Did You See This?

Screening Bloody Murder

Budd Schulberg, photographer Heinrich Hoffmann, and Stuart Schulberg in Jean-Christophe Klotz’s Filmmakers for the Prosecution (2023)

When Cría cuervos . . . (1976) screened at Cannes and won the Grand Prix, Spanish director Carlos Saura, who died today at the age of ninety-one, “had already created the most sustained, independent, and consistent oeuvre in a national cinema plagued by exile and unfulfilled promise,” wrote Paul Julian Smith in the essay accompanying our release. We’ll take a closer look at the life and work of the accomplished filmmaker, photographer, and writer on Monday.

Composer Burt Bacharach was Marlene Dietrich’s musical director in the late 1950s, and he scored a slew of hits when he teamed up with lyricist Hal David and singer Dionne Warwick in the 1960s. In 1970, he won two Oscars for his work on the soundtrack for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and he won another in 1982 for cowriting the theme song for Arthur. On Wednesday, he passed away at the age of ninety-four.

“A die-hard romantic whose mature style might be described as Wagnerian lounge music,” writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times, Bacharach “fused the chromatic harmonies and long, angular melodies of late-nineteenth-century symphonic music with modern, bubbly pop orchestration, and embellished the resulting mixture with a staccato rhythmic drive. His effervescent compositions epitomized sophisticated hedonism to a generation of young adults only a few years older than the Beatles.”

We’re a bit late catching up with news of the January 27 death of Alfred Leslie. The painter and filmmaker was ninety-five and is probably best known to cinephiles for codirecting Pull My Daisy (1959) with Robert Frank. Written and narrated by Jack Kerouac, the film about a dinner party crashed by rowdy bohemians features poets Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, and Gregory Corso; artists Larry Rivers and Alice Neel; musician David Amram; and in her first on-screen role, Delphine Seyrig. In 2015, Leslie told the Brooklyn Rail’s Phong Bui that he began making films when he was “around fourteen,” and Artforum points out that his Magic Thinking (1949) “collaged snippets of home movies, industrial and commercial footage, and cartoons, anticipating by a decade the detournement of the Situationist International.”

Last Friday, the family of Melinda Dillon, who won viewers’ hearts playing moms in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story (1983), announced that she had died on January 9. Dillon was nominated for Best Supporting Actress Oscars for her turns in Close Encounters and Sydney Pollack’s Absence of Malice (1981) and gave memorable performances in Hal Ashby’s Bound for Glory (1976), George Roy Hill’s Slap Shot (1977), Barbra Streisand’s The Prince of Tides (1991), and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (1999). She was eighty-three.

Before bullet-pointing a few of this past week’s highlights, let’s quickly flag a unique opportunity for budding filmmakers. Film Futura, the virtual learning project from No Evil Eye Cinema, is introducing short-term courses “that aim to deconstruct cinematic legacies, traditions, and unorthodox sensibilities.” The first course, led by Yasmina Price, begins on April 3, and applications should be in by March 1.

  • A fantastic read on its own, the latest piece for the Hollywood Reporter from Thomas Doherty, the author of Hollywood and Hitler, 1933–1939, is also a supplement to Filmmakers for the Prosecution. Directed by Jean-Christophe Klotz and drawing from research conducted by film historian Sandra Schulberg, the hour-long documentary tells the story behind the films screened by the prosecution during the Nuremberg trials. Among those chasing down footage shot by the Nazis themselves was novelist (What Makes Sammy Run?) and future screenwriter (On the Waterfront) Budd Schulberg, who caught wind of a stash of reels guarded by the Soviets. As Doherty tells the story, when the Soviet major in charge hears that Schulberg’s superior is none other than John Ford, his tone switches from brusque to inquisitive. He is, after all, “the biggest John Ford fan in all of Russia. The major starts describing the camera set ups in Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) and insists that Schulberg tell him everything he knows about Ford, film by film. As for the Nazi footage? ‘Bring a truck,’ says the major.”

  • Watching German films from the Weimar era “taught me that authoritarianism doesn’t always follow a linear path,” writes Travis Mushett at Literary Hub. When he was putting together the excellent first season of his podcast The Haunted Screen,he was “building the THS plane while I was flying it,” and if he has one regret, it’s that he didn’t devote a full episode to F. W. Murnau. Now, via his newsletter, he’s made up for that with a richly contextualized reading of The Last Laugh (1924) and followed up with a lively guide to “the golden age of Weimar queer culture.

  • Zach Campbell recommends clearing out the cobwebs by spending some time with the film criticism of Christopher Mulrooney, the poet, writer, and photographer who passed away in 2015. “In our brainsmoothed public culture,” writes Campbell, “criticism is the domain of having a strong opinion and sharing it just so, so that in the (perceived) 4D chess of Discourse, it hits the target (the target = the place on the floor where one drops the mic) and prompts the quasi-intelligentsia to golf clap. But all this is utterly ephemeral, and it makes criticism a merely parasitic and epiphenomenal activity. Criticism should try to understand and connect; it should keep the wheels turning. It’s all ideally connected with the objects of critique. I like to think of it as an unending conversation, if that isn’t too cheesy. Mulrooney’s movie criticism, with its unanticipated and vivid connections, does just this.”

  • In Cure (1997), Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s “oracular depiction of the ways we repress our natural inclination for violence, free will is just a chimera,” writes Greg Cwik for the Los Angeles Review of Books. “It is a pretty apparition, beckoning with its spurious promise of comfort and control in a chaotic world, and violence is an ineradicable impulse; no matter how hard we try to suppress it, to ignore it, to dominate and control what is an intrinsic part of our ancient nature, the urge to inflict pain and destroy life frees itself from our moral constructs with just a simple suggestion. Violence can be sparked as simply as a lighter.” If you haven’t seen Cure, skip Cwik’s last paragraph for now, then return to it immediately after you’ve watched the film.

  • Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible (2002) “belongs on the shortest of short lists for the most provocative film of the current century, a rape-revenge scenario told in reverse chronology and geared toward maximum visceral impact,” writes Scott Tobias in the Guardian. Irréversible: Straight Cut, opening today in New York and Los Angeles, “reorders the events clockwise, which is a ruinous idea.” Noé naturally disagrees and talks to Chris Shields at Screen Slate about how our sympathies will likely shift between the three main characters depending on the order in which we see them do the things they do. Also, “I had never seen any book that you could read both ways.”

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