Special Pages | Watching Columbus with Kogonada (Q&A excerpt)

Yangqiao Lu (YL): I want to start with some basic questions, and then I’m going to open it up to the audience. You started with a background in criticism and writing, and you sort of fall into this tradition of some critics and academics becoming filmmakers. And there’s a strong tradition in the history of cinema, like the New Wave and still today there are a lot of critics are using filmmaking as a creative outlet for their thinking. So I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about that transition from cutting film into pieces to putting together, from criticizing something to this creative process. How did you become a filmmaker?

Kogonada (K): OK. And also, just thank you guys for being here on a Sunday afternoon, and thank you for the Brattle Theatre. This is an incredible theatre. I think filmmakers that I know who’ve never practiced film criticism, the way they talk about films is a kind of film criticism. So some of us have had an opportunity, and I had an opportunity to make a living deconstructing films for a while. I don’t think I’m original. I think it’s a part of the conversation of cinema if you love the medium, as I do, and you are thinking through all those decisions and the choices the filmmakers that have meant something to you have made. So I had an opportunity to actually do a form of visual criticism, which was really great training to make films because I actually got to do the sort of deconstruction, and reconstructed through editing, but it was always with this dream or aspiration to make something larger, to make a feature. There was a programmer who’s not there any more at Tribeca who had reached out to me and asked if I was ever going to make a feature that they would be really interested, and that was a real moment for me to say if I ever want to make a feature, I should start doing that.

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Special Pages | Intro and Q&A with Catherine Clark on The Young Girls of Rochefort by Jacques Demy

CATHERINE: I’m glad to be here and thank you for that introduction and I’d like to thank Yangqiao Lu, who initially sent out the invitation to me. So why screen the Young Girls of Rochefort now? Its 2017, this film came out in 1967, so that’s fifty years ago. To film curators, that’s normally enough to show something on it’s 50th or 25th anniversary, but I also think this film is an important one, its one that I really like and I think it gives a different vision of French cinema that you may be used to be seeing in American movies theaters. SO if you think about 1967 and French film, you’re probably thinking about Jon Luc Godard, François Truffaut…revolutionary filmmaking and this obsession with Maoism. This is not that type of film. Young Girls of Rochefort is made for a mass audience. It’s joyful, it’s delightful, it’s shot in vibrant color, it’s a different type of innovative formal filmmaking. So for a long time, Demy was thought of as less successful than Godard, he was thought of as less than an auteur, and he fell out of favor in 1970s and 80s and he’s recently made a comeback and this was due to the DVD box set of his work and the screenings organized around that, and I think that you will find him intriguing. He has a style that is about building a universe, it’s about creating an alternate world and that’s one of the things I want you to think about. How is he creating a different type of universe in his film?

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Louise Brooks, Lost Girl

By Thomas Gladysz

On first glance, the silent films Beggars of Life and Diary of a Lost Girl appear to have little in common, except that each stars the luminous actress Louise Brooks. Yes, should you need to be reminded, that Louise Brooks, the actress equally famous for her beauty and bobbed hair as well as for her role as Lulu in the sensational 1929 film, Pandora’s Box.

Brooks, once described by a surrealist critic as “The only woman who had the ability to transfigure—no matter what the film—into a masterpiece,” appears on the Brattle screen in early September. Recently, both Beggars of Life and Diary of a Lost Girl were digitally restored and released on home video by Kino Lorber. In fact, the restored Beggars of Life has just come out on DVD / Blu-ray for the first time.

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Kedi

By Bridget Foster Reed

Lynn, my grandmother, rescued a gray and white kitten from the docks of the Lewes Bay, subsequently naming her “Lewie.” I remember meeting Lewie; she was gently bundled up like a Danish. She unhinged her fangs and let out a giant hiss. In reality she probably sounded like a tire with a pinhole of a leak but I was ten and rather offended that this little teacup of a creature greeted me with such chagrin. Lewie drained the reservoirs of my cereal milk, in particular my Banana Nut Crunch cereal. My grandparents had all of the quintessential “old people” cereals to choose from. In short, Lewie vexed me.

Yes, yes I’ll confess. I’m a dog person. Bear, who resided at the same condo as that dynamite cat, was an instantly lovable blub. Bear tried to steal my pistachios as I sat on a tartan chair straight out of an Orvis catalogue. I thought it was precious, never malicious. I asked for a dog every year until my parents got me a…used rabbit. I would walk Snowflake the rabbit around the neighborhood.

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Free Fire

By Matt Hannigan

Prolific director Ben Wheatley followed up 2015’s High-Rise with Free Fire, another film about the disintegration of a boxed-in mini-society. Both efforts are similar in this sense, observing a group of strangers forced into close quarters, casting us as the voyeuristic witnesses on a direct descent away from normalcy. Both films begin methodically, High-Rise introducing a futuristic all-inclusive living complex and Free Fire peeping in on an arms deal in an abandoned warehouse. And both can only ever end one way: in chaos, loud and bloody.

