Monday, May 23, 2016

Watch This: KUSAMA'S SELF-OBLITERATION, a 1967 Film Portrait of Artist Yayoi Kusama


One of the big, exciting cultural events of the year is happening in a city a few hours to our east, the city is called Houston and the event is an exhibition of Yayoi Kusama's dazzling, colorful "infinity rooms." You can read the description here on MFAH's page. You need a damn good reason to visit Houston in the summer and this is it. The exhibition begins on June 12 and runs through September 18.

In the meantime, watch this 1967 film by New York Avant-gardist Jud Yalkut which documents, in a frenetic way, Kusama's early art techniques. It's a happening thing, as they used to say.

Get ready, and go:

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Nora Ephron's Favorite Love Stories


Nora Ephron (born on this date in 1941) wrote a piece shortly before she died about her favorite romantic comedies. The novelist, journalist and filmmaker knew quite a lot about the subject, having herself written and produced WHEN HARRY MET SALLY(1989) and having written and directed SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE (1993).

Here is the article, and for convenience's sake, here is the list:

THE LADY VANISHES (1938)

"In addition to everything else he did, Hitchcock made great romantic movies."

IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934)

"Starring Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable, it was made in those long-ago days when women looked like women and men looked like men."

HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940)

"If there's a better movie about journalism, I don't know what it is."

THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942) (pictured above)

"I tell everyone I know who wants to be a screenwriter to watch the scene at the beginning of the movie, where Colbert is stuck in the bathroom with the Wienie King. It's a lesson in specificity."

THE THIN MAN (1934)

"One of the only movies about marriage. Of course it's also about drinking."

THE APARTMENT (1960)

"This movie is (I think) the first to use what's now become a staple of romantic-comedy endings, the "R" scene. "R" stands for running, of course."

CHARADE (1963)

"Once again, there’s a plot, which always helps: This is a mystery and a love story."

SPLASH (1984)

"Among the movie's long-lasting effects: the popularity of the name Madison."

HANNAH & HER SISTERS (1986)

"It's not strictly a romantic movie, but the scene at the end in Tower Records between Dianne Wiest and Allen is one of the greatest falling-in-love scenes ever filmed."

CASABLANCA (1942)
"How many times can you see it? Never enough."
SENSE & SENSIBILITY (1995)

"A lot of Jane Austen movies founder on the fact that the plot almost always includes a letter that changes everything. It's hard to do letters in movies. But in this one, everything works."

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Listen Here: French Tough Guy Jean Gabin Sings... Kind Of


Jean Gabin, born Jean-Alexis Moncorgé on this date in 1904, was a great actor. That much is clear from his screen work for Jean Renoir, Marcel Carné, Julien Duvivier, Max Ophuls and many other masters. He was also the kind of actor whom audiences take to heart for reasons we can't necessarily explain but that we understand.

A big, gruff, broad-shouldered man with a face that seems to be constructed of boulders, Gabin exemplified attitudes and aptitudes that were peculiarly French. Just as we Americans see something of our own idealized masculinity in John Wayne's mix of sardonic swagger and moral forthrightness, the French see Gabin as the strong, silent centurion of French values. And like John Wayne , who nearly became a society-wide joke after the youth quake of the '60s, Gabin briefly seemed to be an icon of the Gaullist silent majority in France, but like Wayne, he overcame it.

In 1974, Gabin, seventy years old and as beloved as ever, a symbol of the France that overcame the wars and never lost its essential qualities as a nation, recorded "Maintenant Je Sais." In his off-hand way he talk-croons his way through the sentimental song, as lugubrious strings saw away in the background. There's a lot of vulgarity to overcome here, but Gabin, as he always seemed to do, made it look effortless. The song was a major, iconic hit in the French speaking world, and now generations who may never see a Jean Gabin film know his name because of this song.


