Geoffrey O’Brien is Editor in Chief of the Library of America. His books include Stolen Glimpses, Captive Shadows: Writing on Film, 2002–2012 and the poetry collection The Blue Hill. (May 2018)

IN THE REVIEW

Freudian Noir

Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney in Laura, 1944

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.

Polymorphous Eden

Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables

an exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City, March 2–June 10, 2018
Grant Wood became famous pretty much overnight in October 1930, when American Gothic was included (a last-minute choice after being initially rejected) in the annual exhibition of the Art Institute of Chicago. The Chicago Evening Post slapped a photo of it on the front page of its art section under the headline: “American Normalcy Displayed in Annual Show; Iowa Farm Folks Hit Highest Spot”; the image was picked up by newspapers across the country, all quick to underscore the painting’s corn belt authenticity. Wood—whose most notable previous achievements had been successive first prizes in art at the Iowa State Fair—found himself at thirty-nine not only a celebrity but the embodiment of a movement, or at least the journalistic notion of a movement, steeped in patriotic overtones. Few artists have been worse served by their defenders.

Dinner from Hell

Rod Gilfry as Alberto Roc, Amanda Echalaz as Lucía de Nobile, and Christine Rice as Blanca Delgado in Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel

The Exterminating Angel

an opera by Thomas Adès, with a libretto by Tom Cairns and Thomas Adès based on a screenplay by Luis Buñuel and Luis Alcoriza, directed by Tom Cairns
“People go to a dinner party and for some reason they can’t leave,” a Met patron was explaining to his companion as we waited in the lobby for the doors to open for Thomas Adès’s new opera, The Exterminating Angel. Of all plots it must be the easiest to recap.

Five Magnificent Years

Otis Redding performing at the Monterey Pop Festival, June 1967

Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life

by Jonathan Gould
Jonathan Gould has written an absorbing and ambitious book about a life cut short, a life devoid of the melodrama and self-destruction that enliven the biographies of so many of Otis Redding’s contemporaries. He was far from an overnight success, but from the moment he began pushing toward a musical career—as far back as his formation, with some childhood friends, of a gospel quartet calling themselves the Junior Spiritual Crusaders—he moved only forward. He lived by his own precept: “If you want to be a singer, you’ve got to concentrate on it twenty-four hours a day. You can’t have anything else on your mind but the music business.”

NYR DAILY

Immersed in ‘Cold Water’

Cyprien Fouquet as Gilles and Virginie Ledoyen as Christine in Olivier Assayas's Cold Water, 1994

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 Pattern and Passion of ‘Phantom Thread’

Vicky Krieps as Alma and Daniel Day-Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock in Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread, 2017

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.

Shakespeare’s Pornography of Power

Thomas Jay Ryan as Angelo and Cara Ricketts as Isabella in Simon Godwin’s production of Measure for Measure at Theatre for a New Audience, 2017

Measure for Measure invites updating, but it’s in the nature of the work that whatever contemporary analogies are invoked cannot quite make sense of what happens. The play is a perpetual questioning machine, exquisitely functional, set to a relentless tempo, yet a machine that bristles and crackles in its joints with contradiction and discomfort.

The Magician of Delight

May McAvoy as Lady Windermere and Ronald Colman as Lord Darlington in Ernst Lubitsch's silent film adaption of Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan, 1925

The Ernst Lubitsch retrospective about to unfold at Film Forum will offer a most welcome occasion to gauge the dimensions of the world he celebrated, and sample Lubitsch’s very particular pleasures. He offers a parallel domain of buoyant elegance, a theater of free-floating desire and inextinguishable humor ingeniously stitched together out of the fabric of Austrian operettas and French farces and the plot devices of a hundred forgotten Hungarian plays, flavored by delicate irony and risqué innuendo, where sex is everywhere but just out of sight.

NYR CALENDAR