News to Me: Lizzie Borden, Tilda Swinton, and Stuart Gordon
Last Friday, our publisher Film at Lincoln Center announced that, in light of uncertainty around the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the forthcoming May-June issue of Film Comment will be published digitally, after which Film Comment will go on indefinite hiatus to ensure the future viability of both FLC and, by extension, Film Comment. Read the announcement here. Further details for subscribers and FLC members will be announced soon.
Judy Garland in A Star Is Born (George Cukor, 1954)
1. Lizzie Borden has made her 1986 film Working Girls available for free on YouTube, “a film about a group of escorts who live together in Manhattan, and their interactions with their exploitative employer as well as the fantasies of their leering clients.” Kelley Dong highlights the film as part of their ongoing Video Sundays column, pointing us to this career-spanning Cinema Scope interview. In it, Borden compares her film to Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, which was “more a psychological portrait about how the title character’s daily life is set off by one thing going wrong; it’s about the psychic toll on her. There’s also a statement about prostitution, because it’s treated like peeling potatoes. Whereas my protagonist can handle her routine, but not a woman so clearly selling other women. It’s offensive to her.”
2. “I’ve been thinking about how certainty is becoming our nemesis. How doubtlessness is killing our ability to expand as a society and as individuals. How the once essential search for a definable and immutable identity has become stifling to our sense of development and the possibilities of finding true fellowship with other complex, variously wired, hesitant, sensitive beings.” Tilda Swinton writes against certainty for Aperture—guest editing their recent “Orlando” issue. From this quote, the San Francisco Cinematheque and McEvoy Foundation for the Arts have curated a selection of films—certainty is becoming our nemesis—now available online, featuring work from Alice Anne Parker, Pere Ginard, Antoinette Zwirchmayr, among others.
3. The Museum of Modern Art has compiled a collection of their “How to See” videos, featuring Dave Kehr and other curators giving brief lectures on some of their favorite films and genres. “The term ‘B movie’ has lost a little bit of its original meaning over the years, and it’s come to mean just a low budget film. Originally it meant something very specific: these were movies designed to be shown on the lower half of double bills, mostly in the ’30s and ’40s when this system evolved, running about an hour, with no stars, and sold to the theaters on the basis of a flat rental fee rather than a percentage of the gross.” Also included is MoMA’s chief film curator Rajendra Roy on the history of the Academy Awards. Roy joined us recently on the At Home podcast to discuss Dune, All About Eve, Showgirls, and other “comfort food” films.
5. In light of Film at Lincoln Center’s recent news, James Tarmy breaks down how the current virus-induced shutdown is uniquely affecting New York’s cultural institutions, the majority of which rely on calendar-based fundraising events to stay afloat. Soho Rep’s Cynthia Flowers states: “I don’t think there’s a not-for-profit theater in this city that’s not worried about the [long-term] existence of its organization.” This offers a point of reflection for how we might rebuild our institutions in the coming years—a great time to revisit n+1’s interview with Dena Beard: “Now, when I dream of better art institutions, I dream of a kind of free, public commons. A place where we gather to provoke actions rather than proscribe conversations, to tell jokes, to panhandle, to collect anecdotes, and to perform deviant acts, to lose ourselves in front of art.”
6. Across the pond, the outlook for arts organizations does not appear to be any less bleak. In an essay for Frieze, Chris Sharratt provides an overview of how the consequences of shuttering galleries and venues in the UK have so far fallen most heavily on those least able to weather to storm: “Just as in wider society, it’s the most vulnerable that are set to suffer the most and, in the topsy-turvy value system of contemporary art, that means artists and other freelancers. All are facing a desperate time of cancelled work and existential uncertainty. Many have taken to social media already to vent their despair and frustration, as planned-for work disappears and the prospect of new commissions evaporates.”
6. “Abbas Kiarostami had a long, colorful career as an illustrator, graphic and film title sequence designer, and photographer before his career as a filmmaker got kick-started in the early 1970s.” Part of that career included illustrating the children’s book I’ve Got Something to Say that Only You Children Would Believe, written by Ahmad Reza Ahmadi in 1969. As part of his blog, Ehsan Khoshbakht—who recently directed the feature documentary Filmfarsi—breaks down Kiarostami’s various images, writing that “some of them prefigure Kiarostami’s future films, from Colors to 24 Frames.” A full PDF of the book is available here.
7. TCM will be offering a Special Home Edition of their TCM Classic Film Festival, beginning April 16. The full line-up is available here, and features such films as A Star is Born (1954), The Seventh Seal, Lawrence of Arabia, Singin’ in the Rain, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Hustler, and many more. In related free-film news: IFC are offering a 30-day free trial of their IFC Films Unlimited streaming service, currently playing Boyhood, Frances Ha, and Personal Shopper. That lattermost film was displayed proudly on the cover of our July-August 2016 issue, with Nick Davis writing on Kristen Stewart’s unique star power: “she has persuaded film culture to meet her where she lives—in a laconic, minutely expressive, barely laminated register of acting that’s confusable with ‘just being.’”
8. Cinema Tropical, a New York-based non-profit arts organization dedicated to Latin American cinema, has announced the launch of The Cinema Tropical Collection—combining “the format of a curated online film series with virtual Q&As with the directors, plus VOD distribution” and digital premieres. The series kicked off last night, March 29, with Olivia Luengas’ Away From Meaning (still available through VOD), and will continue through April 12, with the full line-up available here. And Nicolas Wending Refn recently announced on social media that his streaming platform, byNWR, has been stripped of its “last trace of commerce.” The director continued: “with the digital screen being our only window to the outside world, we need light more than ever . . . during this apocalyptic time, make art and entertainment free!”
9. Stuart Gordon passed away last week. “Best known for his Lovecraft adaptations,” wrote Stream Slate in their daily newsletter, pivoting on the morning of his death to a Re-Animator tribute, “Gordon is one of the cinema’s greatest practitioners of Grand Guignol, merging James Whale’s delightfully macabre sense of humor with SFX-heavy splatter.” An interview with the director is available in our January-February 1987 issue (now in PDF form), and for Variety, Jenelle Riley recounts that, sometimes, you really should meet your heroes: “I’m not sure how a friendship blossomed from there, but it happened very organically . . . I have long realized that the horror community is made up of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Maybe they get it all out in their work?”
10. And finally, Company Gallery has made a large selection of films by Barbara Hammer available as part of their “In Company With” series. The films encompass everything from lush Super8 experiments like Schizy to the handmade animations of Lesbian Whale. Watch here.
We leave you this week with another recently-made-free film, Eduardo Williams’ The Human Surge: