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In Conversation with Catherine Grant

Catherine Grant is one of the scholars working in the area of video essays and videographic criticism I most admire. Her work ranges from fan videos to explorations of form, the transnational, queering, interventions into theory, materialising criticism and artistic self-expression. I very much wanted to talk to her about her work and the result is this podcast below,  a wide-ranging reflection on these particular forms of criticism, her own practice and that of other scholars who have influenced the development of her own work. With typical generosity, every reflection on her own works incites heaps of praise for that of others.

 

Video Essays by Catherine Grant in order of discussion:

‘Need something to work with and against. Footage which is absolutely beautiful. Peggy Anne Garner. Discovering some writing. An elaborate video. Dedicated to her own family’.

‘A metacritical look at videos made using split-screen’.

Insight and expression through a photograph, movement and song

Influenced by  Gordon Hon, collecting dissolves from Vertigo and slowing them down. Also by Aaron Valdez´film, Dissolve, a study of dissolves that he found on the internet archive. Such a beautiful film, the transient comes through brilliantly in it. Afterwords Mandy Merck mentioned the  American Tragedies adaptations of Dreiser. Whilst making A Place in the Sun, someone had advised George Stevens to watch Brief Encounter. Abundant Dissolves. Very interesting and lots of them.

In her video essay, she changed the colour of the film. It´s bluer, a midnight blue filter. There was an inertness, maybe due to digital copy. So she added the filter just like Joseph Cornell in Rose Hobart.

The need to be cognisant of the tension between quoting something and making something yourself.

An important dimension of Grant´s work, loosely called queering. The gesture on the shoulder in Carol and Brief Encounter.

‘Video essays materialise what are otherwise virtual spectatorial encounters. Cluster of work around thinking and feeling around the films. Transforming a  queer experience we have in our head and making it material through videographic work’

‘Dialoguing with a written tradition of film studies and art criticism’

 

Videos by others in order of discussion:

‘Really good criticism, really insightful, intertextual, influential: The Substance of Style wowed by his use of split screens.´

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‘The confidence to run things together, voice-over, speeded up, Pure Bazinian technique. Dismantling or defamiliarisng the look on a full frame. We rarely engage in peripheral spectatorship. It becomes a work of genius when he does speed up´.

On the insights of Ian Garwood on voice-over and on his generosity as a scholar

In praise of Adrian Martin´s use of his voice in this particular work by Martin and Cristina Álvarez López

Joseph Cornell´s Rose Hobart (1936):

 

The Patrick Keating video essays discussed can be found here

And Grace Lee´s youtube channel, What´s So Great About That can be found here:

We did not get a chance to talk about Grant´s other important contributions to film culture but it´s worth mentioning the invaluable  open access scholary website, Film Studies for Free, Mediático, a website on various aspects of Latin American and Iberian film cultures, and as an editor of  [in]Transition: Journal of Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies 

José Arroyo

Cine Club de Cali

We´re so used to talking about structures that we forget how individuals make a difference.  I was reminded of this whilst watching Luis Ospina´s It All Started At The End/ Todo comenzó por el fin (Columbia, 2015). A group of friends with shared interests get together and share a house. The friends then turn that house into studios, an art gallery, a publishing house and a cinema. This group happened to include, amongst others, Luis Ospina, Andrés Caicedo and Carlos Mayolo. We´re shown how shared cinephilia leads to collaborative cultural production, one that´s left an imprint, proven to be very influential and now become part of Colombia´s cultural history. Cinephilia left a legacy in Columbia, one that exceeded filmmaking.

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I was particularly struck by the programs of the Cine Club de Cali. They don´t seem much different than Film Soc programs from that era (early 70s) in most of the West: Kubrick, Chaplin, Eisenstein, Cukor, Hitchcock, Buñuel, Westerns, Czech Cinema. Jerry Lewis worship was not restricted to Paris but also flowed in Cali. The programs made me wonder when and how Latin American Cinema began to circulate and be discussed in Colombia.

 

 

The film screenings then also led to publications on cinema, as you can see below, and this is also typical of what you´d find in the West; Truffaut, Polanski, the films of Clint Eastwood, whatever of interest was then playing. Ospina himself has declared that more significant for them were B movies like Romero´s The Night of the Living Dead (1968), partly because it was cheap and fun, about zombies and cannibalism, but partly because it was also a significant and serious social critique about America and the Vietnam War.

