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Books

On the History of Film Style pdf online

Reinventing Hollywood: How 1940s Filmmakers Changed Movie Storytelling

Film Art: An Introduction

Christopher Nolan: A Labyrinth of Linkages pdf online

Pandora’s Digital Box: Films, Files, and the Future of Movies pdf online

Planet Hong Kong, second edition pdf online

The Way Hollywood Tells It pdf online

Poetics of Cinema pdf online

Figures Traced In Light

Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema pdf online

Exporting Entertainment: America in the World Film Market 1907–1934 pdf online

Video

Hou Hsiao-hsien: A new video lecture!

CinemaScope: The Modern Miracle You See Without Glasses

How Motion Pictures Became the Movies

Constructive editing in Pickpocket: A video essay

Essays

Rex Stout: Logomachizing

Lessons with Bazin: Six Paths to a Poetics

A Celestial Cinémathèque? or, Film Archives and Me: A Semi-Personal History

Shklovsky and His “Monument to a Scientific Error”

Murder Culture: Adventures in 1940s Suspense

The Viewer’s Share: Models of Mind in Explaining Film

Common Sense + Film Theory = Common-Sense Film Theory?

Mad Detective: Doubling Down

The Classical Hollywood Cinema Twenty-Five Years Along

Nordisk and the Tableau Aesthetic

William Cameron Menzies: One Forceful, Impressive Idea

Another Shaw Production: Anamorphic Adventures in Hong Kong

Paolo Gioli’s Vertical Cinema

(Re)Discovering Charles Dekeukeleire

Doing Film History

The Hook: Scene Transitions in Classical Cinema

Anatomy of the Action Picture

Hearing Voices

Preface, Croatian edition, On the History of Film Style

Slavoj Žižek: Say Anything

Film and the Historical Return

Studying Cinema

Articles

Book Reports

Observations on film art

Republican motto: “Government doesn’t work. Elect us and we’ll prove it.”

Friday | March 20, 2020

From today’s New York Times story: “Trump Resists Pressure to Force Companies to Make New Coronavirus Supplies,” by Katie Rogers, Maggie Haberman, and Ana Swanson (20 March 2020).

Some of Mr. Trump’s advisers have privately said they are adhering to longstanding conservative opposition to big government, a view that reflects the administration’s conflicted view of how it should handle a crisis unlike any a modern president has faced.

“First of all, governors are supposed to be doing a lot of this work, and they are doing a lot of this work,” Mr. Trump said to reporters on Thursday. “The federal government is not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping. You know, we’re not a shipping clerk.”. . .

Not all of Mr. Trump’s advisers subscribe to the theory that the federal government should be as hands-off as possible. Some of his aides believe there needs to be a shift toward using the law and have suggested this to the president.

As the threat of the coronavirus has worsened, officials leading the Trump administration’s response have resisted setting priorities in favor of letting private companies determine their own roles, a stance that has confounded Mr. Trump’s critics but which officials say is a small-government approach that the president’s advisers prefer.

But people familiar with the administration’s actions say the administration is still trying to figure how industry supply chains operate, which companies could produce additional products, and what kind of subsidies they may need to offer . . . .

In a call held with Mr. Trump at the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters on Thursday, a group of governors stressed to him that they were struggling to address the staggering demand for equipment and supplies.

At one point, Gov. Kristi Noem, Republican of South Dakota, grew frustrated as she expressed to the president and members of the task force that state officials had been working unsuccessfully with private suppliers.

“I need to understand how you’re triaging supplies,” Ms. Noem said. “We, for two weeks, were requesting reagents for our public health lab from C.D.C., who pushed us to private suppliers who kept canceling orders on us. And we kept making requests, placing orders.”

She added: “I don’t want to be less of a priority because we’re a smaller state or less populated.”

Mr. Trump promised her that would “never” happen before Ms. Noem’s telephone line was disconnected.

 

When Hollywood ruminates: Calm after THE MORTAL STORM

Sunday | March 1, 2020

The Mortal Storm (1940).

