Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Cahiers du Cinéma, New York DIY, James Gray and ‘The Nightingale’

"I'm always happy when good films are received by a public. It's good for everyone, for myself, Darren Aronofsky, James Gray and others. I know James. He is the model. He can make films for little money and with an enormous independence." - Paul Thomas Anderson

The revered French film-magazine Cahiers du Cinéma, since Stéphane Delorme became the chief-editor in 2009, has been producing and emphasizing more their multi-article feature section. Cahiers is still emphasizing their film reviews but they are no longer dedicating the magazine’s cover each month only to a still from a new film (something Positif does) as there has been a shift towards new and different areas.  What is published in these features is some of the more interesting film writing today: cinephile-oriented criticism-infused journalism.

The new February issue's feature is The American Force which includes reviews of the new Spielberg, Tarantino, and Bigelow films and think-pieces about how these American filmmakers are reflecting upon the country’s history (N.686), the January's feature is the most anticipated films of 2013 (cf. more on it below), and December's controversial feature is The Ten Pitfalls of Auteur Cinema (which Richard Brody does a good job of surveying, The Art-House Consensus). The Cahiers features vary in subject, accessibility and relevance. Example: one needs to be interested in France's film schools to gain from their survey of them (N.676), or be familiar with the entire filmography of Hong Sang-soo to really appreciate that dossier (N.682), or have at least seen Sokurov’s Faust (N.679) to want to better understand it philosophically and its art-history visual references. The point is: even if one is not familiar with these topics, it is important writing that is pushing the boundaries of published film-writing. The magazine’s back-issues also make for a valuable asset as references for when the films finally become available to the reader.

One of Cahiers's more interesting features is New York: La Génération "Do It Yourself" (Sept. '11, N.670) where they interview a range of up-and-coming independent New York filmmakers and ask them questions regarding filming, their motivation to create, and what they think about the city (cf. New York and Toronto DIY filmmakers). Highlights from these interviews are when filmmakers talk about some of their influences: Ronald Bronstein, "I guess that Frederick Wiseman is the master." The Safdie brothers on Two Lovers, "a masterpiece of melodrama," and on the “essential” New York filmmakers there is Abel Ferrara and the Woody Allen of Broadway Danny Rose. The Borderline Films guy’s (Antonio Campos, Sean Durkin and Josh Mond) favorite New York filmmakers are Scorsese and the James Gray of Little Odessa ("Gray shows a specific part of New York that you rarely see"). Marie Losier admires the Maysles brothers, D.A. Pennebaker and Jonas Mekas. And according to Carlen Altman from The Color Wheel, "My only cinéphilie comes from Weekend at Bernie's and Scary Movie 3, because I love Anna Faris," and for Alex Ross Perry the New York filmmaker par excellence is the Woody Allen of Husbands and Wives.

If Abel Ferrara is brought up several times in the interviews (he also has a cameo in the Safdie’s Daddy Longlegs) it is no doubt because his films resonate and that he embodies what it means to be an independent New York filmmaker. Ferrara seems to be currently experiencing a renaissance as in France this past year two of his more recent films 4:44 Last Day on Earth and Go Go Tales were finally distributed and both made their way onto Cahiers' Top Ten Films of 2012. Clayton Patterson writes about Ferrara that he is "a true champion of the Lower East Side," Nicole Brenez writes that "he stays the real king of New York," and Jean-Sébastien Chauvin aptly compares him to another master filmmaker: “Godard is like the hero of 4:44 by Ferrara: he doesn’t even need to go outside, as he sees all, and the images from outside come to him.” So if Ferrara is the king of New York then James Gray is the prince of the city.

There is a new book, and the first one, on Gray which is a good starting-point to discuss the director of such great films like Little Odessa, The Yards, We Own the Night, and Two Lovers (cf. Two Lovers and White Nights). Even though Gray is quite generous in his director commentary tracks on the DVDs of his films, Jordan Mintzer’s Conversations with James Gray (Synecdoche books), which is edited by David Frenkel, offers a new and interesting perspective on the director. Mintzer is a Hollywood Reporter film-critic, though he also freelances (his piece on Serge Daney for The Moving Image Source is really good) and he has also produced, and written a couple of screenplays, for Matthew Porterfield (Putty Hill). This industry perspective gives the book an insightful journalistic quality where the interviewer is trying to pry interesting answers from his subject and also that of a peer who wants to better understand the craft and different areas of filmmaking.

Conversations with James Gray opens up with a foreword by Mintzer, an introduction by Jean Douchet, James Gray: The Art of Thought ("The films of James Gray, both in their thought and expression, are classic works which reinvent our conception of classicism. They are, therefore, entirely modern."), and there are a few nice things said by Francis Ford Coppola.

The book is divided by interviews: in Origins, Gray discusses his background growing up in New York, and in The School of Film Gray talks about his love of movies. After this the interviews are film specific: Little Odessa, which also includes interviews with Tim Roth, the producer Paul Webster, and the director of photography Tom Richmond. The Yards, which also includes interviews with Mark Wahlberg, James Caan, the screenwriter Matt Reeves, the director of photography Harris Savides, and composer Howard Shore. We Own the Night, which also includes the story-board for the famous car-chase scene, and interviews with Eva Mendes, Moni Moshonov, the producer Nick Wechsler, the director of photography Joaquin Baca-Asay, and production designer Ford Wheeler. Two Lovers, which also includes interviews with Gwyneth Paltrow, Vinessa Shaw, the producer Anthony Katagas, the editor John Axelrad, and sound designer Douglas Murray. Finally there is Z And Beyond, which is of interest for Gray’s comments about the unrealized The Lost City of Z, a filmography - which begins with Gray’s 1991 student 12-min film Cowboys and Angels - and an index.

In the January issue of Cahiers du Cinéma (N.685), the new month for their regular issue dedicated to the “most anticipated films of the year,” the film that editorially is the most highlighted is James Gray’s The Nightingale. Along with the new Gray film (who is also co-writing another film with Guillaume Canet) Cahiers features Claire Denis’ Les Salauds, Bong Joon-Ho's Le Transperceneige, Arnaud Desplechin's Portrait of Jimmy P., Lisandro Alonso's Viggo Mortensen project, Michel Gondry's L'Écume des jours, Xavier Dolan's Tom à la ferme, Serge Bozon's Tip Top, Quentin Dupieux's Wrong Cops and Réalité, Jean-Luc Godard's Adieu au Language, and Bruno Dumont's Camille Claudel, 1915.

"Rien n'est plus beau que la pellicule," according to Darius Khondji, which is also the title of the interview with him by Mintzer in Cahiers. Khondji, who most recently shot Woody Allen's To Rome With Love, is the director of photography on The Nightingale and he talks to Mintzer (who also wrote about his experience on the set for Libération) about many interesting things regarding the film. Khondji talks about all the small details regarding the visual references in the film, how they dealt on set with all of the technical details (CinemaScope vs. digital), and what kind of work goes into shooting a period film. On filming with celluloid, "we wanted an image that is more brute, and not so clean." Gray and Khondji made sure to hire John DeBlau as the chief electrician, who Khondji worked with previously on The Interpreter by Sydney Pollack. And Khondji elaborates on some of the visual references for the film that includes Coppola’s The Godfather II, the paintings of the Ashcan School (Bellows and Shinn), the erotic polaroids of the Italien architect Carlo Mollino, and Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller

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