The lyrics in translation:

When I was a child, knee high to a grasshopper
I used to speak very loudly to be a man
I used to say, I KNOW, I KNOW, I KNOW, I KNOW

It was the beginning, it was spring
But when I turned 18
I said, I KNOW, here I go - this time I KNOW

And now, every time I turn around
I look at the earth, a place I paced up and down though
And I still don't know how it turns

When I was about 25, I knew everything
Love, roses, life, money
Oh yeah, love! I knew it thoroughly!

And luckily, like my mates
I hadn't eaten up all my bread
Halfway through my life, I learned new things again

What I've learned takes up only four, five words:
On the day when someone loves you, the weather is very fine
I can't say it better - the weather is very fine

That's the last thing to amaze me about life
I who am in the autumn of my life
You can forget so many evenings of sadness
But never a morning of tenderness

All the time when I was young, I wanted to say I KNOW
However, the more I searched, the less I knew then

The clock has stricken 60
I'm still standing at my window, looking out and wondering

Now I KNOW, I KNOW THAT YOU NEVER KNOW!

Life, love, money, friends and roses
You never know the noise nor the color of things
That's all I know! But I KNOW that..

Friday, May 13, 2016

Watch This: Louise Brooks Speaks!


"She was the most seductive, sensual image of woman ever committed to celluloid. When Hollywood bored her she walked out on Hollywood. When men bored her she walked out on them. She's the only unrepentant hedonist, the only pure pleasure seeker I think I've ever known." - Kenneth Tynan

Here is a very interesting documentary from British TV about actress & author Louise Brooks. She was truly a figure of her times, and one continually ahead of them. The historical material is very interesting, but by far the most gripping parts of the doc are the long interviews with Brooks herself.

This June, AFS presents Surrealist Love Goddesses, an Essential Cinema series spotlighting Louise Brooks, Anna May Wong, Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Rossellini '77: Outrage at Cannes


The 69th Cannes International Film Festival kicks off tomorrow, and Austinite Jeff Nichols’ LOVING will appear in competition, alongside other global greats like Asghar Farhadi, the Dardenne brothers, Pedro Almodovar and Andrea Arnold.

But LOVING isn’t the only thing that Austin and Cannes have in common this week, the other is Roberto Rossellini, who is highlighted in Austin Film Society’s retrospective through the end of May.

Rossellini had an interesting relationship with Cannes. His ROME, OPEN CITY was one of the prize-winning films in 1946 at the festival, but this was before a single film was selected for the Palme D’Or. He presented several other films at the festival to varying response, since his films tended to be out of fashion with their time, they were frequently overlooked in favor of hotter titles. 

His episodic, observational docu-fiction, INDIA, MATRI BHUMI, which was later professed as a masterpiece by Godard and others, was presented out of competition the same year that THE 400 BLOWS and BLACK ORPHEUS swept the festival. At that time, Rossellini and even neo-realism seemed a bit passé.

But in 1977, Rossellini was responsible for one of Cannes biggest artistic scandals, which resulted in a major turning point for the festival. At this point in his career, Rossellini had turned all of his attention to television, and was viewed as a TV director. Yet his impact on global cinema was recognized and appreciated, particularly in France, where one of his TV dramas, THE RISE OF LOUIS XIV, had been released in cinemas and well received critically. He was invited to be President of the Jury of the 1977 festival.

Rossellini led his fellow jurors (including Pauline Kael, Jacques Demy, Carlos Fuentes and Yuri Ozerov, among others) to a Palme D’Or pick that would scandalize the festival. The Palme D’Or had previously been considered a prize for a film that had wide global appeal in commercial cinemas. Several French, Italian and American films were favored to win. Instead, Rossellini and team selected the Taviani brothers PADRE PADRONE, a film that was produced for television. It was the first time in the festival’s history that a TV film was selected for the Palme D’Or, during a time when TV films often had lower budgets and more artistic freedom than commercial films for cinema, which was certainly the case with PADRE PADRONE. 