DB here:

We don’t usually think of classic studio cinema as particularly contemplative. But many films open up spaces for quiet reflection on what we’re seeing, or have seen. In the 1940s, that tendency owed a good deal to the ways that Hollywood became, to put it roughly, more novelistic.

Movies had been based on novels for many decades, but in Reinventing Hollywood: How 1940s Filmmakers Changed Movie Storytelling, I claimed something more specific. I think that many 1940s filmmakers became more acutely aware of sound film’s capacities for manipulating time and point of view. These are novelistic techniques par excellence, distinctly different from the largely “theatrical” conceptions of presentation that we find in most studio cinema of the 1930s. Films turned inward, probing perceptions, memories, and dreams. If you need a storytelling twist, one journalist cracked, just call it psychology, and it will get by.

Of course, there are plenty of precedents for time and POV shifts in early decades. Still, I wanted to show that between 1939 and 1952 many major options emerged and were developed in ambitious directions. The results left a legacy. Today, when flashbacks are common and we easily grasp elaborate shifts in viewpoint, our films rework the possibilities refined and consolidated in the 1940s.

One stretch of the book considered some films from early-to-mid 1940 that offered glimpses of innovations we’d see in later years. Married and in Love, One Crowded Night, Stranger on the Third Floor, and Edison, the Man previewed techniques that would dominate the next decade. Particularly chock-full of storytelling ideas, I argued, was Our Town, a daring transposition of 1930s theatrical devices into the key of cinema.

Missing from my roster, though, is The Mortal Storm, a film that went into release in June of 1940. I had neglected to rewatch it when writing the book. A couple of weeks back I caught up with it during a screening at our Cinematheque. Restored by UCLA, it fairly shimmered off the screen.

How could I not have remembered the stunning closing sequence? It’s a bundle of narrative strategies that would get elaborated in the years to come. And it achieves its effect from being somber, slow, and based on human absence. In this epilogue, the movie pauses to think.

To talk about this passage and its counterparts, I have to parade plenty of spoilers. Sorry. But at least you get video.

 

Emptying the nest

The Mortal Storm.

The plot starts in Germany at the moment of Hitler’s ascension to power in 1933. Elderly Viktor Roth is a much-loved Jewish professor of medicine. His household includes his stepsons Otto and Erich, his wife Emilia, and their daughter Freya. Two other young men are close to the family: Fritz, who aspires to marry Freya, and Martin, a farm boy training to be a veterinarian.

Otto, Erich, and Fritz become enthusiastic Nazis, but Freya draws closer to Martin, who quietly resists the growing bigotry in their small town. Professor Roth is arrested and killed. Martin and Freya, now deeply in love, try to escape by ski to Austria. A squad of soldiers, under Fritz’s direction, fires on them. Freya is killed.

In the crucial scene, Fritz returns to the family home to tell Otto and Erich.

The sequence blends several narrational choices. Most obvious is the camera movement that seems to drift off on its own. It is, we might say, semi-subjective. It suggests Otto’s slow walk through the now-empty home, but it isn’t clearly marked as his optical POV. The opening stretch of the shot shows him pacing more or less obliquely to us, before the camera pans and tracks to the table and beyond.

     

     

The framing insistently keeps Otto offscreen. Only the sound of his footsteps and pauses suggest that he’s present, off left or behind us, at each station of the shot.

As the camera drifts along, we get auditory flashbacks to earlier scenes, three at the table, and one echoing the Professor at his lectern. Flashbacks are characteristic features of 1940s cinema, and purely auditory ones will come into prominence, as in The Fallen Sparrow (1943). Since we’ve seen the action these flashbacks evoke, they’re as much flashbacks for us as for Otto. Indeed, Otto has been a minor character in the story. His walk triggers them, but his absence from the frame makes it easier for us to project our memories onto these spaces.

The transition among the flashbacks prepares for Otto’s defection. The voice shifts from Freya, whose death Otto is grieving, to the men challenging authority. We hear Professor Roth urge youth forward, and Martin advocating peace and free thought. These later moments seem to crystallize Otto’s change of heart. Dwelling a bit on the statuette of Youth carrying the torch of knowledge suggests that Otto may become inspired to take up his father’s commitment to humanism.

