Thursday, April 28, 2016

Essential Cinema: "Roberto Rossellini: Restored & Revisited" Series Begins May 3

Ingrid Bergman on the set of STROMBOLI (1950), screening May 12

Roberto Rossellini was a force. His production achievements are legendary—he made one of the greatest films about World War II, ROME, OPEN CITY during World War II, hustling the prohibitively scant resources available in newly liberated Rome in order to get his production going; or shooting Hollywood’s biggest star, Ingrid Bergman, tromping around barefoot on an erupting volcano. While his exploits behind the camera are often heroic/insane, his films are the opposite of bombastic. What makes Rossellini so special, and so relevant today, is that he was a facilitator of miracles.

Eschewing screenplays, sometimes entirely (the shooting script for JOURNEY TO ITALY was three scribbles on a piece of paper and an expletive for his producer), Rossellini brilliantly assembled just the right elements to create powerful, unique narratives. Today, as acclaimed television shows are made with an industrial “shoot it out” approach that favor script over performance, Rossellini is a reminder of how observation and a deep understanding of film grammar are the ingredients of a transcendent film.  Consider Anna Magnani in the final sequence of ROME, OPEN CITY, a scene so emotional that it set off the brilliant actress to partially improvise one of the all time greatest moments of cinema. In JOURNEY TO ITALY, the film’s poetic climax was an unscripted accident, a moment created by the connectedness of the performances, an excellent cinematographer, and Rossellini’s ability to trust his heart, and his nose, which often found the action so he could lead his production there.

In May, AFS presents five post-war period Rossellini films, four of them digital restorations from the Cineteca di Bologna’s “Rossellini Project”, which bring the films to life in a completely new light, as all previous copies had a myriad of technical issues. Each of the films in the series points to Rossellini’s ability to seek and find wonders. (AFS Associate Artistic Director Holly Herrick)

Dates, times and ticket links follow.

rome open city
Tue, May 3, 2016, 7:30 PM 
During the last gasps of WWII in newly liberated Rome, young and still green director Roberto Rossellini begged, borrowed and cheated to create this masterpiece that told the story of the heroism of everyday Romans in wartime. Presented here in a beautiful DCP restoration by the Cinneteca di Bologna.

More info & Tickets>>
Tue, May 10, 2016, 7:30 PM

One of the most moving and precise cinematic renderings of the personal experience of war can be found in PAISAN, the film that defined Rossellini as a humanist, and drew criticism from all sides, particularly his Communist and Catholic supporters. Digital restoration.

More Info & Tickets>> 
Thu, May 12, 2016, 7:30 PM

Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman became lovers on this first collaboration, which features the actress as a war refugee whose marriage of convenience makes her a stranger in a strange land on the desolate volcanic island of Stromboli. Digital restoration.

More Info & Tickets>>
Thu, May 19, 2016, 7:30 PM
Fri, May 20, 2016, 8 PM

Inspired by Saint Francis' love and empathy and his own interest in spirituality, Rossellini tells the stories of Francis and his followers through a series of short episodes.

More Info & Tickets>>
Thu, May 26, 2016, 7:30 PM
Sun, May 29, 2016, 1 PM
Ingrid Bergman's third collaboration with Rossellini (appropriately about a couple's failing marriage), draws on the magic of Italy as its subject and inspiration. Rossellini's love of observing and discovering local culture made love letters to Italy of all his films, and JOURNEY TO ITALY draws that wonderful aspect of Rossellini's work into focus.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Happy Birthday Carol Burnett! Watch Her Texas Film Hall Of Fame Speech

Last month we were honored to welcome Carol Burnett to our annual Texas Film Awards Gala. She was formally inducted into the Texas Film Hall Of Fame. Presenter Maya Rudolph said it all in her introductory remarks, and then Carol Burnett walked off with our hearts.

Today is Carol's birthday and we're all thinking fondly of her and her legacy of comedy.

Happy birthday Carol.

Monday, April 25, 2016

EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT Director Ciro Guerra Speaks About His "Violent, Psychedelic" Film

We were fortunate enough to be joined by Ciro Guerra back in October for a pair of events, including an advance screening of his EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT. The film, which critic David Edelstein has called "a reverse angle Heart Of Darkness," has become something of a sensation since then, and will surely be represented on numerous year-end Best-Of lists. We are bringing it back this week for two shows, one on Thursday April 28 and one on Sunday May 1.

Here is an LA Times interview with Guerra in which he shares some of the special challenges of working in the Amazon rain forest and also in finding a balance of perspectives in a film based on the diaries of white explorers.

