Wednesday, November 30, 2016

AFS Welcomes Filmstruck as Sponsoring Partner of December Programming Slate

Here at the Austin Film Society, we have the benefit of a large and active member base, and a surrounding community that appreciates and supports film. What we do - and by that I mean what we all do together, from enjoying gems from film's rich and diverse history to helping today's and tomorrow's filmmakers do their important work - has not gone unnoticed by the movers of international film culture.

By now you have probably heard about Filmstruck, a new streaming service that brings together the programming team from Turner Classic Movies with an extensive and growing library of streaming film titles, including the Criterion Collection. They do much more than just present a gigantic library of films though. Much in the AFS manner, they also offer contextual material to help you understand and appreciate their films, including introductions, commentaries, newly commissioned docs, etc.

It probably won't surprise you too much to learn that Filmstruck was eager to partner with AFS and become the name sponsor of all of AFS's December programs, including the new Film Foundation restoration of Marlon Brando's ONE-EYED JACKS, a Science On Screen presentation of FOR ALL MANKIND, with NASA Mission Control personnel in attendance, the new doc A SONG FOR YOU: THE AUSTIN CITY LIMITS STORY, and Julie Dash's epochal DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST, also newly restored.

You can show your support of AFS and of great international film culture everywhere, by signing up for a free 14-day trial of Filmstruck here.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Listen Here: A Martin Scorsese Radio Interview from 1970

Martin Scorsese, born on this date in 1942, is, of course, one of the most important filmmakers in the world. There's very little we can add to his well deserved esteem as a director and technical innovator of the first order.

In addition to all of this, he has become well known as an advocate for great film, for exhibition, education and restoration. Through his work as Founder and Chair of the non-profit Film Foundation he endeavors to raise the profile of films through preservation and exhibition programs.

This side of Scorsese, the tireless advocate, the champion of great movies and filmmakers, is not new. Below is an interview conducted in 1970 with the then-27 year old Scorsese who, at the time, had only one feature directorial credit under his belt, 1967's WHO'S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR. At the time of this WNYC interview he was curating the Movies In The Park series in Manhattan. He talks a bit about the program, about the way film became a democratic art as soon as the means of production became cheap, easy and quick enough for the average person, and there are interesting detours into the contemporaneous state of film education.

It's only a 22 minute interview, but as is customary with Scorsese, he fits at least an hour worth of words in with his machine-gun delivery. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

History Of Television, 1954: Edward R. Murrow Responds to McCarthy's Red Scare

There has been a lot of reflection recently about the vulnerability of the news media to suppression by government powers. In the hum of it all, there have been numerous references to Senator Joseph McCarthy, who, in the early 1950's, abused the power of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which he headed, to conduct a number of de facto trials in which many were accused by McCarthy and his investigative staff of Soviet-backed subversion against the United States government. The shadow of wrongdoing haunted many of McCarthy's targets for years, and careers were ruined in McCarthy's self-described pursuit of justice.

This story is long and fascinating, and too involved to relate here. There are a number of good books and films on the subject. Emile de Antonio's POINT OF ORDER (1964) is an extraordinary work, consisting entirely of kinescopes of the television broadcast of the Army-McCarthy hearings, in which the vindictive Senator finally overextended his good-will with the American people. The showdown with the Army's attorney, the folksy but deadly effective Joseph Welch, provides a white-knuckled climax to the proceedings in response to an attack by McCarthy on a younger member of the lawyer's firm.

The media, too, played its role. Television news was young at the time, but many of the early television correspondents had played a similar role on radio or in print. Edward R. Murrow had been a radio and print war correspondent and, during the McCarthy-led "Red Scare", used his television show to rebut McCarthy in a powerful way, mainly through the Senator's own words. This program, and the subsequent ones that followed, helped weaken McCarthy's public support, which eventually led to his censure by the Senate. He became a pariah among his colleagues and died of alcohol-related liver disease before completing his term.

In 2005, George Clooney directed a good movie about this period, and specifically Murrow's role in it, called GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK.

Below is Murrow's historic broadcast of March 9. At the end of it, Murrow intones his famous words about the threat posed by such men as McCarthy. These words deserve to be repeated these many years later.
"We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. 
"We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular. 
"This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy's methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home. 
"The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn't create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it — and rather successfully. Cassius was right. 'The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.' 
Good night, and good luck."

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Listen Here: Actor Yaphet Kotto's Bizarre 1968 Spoken Word Single

Actor Yaphet Kotto (born on this day in 1939) is perhaps best known to today's audiences from his role in ALIEN (1979), or perhaps from THE RUNNING MAN (1987), or the long-running '90s show HOMICIDE, LIFE ON THE STREET. He also has unforgettable turns in Paul Schrader's BLUE COLLAR (1978), Johathan Kaplan's TRUCK TURNER (1974), the Bond film LIVE AND LET DIE (1973) and far more than I can, or should name here. He's a great actor, and a great presence.

