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by Jordan Cronk and Calum Marsh

24 Aug 2011

Calum Marsh: Well, Jordan, here we are again: we’ve found yet another legendary director with a masterful but deeply misunderstood final film. Like Jean-Luc Godard’s Film Socialisme and John Cassavetes’ Love Streams, both of which we’ve celebrated in these pages before, Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut is an incredibly dense and sophisticated work that’s been widely and unfairly panned since its release. The film does have its vocal defenders, of course, and its reputation has improved marginally since 1999, but the pervading critical sentiment seems even now to be one of confusion and disappointment. This attitude of dismissiveness persuaded me to avoid Eyes Wide Shut for years, in fact, because I’d been so thoroughly prepared for something incoherent or half-baked—and I’m sure I’m not the only person who approached under a similar assumption. When I finally gave the film a chance, at the behest of some very trustworthy cinephile friends, it was downright revelatory: here was a rich, beautiful film that had so much to say about guilt, obsession, love, commitment, and, of course, about sexuality, and not only was it not a complete mess, it was pretty much pitch-perfect in every way. I literally do not understand why this isn’t universally adored.

Jordan Cronk: I actually feel like the film’s reputation has grown quite a bit since its release. Of course, that could just be amongst film fans that I correspond with, but there is no denying that the film still carries with it an air confusion. I think that partly comes down to subject matter, but also expectations for a filmmaker who was at the time returning to the medium for the first time in a dozen years. To me, however, that’s one of the more interesting aspects of the film: I’ve always been intrigued about why Kubrick wanted to make this film. Thematically it fits within his oeuvre to a much more appropriate degree than most give it credit for, but judging by the results, this was an extremely personal film for Kubrick to make. Its austere veneer—something that Kubrick detractors always single out with little regard for his motivation—can be off-putting, but it’s a such a soulful, honest film about relationships that I get the distinct feeling we’ll be talking about this film as one of Kubrick’s finest achievements for years to come. Films such as these don’t age—if anything, they grow far richer with prolonged exposure. I’ve seen Eyes Wide Shut literally a couple dozen times, and it continues to change shape and speak to me in different ways with each subsequent viewing. That’s a special, rare effect in modern American filmmaking.

by Jordan Cronk and Calum Marsh

10 Aug 2011

Calum Marsh: As I’m sure you know, Jordan, I’ve been looking forward to writing about Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself since we began working on ReFramed together, and there’s so much that I’d like to say about this film that I’m not even sure where to start. I suppose I’ll kick things off by sharing a brief quote from the great film theorist Raymond Bellour:

“On the one hand, film spreads in space like a picture; on the other it plunges into time, like a story which its serialization into writing approximates more or less to the musical work. In this it is peculiarly unquotable, since the written text cannot restore to it what only the projector can produce: a movement, the illusion of which guarantees the reality”.


by Jordan Cronk and Calum Marsh

28 Jul 2011

Jordan Cronk: We’ve mentioned it a few times already in this series and compared it to one of the only films that seems to exist on a similar wavelength (California Split), but now we can dive into the glories of what in a spiritual sense is John Cassavetes final work, his magnificent 1984 feature, Love Streams. I recently had a chance to revisit the entire Cassavetes catalogue during a Los Angeles retrospective of his work, and seeing all these films in close proximity to each other, where I could weigh their respective charms and characteristics, only confirmed for me that this is his single best picture, the one that consolidates all his strengths and most lucidly translates his many themes as a storyteller. I don’t know about you, but to me this is simultaneously his most watchable and rewarding work, which makes it an even greater crime that the film has never made its way to DVD.

Calum Marsh: I know we’ve expressed our frustration over the unavailability of certain great and important films on DVD before, but the fact that Love Streams—which I agree is the best of John Cassavetes’ many excellent films—has never seen the light of day on home video in North America is outrageous in a singular way. We’re not talking about some egregiously difficult or even especially abrasive arthouse experiment languishing in the perpetual obscurity; we’re talking about a really resoundingly great film from one of the most important (and well-regarded) filmmakers ever. You can find almost all of his other films with relative ease, some of which are considerably more challenging or strange. Which isn’t to say that Love Streams is totally accessible by Hollywood standards, but it’s a rich, inviting work, full of beauty and vitality. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that Love Streams is the kind of film which can effectively change you, or that it’s emotional impact is…well, it’s unforgettable. I really like a lot of Cassavetes films but I love this one.

