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Gwendolyn Audrey Foster on Jane Campion’s “2 Friends” (1986)

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster has a new essay on Campion’s breakthrough film in Senses of Cinema.

As Foster writes in Senses of Cinema 84 (September, 2017), “fearless, ruthlessly economical and deeply felt, 2 Friends (1986), Jane Campion’s first feature – actually made for Australian television, and clocking in at a spare 79 minutes – is a modest yet accomplished film, and a stunning debut. Working from a screenplay by Helen Garner, Campion traces in reverse the lives of two young Australian schoolgirls, Kelly (Kris Bidenko) and Louise (Emma Coles) from the collapse of their friendship back to its promising beginning, when all things seemed possible, and the world was bright and new.

Of course, this told-in-reverse format has been used in a number of other films, most notably Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000), but Campion’s tale is told from a female perspective and uses this unusual narrative strategy to tap into the experience of female friendships, and, in particular, the difficulties young bright women have navigating a world than is not designed for their success. As Elbert Ventura notes in a perceptive essay on the film in Popmatters,

‘when the movie begins, Louise and Kelly don’t even seem to belong in the same story. Louise is a prim, sullen teenager in a resolutely middle-class household. Dressed in her schoolgirl uniform, she hardly looks the sort who runs with Kelly, all punk and dissolute. Kelly, we learn, has left home—Louise hasn’t seen her in ages—and has been living with “friends” in poverty in a desolate beach town. The movie’s opening chapter ends with an eloquent scene. As Louise reads a letter from the long-departed Kelly, Kelly’s voiceover comes on the soundtrack. Halfway through, Louise drops the missive, but Kelly’s voice remains, reciting the letter. It’s a poignant expression of a friendship past exhaustion.’

But how did their friendship unravel? Campion takes us from this bleak beginning back roughly a year, in five sections, to show how uncaring parents, and in particular families split apart by divorce and remarriage, have brought this rupture about. At the same time, the film is resolutely and revolutionarily feminist, in the purest sense of the word; it’s told entirely from a female perspective, and the men and boys who drift through the film are either weak, predatory, or as the girls describe them in one scene, ‘hopeless.’

As we move back in time, it becomes clear that the punked-out Kelly was once a gifted student with university potential, having passed along with Louise the extremely difficult entrance exam for the exclusive City Girl’s School, a surefire stepping stone to higher education. But Kelly’s stepdad Malcolm (Peter Hehir) a shiftless, jealous lay about, refuses to let her attend, thus not only breaking the bond between the two girls, but also wrecking Kelly’s future with a single stroke.

Kelly’s mother Chris (Debra May) seems weak and ineffectual, and Louise’s mother Janet (Kris McQuade), though seeming to care for Kelly in a maternal fashion, cannot effectively intervene. And so Louise goes off to City Girl, and Kelly winds up on the dole, living in a squat, doing drugs and wandering the streets. For a female spectator, it is acutely painful to witness, but it is also deeply satisfying to see uncomfortable truths about all young women’s lack of place in society so plainly stated; in this way 2 Friends is much like Campion’s finest film, Sweetie (1989).”

You can read the rest of the essay here; this is a deeply felt film that deserves much more attention.

DP Sean Price Williams on Cinematography and Film History

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

Sean Price Williams is one of the most inventive and original cinematographers working today.

As Jon Hogan writes, at the start of an interview with Williams in the web journal Hyperallergic, “cinematographer Sean Price Williams has been revered by critics and indie film fans for the better part of the last decade. While drawing particular influence from master filmmakers like Robert Altman and Roman Polanski, his visual thinking stays fresh by constantly seeking fellow image makers — whether cinematographers, photographers, or others — who make the vulgar and common beautiful.

Williams’s singular eye has kept him in-demand; you’ll see his name in the credits of four movies in 2017 alone. Michael Almereyda’s Marjorie Prime is a tale of technology simulating humanity and Good Time — the latest from Queens natives Josh and Ben Safdie — is a sprint through the New York City underworld. Golden Exits (which has yet to receive a theatrical release following its Sundance premiere) marks Williams’s reunion with Brooklyn-based director Alex Ross Perry, who has worked with the cinematographer on his four prior features.

