Thursday, April 28, 2011

More Link Love



Available to be read in full at Fandor's Keyframe blog, my list of highlights from the Illuminating the Shadows conference at Northwestern University's Block Museum. Below, the moment that may interest my readers the most; should it prompt a comment urge, the splendid Fandor editor Kevin Lee would love to hear from you over there.


3. Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, co-host of Ebert Presents At the Movies with Christy Lemire, mischievously remarked during the panel on the art of writing that he considered Jean-Claude Van Damme to be a movie artist on the level of Buster Keaton. Or near the level of Buster Keaton. Worthy to be mentioned in the same declarative sentence with Keaton, anyway. I don't remember the precise phrasing; I was on stage next to him for the same panel, and PTSD caused me to lose track of my pen. Despite my own appreciation for Van Damme (perhaps one day Fandor will hire me to write up Universal Soldier), I believe I gave Vishnevetsky what is usually referred to as the "side-eye."




At Nomad Wide Screen, my two most recent Retro-Fit columns. First, a piece on Raoul Walsh's fabulous pre-Code, Sailor's Luck, which was screened at the Block conference by the great Dave Kehr.


In a March 6 [New York Times] column about distributors and viewers’ move away from DVDs toward Blu-ray discs and streaming video, Kehr acknowledged the lack of enthusiasm many old-movie hounds feel for yet another shift in format. We greet these shifts, he wrote, with “a mixed sense of hope and fear. Hope, to the degree that the new distribution strategies may make it economically feasible for a broader range of movies to enter the marketplace; fear, grounded in past experience that suggests format changes invariably leave legions of once widely available titles in limbo.” Last week, at a conference held by Northwestern University’s Block Cinema, Kehr introduced a screening of a brilliant movie that is stuck in that very limbo.

The film, Sailor’s Luck from 1933, was directed by acknowledged master Raoul Walsh during the freewheeling era before the Production Code was implemented.

[snip]

Since it’s a Pre-Code feature, there are elements in Sailor’s Luck that would disappear just a year or so later, including Sally Eilers putting on her underwear and Esther Muir leaning over a crystal ball and giving Walsh a chance to point the camera more or less directly between her breasts (albeit from a tactful distance). Enormous hip flasks are brought out at intervals. Jimmy [James Dunn] climbs in a car with possibly the drunkest driver in all of 1930s cinema — giving Walsh an excuse to demonstrate just how good early rear-projection could be, the camera whirling around for queasy-making views of walls, the curb, lampposts, unwary pedestrians.

A scene between Dunn and Eilers dwells on the possibility that they might sleep together; it’s played quietly, in her furnished room, and blocked with enthralling precision, as Eilers sits in a chair across the room, Dunn plops on the bed, Dunn invites her to the bed, she moves only to a closer chair, Dunn lowers the window shades, she raises them. Also startlingly frank is the way the movie deals with the physical peril Eilers finds herself in when she encounters overeager men; confronting Baron Portola (Victor Jory, in the first role of what would be a career full of such parts), she opens the door that he just closed with a mixture of sass and uneasiness.




Next up at Nomad, another postcard from another conference, a film-noir fest at Manhattan's New School that was hosted by celebrated director Guy Maddin and the fine film writer and all-around goddess Kim Morgan of Sunset Gun. Guy presented The Chase, from 1946, starring a not-bad-at-all Robert Cummings (stop giggling); and Kim gave a loving introduction to Wicked Woman from 1953, starring the mesmerizing Beverly Michaels:

