Friday, July 31, 2015

Wow! Gabriel Garcia Marquez Interviews Akira Kurosawa

Next week at AFS we'll begin our Way Of The Samurai series with the Big One: SEVEN SAMURAI. To prepare, here's a dialogue between filmmaking legend Akira Kurosawa and author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It's an explosion of wisdom, as you would expect.

Here is a sample:

"Directors who make films halfway may not realize that it is very difficult to convey literary images to the audience through cinematic images. For instance, in adapting a detective novel in which a body was found next to the railroad tracks, a young director insisted that a certain spot corresponded perfectly with the one in the book. "You are wrong," I said. "The problem is that you have already read the novel and you know that a body was found next to the tracks. But for the people who have not read it there is nothing special about the place." That young director was captivated by the magical power of literature without realizing that cinematic images must be expressed in a different way."

H/T Open Culture

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

AFS Podcast: Retiring Director of Programming Chale Nafus on his Life in Film

30 years after beginning his tenure as a founding Austin Film Society board member and 12 years after joining AFS as Director of Programming, Chale Nafus is retiring at the end of August. AFS Programmer Lars Nilsen talks to Chale about his filmgoing life and his tenure at AFS.
We had a conversation together that ranged over Chale's childhood watching THE RED SHOES and Cantinflas films as a child in Dallas, through his discovery of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and into his adventures as a roving young academic in the '60s and his establishment of the film program at Austin Community College, where he had a brilliant young student named Richard Linklater who came up with the idea of starting the Austin Film Society in 1985. Fast forward 30 years and Chale is retiring as AFS' Director Of Programming.

Watch This: Howard Hawks 1972 Video Interview

Here's a video of the legendary director Howard Hawks, in his unwanted retirement, relaxing on the deck of a yacht and talking about his career and philosophy of filmmaking. Hawks, with his deep voice and precise enunciation, sounds like he came out of a time machine direct from 1931. He speaks about violence in films - with great authority, as the creator of the modern gangster film - and talks about the best way to learn how to be a director.
"Go and see as many pictures as you can made by good directors, and then make up your mind what is good and what is bad."
I excerpted these clips from a Spanish documentary that does not provide translations of the questions so we hear answers only. It's pretty easy to understand the discussion from contextual cues though.

Monday, July 27, 2015

David Bordwell on the Art of the Martial Arts Film

Author, scholar and critic David Bordwell wrote the book on what constitutes film art, literally. His "Film Art: An Introduction" is one of the most widely assigned and perhaps the best ever basic textbook on general film aesthetics. He is brilliant across the board on the subject of filmmaking as storytelling and, best of all, for folks like me who respect martial arts cinema as something very special and worthwhile, he concurs. His book "Planet Hong Kong" (out of print but available as a PDF on Bordwell's site) takes the aesthetic and cultural appreciation of Chinese action cinema (and other popular forms) to a much higher level than anyone else has.

Here is Bordwell lecturing at a Toronto International Film Festival sponsored forum. He lays out framework for an appreciation of martial arts films as a cinematic movement not unlike Italian neorealism, a national cinema that enlightens and informs in new and important ways if we learn to watch these films with respect and appreciation. The film clips are unfortunately omitted, but we can still get a lot from the lecture.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Morbid Movie Resource Alert: Ronald Bergan - Master of the Film Obituary

It's always sad when movie people we love die, and we maybe see a paragraph at most about them in the news headlines. Sometimes we never hear about the person's passing until we look the name up on IMDb and notice a dismaying and surprising date of decease.

The British newspaper The Guardian devotes more time and care to its obituaries than is typical nowadays and it's most apparent and most welcome in the film obituary department. These notices are mostly written by scholar and author Ronald Bergan, who devotes more than a respectful amount of space to each decedent. For instance, most of the news stories about actor Alex Rocco's recent passing mentioned that the actor who played Moe Greene in THE GODFATHER had died and little more. In Bergan's obituary Rocco receives eleven substantial paragraphs, and we find out a bit about his early life on the streets as a low-level gangster.