Here's Guerra on the decision to shoot in black and white:
"The film is inspired by the diaries of the explorers, but also by the photographs they took — those vintage pictures that are almost daguerreotypes. It’s different from the image of the Amazon you have. It doesn't have that exuberance or the exoticism that you see in the travel brochures. It’s another world, another perspective. 
And the idea behind this perspective is very close to the idea of the indigenous perspective of the world — that the world is much bigger than our senses allow us to see. Being there I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to recreate the way the Amazon looks. The indigenous people have 50 words for the word "green." We have one. 
In this way, it was possible that the viewer could imagine things — and the Amazon the viewer imagines could be more real than what I could deliver."
On the matter of narrative perspective:
"My point of departure was the diaries. But when I went to the Amazon and I started interacting with the people there, I realized that that was the story that hadn’t been told. That’s what we Latin American filmmakers can do. The stories of the explorers have been told. What we can do is turn history on its head, give another perspective."

Friday, April 22, 2016

Watch This: John Waters' In-Theater "No Smoking" Announcement

John Waters, the Baltimore-based filmmaker who has become a kind of filthy uncle to all of us (and whose 70th birthday is today) was so appreciative of the long run of his movie PINK FLAMINGOS at Los Angeles' Nuart Theatre that he filmed this special policy announcement trailer for them.

It's a mixed message, but we think you'll appreciate it anyway. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

SLASH Filmmaker Clay Liford To Upset Superhero Movie Fans: Drop Dead

SLASH writer/director Clay Liford

The above headline, a riff on the famous New York Post headline "Ford To City: Drop Dead," is perhaps a tiny bit inflammatory, but not much more so than the title of today's excellent Talkhouse piece, "Fanboys, Hollywood Owes You Nothing," by filmmaker Clay Liford.

Liford, whose new movie SLASH premiered at SXSW to packed houses and excellent reviews, is fascinated by the complicated dynamic that exists between fans and content creators. SLASH is about a pair of amateur erotic fan fiction writers who absorb their favorite sci-fi characters into their private fantasy worlds. In the film it's all part of a step towards greater maturity and growth of these characters, but the whacked out sex-on-a-spaceship scenarios are always merely private reveries, and the sense of "ownership" of these characters is a temporary phase. More rental than ownership.

It's a thought-provoking article, from a person who has clearly given the subject a lot of thought, and who has, since the premiere of SLASH, spent a fair amount of time engaging with franchise fans about these issues. Just as he resists, in the film, easy solutions to his characters problems, Liford would rather take the long, thorny path through the thicket of fan expectations.

Here's an excerpt:
"Social media allows fans to maintain an unprecedented degree of up-to-the-minute discourse with creators across a wide swath of creative works – many who respond to fan praise or critiques arguably more than they should. This engagement can imply a social contract. And it’s a contract you enter into, willingly or not, the moment you make yourself known to your audience. If I am your customer, and you acknowledge that you can indeed hear my thoughts, then by the nature of free commerce, you should adjust your product to my stated whims. Except this is obviously a fallacy. I think simply stating it plainly makes that apparent, however easy it is to get caught up in the illusion. Especially because fans should have a voice, and it’s been proven many times that voice has an impact. It can save shows or movie franchises. Shows with less than stellar numbers, such as Supernatural, basically troll their own fans in order to affect ratings. Though this sometimes backfires, it’s only now that we’re beginning to see fan engagement used in an attempt to actively trample intellectual properties."
Read the whole article here. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Frederick Wiseman Talks About His Method & "The Only Safe Assumption" About Audiences

Here's a video interview with Frederick Wiseman recorded at the time of the release of his documentary NATIONAL GALLERY. In it, he gives a nice, concise overview of his aesthetic. In May and June, AFS will show three new 35mm prints of Wiseman's early films TITICUT FOLLIES, HIGH SCHOOL and HOSPITAL.
"The way I try to make the films is to give the viewer enough information that they can feel that they are present. And, at the same time, they can make up their own minds about what they are seeing and hearing. I don't like films that are didactic or that condescend toward the viewer. The only safe assumption for me is that the viewer of the film is as smart or as dumb as I am."

Friday, April 15, 2016

Listen Here: An Audio Interview with Screenwriter/Author Leigh Brackett

People are always surprised when you tell them that the same screenwriter who wrote 1946's THE BIG SLEEP (with those journeymen collaborators Jules Furthman and William Faulkner) also wrote (in collaboration with Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas) THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. For some reason they are also surprised to find out that the writer in question was a woman.