This coming together of friends also lead to an important intervention, the creation of the Caliwood group of filmmakers, which has proved an inspiration to several generations of Latin American filmmakers now and has also left an indelible imprint on Colombia´s cultural history: the work of writer Andrés Caicedo, now translated into several languages (see images below), the films of Carlos Mayolo, and of course the work of Ospina himself. So the friendships and shared interests of these irreverent, druggy, countercultural dissidents bore fruit and left a legacy, which is not to say that structures are not important. They wouldn´t have been able to do so if they weren´t of a particular class, one with relatives who could afford to lend out empty houses. That said, an important reminder that individuals can make a difference, that collaboration is essential, and that Harold Innes´observation in Empire and Communication that colonised people need to be fully conversant with the culture of Empire as well as their own is amply evident in the conjunction of their programming and their own production,

 

For those of you who speak Spanish, the great Jorge Yglesias tells a similar story of the developments of a cinephile culture in Cuba that can be listed to here:

 

 

José Arroyo

Conor Ryan & José Arroyo on ‘BoJack Horseman’

I meet with Conor Ryan to talk about the show´s representation of mental health, as well as its social critique of Hollywood and wider American culture.

Depth of Field

Conor Ryan and José Arroyo discuss the complex and often bizarre world of Netflix’s animated series ‘BoJack Horseman’. They particularly focus on the show’s representation of mental health, as well as its social critique of Hollywood and wider American culture.

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Fast Trip, Long Drop (Greg Bordowitz, 1993)

http://www.ubu.com/film/bordowitz_fast.html

How did I miss Fast Trip, Long Drop when it came out?Sara Diamond, listed as an executive producer was then a friend of mine. And indeed I knew several of the people listed in the credits. Perhaps it´s because at the time I was moving through Montreal, Vancouver, Norwich and was then in Coventry, where I´d moved to, partly hoping to escape some of what the film deals with, without then realising there was no escape.

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Seeing it now, it seems to me no work better evokes the structure of feeling of the struggles over HIV/AIDS, what it felt like to come out at a time when gay identities seemed inextricable from AIDS in public discourse. In fact that´s how this work begins. Bordowitz finds out he´s HIV positive, then comes out to his parents as gay, then comes out as HIV later. The exploration is a personal one. He talks about his father who died young and whom he never knew after the age of four. The music of the film is all mournful klezmer. He talks about his family´s roots in the schtetels of the Ukraine, and how typhoid often attacked, wiping off entire sectors of the population, ie that the unjustness experienced by the generation, my generation, who came out and came into HIV/AIDS was not so unique.

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He asks the questions we all asked then: how to remain hopeful in the face of increasing loss. How to avoid or escape the overarching presence of death? Will our future be about just watching each other die? How to reconcile the ´fact that I´m going to die with the daily monotony of my life’; Isn´t this a crisis for all of us…why is it my burden and responsibility? Some of these questions are questions that will affect all of us as we get older, and time and history are actively discussed in the work. But these questions take on a particular urgency in the work because it´s of a time before the introduction of retrovirals, when life expectancy for people with HIV was shortened, concentrated.

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I was moved by Bordowitz´intelligent articulacy, by his youthful beauty, by the way historical footage is interspersed with role-playing, autobiography, interviews. It´s a work full of mourning and militancy.  It´s my youth. And it moves me to see all those young faces at the demonstrations, enjoying themselves and reminding me that, whilst death was all around, there was still fun, and joy, and sex…and without denying the deterioration, helplessness, death, and lots and lots of tears.

Bordowitz talks to a female friend with terminal cancer, notes that a car could run one over tomorrow, that nothing is set. Indeed he is still with us. I´m far from an objective spectator. I was moved even by those stilted moments so typical of the video art of the time and which I used to then hate. I can´t think of a work that better evokes what young gay men of a certain age in those years thought about and felt.

The film can be seen in the link at the very top. Some of you might also be interested in this lovely obituary of Douglas Crimp by Greg Bordowitz, which also arises from and connects to this period.

Thanks to Gary Needham for bringing it to my attention,

 

José Arroyo

Death of a Salesman at the Picadilly Theatre, London, 28th of November

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Gosh, gee wizz, golly, wow: Wendell Pierce is terrific in Death of a Salesman. And making the Loman family black in this production certain adds dimensions to the ‘attention must be paid’ and ´smile and a shoeshine´parts of the play, as well as the mistresses on the road, and indeed all the relations between fathers and sons. A musical production too, with jazz and funk often providing a beat to the spoken dialogue. Pierce´s customary charm and likability makes the tragic aspects even more resonant. This time, the ceiling did not fall down at the Piccadilly Theatre but the production sure raised the roof: an explosive standing ovation last night, not normal in London, particularly outside tourist season, and even for tv stars.

