“Dishonored” at the Cinematheque tonight

July 2, 2010

The Cinematheque begins its summer program tonight with a screening that is, in my book, cause for celebration: Josef von Sternberg’s “Dishonored” (1931), starring—who else—Marlene Dietrich as “smoldering secret agent X-27, an Austrian spy behind enemy lines (and between enemy sheets) in WWI” (this wonderful description comes courtesy of the Cinematheque’s website, where you can also find the rest of its schedule for July).

Jean-Luc Godard deemed “Dishonored” the 10th best American sound film in the December 1963/January 1964 issue of Cahiers du cinéma, placing it alongside such untouchable masterpieces as Orson Welles’s “The Lady From Shanghai,” Otto Preminger’s “Angel Face,” Nicholas Ray’s “Bigger Than Life” and Charles Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator.” The opportunity to see this film, which isn’t currently available on DVD here (or anywhere, it seems), is not to be missed.

The Dietrich-Sternberg alliance shined with a sort of negative luminosity and emotional fragility when “The Blue Angel” played at the Play Circle in January; expect tonight’s screening to be a similarly phenomenal—though probably more baroque, thanks in no small part to the Paramount C.R.E.A.M. with which the film was made—display of Sternberg’s singular cinematic artistry. The screening begins at 7 at Vilas Hall. See you there?

Just chatted with John C. Reilly

July 1, 2010

I’ve never had occasion to talk with an actual movie star before, so I was thrilled (and fairly intimidated) to get the opportunity to lob some questions at John C. Reilly, who, of course, stars in Jay and Mark Duplass’s much-discussed new feature, “Cyrus.”

“Cyrus” has yet to play in Madison—I’m looking at you, Orpheum and Sundance—but I’ve read a fair amount of hype for the film and am eager to see how the Duplass brothers’ style has evolved with a bigger budget ($7 million, according to Wikipedia), wider distribution (courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures) and a cast of known entities (Reilly, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei, Catherine Keener) at its disposal.

I should apologize to the other journalists with whom I shared the interviewing time; I was unfamiliar with the format of the conference call and just kinda asked all of my questions in one fell swoop. My bust.

I asked Reilly whether he was familiar with the Duplass brothers’ films before he agreed to collaborate with them on “Cyrus.” He said he’d seen “The Puffy Chair” and his wife, an independent film producer, had met them at a film festival.

If his demeanor during the call is any indication, he felt the Duplasses’ “honest” approach to storytelling suited his off-screen personality especially well. Indeed, when another journalist asked where Reilly drew inspiration for his character, John, he replied “my own life.” Reilly said he more or less identified with John and would react to many of the bizarre situations he encounters in the same way.

Reilly said that what most surprised him about working with the brothers Duplass was their on-set bravery, their on-the-fly-ness and their willingness to deviate from their own script freely and often. He said that none of the film was rehearsed and that the whole thing was shot in order; the Duplasses told him they wanted to change the story to suit the developing dynamics between him, Hill and Tomei.

Although these methods might easily be called unusual (at least as far as American cinema with big-name movie stars is concerned), Reilly said his preparation for the role wasn’t exactly unconventional. Rather, he said he prepared in a private, entirely personalized way—which makes perfect sense for someone who came to think he was playing a variation of himself.

Regarding his experience working with the Duplasses and Hill, Reilly said he learned that “just because you’re uncomfortable doesn’t mean things aren’t going well.” With “Cyrus,” the Duplasses aimed to harness this awkward energy and translate it into something painfully true to life.

Finally, I asked Reilly whether he felt that the Duplasses’ naturalistic, mock-cinéma vérité style has a future in mainstream cinema (i.e. Hollywood). Reilly said it’ll largely depend on the sort of numbers “Cyrus” does at the box office; he also said that “all movies have their audience” and that the Duplasses’ “truthful,” “honest” cinema will always be in-demand.

The words “honesty” and “truthfulness” recurred throughout the conversation. It’s clear that in “Cyrus” the Duplasses and their collaborators sought to keep art’s inherent artifice to a minimum. Hopefully Madison audiences will get a chance to see the results sooner rather than later.

Many thanks to John C. Reilly for talking with me and to all those who made the interview possible.

Happy 80th…

June 24, 2010

… to Claude Chabrol, my third favorite filmmaker to emerge from Cahiers du cinéma’s Hitchcocko-Hawksian clique (I’ve never seen any of Luc Moullet’s films, sadly). If you’ve never watched “La cérémonie” (1995; a top 10 film of the 1990s, at least), “La femme infidèle” (1969), “Les biches” (1968) or “Les bonnes femmes” (1960), to name an especially great four, take this occasion as an opportunity to become familiar; and don’t sleep on 2000’s “Merci pour le chocolat,” an underappreciated gem that I counted amongst my 50 favorite films of the 00s back in January.