But the real unbelievable detail here is that the festival actually spoke out against the jury’s decision, declaring that this film, presented in competition would not have been the festival’s pick, and they did not support the jury’s decision.

Imagine this happening at the festival today—where all films in competition are supposed to be given equal consideration, without interference from the festival administration. In 1977, the festival had yet to aspire to this level of tact!

A few weeks after the festival, one of the organizers phoned Rossellini to let him know that the festival had come around on their outrage, and decided that they supported the change that he had brought to the institution via the Rossellini-led TV revolution. Rossellini was supposedly invited back to jury the festival in 1978, but Rossellini passed away a month after the Cannes scandal, in June, 1977. - Holly Herrick

Monday, May 9, 2016

Watch This: Two Time Oscar Winner & British MP Glenda Jackson Raises Hell in Parliament


Glenda Jackson, born 80 years ago today, had an enviable acting career both on stage and screen. As a member of the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company, where she and her cohorts helped to bring about a widespread, modern reappraisal of the Bard's work and later as a film actress, where she brought a new kind of screen presence to the fore. Her breakthrough screen role was in Ken Russell's adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's WOMEN IN LOVE (1969) and she won nearly every award in the book: Academy Award, National Board of Review, National Society of Film Critics, New York Film Critics Circle, etc.

She followed this triumph with other major performances in films like SUNDAY, BLOODY SUNDAY (1970), MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS (1971), A TOUCH OF CLASS (1973), for which she won her second Academy Award, and many more, through the '80s and into the '90s.

Her acting legacy could be called, with some understatement, secure. Which is why it is so admirable that she retired altogether from acting in pursuit of a new career, that of a Labour MP. In Parliament, she used her magnificent voice and bearing to advocate for progressive causes, often excoriating her opponents for cutting education and other services, and maintaining a staunch antiwar stance. She retired in 2015 after 23 years of service in Parliament.

Here she is in 2013, during Parliaments remarks about the departed Baroness Margaret Thatcher. On a day when the room was filled with sober tribute and remembrance, Jackson made sure that the spirit of anti-Thatcherism was heard loud and clear. By the time her argument reaches its climax, the dissents in the chamber are loud and raucous. It's really something, especially when Jackson refutes the argument of one who has come to pay tribute to her political enemy Thatcher for being the first woman prime minister. Jackson's response is personal, brilliantly phrased and acidic.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Amazing But True: Orson Welles and The Mercury Wonder Show

Orson Welles produces Rita Hayworth from a steamer trunk, 1943

In 1943 world famous actor and filmmaker Orson Welles (who was born on this date in 1915) was eager to do something special for the war effort. Though he was a poor physical candidate for service - he rated a 4F - he could do quite a lot in terms of raising money and troop morale. So Welles wrote up a proposal for a circus-like revue that could travel around the country raising funds for the war effort and providing first class entertainment for returning or furloughed service members, who could attend at no cost. For civilians, tickets started at $1.65.

Welles himself was the master of ceremonies and, as The Magnificent Orson, its magician headliner. Welles' wife, the glamorous Rita Hayworth, also performed a variety of headline acts. Comic relief was provided by Jo-Jo The Great (whom we now know as Joseph Cotten). Other collaborators were the great French star Jean Gabin, who put his great shoulders to work moving scenery, and actor Keye Luke, who was tasked with the creation of culturally respectful Asian scenery and props. Later, after her boss at Columbia forced Hayworth to drop out of the show, Welles was forced to fall back on Hayworth's understudy, Marlene Dietrich (!).

Here's the entire advertised bill of fare for a performance of The Mercury Wonder Show:

The Mercury Wonder Show
For Service Men
Program

ORSON THE MAGNIFICENT
Defies the laws of science in feats of legerdemain never before presented in America. The occult secrets of antiquity and the present day reproduced for your delight and fascination in: Born In Flames, A Rabbit From a Headpiece, Le Chapeau en Pair, The Devil’s Orchard, Horticulture From Hell, The Strange Aquarium, Birds From The Blue, The Fourth Dimension, Audubon’s Dream, The Hindu Mango Mystery (as advertised), Fruit Under a Spell, and THE HAUNTED AVIARY with Invisible Pigeons and Transparent Doves.

