Category Archives: Uncategorized

Frame Grabs from Godard´s Le mépris

I hadn´t seen the film for years. I´d forgotten how beautiful it is. Each frame a painting, as they say, filmed by Raoul Coutard. And each evocative, expressive, beautiful. But it´s 24 of them a second, part of a shot, often accompanied by dialogue or Georges Delerue´s beautiful score. And there´s Bardot, and Piccoli, and Jack Palance and Lang and Bazin and cinema as it once was, and even then in the process of becoming something else. I couldn´t stop myself from grabbing frames. It´s on MUBI.

 

José Arroyo

A note on the ´33 and ´49 versions of Little Women

The Greta Gerwig Little Women needs to be great because the Cukor-Hepburn one is perfect. Plus having the additional bonus of being, along with King Kong and Mae West, the sociological phenomenon of 1933. It´s a pity it´s not more seen:

 

Watching the ´49 version of Little Women only made me appreciate the 1933 Cukor-Hepburn version more. The 1933 version roots it in the Civil War, privation, self-sacrifice, kindness, family, sisterhood, complicated interpersonal relationships, and with a kind of yankee fierceness that is completely lacking in the sop of the ´49,. To see June Allyson after Hepburn is merely to see lack, where Hepburn was romantic, tomboyish, determined, longing to be an artist and a free woman, Allyson simply lowers her voice and juts her jaw. And even with that she´s better than Peter Lawford. A starry cast almost entirely wasted, Mary Astor certainly is, though Elizabeth Taylor and Margaret O´Brian have their moments (if only a few). Comparing the two is like comparing the illustrated comic of the novel to the novel itself. Same plot, more gloss, more shine, less depth and way less charm. I´d forgotten how important the Christmas setting is to all versions

 

José Arroyo

Montparnasse 19 (Jacques Becquer, France,1958)

I saw Montparnasse 19 as a child and never forgot it. Seeing it again now I understand why it is unforgettable: the framing, the lighting, the composition of Gérard Philipe as Modigliani, in medium close-ups, suffering for his art, which no one is interested in, as Lilli Palmer, Anouk Aimee, and other women who love him look on helplessly, is very powerful. I’d forgotten Lino Ventura is also in it. Jacques Becker is such a great director, leaving actors their space and privileging their faces, and in this case that of the greatest romantic actor of his generation. Every frame does indeed seem not so much a painting as a work of art in itself. The Arrow edition is beautiful. It includes an appreciation by Ginette Vincendeau, which I look forward to seeing.

 

I’ve written previously on a memory of the film vs an encounter with a portrait of Modigliani here.

 

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 202 – Cats

 

The podcast you´ve all been waiting for. Mike is so traumatised, he can only continue watching from the safety of the exit. I was entranced. There was cosplay in the audience. We disagree throughout. it´s great:

 

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: 201 – Marriage Story

A beautifully observed, intelligently written and transparently played drama, Marriage Story shows the separation of two people with deep and ongoing love for each other, and how they change under the stress of their marriage breakup. Mike argues that it’s an advert for therapy, the unread notes in which each partner describes what they love about the other, with which the film opens, returning structurally despite the descent into legal hell and gamesmanship. José remarks upon the generosity the film has towards its characters and the magic that Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver bring, and Mike picks up on the length of some scenes, scenes that move smoothly and in real time through evolving conversations.

Marriage Story is on Netflix now and worth your time.

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.

Atom Eyogan Interview for Cinema Canada

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What one finds trawling through the internet: This was the cover story for the October 1987 issue of Cinema Canada, on the occasion of the release of Egoyan´s Family Viewing and timed to coincide with that year´s Toronto International Film Festival. The image above is a sad photocopy of a too-used magazine of what was originally quite a beautifully coloured image. The full article can be accessed by clicking on the link at the botton:

 

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For the full interview click on the link below:

cinema canada atom egoyan

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 199 – The Report

 

Adam Driver and Annette Bening shine in writer-director Scott Z. Burns’ historical drama The Report, about Senate staffer Daniel Jones and Senator Dianne Feinstein’s work to investigate the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11. Mike’s been filling up on this stuff lately, quite by coincidence, watching old episodes of The Daily Show; José didn’t even know what the film was about, and the difference in our responses is perhaps quite telling, the film not going out of its way to help its audience into its murky waters, leaving it up to them to pick up on what it’s on about.