However, Thirst Street, directed by Nathan Silver, is the truest visual smorgasbord of the batch. To tell the story of flight attendant Gina (Lindsay Burdge) as she fixates on a one-night stand in Paris, Williams draws inspiration from 1970s European art films and cinéma du look to weave tapestries of color that both beckon and repel viewers in following Gina’s descent. Ahead of Thirst Street’s screening at New York City’s Quad Cinema starting September 20, Williams discussed his unique gift for imbuing stories of misanthropes and criminals with raw emotion and neon glamor.

Jon Hogan: Your first film experiences in New York City grew from your time working at now-closed East Village fixture Kim’s Video and Music. There, you met future collaborators like directors Alex Ross Perry and Robert Greene and actress Kate Lyn Sheil as coworkers. Why was Kim’s such fertile ground for cinematic creativity?

Sean Price Williams: Because it’s a library, and that’s what libraries should be. We could immediately be learning and catching up on the history of cinema with what was available to us, which was a lot compared to now. You have to illegally download, otherwise you don’t have a choice, because the streaming options aren’t very good as far as the history of cinema. I’m shocked by how little FilmStruck actually has. People are like ‘there’s so much.’ No. There’s so little.

JH: In terms of streaming libraries, what elements of the canon are missing or not readily available?

SPW: The first 100 years of cinema are barely represented at all in a legal way online. I encourage everyone to download … I think we have to encourage that if there’s going to be any kind of education for cinema at all. Otherwise it’s just directed to us by Netflix and Amazon, whatever their licensing agreement is. That’s not a way to be guided.

JH: You worked with the late documentarian Albert Maysles. What lessons did you learn from him? How does your vision change when filming documentaries like Maysles’s Iris or Robert Greene’s Kate Plays Christine?

SPW: When I first came to New York, I was shooting stuff for this website that had no means at all. We were shooting mostly documentary stuff (parades, events, concerts, things like that), but I’m not an avid documentary watcher. The documentary and the feature stuff were always criss-crossing, and I didn’t really think of it as two totally different things. I was always trying to make documentaries seem more cinematic with some sort of language that might seem more interesting on a big screen.

When I worked with Al, I knew his movies. I loved his movies. They had an elegance that was cinematic and totally unique to them. When I would go through his dailies as his archivist I would see things in the dailies that were confirmation about the unique kind of eye he had. It’s not something you can really pick up and learn. You can learn some things, but you can’t imitate him. He was impulsive and instinctual.”

You can read the rest of this instructive and inspirational interview by clicking here, or on the image above.

New Film History Book: Hitler in Los Angeles

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

Here, courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter, is a preview of an extremely important and timely book.

As author Steven J. Ross writes, “in March 1934, Leon Lewis, a 44-year-old lawyer and former executive director of the Anti-Defamation League, invited 40 of Hollywood’s most powerful studio heads, producers and directors — men like Louis B. Mayer, Irving Thalberg and Jack Warner — to a secret meeting at Hillcrest, the elite Jewish country club in Cheviot Hills.

For nearly a year, Lewis had used a network of spies (including the son of a Bavarian general) to keep tabs on Nazis and American-born fascists in Los Angeles. Some in the group knew a bit about what Lewis had been up to, but few knew the full extent of his work. As the group settled into the Club Room after dinner, Lewis rose to share what he had learned: Anti-Semites had invaded their studios.

Foremen sympathetic to the Nazi and fascist cause had fired so many below-the-line Jewish employees that many studios had ‘reached a condition of almost 100 percent [Aryan] purity.’ Scarier still, Lewis told them his spies had uncovered death threats against the moguls. He pleaded with them for money to continue his operations so they could keep track of not only how the Nazis were trying to influence the studios but also their plans for sabotage and murder in Southern California. Would the moguls help?

Thalberg promised $3,500 from MGM. Paramount production head Emanuel Cohen matched it. RKO’s David Selznick contributed and said he would canvass the town’s talent agents for additional contributions. By the end of the evening, the group had pledged $24,000 ($439,000 in 2017 dollars) for the spy operation.

Over the next decade, until the end of World War II, Lewis used the money raised from Hollywood to recruit World War I veterans — and their wives and daughters — to spy on Nazi and fascist groups in Los Angeles. Often rising to leadership positions, this daring group of men and women foiled a series of Nazi plots — from hanging 24 Hollywood actors and power figures, including Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Charlie Chaplin, Mayer and Samuel Goldwyn, to blowing up defense installations on the day Nazis planned to launch their American putsch.

