RIP Peter Bogdanovich

RIP Peter Bogdanovich, 1939-2022

Peter Bogdanovich died today at the age of 82.

Bogdanovich was an actor, writer, producer, and film critic, but will most likely be remembered as a film director.

The first Bogdanovich film I saw was Mask (1985) starring Eric Stoltz and Cher. I was probably eight or nine, and I did not know it was a “Peter Bogdanovich film.” Mask was one of the many films my grandfather taped from HBO, Disney, or Cinemax, and mailed to my family on VHS cassettes, little bundles of cinema my brother and I consumed repeatedly and indiscriminately in our remote village in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. Mask is one of the first films I ever saw that genuinely hurt my feelings.

Years later I’d see Bogdanovich’s most celebrated film, The Last Picture Show (1971), and it would also hurt my feelings. I was maybe eighteen or nineteen and the film just shattered my stupid heart (Cybill Shepherd as Jacy Farrow did something very particular to me, forever). This was the first time I knew I was watching a “Peter Bogdanovich film”—I’d learned about the New Hollywood guys and even seen some of the film stuff he’d written. (It would be years later until I realized that he was behind Noises Off (1992), which I’d watched as a VHS rental with my grandmother one Saturday night.)

Paper Moon (1973), starring real-life father and daughter Ryan and Tatum O’Neal is the sweetest (yet still a little heart-breaking) film I’ve seen by Bogdanovich, and maybe the best starting place for anyone interested in his work. There’s a touch of De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief in it–a kind of gritty neorealism that hums alongside the film’s tender core.

I found some of Bogdanovich’s films less successful. His adaptation of Henry James’s novel Daisy Miller (1974) doesn’t work and the screwball farce What’s Up Doc? (1972) is never as good as the films it pays homage to. (Avoid Texasville (1990), the sequel to The Last Picture Show, at all costs. It’s like The Two Jakes, by which I mean, a bad sequel to a great film, and it should never have happened.) But even his failures are far more interesting than most basic Hollywood fare.

Bogdanovich was also great in bit parts in film and TV. His perhaps most notable performance was playing Dr. Melfi’s therapist Dr. Kupferberg on The Sopranos. He was also the voice of the DJ in Tarantino’s Kill Bill films, perhaps a nod to his voiceover work in The Last Picture Show, where he also played a DJ.

For me though, Bogdanovich’s most significant acting role is that of director Brooks Otterlake in Orson Welles’ film The Other Side of the Wind (2018). I wrote “Orson Welles’ film” in the previous sentence, but that’s not quite true–The Other Side of the Wind is a bizarre beautiful mess of cinema spanning four decades. It’s a film about film (about film about film…), and Bogdanovich was instrumental in getting it finally released a few years ago.

Bogdanovich’s work in finally bringing Welles’ lost classic to screens is emblematic of his filmmaking career—a filmmaker in love with film, an artist enamored of film as art who came to prominence during the New Hollywood movement that rejected film as commerce. While so much of what makes it to theaters (and streaming platforms) today is simply “content,” or established “intellectual property” that execs know will do numbers, Bogdanovich’s spirit (and the New Hollywood DNA) inheres in current filmmakers who bear his influence, like the Safdie brothers, Sofia Coppola, Noah Baumbach, Wes Anderson, and Quentin Tarantino. That influence will continue to ripple forward, and I hope that we get more films that will disturb us, hurt our feelings, and break our hearts.

 

Paul Thomas Anderson talks Licorice Pizza, other stuff

Paul Thomas Anderson is interviewed in Variety about his new film, Licorice Pizza.

From the interview, on what inspired Licorice Pizza:

A very long time ago I was walking around my neighborhood, and I passed Portola Middle School. It was picture day, and I saw this very energetic teenager flirting with the girl who was taking pictures. It was an instantly good premise. What happens if you have a kid invite an older woman to dinner, and what if that girl against her better judgment says yes? That seemed ripe for humor. That didn’t go anywhere, but then I had a friend who grew up in the San Fernando Valley. He was a child actor who got involved in the waterbed business. And he told me all these stories, and each one was more wonderful than the last. Like there was this time he’d appeared in the movie “Yours, Mine and Ours” with Lucille Ball, and he was on his way to New York for a publicity tour and needed a chaperone. He ended up hiring a burlesque dancer who lived in his neighborhood to take him. And Lucille Ball was on her second marriage to Gary Morton, and she used to scream “Gary!” all the time. That was my friend’s name, so he’d think, ‘Holy shit, she’s yelling at me.” But she was screaming at her husband.

Watch John Carpenter’s student film, Captain Voyeur

Todd Haynes interviewed at Slate about his film The Velvet Underground

Sam Adams has a nice conversation with director Todd Haynes about The Velvet Underground, Haynes’ marvelous documentary about the band.