Leigh Brackett began her career writing for the sci-fi pulps, turning out large numbers of Martian adventures in the mold of Edgar Rice Burroughs. When producer/director Howard Hawks read a mystery novel that she wrote he asked his secretary to call up "this guy Brackett" to work on the adaptation of Raymond Chandler's novel "The Big Sleep." The film was a success and has become a highly influential classic.

After a couple of other far less prestigious assignments, Brackett and her husband, fellow science fiction pulp author Edmond Hamilton moved to Ohio to raise their family. The pair continued to make a living at writing for a good many years and Brackett would have surely stayed away from films altogether had not Howard Hawks been such so persuasive, and so in need of her services. She returned to the film business in 1959 to write RIO BRAVO for Hawks, again in collaboration with Furthman.

RIO BRAVO was a big hit and Hawks signed her to a multi-film deal. She then wrote HATARI (1962), EL DORADO (1967), RIO LOBO (1970) and did uncredited dialogue and polish work on other films. In 1972 she was engaged by producers Jerry Bick and Elliott Kastner to adapt Raymond Chandler's novel "The Long Goodbye" for director Brian G. Hutton to direct and Elliott Gould to star in. Things did not go exactly as planned and Robert Altman took over as director. Naturally, Altman with his improvisational style made some major changes but the thrust of Brackett's script remains.

In 1977, George Lucas, a fan of Brackett's science fantasy novels, hired Brackett to write the script for STAR WARS II. Upon reading it, Lucas had a number of major changes but Brackett died of cancer before being able to resume work on the script. The film was eventually made, of course, and the rest is a different kind of history.

Here is an audio interview with Leigh Brackett recorded by author Tony Macklin in 1975. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Watch This: Charles Burnett's First Film: SEVERAL FRIENDS (1969)

Filmmaker Charles Burnett was born on this day in 1944. Though he was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, his family moved to Watts in South Central Los Angeles when Burnett was a child. Burnett's family was only one of many black southern families to relocate to the Watts neighborhood and the area's south-inflected culture makes itself felt in Burnett's works again and again.

Even as Watts burned in the 1965 riots, Burnett was attending UCLA, learning creative writing. When UCLA's film department began its initiative to enroll more African-American students, Burnett signed up and became part of the movement that was to be known at the L.A. Rebellion. Other noted alumni, many of whom continued to work on each others' films for years after graduation, were Julie Dash, Larry Clark (not to be confused with the KIDS auteur of the same name), Haile Gerima, Billy Woodberry and Jamaa Fanaka.

Here is a film from Burnett's school years called SEVERAL FRIENDS (1969). We can see in it some threads of the same cultural fabric from which his later KILLER OF SHEEP (1977) emerged. At a time when films might feature only an occasional black character, Burnett shows whole groups of black characters talking together about things that concern them. It's all shot in a cinema-verite style with non-actors, on neighborhood streets. It's a remarkable time-capsule of a culture many viewers have probably never seen before.

Several Friends (1969) - A Film by Charles Burnett by forthedishwasher

Monday, April 11, 2016

Watch This: Ingrid Bergman In an Oddball Wartime Educational Film: SWEDES IN AMERICA

We can understand why producer David O. Selznick, upon seeing Ingrid Bergman in a Swedish film, knew he had to bring her to America. Bergman wore little or no makeup, was modest and unaffected, but also bold and intelligent. She is one of the great movie stars, and one of the finest actresses of any era.

At the height of United States involvement in WWII, the United States Office Of War Information produced a number of propaganda films for mass dissemination of various messages. There's one that warns about leaks of sensitive information, one about the important work done by women in munitions plants, etc. There is also this one, hosted by Ingrid Bergman, all about Swedish Americans. We see them at work, with their industriousness and sense of cooperation a boon to their adopted country. We meet poet Carl Sandburg, surely a credit to America. It's hard to tell what the film's point is - other than "Swedish Americans are wonderful people" or perhaps, "Send more Swedes."

Frankly, it's odd, especially as there seems to be no similar film about, say, German-Americans or Japanese Americans. It's possible that Bergman, a major star at the time, made her services available and the project was tailored to her.

