Did You See This?

“Freedom—and Unfreedom”

On Film / The Daily — Jun 19, 2020
Euzhan Palcy on the set of A Dry White Season (1989)

As we did last week, let’s preface this week’s roundup with pointers to a few perceptively annotated lists of viewing suggestions. The second part of K. Austin Collins’s “tribute to Black defiance in the movies” at Vanity Fair focuses on fictional narratives, and yes, Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust (1991) and Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) are in there, but so, too, are a good number of lesser-known titles such as Sarah Maldoror’s Sambizanga (1972) and Alain Gomis’s Félicité (2017). “Defiance,” writes Collins, “comes in many shades: rejections of Hollywood and its spider’s nest of racist representations, rejections of the social and political limits placed on Black lives throughout history.”

For the Guardian, Ashley Clark has put together a list of ten of the best black British films, beginning with the first one ever, Horace Ové’s Pressure, “an absorbing 1976 drama about the everyday struggles of a London-born son (Herbert Norville) of Trinidadian parents,” and including John Akomfrah and the Black Audio Film Collective’s “essential, ever-relevant work” Handsworth Songs, “a dynamic document of the civil unrest that swept across the country in 1985.”

Not only is today Juneteenth, but June is also Pride Month. From Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Michael (1924) through Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), Slant’s list of the hundred greatest LGBTQ films of all time is chronological rather than ranked. “The cinema isn’t the sole mechanism for making our presence known,” writes Matt Brennan in the introduction, “but it can . . . be among the most powerful, projecting the complexities of the LGBTQ experience onto the culture’s largest, brightest mirror. There’s rage here, and also love; isolation, and communal spirit; fear, and the forthright resistance to it.”

  • Euzhan Palcy was only twenty-five when she made her first feature, Sugar Cane Alley (1983), the story of a poor black family living on a plantation in Martinique. And she became the first black director to win the Silver Lion in Venice. “My life was on fire,” she tells Vulture’s Hunter Harris. “I saw how people were hungry and thirsting to see themselves onscreen, just like I was when I was ten years old. It made me emotional. That’s why I wanted to be a filmmaker: to talk about us.” Hollywood came calling, and with her second feature, A Dry White Season (1989), she became the first black woman to direct a film for a major studio. She was then inundated with screenplays but couldn’t get a studio to sign on to one of her own stories. “To look over the selective, sporadic arc of Palcy’s filmography is to understand what happens when an uncompromising artist is made to contend with the myopia of an industry that wanted access to her talent while remaining uninterested in investing in the stories she wanted to tell,” writes Vulture’s Alison Willmore. A Dry White Season “stands as evidence of what Hollywood missed out on because it wasn’t ready for Euzhan Palcy’s fiercely decolonized perspective.”

  • Every day this week, In Media Res has posted a brief essay on the topic “Coronavirus and Cinematic Experience.” Nicholas Baer considers the ongoing relevance of Walter Benjamin in “our increasingly ‘post-cinematic’ environment,” while Julian Hanich notes that early adopters have been gathering in virtual reality movie theaters: “You are on your living-room sofa’s here, in your VR cinema’s there and in the screened film’s there-there.” And Girish Shambu writes about My Sight Is Lined with Visions, a program devoted to Asian American film and video from the 1990s cocurated by Abby Sun and Keisha Knight. Those works are archived now, but the essays on artists such as Shu Lea Cheang, Spencer Nakasako, and John Moritsugu are still up.

  • The Wisconsin Cinematheque has been presenting a free series of weekly virtual screenings and posting episodes of its Cinematalk podcast to accompany each of the programmers’ selections. Listen to David Bordwell discuss Hong Sang-soo’s Hill of Freedom (2014), for example, or Bill Forsyth talk about his breakout hit, Gregory’s Girl (1980). Maurice Pialat has been on Dan Sallitt’s mind for many years, but he says that Fourteen (2019) is the first of his films to “actually partake of some of the spirit of the guy.”

  • At 4Columns, Sukhdev Sandhu, overwhelmed by the sudden flush of online offerings, writes: “Harvest for the cinephile world! Yet why does it also feel so exhausting, a kind of upscale binge-watching? My mind has been drifting away from the present, harking back to the films of my youth, drawn to the fires that started then. Foremost among them is François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959), which I first saw during another period of extended lockdown: adolescence . . . At heart, The 400 Blows, which drew upon Truffaut’s still-raw memories of growing up under German occupation, is a film about freedom—and unfreedom.”

  • Right after Bill and Turner Ross made their controversial Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets, which won a True Vision award at the True/False film festival, they flew to the Caribbean to chronicle the making of Benh Zeitlin’s Wendy. “Imagine Day for Night directed by Zabriskie Point or The Passenger-era Michelangelo Antonioni and you might start to scratch the surface of how Second Star to the Right and Straight on ’Til Morning feels and plays,” writes director Braden King (Here, The Evening Hour) at the Talkhouse. This hour-long film is “the best thing I’ve seen since coronavirus kicked in (and, you know, we’ve all been watching a lot of movies).” So he called up the Ross brothers, and Turner told him: “We don’t want to see what’s expected to be seen.”

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