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History Lessons

Jean-Marie ​​Straub and Danièle Huillet

The gist of the announcement on Monday from the Writers Guild of America that its twenty thousand members would be going on strike is that the production companies’ “behavior has created a gig economy inside a union workforce.” Deadline’s Tom Tapp has put together one of the best primers on the several points of contention in the standoff between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, but the Atlantic’s Shirley Li brings it all home in one number. The “median weekly pay for TV writer-producers, adjusted for inflation, declined by twenty-three percent over the past decade.”

With competition growing fiercer, studios and streamers are striving to hire fewer writers to do more work for less money. And instead of “chasing subscriber growth with great content, streamers are now directed to focus on profitability,” write Joy Press and Natalie Jarvey for Vanity Fair. “Wall Street changed the rules of the game,” showrunner Marc Guggenheim tells them. “Overnight, all the streamers will suddenly be measured by a completely different yardstick that they weren’t built to meet.”

Playwright Laura Jacqmin, who has written for television and video games, tells the New Yorker’s Michael Schulman that the strike amounts to “an existential fight for the future of the business of writing. If we do not dig in now, there will be nothing to fight for in three years.” Story editor Aly Monroe (The Handmaid’s Tale) says that “a lot of my friends were feeling really hopeless and essentially ready to give up,” but “what the WGA is asking for makes us all feel really good and like we’re working toward something that can make it back into a livable career for all of us.”

Before we take a glance at what else has been happening, please note that we’re thrilled to announce that Current and the Daily now have RSS feeds. Catch up with the latest the moment it goes live.

  • Screen Slate arranges a crossover of two of the week’s main events by having Prismatic Ground founder and director Inney Prakash interview Thai artist and filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose features, shorts, and selections are screening in New York through May 16. “Even as every frame bears his unmistakable signature,” writes Andrew Chan for 4Columns, Apichatpong “never comes across as a prophet guiding us down a path to enlightenment. His movies are devoid of predetermined wisdom, partly because they always feel like they’re in the process of being discovered. Emerging during an extended period of political repression and violence in the director’s homeland, these films pair the idea of boundless possibility, implicit in their branching narratives and supernatural elements, with intimations of destinies foreclosed.”

  • The Japan Society series Rites of Passage: The Films of Shinji Somai, celebrating one of the greatest Japanese directors of the 1980s, is on through next week. Somai’s films are “transparently designed to appeal to the youth, capturing both the timelessness of adolescence and the inevitability of its passing,” writes Emerson Goo for Film Comment. “The fantasy of somehow escaping the currents of time and thus the expectations of society—a theme that, as scholar and programmer Alexander Zahlten has noted, is found throughout Japanese pop culture during the ’80s—is taken up by Somai as a form of resistance against the whirlwind of a rapidly changing media landscape.”

  • Metrograph Journal editor-at-large Nick Pinkerton, the author of Goodbye, Dragon Inn, a study of Tsai Ming-liang’s 2003 film, presents a primer on Taiwanese wuxia as lively as the films themselves. The “grandly garish sets” of Ting Shan-hsi’s The Ghost Hill (1971), for example, are “bathed in colors found nowhere in nature by cinematographer Lin Tsan-ting, who freely indulges in whip pans, crash-zooms, and pedal-to-the-metal tracking shots throughout, the violence of the camerawork only exceeded by that onscreen. A deceased combatant’s severed head soars an enormous distance to bite his killer on the cheek, and that isn’t the strangest thing that happens in the film by some margin.”

  • At Kino Slang, Andy Rector has posted a previously unpublished interview with Jean-Marie ​​Straub and Danièle Huillet conducted in the fall of 1975 by John Hughes​ and ​Bill Krohn. They discuss directors they admire such as Kenji Mizoguchi, Jean Renoir, and John Ford—“a ​Brechtian filmmaker,” declares Straub, with “an ideology opposite ​of Brecht’s​“—as well as the problems they have with Roberto Rossellini’s late work. At one point, Huillet observes that in American cinema, “there’s always the hero, and it’s always been about him, but what’s telling [in our films] is precisely what’s outside, and for that to tell us something, it has to have time to exist, to take on its weight, and to change.” To which Straub adds: “That's it—and then it establishes a really democratic relationship.”

  • One of the interviewers mentions that Jacques Rivette called Straub and Huillet’s History Lessons (1972) “a very exuberant film.” Straub is “glad to hear that” because he considers it to be their “best film.” As it happens, Rivette and Straub-Huillet come up in the conversation between Annett Busch and Louis Henderson just posted at e-flux in the run-up to tomorrow’s screening of Ouvertures (2020), a reflection on the legacy of Haitian revolutionary Toussaint Louverture that Henderson made with the art collective The Living and the Dead Ensemble. “What interested me about Out 1 [1972],” says Henderson, “was how Rivette creates a space for the actors to unfold their characters on their own terms, how he allows for the actors within that space to be active agents in the development of the mise-en-scène.” And Straub and Huillet’s films all “deal with how history can be brought alive in the present, from books and archives into landscape and voice.”

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