In suburban homes of the late 1950s within commuting distance of Manhattan, it was not unusual to come upon a paperback copy of Ben Hecht’s A Child of the Century, a best-selling autobiography first published in 1954. As a child of the midcentury I was drawn to the title even …
a series of films at Film Forum, New York City, August 1–16, 2018
“There are no theories in circulation about Jacques Becker,” François Truffaut wrote in Cahiers du Cinéma in the spring of 1954, “no scholarly analyses, no theses. Neither he nor his work encourages commentary, and so much the better for that.” Truffaut was reviewing Becker’s newest film, Touchez pas au grisbi, …
a film festival in Bologna, Italy, June 23–July 1, 2018
To roam at will among films lost, films never seen, films quite likely not even known by you to exist, day after day among spectators all animated by a common attentiveness and palpable curiosity, as if nothing existed outside the parallel world of cinema: for some of us that might …
Reinventing Hollywood: How 1940s Filmmakers Changed Movie Storytelling
by David Bordwell
One night not long ago I found myself once again drawn into a movie from the tail end of the 1940s. This one, with the thoroughly generic title Backfire (not to be confused with Crossfire or Criss Cross or Backlash), did not come with a high pedigree. It had sat on the shelf for two years after it was filmed in 1948, and afterward seems to have faded quickly from recollection. But movies of that time, when they emerge decades later, have devious ways of holding the attention: beguiling hooks and feints lead deeper into a maze whose inner reaches remain tantalizing no matter how many times those well-worn pathways have been explored, and no matter how many times the interior of the maze has led only to an empty space.
When Orson Welles was an infant, Booth Tarkington had already memorialized the disappearance of “that old-fashioned world”—as Welles later described the bygone scene of his own childhood. The Magnificent Ambersons, Tarkington’s 1918 novel that Welles would film so stunningly in 1942, was no sentimental tour but a simmering polemic against the forces of industry and greed that had befouled that world.
The rattled breathlessness of Lesley Manville’s delivery as Mary in BAM’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, as if half a second’s interruption would bring everything crashing down, established the state of things in the Tyrone household with no delay: the masks are already off. Manville’s Mary is not merely distracted but positively a junkie with screaming nerves. The play is a work that mercilessly tests each actor’s ability to inhabit roles that are not characters but beings, summoned by an authorial process that can only be conceived as an occult attempt to restore speech to the dead.
Originally made for French television in 1994, as part of a series of hour-long films, Olivier Assayas’s Cold Water was released in France at feature length the same year. A quarter of a century later, with rights finally cleared for Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Nico, Alice Cooper, Donovan, and the others whose music provides not merely flavor but structure, Cold Water can finally be recognized as a singular masterpiece on the most familiar of themes, the sufferings and misfortunes of youthful passion.
The metaphor of couture is hard to avoid in a film so centrally involved with measuring and cutting and sewing, stitching and unstitching. The very visible boldness of the editing, the leaps and ellipses, keep the idea of cutting very much at the forefront. A crucial scene in which a wedding dress must be repaired overnight evokes both an emergency medical operation and the race against time to reshape a film in the editing room.
Noah Isenberg discusses his new book, Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins, with critic Geoffrey O’Brien. Despite the success of films like Detour (1945), Ulmer spent most of his career as an itinerant, overlooked filmmaker.