Morgan is a huge partisan of this work, calling it a “Poverty Row masterpiece,” and the film lived up to its introduction. Wicked Woman has a naturalistic feel, its low-rent atmosphere giving it a sense of realism that you don’t get from most higher-budget studio films of the era. Morgan particularly loves the movie for its star, whose character Morgan described as a woman “overcompensating for being in a man’s world"...Her character, Billie Nash, steps off a bus in a one-horse town early in the film, and just watching her lounge into the station and ask where she can find a cheap room is enthralling. The maintenance routines of a down-at-the-heels blonde are right up front, with Michaels rummaging around for something to wear and touching up her platinum roots with a slight grimace over the burning bleach. The movie constantly uses Michaels’ height (she was five-foot-nine, but looks taller), as she folds her limbs into a cheap chair that’s too small or stretches out a lanky arm to grab something from the fridge. (“I could watch her open a beer all day,” says Morgan.) Michaels’ stature gives a piquant flavor to her interactions with neighbor Charlie Borg (Percy Helton), one of the oiliest lechers I’ve ever seen—as Morgan put it, “every sleazy man who ever hit on a woman rolled into one.” Helton is so short that his bald head is level with Michaels’ collarbone, and his conversations with Michaels find him mostly talking to her breasts.




Raymond De Felitta, the Siren's email correspondent below, has put part one of his George Stevens musings online at Movies Til Dawn. The Siren has an abiding love for anyone working to resurrect a neglected or downtrodden reputation in classic film, and this promises to be a great effort. The Siren herself has a high opinion of Stevens, especially Shane, A Place in the Sun, Giant, Gunga Din, Swing Time, The Talk of the Town, Penny Serenade, Vivacious Lady and The Diary of Anne Frank. She loves Raymond's contention that Stevens' "sense of time and space within an individual scene became increasingly abstract and--paradoxically--more emotional as his work went on after the Second World War." Worth reading even if Stevens has not been a personal favorite--perhaps particularly if that's the case. The Siren also realized, looking at Stevens' filmography, that pre-1935 and Alice Adams (another good film), his credits are a viewing black hole. So if anyone has a recommendation for early Stevens, let us know, by all means. Update: "There is nothing about this that even vaguely resembles what was then considered 'normal' directorial staging": Part Two is up, with a close look at scenes from A Place in the Sun and The More the Merrier.



Libertas, the Website run by Jason Apuzzo and Govindini Murty, has undergone a remake over the past year. Once marked by a hectoring tone that was not to the Siren's taste, Libertas is still very much an explicitly conservative film site--which would appeal to some of the Siren's readers, and not to others. But Apuzzo and Murty have worked to turn it into a place that's focused on pointing out films they love, rather than decrying films they can't stand. In terms of the Siren's own cinematic inclinations, she has long been a fan of Jennifer Baldwin, who has commented here from time to time as The Derelict and has her own blog at Dereliction Row. She's a good writer who covers classic film with a passion anyone here can identify with, and the Siren recommends her essays to one and all. The Siren, a Fritz Lang freak from way back, was especially smitten with Jennifer's post about Human Desire; she focuses on the great Gloria Grahame.

At Laura's Miscellaneous Musings, another pre-Code that ties in neatly to a couple of things I screened recently: Made on Broadway, from 1933. Haven't seen it. Sounds nifty. It stars Sally Eilers, so fresh and adorable in Sailor's Luck, and Laura says it has overtones of Chicago.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Screenwriters, Directors, Bitterness and True Grit: Talking With Raymond De Felitta


The Siren’s longtime, all-time best friend is David Leonard, debonair bon vivant and man-about-town, as well as a film editor. There, that’s David’s first full-name shout-out here, with an IMDB link and everything. We’ll see if he spots it, since sometimes he reads the Siren, and sometimes he amuses himself by greeting her with “Hey, are you still writing that thing?”

David cut two films by Raymond De Felitta, Two Family House and City Island, and through David the Siren has gotten to know Raymond, also a sophisticated chap, and also possessed of the occasional impulse to rattle the Siren’s cage. An example being the night she saw City Island, when the Siren yapped on at length about thematic overlap between it and Two Family House, which was set on Staten Island, and wrapped up by telling Raymond that what he needed next was Roosevelt Island. He folded his hands and said pleasantly, “I can honestly say that none of that ever occurred to me.”

As far as the Siren is concerned, that exchange was what cemented our friendship.