Even though Nazi plans for murder and sabotage failed, as with today, we need to take this homegrown extremism seriously. Lewis certainly did. While local and federal officials were busy monitoring the activities of communists, his operatives uncovered enough evidence of hatred and plotting to be concerned about the fate of Los Angeles Jews and American democracy. Were it not for Lewis and his spies, these plots might have succeeded.”

Read more by clicking here or above; a dark period of Hollywood history that must be told.

“Star Trek: Discovery” Premieres Tonight on CBS

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

From left to right: Doug Jones as Lieutenant Saru, Sonequa Martin-Green as First Officer Michael Burnham, Michelle Yeoh as Captain Philippa Georgiou in Star Trek: Discovery (Jan Thijs/CBS).

I was interviewed a few days ago by George M. Thomas of the Akron Beacon Journal about the return of this iconic franchise, and here’s a brief portion of the article: “The last Star Trek series, Enterprise, warped off into television syndication more than 12 years ago after a lackluster first run of four seasons on UPN, now known as The CW.

It finally revealed a franchise that had run out of original ideas and energy, showing its age after more than 30-something years in 2005. Absence or nostalgia makes the heart grow fonder, apparently. Now 51 years into Trekdom’s existence, the franchise, which is set 10 years before the original Star Trek, returns to the medium where it first gained a smallish, but rabid following — television.

When Star Trek: Discovery premieres tonight at 8:30 on CBS,  it will represent the first Trek series to hit the airwaves since Enterprise’s departure. It will star Sonequa Martin-Green and Michelle Yeoh in the leads. Television, however, has evolved into its own final frontier.

Fans shouldn’t get too comfy with the prospect of 15 new episodes of a series available to them over the air. After Discovery’s one-hour premiere on broadcast TV, the show will promptly beam onto CBS’ streaming platform, CBS All Access, where it will cost fans $5.99 per month to subscribe with limited commercials and $9.99 without.

‘Debuting the show on CBS broadcast television will give the series a wider audience initially,’ said Wheeler Winston Dixon, the Ryan professor of film studies at the University of Nebraska, ‘but CBS is smart to move the series to All Access, where it will reach a much more rabid, fan-based audience, and episodes can be streamed and viewed at will — which is the most popular platform for millennials.'”

You can read the entire article here – the move from broadcast TV to streaming is the future.

Robert Heide: 25 Plays

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

The brilliant American playwright Robert Heide has finally put together a collection of his work.

I have known Bob for a long time, and have seen many of his plays produced, such as The Bed (1965), in which two young men listlessly share an enormous double bed, seemingly unable to get up, or do anything at all; and At War With The Mongols (1970), but Bob has been so busy with his other work – lectures, books on Disney and pop culture, and other projects – that somehow, his true vocation as a playwright almost got lost in the shuffle. I have a more detailed review of 25 Plays forthcoming in Quarterly Review of Film and Video – in addition to his theatrical work, Heide also wrote several screenplays for Warhol, who shot a split-screen film version of The Bed in 1966, now being restored by The Museum of Modern Art – but for the moment, let’s just savor the fact that at last, all of Heide’s work is now available in one massive tome, and what an accomplishment it is!

As the jacket copy for 25 Plays notes, “Robert Heide is a seminal playwright in the Off-Off-Broadway coffee-house theater movement. His plays have been produced in New York’s Greenwich Village at the famed Caffe Cino and in the East Village by Ellen Stewart at La Mama E.T.C., by Crystal Field and George Bartenieff at Theater for the New City, by Irene Fornés and Julie Bovasso’s New York Theater Strategy at Westbeth, at Lynne Meadow’s Manhattan Theatre Club, and many other venues. His early studies began in the theater department at Northwestern University. In New York, he studied for two years with Stella Adler, who then sent him to apprentice with John Houseman at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut; he also worked with Uta Hagen and with director Harold Clurman. His mentor and close friend, Edward Albee, invited him to become a member of the Albee/Barr/Wilder Playwrights Unit. In the 1960s, he acted in Andy Warhol’s films Camp and Batman/Dracula. As a member of the Playwrights/Directors Unit at the Actors Studio, he attended sessions conducted by Estelle Parsons, Ellyn Burstyn, and Horton Foote.” And that’s just for starters.

