up and who have been instrumental in making tonight happen.

I have a few things I’d like to say and then I’ll come back after the next round of trivia to answer any Chinatown or film-related questions you might have.

Just before I begin, I’m curious how many of you had never seen Chinatown before this event? Raise your hand if you could. Wow okay.

Last Tuesday, French-Swiss filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard passed away at the age of 91.
Godard is considered a massive figure in the history of cinema and his contributions would take hours to discuss. But if I were to single out the one thing he should most be remembered for, it is his efforts to get people to accept and view the medium of cinema as an artform that at times could be as artistic as ballet, painting, classical music, sculpture or any of the other high arts.

And so it seems fitting that we’re here today at an art gallery for Norton’s first-ever film club.

If, as Godard says, certain films are more than mere entertainment then there should be some sort of gain in looking more deeply at them.

So, Chinatown.

It is a film I would claim is of high artistic value. All of its components – hair, make-up, wardrobe, set design, framing, lighting, locations, sound, score, casting and camerawork – are overseen by master crafts people working together to make us believe we are in another time and place.

In fact, that is one of the most challenging aspects of film. Making something that we believe. And hiding all the thousands of pieces that go into making a finished film. One effective way of hiding the apparatus in film is what I’d like to focus on for the next few minutes and it’s the long take.

As all of you know, film is made up of a bunch of pieces, or “cuts” that are edited together to tell a story. The average number of cuts in a film is about 1,050. If films average 1,050 cuts and the average film is 120 minutes long, then there is on average a cut every 8.75 seconds.

What the long take does is attempt to illustrate a moment visually in a longer timeframe than normal without resorting to a cut. Filmmakers use long takes for many reasons but often it is to preserve the illusion that what it is in front of us is actually taking place rather than fabricated by a countless number of crafts people.

There have been several very famous long takes in the history of cinema. There is the three minute long take as Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco enter the Copacabana nightclub in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, the nearly 4 minute opening sequence in Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 film Rope where Hitchcock attempts to make us believe that we are watching an entire film without a single cut.

I won’t digress too far on this. But films used to only be made on film. And the magazines that went on the film cameras at most could hold a 1000 feet of film or about 11 minutes. Therefore, until digital cameras came about, it was technically impossible to film an entire movie in one long take.

There are very complicated, highly choreographed long takes where the camera is moving around a large amount of space without a cut and then there are other more modest long takes like this one in Chinatown. This long take in Chinatown lasts a minute or nearly 7x longer than your average shot.

And cut.

So my parting words are this:

I don’t want to ruin anyone’s enjoyment of watching films by lifting the curtain on how movies achieve their magic. I believe the opposite in fact - that if you learn more about how movies are made, know more about what you are watching, you will ultimately feel deeper enjoyment for the entire experience.

That is my hope from these Reel Adventures we have begun.

We really appreciate everyone coming out, hope you’re having fun so far and that we can do more of these in the future.



Monday, January 2, 2023

All I Saw and Read in 2022

1/1  Bleak Moments

½ First Graders, The Time to Live and the Time to Die, Rich and Famous

1/3 Broadchurch

¼ Broadcast News

1/5 Terms of Endearment, These Truths: A History of the United States

1/6 The Truffle Hunters

1/7 A Little Life, Dheepan

1/8 Sinai Field Mission, Histoire(s) du cinema, Nouvelle vague

1/9 Pale Rider

1/12 Three women

1/13 Walkover

1/14 A High Wind in Jamaica

1/15 Zulu

1/16 Le Roman d’un tricheur, Where The Crawdads Sing, Homework

1/17 Pool Sharks, Story of Women, Abbas Kiarostami – Verites et songes, David Lynch, Don’t Look at Me

1/18 The Scorsese Machine

1/19 Jacques Rivette, le veilleur

1/20 Eric Rohmer, preuves a l’appui, Peaux de vaches

1/21 The Namesake

1/23 Jean Renoir le patron

1/24 Une chambre en ville

1/26 Mon oncle d’Amerique

1/27 Oliveira l’architecte

1/29 Gremlins

1/30 Beware of a Holy Whore

2/1 Introduction

2/3 The Sympathizer, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence

2/4 The Woman Who Ran, Cry, Mother Spain

2/5 Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York

2/6 The Tinder Swindler

2/7 Les anges du peche

2/9 Ricky Powell: The Individualist

2/13 Trois ponts sur la riviere

2/15 Success Is the Best Revenge

2/16 New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World

2/17 Dim the Fluorescents, QT8: The First Eight

2/20 Homebound

2/21 All Madden

2/22 Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich

2/25 For Esme – with Love and Squalor

2/26 Belfast, Maine

2/27 Doomed Love

3/7 Public Housing

3/9 Charley Varrick, The Last Letter

3/11 Ballet

3/12 Reverse Angle

3/13 Domestic Violence, Southern Comfort

3/18 King Richard, Ford v Ferrari, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain

3/29 24 Hours: The World of John and Yoko, No Time to Die, Local Hero, Mange ta soupe

3/30 Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?

