Screen Musings: This Week’s Best Film Reads

Now that the weekend is almost upon us, before heading down to the cinema to enjoy the myriad screenings of both essential classics and fantastic premieres infiltrating theaters, check out our roundup of this week’s most interesting and vital writing on film.    

In Heaven Everything is Fine: Slant Examine’s Nebraska, Alexander Payne’s Eraserhead?

There’s homage, and then there’s the new poster for Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, which couldn’t be more evocative of David Lynch’s Eraserhead if it featured a lizard-baby’s scissor-stabbed organs. It’s supremely interesting that the folks behind Nebraska turned to the world of Lynch for inspiration, since few would think to connect the surrealist auteur to Payne’s deadpan Americana. But maybe there is something here, beyond these one-sheets’ high-contrast black-and-white, and beyond the shocks of hair that respectively define Jack Nance and Bruce Dern’s characters, that link the filmmakers’ works. Though more darkly and elliptically inclined, Lynch is as much a surveyor of Anytown, USA as Payne will ever be, and the latter has offered his share of bluntly ironic, borderline-Lynchian character quirks. What’s most interesting here is the implication that Nebraska, like Eraserhead, is, on some level, a nightmare.

Meta-Vamping: Filmmaker Magazine Cracks Through Cinema’s Archives

Rather than exploring specific vamp films, this installment of Time Frames looks at the rich and varied ways in which the vamp–and “vamping”–were portrayed in silent-era film magazines and journals. I’ve tried to dig deep into the journals to find images and text that haven’t been widely seen before. Although scholars such as Robert B. Ray (especially in his essential book A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema) and others have explored the growing sense of self-reflexivity and “meta” in audiences and in Hollywood movies during the 1950s and 60s as television began to erode and deconstruct Hollywood formulas, one of the surprising things I found was how relentlessly self-aware the emerging film industry was in the teens. The process of production–whether the production of stars like Lillian Gish, or the production of the films themselves and their reliance on genre conventions–was treated with a sort of self-deprecating knowingness.

Still Living in Corman’s World: Solidifying that Roger Corman is still prolific at age of 87

For years, there’s been a saying in Hollywood that Roger Corman could negotiate the production of a film on a pay phone, shoot the film in the phone box and finance it with the money in the change slot…Now, after more than 400 movies, Corman, known as ‘King of the Bs’, has more time and money at his disposal and at the age of 87 is as prolific as ever. He presently has four movies in production and is due to appear in a film about himself, in which one of his longtime fans, Quentin Tarentino, is to play him.

Sleepless in the Great White North:’s TIFF Diaries

…The fact that I haven’t slept since I was in another country is starting to catch up with me. The whole “sleep on the floor in a heap like I deserve” approach isn’t really working out, so I wander around downtown Toronto until I find a store that might be able to help me out. I buy a roll-up mattress pad for $50 from a mountaineering co-op that makes me promise I’ll fulfill my monthly shift requirements. I have no doubt that elsewhere in Toronto, Michael Fassbender is currently going through the same thing.

Here’s Wendy: Stephen King Reminds Us That  ‘Shining’s Wendy most misogynistic character in film’ 

"Shelley Duvall as Wendy is really one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film. She’s basically just there to scream and be stupid and that’s not the woman that I wrote about."

Eye in the Head of the Poet: Examining The Camera(s) That Changed the World

Beyond the camera itself, the filmmaking technique of direct cinema was reductive in the extreme. It avoided voice over narration and editorializing. It avoided interviews; it avoided scripted and set-up situations. The goal was to film real events in real time without mediation or intrusion: in essence, as true to the moment of unfolding life as possible. Of course, this opens the dialectic premise that every camera shot is a de facto choice, and of every editing cut (in Godardian terms) a “moral decision.” Still, the approach of direct cinema represented not only a new kind of documentary filmmaking but a technique soon to send shock waves through the world of mainstream feature films in the tropes of the French New Wave, as well as in its offspring, New American Cinema. It was a dream promised, but until then  unrealized, of Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera, the seminal Soviet era documentary of 1929. 

Don’t Tell Me, Show Me: So Over Voiceovers 

Though the movement’s 1960 landmark documentary Primary opened with the kind of voiceover narration that the group would become famous for deriding, most of the films associated with Direct Cinema, such asDon’t Look Back, Gimme Shelter, and Grey Gardens, eschewed V.O., favoring a more observational, “direct” approach. To this day, that formal decision remains one of the most important and valuable contributions to the documentary form. The problem with voiceovers, to put it succinctly, is that they tell the audience what to think.

Ladies First: ‘Wadjda’ Filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour on Her Groundbreaking Debut Feature

Without placing a heavy hand or forcing a feminist agenda, director Haifaa Al-Mansour has crafted a truly radical film that, within its first week of release, has already made history. As her feature-length directorial debut, Al-Mansour’s Wadjda has not only made her the first Saudi Arabian female filmmaker, but the first to shoot an entire film within the Kingdom. Hailing from a country steeped in a history of female oppression, where women’s independence is extremely limited, not only has Al-Mansour bypassed the boundaries of her sex, but has been working to expose the art of cinema to a place where culture has condemned its presence. 

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