At the climax of the shot, the camera frames the staircase (another icon of 1940s cinema) and starts to back up. This can hardly be Otto’s optical viewpoint. The rapid footsteps suggest that he has left the house by striding out, as it were, behind us. The sound of a closing door confirms our inference. He has left us behind.

As he does in the final moments, when Otto’s flight is depicted as footprints in the snow. Perhaps, now that he has become revolted by the cruelty of Fritz and the Nazi regime, he will take up resistance in Martin’s spirit.

Accompanying the shots of the footprints is the voice-over narrator whom we heard at the film’s start. (Such narrators proliferate in 1940s movies.) His speech, from a poem called “The Gate of the Year,” echoes the visuals: a man “at the gate,” the prospect that one may “tread safely into the unknown.” In giving up Nazism, Otto is giving up home.

The camera tilts up to show the empty house.  The snow-encased home is quite different from the bustling view we saw at the film’s start, when the postman delivered gifts for Professor Roth.

     

Hitler has destroyed the family. Still, as the snow buries the footprints, the narrator urges that divine guidance can provide safety for Otto’s escape, and perhaps a decision to fight Nazism.

We don’t normally think of MGM as a hotbed of cinematic innovation in the studio years. But the company had its moments (here and there), and this is one of them. The Mortal Storm‘s play with time (flashbacks, the solemn duration of the house tour) and viewpoint (Otto triggering some bits of remembered dialogue) resembles what we might get in a psychologically slanted novel of the time. We’re given a few minutes to breathe deeply and think about what we’ve seen, and to build up expectations about what Otto may do.

 

The house as memory vessel

The Miniver Story (1950).

One section of Reinventing Hollywood analyzes Enchantment (1948), a film narrated by a house. The house presents itself as a cozy repository of the memories of several generations. More generally, houses are powerful images in 40s films; think of Tara, Manderly, the estate in Dragonwyck, and the Gothic mansions of Jane Eyre, Gaslight, and The Spiral Staircase. Often they’re presided over by ominous portraits, as Steven Jacobs and Lisa Colpaert have shown.

One lesser-known example is House of Strangers (1949), directed by Joseph Mankiewicz. This story of an Italian immigrant who has become the head of a big bank is framed by his son Max returning to their massive home. The bulk of the film is given in flashback, but the flashback is launched by a wandering camera accompanied by “M’apparti tutt’amor” (from the opera Martha) playing on the phonograph. After a trip up the stairs we are taken via dissolve to the patriarch singing it in his bath.

The plot’s central section treats the lyric (“You all seem to love me”) with doubled implication: Gino’s reckless loans endear him to his customers, but his sons resent his power over them. The long flashback ends at Gino’s funeral, passing from the portrait in the past to the phonograph and to his son Max, brooding under the looming picture.

     

     

The huge Minafer mansion is practically a character itself in The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). One of Welles’ late script versions  envisioned a climax in which George, distraught by the shabbiness of their neighborhood, would pass numbly through the house, and our sense of it would be given through his eyes.

145 FULL SHOT of the Amberson Mansion, seen from behind George who is standing in front of camera. He starts walking toward the mansion. CAMERA FOLLOWS, moving faster than he does and soon is so close to him that his body creates a dark screen for a DISSOLVE TO:
146 CAMERA is on the steps of the Amberson Mansion, MOVING up to the door and STOPPING. George’s hands enter the scene, insert a key in the lock, turn it —
147 On the Narrator’s words, “move out” the door opens and CAMERA MOVES thru it into the house.
MOVING SHOT as CAMERA WANDERS SLOWLY about the dismantled house — past the bare reception room; the dining room which contains only a kitchen table and two kitchen chairs, up the stairs, close to the smooth walnut railing of the balustrade. Here CAMERA STOPS for a moment, then PANS down to the heavy doors which mask the dark, empty library. HOLD on this for a short pause, then CAMERA PANS back and CONTINUES, even more slowly, up the stairs to the second floor hall where it MOVES up to the closed door of Isabel’s room. The door swings open and we see Isabel’s room is still as it always has been; nothing has been changed. FADE OUT

This passage is strikingly similar to what we see in The Mortal Storm. True, the cues for George’s optical viewpoint are more explicit than what Borzage gives us for Otto. But Welles is subtler along another dimension. He counts on our remembering earlier scenes without benefit of auditory flashbacks. The camera revisits the reception area we saw during the ball, the dining room where George challenged Eugene Morgan, and the staircase where George and Fanny quarreled, before coming to rest in Isabel’s room, where we saw her waste away and die. We are asked to supply our own flashbacks.