Having grown up on 1960s theater, and people like Edward Albee (The Zoo Story, The Death of Bessie Smith, The Sandbox) and Robert Patrick (The Haunted Host), I was still struck by how absolutely original Heide’s work is, and how much of a personal vision he conveys in each one of his plays. For Bob, the world is a place of terror and fascination, throwaway culture and momentary diversions, pop stars and celebrity disaster, all of it documented with a dispassionate detachment that surely brought him to Warhol’s attention. Heide’s work is constantly surprising and challenging, and the characters in his plays – young suburban couples, the lonely and the lost, the famous and the infamous – are real, flawed, three-dimensional human beings. The major surprise to me is that it’s taken this long for a complete collection of his plays to come out – they really change the way one thinks about Off Off Broadway in the 1960s.

So, here’s Bob on the cover, and more on this later – it’s first rate work.

Flash! Patty Jenkins Finally Inks Deal to Direct Wonder Woman 2

Monday, September 11th, 2017

Patty Jenkins has finally signed a deal to direct Wonder Woman 2 – after a long, long fight.

As Borys Kit wrote in The Hollywood Reporter, “Patty Jenkins is returning for Wonder Woman 2. After an unusually lengthy and tough negotiation, the director has closed a deal with Warner Bros. to helm, co-write and produce the sequel to the movie sensation of the summer.

The deal is precedent-setting, making Jenkins the highest-paid female filmmaker in history, though getting to this point was ‘challenging,’ according to one source. [Negotiations have been going on in earnest since August 19th, when it was rumored that a deal was imminent; now it’s September 11th; this should have been settled long ago.]

Jenkins came on to Wonder Woman as a replacement for director Michelle McLaren, who left the project over creative differences. But she became an indispensable figure and, along with star Gal Gadot, the face of the movie in the months before its June opening.

But Jenkins only had a deal for one movie.

When the film became an immediate hit, lassoing over $103 million in its opening weekend, Jenkins and her camp found themselves in a very enviable position. Negotiations began for her return after that first weekend but dragged on even as the movie showed remarkable staying power, becoming a true (and rare for summer 2017) phenomenon. The pic grossed over $402 million domestically and has topped the $800 million mark worldwide.

Sources say Jenkins will receive directing and writing fees in the high seven figures (think somewhere in the $7 million to $9 million range) on Wonder Woman 2 but, more significantly, will have a considerable backend. (At her peak, filmmaker Nancy Meyers earned in the $5 million range, according to sources.)

The deal is a superheroic leap for Jenkins, who was paid $1 million for directing the initial Wonder Woman but was looking to get something more on the level of Zack Snyder’s pay after he helmed Man of Steel, according to sources. Just as Wonder Woman broke barriers for superhero movies, Jenkins’ deal breaks a glass ceiling for women directors.”

It’s ridiculous; this deal should have been signed long ago, and it’s just more evidence of the fact that women don’t get an even shake in Hollywood, or elsewhere in the business world, for that matter. Why on earth should Patty Jenkins have had to fight so hard for what was clearly her due? They would have given this to J.J. Abrams or Zack Snyder (but thank God they didn’t) a loooooong time ago.

Gadot already is attached to the follow-up, which Warner Bros. will release on Dec. 13, 2019.

The Night of Counting the Years (1969)

Friday, September 8th, 2017

One of the greatest Egyptian films of all time is not available on DVD – but you can see it here.

As an anonymous critic at the website Public Domain Movies notes, “Egyptian critics consistently list The Night of Counting the Years (also known as The Mummy) as one of the most important Egyptian films, and perhaps the most important one, but it remains largely unknown, both within Egypt and elsewhere, despite winning a number of awards at European film festivals. Directed by Shadi Abdel Salam in 1969, it was his first feature film, after a long career directing experimental short films, and was selected as the Egyptian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 43rd Academy Awards.

Set in 1881, on the eve of British colonial rule, it is based on a true story: an Upper Egyptian clan had been robbing a cache of mummies near the village of Qurna, and selling the artifacts on the black market. After a conflict within the clan, one of its members went to the police, helping the Antiquities Service find the cache of stolen goods. While this is the nominal plot of the film, it is much more interested in establishing a sense of the past, and embracing cultural history, than in the advancement of a narrative structure.