4/2 Welfare

4/3 Lou n’a pas dit non

4/27 The Book of Changes

4/30 Our Towns

5/5 Waiting for Lightning

5/8 Just Mercy

5/10 Killing Eve

5/14 Unfinished Business, Delinquent

5/20 La vie des morts

5/21 Talk to Her

5/30 This Is Us

5/31 We Own This City

6/3 Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, RBG

6/7 Stories We Tell

6/10 City Hall

6/11 High School II, Away from Her

6/12 Hustle, The Staircase

6/16 Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn, On Our Way To Beautiful

6/19 Thoughts On Building Strong Towns Volume 1

6/28 Ball Four

7/3 On the Town

7/4 Ruby in Paradise

7/5 Room 666, Today

7/8 A Time for Dying

7/9 The Unfaithful Wife

7/11 The Apple

7/14 Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat

7/15 Flaming Creatures, The Crown Jewels of Iran, Bernie

7/16 The Hours and Times

7/17 From the Journals of Jean Seberg

8/7 The Dead Girl, Elmer Gantry

8/8 The Sign of Leo

8/18 The Border

9/1 Both Sides of the Blade

9/2 Nope

9/14 McEnroe

9/18 Here to Be Heard: The Story of the Slits, Words and Pictures

9/25 Locke, Quai des Orfevres

9/30 Searching for Mr. Rugoff

10/18 Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession

10/20 The Bear, The Playlist

10/21 Blue Chips, Warrior

10/23 Cool Runnings, Five Graves to Cairo

10/24 Hammett

10/25 The Unspeakable Act

11/6 Paradise Alley

11/7 The Lords of Flatbush

11/9 Armageddon Time

11/12 The Outfit

11/13 Still Life

11/15 Last Days

11/19 Tree of Smoke

11/20 Delamu

11/25 The Line of Beauty, The Lady Without Camelias

11/27 Next of Kin

12/4 The Favourite Game

12/12 Saint Jack

12/18 Irma Vep (series)

12/19 Deep End

12/24 Nobody’s Hero

12/26 Platform, Avatar: The Way of Water

12/30 Les Annees New Wave



Sunday, January 1, 2023

My Top Films Seen in 2022

Here are the films, new and old, that I saw and most admired in 2022.

Claire Denis' Both Sides of the Blade
Although I have not rewatched most of Denis' films, I have seen the following at least once - ChocolatS'en fout la mortJ'ai pas sommeilUS Go HomeNenette et BoniBeau travailTrouble Every DayVendredi soirL'intrus35 rhumsLet the Sunshine InHigh Life and Both Sides of the Blade.  It seems that her work can be divided into at least two categories, films that make for fairly comfortable viewing (for instance, I place NenetteVendredi35 and Let the Sunshine into this category) and work that is up there with some of the cinema's most harrowing.  In this latter category, to begin with I would list J'ai pas sommeilTrouble and Both Sides of the Blade.  It isn't gratuitous, there is a fearlessness at times with the way that Denis films the body and her ability, like Lynch, to burrow into raw and deeply disturbing situations involving her characters.  I am thinking about the long murder sequence involving Dalle, almost any moment with Camille or nearly every second Colin is on screen.   
Jerzy Skolimowski's Walkover
Skolimowski continues to be a filmmaker that intrigues me.  This is the fourth of his features I have seen, after seeing Le DepartMoonlighting and Essential Killing.  All four films are incredibly different in their style and subject matter although in each Skolimowski proves he possesses an unusually strong cinematic eye as well as exceptional feel for the effectiveness of a camera capturing movement on film.  Walkover exudes that very New Wave quality of youth meandering through a city trying to find purpose and place.  The final ten minutes, in particular, churn up heaps of cinematic energy and leave the viewer with an outlook on life that powerfully captures a new generation's desire to reject the ways of the past.   
Olivier Assayas' Irma Vep
There is no film I have seen made in 2022 that has as much to say about what cinema has been and what it can be as it turns 127.  Of course there are remnants of Feuillade but in this opus it would be hard also not to think of Lynch's work in TV, Jarmusch's approach to music in Dead Man and Rivette's career of exploring meta.  Vincent Macaigne embodies the greatest and most complex depiction of a filmmaker the medium has ever given us while Assayas inhabits the specter of JLG to give us a work that manages all at once to flood us with emotions and ideas.  
Cy Endfield's Zulu
I've only seen three of his films but I feel completely confident in saying that Cy Endfield is a name that should be far more common and known in cinephile circles than it is.  Each of his films has a strong directorial presence and a position to the material that encourages contemplation without being distancing.  Although not my area of expertise, I can't think of a war film set up in remotely the same way as Zulu.  We remain in one location for the first two hours with very little in terms of plot as we get to know characters preparing for what is probably their final battle.  
Frederick Wiseman's Public Housing
Wiseman captures many sides of poverty and race in Chicago and begins to draw the characters and world that David Simon would only a few years later craft into his masterful series The Wire.  There are so many memorable scenes in this work that only further attest to the fact that Wiseman has a process and a temperament that enable him to reflect truths about certain sides of the American experience that no other filmmaker has been able to match.
Jean-Claude Biette's Trois ponts sur la riviere
I know more about French film than I know about almost anything else. And though I was aware of some of Biette's work, particularly Loin de Manhattan and Le champignon des Carpathes, this is the first of his movies I have seen.

