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.

Watch a 1970 short documentary about Alice Coltrane

Cormac McCarthy’s Cinematic Trash

The above is an unsigned New York Times article published on 8 Nov. 1998.

Cormac’s Trash was released in 1999.

In a 2001 interview, producer Mylène Moreno suggests that the short film did not violate McCarthy’s privacy:

AC: You’re also showing the short “Cormac’s Trash,” that you produced and your husband Rafe Greenlee wrote and directed, about how the obsessed fans of the elusive, reclusive El Paso resident/writer Cormac McCarthy try to smoke him out, one even going so far as to go through his trash. How did that project come about?

MM: From the moment we arrived, Cormac’s presence loomed very large. There was always a lot of buzz about him. We lived near him and were always aware of his presence in the neighborhood, though we never saw him. He was Rafe’s favorite author. The film explores Cormac’s relationship to El Paso’s artists and its literary community. As a lawyer, Rafe was interested in privacy issues, and he takes the position in the film that he’s not going to cross the line — even though the film reveals that others probably have. He was careful about revealing the sorts of things found in Cormac’s trash. He didn’t show all of what was in there.

I think we should leave Cormac’s trash alone.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk: Selected Stories of Nikolai Leskov (Book acquired, 19 Sept. 2020)

NRYB has a forthcoming collection of Nikolai Leskov stories (novellas, really) called Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. The collection features new translations from Donald Rayfield, Robert Chandler, and William Edgerton. NYRB’s blurb:

Nikolai Leskov is the strangest of the great Russian writers of the nineteenth century. His work is closer to the oral traditions of narrative than that of his contemporaries, and served as the inspiration for Walter Benjamin’s great essay “The Storyteller,” in which Benjamin contrasts the plotty machinations of the modern novel with the strange, melancholy, but also worldly-wise yarns of an older, slower era that Leskov remained in touch with. The title story is a tale of illicit love and multiple murder that could easily find its way into a Scottish ballad and did go on to become the most popular of Dmitri Shostakovich’s operas. The other stories, all but one newly translated, present the most focused and finely rendered collection of this indispensable writer currently available in English.

The collection includes six novellas: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, The Sealed Angel, The Enchanted Wanderer, The Steel Flea, The Unmercenary Engineers, and The Innocent Prudentius.

I read a few of these stories some years back in a Borzoi collection of Leskov stories called The Enchanted Wanderer and Other Stories; those translations were by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (and included some much shorter tales).

I also highly highly recommend Lady Macbeth, director William Oldroyd and writer Alice Birch’s 2016 film adaptation of Leskov’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, which I reviewed on this blog a few years ago.

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.

 

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”

Buzz off

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

45 still frames from Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

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From Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, 1984. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Cinematography by Koji Shiragami, Yukitomo Shudo, Yasuhiro Shimizu. and Mamoru Sugiura. Via Screenmusings.

Ratner’s Star | On Uncut Gems

uncut_gems_0174939

[Ed. note: Biblioklept originally ran this review in January, 2020 and is posting it again today as Uncut Gems is now streaming in the U.S. on Netflix.]

Frenetic, chaotic, and unceasingly energetic, the Safdie brothers’ 2019 film Uncut Gems plays out like a two-hour panic attack. Uncut Gems opens in the turbulent aftermath of a mining accident. An Ethiopian mine worker is borne up by his frenzied fellows, his leg a raw mangled bloody mess. The Ethiopian workers’ voices mix into the Chinese mine operators’ attempts to calm the situation. This initial cacophony signals the babble and buzz that will continue through the rest of the film, and the camera’s lingering on the destroyed leg signals the violent cost that underwrites the material splendor at the heart of Uncut Gems.

Two Ethiopian miners take a gamble and use the chaos as an opportunity to sneak away, back into the mine to make off with a rare black opal, the titular uncut gem. One of the miners peers into the gem, and the camera follows his gaze. We are taken into a kaleidoscope of shifting colors as Daniel Lopatin’s beautiful synth score kicks in. The camera swirls through the gem and, in an opening sequence that rivals Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void, eventually enters the colon of our hero, Howard Ratner.

A title card informs us it is two years later. It is 2012 in New York City and Howard Ratner is getting a colonoscopy. There is probably some metaphor here—the aesthetic journey from the gem’s dazzle of color to the interior glistening-chewing-gum-pink flesh of Howard’s colon—but I’ll avoid remarking further upon it.

