The first two articles this week are the very definition of how to write about film. Anyone who studies or makes movies should read them. Let’s dive right in.
ARTICLE OF THE WEEK
“How John Ford Fought McCarthyism”
This is an engaging look back at John Ford’s The Quiet Man, a movie about a man so fed up with America, he moves to a third-world, 1950s Ireland. Ford is best known for his Westerns, but The Quiet Man is a subversive reaction to the witch hunt for Communists orchestrated by Senator Eugene McCarthy in the 1950s. In detailing how Ford got outspoken McCarthy supporter John Wayne to star, how critics stepped lightly in their reviews, and how the film was a box office smash, New Republic writer Ben Schwartz outlines how Ford’s film attacked the very nostalgia on which McCarthy’s breed of hatred was based.
La grande bellezza, The Great Beauty
The Great Beauty came out for home release this week. The Oscar winner for best foreign language film is written up by Alessia Palanti in a spectacular essay that also tackles nostalgia as a political tool, while linking the sin-eating nature of circular consumerism, the self-fulfilling prophecy of celebrity-as-celebrity, and the hijacking of connoisseurship. It’s a truly stunning essay from a writer who uses her historical and technical knowledge to break the film down into its cultural components.
“The Occupied Soul of Ukraine“
I’d say Ukraine’s been in the news a lot lately, but since it doesn’t have a missing passenger plane CNN can theorize was hijacked by a psychic alien yeti, it really hasn’t. Regardless, Anthony Kaufman at Fandor writes about Sergei Loznitsa, a Belarussian filmmaker whose My Joy and In the Fog contemplate the sense of dislocation caused by the oppression Russian and European Ukrainians exert on each other.
You might also check out this Hollywood Reporter brief about the (so far losing) effort to keep Ukraine’s national film industry bipartisan.
Recreating Genocide in Clay
The Missing Picture is a film about the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia. It’s directed by Rithy Panh, who lost his father, mother, sisters, and nephews, and was himself enslaved. There are very few documents that survive to tell the story – the Khmer Rouge systematically destroyed nearly all film and video evidence of their atrocities. Every connection to his past was taken from Panh, even the evidence to communicate to others about his loss. He decided to tell his memoir through what footage is left and the use of clay figurines to stand in for what was missing. Fast Company tells the story of how he came to that decision. I can barely get past the trailer at the bottom; I fear and anticipate the import and impact of an hour-and-a-half of it.
Storytelling in the Circus – James Thierree
Never mind that he’s Charlie Chaplin’s grandson, James Thierree himself has long been an artist of renown. His approach to circus is small-scale, technically complex, and emotionally engaging. Thierree places a concise vernacular on the balance between possessive and generous storytelling that artists of all stripes seek.
Thanks to Elizabeth Quilter for the heads-up on this.
The Disconnect Between Critics and Audiences
I don’t like scoring movies. It’s too arbitrary a way to define any piece of art, especially one on which hundreds – sometimes thousands – of artists have collaborated. Avatar may be a tremendous piece of entertainment, but is it as important as even the most middling documentary? Should there be separate scores for entertainment and importance? Lost in many critics’ weekly reviews is the search for meaning both present and missing in particular movies, replaced by a good-bad scale that’s become obsolete.
So I don’t like scores, but they’re useful for the kind of statistical analysis writer-producer Stephen Follows posts on his blog. It concerns how critics and audiences diverge in scoring individual movies, genres of movies, and even movies from specific studios. His analysis isn’t so much a solution as it is a part of the diagnosis, but he comes up with some revealing findings.
Yours, Mine, and Veronica Mars
Scott Tobias at The Dissolve considers the creative choices of Veronica Mars, a TV show that used Kickstarter to crowdsource more than $5 million for a movie continuation. How much is a Kickstarted film creatively constrained by a need for fan service, versus a comparable movie like Firefly-spinoff Serenity, which owed its existence to fans, but didn’t owe its funding to them? Tobias claims Veronica Mars as a movie is sidetracked by its allegiance to fans, while Serenity owed its allegiance to the story its creator wanted to tell.
Under the Skin, part two
I wrote about Mica Levi’s brave, disturbing score for Scarlett Johansson-experiment Under the Skin last week. You can listen to the whole thing over at Pitchfork.
Celebrities Mug for Muppets
Were you wondering about all the celebrity cameos in Muppets Most Wanted? Worried that you missed one? Did you even want them ranked (wrongly)? Then you should see a doctor about these urges. In the meantime, this list from film mag Vulture should sate your unnatural cravings.