Biette has a great feel for capturing spaces in a precisely realistic way, like a college student's apartment in Paris or a bookstore in Porto, Portugal.  Similarly, his dialogue and the way he lets his actors move around and express themselves, reinforces a directorial desire to adhere closely to the way these types of moments unfold in real life.  In fact, it seems that Biette's quest to remain accurate and truthful gives the film one of its most unique qualities, its willingness to show certain glances or moments without the need to explain them.  I am thinking, for instance, of the way Claire stares from her hotel window at the Brazilian guest, the brief scene suggesting it is normal for attraction to occur without ever being acted upon.  

I can only guess at the reasons for it but like Rivette's Out 1Le Pont du Nord or even La bande des quatre, Biette includes, with the character of Frank, a subplot of noirish overtones.  Like in the abovementioned Rivette works, the subplot feels more artificial and more difficult to believe than one typically experiences in regular genre films while the foregrounded story, that of Arthur and Claire, feels far more real than most movies.
Robert Bresson's Les anges du peche
In a rare case, Bresson emerges in his first feature already a masterful filmmaker.  His style is not yet fully formed, that would not happen until his third feature, but his understanding and command of the medium's power are fully present.  

Although I imagine there is a way to view the film, being that it was made in 1943, as a film of resistance, I experienced it at face value as a film of faith.  As such, it demonstrates faith as well as anything I have seen on film.  Bresson finds the cinematic tools to make us understand certain beliefs, such as sacrificing worldly materials to attain a true spiritual state, that in less skilled hands would leave us unmoved and unenlightened.  I experienced the film not only as a film about religious faith but as an indication of Bresson's faith in the medium of cinema to plumb the depths of human experience and to emerge with emotions of a deep spiritual and intellectual power.
Jean-Luc Godard's Histoire(s) du cinema
Is it possible to praise a film in which you grasp less than 10% of what the filmmaker is saying?  I would argue that it is.  Particularly with someone like Godard who can send shockwaves through your brain with some of his insights and with the lyricism he sometimes finds as he works sound and image together.  
Jia Zhangke's Still Life
I am aware that Zhangke is highly revered in circles I admire but this is probably the first film of his I’ve seen in its entirety.  In its rigor - long takes and prominent film sound - it reminded me of 80s and 90s Hou Hsiao-hsien.  Its painterly lighting and framing of the highest order also recall the mastery of Hou.  Slow, thoughtful and with a touch of fantasy that yearns for something other than the every day grind of 21st century China, a great example of a great 21st century art film.
Claire Denis' and Serge Daney's Jacque Rivette, le veilleur
This dream of a documentary consists mostly of Denis filming the great film critic Daney talking with the great filmmaker Rivette.  It is by far the most thorough portrait of Rivette I have experienced to date and ranks as one of the most enlightening documentaries I have ever seen on a filmmaker.  
Jean-Pierre Limosin's Abbas Kiarostami - Verites et songes
For many years I have minimized the benefits of YouTube, preferring to criticize the quality of the works available there that could not be found anywhere else rather than revel in finally being able to see certain things.  The French series of documentaries, Cineastes de notre temps and  Cinema, de notre temps, refute anything I may have thought or felt all these years.  The documentaries are difficult to see in the states yet are some of the most powerful documents of some of the medium's greatest directors.  I believe there are more than 50 documentaries in all ranging from Renoir to Moretti, Lang to Cassavetes and many, many others.

What makes the series special is evident when watching the one on Kiarostami.  It is not a history of Kiarostami's life or cinema but rather an attempt to spend some time with the filmmaker.  We hear him talk and see him interact with different people he has worked with and different people he runs into on the streets.  By the end, we are no longer grappling to understand how a man could create such extraordinary work because we have just spent time in his shoes, sitting in his chair, seeing and feeling the world as he experiences it.  
 
Jerzy Skolimowski's Deep End
I can't recall sexual awakening ever being treated by the cinema with as much hormonal neurosis.  Skolimowski once again proves he is able to unlock's cinema's ability to be poetic but also dangerous.  He is able to find extraordinary set pieces, like the pool in the final scenes, and elongate time so that his films occupy a logic that defies most narrative progressions and rhythms.  There is also a confidence in Skolimowski that enables him to go too far and to push past our level of comfort to deliver something that has that Lynchian charge that is both disturbing and powerful.