Here is the film’s premise: Howard owns and runs a jewelry store in the Diamond District. His associate Demany brings rappers and athletes to him to buy unique, high-end pieces. He is flush with cash all the time, but is also severely indebted to a loan shark named Arno (among other folks). However, his debts don’t stop him from continuing to place bets. He is also in the middle of an affair with one of his employees, Julia, whom he keeps in his Manhattan apartment, barely-concealed from his wife and children in Long Island.

uncut-garnett-sandler-1576518581

Three things happen on the day we meet Howard: Arno’s henchmen come to prove good on their threats of violence towards him if he does not pay back his loans; Demany brings Boston Celtics power forward Kevin Garnett to Howard’s shop; and Howard receives the titular uncut black opal, which he plans to sell at auction for at least a million dollars. Seeking to impress Kevin Garnett (“KG!”), the jeweler shows off his opal, Ratner’s star. In one of the film’s most extraordinary visual sequences, KG gazes into the opal and undergoes a seismic epiphany. He demands to buy the gem, but Howard refuses—he needs the money from the auction to get clean of debt. However, Howard allows KG to borrow the gem for the night, taking Garnett’s 2008 NBA Championship ring as collateral for its return. KG is convinced that the gem will lead to his success in that night’s Eastern Conference Semifinals game against the Philadelphia ’76ers (it does).

From this early point in the film Howard goes on to make a series of increasingly-nerve-wracking decisions against the backdrop of his loan shark’s enforcers’ increasingly-violent promises of retribution. I will not spoil any more of the plot—my “premise” paragraph seems too long as it is—I’ll simply say that there were moments that I (and other audience members) audibly gasped (in shock, in exasperation, in frustrated disbelief) at Howard’s choices.

Uncut Gems never really lets up. There are a few moments of respite as well as moments of comedy, but they mostly serve to suspend the anxiety the film creates, not release it. Uncut Gems is a horror film posing as a crime thriller, an anxiety film equal to Aronofsky’s mother! or Polanski’s Repulsion. The Safdies conjure a hectic, bustling world in Uncut Gems, a world of babble and noise and beauty and ugliness. Characters crowd the frames, their voices colliding in a way reminiscent of the films of Altman, Cassavetes, or early Scorsese.

Under and through the noise of voices in Uncut Gems floats Daniel Lopatin’s wonderful score. Waves of synths swing between between evocations of romance and horror; menacing swells and whimsical melodies, simultaneously busy and calming, cascade over the film. Lopatin, better known as the electronic artist Oneohtrix Point Never, is a highlight of this film.

Another highlight of Uncut Gems is Darius Khondji’s cinematography. The saturated shots are reminiscent of his work on Wong Kar-Wai’s under-rated 2007 film My Blueberry Nights (as well as his work the same year on Haneke’s equally-anxiety-producing black comedy/horror Funny Games). Khondji conjures a candy-colored Manhattan, lush and opulent. The painterly frames are seductive but also dangerous, recalling the neon-noir of films by Gaspar Noé and Nicolas Winding Refn.

And of course the acting. I have spent close to 800 words not pointing out that this is an Adam Sandler film. Sandler inhabits his role as Howard Ratner with a vibrating energy that is hard to capture in words. It’s hard to imagine any one else playing the part. Sandler’s Howard is a degenerate gambler, addicted to the thrills of his own confidence games, a trickster blowing up his life in real time. He’s in love with his own chaos, and it’s hard not to root for him, even as he destroys everything around him.

Kevin Garnett is fantastic as himself. His eyes are especially expressive, and his screen presence is utterly natural. His final scene with Sandler’s Howard is a highlight of the film, as he seems to deliver any sane person’s remarks to the gambling addict. Lakieth Stanfield is also excellent in the film as Demany, Howard’s procurer. He both balances and matches Howard’s energetic chaos, even if he can’t ground his erstwhile partner. Eric Bogosian brings ballast to the role of Arno, Howard’s loan shark, as does Judd Hirsch, playing his father-in-law. Idina Menzel plays Howard’s (soon-to-be-ex-) wife with an unflinching meanness that the character deserves. Newcomer Julia Fox is a standout as Julia, Howard’s mistress. She enables Howard, but in some ways she’s also the hero of the film.

Uncut Gems is a very good film and I was very relieved when it was over. The Safdie brothers have created something that sustains a feeling that many of us take SSRIs to avoid. “Wow, I really hated that,” the young woman next to me remarked to her date as the closing credits began. I can understand that reaction. Uncut Gems will not be entertaining for most folks, but I thought it was great. Its initial evocations of worldly violence as the cost of worldly pleasures are answered in its final moments. Catch it in the theater if you can.