Some of this POV passage might have been filmed, but it wasn’t retained in Welles’ final version, even before RKO’s mangling. In the film as we have it, only Welles’ lead-in and conclusion remain. The narrator supplies a moving-camera montage, as George registers the changes in Amberson Avenue.

The street sequence ends in darkness and tracks back from George kneeling at the bed begging forgiveness. The fact that the shot starts from his darkened head reinforces the subjectivity of the montage.

Welles’s handling is novelistic in the sense of wrapping a character’s flowing impressions inside an omniscient verbal commentary using free indirect discourse (“Tomorrow they were to move out”). George’s moments of rueful meditation are moments for us as well.

Like the narrator that closes The Mortal Storm, this voice is external to the story world. But the same house-haunting effect can be achieved by a narrator who lives in that world. Coupled with the wandering camera, this can turn our view of a scene in the present into a view of the past–or of an eternal future.

The example I have in mind is from The Miniver Story (MGM again, 1950). In Reinventing, I analyze a sequence that creates layers of time: Clem Miniver’s voice-over in our present, an image of he and Kay in the past, and references in the commentary to periods still earlier than what we see. (The clip of this sequence is online here.) At the end of the film, after the Minivers have married off their daughter Judy to Tom, they must face Kay’s impending death from cancer.

The final sequence shifts from the day of the wedding to a kind of timeless realm in which Kay’s spirit lives on. Again, camera movement suggests an invisible presence.

By 1950, we’ve had several permutations. The camera wanders without verbal narration (music alone in House of Strangers). It does so with auditory flashbacks (The Mortal Storm). It does so with a nondiegetic (external) narrator (The Magnificent Ambersons). And it does so with a diegetic (story-world) narrator (The Miniver Story). I try to show in the book that 1940s filmmakers swiftly expanded, even exhausted, menu options involving many storytelling techniques.

Trust Hitchcock to give us yet another variant, and in a tour de force at that.

 

Enough rope

In the eleven shots of Rope (1948), set almost completely in an apartment, the camera’s peregrinations are usually motivated by character movement or simple track-ins and track-outs. At the climax, though, the camera cuts loose. Sort of.

Brandon and Phillip have strangled their friend David and hidden his body in a chest in their living room. They’ve ghoulishly used the chest as a buffet table for their afternoon party. After the party, one guest, their prep school teacher Rupert Cadell, has returned. He suspects that something bad has happened to David. Rupert challenges the pair and sketches out how they might have murdered their friend.

His reconstruction isn’t wholly correct. David wasn’t bludgeoned, and apparently the armchair played no role. What’s fascinating is that the camera supplies a hypothetical, virtual flashback. As in our earlier examples, David becomes an invisible guest, summoned up by the mobile frame.

The camera traces out the action Rupert posits, emphasizing the hall closet (where Rupert earlier discovered David’s hat) and edging eventually toward the chest. At that point Brandon steps in, with his hand tensing around the pistol in his pocket. He stands in front of the drinks table.

     

That’s the climax of the shot. Cut to a shot of Rupert. He seems to intuit that he should avoid mentioning the chest, so he proposes that they might have carried the body out of the building. As the camera traces out that possibility, Brandon steps back into the frame to confront Rupert.

     

     

Here I think Hitchcock made a mistake. At the end of the first shot, Brandon and his pistol are quite close to Rupert, near the drinks table. But in the followup shot, he’s not visible when the camera pans left past the table to enact the scenario Rupert is considering. Brandon would have had to skip backward like the Road Runner to get as far away as he is when he steps back into the frame in the second shot.