In that respect, it’s a film that requires and respects its audience’s attention and intelligence, though it could do more in dramatic terms to earn it. It’s rather a dry affair, though not without its charms – in particular those of its lead actors, who captivate every second they’re on screen. The story is told partially in flashback, depicting the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and the main plot covers the better part of a decade, shifting from initial questions to the depths of Jones’ secretive study, to the fight he and Feinstein face to get it published – and Burns structures all of this well and narrates it admirably smoothly. Unfortunately, he’s content to descend into bog-standard platitudes about the greatness of America being its desire to admit its own mistakes and rancid behaviour, without ever addressing the idea that behaving that way might be equally American.

We compare the film, as we so often do with films about institutional failure and corruption, to Spotlight, the story of the Boston Globe’s exposure of child abuse in the Catholic Church, in particular the complexity of that film’s investigation and apportioning of blame, Mike arguing that the Globe’s realisation of its own part in the cover-up is a crucial and necessary complicating factor, and not something we see here, with the goodies of the Senate and the baddies of the CIA entirely separate – there’s indictment of the people behind the programme of torture that was known to be useless was pursued, but only the barest, most superficial indictment of the culture that produced and allowed it.

Despite these issues, Mike remains a fan of the film, finding it a well-told story for the most part that does more than simply illustrate its historical context and the arguments therein, and José, who is less familiar with this stuff and has less of an interest in it, is also glad to have seen it, and our discussion was an enjoyable one. The Report is on Amazon Prime and worth a watch.

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 Simulacro Magazine Interview

An interview with moi-même. Julia Scrive-Loyer had the wit to ask the questions. Delighted that it´s for Simulacro, one of the prettiest and most engaging of cinephile magazines . And the photo is by the great Jaime Guerra. It´s in Spanish, so those of you who don´t speak the language get the added thrill of looking it all up in the dictionary like early Anglo cinephiles did with Cahiers:

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The link to the magazine is here: https://www.simulacromag.com/entrevistas/2019/12/17/eavesdropping-con-jos-arroyo?fbclid=IwAR24UMJr0kilgu_KzWoJq99lRrd3iz0Jf2USUxxbVRVXrjQITdghAJzjixQ

 

José Arroyo

 

Eva Kastelic and José Arroyo on ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’

Eva Kastelic and José Arroyo explore the slow unravelling of character personalities and psychologies in ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’, the anime-influenced and critically acclaimed Nickelodeon animated series.

Depth of Field

Eva Kastelic and José Arroyo explore the slow unravelling of character personalities and psychologies in ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’, the anime-influenced and critically acclaimed Nickelodeon animated series.

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Eavesdropping at the Movies:198 – Harriet

A truly deserved biopic, Harriet tells the story of the escaped slave-turned-abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who served as part of the Underground Railroad, undertaking several journeys to liberate around 70 slaves, and later serving as in the Union Army during the American Civil War (this latter part of her life forming the film’s coda, as its focus is her escape to Philadelphia and rescue missions).

Despite its obvious value, though, it’s poorly told story, with a depiction of Tubman’s devout religiousness and prophetic visions that serves to confuse more than express or inspire, and too little tension in what are really action scenes, too little sense of hardship in Tubman’s escape, work, and life. We try to keep in mind that our relationship to Tubman’s story is distanced, that its importance as a black narrative and feminist narrative is easy for us to be blind to when all we can see are flaws, but ultimately we find the film a let-down.

