Did You See This?

Are the Shadows Lifting?

On Film / The Daily — May 22, 2020
Lelia Goldoni in John Cassavetes’s Shadows (1959)

The new trailer for Tenet boldly announces that Christopher Nolan’s globe-hopping time-bender is “coming to theaters” but prudently neglects to tell us when. The official release date is still pencilled in for mid-July, and as Imax CEO Richard Gelfond told industry analysts a few weeks ago, “Chris really would like to be coming out with the film that opens theaters.”

On the production end, IndieWire’s Chris O’Falt reports on the efforts of an industry-wide task force aiming to coordinate with the governors of New York and California as they draw up safety guidelines for getting back to work. Steven Soderbergh has been overseeing another plan from the Directors Guild of America, but that’s not all he’s been up to. In a recent conversation with Flaviar’s Dan Dunn about his Bolivian brandy, Soderbergh mentioned that he’s been using his time in lockdown to write three screenplays, including a sequel to his 1989 Palme d’Or winner, sex, lies, and videotape.

As for the crisis at hand, “it’s been weird in the ways that it’s tracked with what epidemiologists told us ten years ago would be the most likely scenario for a new pandemic,” says Soderbergh, referring to the experts he consulted when he made Contagion in 2011. “The good news is, this will get solved.” In the meantime, “it’s been interesting to see something that all the virologists and all the epidemiologists told us would start in a wet market in Asia, and probably involve a bat—all of them said that! And it’s been weird to see that play out exactly.”

Here’s what’s caught our eye this week:

  • The new issue of Cineaste is out, and while the online offerings are rather thin, they do include Michał Oleszczyk’s career-spanning interview with critic and filmmaker Dan Sallitt. Reviewing Sallitt’s latest feature, Fourteen, at 4Columns, Melissa Anderson calls it “the rare movie that intelligently and compassionately honors the push-pull dynamic between two young women, a pair of Brooklynites whose tight bond began when they were children but is starting to fray.”

  • In a piece for Tablet on F. W. Murnau’s silent horror classic Nosferatu (1922), the first adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, J. Hoberman raises a question: “So who or what is Nosferatu’s ancient, tremendously powerful creature, a sort of humanoid rodent given an imposing hooked nose, who communicates with his minions in a mysterious code, which includes several Hebrew letters as well as the Star of David, and, contaminating every space he occupies, arrives out of the East with a swarm of plague-bearing rats to feast on the blood of naïve Aryans until destroyed through an act of Christian sacrifice by a virtuous woman?” The answer, it turns out, is not as cut and dried as the question implies. For one thing, the fear of “foreign contagion” that the film illuminates is “neither restricted to Nazis nor solely fixated on Jews.”

  • American Cinematographer has pulled up from its archives Herb A. Lightman’s report for the August 1961 issue on the making of John Cassavetes’s directorial debut, Shadows (1959). “It began as a vague idea back in 1957, when Cassavetes was conducting a dramatic workshop in New York in a West 46th St. loft,” wrote Lightman. The cast spent three weeks improvising and establishing characters based on “life studies in actual locales, observing bartenders, B-girls and other potential types in their natural habitats. Finally, filming got under way with a borrowed 16 mm Arriflex camera synchronized with an RCA-Victor ¼-inch tape recorder.” Because they were shooting without a permit, the crew had to dodge the police at every turn. Cameraman Erich Kollmar lost the light meter but carried on “blithely estimating exposure as he went along!” As the story wraps, Cassavetes is heading off to Rome to direct a production for Paramount that never got off the ground. But of course, when he returned, Cassavetes directed some of the most influential films in all of American cinema.

  • Bill and Turner Ross have released a new teaser for Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets, which clearly features carefully cast characters in an artificial set-up—the last night in a soon-to-be-closed bar. Some have argued that the film should not have premiered in the U.S. documentary competition at Sundance, but filmmaker Robert Greene (Bisbee ’17), writing for Sight & Sound, insists that “the old debates must die . . . There is, emphatically, no boundary between fiction and documentary, but truth matters more than ever. This, of course, is the great paradox of documentary: authenticity must be manufactured and reality must guide our fabrications. The long, quixotic quest for truth in documentary is at once over and just beginning. Contradiction is our lingua franca.

  • At the Chiseler, editor Daniel Riccuito talks with critic Jonathan Rosenbaum about the early talkies—and the politics—of the 1930s and the emergence of film noir. “I don’t find noir more ‘realistic’ than ’30s leftism,” says Rosenbaum. “Closure, no matter how grim or grimy, is always more comforting than ellipsis and suspension—trajectories into possible futures. I think the popularity of noir today has a lot to do with a doom-laden death wish, a desire to escape any sense of responsibility for a future that seems helpfully hopeless—an attitude that ‘blossoms,’ decadently, into the Godfather trilogy, where corruption is seen as ‘tragically’ (that is to say, satisfyingly) inevitable. Once the future becomes foreclosed, we’re all left off the hook, n’est pas?”

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