Still, the important effect is the representation of Rupert’s thinking. Goaded by Brandon, he ponders how the crime might have been committed, and the camera carves into space to reveal the scheme he conjures up. A sort of flashback? Yes, but an unreliable replay, left largely to our imagination. Semi-subjective? Yes, since when we cut to Rupert he seems to be staring down at the chest. Yet the camera is too free-ranging to be purely Rupert’s optical POV. He’s not moving around, as Otto is in the Mortal Storm sequence.

In this most “theatrical” of movies, Hitchcock manages to give us a verbal-visual flow that is something like a cinematic equivalent of the novelist’s conditional perfect tense. If Brandon and Phillip had killed David, they could have done it this way. The camera enacts a speculative train of thought. Call it psychology.

 

One thing I shouldn’t ever forget: Hollywood in the Forties is a booming rush of visual, auditory, and narrative ideas. In the approximately 5,655 features released in the period I marked off, there are surely many other startling instances of creative craft. I’ll keep looking.


Thanks as ever to our Wisconsin Cinematheque for fine programming under the auspices of Jim Healy, Mike King, and Ben Reiser and excellent projectionist Roch Gersbach. Thanks as well to Joe McBride for sharing material on The Magnificent Ambersons. More on Ambersons can be found here and here.

The Mortal Storm‘s “novelistic” final moments owe nothing to its source, Phillis Bottome’s The Mortal Storm (1938). An earlier version of my ideas about Enchantment are here.

Chapters 4 through 6 of Patrick Keating’s The Dynamic Frame: Camera Movement in Classical Hollywood offer a careful survey of creative choices facing filmmakers of the period, along with explications of their “practical theories” about cinematography. After writing this entry, I learned that Patrick has also made a fine video essay on the Ambersons sequence.

For earlier blogs on related subjects, see the category 1940s Hollywood.

PS 2 March 2020: Patrick Keating reminds me of another 1940 release I should have mentioned: Hitchcock’s Rebecca. When Maxim narrates his confrontation with Rebecca, the camera moves autonomously to “replay” the scene. It anticipates my Rope example, except that Maxim is recounting what really happened, while Rupert is sketching out his (partially inaccurate) reconstruction of David’s death. Still, though, it’s another variant on an emerging pictorial convention. Thanks, Patrick!

PS 2 March 2020, later: Thanks also to John Belton, who writes to remind me not only of the Rebecca scene but a comparable camera movement in Under Capricorn. Crowdsourcing works.

Rope (1948).

PARASITE fever

Friday | February 21, 2020

Kristin here:

It seems like anyone writing for an online or print periodical, whether media-oriented or not, is searching for some sort of hook on which to hang an article about Parasite and Bong Joon Ho. Some of these are a bit of a stretch, others are a bit ephemeral but interesting. All testify to the surprisingly broad interest in a relatively little-known director of the first foreign-language film ever to win the Best Picture Oscar.

Some of this burst of coverage undoubtedly stems from the fact that relatively few people know anything about Bong. Predictably there are many quick overviews of his career to catch people up, as well as plenty of interviews and of where-you-can-stream-Bong’s-films guides.

Here I offer a some links to a fair sampling of some of the less predictable pieces that I have run across. Some are quite bemusing. A few were published before the February 9 Academy Awards ceremony, but the flood has, not surprisingly, come after it.

Such pieces tend to fall into categories.

 

Items of Mise-en-scene

People are fascinated by the Parks’ gorgeous (at least on the surface) house and yard. Back on October 31, 2019, Architectural Digest, of all places, published an interview with Bong about the set. This is surely one of the most prestigious of non-media outlets to publish on the film. After the Oscars, The Guardian, which has diligently published on various aspects of the film (see bottom), caught up and ran a piece about the set being the “real star” of the film and considering it from a genre point of view.

The mysterious “viewing stone” has been discussed. The Guardian again (see bottom line of bottom image), on February 17, ran a story entitled “Built on rock: the geology at the heart of Oscars sensation ‘Parasite.'”

 

The Translator

Everybody seems to be enchanted by Sharon Choi, who has accompanied Bong internationally during the long awards season from Cannes to the Oscars. On February 10, Buzzfeed reported, “There’s a Ton of Love and Memes for the interpreter of ‘Parasite’ director Bong Joon Ho.” Sure enough, all over social media there are people gushing about her (above, from the Buzzfeed story).

