Wednesday 21 April 2021

Something to Live For: The Cinema of George Stevens

George Stevens with Elizabeth Taylor

[This blog post was last updated on June 22, 2021]

The retrospective Something to Live For: The Cinema of George Stevens will take place in Bologna, during the 35th edition of Il Cinema Ritrovato, July 20-27, 2021.

No other director has been credited for filming such disparate situations and figures, of such cultural and historical importance: from Laurel & Hardy's cake-throwing parties to the Crucifixion; the unique elegance of Astaire/Rogers's dance numbers and the liberation of Dachau, the latter a real-life document. This year's American master and the man behind such classics as A Place in the Sun and Shane is George Stevens, who rose from the rank of camera-cranker at Hal Roach Studios to become a filmmaking ace and comedy specialist in the 30s. However, after participating in active combat and filming some of the major atrocities of WWII, something changed in this romantic adventurer. The newly gained intellectual maturity, combined with Stevens's characteristic fluency and brio, proved fertile ground for directing an array of masterpieces which, along with a survey of his late 30s and early 40s masterpieces, are the main focus of this retrospective. — Ehsan Khoshbakht

Sunday 18 April 2021

"Nothing Sacred About My Stipend Either": A 1938 Interview with Ben Hecht

Ben Hecht

Interviewed for Variety by Radie Harris, printed in the UK in World Film and Television Progress, Apr-Nov 1938.

Ben Hecht, looking somewhat like a Goldwyn "folly" himself, in a blue moire dressing gown, sat in the living room of his three-room suite at the Hotel Algonquin, N.Y., and confided that he had just finished his daily dozen for the year by elevating his right thumb to his nose and waving all other four digits exuberantly in the direction of Hollywood!

It seems that Mr. Hecht and his latest employer, Samuel Goldwyn, have had a tiff, and now they're farther apart than Cecil Beaton and Conde Nast. "I left in a childish huff," Hecht explained, "because Sam wouldn't allow me to bring a few of my friends in to the projection room to look at some of the rushes on The [GoldwynFollies. I asked Sam whether it was in a desperate effort to save it from the public, but I'm afraid the significance was lost on him. I didn't really want to write another Follies, anyway. The current one was revealed to me in a dream and you know how unreliable dreams are so I packed my luggage, crossed off a couple of zeroes on my next year's income tax, and here I am back in New York, to write a novel for Covici-Friede, my first since A Jew in Love. I'm about a third way through now, but it won't be finished for another year. I'm calling it Book of Miracles—and it has no picture possibilities." (That's one of the major miracles; it will most likely be sold from the galley proofs!)

The Goldwyn Follies (1938)

Thursday 15 April 2021

Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman (Stuart Heisler, 1947)

Notes written on the occasion of the screening of an impeccable 35mm print of the film in Bologna, courtesy of UCLA Film and Television Archive — EK

Female insecurity in a male-dominated world is at the core of this proto-feminist melodrama, dubbed the “feminine version of The Lost Weekend”. Alcoholism as a subject found its way into three of Heisler’s films. In addition, his interest in women’s issues manifested itself in at least six films in which women are the leading characters, most prominently in two works starring Susan Hayward, Smash-Up and Tulsa

Talented singer Angie Evans abandons her profession to support the rising career of her musician husband. The birth of their child ties Angie further to the drab apartment in which she wastes her life, while her husband’s acclaim only adds to her sense of insecurity. She turns to drink and gradually becomes addicted. Told through one long flashback, the story leaves no room for optimistic resolutions, dragging Angie – an adequate performance by Hayward – through scene after scene of humiliation. 

Wednesday 14 April 2021

The Age of Innocence: American Cinema's Studio Era Revisited (2021)

عصر معصومیت


کتاب «عصر معصومیت: بازخوانی سینمای استودیویی آمریکا» منتشر شده و باید در کتابفروشی‌ها و در سایت‌های اینترتی برای خرید آنلاین نسخۀ چاپی موجود باشد.

این کتاب اول از مجموعه‌ای است که توسط نیما حسنی‌نسب سردبیری می‌شود. او پشت جلد این کتاب نوشته:

«حکایتِ نام‌ها و فیلم‌ها و روایتِ شیوه‌ها و مسیرهای فیلم‌سازی در کارخانه رویاسازی هالیوود هم لذت‌بخش است و هم راهگشا؛ چه برای آن‌ها که می‌خواهند آثار تاریخ‌سازِ آن روزگار را بهتر تماشا و درک کنند و چه کسانی که قصد دارند از این گنجینه برای ورود به کار سینما پشت و‌ جلوی دوربین بهره ببرند و از میراث به‌جامانده استفاده کنند تا مسیر دشوار و دلپذیرِ «سینه‌فیل تا سینه‌است» هموارتر شود.