The screen on the stage

June 21, 2010

Yesterday afternoon I caught a matinee of the Broom Street Theater’s current production, “Television (The Play),” written and directed by Amanda Jones. I had a seriously enjoyable time spectating and briefly participating in the farcical proceedings; the intimate scale of the Broom Street Theater combined with the play’s unusual staging (featuring an all-over style of blocking, video projections and four different entrances/exits onto the stage) to yield a consistently interesting work of experimental comedy. “Television (The Play)” is largely reliant upon audience participation, making use of contingency in a way I don’t think I’ve ever seen in theater. (Then again, I’m no expert.)

If “Television (The Play)” occasionally erred on the side of crude immaturity, well… the title ought to tell you why that is. Head on over to the Daily Page to read my full review.

Summertime Cinematheque

June 17, 2010

I wanted to direct your attention toward the UW Cinematheque’s newly released summer schedule, which was announced just yesterday. The ‘theque will be rolling out an absolutely stacked (though somewhat abbreviated) program, to say the least: Josef von Sternberg’s “Dishonored” (1931), John Huston’s “The African Queen” (1952), Shirley Clarke’s “The Cool World” (1964) and a series of contemporary Baltic films, to name just an eye-popping few.

Yes, the wait was painfully long, but the Cinematheque’s summer program, so full of rarities and relatively obscure classics, looks as good as anything to grace the Madison film scene in recent memory. I hope to see y’all there.

Impermanent vacation

June 15, 2010

I suppose I ought to go ahead and make it official: Due to the general sluggishness presently afflicting Madison’s cinema scene (with the exception of the MMoCA’s Rooftop Cinema series, which I strongly encourage anyone and everyone to go experience firsthand) and the fact that I really, really ought to be devoting much more mental energy toward figuring out what I’m going to be doing for the next couple years, CineMadison is going on indefinite hiatus. This bums me out but I think it’s the best—or at least the most honest—course of action for me to take.

If anything especially noteworthy happens during this vacation, rest assured that I’ll pay it the attention it deserves; however, as I don’t anticipate any such noteworthy thing happening anytime soon (or at least until the Cinematheque unveils its summer schedule), I’ve decided to focus instead on some more immediate, personal matters (including a screenplay pet project that I’m not yet sick of working on, believe it or not).

Y’all have been great and I hope to see y’all again once things heat up on the film front here in Madtown. Until then…

Water on the roof

June 11, 2010

The MMoCA will continue its already outstanding Rooftop Cinema series tonight at 9:30 with “H2O,” a program of experimental shorts that take water as their central subject, or rather, that treat water as the vehicle by which to mediate on a number of ideas, moods, techniques, etc. “H2O” will include films by Stan Brakhage (1997’s sublime “Commingled Containers”), Kenneth Anger and UW-Madison’s own J.J. Murphy. (It almost goes without saying that I’m particularly excited to finally get a chance to see one of Murphy’s films.) Admission is $5. Cross your fingers for a cool, dry night. Keep ’em crossed until further notice.

Academic by day, filmmaker by night

June 10, 2010

The New Yorker’s Richard Brody put up a post today that I find quite relevant for anybody who—like yours truly—is approaching the precipice of grad school and worries that pursuing a MA or PhD in film studies might foreclose the possibility of someday being able to make the films that one has always dreamed of making.

Taking “Putty Hill” director Matthew Porterfield as a prime example, Brody speculates that the future of American independent cinema doesn’t lie in inexpensive digital cameras or “new media”-centric marketing strategies; instead, he thinks it resides (or will come to reside) in the American university system, where filmmakers can teach in order to make the bucks that will eventually serve as capital for future productions.

Of course, this is nothing new to practitioners of the other six arts. But what I like most about Brody’s vision is the idea of filmmakers/professors having clauses woven into their contracts with the university that would help them to finance the production of their films, something that he compares to science professors and the research that they’re paid to conduct in their labs.

Great: More reasons not to stray from academia for too long. Oy vey.

(Visual) Quotes…, 6/10

June 10, 2010

From Max Ophüls’s “La ronde” (1950).

(Visual) Quotes…, 6/9

June 9, 2010

(I swear that CineMadison isn’t devolving into a storehouse for the images I snag from the movies I watch. It’s been a pretty slow summer on the cinema front here in Madison, Rooftop Cinema at the MMoCA notwithstanding. Worry not. Actual content is on the way.)

From Chantal Akerman’s “From the East” (1993).

Read the rest of this entry »