News to Me: Charlie Kaufman, Susan Sontag, and the Paramount Decree
Duet For Cannibals (Susan Sontag, 1969)
1) Though mentioned in passing a few weeks back, Strand Releasing’s monumental 30th Anniversary celebration has finally come to a head. Screening tonight at MoMA, 30/30 Vision: Three Decades of Strand Releasing commemorates the event with short films by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Lulu Wang, Catherine Breillat, Brady Corbet, and many, many more. We’re happy to kick things off a little early with this look at Alain Gomis’s addition: a two-month travelogue spanning museum corridors and city streets.
2) “The experience of the gangster as an experience of art is universal to Americans. There is almost nothing we understand better or react to more readily or with quicker intelligence.” So wrote Robert Warshow in his seminal essay on the gangster archetype (referenced in the Hoberman piece below). “In many ways,” writes FC contributor Ela Bittencourt, “the Brazilian avant-garde filmmaker Rogério Sganzerla gives us the gangster that epitomizes Warshow’s thesis”—specifically, The Red Light Bandit’s Jorge. Currently screening as part of Spectacle’s Signs of Chaos: The Films of Rogério Sganzerla, Bittencourt breaks down the film over at MUBI Notebook, unpacking “one of the central features in the Brazilian Marginal Cinema aesthetic.”
3) Doing what he does best, J. Hoberman writes for Tablet on the shift in public (and presidential) interest from cowboys to gangsters. With the likes of Donald Trump, Tulsi Gabbard, and Pete Buttigieg naming The Godfather as their favorite film, Hoberman argues that this post-Cold War turn “tells us something about the shift from official, if not actual, civic-minded altruism to blatant self-interest in 21st century America.” Whether The Irishman manages to alter this perception remains to be seen, but, according to Scout Tafoya, the film at least offers a sense of closure for the wise guy genre: “Scorsese guides the mobster hero he grew legendary mythologizing to his final, lonely resting place.”
4) Charlie Kaufman is writing a novel. Titled Antkind, the book follows B. Rosenberg, a failed film critic who discovers one of the greatest artistic feats ever accomplished—a 3-month-long film that took over 90 years to complete. “B. knows that it is his mission to show it to the rest of humanity. The only problem: The film is destroyed, leaving just a single frame from which B. must somehow attempt to recall the film that might just be the last great hope of civilization.” Kaufman currently has a film in production for Netflix, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, to be released early next year, and was last seen talking Anomalisa back in 2015.
5) “Torturing the wife or girlfriend seemed to have been a frequent sport in European art cinema of the 1960s and ’70s, even when the directors were progressive, queer, or female.” (Or in this case, Susan Sontag.) A new restoration of Sontag’s debut film, Duet for Cannibals, is screening at the Metrograph until the end of the week (complete with a cleverly updated poster). Over at 4Columns, Wayne Koestenbaum breaks down—in eleven distinctly personal points—the film’s many peculiarities: “Can Duet for Cannibals be my new Jane Eyre, proof-text of claiming a voice even if it means you must burn down the house?”
6) Todd Haynes is back in town, promoting his new film Dark Waters. In a special guest-hosted edition of the FC podcast, Amy Taubin speaks with the director about the limitations of political filmmaking, as well as his two forthcoming projects—one on The Velvet Underground (apparently with a Taubin cameo), and the other, a “passion project” and 12-part limited series on “the life and times of Mr. Freud.” For more Haynes: Austin Dale at Metrograph’s Edition recently sat down with the director to discuss what Haynes considers “my kind of movies.”
7) The Vienna International Film Festival kicked off late last month, launching with it a bold 41-film retrospective dedicated to fighting fascism: O Partigiano: Pan-European Partisan Cinema. MUBI’s Daniel Kasman writes on the importance of series such as these—“difficult to organize, expensive to mount, and impressively researched”—at a time when the Disneys and Apples of the world swagger cocksure onto the streaming scene. “Whether any of these services will provide robust access to older films—to say nothing of non-American films—is still to be seen.”
8) You may have heard of A-films or B-films, but what about Nervous A’s? “That’d be films that are tottering on the edge. It was a term that was actually used . . . because it was in fact possible for a B-film to be elevated into an A-film [in terms of distribution strategy], and for an A-film to be demoted to the status of a B-film.” Haden Guest, director of the Harvard Film Archive, recently sat down with Jake Mulligan to discuss the HFA’s latest program, The B-Film: Low Budget Hollywood Cinema 1935-1959. (The series, in keeping with the above, was the centerpiece of last year’s Viennale.)
9) With the rise of streaming, much has been made about the slow sea-change in theater-going behavior—with Netflix’s stifling release policies, and festivals excluding their films for that very reason. But no move could be as swift and affecting as the recent proposal from the U.S. Justice Department, an attempt to undo the Paramount Decree of 1948. For Polygon, Peter Labuza unpacks what this might mean for the industry—essentially allowing companies to once again own both the means of production and distribution: “Your theatrical viewing options may already seem dominated by too few companies making the same type of movie. And this could make the problem worse.”
10) Death of cinema, death of theaters, death of the movie star: wrapping up an apparently elegiac decade, Complex covers “how the ’10s informed the culture we live in and consume,” with Kristen Yoonsoo Kim writing on the now-defunct concept of superstardom. “Perhaps it’s no surprise that in an era in which personal branding is prioritized over individuality, the movie star no longer holds as much clout in Hollywood. Instead, it’s an intellectual property that sells tickets.” And if we must consider superhero films once more, it’s worth noting also the death of endings—with this Jonathan Romney piece from 2018, writing on Avengers: Infinity War, marking the shift from “narrative” to “story event.”
And since we’re celebrating short films this week with the Strand Releasing news, we’ll leave you this week with an “opulent” new short from Wing Shya, curated by Wong Kar-Wai, posted today at MUBI Notebook. As befits a marketing project for luxury fashion company Saint-Laurent, the film is a lush, dreamy evocation of glamour and romance: