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by Jordan Cronk and Calum Marsh

18 Apr 2012

Calum Marsh: Well, Jordan, it took us nearly a year, but we’re finally getting around to talking about perhaps the greatest of all neglected films, Nicholas Ray’s intensely divisive Johnny Guitar, from the halcyon days of 1954. Best remembered by the general public as the director of the iconic (and, in many ways, generation-defining) James Dean vehicle Rebel Without A Cause, Nicholas Ray is considered by those in the know as one of the most significant American filmmakers of all time, and yet his place in the canon is far from uncontested. We could be talking about any number of Ray films in place of this one—in fact, we almost went with Bigger Than Life, one of the great 50s melodramas—but I think Johnny Guitar, while it has its ardent defenders, is the most in need of reclaiming. It also happens to be one of my very favorite films, so I’m glad this is the one we settled on.

On the surface, Johnny Guitar is a Trucolor Western about a woman, played by Joan Crawford, who defends her saloon against mob-minded townspeople threatened by her severe manner and hard-lined business savvy. But its power comes from a place much deeper. The film is many things to many people—a revisionist western, a feminist polemic, a vibrant fairy tale, a subversive cold war parable, maybe even a queer cult classic—but it is above all a brazen, masterfully crafted work of cinema, and an enduring testament to the genius of Nicholas Ray, who was then at the height of his powers.

by Jordan Cronk and Calum Marsh

4 Apr 2012

Jordan Cronk: Armenian-bred, Canadian-raised indie film figurehead Atom Egoyan has carved one of the more interesting, unpredictable, and sometimes out-and-out baffling thirty-year careers in modern cinema. As his bio might suggest, Egoyan’s spent time exploring the extremes of his lineage, occasionally even working in his native country, but the dramatic narratives he scripted and shot within the Canadian borders throughout the 1990s represent the heart of his work. These films—specifically 1991’s The Adjuster, 1994’s Exotica, and 1997’s The Sweet Hereafter—were rightfully lauded and relatively popular for early North American indie filmmaking efforts, but as Egoyan’s career has somewhat floundered in the wake of his breakthrough, these pictures have slowly drifted from the critical consciousness.

So what we have, paradoxically for ReFramed purposes, is a filmmaker rightly acknowledged in his time—there may not have been a better filmmaker consistently working in North American in the mid-‘90s—but one who doesn’t seem to garner the same wide consideration nowadays. Egoyan’s brand of deeply felt, mood-oriented cinema, which lends itself rather easily to accusations of melodrama, could be part of the issue, as critics and audiences have tended to recoil from these gestures in the wake of, say, Sam Mendes. But what’s remarkable about his work is how tangibly identifiable it can still feel despite narratives which traffic in the sort of dramatics which everyday humanity will likely never experience.

by Jordan Cronk and Calum Marsh

21 Mar 2012

Calum Marsh: David Cronenberg, one of Canada’s most widely renowned filmmakers and the patron saint of arthouse horror, has recently graduated to the critical upper-class. He’s spent the last decade shedding his reputation for vulgarity and establishing a new name for himself as a purveyor of serious drama, earning mainstream acclaim (and impressive grosses) in the process. Fresh off the promotional trail for last year’s well-received A Dangerous Method, a dry-martini of a drama about the tumultuous relationship of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, Cronenberg—who turns 70 this week, remarkably—is wrapping up his latest project, an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel Cosmopolis.

For better or worse, it looks like Cronenberg is pretty much through with the strange and personal genre films that launched his career, having not touched anything resembling the low-brow since 1999’s outstanding (but poorly received) sci-fi anti-blockbuster eXistenZ. His career is probably in a healthier state as a result—in the very early 2000s, before he’d made the transition, he was barely scraping by, and was even forced to forgo his own salary to get Spider produced in 2002—but it’s sometimes hard for me to believe that the man who made Eastern Promises in 2007 is the same man who made Videodrome, one of the most radical and intelligent genre films of all time, way back in 1983.

by Jordan Cronk and Calum Marsh

29 Feb 2012

Calum Marsh: If the films of the great French director Robert Bresson don’t require critical reevaluation, it’s because for the most part they already have been. Considered for many years to be too demanding and coldly intellectual, Bresson’s work has more recently been embraced by the critical establishment, and a few of his most popular films—Au Hazard Balthazar and Pickpocket in particular—have pretty much secured their place in the canon. This is certainly a positive development, and I’m happy to see any of Bresson’s films celebrated so effusively.

But, as with many of the canonical directors discussed in this column, selective praise can have unfortunate consequences, as when later, less easily digestible works find themselves eclipsed by their author’s suddenly minted classics. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bresson’s filmography has been subjected to precisely this sort of narrow cherry-picking, and it’s kept late masterpieces like his The Devil, Probably, from 1977, off the public radar and out of the popular critical discourse altogether. And, as usual, we’re here to tell you that this is a real shame, because The Devil, Probably is one of Bresson’s deepest, most compelling dramas, worth remembering for far more than its controversial subject matter.

by Jordan Cronk and Calum Marsh

9 Feb 2012

Calum Marsh: As you know, Jordan, the films we tend to gravitate toward in this column are mostly obscure or neglected, like forgotten late-career coups by otherwise canonical directors or great films considered “minor” by the high guard. Zabriskie Point, an English-language drama by legendary Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni, represents a different sort of case altogether: widely available as an inexpensive, reasonably high-quality Region 1 DVD and unforgotten by anyone who’s seen it, Zabriskie Point‘s major problem isn’t that it’s lost or unseen—it’s that it’s hated. Other than perhaps Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and some of the most difficult Godard projects, no film we’ve written about in these pages is as intensely reviled or rejected as this one, which has been considered a definitive, irredeemable failure since its release in 1970.

Coming just a few short years after his commercial and international breakout Blowup, and only the second of a three-film deal with producer Carlo Ponti, Zabriskie Point had more hype and hope resting on it than that Lana Del Ray album. And it was received about as angrily: American critics tore the poor film to pieces, launching one scathing tirade after another until every last bit of Antonioni’s critical credibility was depleted. The movie was a box-office dud, which is especially disappointing considering the profitibility of his previous effort, which pretty much derailed his career (the last installment of the Ponti arrangement, 1975’s outstanding The Passenger, would be Antonioni’s last major work).

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