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Film Comment November - December 2015

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

In 1994 film comment chose to make Schindler’s List its March/April cover story—just in time for the Academy Awards. Steven Spielberg’s film premiered on November 30, 1993 and didn’t go wide until early 1994, so the magazine was following in the wake of the enormous popular and critical acclaim bestowed on the film. The acclaim wasn’t universal. There were more than a few dissenting voices among critics, who took Spielberg to task for his alleged manipulation of the audience, particularly with the notorious shower scene. Accordingly, we published two opposing views by two of our stalwart contributors, David Thomson (pro) and lifelong Spielberg champion Armond White (con). And here we go again, almost 20 years later, but ahead of the curve this time, with László Nemes’s Son of Saul, which won…

13 min
opening shots

HOT PROPERTY | Remainder Again, Please “HOW CAN A FABRICATION REPLICATE REALITY?” FILM COMMENT mused in a 2003 overview of the gallery work of Omer Fast. Twelve years later, the song (or the refrain) remains the same. Remainder, Fast’s dizzying debut feature, adapts Tom McCarthy’s 2005 novel about an amnesiac trauma victim who attempts to jumpstart his memory by orchestrating insanely meticulous reenactments. Starring Tom Sturridge, and impeccably designed, it’s like Atom Egoyan meets Christopher Nolan meets M.C. Escher: an iterative thriller of identity. Sturridge plays a man who loses his memory in a freak accident. Awarded millions in a lawsuit settlement, he sets about pursuing the only things that money can’t buy—his past, and his intact former self. And so—mimicking a director and acquiring his own fixer-producer—he hires people to re-create the…

6 min
make it real

FOR ALL OF THEIR SCOPE, DEPTH, AND COMPLEXITY, FREDERICK Wiseman’s films often unfold with the elegant simplicity of Morse code. Short establishing shots; long scene; brief interstitial sequence; really long scene; short exterior shot; really, really, really long scene. And onward to the end, the films proceed at this irregularly regular tempo, holding our attention and communicating meaning through the music of modulation and duration. It’s true of his institutionally focused films from Welfare (75) to At Berkeley (13), as well as of his films of place, including the current In Jackson Heights, a portrait of the Queens, New York, neighborhood that’s one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse in the world. Of course there’s more than Morse code at play, as these segments function like notes of varying…

3 min

Slagged by the guitarist as “only a promo video” for The Kinks’ 1983 “Come Dancing,” Julien Temple’s short, aired on a fledgling MTV, yielded the band’s best-selling single and revealed the unsung gift of its singer-songwriter. Ray Davies plays two roles: a slick, mustachioed, cockney swain in a Fifties music-hall setpiece, and the present-day Davies, performing live in concert with The Kinks. The video culminates in the joyous tumult of a concert-hall balcony, as the camera closes in on Davies’ pinstriped spiv frozen at its center, his face a sneer of disdain, as down below The Kinks play the kind of North London dance hall that rock ’n’ roll drove to extinction. Unlike any rock star in any film you’d care to mention, Davies shines brightest here in the role…

3 min

Even by the debased standards of gallery installations and lobby art, Bring Me the Head of Tim Horton was displayed under subpar conditions at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Looping on a flat-screen affixed to one of the Lightbox theater’s lobby support columns, this collaboration between Guy Maddin and Evan and Galen Johnson competed for attention (during my morning visit) with the imminent arrival of Johnny Depp for the Black Mass press conference next door. As photographers jostled on the line to get in and ticket buyers milled about, the left-field making-of about the Afghanistan war film Hyena Road was barely even audible from the tiny bench that sat between the screen and an opposing wall a few feet away. IN FOCUS: Bring Me the Head of Tim Horton screened…

8 min

I ONCE PLAYFULLY SUGGESTED A REPERTORY SERIES CALLED “HITTING the Wall,” devoted to the disastrous last works of great directors— films so bad they’re capable of demoralizing the most ardent auteurist, even as they rendered their creators permanently unemployable. A Countess from Hong Kong paired with Buddy, Buddy, for instance. Elia Kazan’s 1969 film The Arrangement is not quite on the subterranean level of those career-killers, even though that’s basically what it did. The reviews were dire when they weren’t condescending—“overwrought misfire” captures the prevailing tone, and it’s not an inaccurate summation of the film itself. Kazan had had failures before—A Face in the Crowd (57), Wild River (60), America, America (63)—but they were financial failures, serious movies on serious themes that were treated respectfully by critics. The Arrangement was his…