by Jordan Cronk and Calum Marsh

13 Jul 2011

Jordan Cronk: Like we mentioned last time regarding Robert Altman, Alfred Hitchcock has been canonized and re-canonized so much over the past 50 years or so that it can seem at first glance like there’s not much from his filmography left to reconsider at this point. But sometime after 1963’s The Birds, Hitchcock’s critical and popular stock waned a bit, and as a result there is a good decade-and-a-half worth of work which doesn’t garner nearly the same kind of praise that his mid-‘50s Hollywood work or even his early British pictures still do. In some cases this is warranted, but there are at least two wonderful examples of Hitchcock working at a very high level late in his career, however, and we each have a strong connection to one of them. For me, his 1976 swan song Family Plot is one of his most endlessly entertaining and re-watchable films, while you hold his prior picture, 1972’s Frenzy, as one of his best films, period. These are the only two films Hitchcock made in ‘70s, and I think they make for a nice compare and contrast between his British and American sensibilities, with Frenzy harkening back to his pre-Hollywood work in his home country, while Family Plot exemplifies the humor and classic post-war American filmmaking practices that rocketed Hitch to the upper echelons of cinematic autuers.

Calum Marsh: It’s certainly fitting: Hitchcock essentially had two complete, distinctive careers—one in Britain, from 1922 to 1939, and one in Hollywood, from 1940 onward—and his last two films reflect and comment on that separation in very interesting ways. You’re right that I prefer Frenzy, but so too do I generally prefer his earlier, British films to the more polished Hollywood classics he produced later—perhaps it’s that I’m British-born and simply can’t escape the sensibilities of my heritage, but there’s something so charming and efficient about his British work. He made his career and built his legacy in the US, no doubt, but for my money there are few films more satisfying than The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes and, of course, Frenzy, which is not only indebted to the forms and conventions of his formative years but also, I believe, incorporates his decades of subsequent experience to improve upon them.

by Jordan Cronk and Calum Marsh

29 Jun 2011

Calum Marsh: “This simultaneously relaxed and lively swing-fest, a celebration of collective euphoria, shows how deeply akin Altman’s style is to the aesthetic of improvised jazz, which at its best tends to thrive not so much through competition as through the kind of sudden inspiration that fellow players can spark in one another.” That’s Jonathan Rosenbaum writing about what I consider to be the best of Robert Altman’s many great films, the oft-overlooked California Split, and it’s difficult to think of a more accurate description of the very particular tone struck by this film. By the time of its release in 1974, Altman’s reputation for looseness and abstraction had long-since been established, but California Split amplifies those tendencies to an unprecedented degree. Because unlike his stylistically similar classic The Long Goodbye, which self-consciously digressed from Chandler’s well-established noir framework to ironic and highly comedic effect, the fleeting and disparate passages which comprise California Split are held together by only the faintest suggestion of an overarching narrative. Altman, lacking the constraints of Hollywood convention, is free to roam about and improvise as he goes—and we’re invited to sort of just meander through the resulting mess with him, soaking in the images and sounds, which exist in joyful abundance. But most of all California Split is just such a thoroughly enjoyable film, and is one of the most purely entertaining experiences I’ve ever had at the movies.

Jordan Cronk: This being in essence our second ReFramed topic, I guess it feels appropriate, then, that we would turn 180 degrees from Jean-Luc Godard to Robert Altman. Both have unwieldy catalogues with many indulgences and curiosities, but whereas Godard’s late period work is an admittedly acquired taste, the under-recognized work of Altman is just as accessible and digestible as his canonized classics. I guess just because there’s so much of it to sift through, it’s inevitable that a number of his strongest works have fallen by the wayside. I could see us devoting a number of these columns to other Altman films in the future, which I think would be more than appropriate since I’d put him on a very short list of the greatest American filmmakers ever. And like you say, California Split, made at the absolute peak of his powers, is one of his most impressive yet underseen works. And that “faint suggestion of an overarching narrative” that you speak of is especially impressive here since the finished film is so tight, as opposed to something like Nashville, which at three hours in length, is ironically one of his most well known yet most intimidating pictures.

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