Saturday 27 June 2020

Imogen Sara Smith on Among the Living (Stuart Heisler, 1941)

Click to enlarge
Playing at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2020, August 28, 11.45 Cinema Jolly | 35mm

Within a running time of just over an hour, Among the Living samples an array of genres: Southern gothic horror, evil-twin thriller, Freudian melodrama, comedy, and politically charged satire. In the opening scene, unemployed mill-workers crowd around the gates of a dilapidated mansion, heckling the funeral of the hated mill-owner – surely voicing the views of Lester Cole, who co-wrote the story and screenplay. The son of a union organiser for the garment industry, Cole was one of the most unapologetic communists among the Hollywood Ten. Six years before the congressional hearings that would send him to jail and onto the blacklist, he seems to forecast the mood of the McCarthy era in a climactic scene where a small town’s citizens turn into a frenzied mob, rabidly pursuing a cash reward for the capture of a killer and trying an innocent man before a kangaroo court.

Thursday 25 June 2020

The State of Cinema in Iran, 1933

Only 6 cinemas in Iran could show sound films in 1933

From The 1934 Film Daily Year Book, a report on the state of cinema in Persia AKA Iran.

Agitation: None.

Censorship: Active and strict censorship of all films to be shown in Persia is maintained by the Amusement Section of the Imperial Police. All films are shown before a board of Police Officers at whose discretion the entire film or parts of it may be rejected. The following scenes are usually barred from films to be shown in Persia:
(a) Any scenes reflecting directly or indirectly on Shah.
(b) Scenes containing political propaganda.
(c) Scenes depicting the horrors of war, suggesting pacifism, or inciting to revolution.
(d) Scenes thought to be detrimental to public morals.

Tuesday 16 June 2020

Ten Key Actresses of Iranian Cinema [by Nima Hasani-Nasab]

Originally commissioned by me and published in the Underline, the Iranian film critic Nima Hasani-Nasab has written about ten actresses who, in his view, helped shaping Iranian cinema before and after the revolution. — EK

Apart from sheer acting talent and the entertainment they have given to different generations of Iranians, every one of the actresses profiled here is also a representative of her gender, and of a particular acting style. They range from much loved popular stars to those appreciated by a small and discerning minority of film devotees; some have taken on a variety of screen roles, while others have gladly reprised a favourite part many times. Some hold records for film credits; others have appeared in only a handful of films.

Every one has put her own individual stamp on the world of cinema. To leave any one of them out would make any account of the key female performances in Iranian film incomplete. Still, it being necessary to include actresses from both before and after the 1979 Revolution, a number of prominent personalities who might otherwise have been included have had to be left out.

This overview is dedicated to the memory of Ruhangiz Saminezhad, the first actress in the history of Iranian cinema, who paid for her performance in The Lor Girl with bitterness and curses; misfortune and loneliness – all so that Iranian women could take their rightful place on the cinema screen, take over from men in women’s clothing.

Saturday 13 June 2020

The Houses They Lived In#1: George Cukor

Time Remembered: Chris Marker Picks His Favourite Bill Evans Recordings

Chris Marker in Telluride, 1987. Courtesy of Tom Luddy.

On the art of lyrical compilation, from one medium to another

Until midnight music is a job, until four o’clock it’s a pleasure, and after that it’s a rite.” – Chris Marker

There are only indirect hints as to what Chris Marker liked and did beyond his films. In studying the world of this elusive director, every sign invites us to scrutinize it carefully. Marker appears in small details, such as the mix CD which one day arrived on my doorstep. If the address on the parcel hadn’t confirmed the sender as Tom Luddy, co-director of Telluride Film Festival and a close friend of Marker’s, I could have taken it to be Marker’s personal gift from the beyond.

The CD cover gave little away: Sandwiching a photo of pianist Bill Evans was his name and the words "joue pour Guillaume" [plays for Guillaume], along with an illustrated image of the Markerian animal familiar Guillaume, a wise if mischievous-looking cat, holding sheet music. A lyrical filmmaker, who could also compose and play the piano, had compiled his favorite tunes performed by the lyrical jazz pianist and composer Evans (1929-80). The fascination with compilation is also evident in the films. Marker would often juxtapose material from various sources—news footage, computer games, photographs and songs—to remarkable effect.

Tom Luddy recalls conversations about jazz with the filmmaker, who used to tune in to KJAZ whenever he was in the Bay Area. One of his favorite satellite TV channels was Mezzo, playing classical and jazz around the clock. While the genre didn't feature much in his films, one could argue that jazz for Marker, like cinema, was something both personal and political. His jazz-related writings for Esprit (“Du Jazz considere comme une prophetie”) and Le Journal des Allumés du Jazz seem to bear this out. Marker even made a small contribution to jazz literature by writing the narration for a documentary about Django Reinhardt directed by Paul Paviot, who'd previously produced Marker’s Sunday in Peking.

Thursday 11 June 2020

Willow and Wind, an Overlooked Gem Scripted by Abbas Kiarostami

Willow and Wind

Willow trees bend easily in the slightest breeze, but even the wildest wind cannot uproot them. That is, more or less, the story of children in Mohammad Ali Talebi’s cinema; they are affected by every turn, every event, each nuance of the adult world, but they never fall down or stop fighting.

Willow and Wind is Talebi’s greatest cinematic achievement, both in terms of narrative and visual style. It tells an amazingly simple, sometimes absurd story. Like a Persian miniature, it is expressed through fine details. It depicts the efforts of a young boy to carry a large piece of glass some distance across country, to reach the school where he has broken a window during a football match. He’s not allowed back into class until he mends it.