 

José Arroyo

Agarrando Pueblo/ The Vampires of Poverty (Luis Ospina/ Carlos Mayolo, Columbia,1977)

 

Screenshot 2019-11-28 at 08.48.33.pngAgarrando pueblo/ The Vampires of Poverty, directed by Luis Ospina and Carlos Mayolo is  a scathing satire of poverty porn, very funny, quirky, self-referential and multi-faceted. A crew of filmmakers working for German TV are tasked with filming poverty. They chase after poor people on the streets, pay children to take their clothes off and go swimming for money, pin the most vulnerable to their poverty, all the while thinking ahead to the whorehouse they hope to visit later. The film alternates between black and white and colour film to startling effect, showing the differences in information conveyed and experience incited by a simple change of stock, Throughout bystanders interrogate the filmmakers: ´why always focus on the worst. Is this the only aspect of our culture Westerners are interested in? If you´re making money off our suffering,  shouldn´t we be paid? ´At the end some of the real people who were performing the aspects of their lives most desired by Western consumers have a good laugh about it all, but not before one of them wipes his ass with the filmmakers money. Essential viewing for those of you interested in poverty porn and documentary ethics. A prime exemplar of Colombia´s  ´Caliwood´filmmaking group.

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José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 195 – Le Mans ’66

Cars, business, and a big chummy Brummie combine in 1960s California as Ford sets itself the mission of beating the all-conquering Ferrari in the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, in a film that has not one but two boring titles: Ford v Ferrari in the USA, and Le Mans ’66 in the UK. Mike had a good enough time to see it twice, even though it’s directed by James Mangold, for whom he has little love; José, incredibly, even welled up at the end.

Although one might expect clashes between the egos of our heroes, the Texan car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and Brummie racer Ken Miles (Christian Bale), their relationship is really one of friendship, common goals, and coping with the management at Ford, for whom Le Mans is about business opportunity and making their way into the increasingly deep pockets of the American teenager. José finds Ken’s family life of particular emotional interest, the support he receives from his wife a pleasure and their arguments complex, though Mike isn’t as complimentary, seeing the film as overall too slick for its own good, failing to generate real tension in the problems it depicts. This goes for the racing, too, for which he reserves some criticism, opining that while the races are good fun and entertaining larks, they don’t convey the stresses or feeling of endurance as they should. But José, a man who cares not a jot for cars or racing, enjoyed the heck out of them, and perhaps that is an achievement all of its own.

The film offers some rather crude comic representations of Italians, the Ferrari pit crew running around like cartoons, which despite only really showing up twice do stick in the mind; and lightly poses the competition as a continuation of the Second World War, the Allies at Ford battling the Axis Power of Italy (at one point, Henry Ford II, played to a T by the great Tracy Letts, brags to Shelby about the role his factory played in building planes for the American war effort, telling him, “Go to war”). It’s an American film about the greatness of America at the height of America’s cultural standing in the world; as José describes it, their empire.

And plonked in the middle of this American myth-making is a sarcastic showoff from Sutton Coldfield, unable to keep his mouth shut except when he’s got some tea in there. Mike responded with unbridled joy to the attention to detail shown to Ken’s origins, not only in the broad, charming accent Bale employs, but also in the dialect he brings with him, talking of cheese cobs and using the phrase “round the Wrekin”, something most of Britain probably has no clue about, let alone America. Peaky Blinders may have given Birmingham a platform in modern pop culture, particularly amongst Americans, but Mike enjoys Ken here much more, ecstatic that a $100m movie that’s going down well with audiences features a Brummie as one of its heroes.

Le Mans ’66 is an honest to god charm offensive of a film, with entertaining action, performances that do the well-written screenplay justice, and even an emotional sting in the tail. Get yourself to the cinema for it. It’s bosting.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 194 – Permission

This year’s Screening Rights Film Festival saw a great start with Permission, an Iranian film about women’s rights, oppression, and male ego, based on the true story of Niloufar Ardalan, the captain of the Iranian women’s futsal team whose husband barred her from leaving the country to play in an international final. After the film, José led a discussion with Riham Sheble and Dr. Saeed Zeydabadi-Nejad in which the entire audience got involved.