Raymond has a wonderful blog, Movies Til Dawn, that chronicled his own classic-film and jazz and historical obsessions until it was taken over by extensive blogging about the making of City Island and, in need of a break, he let it lie fallow for a bit. But he’s back now, with posts like this two-parter about his two encounters with the late, great, much-lamented Sidney Lumet. And, further to what goes below, Raymond also has a post coming up about his conversation with George Stevens Jr. about his distinguished pop.

The Siren recently got an email from Raymond about her James Agee post. That led to a back-and-forth about screenwriters and directors, which was a lot of fun, since Raymond is both. The Siren asked his permission to post our musings, and was granted it. So here, edited slightly for grammar, continuity, and a couple of indiscreet asides, is what we said.



*****

Hello Farran,

I've been meaning to write to you about your James Agee piece...Both my Agee volumes got lent out and lost. I reacquired Vol. 1 recently and had a great time re-reading it. I kind of love his one-liner reviews where he covers a pile of movies--partly for his wit and partly for thinking of Agee sitting in dark movie houses for hours and hours watching scads of things that he dismisses in a few words (my fave is his Give My Regards To Broadway review: "Vaudeville is dead. I wish to hell someone would bury it.") Volume 2 I never cared about because I didn't really like his scripts--I find African Queen one of the more boring famous movies ever made--but I also got the sense that as smart, deep and swinging as his critical writing was, his dramatic writing was quite the opposite--square, earnest, filled with the desire to speak through film but not the gut instinct of a dramatist.

This leads me to wonder if you've read many older scripts and what, if any, your feelings are about them. I spent a good deal of time at both the AFI and Academy libraries when younger reading scripts and found that--no surprise--the best movies were right there on the page, with little ambiguity and with almost all scenes/dialogue largely intact. Dudley Nichol's Stagecoach script was masterful, as was Phillip Dunne's How Green Was My Valley. In a strange way I began to identify with the frustrations of these writers with the directors who grew famous as they faded into obscurity. How much work did John Ford really have to do to make those movies great? Preston Sturges’ scripts (which I'm sure you know are available in collections) ring out much like Coen Brothers scripts do. And a number of noir scripts actually read better than the films made from them--specifically The Dark Corner which is a great read but only an okay movie--and which supports my feeling that Henry Hathaway was really quite a mediocrity, somebody who didn't truly deserve much of the material that came his way.

bestest/warmest
RDEF

*****



Dear Raymond,

Thanks so much for reading the Agee piece, which was a labor of love for me. I also love his short reviews; he really excelled at them. Loved his take on Paris Underground: "Good performance by [Constance] Bennett except in actions requiring a heart."

I haven’t read that many classic screenplays, I'm sorry to say. I'm sure you're aware of the controversy about Agee's African Queen and Night of the Hunter scripts, but apparently what is on screen in terms of dialogue is all there in his scripts, it's just that he wrote more than could be filmed. I agree that the scripts are much less swingin' than the criticism, although I like them both very much. But what's good in the scripts is more like what's good in A Death in the Family or Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

Your reference to screenwriters’ impatience with their place in the pantheon reminds me of the bitterness in Ben Hecht’s memoirs, for some reason. For the hardest of hardcore auteurists, the screenwriter scarcely exists except a spur to directorial genius. So it's interesting to hear you, a screenwriter and director, pay such tribute to the scripts you've looked at. Hmm, may I quote you sometime--avec name or not?

All the best,
Farran



*****


Hey there,

Ben Hecht's memoir is spectacularly LONG, but I'm not sure I find it bitter--sardonic and in need of making short shrift of the work for which he's remembered but for which he didn't have a lot of respect. But he has his own version of Hollywood and professionalism and didn't wind up "drunk under a table at Lucy's" (Wilder on Chandler). He wrote novels and plays in the twenties and early thirties and certainly nothing was keeping him from continuing, but movies became his focus and what he's ultimately remembered for. I quite like a novel of his from the early thirties called--get this--A Jew In Love. It's a roman a clef about the Broadway producer Jed Harris--who was later roman-a-clef'd again in The Saxon Charm where he was played by Robert Montgomery. It bears interesting resemblances to one of his and McArthur's arty New York movies, The Scoundrel. Hecht was famous for rewriting himself and many claim to see big similarities between Front Page and Gunga Din, though this mostly eludes me.