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: 197 – Jay and Silent Bob Reboot

 

A trip to the Mockingbird Cinema in the Custard Factory yields a massively hyped up and receptive audience of fat white blokes for Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. Mike is one of them, and he’s never been harder to pick out of a lineup, laughing like a drain at the fan service and antics. José isn’t, and he was already a bit too old for Kevin Smith when he emerged in the 90s, but he has almost as good a time as everyone else there. The film is huge fun and creates a palpable sense of community, filled with friends and family, incorporating in-jokes and characters from throughout Smith’s work – it’s pure comfort food for its fans.

We think about Smith as a figure, his reputation as a writer who can barely direct, and what he takes pride in. And we look over his filmography, José thinking back on what made Chasing Amy radical in its day, and Mike suggesting that with Jersey Girl and Cop Out, Smith’s reputation, and perhaps an external factor or two (remember Bennifer?) played a part in the hostile reception for two films he found perfectly acceptable and even charming.

He’s an interesting figure, Kevin Smith, a director whose cinematic reputation is outshone by his stardom as an individual, something to which his mighty legion of podcasts and Q&As speaks – indeed, Reboot‘s UK screenings come with a bespoke post-credits Q&A, and Smith is accompanying the film around the US and Canada on its roadshow release – but his films have earned and maintained a devoted following for 25 years now, something to which the audience tonight can attest. Wherever Reboot is showing, it’s worth checking out, because with an audience as up for it as ours was, it’s a special event.

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.

In Conversation with John Gibbs

I´m an admirer of  John Gibbs’ work on the ´Long Take,´on mise-en-scène, and on style-based criticism; on his careful consideration of the implications of various choices on film style; on the ways style and meaning intersect. It´s work that often requires reading of the text in conjunction with viewing, usually before and after, and occasionally even multiple times thereafter. His videographic criticism seems a natural extension of his previous practice in prose: observant, detailed, precise.

I´ve found that, like his scholarly work in prose, his videographic criticism similarly enhances my understanding and appreciation of film style in general and the particular works his video essays explore, sometimes in ways that prove truly illuminating. As John says, it´s a means of extending both the methods and subjects of style-based criticism but with perhaps a different kind of relationship with an audience, more immediate and with a wider reach.

I was keen to talk to him about all of this and in the podcast above we discuss how videographic criticism offers new possibilities to engage with the rich texture of movies and to extend methods of style-based criticism. We explore non-linear, non-hierarchical approaches to film history, how they present new possibilities of dealing with detailed analysis of film whilst also offering greater access to criticism and the potential for a wider audience. We chat about how good video essays enable the works to speak for themselves whilst simultaneously providing particular types of analyses to criticism, new tools for teaching, and different means through which students may achieve excellence. John mentions how videographic criticism often construct a journey of point of view through an experience, more like a filmmaker than an essayist in a traditional sense and some of the these forms invite a different kind of engagement, particularly considering the different kinds of practices going on — part of the excitement — and their relationship to found footage filmmaking, gallery art practice etc.

 

The conversation refers to particular works of videographic criticism by John Gibbs (including his collaborations with Douglas Pye) and you can see them below.

 

 

 

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 200 – Luis Ospina on MUBI – The Vampires of Poverty, A Paper Tiger, and It All Started at the End

Luis Ospina, the influential Colombian filmmaker who died very recently, was last month the subject of an mini retrospective of his work by MUBI, who showed three of his films: Agarrando pueblo/The Vampires of Poverty (1977, co-directed by Carlos Mayolo), Un tigre de papel/A Paper Tiger (2008), and his final feature documentary, Todo comenzó por el fin/It All Started at the End (2015), and we’re grateful to them for making these works available to us with subtitles. We begin by considering how such an influential filmmaker, not only in Colombia but across Latin America, remains so little known in Anglo-American film cultures. We talk about the ‘Caliwood’ group and how we’re so used to talking about structures that we forget how individuals make a difference. A group of young friends with shared interests get together and share a house, turning it into studios, an art gallery, a publishing house and a cinema. This group happens 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 the cultural history of Colombia and Latin America.