The film casts this story in terms of the search for an authentic, lost Egyptian national identity (represented by the neglected and misunderstood artifacts of ancient Egyptian civilization), but the conflict between city and countryside suggests questions that are not resolved in the film, making it an ambiguous, unsettling reflection on the price of identity. Unusual camera angles, striking colors and slow editing give the film a dreamlike quality, reinforced by Mario Nascimbene‘s trance like music. For those who know Arabic, the dialogue is entirely in classical Arabic, which adds to the film’s sense of timelessness.”

As Wikipedia notes of the director’s career, “Shadi Abdel Salam was an Egyptian film director, screenwriter and costume and set designer. Born in Alexandria on 15 March 1930, Shadi graduated from Victoria College, Alexandria, 1948, and then moved to England to study theater arts from 1949 to 1950. He then joined faculty of fine arts in Cairo where he graduated as an architect in 1955. He worked as assistant to the artistic architect, Ramsis W. Wassef, 1957, and designed the decorations and costumes of some of the most famous historical Egyptian films, [and] taught at the Cinema Higher Institute of Egypt in the Departments of Decorations, Costumes and Film Direction from 1963–1969. He died on 8 October 1986.” This film remains his only feature length work.

I’ve seen the film projected in 35mm format on a number of occasions, and it’s one of my very favorite films – absolutely dreamlike in its construction, slow and meditational, but with an enormous presence in every single frame. Now, although the film is still unavailable in a full-quality HD DVD, there is at least a YouTube video version of the film with English and Spanish subtitles, which you can view by clicking here, or on the image above. The best way to watch the film would be to stream it to your television, and get carried away by the intensity of the imagery.

The Night of Counting The Years is a brilliant film, which absolutely should be on DVD.

Disney’s New Streaming Service Adds Marvel, Star Wars

Thursday, September 7th, 2017

Disney’s new streaming service will be the exclusive home of Star Wars and Marvel movies.

While this doesn’t really make me all that upset, since I’m certainly not the target audience for Disney, Marvel or Star Wars product – which is what it is – I’m astonished that everyone is surprised by this move. When Disney first announced their forthcoming split from Netflix, they assured all and sundry that they were simply going to concentrate on Disney brand product, and leave the Star Wars and Marvel Universe films for a later date.

I never believed this for a second. Now, Disney has formally announced it’s all going to roll out at once. As The Associated Press noted, in a widely syndicated story, “Disney is adding more firepower to its upcoming streaming service. Its Star Wars and Marvel comic-book movies will be included in the service, making it the only way to stream those movies on demand in the U.S. as part of a monthly subscription. (So, not on Netflix.)

A price hasn’t been announced yet. The service is expected to debut in late 2019 after Disney’s current deal with Netflix expires. Previously Disney announced the inclusion of just Disney and Pixar movies and Disney TV shows. Adding the Star Wars and Marvel movies could make the new service appealing to teenagers and adults, not just families with young children. The Marvel movies include the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy franchises.

The service will also have original Disney movies, TV series and shorts. Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger said thousands of TV episodes and hundreds of movies will be available, though shows from Disney’s ABC network aren’t coming to the service.”

But you know what? I bet the ABC TV content – because Disney owns ABC, ESPN, and a bunch of other stuff as well – will soon be added to the streaming service. Why not? They own it – and eventually, they’ll claim it for themselves on the web. And people will pay whatever Disney charges to get the service – it’s perhaps the only major studio that can pull off its own streaming channel, given the incredible depth of the company’s multi-genre library.

So, where does this leave Netflix? Not in the greatest shape in the world, I would think. The company itself is shrugging off the whole Disney exit scenario as just another business day, but whether you like Disney’s product or not, it’s not a happy day for Netflix – which will still get along just fine, I’m sure – they have such a global imprint – but now without Marvel, Star Wars, Disney, and whatever else Disney decides to put on their streaming service. It’s got to to hurt.

It’s another blow to cable, as well, as the whole motion picture and television business moves to streaming, and a blow to theatrical exhibition too – as well as to TV networks, though Disney is now in the delicate situation of not wanting to gut one of the three major networks – ABC – which it owns, and has a vested interest in seeing it survive. But the shift is inescapable – physical media is dead, streaming rules, and the Disney service is going to be a monster – and a great baby sitter for harried parents.