Anyway, as far as hardcore auteurists go, they simply don't have the equipment to make these pronoucements, as they've mostly never made a film. There's not much you can do on the floor with a scene that doesn't work or a story that isn't interesting. A lousy screenplay has never been turned into a great--or even very good--movie. Great directors--Hawks, let's say--can take a medium-warm piece of material and give it their own spin, filter it through their interests and come out with something better than it might deserve to be (To Have and Have Not is, for me, the best movie ever made from the weakest story/screenplay). And oftentimes not--Man's Favorite Sport? anybody? To my point about Hathaway, the script of The Dark Corner (by Jay Dratlert and Bernard Shoenfeld--two middle-level hacks with a couple of good credits each) had the stuff for a terrific film noir and falls short because of Hathaway's mostly uninspired direction. So yes, a better director would have taken it to a better place. I nominate John Stahl. Or maybe Manckiewicz in his noir-y Somewhere In the Night/Five Fingers phase.

But I'm bored with the assertion that screenplays are "blueprints". The good ones are fully realized plans with maps, guidebooks and suggested stopovers along the way attached. Phillip Dunne's script for Last Of The Mohicans is so good that no less a hardheaded auteurist than Michael Mann fully admits "basing" his script on Dunne's because it was "a terrific piece of writing" (this from an interview that I read but no longer can remember where). Ford squeezed every drop of juice out of Nichols' great Stagecoach script and could do little with Nichols' Mary of Scotland script. In other words, if Nichols was having a bad day, so was Ford.

You may "jot the above down on a slab of marble" (Welles to Bogdanovich, natch) or simply quote it whenever you feel like it.

bestest/warmest
RDEF



*****


Hi,

I did find Hecht's memoir bitter, in that he spends a great deal of time slamming the profession he excelled at, to the point that it becomes wearisome. No one wants to spend all that much time hearing how you spent life perfecting a craft that was ultimately beneath you. Of course, my beloved George Sanders did the same, but there is less bile to Sanders on acting, and more pure exhaustion. I sort of see The Front Page/Gunga Din comparison, but like all great writers, when Hecht stole, even from himself, he knew how to cover his tracks. And yes, it's refreshing to read a literary memoir that doesn't involve extensive liver damage.

Now I am trying to think of a great movie with a truly bad screenplay, and I can't do it either, unless you're willing to spot me Titanic. I hesitate to blame Dudley Nichols entirely for Mary of Scotland, which really is bad even if it's good-looking in places, when he was taking on Maxwell Anderson's blank verse. I value good dialogue a great deal, but you can have problematic dialogue and get past it, as I think Cameron’s Titanic does.

But a really bad screenplay would also have poor pacing and structure, exposition hanging out like washing on the line, inscrutable characters, poor transitions. Very hard to overcome that on set, I should think, even if you happen to be a genius.

Auteurism is clearly a useful way to look at a lot of great directors, and often essential. But the dogmatic variety wearies me when it's used to devalue other contributions, such as yes, the screenwriter, but also the actors and the editors and many others; and most of all I dislike the whole ranking compulsion that occasionally springs from auteurism, that notion that Man's Favorite Sport? is as interesting as Shane, because Howard Hawks was a greater director than George Stevens.

I don't get a sense that most directors themselves do that, by the by--correct me if I'm wrong. A good movie is a good movie. It's accepted that a mediocrity may have a splendid movie or two in him, that the vagaries of the business may hold some back more than others, that in the words of Wile E. Coyote, even a genius can have an off day. To go back to Stevens--whom I don't consider a mediocrity--the first time I saw McCabe and Mrs. Miller, I was struck by how much the callous murder of Keith Carradine's character echoed a similar killing by Jack Palance in Shane. Altman was an auteur if ever there was one, but he clearly didn't say to himself, "nah, can't use an idea from George Stevens.”

