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Film Comment July - August 2016

For over 50 years, an award-winning mix of international news, interviews, and critical reviews has kept Film Comment’s readers in touch with the state of movie art. Find out why Clint Eastwood, Steven Soderbergh, and Quentin Tarantino subscribe.

United States
Film Society of Lincoln Center
$7.90(Incl. tax)

in this issue

2 min
editor’s letter

“MY WHOLE THING IS HOW to close the distance between you and an audience, and you and a character. I just think people are a little uptight and weird about that.” That’s Kristen Stewart explaining (and perhaps epitomizing) her acting approach to an interviewer at Cannes last year while promoting Clouds of Sils Maria. Her casual immediacy and cool understatement has developed beyond a deconstruction of her star power into an ever-evolving technique of unheralded emotional nuance. This year, Stewart returned to Cannes in not one but two films—an even closer collaboration with Olivier Assayas, Personal Shopper, in which she’s on screen for nearly the entire film, and Woody Allen’s Café Society—and earlier, at Sundance, she starred in the climactic story of Kelly Reichardt’s triptych Certain Women. With the Allen…

11 min
opening shots

OUTSIDE MAN Alice Rohrwacher will complete her third feature-length screenplay this fall in New York as the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s 2016 Filmmaker in Residence. Following the Cannes Grand Prix–winning The Wonders, My Bitter Land concerns “a man living on the margins of society” who engages in time travel. Whether that idea will be expressed in terms of outright science-fiction or not is unclear, but Rohrwacher’s tonally diverse and movingly perceptive body of work thus far promises a fresh approach. NEW LOOK Paul Thomas Anderson is said to be working on a film about a fashion designer, set in 1950s New York. He’s busily writing the screenplay, while Daniel Day-Lewis is in talks to star in the film, which is bankrolled by contemporary auteurism’s angel investor Annapurna Pictures. Some say the designer…

3 min
total freak-out

As a musician, composer, political activist, and filmmaker, Frank Zappa was a consummate misfit whose obstinacy often gave rise to cunning innovation. In 1966, Zappa instigated the “necessity” that brought about The Mothers of Invention when he balked at MGM/Verve’s insistence that his band discard their supposedly obscene name, The Mothers, and convinced the label to accept his revised moniker. As he grew older he collaborated less with real, live, fallible musicians, and instead composed and performed remarkably complex orchestral music using the Synclavier, a sample-based, early digital synthesizer. And as he approached the zenith of his disgust with the American government during the Reagan era, he helped inspire the popular “Rock the Vote” youth movement when he became the first musician to install voter registration booths at each of…

3 min
yesterday’s tomorrows

Every year, we’re assured that virtual reality is the future. At times, VR seems to be just another tool for giant media conglomerates seeking to position themselves on the bleeding edge of taste. But as an exhibition of early computer films at Museum of the Moving Image reminds us, corporate patronage of the vanguard can yield groundbreaking art. Several of the filmmakers in MOMI’s concise, 37-minute program were in residence at NASA, IBM, and Bell Labs—all leading players in the Cold War—and even repurposed tools of modern warfare to create their art. A cross section of collaborations between artists and scientists, Computer Films of the 1960s offers views of extremely arcane aesthetics and inventive practices. The world’s very first computer special effects reel, John Whitney’s kinetic Motion (61), anchors the program.…

12 min
hiding in plain sight

RECENTLY, SOME EPIGRAMMATIST ON TWITTER pronounced: “I love Adele, because you feel like she could be anybody. I hate Katy Perry, because you feel like she could be anybody.” How might this commentator assess Kristen Stewart, another superstar consecrated by the same generation of pop consumers, tilting young and female? With her frank and frequently neutral gaze, her stammers and trapezoidal slouches, her quick and casual diction, Stewart’s performance style is even more quotidian than Adele’s virtuosic channeling of universal laments or Perry’s lavishly synthetic shtick as the roaring Everygirl. Such apparent lack of varnish, echoing Stewart’s mellow personality, has made her a polarizing performer. While she has enticed advocates throughout her career, probably neither her Twilight (08) fans nor high-placed devotees like A. O. Scott of The New York Times…

12 min
beyond these gates

Lime Kiln Field Day shows Bert Williams to be a leading man of some depth, blending his slapstick qualities with a much more profound sense of loss and yearning. WRITING IN THE PREFACE OF HIS CLASSIC 1977 text Slow Fade to Black: The Negro in American Film, 1900–1942, Thomas Cripps lamented that there would be no need for his book at all “were it not for the peculiar racial arrangements in which a highly visible yet numerically inferior ‘black’ group has been customarily, and often legally, ostracized from, exploited by, and occasionally patronized by, a numerically and politically dominant ‘white’ group.” Despite social and legislative gains for African-Americans over the years, and the mirage of a “post-racial” America under Barack Obama, Cripps’s core sentiment retains a hard grain of truth, in…