Disney has had a long history of using distributors, and then dumping them when they figure out how to do it themselves – in the 1930s and early 40s, they were distributed by the now-defunct RKO Radio Picture company – but they left that arrangement to form Buena Vista, their own theatrical arm. Then Disney moved into television, one of the first major studios to do so – “we can use this” Disney is reported to have said – making their back catalogue available to home viewers. Now, they’ve used Netflix to get the lay of the land in the digital world, and learned what they need to know. So they’re moving on alone – and taking a lot of business with them.

It’s all going to the web, folks – every last moving image in existence.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Governors Awards

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

Here’s a really exemplary group of honorees, all deserving of accolades.

As Kristopher Tapley notes in Variety, the latest group of honorary Oscar honorees are – at last – a diverse group. As Tapley writes, “this year’s crop of honorary Oscar recipients, scheduled to be feted at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ annual Governors Awards ceremony on Nov. 11, represents ‘the broad spectrum of what we aspire to do with these awards,’ newly minted Academy president John Bailey says. ‘It’s really fascinating to see the breadth of the four honorees and just how different their careers have been.’

Set for recognition are writer-director Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep, To Sleep with Anger), cinematographer Owen Roizman (The French Connection, The Exorcist), actor Donald Sutherland (MASH, Ordinary People), and director Agnès Varda (Cleo from 5 to 7, The Beaches of Agnes).

It’s the first slate of Governors Awards honorees under Bailey’s watch, after the cinematographer won the reins of the Academy at the organization’s most recent election just under a month ago. However, Bailey notes that he was ‘totally agnostic’ in the selections, so it’s just a happy coincidence that a fellow cinematographer got the call this year.

‘I’ve known Owen for 35 years or so and he was a president of the [American Society of Cinematographers],’ Bailey says. ‘I never actually worked with him but I certainly have always been incredibly moved by the commitment he’s had to his work and the variety of work that he’s done.’

Bailey has been an outspoken supporter of Varda’s in his time as an Academy governor. As recently as Thursday afternoon, just before departing for the Telluride Film Festival (where Varda’s latest film Faces Places screened), he was speaking with passion about how overlooked she has been throughout her career, particularly as a driving inspiration for the French New Wave movement. Varda’s name has been in the mix for honorary Oscar recognition in the past.

‘We have people who might be under consideration one year, but then their strongest advocates support them the next year and they pick up new ones,’ Bailey says. ‘The two Lauras [Dern and Karpman] were very supportive of [Varda]. It’s so wonderful that dynamic women governors spoke on her behalf.’

Speaking of being overlooked, Burnett knows something about that. Widely respected among filmmakers and cinephiles, he and his work have never quite penetrated the popular discourse. He received a career’s worth of notice 10 years ago, however, when his 1978 film Killer of Sheep finally saw release. ‘There are a number of filmmakers that, in terms of the media and in terms of the so-called studio mainstream, are kind of off the radar,’ Bailey says. ‘But for filmmakers, they are inspiring and committed people.’

And it’s pure happenstance, Bailey points out, that Burnett is set for a sold-out film scholars lecture at the Academy’s Linwood Dunn Theater Thursday night. The event will consist of a talk by Indiana University’s James Naremore pegged to his forthcoming book Charles Burnett: A Cinema of Symbolic Knowledge, followed by a screening of Burnett’s To Sleep with Anger.

But of course, Sutherland makes for the splashiest of the honorees this year, or at least the one most outside the industry will recognize. The most arresting stat to mention here, however, is that despite a body of work that amasses more than 100 features, Sutherland has never received an Oscar nomination.

‘I’ve known Donald going back before Ordinary People and I remember when the nominations came out, I was stunned then, as I have been multiple times,’ Bailey says. ‘But we all know the Oscar nominations are a result of many different factors. [The Governors Awards are] not like the Oscar nominations, where there is a lot of promotion and broad-based cultural support and advocacy. This is purely something that is internal with the Board of Governors, and there’s something about actually being given an award by your peers, rather than the industry at large, that is, to me, incredibly moving.’

It’s especially nice to see Varda, the true pioneer of the New Wave, and Burnett, one of the most unrelentingly individual filmmakers in recent memeory, get such recognition. Varda has long since outstripped the work of her contemporaries Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, who in the 1960s were the stars of the movement, moving smoothly from film to digital video. And Burnett has created a truly one-of-a-kind body of work under exceedingly difficult circumstances, offering audiences a deeply personal vision that encompasses all of life.