In 1967, when Kotto was making a living from the stage and stray screen gigs, he recorded this spoken-word single for Hugh Masakela's Chisa  Records,  "Have You Dug His Scene"/"Have You Ever Seen The Blues?" It's a weird, ahead-of-its-time record, bearing some similarities to the work done subsequently by the Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron.

By the way, if you decide to hit Discogs looking for this Yaphet Kotto record, be aware that there was also a '90s-00's punk band by that name.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

"Unobtrusive Yet Powerful Simplicity" What Critics are Saying About the Breathtaking New Doc FIRE AT SEA

This Sunday and next Wednesday, AFS presents the new doc, FIRE AT SEA from filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi, who spent a year documenting the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, home of Italian fishermen and their families and, increasingly, of African refugees rescued from rafts and makeshift boats in the Mediterranean.

Kenneth Turan of the LA Times said, “FIRE AT SEA goes about its business in a quiet way, with unobtrusive yet powerful simplicity, using an unconventional structure and cinematic artistry to make its points.”

New York Times’ A.O. Scott, in making the film his the Critics’ Pick, says, "FIRE AT SEA is impressionistic and intensely absorbing. Like one of Frederick Wiseman’s documentaries, it compels you to infer a big picture from a series of extended, intimate scenes.”

Deborah Young of The Hollywood Reporter says, “Conveying the immensity of the ongoing migrant crisis, which is costing thousands of lives each year as it puts European unity and values sorely to the test, has proven far too great a task for news reporting. Where journalism leaves off, FIRE AT SEA begins.”

Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal says “FIRE AT SEA is a shining example of journalism fueled by outrage and shaped by free-ranging curiosity."

Bilge Ebiri of the Village Voice writes, "How do you reconcile trauma like this with the easy rhythms of ordinary life? You don't, Rosi's film tells us, and to do so would be obscene."

Click here to hear director Rosi interviewed by NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED about the film.

Howard Hawks' TWENTIETH CENTURY: The Most Modern 1934 Movie Ever Made?

Howard Hawks' TWENTIETH CENTURY, newly restored by Sony, will be screened by AFS on Tuesday, November 15 at 7:30pm. Tickets are available here at at the event.

Again and again throughout his career, producer, director and (uncredited) writer Howard Hawks shook up the whole medium of commercial film. His hyper-violent early gangster movie SCARFACE (1932) set the tone for all future mob movies, and we can see echoes of it even today. He could plausibly said to have invented, and later perfected, the screwball comedy, first with 1934's TWENTIETH CENTURY and later with BRINGING UP BABY (1938), HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940) and BALL OF FIRE (1941). Later, with TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944) and THE BIG SLEEP (1946) he brought a new kind of bold sexual chemistry to the screen thanks to the Bogart and Bacall tandem. When he made westerns, they were well unlike any westerns that had preceded them, as is the case with the psychological epic RED RIVER (1948) and the loose amiable hangout movie RIO BRAVO (1959). This list leaves out many of his best films, but you begin to get the picture.

A screwball comedy is, roughly, a fast-paced comedy about romantic conflict in which the romantic leads are also the comedians. Before screwball comedies, there were almost always romantic leads in comedies but they were not expected to get the laughs too. That work was left to the comics, who would interact with the leads but would not be the leads themselves. There are other contenders besides TWENTIETH CENTURY for the title of first screwball comedy. IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT is a leader, and was a pioneering, influential film in its own right, but the leads play it fairly close to the vest. No one would accuse John Barrymore and Carole Lombard, the two leads of TWENTIETH CENTURY, of that.

Hawks cast Barrymore as Oscar Jaffe, a great theatrical ham in the old tradition. The casting could not have been more appropriate. Barrymore was a very fine actor of both stage and screen, and his arsenal was fully stocked with the techniques and manners of the true stage ham. Carole Lombard plays Lily Garland, the Brooklyn girl who becomes a vaunted star of the great white way, but begins to chafe under the thumb of her "creator", Jaffe.

Garland is a prodigy of the stage, and as such, speaks the language of the ham, and sees through Jaffe's artifice when others cannot. Their professional romance, its dissolution, and Jaffe's pursuit of her on a cross-country train voyage, form the story. Hawks manages the actors, and also the many skilled bit players with consummate skill and and a consistent attention to pace (fast) and energy (volcanic).

Here is a scene that shows the dynamic of the Jaffe/Garland relationship as it develops. Jaffe is preparing his actors for a scene in a hokey southern plantation-set play and Garland can't quite break through. Until... Watch these two marvelous artists at work here, and note how Hawks frames the shots to give maximum impact to their physical attitudes.