In Todo comenzó por el fin/It All Started at the End we see how 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 had they not been of a particular class, one with relatives who could afford to lend out empty houses). The film serves as an important reminder that individuals can make a difference and that collaboration is essential. Harold Innis’ observation in Empire and Communications that colonised people need to be fully conversant with their colonisers’ culture as well as their own is amply evident in the conjunction of the group’s programming and their own production.

All three of Ospina’s works are concerned with documentary, representation, ethics. In Un tigre de papel/A Paper Tiger, the Zelig-like mockumentary about an imaginary person, the form itself acts as a way of commenting on broad strands of cultural and political movements internationally that had an effect on the local and synthesises and evokes all of the virtues we admire: the playfulness, quirkiness, intelligence, the concern with politics and ethics but also fun, a pin-prick to pomposity. And we share admiration for the savage satire of Agarrando pueblo/The Vampires of Poverty, a statement against the exploitation of the poor, unfortunate and mentally ill on the streets of Cali, by filmmakers keen to sell their work, and the image of Colombia that goes along with it, to Europe.

José is in thrall to Ospina’s work and the culture to which it speaks, and has boundless thoughts; and although Mike asks questions of the ethics at play in Agarrando pueblo/The Vampires of Poverty, even in a film so clearly well-intentioned and with such a valid point, and comments on weaknesses he perceives in the cinematic quality of Todo comenzó por el fin/It All Started at the End, finding it less expressive artistically than simply informative of a time, place and culture, he’s glad to have spent this time exploring Ospina’s work.

This episode has been released early (keen listeners will have noticed a jump from number 196 to 200), and that’s to coincide with yesterday’s homage for Luis Ospina, hosted by the Filmoteca de Catalunya, one we hope will be but the first of many to come.

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.

In Conversation with Ginette Vincendeau — Part II

 

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Below is the second part of a two-part podcast with Ginette Vincendeau on Jean Gabin, which picks up a little before the first part ended. Once Gabin returned to top stardom in France in ´54/55, what values did he represent/signify? Does he mean something different in France than abroad? What is it and why? Is it true he didn´t make any good films after ‘Touchez-pas au grisby’ and ‘French Can Can’? What is the significance of him being cast with co-stars so much younger than himself like Bardot and Danièle Delorme? What does ´La France Gabinisée´and ‘La Gabinisation de la France’ mean. I ask the questions but it is Ginette´s answers that fascinate and illuminate.

 

I am grateful to Will Straw who brought to my attention the special issue of Schnock which featured Gabin and which asserted, in ways that are visualised below, that ´Gabin´means something different at home and abroad and that at home he signifies a particular type of Frenchness. This lead me to ask Ginette about it and she brought up Jean-Laurent Cassely´s book, No fake: Contre-histoire de notre quête dáuthenticité, and the concept of ‘Gabinisation’, as well as Ginette´s noting of how often ‘Gabin’ is turned into a verb: Gabinise, Gabiniser…

 

Will also brought up the interview with Nicolas Pariser in the October 2019 issue of Cahiers du cinéma, which I ask Ginette to comment on in the podcast:

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My rough translation is as follows: ‘Those films from the 50s where Gabin tells off young people are cinema´s absolute evil. In Rue des prairies, he bawls out Marie-José Nat because she does nothing and wakes up late. I have a bit of an extreme thesis: I think May ´68 was because of Gabin. He became unbearable at a certain moment. The cinema I love exploded that reactionary schema. And astonishingly we find  nostalgia for 50s cinema were the old explain life to the young in quite a few contemporary French Films’

I am also grateful to Nicky Smith for noting the difference in ages between Gabin and his female co-stars, and how this trope recurred in so many films. This lead to an interesting discussion with Ginette on this issue where Ginette notes how strong that trope is in French cinema in general, can be seen in the thirties in films like Arlette et ses papas (Henri Roussel, 1934) , and continues on quite late  and in various cultural forms(e.g. Serge Gainsbourg Lemon Incest). 

You can follow up on all of these issues through Ginette´s books below:

Furthermore, I have blogged on some of  Gabin´s later films, some mentioned in the podcast, and if you want to pursue that further you can click on the hyperlinks below.

