Thursday, March 12, 2009

Some News:

I don't plan on turning this little site into a clearing house for news, but several things have happened in the last week that seem worthy of discussion:

-after the news several weeks ago of New Yorker Films untimely demise, the first question on everyone's mind was what happens to their film holdings? With the advent of home video, people might forget that some companies still posses, and occasionally distribute, actual 35mm film. In point of fact, New Yorker Films itself was bought out some time ago by a larger company riddled with debt, which in turn used New Yorker's rich film holdings as collateral on loans. When the collectors called in their marker and no one had any money, said library became up for grabs. A recent post at Dave Kehr's site has details on the upcoming auction, in which films can apparently be bought individually or en mass. We'll see who steps up to the plate (or if any one actually has the funds to do so). In the meantime, I would assume that the company's dvds are, for all practical purposes, out of print, so snatch them up if you see them. Yes, they aren't exactly at Criterion levels of digital excellence, but sometimes the films themselves are simply worthwhile enough.

-more disturbing news for us beleaguered cinephiles - Kent Jones has resigned his position as associate director of programming at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. I wasn't aware of any behind the scenes tumult until this news dropped almost literally out of the blue (Jones himself was recently posting on Dave Kher's site about an upcoming Robert Mulligan series that he seemed particularly proud of). According to Glenn Kenny, who has spoken with Film Comment (the magazine of the FSLC) editor Gavin Smith, the resignation will not alter Jone's status as the magazine's key contributor (sorry Amy and Olaf, but it's true). Here's the original Indiewire story, as well as the comments page on Kehr's site and Some Came Running. David Hudson's site also collates some related links, so go there as well.

-two articles over at The Moving Image Source: first up, critic Michael Atkinson eulogizes vhs. I assume that anyone roughly my own age got most of their film education through these little hard plastic rectangles, and I must admit I'm sad to see them go (I've still got a few hundred of them stacked up on shelves in my office). Anthony Kaufman's piece reports on the more pressing concern of films that get lost in the shuffle from one format to another. As I brought up in my last post on New Yorker Films, there is a persistent myth, brought about by ignorance coupled with studio logic, that anything and everything is available to the home viewer. Kaufman quotes Dave Kehr, that of the over 150,000 titles listed on TCM's list of American films, less than 4 percent are available in any format for home viewing. Dire straits indeed.

-a recent piece from Geoffrey Macnab in The Independent has, for lack of a more congenial term, really fucking pissed me off (it's my blog, and I'll curse if I want to). Macnab proffers the thesis that the French New Wave, on the eve of an academic conference celebrating its 50th anniversary, has lead, irreducibly, to decades of inferior films, filmmakers and insurmountable expectations. That is, new generations of European filmmakers are subjected to the standards of the New Wave and "found wanting", to which Macnab suggests a casting off of those standards - his deduction? That the young turks are now venerated old masters, therefore their railing against a "cinema of quality" has lost its validity. Really, go a head and read the article. It's here.

Back? Good. Pissed off? Me too.

I'm particularly fond of the following: "meanwhile, new French directors are burdened with a sense of expectation that they simply can't meet. Whether Leos Carax, Mathieu Kassovitz or the bearish old Jean-Claude Brisseau, these film makers are not simply judged on what they've done but their work is assessed (and ultimately found wanting) through the prism of the past." Poor old Kassovitz, who followed up his international breakthrough La Haine with a tepid Hollywood style thriller called The Crimson Rivers before jumping ship to America, where he has made two masterpieces in a row - the Halle Berry vehicle Gothika and the Vin Desiel mega-hit Babylon A.D. But perhaps these films failed not on their own (virtually non-existent) merits, but because they just simply can't live up to the expectations of the New Wave. Brisseau and Carax, on the other hand, seem to be making whatever it is they want, and on their own terms. Carax's bad boy reputation, obscure working methods and huge budgets have done as much to curtail his career as anything else, and unlike some of the venerated New Wave masters that he is indebted to, Carax's entire filmography is readily available on home video (we certainly can't say the same thing about much of Godard, almost all of early Chabrol and Rivette himself, the most underrepresented of the whole group). Brisseau, meanwhile, is producing film after film of pretentious art house soft core porn (although Secret Things and The Exterminating Angels, his last two features, are good for some titillation and inadvertent laughs).

Macnab sums up with a hell of an ending - "when all the academics assemble in London in March and April to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Nouvelle Vague, you just hope that they will spare a moment to reflect on the movements checkered legacy. Over the last half century, there have been many drab films made in the name of the New Wave... that everybody today still looks back to Godard and Truffaut suggests how bereft of ideas European filmmakers have been since the days of Breathless." You can almost sense the sneer on Macnab's face when he hisses the word "academic" - good to know that America isn't alone in its rabid anti-intellectualism. As for being "bereft of ideas", a heck of a large generalization, it seems to me that Techine, Assayas, Denis, Desplechin, Chereau, Nolot, Cantet, Noe and Breillat are doing just fine for themselves. Perhaps Macnab has simply never gotten over Truffaut's famous disparaging remarks about the British film industry, something along the lines of a certain incompatibility between the terms "cinema" and "British". To which we might now add, a certain incompatibility between the terms "intelligent criticism" and "British".

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