THE MIRACULOUS CHICKEN FARM
Twenty-five (25) Living Hens Manufactured as You Watch , Without The Aid of a Single Egg. DE- and RE-CAPITATION: A Strange Feat of the Barnyard as Never Before Presented in the Western Hemisphere: Ballet of the Roosters: Chanticleer Takes It on the Lam: The Hens’ Delight.

Dr. Welles presents his
Original Experiments in Animal Magnetism
(All Nature Freezes at His Glance)

Psychic Readings

The Magic Crystal 
Due to the unbelievable strain on the practitioner of this incredible feat the  management must reserve the right to change this portion of the program without notice.

Secrets of the Sphinx
THE ANCIENT LORE OF THE DARK CONTINENT ASSEMBLED FOR THE FIRST TIME UNDER CANVAS

CHAINED IN SPACE

WITCHES FARMYARD
An Incredible Assortment of Sortilege Not To Be Duplicated in the Most Famous Repertoires in the History of Thaumaturgy, presenting: Bovine Obedience; At the Shooting Gallery (including “Marksmanship’s Reward); Evaporation in the Mystic Diary; The Dalai’s Milk Pail (Direct From Tibetan Lamaseries); The Flight of the Hare; Fowl Elusive; La Rapiere du Diable; A Voice From the Dead; Faster Than Light; THE WORLD FAMOUS “BALSAMO’S SECRET,” and the CASKET OF COUNT CAGLIOSTRO.

PEKIN NIGHTS
An Interlude from Old Cathay
The Manchu Marvel; The cages of Han Lun; Enchanted Porcelain; Rain-making "Orientale"; Drought by Witchcraft (including Feats of Dexterity - a Dazzling Display); Hungkwel's Downfall; The Fan of Fu Ling.

THE CHEF'S SURPRISE
A Fantasy in Smoke; Shampoo Sorcery; The Indestructible Playing Card (Culled from the Secret Archives of Jared Higgenbottom); Humpty Dumpty Restored; Battledore.

$ TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS CHALLENGED! $
(Performed Under Rigid Test Conditions)

IMPROVISATIONS
THE GOOSE, THE GUINEA PIG AND THE LADY

THE GIRL WITH X-RAY EYES
An Extraordinary Demonstration by Miss Rita Hayworth of Strange Powers Recognized, but Unexplained by Science. Featuring Thought Transmission and Projection, Extra-Sensory Perception, Lightning Calculation, and Second Sight.

THE GREAT JOSEPH
The Wizard of the South Presents Split Second Escapology. The redoubtable J. Cotten Risks His Life at Every Performance.

THE DEATH OF THE SILKEN GORDS
FIRST TIME IN THE WEST

MILLION $ MYSTERY
Miss Hayworth and Mr. Cotten Make You Doubt Your Senses is a Bewildering Display.

INTERMISSION AND CONCERT

SCENES FROM A HINDOO MARKETPLACE

THE FAKIRS OF INDIA OUTDONE
THE WORLD'S FASTEST CANARY
(Three Surprises and a Miracle)

DEATH CASKET
THE FLIGHT OF TIME

PAINLESS SURGERY
Doctor-Sorcerer and His Apprentices Defy Laws of Dissection

THE HUMAN SEWING MACHINE
MUST BE SEEN TO BE BELIEVED

PRINCESS NEPHROTITE
The Queen of Egypt Brought Back From the Dead. Her Materialization, Levitation, Evanishment and Lightning Reappearances.

GRAND FINALE
VOODOO!
A re-enactment of Mr. Cotten's Interesting Experiences Among the Witchdoctors in Dark Africa