I found this from a Michael Mann interview around the time of Mohicans' release: "’Dunne's screenplay was very good,' Mann said. ‘[My] actual story structure, maybe half of it, is from Philip Dunne.’ “ About a 1936 movie. Come to think of it, I did like Mann's Last of the Mohicans, and it was because it had classic dimensions. I know, I'm predictable.

But maybe not completely predictable. Further to Hathaway: Grudgingly, through clenched teeth, I hereby admit that the Coen Brothers' version of True Grit is superior to Henry Hathaway’s on almost every count, save Wayne/Bridges where I am declaring a draw on the grounds of different approaches. One reason, I submit, is that the remake has a superior script. However, I couldn't help noticing that the Coens quote Hathaway a lot.

Best as ever,
F.



*****


Hi,

No, I can't think of any bad scripts that made good movies either. An interesting excercise (which I've been doing ever since I thought of To Have and Have Not as a great movie with a weak-ish script) is thinking of great movies that would have been mediocre in lesser hands. To Have... directed by Archie Mayo is a two-and-a-half star movie at best--directed by Hawks its genius. I have a feeling that It Happened One Night, directed by, say Eddie Sutherland or Allan Dwan, would be a pleasant but forgettable old comedy. It's Capra who really makes it go and somehow gets his stars so feisty and loose and charming that the damn thing is still irresistable.

One for the list that actually almost happened is Giant directed by Gordon Douglas (think of it! both much shorter and much more boring). At one point that possibility was actually discussed by Jack Warner and Steve Trilling, as Stevens was so over-budget and out of control they actually thought of having Douglas finish up the movie! Oy.

Herman Manckiewicz--even though he didn't write a memoir--was even more bitter than Hecht (he was also a big drunk), and look what he left behind. In general, all these guys thought that movies were a stopover until they got their "real" work done and suddenly--poof!--their careers were over.

I guess bitter is fair for Hecht--though the tone that mostly comes through to me in his book is the wise-ass, out of the side of his mouth Chicago newspaperman who he immortalized in Front Page. Any man who can write, "Tell him his poetry stinks and kick 'em down the stairs," can only be thought to cherish bitterness as an art form...

bestest/warmest
RDEF

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Nomadic Existence: Chicago (1927)


From my Retro-Fit column in Nomad Widescreen, on the 1927 silent version of Chicago (which may or may not have been directed primarily by Cecil B. DeMille on the QT):


Nothing guarantees a murderer immortality quite like getting away with it, as Lizzie Borden could have told you. And so could Beulah Annan, the woman who in 1924 shot a lover foolhardy enough to threaten to leave her — and who walked out of a courtroom 13 months later, free and clear. The story so captured her city and era that a musical and two movie versions bear only the name of her town as a title: Chicago.

The 2002 Oscar-winner was a disappointing, at times downright perverse hash that threw the Broadway musical's greatest asset — its Bob Fosse-choreographed dancing — into a whirling Cuisinart of cuts. Director Rob Marshall slowed down the numbers that needed to sizzle and jazzed up the ones that needed some quiet. It's a delight, then, to return to the first movie made about this long-ago scandal, the 1927 silent, and see how inviting this little cyanide pellet of a story remains.

It's a simple tale of a simple woman with a simple need for the niceties, the nicer the better. Roxie Hart (Phyllis Haver) is married to Amos (Victor Varconi). Amos works at a news and candy stand; he is poor, honest, hardworking, and loves his wee girly with all his handsome, sappy heart. She, of course, is sick to death of him and has instead been carrying on with Casely (Eugene Pallette). As it's a silent, Pallette is bereft of his famous voice, which sounded like a bullfrog trying to climb out of a tuba, but he is young(ish), virile, a couple of dozen pounds lighter than in My Man Godrey nine years later and, more to the point, he has money. Money that he has been spending on Roxie, and money that he has decided, it transpires, to spend on something else. What that something else may be we are destined never to know, for when Rodney arrives at a tryst and rudely announces that he's giving Roxie the air, she airs him in return, with a couple of bullet holes...