Bergan is a conscientious and excellent writer. He honors the departed person with his attention to the nuances of their lives and work.

You can see (and bookmark) his archive of obituaries here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Thoughts On The BBC's List of The 100 Greatest American Films

It feels like a relic from another time in a way, but the BBC has just released a list of the 100 Greatest American Films as compiled by a non-named group of reviewers, critics, broadcasters and authors.

This used to be the kind of gambit that film magazines and other critical outlets would pull to excite discussion about which is greater. There's not much of a flurry around this list but it is interesting to take a look at the list and at the idea of such lists generally.

The top 10 offers few surprises. Or, if there is a surprise, it's that the reputation of films like THE SEARCHERS and VERTIGO is still so bulletproof. These are great films, but I would expect to see them slip and slide a little more than this. Also, CITIZEN KANE would seem a likely candidate to fall from its perch and be replaced by top contenders THE GODFATHER or VERTIGO.
1. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
2. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
3. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
5. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
6. Sunrise (FW Murnau, 1927)
7. Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952)
8. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
9. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
10. The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
The full list follows:
100. Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder, 1951)
99. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)
98. Heaven’s Gate (Michael Cimino, 1980)
97. Gone With the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939)
96. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)
95. Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933)
94. 25th Hour (Spike Lee, 2002)
93. Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973)
92. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)
91. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982)
90. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
89. In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)
88. West Side Story (Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, 1961)
87. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
86. The Lion King (Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, 1994)
85. Night of the Living Dead (George A Romero, 1968)
84. Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972)
83. Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938)
82. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)
81. Thelma & Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991)
80. Meet Me in St Louis (Vincente Minnelli, 1944)
79. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
78. Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)
77. Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939)
76. The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980)
75. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977)
74. Forrest Gump (Robert Zemeckis, 1994)
73. Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)
72. The Shanghai Gesture (Josef von Sternberg, 1941)
71. Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993)
70. The Band Wagon (Vincente Minnelli, 1953)
69. Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, 1982)
68. Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946)
67. Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin, 1936)
66. Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948)
65. The Right Stuff (Philip Kaufman, 1965)
64. Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)
63. Love Streams (John Cassavetes, 1984)
62. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
61. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)
60. Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)
59. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Miloš Forman, 1975)
58. The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940)
57. Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen, 1989)
56. Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985)
55. The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967)
54. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950)
53. Grey Gardens (Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer, 1975)
52. The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969)
51. Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958)
50. His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940)
49. Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978)
48. A Place in the Sun (George Stevens, 1951)
47. Marnie (Alfred Hitchcock, 1964)
46. It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)
45. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford, 1962)
44. Sherlock Jr (Buster Keaton, 1924)
43. Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophüls, 1948)
42. Dr Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
41. Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959)
40. Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, 1943)
39. The Birth of a Nation (DW Griffith, 1915)
38. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)
37. Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk, 1959)
36. Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)
35. Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944)
34. The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939)
33. The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
32. The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941)
31. A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes, 1974)
30. Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)
29. Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980)
28. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
27. Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)
26. Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1978)
25. Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)
24. The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)
23. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
22. Greed (Erich von Stroheim, 1924)
21. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
20. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
19. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
18. City Lights (Charlie Chaplin, 1931)
17. The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin, 1925)
16. McCabe & Mrs Miller (Robert Altman, 1971)
15. The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946)
14. Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975)
13. North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)
12. Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)
11. The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942)
10. The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
9. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
8. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
7. Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952)
6. Sunrise (FW Murnau, 1927)
5. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
3. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
2. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
1. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
It is somewhat surprising to me that MULHOLLAND DRIVE is at the top of the Lynch heap. Keaton's SHERLOCK JR. is here but THE GENERAL is not. Are THELMA & LOUISE and THE DARK KNIGHT actually better than THE GENERAL? Or for that matter THE GOLD RUSH? It's a matter of methodology probably. A favorite Keaton is chosen and it takes one seat at the table.