The Award ceremony will take place on November 11, 2018.

Richard Fleischer’s “Bodyguard” (1948)

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

Here’s a great little film noir, recently released to DVD – check it out.

Since I seem to be in a noir mood today, I’ll follow up my entry on The Big Clock with this neat little programmer from 1948, which I blogged about some time back on the website Film Noir of The Week, ably edited by Steve Eifert.

As I wrote for NOTW, “Lawrence Tierney (whose brother was the equally tough actor Scott Brady) pushes his way through Richard Fleischer’s Bodyguard (1948) with the same brutal assurance he brought to such films as Max Nosseck’s Dillinger (1945), in which he played the title role of the notorious gangster with eerie intensity, and his finest film, Robert Wise’s Born to Kill (1947). But then again, in all his roles, Tierney was really channeling his real life persona of a rabble rousing hellion, who seemed absolutely incapable of staying out of trouble. Tierney is one of the cinema’s unique characters, indelibly identified with violent roles, and in real life, just as much of a loose cannon as he was on the screen.

Bodyguard is a distinctly down-market affair, with a running time of a mere 62 minutes, and was produced by RKO’s B unit, but it still packs a punch; in many ways, the noirs that Richard Fleischer directed for RKO in the first days of his career, such as Follow Me Quietly (1949), Armored Car Robbery (1950), and The Narrow Margin (1952) are his best work, certainly worthy of more attention than Fantastic Voyage (1966) or Doctor Dolittle (1967), which typified the big budget films that dominated the bulk of Fleischer’s career.

Here, working from a script by Fred Niblo Jr. and Harry Essex, from a story by George W. George and Robert Altman (yes, that Robert Altman), Fleischer tells the tale of tough guy cop Mike Carter (Tierney), who is pushed off the force for cutting corners with little things like search warrants and beating up suspects to get a confession out of them, much to the delight of his immediate superior Lieutenant Borden (Frank Fenton).

Fleischer stages the confrontation between Carter and Borden in a series of increasingly tight close-ups, in which each man gradually walks towards the camera, cutting back and forth, until both faces dominate the frame with overpowering intensity. The literal face-off ends when Carter abrupt punches Borden in the nose, and is kicked off the force for good.

In his spare time, Mike looks after (in an odd sort of way) a group of young toughs as a sort of Big Brother, and the film quickly moves to a baseball game, where Mike has treated the kids to a doubleheader in the company of his girlfriend, Doris Brewster (Priscilla Lane, in her final screen performance).

No sooner does Mike take his seat, however, than the slimy Freddie Dysen (Phillip Reed at his most disagreeable) slips in beside him, and offers him a job as bodyguard to one “Gene” Dysen, the owner of a meatpacking plant who has been receiving death threats. Despite a generous retainer, Mike turns the job down, but Freddie persists, and when Mike discovers that “Gene” Dysen is in reality Eugenia Dysen (Elisabeth Risdon, coolly professional as always), and there is another attempt on Eugenia’s life, Mike reluctantly accepts the position.

What follows is a typically violent 1940s noir, with Tierney walking through the role with his customary forthright arrogance – “one side, Dracula” he barks at Eugenia’s startled butler when first entering the Dysen mansion – and Lane offering capable support as his long suffering girlfriend. Naturally, there’s a murder, and Mike is implicated, and just as predictably, has to clear himself despite police interference.

I don’t want to give the plot away, except to note that lurking behind the entire affair is the profit motive – capitalism turned to murder – and Fleischer effectively limns the dark side of post war Los Angeles with deft assurance, ably assisted by the cinematography of Robert De Grasse, and Elmo Williams’ editing.”

You can read the entire essay by clicking here, and see the trailer by clicking here; while you’re at it, why not check out the entire Film Noir of the Week website by clicking here, for a nearly encyclopedic series of entries on some of the most effective – and often overlooked – noirs of all time. It’s nice that Bodyguard is on DVD; many of these films never made the jump to that format. Get it while you can!

A remarkably tight and effective little film; well worth an hour of your time.

About the Author

Headshot of Wheeler Winston Dixon Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

In The National News

Wheeler Winston Dixon has been quoted by Fast Company, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, The PBS Newshour, USA Today and other national media outlets on digital cinema, film and related topics - see the UNL newsroom at http://news.unl.edu/news-releases/1/ for more details.

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