Articles:

Voici le temps des assassins/ Deadlier than the Male (Julien Duvivier, France, 1956)

Miagret tend un piège (Jean Delannoy, 1958)

Maigret et l’affaire St. Fiacre (Jean Delannoy, France, 1959)

Le clan des Siciliens/The Sicilian Clan (Henri Verneuil, France/USA, 1969)

Le chat (Pierre Granier-Deferre, France, 1971)

Le tueur/ Killer (Denys de la Patellière, France/Italy, 1972)

On clips from:

Touchez-pas au grisbi (Jacques Becker, 1954)

Razzia sour la chnouf (Henri Decoin, 1955)

French Can-can (Jean Renoir 1955)

José Arroyo

Joe Humfrey and José Arroyo on 'Climax'

Joe Humfrey and I discuss the virtues of Climax, Gaspar Noé, The Long Take and Slow Cinema.

Depth of Field

Joe Humfrey and José Arroyo talk about the new Gaspar Noé film, ‘Climax’. They explore the techniques and motivations behind the intensity of the film, as well as how it relates to the slow-cinema genre.

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Eavesdropping at the Movies: 196 – Knives Out

Writer-director Rian Johnson’s playful, knockabout whodunnit Knives Out has been receiving praise for its screenplay that we feel isn’t quite warranted, and isn’t much to look at either – but it’s a lark, and one that carries some unexpected sociopolitical commentary. José argues that Johnson doesn’t learn enough from the films upon which his pastiche is based, making too little of both the wonderful cast he’s assembled and the wonderful sets he’s had assembled for him, though the film isn’t devoid of flair or structural neatness. Mike was with the film more or less all the way, though suggests that it won’t play as well in the distracted environment of the home, the minutiae of the countless plot details easy to lose track of as one tries to make sense of them. So it’s worth a watch, but it’s neither as elegant nor as charming as we’d like.

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.

In Conversation with Ginette Vincendeau – Part 1

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The first of two podcasts with the great Ginette Vincendeau on the great Jean Gabin. I´ve always been a fan of Gabin´s but my interest in him was revived by the ‘Jean Gabin: The Man With Blue Eyes’ retrospective curated by Edouard Waintrop at the 1919 Il Cinema Ritrovatto  in Bologna,  where aside from more familiar classics like Pépé le Moko (Julien Duvivier) and Le plaisir (Max Ophüls, 1951), I also had the opportunity to see Coeur de Lilas (Anatole Litvak, 1931), De haut en bas (George W. Pabst), Au-delà des grilles (René Clément, 1948), La Marie du port (Marcel Carné, 1949), and others.

I wanted to talk about all of this and find out more about Gabin. And who knows more about Gabin than Ginette Vincendeau? Ginette is Professor in Film Studies at King´s College London. As you can see from some of her various books above, she´s written on French Cinema of the 1930s, on Gabin specifically, on Gabin films in particular (Pépé le Moko), on directors Gabin worked with (Renoir) stars and stardom in French Cinema, texts in context in French cinema, etc. No one of my acquaintance knows more about Gabin and few are as much fun to talk to.

This above, the first of two podcast, covers the period up to 1954, where after a fallow post-war period Gabin once again re-emerged as a top box-office attraction. Who was Jean Gabin? How did he become a star? What did he represent in the 1930s and how is that significant in terms of class and national identity? How central is he to 1930s French Cinema. Was he allied to the Popular Front? There´s a narrative of failure around Gabin´s post-war career. Does that narrative hold up to scrutiny? These questions and others are discussed in this first podcast. The second will deal with the period from 1954 to his death in 1976.

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Some of my blogging and podcasting on Gabin films of this period, mostly arising from he viewing in Ritrovato, can be found by clicking the hyperlinks above and below:

 

La Bandera (Julien Duvivier, 1935)

Le jour se lève (Marcel Carné, 1935)

Martin Roumagnac (Georges Lacombe, 1946)

Podcast from Ritrovatto that touches on Gabin

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José Arroyo

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