Reputations rebound and pendulums swing. You'll notice HEAVEN'S GATE, which at one time would might have been on a Worst 100 list, is here. It belongs on neither a 100 best or 100 worst list, but it has been undervalued so long that its stock rose too precipitously. It will settle a little lower than 98.

Also on the rebound big-time is EYES WIDE SHUT at 61. This is probably about right, but it's interesting to see how far it has climbed in critical esteem.

There are three Fords out of the 100. Earlier lists would have included his THEY WERE EXPENDABLE, HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY and THE INFORMER. I suspect these are gone for good now from lists of this type, sadly.

The only Griffith here is BIRTH OF A NATION, which would have upset him a great deal. His INTOLERANCE was his ideological corrective to BIRTH and is arguably the greater film.

One of the first things everyone notices is a lack of gender and racial diversity here. Maya Deren represents the female gender on her own. Steve McQueen, Spike Lee and Charles Burnett are the only non-white Euros here. I hope to see a more active process of discovery of both new and old films here. It would be nice to see Dorothy Arzner's DANCE, GIRL, DANCE and Bill Gunn's GANJA & HESS make the leap into critical contention, among others.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Don't Mess With Barbara Stanwyck - You'll Regret It

While researching Barbara Stanwyck's TV career for our upcoming History Of Television show (which leads into our Stanwyck Noir Essential Cinema Series), I found this interesting fan magazine article about Stanwyck's feelings about her BIG VALLEY costar Lee Majors. Not sure where or when it is from, but I did find contemporaneous articles about Majors' legal action over the article so it seems to be the real McCoy.

More interesting than the shade thrown at her co-star were the mentions of Stanwyck's on set demeanor. I had always heard that she knew every crew member's name, and was the hardest worker on the lot, but there are some more fun tidbits in the article that I hadn't heard.
Several years ago on a boiling summer day, some of the grips working under the white hot arc lights on the Barbara Stanwyck film took off their shirts. An officious assistant director dressed then down, asking how they dared take off their shirts when they were in the presence of Miss Stanwyck. 
"On a day as hot as this they can strip naked," Miss Stanwyck said, and sent out for beer for the entire crew.
"Missy" Stanwyck ignored his tactlessness when it was merely directed towards herself. But she refused to tolerate his lack of consideration when it affected the crew. 
She gave him a bitter tongue-lashing in front of the entire crew. It included phrases like: "You have to learn to crawl before you can walk. Then, maybe you can run a little. You're not a star yet. I am a star. Do you want to see what a star can do? One of us is going to get out of this television series and I don't care which one of us it is! 
Lee's agent made him apologize to Barbara Stanwyck a few days later. She accepted the apology. But Lee's insensitivity had closed a door. He had lost for himself all the help and consideration that one of Hollywood's great stars was offering him.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Watch This: David Lynch Interview from 1979

"It's got to be a certain kind of comedy in order to make the switch into a sort of fear. In a lot of comedies you begin to feel too safe and then it's hard to switch over. But this is a strange kind of comedy and it can easily slide into sort of a fearful situation."

Here's a non-professional interview with David Lynch about ERASERHEAD, his filmmaking techniques and his philosophy of film. There's a cut-in of viewers' immediate post-screening responses and lots and lots of gems presented in Lynch's trademark Wonder-Bread flat voice.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

AFS Viewfinders Podcast: Ana Lily Amirpour's Moviemaker Dialogue

Filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour visited us here at AFS shortly after completing filming on her new movie THE BAD BATCH which stars Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves and Jim Carrey. She presented a screening (with an unforgettable Q&A) of her film A GIRL WALKS HOME AT NIGHT and then sat with AFS members at Austin Studios for a Moviemaker Dialogue. The discussion was no less funny or vulgar than the raucous session at the theater the night before, but her advice was sincere and should be taken to heart by everyone who makes films or wants to.