It’s an enormously interesting film and despite its severe subject matter, a lively, enjoyable watch. Baran Kosari is captivating as Afrooz, the captain, fighting as best she can the system that allows her husband, Yaser, to restrict her movement – which is made scarier by his absence for several scenes. The film cannot possibly be mistaken for suggesting that Yaser’s actions can be justified, but gives him space to express his reasons for them, revealing the danger of a bruised male ego, especially one with the support of unjust laws that can be weaponised.

We also discuss Afrooz’s relationship with her teammate and roommate, who stays in Iran with her out of choice, with respect to the ways in which writer-director Soheil Beiraghi uses code and ellipses to circumvent his country’s censors. And Sahar Dolatshahi’s team manager catches our eye, a powerful figure who enjoys her status among the football federation, and whose sanctimonious, matronly attitude reminds Mike of The Handmaid’s Tale‘s Aunt Lydia.

A film we’re very glad to have seen. Thank you to the Screening Rights Film Festival for putting the event together!

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 193 – The Irishman

A three-and-a-half-hour epic in his signature genre, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman looks back on the life of a gangster, hitman, enforcer, and WWII veteran, who loses everything. There’s a familiar tone to much of the film, Scorsese getting the gang back together – Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel are wonderful to see, but perhaps the most enjoyable performance comes from Joe Pesci, his Russ a calm, knowing presence, a characterisation that feels like a deliberate defiance of the volatility we remember so vividly from Tommy in Goodfellas. The film weaves a tapestry of power structures throughout 20th century New York, incorporating the mob, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and politicians, all tied together by the wild, paranoid, braggadocious figure of Jimmy Hoffa, played by a brilliant Al Pacino in his first ever collaboration with Scorsese.

Scorsese’s use of digital technology to take years off his cast is a matter of debate between us. José thinks that the use of younger actors would have been beneficial, comparing it to De Niro’s portrayal of Marlon Brando’s character in The Godfather Part II; Mike arguing that the technology convinces, facilitates a smooth telling of the story, where, had different actors been used, he might have felt like he was waiting for the ‘real story’ to begin, and doesn’t hamper the facial performances as it might have – though he agrees wholeheartedly that, in his mid-70s, Robert De Niro simply can’t convincingly kick a baker as a man thirty or forty years his junior should be able to.

José asks whether Frank feels enough guilt about having to kill Jimmy, by this point a man who’s been his friend for years. We agree that we think his emotional state is too opaque, though Mike suggests that he’s also tamping down his feelings for the sake of getting on with a task he can’t avoid. The feeling of loss and guilt that this event leads to, though, enormously affects the final half hour of the film, and for Mike it’s a beautifully moving coda to a film that, while hugely enjoyable, often felt free of a clear destination – something José disagrees with, never wondering where it was going.

We also consider Scorsese’s recent remarks on Marvel, suggesting that his perspective is a surprisingly ahistorical one, and that had he been making films in the 1950s he’d have had identical complaints about Westerns, for instance – the dominant genre of the time. But José takes time to agree with his aesthetic and artistic complaints, arguing that Marvel’s films lack ambition, and Mike suggests that his issue really comes down to a level of dominance that is marginalising films of lower budgets and greater ambition. We also discuss the fact that Scorsese has made The Irishman for Netflix, hardly the home of a lover of the cinema, as their model is Internet-based and doesn’t allow for wide theatrical releases, Mike suggesting this represents a conflict between Scorsese’s words and actions; though José argues that, as limited as it is, the film has been given a theatrical release, and one would be stupid to turn down money if it gets one’s film made, no matter the source.

But to bring it back to The Irishman, we had a terrific time and the film throughout is layered with great jokes, considered compositions, and brilliantly written, performed and directed set-piece scenes in which conversation is king, stakes are high, and power is in play. If you get a chance to see it during its brief theatrical window, do so.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

A Moment of Poetry in Far From Heaven

Seeing Todd Haynes´Far From Heaven (2002) recently, I was struck once again by the beauty and power of the work. Like with the greatest of films, new and different aspects of it catch one´s eye, in this latest instance the shot you can see above. Cathy (Julianne Moore) thinks her husband Frank (Dennis Quaid) is working late so she goes to his office to bring him his dinner only to discover him embracing another man. The shock of the revelation, visualised for us through a brilliant white light, makes her flee back into the darkness of the corridor, a canted angle showing her state of mind as her husband´s lover races past her.