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Desperately Seeking Susan: Style, Sensibility, and the ‘80s

By Nadia Clare Smith

Director Susan Seidelman described Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) as “not an art film, but not mainstream,” which nicely encapsulates offbeat ‘80s American independent films, especially the deadpan comedies with their distinctive tone and sensibility. The film, starring Rosanna Arquette and Madonna, fits into multiple contexts besides ‘80s independent film, such as screwball comedy, women’s film, and stories of mistaken identity. Other directors working in a similar style at the time include Jim Jarmusch with Stranger Than Paradise (1984) and Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki with his American-set Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989). Both Seidelman and Jarmusch had attended film school at NYU and set their first films in New York, and their early films share certain similarities. Besides the laid-back style, deadpan humor, and laconic dialogue, musicians rather than trained actors were given key roles. Seidelman cast not only Madonna but also Richard Hell and Richard Edson, while Jarmusch cast John Lurie (who also appears briefly in Desperately Seeking Susan), Richard Edson, Tom Waits, Joe Strummer, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in his 1980s films. The tone of their films stands in stark contrast with the excessive, melodramatic, unironically kitschy sensibility of many major ‘80s films. Some critics were receptive to the film’s style, praising Desperately Seeking Susan as laid-back, quirky, cool, ironic, unsentimental, and pithy. Seidelman’s film reappropriated earlier screwball comedy conventions such as amnesia, which allowed repressed characters such as Roberta to act out.

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Cléo from 5 to 7

By Natalie Jones

Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962) epitomizes the “ticking-clock” film, but, unlike most of these films that accelerate toward their narrative destinations, you’d never know from this film’s leisurely pace that time is quickly running out for the protagonist. Shots linger until the characters are eventually instigated into motion, a drive in a taxi extends for several minutes, and a character makes unwavering eye contact with the camera while she sings a song in its entirety. Rather than bluntly reminding the audience of quicksand funneling through an hourglass, Agnès Varda’s steady direction causes the presence of death to eventually loom in the background of both Cléo Victoire’s (Corinne Marchand) and the viewer’s mind. Over the course of ninety minutes, Cléo undergoes a slow transformation from hopeless stasis to renewed optimism as she allows herself to live with the recognition of her impending death.

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Finding the Hero’s Journey in Death Rides A Horse

By Greg Mucci

Guilio Petroni’s Death Rides a Horse marks Lee Van Cleef’s fifth outing as a beady-eyed gunslinger in a Spaghetti Western, a sub-genre of the outlaw-ridden world that would come to represent the sort of villainy inherent in such a gaze. While five isn’t a glaring amount of films to have under his holster, it’s a heavy number when taking into account the level of hollowness mixed with stern stoicism that accompanies each role. Black brimmed hat sitting low atop a dusty brow, its face carved with an expression of grim desire. It’s a look Cleef has owned, and rightfully so, engraining himself into a world made grand in scope by Italian maestro Sergio Leone. Though Leone is a director who creates worlds, life cast behind Cleef, who for better or worse, needs no set-piece to do the devils work. What separates Petroni’s Western from others aren’t the plumes of smoke that drift across the sand after a shootout, but the outlaws journey who carry a redemptive factor unseen in previous Westerns.

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The Issues of Genre in Once Upon a Time in the West

By Tara Zdancewicz

With a simple Google search of the film Once Upon a Time in the West thousands of results pop up detailing the Western’s magnificence. Coming in at #5 on Rotten Tomatoes’ Top Westerns List and #30 on IMDB’s Top Rated Movies list, this film has indisputably made an impact on cinema. However, along with those glowing marks comes a multitude of blogs where viewers vent their frustrations about the blatant misogyny found in the film. Despite being distinguished, as a Western, Once Upon a Time in the West inherently has some problematic connotations.

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The Unabashed Complexity of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

By Tara Zdancewicz

“There are two types of people: those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.” – the Man with No Name

 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly might seem like a straightforward Spaghetti Western; Within the first half hour of the three hour-long epic, the representative characters of the titular good, bad, and ugly are introduced. While director Sergio Leone presents three types of people in the West, the ugly Tuco consistently reminds the audience that “there are two types of people in this world…” giving a new opposing binary every time. Black and white oppositions of morality are constantly being made throughout the film. This clear moral dichotomy harkens back to the uniform moral lines of earlier Westerns that showed the egregiously bad antagonist overcome by the incorruptible and scrupulous protagonist. However, the ethical certainty of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (and the rest of the Dollars trilogy) is not as incontrovertible as the Westerns that preceded it. This film is not straightforward or simple, rather it is a highly complex and reflective film that changed the landscape of the western genre inspiring the likes of Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers.

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