Whatever the reason, any project that gets Ingrid Bergman in front of a camera can be considered a worthwhile one. She glows. Her rapport with the viewer, even in such a forced and unusual context, is remarkable. We believe that she is deeply interested in the Swedish Museum Of Philadelphia or in the exertions of street sweepers in the frosty north.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Mary Pickford: Star, Producer, Mogul, Independent Film Legend, Born on This Day in 1892

Mary Pickford was born on this date as Gladys Louise Smith in Toronto in 1892. When her father was killed in a workplace accident, her mother was compelled to take in boarders to make ends meet. One of these boarders was a theatrical producer who saw potential in 9-year-old Gladys and cast her in a stage part. Success followed upon success and soon the whole family was in the theatrical business, touring Canada and the States for several years. Along the way, Gladys was compelled by one producer to change her name to Mary Pickford and it stuck.

After completing a run on Broadway in 1909, teenaged Mary was given a screen-test by the great D.W. Griffith, who at this time was making his early Biograph shorts. Soon she became one of Griffith's regular players, appearing in an average of a film per week.

In those days before the star system no performers were credited but Mary had made such an impression that exhibitors began advertising films starring "The Girl With The Curls" or simply "The Biograph Girl." She had become a movie star without any publicity and other producers took notice.

After a return foray on Broadway, Pickford swore off stage acting for good and returned to Hollywood where she was signed by Adolph Zukor for the company that was later to become Paramount Pictures. She starred in many films there and with the release of 1914's TESS OF THE STORM COUNTRY she was officially the biggest star in movies.

Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Curator Robert Cushman has attempted to explain her immense appeal, saying, "The whole world wanted to put its arms around her, and in a way it did." She appealed to people of all ages and both genders equally. She was also a fine performer. Director George Cukor said she invented screen acting - and Method acting. She understood the camera and took charge of her image as producer on all her own films. She was, in fact, one of the finest producers in the industry, even in her early '20s.

She also took charge of her finances. Unlike other performers, content to take what was offered, Pickford monitored her grosses and publicity and made subsequent demands for raises as her star rose to previously unimagined heights. By 1919, she decided to eliminate the middleman entirely and, with her partners, actor Douglas Fairbanks (also soon to become her husband), her mentor D.W. Griffith, and fellow star Charles Chaplin, she formed United Artists, a distributor that, for the first time, gave creatives access to theaters without interference from the studios. This was to prove a major step forward for the industry, allowing independent films to flourish and find markets.

By the '20s Pickford wielded more power, as star, producer and United Artists principal, than any woman in film history ever had before - or since. Even with the coming of sound, which coincided with the end of Pickford's youth, she remained active in Hollywood, producing films and administering United Artists and managing her many other business interests.

She was given an Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1976. She died in 1979.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Watch This: The Ultimate Midcentury Modern Industrial Film

There are whole chapters of film history yet to be written about corporate and industrial films. These are films made for training, sales or other purposes. Generally these were shot by production bureaus who specialized in them. Such well-known filmmakers as Robert Altman and George Romero got their starts in "industrials."

There are even people, and I count myself among them, who are fans of these 16mm marvels. A good number of them can be found on, especially as part of the Prelinger Archive subcollection.

Here's what may be the ultimate industrial film. It is, in itself a goof on the industrial genre, made by a leading producer of such, and made, appropriately enough, as a sales tool. As time has marched on around it, we now find some real bite in its satire of the science of persuasion. The authoritative voice of the narrator, the stock footage and staged historical re-enactments all make us question the veracity of the propaganda that inundates us. It's also very funny.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Listen Here: ARABIAN NIGHTS Trilogy Director Miguel Gomes Talks About his Epic

Miguel Gomes as himself, buried in sand, in ARABIAN NIGHTS CHAPTER 1: THE RESTLESS ONE

Portuguese writer/director Miguel Gomes is no newcomer. He has been making films since 1999 and his 2012 film TABU was an international arthouse hit. His latest work, the three volume ARABIAN NIGHTS Trilogy, is something very different again. Each film consists of a series of loosely connected vignettes, tied together by the narrator of the fictional 1001 Nights, Scheherazade. In these stories we are presented a variety of stories about modern Europe in an age of enforced austerity, with detours into the past of the legendary story cycle. It's a big, complex canvas and at times we may guess (correctly) that Gomes is pulling our leg a little. Some will find this work hilarious and many may find it hopelessly obtuse. It is a large, multitudinous work from a very interesting filmmaker.

Here is a podcast Gomes recorded at the Film Society Of Lincoln Center. He talks about the shape of the Trilogy, what he hopes to say with it, and his philosophy of moviemaking.

Enjoy, and Austinites should be sure to join us for our screenings of the trilogy, starting on Friday, April 8. Full schedule here.