The clip above begins in a medium close-up when she enters the elevator, shocked, out of breath, her face as if about to cry but not quite doing so. The shot then dissolves into  the exterior of the Whittaker house, her house, lights on at night, with the camera low on the ground moving up past the doorway of the house, further into the darkness, then cranes up through some bushes like in a horror film and zooms in towards the light of a window, where Cathy is framed as if in prison, looking away from the camera to await the horror to come.

It´s a beautiful shot. Why the dissolve rather than a cut? Because this revelation is the cause of her house becoming a prison instead of a home. The knowledge of one thing actualises, shapes the conditions of Cathy´s subsequent existence. The shot of her shaken with the revelation in the lift becomes her entombed and imprisoned in her home, only partly visible through a window that looks like it has bars in it. We don´t get too close to her either and remain outside. A car´s headlights, ominous, and threatening, announces the arrival of Frank.

It´s a shot in which each beat is thought through, expressive, telling us not only the story as is but through metaphor, allusion, rhymings, through a particular usage of film form, also both distilling and expanding the meaning of a moment that seems true and beautiful, finding what seems the perfect form for its expression. Seeing it again, I thought this is what poetry in film looks and feels like.

It´s a shot, that like much of the film, also brought to mind Douglas Sirk´s All That Heaven Allows (1955), particularly the moment, just before Cary´s (Jane Wyman) children arrive but after she´s given up Ron (Rock Hudson) where the camera moves from children singing Christmas Carols to Cary´s icy tears, her house also now a prison.

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José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 192 – Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

A female centred film, a sequel to film I loved with an even better cast of women than the original but in which nothing seems to work. Great performances by Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfeiffer that are cut to be as ineffective is possible. Beautiful set design, wonderful effects, all ruined by a bad script and worse direction. All the raw elements are there except the wit and imagination to bring them together effectively. It´s like a dish with superb ingredients but made from a bad recipe by a terrible cook. That it has a worthy ´We are the world´ message somehow makes it worse. The podcast makes an effort to discuss its virtues but somehow returns to the faults.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 191 – Monos

Comparisons to Apocalypse Now and Lord of the Flies are inescapable in Alejandro Landes’ captivating Monos, about a group of teenage soldiers, stationed on a Colombian mountaintop, whose relationships and leadership break down during a descent into the jungle.

We think about its central imagery, Mike arguing that one image above all speaks for the film as a whole, and its allegorical qualities, José considering the character of the American hostage and the impact of American foreign policy and cultural influence on these kids’ mentalities and environment. Mike suggests that the engrossing experience of watching the film may outshine its thematic substance, but nonetheless we highly recommend it and urge you to see it at a cinema if you can.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

‘The Soundscapes of Jóhann Jóhannsson’ by Alex Hobbs

Alex Hobbs discusses Laurent Jullier’s notion of the “film-concert” in relation to the work of the late Jóhann Jóhannsson.

Depth of Field

According to Emilio Audissino, referencing the work of Laurent Jullier, the typical mainstream film has become a “film-concert”: an event “in which the sound elements are being foregrounded to such an extent that the enveloping and saturated aural experience […] is one of the biggest attractions”.[1] Expanding on this, Rossella Valdrè describes the film-concert as a “sensations bath” designed to provoke an intense emotional and physical response from the audience by creating or imitating a “growing similarity between emotions felt in reality or at the cinema”.[2] However, she quickly dismisses the film-concert as only applying to a few specific films and asserting that cinema is not purely “an amusement park”.[3] Similarly, Audissino frames his discussion of the film-concert as a criticism of mainstream cinema. He mourns the reduced importance of music in film, which he suggests has been undermined by new digital technologies that allow hundreds of…

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In Conversation with Dolores Tierney on the films of Emilio Fernández and Roberto Gavaldón

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Emilio Fernández and Roberto Gavaldón are two of the great directors of Mexican Cinema´s Golden Age. Dolores Tierney is a Senior Lecturer in Media and Film at Sussex University and an internationally renown film scholar who has written an important book on the work of Fernández, Emilio Fernández: Pictures in the Margins, and who has also written extensively on Gaváldon.