...The rest of the film is taken up with watching Roxie scheme and feud from jail cell to courtroom, and Amos slide further into chump-dom as he attempts to rob the jailhouse lawyer (William Flynn) who's promised to get Rosie an acquittal. The idea is to pay the crooked shyster with his own money, an appealing idea for someone capable of doing it competently, which of course Amos is not.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Palate Cleanser: The Jeanette Macdonald - Deanna Durbin Smackdown

As promised. Verdi chosen because the Siren loves Verdi.

Jeanette, La Traviata, "Sempre Libera." From San Francisco (1936), directed by an uncredited W.S. Van Dyke and a movie in which the Siren quite likes the old Iron Butterfly. Apologies for the colorized clip:




Deanna, La Traviata, "Brindisi" (an odd choice for a young girl, but never mind), from One Hundred Men and a Girl (1937), directed by good old Henry Koster:



The Siren is going to go for Deanna, despite all the trouble the woman has inadvertently caused her this year, but she is willing to entertain spirited defenses of Miss Macdonald as well. Also, any opinions on the old story of a long secret love affair with Nelson Eddy? (That would be Macdonald having an affair with Eddy, not Durbin, although if you know something the Siren doesn't, do tell.)

(Palate Cleanser concept courtesy of the ever zen-like Glenn Kenny, who would not begrudge it to the Siren, she feels sure.)

Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Siren at Northwestern University's Film Criticism Conference, April 21-23


For those of her patient readers who reside in the Chicago area, or will just happen to be passing through, the Siren announces that she will be appearing on two panels at this fine feathered critical fête, hosted by the Block Cinema at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. A schedule follows below. The whole thing is free, so do stop by if you can.


Block Cinema Presents

ILLUMINATING THE SHADOWS: FILM CRITICISM IN FOCUS

A three-day conference on the state of film criticism

April 21-23, 2011

Block Cinema at the Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art (Northwestern University) is pleased to present a three-day conference entitled Illuminating the Shadows: Film Criticism in Focus from April 21-23, 2011.

This conference, comprised of four panel discussions and four screenings, seeks to shed light on the current state of film criticism, connections to past critics and practices, and future trends and opportunities.

An impressive roster of working critics from Chicago and around the U.S. has been assembled to share their expertise and opinions on the ever-shifting nature of film criticism. The participants include visiting critics Scott Foundas (New York), Dave Kehr (New York) Karina Longworth (Los Angeles), Wesley Morris (Boston), Farran Smith Nehme (New York), and Jonathan Rosenbaum (currently Richmond, VA). Local participants include critics, writers, academics, filmmakers, artists, and a radio host, all of whom write or comment on film: Fred Camper, Alison Cuddy, Nick Davis, J.R. Jones, Ben Kenigsberg, Gabe Klinger, Ed M. Koziarski, Michael Phillips, Ray Pride, Ben Sachs, Hank Sartin, Bill Stamets, Scott Tobias, and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky.


Through on-stage discussions and introductions to a slate of critically acclaimed contemporary and archival films, Illuminating the Shadows will provide insight into the role film criticism, and film writing more generally, has in our contemporary, media-saturated cultural life and how critics and writers on film view the work they do.

Complete schedule below.

Dates: Thursday, April 21 through Saturday, April 23, 2011.

Venue: Block Cinema (at the Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University), 40 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston, IL.

Cost: All events in Illuminating the Shadows are free and open to the public.

