Did You See This?

Who Wants to Be Right?

Miriam Hopkins, Fredric March, and Gary Cooper in Ernst Lubitsch’s Design for Living (1933)

It’s been a short week, and we’re all heading out, so let’s get right to it. Here are five fine pieces that have appeared over the past five days.

  • In recent years, “we have defiled, through frivolity and irony, the romantic comedy, defanging the romance and flattening the comedy,” writes Carlos Valladares in Gagosian Quarterly. He calls for a revival of the genre and has put together a list of films from which we might draw inspiration. Ernst Lubitsch’s Design for Living (1933) assures us that “throuples work,” and if “there’s one film where Lubitsch’s European elegance and decadence emerge, phoenix style, from the ashes of the past, it’s [Billy] Wilder’s Avanti! (1972).” Elaine May’s The Heartbreak Kid (1972)? “For all the disenchanted, this is the one.” Valladares also recommends the “kooky tendresse” of Who Am I This Time? (1982), Jonathan Demme’s hourlong TV movie, and On the Rocks (2020) because “Sofia Coppola nails the effervescence of rom-coms but plays none of the familiar notes, hits none of the ‘right’ beats. But who wants to be right?”

  • John Woo’s Silent Night, a revenge thriller with no dialogue, will open on December 1, and Simon Abrams’s interview with the director for the New Yorker covers a lot of ground: the early tight relationship with Tsui Hark, the breakthrough with A Better Tomorrow (1986), the rough and tumble Hollywood period that gave us Face/Off (1997), and the first film Woo made in mainland China, Red Cliff (2008–2009). Woo sees no conflict between the violence in his films and his Christian faith. He’s “also crazy about musicals,” he says, finding “a kind of beauty in those movies: people look beautiful, and the songs are beautiful, too, and the movies are always full of hope for a beautiful life. I was raised in a slum, and musicals really made me dream. That’s why I wanted to dance like West Side Story, you know? I still love musicals and really want to make one.”

  • There’s been an understandable rise in interest over the past few years in just how fascist regimes gather support, and ultimately, absolute power. For Film Comment, Darren Hughes talks with Dominik Graf, whose documentary Melting Ink tells the stories of prominent German writers who carried on working after Hitler’s rise. Erich Kästner, for example, whose 1931 novel Graf adapted in 2021 as Fabian: Going to the Dogs, wrote screenplays commissioned by Goebbels. “With hindsight,” says Graf, “we make everything too simple. And at the moment, it seems dangerously simple. Good. Bad. Guilty. Not guilty. These kinds of easy-to-make distinctions that, in the end, teach us nothing. That was one of the reasons I made this film.” Nazis, he adds, were “not beasts. They were normal people, and that is the most scary thing about it.”

  • Forty years ago, three emotionally searing films depicted the aftermath of a nuclear war in radically different ways. For the Los Angeles Times, Tim Grierson talks with Lynne Littman about her “intimate drama,” Testament; with Nicholas Meyer about The Day After, a TV movie event that rattled Ronald Reagan; and with Mick Jackson, who shook up BBC viewers with Threads. “For three artists who have arguably done more than anyone else to bring the realities of nuclear hell to mainstream viewers, they remain very much afraid, their fears not assuaged,” notes Grierson. “We’re sitting on all these nukes,” Meyer tells him, “and it’s a little bit like standing next to a sign that says, ‘Wet paint.’ Sooner or later, someone’s going to feel the irresistible urge to see if the paint is really wet. I’m very frightened.”

  • At Vulture, Matt Zoller Seitz talks with Philip Kaufman about The Right Stuff (also 1983), which the director describes as “probably the longest film ever made without a plot.” There is a main character, though, namely, a quality, which Tom Wolfe, the author of the nonfiction account of the early days of the American space program that Kaufman adapted, calls The Right Stuff. What drives a great film is “not something you can sum up in words,” says Kaufman. “In Red River, the great Howard Hawks movie about the cattle drive with John Wayne and Montgomery Clift, the plot is fine, but the movie is not about that. It’s about when they cross a river and the music rises up and you hear the whoops of those guys. That’s when you feel that thing that is available only through film: that feeling, that mood, that something that sweeps you away.”

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