On February 18, a Variety headline trumpeted, “Bong Joon Ho Interpreter Sharon Choi Relives Historic ‘Parasite’ Awards Season in Her Own Words (EXCLUSIVE).” Choi had, the story reveals, turned down “hundreds of interview requests” before allowing Variety to print her story. In fact, there are interviews with Choi available on the internet, but the Variety story is not an interview. It’s a memoir by Choi in which she recalls the awards season.

 

Meta

There are articles about the popularity of Parasite and Bong.

On January 20, into awards season but before the Oscars, Morgan Sung posted a piece on Mashable: “Parasite director Bong Joon Ho became a proud dad meme.” On social media, people were posting photos of Bong taking “proud dad” photos of his cast and crew getting awards (above). Note the number of likes and people “talking about this,” plus the presence of Sharon Choi in the group. The Mashable piece presents several more such snips.

Two days after the Oscar nominations were announced, on January 15 Junkee’s Joseph Earp posted about “Bong Joon-Ho, Viral Superstar,” proposing that Bong has become one of those rare directors who becomes a brand in himself. He picks up on Quentin Tarantino’s remark that Bong could become the new Spielberg.

On February 19, the livemint site reported gleefully that the day after the Oscars saw a 857% surge in searches on “Parasite.” This as opposed to 117% for 1917 and 132% for Jojo Rabbit. As the author remarks, “Bong Joon-ho’s tragicomedy thriller has been sweeping all awards and cleaning up at the box office, and people have not been able to stop talking (or searching) on Google.”

And why? “Search for director Bong Joon-ho increased for not only being the mastermind behind the film but also for his quirky sense of humour.”

I suppose the blog entry that you are now reading falls into this category as well. (And then there are our earlier comments.)

 

Lessons to be learned

On February 10, one of the odder stories I’ve seen went up on CNBC’s “Make It” page entitled: “‘Parasite’ director says his success is due to ‘a very simple lifestyle,’ not meeting a lot of people.” Why a business-oriented website would consider a South Korean film director’s lifestyle relevant to people aspiring to make a lot of money is anyone’s guess. Clearly CNBC was not able to get an interview with Bong so soon after the awards ceremony. Instead, the insights are derived from an article in the British Telegraph (behind a paywall). That piece is also dated February 10, and since it’s a review (albeit a late one), one must presume that its author had interviewed Bong earlier or derived his information from yet another source.

The Guardian (yet again) ran a story on February 18 headlined “Trust your nose: what rich people can learn from Parasite.” This turns out to be a satirical piece, including such tips as not buying a huge coffee table that intruders can hide under without being noticed.

 

This ‘n’ that

Even a periodical devoted to cuisine found a way to work in a story. On February 10, the day after the awards, Eater Los Angeles ran a story, “Oscar-Winning ‘Parasite’ Cast Parties Until 5 in the Morning at LA Koreatown Restaurant.” We learn, among other things, that “Bong Joon-ho hadn’t eaten anything all day and was so famished that the restaurant cooked up galbi jjim (braised short ribs), eundaegu jorim (braised spicy black cod), galbi (grilled short ribs), bibimbap, and seafood tofu pancakes for him and the cast.”

On February 15, Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson took us “Behind the Scenes of Bong Joon Ho’s Oscar-Winning PR campaign.” Behind the scenes is publicist Mara Buxbaum, seen above with Bong. To Bong’s left is presumably Sharon Choi, who, Thompson tells us, is writing a book about her experiences as Bong’s interpreter.

 

I suppose the Parasite fever really does result in part from the fact that this is the first time that a foreign-language film has won a best picture Oscar. It’s probably also to a considerable extent the fact that Bong is a charming person, modest, humorous, straightforward, and very talented, and he comes across as such in his acceptance speeches and interviews. People want to know more about him, as is suggested by looper’s February 12 piece on unknown facts about Bong. If they want to know what his favorite films are and maybe watch them, they can read No Film School’s “25 Favorite Films of ‘Parasite’ director Bong Joon Ho” (February 7).