If Fernández´films are already well known, Gavaldón´s work is having an incredible and long over-due revival this year, with retrospectives  in New York´s Lincoln Centre and the San Sebastian Film Festival, His work also featured heavily in the Salon Mexico: The Golden Age of Mexican Cinema retrospective at the BFI earlier in the year and  the Cine Doré in Madrid, whose programme names him ´The King of Mexican Melodrama´, is currently showing a range of his films.

As Dolores writes in Emilio Fernández: Pictures in the Margins (Manchester University Press, 2007):

For seven years, from 1943 until 1950, Emilio Fernández (1904-1986) was regarded as one of the foremost puveyors of Mexicanness,’ as one of the most important filmmakers of the Mexican film industry…, and as one of the most famous filmmakers in the Western world. His distinctive, ‘authentically Mexican´ visual style — developed over an extensive collaboration with photographer Gabriel Figueroa of thirteen years and twenty-two films — was praised for bringing international attention and prestige to the Mexican film industry…At the height of his career in the 1940s he was loved by audiences and critics alike, not only for bringing international attention and artistic glory to the Mexican motion-picture industry but also for defining a school of Mexican films. Indeed, he underscored and in some ways initiated this approach to his work by repeated claiming ´!El cine mexicano so yo¡/ I am Mexican cinema´

 

In his introduction to La fatalidad urbana: El cine de Roberto Gavaldón (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2007), Fernando Mino Gracia writes:

What would Mexican cinema be without the the sure look — distant, reflexive — of Roberto Gavaldón. We would have lost no less that the most rounded, audacious and finished oeuvre, one that explains a fundamental period of Twentieth Century Mexican cinema, that which covers the period of the end of the Second World War to the start of the 70s. Because Gavaldón is the the filmmaker who best diagnosed, over the entirety of his work, the pulse of a society in the process of consolidation. Nothing was the same by the end of the 1950s and Gavaldón was a privileged witness and chronicler. A mirror which re-works with complex subtlety the inequality of that society and which today, for better and worse, gives us sustenance (p. 19, trans my own).

 

The podcast below is a wide-ranging discussion on the films and careers of Fernández and Gavaldón with the hope of drawing attention to these immense works of world cinema and also to Dolores Tierney´s invaluable writing on both of these directors.

In the podcast, Dolores and I discuss the work of each director, their collaborations with leading stars such as Pedro Armendáriz, Dolores Del Rio, María Felix, Arturo de Cordova; Melodrama, Mexican Nationalism and its discourses, how the films, be they noirs or melodramas or even rural sagas, fit into a post-revolution political project whilst also being dialogue transnationally with classical Hollywood cinema.

My hope for the podcast is that Dolores´enthusiasm will lead you to the films and that my own will lead you to Dolores´invaluable work on them.

 

Those of you wishing to pursue further links might enjoy this video essay by Dolores Tierney and Catherine Grant on the ´cabaretera´films of the period.

 

I have also written on several Gavaldón films and you can pursue links here:

La Diosa arrodillada/ The Kneeling Goddess (1947)

La Noche avanza/ Night Falls (1952)

Camelia (1953)

La Escondida (1956)

Macario (1960)

…and on a couple of Fernández films:

Las Islas Marias (1951)

…and you can see the incredible clip from Fernández´Victimas del pecado (1951) here:

José Arroyo

 

In Conversation with Martha Shearer on ‘New York City and the Hollywood Musical: Dancing in the Streets’.

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I so loved reading Marthat Shearer´s New York City and the Hollywood Musical: Dancing in the Streets that I wanted to talk to its author to find out some more about it whilst hopefully also drawing attention to the work. The result is the podcast below:

In the podcast Martha and I talk about the origins of the work in an earlier study of Gene Kelly, Irishness and Urban Space; how the choice of New York seems self-evident considering the preponderance of its presence in the American Musical. I was delighted at how the book takes on figures and aspects normally marginalised in traditional studies (Bing Crosby, Mae West, the Fox musical). We discuss the influence of Richard Dyer´s ‘Entertainment and Utopia’, how in the musical places are made to feel intense and joyful, so how does that fit into the cities themselves? The book brings genre studies into dialogue with urban studies, geography and the history of how those concrete material places are being transformed. It correlates the history of those material transformations to a history of their representation.

 

We talk about the concept of nostalgia and its relation to time and place. the influence of the work of David Harvey and Fredric Jameson to the methodology of the study and the significance of the choices that structure the study (Urban Space and the Origins of the Musical, The Neighbourhood Musical, The Nostalgia Musical, Broadway and Times Square etc.) Finally, we end with a discussion of Martin Scorsese´s New York, New York; how the conflict between the leads are also conflicts between different forms of entertainment: De Niro, Art; Minnelli, showbiz. Jazz is pure, masculine, art. She´s pop culture. Those two positions, the forms of urbanism associated with those kinds of styles becoming irreconcilable.