‌جلد اول از مجموعه‌ «دفترهای سینه‌فیلیا» ‌درباره‌ی ‌چند ‌كارگردان ‌سینمای ‌آمریكا ‌از ‌پایان ‌عصر ‌صامت ‌تا ‌دوره‌ی‌ مصادف ‌با ‌زوال ‌سینمای ‌كلاسیک ‌آمریكا ‌در ‌اواخر ‌دهه‌ی ‌۱۹۵۰ ‌است. احسان خوش‌بخت با پیشینه‌ی سال‌ها تحقیق و بررسی سینمای آمریکا مثل نقال‌های خودمان یا بونشی‌های سینمای ژاپن انگار کنار پرده نقره‌ای ایستاده و دارد چیزهای مهم و جذاب و دست‌اولی از زندگی و کارنامه چند نام بزرگ و مهمِ یک دوران سپری‌شده را توصیف می‌کند؛ از جان فورد و اورسن ولز و رائول والش تا ادگار اولمر و دبلیو اس ون دایک مشهور به وودی یک‌برداشته و همچنین زنان کارگردان مطرح در نظام استودیویی که شرحِ موجز سازوكار تولیدشان در‌‌ فصلی دیگر از کتاب آمده است. بخش پیوست این جلد مروری است بر پانتئون سینمایی معروفِ اندرو ساریس که هنوز از مهم‌ترین منابع برای شناخت و دسته‌بندی‌ کارگردان‌های هالیوودی در دوران طلایی است؛ فهرست و توصیف‌هایی که می‌تواند نقشه راه مناسبی برای سینه‌فیل‌های سرگردان در اقیانوسِ دست‌رسی دیجیتال به آثار تاریخ سینما باشد.» — نیما حسنی‌نسب

شرح عکس روی جلد: استودیوی ساموئل گلدوین پشت‌صحنۀ ما دوباره زندگی می‌کنیم (1934) به کارگردانی روبن مامولیان (نشسته مقابل دوربین) با بازی فردریک مارچ و آنا استن. پشت دوربین هم گِرِگ تولند نشسته؛ چند سال پیش از این‌ که همشهری کین را فیلم‌برداری کند

Sunday 4 April 2021

The Star (Stuart Heisler, 1952)

“Come on Oscar, let’s you and me get drunk,” says Bette Davis, as Margaret Elliott, picking up the Academy award on her desk (Davis’s own Oscar in fact). Already intoxicated, Davis drives across town giving us a ghost tour of LA mansions, which look like exhibits in a wax museum. With one hand on the wheel, she puts the statue on the dashboard, its head hidden behind the rear-view mirror. She grabs the bottle and makes a toast, “To absent friends,” the image of the headless piece of gold, the blurred lights in the darkness and the bottle capturing Hollywood’s solitary universe in one shot.

Tuesday 30 March 2021

Revolution, Televised

This article was commissioned by the Iranian documentary streaming website, DocuNight. The programme dedicated to films about Iranian revolution featuring an array of thoughtfully selected titles is still live and many of them are seeing their internet premiere. Highly recommended. — Ehsan Khoshbakht

It has happened more than once. While speaking with documentary filmmakers of a certain generation (Med Hondo, one of the greatest African filmmakers, for one) I have been told how much they would have loved to go to Iran in 1978 to film, document and report back on the revolution as it was happening – followed by an expression of regret, that they couldn’t get into the country. This conversational turn has been repeated often enough that when that great documentarian of our time, Jocelyne Saab, talked about wanting to shoot the Iranian revolution, I hastily and foolishly jumped ahead, saying “But you couldn’t get in, could you?” She gave me one of her calm smiles and replied: “I could, and I made a film about it – Iran, Utopia in the Making – which was shown on public television in Japan, Algeria, Sweden and Switzerland.”

Sunday 7 March 2021

Filmfarsi — Streaming in the UK

Filmfarsi (dir: Ehsan Khoshbakht, 2019) will stream in the UK for free (though limited to 300 viewers only), as a part of Wales One World film festival, commencing from March 14, accessible until March 20, 2021.