This same acting prowess and directorial discretion is displayed throughout the film, as these complicated, tightly wound artistes play out the dance of love, love lost, and, possibly, love regained.

This is a film that seems to move with modern rhythms, the dirty pre-code jokes seem like the kind that a quick witted young person of today would make. Hawks had no use for the close-up, which most movies and television shows today rely upon, but in terms of tempo and tone of gags, the material feels shockingly contemporary in approach.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Watch This: Excerpts from a 197-Hour Long Experimental Epic Starring Wertmuller, Godard, Fuller, etc.

Armenian master Sergei Parajanov in Gérard Courant's 197-hour film CINÉMATON

Experimental filmmaker Gérard Courant has made one of the world's longest films, the 197-hour CINÉMATON, which was filmed over the course of 28 years and released in 2009. It consists of nearly 3,000 silent reels, each featuring its subject or subjects doing whatever they choose.

Among the luminaries who have posed for Courant's camera are many of the world's great cinema figures. Each of the following is a complete reel from the finished product. Many, many more can be found at Courant's YouTube page here.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Criterion Nerds & Film Obsessives: Take Note of the New AFS Cinema Campaign

If you like having a wide variety of filmgoing options, Austin is one of the best places in the world to live. We have a lot. At the heart of it for the past few years has been a single screen, part-time pop-up theater called the AFS Cinema (formerly part of the Marchesa Hall & Theatre) supported by AFS members and donors, and some magical angels who have helped keep the doors open and the roof attached. Many thousands of people have attended hundreds of events at this theater and it has been a major cultural milestone for film in Austin.

Then, earlier this year, we at AFS found ourselves at a crossroads.

Our venue partner, with whom our arrangement allowed us to do several screenings a week, decided not to renew the lease on the building. If we chose to pursue our own lease on the property it would mean we would need to make major improvements and expansions to the structure in order to accommodate two full-time screens.

We wondered: would our audience go forward with us? Is there a market for six times as many screenings as we currently offer, and for more festivals and partner opportunities? Do we need more art house and international titles in Austin? More retrospectives and restorations?

We think so, and if you think so too, join our campaign, and give what you can. At heart, it's a quality of life issue. By voting for what you value, you help to make this city a better place, with a rooted and stable home base for the film community.

Naturally there are all kinds of levels you can give at and you will have some combination of our eternal gratitude, decals, T-shirts, tote bags and many other goodies. These are all exciting perks but the one I zoomed in on was the $100 level, which gets you a Criterion Blu-Ray or set: your choice of one from the following: DR. STRANGELOVE, THE DEKALOG, BOYHOOD, THE APU TRILOGY, WILD STRAWBERRIES, MULHOLLAND DRIVE, BLOOD SIMPLE or THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS. Plus the T-shirt, decal and more.

Please give and please come and partake in our many screenings and programs to come. We believe strongly in this campaign. Hear what Richard Linklater and the rest of the AFS creative teams says in the video below.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Listen Here: Zach Clark Talks To John Waters about Fassbinder, Bieber, & Malick

"I used to clip the condemned list and read it over and over. I could recite it, practically."

John Waters has, of course, gone from being an obscure zero-budget filmmaker to one of the most highly visible filmmakers in the world, even though he has not directed a film in 12 years. The life of cultural observer and raconteur suits him though, and he's a dream conversation partner.

Director Zach Clark, of whose film WHITE REINDEER Waters is a fan, does such a fantastic job of driving this Talkhouse conversation down some very deep filmic paths. When is the last time you've heard Waters go deep into his influences: Rossellini, Bunuel, etc? Clark takes you there. It's the best Waters interview in years.

Click here to listen.

By the way, Clark's newest film, LITTLE SISTER, plays at the AFS Cinema on Friday 11/4 as a Free Member Friday. See you there.

Watch This: Burt Lancaster did a Foster's Lager Commercial?

Burt Lancaster, born on this date in 1913, certainly had one of the best lives ever. As a young man he was a skilled athlete, excelling at basketball. He spent most of his 20s in the circus as an acrobat, picking up acting gigs on the side. During WWII he was stationed with the Army in Italy. Back in the states after the war he went to auditions and landed a role on Broadway.

Once the Hollywood scouts saw him, his destiny was secure. THE KILLERS, BRUTE FORCE, SORRY WRONG NUMBER, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, VERA CRUZ, SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, ELMER GANTRY (for which he won an Oscar), JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG, BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ, THE LEOPARD, THE TRAIN, THE SWIMMER, ATLANTIC CITY... You get the idea. It's a career full of great films in which Lancaster gave some of the best leading-man performances ever and was popular with both audiences and critics. He also produced many of his own films and was a force in Hollywood.

None of this explains the following long-form commercial, in which he plays a wealthy tycoon rumbling through England in a limousine, thinking back over a life of savagery, when he picks up a hitchhiker with ideas of his own.