An interesting and wide-ranging talk which I hope will whet your appetite for the book.

 

José Arroyo

William Blake at Tate Modern

The William Blake show at the Tate is so well-curated and richly illustrated that I haven´t been able to process it properly and will return to see it again. My main thought was that the style and the visualisation of people, creatures and worlds (alternate, divine, hellish, spiritual and earthly, monstrous, carnal) are so modern they would fit right into contemporary comic books and graphic novels. A look at the display in the bookshop quickly convinced me I was not the first person to think that.

 

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Song Lang (Leon Le, Vietnam, 2018)

A melodrama, subtly told, about a love that becomes impossible, with a resolution in which the audience knows more than the characters.

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The film is set in 80s Ho Chi Minh. Dung (Lien Binh Phat) is a ruthless enforcer for a debt collector. He meets Linh Phung (Isaac), the star of a Cai Luang opera, when he threatens to burn their costumes if they don´t pay up. They meet again when Linh Phung gets bullied in a bar and they both end up fighting the thugs. Linh Phung´s keys get lost and he ends up spending the night with Dung, playing video games, telling each other the story of their lives, and articulating a shared passion for music, and particularly Cai Luang, a type of popular opera that turns out to be a key to the past of both.

Song Lang, the title of the film, ostensibly refers to the percussion instrument used in Cai Luang. The percussion is supposed to guide the opera and its protagonists down a moral path in life. Ostensibly Song Lang translates literally into ´Two Men´. So here we have two characters, both played by local pop star phenomena, trying to find a moral path through a traumatic history, a shared love of art, the pursuit and abandonment of artistic purpose and drive, and the unfolding of elective affinities, a friendship of the heart, that is also imbued with incipient desire.

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The feelings of the characters are expressed through opera (Cai Luang), very beautiful, full of feeling, expressing what the characters can´t. I love the showbiz milieu, the campiness of it, and it combines well with the harshness of the life depicted. The most striking thing about this film is the imagery, every composition is interesting, evocative, expressive. Both itself and also conveying mood, feeling. I was very moved by it. I like the way it melds flashback, comic books, video games, all to evoke a way of life, background, texture, the way that the characters are fleshed out, given histories. The two protagonists are meant for each other but can´t be. And one will never know how close it came to being, or what the other one really felt and did. A beautiful melodrama which brings to mind in different ways the best work of Wong Kar Wai and Richard Linklater.Screenshot 2019-11-07 at 10.29.21.png

LGBTQ audiences may have reservations about the end but I think the melodrama recquires it and I personally loved it. Moreover, Song Lang is a great film,  one that will last, though you probably won´t get many opportunities to be seen on a big screen. See it while you can.

Playing as part of the Q-Film Weekender at the Northampton Playhouse

José Arroyo

Madame (Stephane Riethauser)

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Madame is Caroline, a ninety-year old self-made woman who´s countered and overcome sexism all her life with wit and with humour. Her grandson Stéphane is now victim of  homophobia. when he tries to overcome that which he´s internalised, he finds his grandmother externalising it for and onto him.  The sufferings of grandmother and grandson both stem from sexism. But as the film unfolds and he comes to accept his homosexuality, she becomes part of the problem. Will their love overcome his insistence on being himself?

A beautiful documentary. A love letter from a gay grandson to his grandmother, and to my knowledge, unique in covering this thematic. It´s beautifully structured and narrated, with a poetic voice-over that gets at the heart of the sexism in society, founded on homophobia, and so encompassing that it makes Stéphane turn against himself and against nature. That it´s so beautifully conveyed is extraordinary. The filmmaker is lucky in having so much audio-visual material, covering his whole life, to draw upon. But it takes artistry to give it such poetic shape, to make the strong and pointed political implications seem so simple and to give the impression that they unfurl so naturally.

Madame and her grandson are both very charismatic, which helps. If the film had nothing else, that alone would make it watchable. But there is so much more: the narration, the structure, the editing, the choice of music, the gentle and insistent attempts to understand oneself and each other. Very beautiful.

Playing as part of the Q-Film Weekender at the Northampton Playhouse

José Arroyo