Breadcrumb Trail, a documentary about Slint

31 still frames from Haynes’s Carol

Carol-004Carol-011Carol-012Carol-016Carol-019Carol-020Carol-021Carol-028Carol-029Carol-033Carol-041Carol-042Carol-043Carol-046Carol-047Carol-065Carol-076Carol-079Carol-080Carol-087Carol-088Carol-098Carol-115Carol-114Carol-117Carol-126Carol-131Carol-136Carol-140Carol-141Carol-145

From Carol, 2015. Directed by Todd Haynes with cinematography by Edward Lachman. Via Screenmusings.

Ratner’s Star | On Uncut Gems

uncut_gems_0174939

Frenetic, chaotic, and unceasingly energetic, the Safdie brothers’ 2019 film Uncut Gems plays out like a two-hour panic attack. Uncut Gems opens in the turbulent aftermath of a mining accident. An Ethiopian mine worker is borne up by his frenzied fellows, his leg a raw mangled bloody mess. The Ethiopian workers’ voices mix into the Chinese mine operators’ attempts to calm the situation. This initial cacophony signals the babble and buzz that will continue through the rest of the film, and the camera’s lingering on the destroyed leg signals the violent cost that underwrites the material splendor at the heart of Uncut Gems.

Two Ethiopian miners take a gamble and use the chaos as an opportunity to sneak away, back into the mine to make off with a rare black opal, the titular uncut gem. One of the miners peers into the gem, and the camera follows his gaze. We are taken into a kaleidoscope of shifting colors as Daniel Lopatin’s beautiful synth score kicks in. The camera swirls through the gem and, in an opening sequence that rivals Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void, eventually enters the colon of our hero, Howard Ratner.

A title card informs us it is two years later. It is 2012 in New York City and Howard Ratner is getting a colonoscopy. There is probably some metaphor here—the aesthetic journey from the gem’s dazzle of color to the interior glistening-chewing-gum-pink flesh of Howard’s colon—but I’ll avoid remarking further upon it.

Here is the film’s premise: Howard owns and runs a jewelry store in the Diamond District. His associate Demany brings rappers and athletes to him to buy unique, high-end pieces. He is flush with cash all the time, but is also severely indebted to a loan shark named Arno (among other folks). However, his debts don’t stop him from continuing to place bets. He is also in the middle of an affair with one of his employees, Julia, whom he keeps in his Manhattan apartment, barely-concealed from his wife and children in Long Island.

uncut-garnett-sandler-1576518581

Three things happen on the day we meet Howard: Arno’s henchmen come to prove good on their threats of violence towards him if he does not pay back his loans; Demany brings Boston Celtics power forward Kevin Garnett to Howard’s shop; and Howard receives the titular uncut black opal, which he plans to sell at auction for at least a million dollars. Seeking to impress Kevin Garnett (“KG!”), the jeweler shows off his opal, Ratner’s star. In one of the film’s most extraordinary visual sequences, KG gazes into the opal and undergoes a seismic epiphany. He demands to buy the gem, but Howard refuses—he needs the money from the auction to get clean of debt. However, Howard allows KG to borrow the gem for the night, taking Garnett’s 2008 NBA Championship ring as collateral for its return. KG is convinced that the gem will lead to his success in that night’s Eastern Conference Semifinals game against the Philadelphia ’76ers (it does).

From this early point in the film Howard goes on to make a series of increasingly-nerve-wracking decisions against the backdrop of his loan shark’s enforcers’ increasingly-violent promises of retribution. I will not spoil any more of the plot—my “premise” paragraph seems too long as it is—I’ll simply say that there were moments that I (and other audience members) audibly gasped (in shock, in exasperation, in frustrated disbelief) at Howard’s choices.

Uncut Gems never really lets up. There are a few moments of respite as well as moments of comedy, but they mostly serve to suspend the anxiety the film creates, not release it. Uncut Gems is a horror film posing as a crime thriller, an anxiety film equal to Aronofsky’s mother! or Polanski’s Repulsion. The Safdies conjure a hectic, bustling world in Uncut Gems, a world of babble and noise and beauty and ugliness. Characters crowd the frames, their voices colliding in a way reminiscent of the films of Altman, Cassavetes, or early Scorsese.