The only people who dislike Parasite and presumably its maker seem to be President T***p and his gormless fans. On February 20, he decried the awarding of the best-picture Oscar to a foreign film:

And the winner is… a movie from South Korea! What the hell was that all that about? We’ve got enough problems with South Korea, with trade. On top of that, they give them the best movie of the year. Was it good? I don’t know. Let’s get Gone With the Wind back, please? Sunset Boulevard. So many great movies.

I shan’t try to unpack the levels of ignorance and misunderstanding jammed into that passage, which was cheered by many who had never heard of Parasite and had no idea what he was going on about. It does make me pause at the notion of T***p watching Sunset Blvd., if indeed he has, and that he seems to think re-released films are eligible for Oscars decades after they were made. I’ve got to believe he at least knows that Gone with the Wind and Sunset Blvd. have already been “gotten back” and are easily available for viewing in numerous formats. The point though, is that even he has a vague notion that Parasite (or, since he doesn’t know the title, “a movie from South Korea”) is good copy.

 

Two Parasite items on The Guardian’s February 18 film alert.

Awards! and a very long movie

Monday | February 10, 2020

Bong Joon-ho and team accept Oscar. Photo: New York Times.

DB here:

The big news is that Bong Joon-ho has pulled off a coup. Parasite won four major Academy Awards, including Best Picture–a first for a foreign-language title.

Throughout awards season he was his bemused, genial self, and at the big ceremony he charmed everyone with his easygoing generosity toward Scorsese, Tarantino, and others. He went beyond the standard appreciation for the other nominees by saying something too seldom said at this ceremony of superficial self-congratulation: What matters is cinema, from whenever and wherever.

We’ve been supporting Bong’s work since the first days of this blog, and it was thrilling to see his triumph last night. In homage, we’ve posted some earlier encounters with Bong on our Instagram feed.

Just as exciting were the awards given to another FoB (Friend of the Blog), James Mangold. Years ago I wrote about a visit to the studio where Donald Sylvester and his team were preparing sound for 3:10 to Yuma. What a pleasure to see his work acknowledged with an Oscar. I like Ford v. Ferrari a lot, and much of its impact comes from its sound design and its picture editing (which snagged another Oscar last night, this one to Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland). Congratulations as well to Mr. Mangold, a fine director.

Usually I’m an Oscar cynic, and not just because forgettable pictures too often claim the top honors and masterpieces are ignored. I had many favorites in the race this year, but I’m happy that filmmakers who have worked as hard to make strong, resonant genre pictures got acclaim this time around.

Less crowded but a big deal for us was another ceremony, held last Friday. Then our colleague Kelley Conway, another FoB, received the Chevalier d’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French government. You know, the same award given to Philip Glass, Tina Turner, Cate Blanchett, Ang Lee, Mia Hansen-Löve, Mads Mikkelson, Sylvia Chang, et al. It was a swell get-together, overseen by Dean Susan Zaeske and conducted by Guillaume Lacroix, the French Consul General for the Midwest.

It was a great moment for us and our department. Kelley’s work includes books on the singer in French films of the 1930s, on Agnès Varda, and in progress, a study of French film culture after World War II. She has also guest-blogged for us (here and here and here).

Score another point for Cinema.

Finally, another big event, which took place weekend before last. Our Cinematheque screened Béla Tarr’s legendary Sátántangó. When we showed it last, intrepid projectionist Jared Lewis handled all those reels. This time, no-less-intrepid projectionist Mike King had to massage a DCP.

     

In that 2006 screening, there were maybe two dozen people. This time, despite freezing cold, there were over 100. And instead of that number dwindling in the course of the day, the audience actually grew. People came in at the middle and they stayed.

See? It’s just cinema being Cinema.


Thanks to our Cinematheque for its excellent programming, and a special thanks to Tony Rayns, who brought Bong to Vancouver many years ago and enabled me to meet him. Tony has been an untiring supporter of young Asian talent, and our sense of modern cinema owes a great deal to his championing directors in their formative years.

For more thoughts on Béla Tarr, go here.

Tony Rayns and Bong Joon-ho, Hong Kong 2014. Photo by DB.

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