The part about how filmmakers need to be like BACK TO THE FUTURE's Doc Brown will stick with me forever. Doc Brown is not motivated by money or fame. He lives a hermit's existence. But he is obsessed with his work. That, according to Amirpour, is an apt metaphor for the life and work of a filmmaker.

Here's the podcast. Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Magnificent Second Act of Barbara Loden

Barbara Loden in WANDA (1970)

Barbara Loden, who was born on this day in 1932, had one of the most interesting career trajectories we can think of. From her beginnings as a teenage dancer and pin-up model through to her Actor's Studio training and first roles on the legitimate New York stage to her television work as a bit player on Ernie Kovacs' show, generally wearing tiny outfits and getting hit by pies or sawed in half.

After a few bit film roles she was cast by director Elia Kazan as a Marilyn Monroe type in the Broadway production of AFTER THE FALL, written by Monroe's erstwhile husband Arthur Miller. She won a Tony Award and wowed audiences and critics. She also wowed Kazan, who became her second husband.

A promising film role in Frank Perry's oddball John Cheever adaptation THE SWIMMER was squelched, possibly as a result of Kazan's interference, and the part was recast. Loden's film career was obviously not headed in a positive direction so she took the reins of production herself, rewriting one of Kazan's stories until it truly became her own, full of autobiographical details, putting together a small crew and making her own film, WANDA for a microscopic budget.

WANDA (released in 1970) is now considered one of the touchstone films of American independent cinema. At the time it received little attention in the states, though it won a Best Foreign Film Award at Venice, but the years have been kind to the film and it is now seen as a very special, ahead-of-its-time work. Its roughness and obvious economy were not seen as assets at the time, but today we see them as so. Most impressive of all is Loden's performance, though there today is a tinge of sadness that we do not have more Loden films. She died in 1980, aged 48, before making any other feature films.

Here is a really interesting TV interview from the Mike Douglas talk show, during that bizarro-world period when John Lennon and Yoko Ono co-hosted. Lennon and Ono asked all manner of interesting people on the show and as a result here we have Barbara Loden on national television talking at length about WANDA and even playing extended clips.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Watch This: Jean-Luc Godard & Fritz Lang: A Dialogue In 8 Parts

"Maybe in our films we put our hearts... our desires, everything that we love or that has betrayed us. And I think one day, if there is someone who could analyze us, you and me, maybe he would know. I don't know why I've made my films. Do you know?" - Fritz Lang

Below is a very interesting video - an hour long - of Jean Luc Godard and Fritz Lang having an open ended discussion about film and life. Such a meeting of filmic minds certainly does not happen very often and so it is presented here in its entirety.

Here is an excerpt:

Lang: I think in that respect films are like loaves of bread. They're good. They're made to be consumed today... in a week, six months, a year...

Godard: But a film that lives on isn't just a loaf of bread.

Lang: But I think only time and the public can tell. But when a film lives on like a film by Abel Gance, NAPOLEON, it is a work of art."

Godard: Abel Gance's NAPOLEON will live on.

Lang: It is a work of art. But how many such films do you know?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Commemorating 50 Years of 'The Death Of Hollywood'

Some of us are guilty of sounding the death knell of Hollywood (as a business concept, not a geographic location) ever more loudly as each year pours out its cornucopia of overprocessed, not-very-nourishing entertainment offerings onto our summer picnic blanket. Because we care a lot about the art of film and the experience of going to the movies, most of us take at least a bite or two. Occasionally we find a nice morsel, but more often it's just the same old summer sausage, full of rendered cliches.

Personally, before I let myself roll too far down this hill of despair, I remember that Hollywood has always had its mix of good and bad, and the old philosophy "nothing succeeds like excess" is not new. Hollywood had, by 1965, been taken over by the second generation of moguls, finance men by and large, who had never known the hardscrabble immigrant life experienced by the first generation.