Under and through the noise of voices in Uncut Gems floats Daniel Lopatin’s wonderful score. Waves of synths swing between between evocations of romance and horror; menacing swells and whimsical melodies, simultaneously busy and calming, cascade over the film. Lopatin, better known as the electronic artist Oneohtrix Point Never, is a highlight of this film.

Another highlight of Uncut Gems is Darius Khondji’s cinematography . The not-overly-saturated shots are reminiscent of his work on Wong Kar-Wai’s under-rated 2007 film My Blueberry Nights (as well as his work the same year on Haneke’s equally-anxiety-producing black comedy/horror Funny Games). Khondji conjures a candy-colored Manhattan, lush and opulent. The painterly frames are seductive but also dangerous, recalling the neon-noir of films by Gaspar Noé and Nicolas Winding Refn.

And of course the acting. I have spent close to 800 words not pointing out that this is an Adam Sandler film. Sandler inhabits his role as Howard Ratner with a vibrating energy that is hard to capture in words. It’s hard to imagine any one else playing the part. Sandler’s Howard is a degenerate gambler, addicted to the thrills of his own confidence games, a trickster blowing up his life in real time. He’s in love with his own chaos, and it’s hard not to root for him, even as he destroys everything around him.

Kevin Garnett is fantastic as himself. His eyes are especially expressive, and his screen presence is utterly natural. His final scene with Sandler’s Howard is a highlight of the film, as he seems to deliver any sane person’s remarks to the gambling addict. Lakieth Stanfield is also excellent in the film as Demany, Howard’s procurer. He both balances and matches Howard’s energetic chaos, even if he can’t ground his erstwhile partner. Eric Bogosian brings ballast to the role of Arno, Howard’s loan shark, as does Judd Hirsch, playing his father-in-law. Idina Menzel plays Howard’s (soon-to-be-ex-) wife with an unflinching meanness that the character deserves. Newcomer Julia Fox is a standout as Julia, Howard’s mistress. She enables Howard, but in some ways she’s also the hero of the film.

Uncut Gems is a very good film and I was very relieved when it was over. The Safdie brothers have created something that sustains a feeling that many of us take SSRIs to avoid. “Wow, I really hated that,” the young woman next to me remarked to her date as the closing credits began. I can understand that reaction. Uncut Gems will not be entertaining for most folks, but I thought it was great. Its initial evocations of worldly violence as the cost of worldly pleasures are answered in its final moments. Catch it in the theater if you can.

I have always thought, in the back of my mind,

RIP Neil Innes, 1955-2019

47 still frames from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner

Blade-Runner-002Blade-Runner-003Blade-Runner-006Blade-Runner-007Blade-Runner-008Blade-Runner-009Blade-Runner-010Blade-Runner-011Blade-Runner-017Blade-Runner-021Blade-Runner-022Blade-Runner-024Blade-Runner-025Blade-Runner-026Blade-Runner-027Blade-Runner-028Blade-Runner-029Blade-Runner-031Blade-Runner-032Blade-Runner-034Blade-Runner-035Blade-Runner-039Blade-Runner-043Blade-Runner-044Blade-Runner-048Blade-Runner-054Blade-Runner-058Blade-Runner-060Blade-Runner-061Blade-Runner-066Blade-Runner-071Blade-Runner-072Blade-Runner-079Blade-Runner-083Blade-Runner-114Blade-Runner-120Blade-Runner-122Blade-Runner-128Blade-Runner-132Blade-Runner-137Blade-Runner-140Blade-Runner-142Blade-Runner-152Blade-Runner-162Blade-Runner-166Blade-Runner-173Blade-Runner-182

From Blade Runner, 1982. Directed by Ridley Scott with cinematography by Jordan Cronenweth. Via Screen Musings.

Blade Runner film poster by Kilian Eng

Killian-Eng-Blade-Runner-2Screenshot 2017-04-13 at 7.38.39 PMScreenshot 2017-04-13 at 7.38.55 PMScreenshot 2017-04-13 at 7.39.29 PM

13 still frames from The Wolf Man

wolfman062wolfman001wolfman006wolfman010wolfman015wolfman020wolfman026wolfman027wolfman028wolfman035wolfman038wolfman040wolfman041

From The Wolf Man, 1941. Directed by George Waggner with cinematography by Joseph A. Valentine. Via Film Grab.

25 still frames from Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown

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From Jackie Brown, 1997. Directed by Quentin Tarantino with cinematography by Guillermo Navarro. Via Film Grab. RIP Robert Forster.