I saw the film this weekend and it’s one of the best musical documentaries I’ve seen in ages. The film is really about the art scene in New York City in the 1960s, and as such, Haynes employs a number of aesthetic conceits, all of which vibrate on just the right side of pretentiousness. There are lots and lots of clips from Warhol’s films and screen tests combined with archival footage (John Cage on teevee, for example), and old interviews interspersed with new interviews with John Cale, Moe Tucker, and a host of other musicians, artists, actors, and folks who bore witness to that whole scene. The film is its own thing—it transcends being “about” the band—indeed, that’s the best thing about The Velvet Underground: it lets you see and hear the band you discovered when you were thirteen or fifteen or thirty with fresh ears and fresh eyes. To this end, it’s possible that the film might turn off folks completely unfamiliar with the band and its influence. Haynes addresses this in his interview with Adams:

I mean, there are some people for whom this will be frustrating and not what they expect from a documentary. They kind of want that tidier oral history. If you’re interested, there’s all kinds of more stuff to find and discover for yourself. But I wanted it to be mostly that experience where the image and the music were leading you, and then it was a visceral journey through the film.

A visceral journey it is.

A highlight for me in the film is a series of late appearances by Jonathan Richman. Adams enjoyed that too:

[Adams]: As someone who’s been listening to him for a long time, the interview with Jonathan Richman is a real highlight of the movie. It makes me hope there’s a Blu-ray someday so you can just release the whole thing as an extra.

[Haynes]: Oh, it’s so fucking great. The whole thing is just, it’s a complete piece. I was crying by the end of it.

Was it your idea for him to have the guitar, or did he just bring it with him?

No, he just brought it. And I mean, come on. It was just so generous and so insightful. And he served the purposes of saying things that I had sort of decided I would not include in this movie: fans, other musicians, critics. It was just going to be about people who were there. That was the criteria. Well, he was there, in spades, and I didn’t realize to what degree.

That picture of him as a teenager with the band, I’d never seen that before.

Fucking crazy. But he could also then speak so informatively as a musician and as a critic and as a fan.

Read the interview here.

Watch the trailer for Licorice Pizza, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film

 

Licorice Pizza will be in theaters around Thanksgiving.

23 still frames from Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer

From The Killing of a Sacred Deer, 2017. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos; cinematography by Thimios Bakatakis. Via FilmGrab.

“Pretty Fly” | Scene from + short riff on The Night of the Hunter

I watched  The Night Of The Hunter (dir. Charles Laughton, 1955) last night for the first time in at least fifteen years. Robert Mitchum’s Bluebeard-preacher figure is the main thing that stuck with me from earlier viewings. He’s the awful, captivating, horrifying and paradoxically ever-moving center of dread in a film that is essentially about despair and hope (qualities simplified to tattoos of “LOVE” and “HATE” on his hands). Watching it last night though, I was surprised at how beautiful, even tranquil the film is at times–a kind of tranquility underpinned by the natural world’s flat indifference to humanity’s suffering coupled with Mitchum’s character’s sinister avarice. The long scene of the children escaping on the river at night, guided in part by their own music is particularly moving, a strange interplay of chiaroscuro expressionism and documentary naturalism. The voyage echoes the film’s direct allusions to Moses’ escape in the ark of bulrushes (as well as hinting at Twain’s Huck Finn). It’s a lovely transition to the film’s final third, wherein Lillian Gish’s stern but loving maternal presence overtakes the narrative. My memory had swallowed her eminence, but I don’t think I’ll forget this time that it’s her character who gets the last hopeful words: “ They abide, and they endure.”

My Oscars: I give meaningless awards to films that I had never seen before 2020

This morning in my Twitter feed I saw that the 93rd Academy Awards will happen tonight. I realized that I could not name a single movie that was likely up for an award. Like many people who love films, I do not give a fuck about the Oscars, but am nevertheless aware of the buzz around certain films. This year though, I have no clue.

So I googled it. It turns out there are 56 films nominated for Oscars in the 93rd Academy Awards. I have seen three of them: OnwardSoul, and Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. None of the three are particularly memorable (apart from that one scene in the Borat film–you know, that scene with that guy).

The last year has been a weird one, to say the least. I’m pretty sure the last film I saw in a theater was Uncut Gems, way back in January of 2020. (I did see Beetlejuice at a drive-in last October.) Despite (or maybe because of) the glut of streaming options, I ended up watching almost no films that came out in 2020, including films by filmmakers I’m generally interested in, like Spike Lee and Charlie Kaufman.

Early in the pandemic, I rewatched a lot of old favorites. I’ve decided not to add any of them to My Oscars below. Instead, I’ve limited My Meaningless Awards to films that, for whatever reason, I hadn’t seen until 2020 (or early 2021). I followed the hierarchy that the Oscars follows, but led with their end point, best picture (you get the idea). I tossed out some categories that seem meaningless to me (like best foreign-language film), as well as the short film categories, which has always seemed a bit hard to define to me.