###


Illuminating the Shadows: Film Criticism in Focus

Block Cinema

Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art

40 Arts Circle Drive

Northwestern University

Evanston, IL

April 21-23, 2011

Through panel discussions and on-stage conversations with leading film critics and writers from across the U.S. and from Chicago, and complemented by guest-curated screenings, Illuminating the Shadows: Film Criticism in Focus will explore the state of film criticism at a potentially transformative moment. Technology, journalism, criticism, and cinephilia are always in flux, but the present confluence of changes in all these areas impacts the role of the critic and the nature of film criticism to a degree not previously seen.

A distinguished roster of participants from Los Angeles, New York, Boston, and Chicago (but who can all be read nationally and internationally, thanks to the internet) will navigate this new terrain, seeking to shed light on the changes taking place in film criticism today, and how those changes are connected to still-relevant critics and practices of the past. They will also project forward, looking at new opportunities and trends on the horizon. Amidst all the changes one thing does seem clear: lively and intelligent writing and discussion on film is more prevalent than ever, and most of it is just a mouse-click away.

Special support for this program is provided by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy, the Rubens Family Foundation, and the Office of the Provost, Northwestern University.

SCHEDULE:


THURSDAY, APRIL 21

7:30pm

Film Screening

Tabloid

Selected and Introduced by Michael Phillips

(Errol Morris, 2010, US, 35mm, 87 min.)

“She was living in a movie long before she came to star in my film,” says director Errol Morris of his latest, formidably self-fabulizing subject and the elliptical center of Tabloid. The woman, Joyce McKinney, is a former North Carolina beauty queen who, in 1977, kidnapped her Mormon sweetheart, tied him up, tossed his magic underwear aside, and…end of story? Hardly: As the scandal hit the British tabloids McKinney became the fame machine Fate had in store for her all along. One of Morris’s tightest, most exuberant documentaries, Tabloid finds Morris setting aside the fog of war and the horrors of Abu Ghraib for a different sort of combat–the war for control of a narrative. Michael Phillips. Special advance screening courtesy of IFC Films.


FRIDAY, APRIL 22

1:00pm

Panel One:

Past Perfect – Critical Histories, Seminal Touchstones, and Rediscoveries

This panel will explore how the past intersects with the present and future by looking at earlier practices of film criticism, the legacy and growing influence and importance of particular critics (such as Serge Daney and Manny Farber), and the critic’s role in bringing to light neglected contemporary films or forgotten films from the past.

Moderator:

Nick Davis (Assistant Professor, English and Gender Studies, Northwestern University)

Participants:

Farran Smith Nehme (Writer, Self-Styled Siren Blog)

Jonathan Rosenbaum (Writer; Visiting Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University)

Fred Camper (Artist; Film Critic)

Dave Kehr (Video Columnist, New York Times)

Gabe Klinger (Film Critic and Journalist; Professor; Curator)

3:00pm

Film Screening

Sailor’s Luck

Selected and introduced by Dave Kehr

(Raoul Walsh, 1933, USA, 35mm, 81 min.)

The playfully salacious and decidedly un-PC pre-Code comedy Sailor’s Luck follows the misadventures of amorous young sailor Jimmy Harrigan (James Dunn). While on shore leave in San Pedro, California, Jimmy meets a young cutie (Sally Eilers) and tries to woo her by entering a dance marathon. Directed by Fox’s rising star, Raoul Walsh, and made before the infamous censorship codes were enforced, the film, with its brazen depiction of ethnic and gay stereotypes, is, as Dave Kehr put it, “the pre-codiest of pre-code movies.” New 35mm print courtesy of Fox.

5:00pm

Panel Two:

Present Tense/Future Conditional – The Changing Landscape of Criticism

This panel will explore the current state of film criticism and its possible future. Among the potential topics are: the role of the critic today; changing models of and platforms for criticism; the tension between print and online criticism; the prevalence of amateur or citizen critics; the potential for global reach that the Internet provides; the fragmentation of readership; the role of online and other technical capabilities in expanding or enriching criticism; and the increasing casualness in moving among roles as critic/programmer/maker/advocate/distributor/etc.