(It can only be viewed in United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey.)

Booking is essential and can be done here.

Wednesday 20 January 2021

King of the Movies - A Henry King Documentary

Henry King retrospective (Fox output only) at NFT, London

When Henry King went to London in 1977 to open a retrospective dedicated to his 20th Century Fox films at the National Film Theatre (now BFI Southbank), BBC Television seized the opportunity and filmed the 90 year-old master at what seems to be a single-take, single-set-up interview. Film clips aside, King of the Movies, directed by Philip Chilvers, relies almost entirely on the brilliance of King’s storytelling, which entertains, illuminates and charms. 

Elegantly dressed in his typical late-period style of bowtie and horn-rimmed glasses, resembling a professor of American history, King reminisces on half a century in “the strangest business in the world”. He talks about his love for the rural American landscape (“I like the countryside of any country”); discovering Tyrone Power and Alice Faye; overcoming the limitations of early sound film by moving to Florida to shoot his first talkie Hell Harbour; Zanuck’s issues with his moustached heroes (Power and Peck); the translation of spirituality in the movies through the use of light (“I want a holy light here,” he asked the cameraman Arthur Miller in The Song of Bernadette); his years in Paris and meeting Hemingway, which led to King directing a series of high-profile films focused around 20th-century American authors. 

Wednesday 9 December 2020

The Deer (Masoud Kimiai, 1974)

The Deer plays at International Film Festival Rotterdam 2021.

For two consecutive decades and in various Iranian critics' poll, The Deer has occupied the very top place as "the best Iranian film ever made." Known for his rape/revenge drama Gheysar (1969)—which changed the course of Iranian cinema—director Masoud Kimiai (former assistant to Jean Negulescu and Samuel Khachikian) adds an explicitly political dimension to the story of his typically defiant characters. Here, in a nod to Hollywood's "buddy film," the familiar hero of Iranian popular cinema is prompted into social action, far beyond the usual romantic conquests. There is a sense of an imminent revolution in this story of a former champ turned junkie who reunites with a leftist classmate and is redeemed by revolutionary anger. Picking up where the anti-hero of Gheysar left, the leading character (Seyyed, played by versatile method actor Behrouz Vossoughi) again takes the law into his own hands and challenges the established order.

Friday 4 December 2020

Philosophical Treatises of a Master Illusionist: A Conversation about Abbas Kiarostami

Abbas Kiarostami (1940-2016), arguably one of the the greatest of Iranian filmmakers, was a master of interruption and reduction in cinema. He, who passed away on Monday in a Paris hospital, diverted cinema from its course more than once. From his experimental children’s films to deconstructing the meaning of documentary and fiction, to digital experimentation, every move brought him new admirers and cost him some of his old ones. Kiarostami provided a style, a film language, with a valid grammar of its own.

On the occasion of this great loss, Jonathan Rosenbaum and I discussed some aspects of Kiarostami’s world. Jonathan, the former chief film critic at Chicago Reader, is the co-author (with Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa) of a book on Kiarostami, available from the University of Chicago Press. – Ehsan Khoshbakht

* * *

Ehsan Khoshbakht: Abbas Kiarostami's impact on Iranian cinema was so colossal that almost swallowed up everything before, and to a certain extent after. For better or worse, Iranian cinema equated Abbas Kiarostami. It was good because it made Iranian cinema a global phenomenon. And not so good when it overshadowed other filmmakers and other existing modes of filmmaking in Iran. Can you think of any other filmmaker whose presence could have dominated a national cinema to such extent?

Jonathan Rosenbaum: As you know, I tend to view Kiarostami more in transnational terms. In terms of being identified with a national cinema from outside that particular nation, I suppose one could cite Satyajit Ray, Almodovar, Bergman, and Kurosawa, among others. But from a transnational perspective, I suspect that the only figure comparable to Kiarostami, both in terms of influence and in terms of stirring up controversies, would be Godard. Godard himself apparently once said that the cinema that begins with Griffith ends with Kiarostami. For me, both directors excelled in creating global newspapers during separate decades -- Godard in the 60s, Kiarostami in the 90s. And people are still quarrelling about their formal procedures in comparable ways. Another parallel with Godard worth mentioning is the capacity of both filmmakers to keep reinventing themselves, in terms of audience, format, relation to narrative, and much else besides. You might even say that Godard and Kiarostami each have had as many "periods" as Picasso did.