Anyway: Here are my stupid Oscars:


Best picture: Melancholia, directed by Lars von Trier (2011)

Best actor: Robert Pattinson, Good Time (2017)

Best actress: Renée Jeanne Falconett, The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

Best supporting actor: Elliott Gould, California Split (1974)

Best supporting actress: Lisa Eichorn, Cutter’s Way (1981)

Best directing: Jean-Luc Godard, Week-end (1967)

Best original screenplay: Bruce Robinson, Withnail and I (1987)

Best adapted screenplay: Ari Folman’s adaptation of The Futurological Congress by Stanisław Lem, The Congress (2013)

Best cinematography: Manuel Alberto Claro, Melancholia (2011)

Best production design: François de Lamothe, Le Samourai (1967)

Best editing: George Hively, Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Best original score: Daniel Lopatin, Uncut Gems (2019)

Best original song: “The Dead Don’t Die,” Sturgill Simpson, from The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

Best costume design: Antonio Castillo and Marcel Escoffier, Beauty and the Beast (1946)

Best makeup and hairstyling: Hagop Arakelian, Beauty and the Beast (1946)

Best visual effects: René Clément, Beauty and the Beast (1946)

Best animated feature film: Angel’s Egg, directed by Mamoru Oshii (1985)

Best documentary feature: Robby Müller: Living the Light, directed by Claire Pijman (2018)

A panel from Hayao Miyazaki’s Air Meal, a 1994 comic about the first in-flight meal

35 still frames from Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life

From It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946. Directed by Frank Capra; cinematography by Joseph Walker and Joseph Biroc. Via FilmGrab.

Moby-Dick (The Dead Don’t Die)

From The Dead Don’t Die, 2019. Dir. Jim Jarmusch; cinematography by Frederick Elmes.

25 still frames from John Carpenter’s The Thing

From The Thing, 1982. Directed by John Carpenter; cinematography by Dean Cundey. Via FilmGrab.

Watch Norwood, the not-especially-good film adaptation of Charles Portis’s novel Norwood (or don’t watch it, it’s not that good)

I found the 1970 film adaptation of Norwood on YouTube and watched it this morning. It stars Glen Campbell in the title role. He’s reasonably charming but a little too handsome. Kim Darby is also in the film; she starred as Mattie Ross in the 1969 film adaptation of Portis’s True Grit along with Campbell. Norwood was also produced by the same guy as True Grit (Hal Wallis) and shared the same screenwriter (Marguerite Roberts), and it kinda sorta feels like…left overs from that production? I don’t know if that makes sense. Joe Namath and Dom DeLuise also pop up.

It has a few moments (mostly coming on Campbell’s charm delivering lines cribbed from the novel), but it looks terrible and never gets close to the wit and energy of its source material. But I thought I’d share it any way, as a kind of curio for Portisheads who might want to skim through it.

 

Sátántangó dance scene

A (perhaps titular) scene from Bela Tarr’s film Sátántangó (1994). Based on the novel of the same name by László Krasznahorkai.

51 still frames from Slava Tsukerman’s Liquid Sky

Liquid-Sky-001Liquid-Sky-006Liquid-Sky-014Liquid-Sky-016Liquid-Sky-022Liquid-Sky-025Liquid-Sky-026Liquid-Sky-028Liquid-Sky-029Liquid-Sky-032Liquid-Sky-036Liquid-Sky-040 Continue reading “51 still frames from Slava Tsukerman’s Liquid Sky”

Watch Robert Enrico’s short film adaptation of Ambrose Bierce’s “The Mockingbird”


“The Mockingbird”

by

Ambrose Bierce


The time, a pleasant Sunday afternoon in the early autumn of 1861. The place, a forest’s heart in the mountain region of southwestern Virginia. Private Grayrock of the Federal Army is discovered seated comfortably at the root of a great pine tree, against which he leans, his legs extended straight along the ground, his rifle lying across his thighs, his hands (clasped in order that they may not fall away to his sides) resting upon the barrel of the weapon. The contact of the back of his head with the tree has pushed his cap downward over his eyes, almost concealing them; one seeing him would say that he slept.

Private Grayrock did not sleep; to have done so would have imperiled the interests of the United States, for he was a long way outside the lines and subject to capture or death at the hands of the enemy. Moreover, he was in a frame of mind unfavorable to repose. The cause of his perturbation of spirit was this: during the previous night he had served on the picket-guard, and had been posted as a sentinel in this very forest. The night was clear, though moonless, but in the gloom of the wood the darkness was deep. Grayrock’s post was at a considerable distance from those to right and left, for the pickets had been thrown out a needless distance from the camp, making the line too long for the force detailed to occupy it. The war was young, and military camps entertained the error that while sleeping they were better protected by thin lines a long way out toward the enemy than by thicker ones close in. And surely they needed as long notice as possible of an enemy’s approach, for they were at that time addicted to the practice of undressing–than which nothing could be more unsoldierly. On the morning of the memorable 6th of April, at Shiloh, many of Grant’s men when spitted on Confederate bayonets were as naked as civilians; but it should be allowed that this was not because of any defect in their picket line. Their error was of another sort: they had no pickets. This is perhaps a vain digression. I should not care to undertake to interest the reader in the fate of an army; what we have here to consider is that of Private Grayrock. Continue reading “Watch Robert Enrico’s short film adaptation of Ambrose Bierce’s “The Mockingbird””

Buzz off

From Jim Jarmusch’s 1986 film Down By Law (full film below).