Below are the top 10 box office performers of 1965 for instance. How many of these are really classics that stand the test of time? Not many, if any at all. They are (with one exception) all expensive, star laden and calculated to sell, sell, sell.

Their international appeal has been built in from the start. In the same way that Hollywood blockbusters are pre-sold in China and elsewhere and must contort themselves to suit the populace of other countries, so were big international co-productions like THE SOUND OF MUSIC, DR. ZHIVAGO and THE GREAT RACE designed to knock them dead in the UK and Europe.

The 10 Top Grossing Films of 1965

1. THE SOUND OF MUSIC - A game-changing hit. This relies on the star power and exceptional singing talent of Julie Andrews. It landed like a perfect storm, was a major hit, and helped sow the seeds for a harvest of big-budget family musicals for years after.

2. DOCTOR ZHIVAGO - Certainly a beautifully made film, but not one of Lean's best. Studio marketing departments threw out their backs on this. Its success was as much a function of hardline publicity and cross-marketing as anything else.

3. THUNDERBALL - The fourth in the Sean Connery Bond series. Was this the first real big-budget action/sci-fi franchise? Completely RAGING poster and display artwork for this movie by the way.

4. THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES - Few people have even heard of this film today. An enormous film, especially by British standards. Few name stars. The most strenuous roles are played by aircraft.

5. THAT DARN CAT! - The inevitable and eternal Disney formula picture.

6. THE GREAT RACE - Very similar to (and released two weeks after) THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES. Blake Edwards' film at least has vitality, good humor, terrific actors and a Henry Mancini score. This film was a disappointment at the box office, but only because cost overruns made it a poor candidate to succeed.

7. CAT BALLOU - The least expensive movie on this list. What it lacked in international locations and lavish production values it made up for in what audiences really want anyway - appealing, talented performers. Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin (and his horse) are far more interesting to watch than any number of flying circuses or underwater espionage operations.

8. WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT - Big stars like Peter Sellers and Peter O'Toole, eye-popping sets, and a very amusing script by Woody Allen made this a grown-up hit.

9. SHENANDOAH - James Stewart in a western still meant boffo B.O. in 1965. The anti-war stance of the film didn't hurt either.

10. VON RYAN'S EXPRESS - War movies were always popular items with the generations who fought in wars and we have to imagine that the theaters were full of men in their 40s who had themselves served in uniform. The ironically cast (because he dodged the draft and was not loved by many servicemen) Frank Sinatra leads a great escape. The pro-war stance of the film didn't hurt either.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Behind The Scenes at Shaw Brothers 1975

As the Old School Kung Fu Weekend approaches (July 24 and 25), our thoughts turn to these classic martial arts films and the people who made them. There were a ton of producers in Hong Kong and Taiwan who cranked out a lot of Kung Fu movies, but the best of the batch were the members of the Shaw Brothers organization. The original Shaw Brothers began making films in 1924 and by the time the big martial arts boom hit they were seemingly well suited to ride the wave. But in fact their films did not become breakout hits in the US and other export markets while the less polished and more sensational movies made by their low-budget competitors turned big profits.

The Shaw operation was run like a factory, with standing sets, a heavy production schedule, all technical facilities on premises and even dormitories for their star prospects, many of whom were attractive young women from the provinces. It was an old-fashioned, top heavy studio and it could not ride out the glutted market of the mid-70s, a time when every camera in Asia was cranking out martial arts films to sate the post-Bruce Lee international appetite for more.

This British TV documentary takes a very plodding and didactic approach to the subject, but it's tough to beat the access to the Shaw backlot, dubbing studios and talent development classes. The hand of the publicist is visible in the foregrounding of action star David Chiang, whom the Shaws wanted to position as the successor to Bruce Lee. It did not work - as good as Chiang was, Bruce Lee was a one-of-a-kind commodity - but the Shaws had some major hits with the 5 DEADLY VENOMS movies and kept the doors open for several more years.