Moderator: Scott Foundas (Associate Program Director, Film Society of Lincoln Center)

Participants:

Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune Film Critic)

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (Film Critic, Mubi; Co-host, Ebert Presents at the Movies)

Karina Longworth (Film Editor at LA Weekly & critic for Village Voice Media)

Wesley Morris (Film Critic, Boston Globe)

Scott Tobias (Film Editor, The A.V. Club)


8:00pm

Film Screening

ATTENBERG

Selected and Introduced by Karina Longworth

(Athina Rachel Tsangari, 2010, Greece, 35mm, 95 min.)

A playful middle-finger to humorless Eurodrama, ATTENBERG is a frank and disarmingly funny contemplation of the strangeness on having a body (so much potential for pleasure; the inevitability of decay and death). Marina (Ariane Labed) is a 20-something virgin whose first affair (with Dogtooth director Yorgos Lanthimos) coincides with her young father/best friend's dying days. Its title a lost-in-translation scrambling of wildlife documentarian David Attenborough,ATTENBERG incorporates tropes familiar from Lanthimos' Oscar-nominated sensation—sexual awakening; language play; awkward dancing—but ultimately eschews brutality for poignancy. Director Athina Rachel Tsangari is a major new talent. – Karina Longworth

SATURDAY, APRIL 23

1:00pm

Panel Three:

Critical Voices: Style, Substance, and Scope – The Art of Film Writing

This panel will explore both practical and general topics about film criticism and film writing more broadly. With the inundation of writing about film online and the ability of anyone to participate, what means are there for distinguishing oneself amongst the chatter? Topics may include: defining an audience; determining the scope of one’s writing; the craft of effectively writing on film; working in differing modes (reviews, essays, polemical pieces, etc.); the intersection of criticism and academia; starting out as a writer; and re-tooling to meet new realities.

Moderator:

Hank Sartin (Senior Editor, Time Out Chicago)

Participants:

Farran Nehme Smith (Writer, Self-Styled Siren Blog)

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (Film Critic, Mubi; Co-host, Ebert Presents at the Movies)

Wesley Morris (Film Critic, Boston Globe)

Scott Foundas (Associate Program Director, Film Society of Lincoln Center)

Jonathan Rosenbaum (Writer; Visiting Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University)

3:00pm

Film Screening

The Forgotten Space

Selected and Introduced by Jonathan Rosenbaum

(Allan Sekula and Noël Burch, 2010, The Netherlands/Austria, DigiBeta, 113 min.)

How many of us know that over 90% of the world’s cargo travels by sea, in anonymous multicolored containers? I’m still learning things from this epic, multifaceted, and ambitious Markeresque essay film about work and concealment in the global economy. It combines the long-term research and analysis of Allan Sekula with the filmmaking experience of Noël Burch to examine the lives of workers in Belgian, Chinese, Dutch, and Pacific American ports—not to mention the alienated experiences of people who attend an art museum in Bilbao, among other related topics. – Jonathan Rosenbaum

5:30pm

On-Stage Roundtable: Criticism in Chicago – A Case Study

Chicago has a rich and eclectic history of film criticism and a unique variety of outlets, including daily and weekly print publications, radio, television, online platforms, and blogs. This informal discussion among a diverse group of critics will cover working in Chicago, the city’s film culture, and the larger issues raised in the panel discussions and how they are manifested locally.

Moderator:

Alison Cuddy (Host, Eight Forty-Eight, WBEZ 91.5 FM)

Participants:

J.R. Jones (Staff Writer, Chicago Reader)

Ben Kenigsberg (Film Editor, Time Out Chicago)

Ray Pride (Film Critic, Newcity; News Editor, Moviecitynews.com)

Ben Sachs (Freelance Film Critic, Chicago Reader, Cine-File Chicago)

Ed M. Koziarski (Filmmaker; Writer, Chicago Reader, Reel Chicago, Time Out Chicago)

Bill Stamets (Freelancer Writer, Chicago Sun-Times and Newcity)