News to Me: Terry Jones, Jia Zhangke, and IFC Films
Terry Jones and Imogen Stubbs in Erik The Viking (Terry Jones, 1989)
1) This week has to begin with the awful acknowledgement of Terry Jones’s passing. The legendary Python and founding member of the Hell’s Grannies was 77, and died of a rare form of frontotemporal dementia. “Two down, four to go,” noted John Cleese (a slightly more laconic farewell than his eulogy for Graham Chapman). For Vulture, Mike Sacks has made an interview from 2014 available, previously published in his book, Poking a Dead Frog. When asked about the quiet studio audience for Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Jones shares a little history on the first season: “For the very first show, the audience consisted of a lot of old-age pensioners who actually thought they were coming to see a real circus. They were a bit puzzled.” Lastly, two worthy obituaries in The Guardian: One from Peter Bradshaw and another from Eddie Izzard.
2) To celebrate turning 20, IFC Films are providing one free film each month on their SVOD streaming service, IFC Films Unlimited. First on the ticket is Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, available to stream since Friday—kicking off alongside this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where the film debuted back in 2014. And in case you were busy that year: Nick Pinkerton’s former column, Bombast, produced one of its best on Boyhood and “The American Boy”—bridging from Linklater’s film to Norman Rockwell and Captain America: “The fulfillment of a fantasy of virile transformation is key to the appeal that the superhero comic makes to the adolescent imagination, though it hardly begins with the relatively recent phenomenon of the superhero.”
3) Vitalina Varela, our current cover film, is now playing at both the Sundance Film Festival and IFFR. If you haven’t already, read Jordan Cronk’s comprehensive interview with the Portuguese director, which serves as the perfect primer for the Pedro Costa Masterclass, just uploaded from a recent talk at Rotterdam. “The best of what cinema gave me? I’m armed with a certain way of seeing, a way of hearing, with patience and tolerance—even tolerance, because there are a lot of things now in my films that I don’t agree with. Because they write the films.” (And if you’re into that kind of thing: Werner Herzog will be teaching another of his coveted filmmaking classes, open to the public, this time while trekking through the Colombian jungle.)
4) This weekend marked the Chinese New Year, passing into the year of the rat. To celebrate the Spring Festival, Le Cinéma Club will be streaming Walter Salles’s documentary Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang until the end of the week. The release coincides with the first-ever US theatrical run of Jia’s I Wish I Knew, now playing at the Metrograph, which programmer Aliza Ma wrote about for Reverse Shot back in 2014: “A subject of interest that has remained with Jia since his first feature, Xiao Wu (1997), is the complexity of public spaces, physical realizations of lived time, where a multitude of regional dialects and foreign languages are simultaneously heard, and people from all walks of life are on the move.”
5) Speaking of Reverse Shot: With their annual mulled whine out of the way, the critics turn now to some of their favorites from the past decade—counting down the Top 20 films from the 2010s. Working in reverse order, the Symposium currently features essays on Margaret, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Like Someone in Love, and this, from FC regular Eric Hynes, on Inside Llewyn Davis: “You know Llewyn won’t come out on top. You know he’s caught in a loop. Still you never stop hoping it will be different . . . Loops and their variants are inherent to performance, to practice, where actions and skills are refined, where progress is defined between the lines. Do we really need to move forward to live fully?” (Mentioned a few weeks back but worth revisiting: FC and RS regular Nick Davis has finally finished his Top 100 of the decade, with 100+ essays and a Top 10 full of surprises.)
6) More on the symposium front: The editorial staff of Jewish Currents recently convened to discuss “the most explicitly Jewish mainstream movie since the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man,” Uncut Gems. Beginning with the central question, “Why is he Jewish?” the group sets out a thesis of contemporary Judaism and then works to unpack how Adam Sandler’s character, Howard Ratner, complicates that ideal. This from David Klion: “When we talk about capitalism now, we’re often asked to distinguish between, on the one hand, the real economy of manufacture and production, and on the other, a new economy of abstractions . . . Ratner is both the old economy—the medieval merchant—and a modern exploiter of the Global South.” Also, don’t miss our own Michael Koresky on Uncut Gems and Judaism in our November-December issue. (More on Gems: This from frieze on the recent influx of cinema scammers.)
7) Elena Lazic and Paul Ridd have translated the latest editorial from Cahiers du cinema’s Stéphane Delorme. Addressing the Scorsese-Marvel drama, Delorme writes, “At stake here is a major and profound issue for American cinema. Everything is getting reorganized . . . The signifier ‘cinema’ is burning on all sides.” Delorme goes on to praise Scorsese for Joker, which he “almost directed,” and the coeval rise of “personal films”—that is, like Uncut Gems, Tommaso, and Pain and Glory, films in which directors speak of themselves through their central character. “All of them defend a romantic vision: the filmmaker expresses a vision of man and the world.” (A quick note on Tommaso: Kino Lorber recently picked up the North American rights to the Ferrara film, along with The Projectionist, for a spring 2020 release.)
8) More on the distribution front: NEON, still wrapping up their overwhelmingly successful release of Parasite, have acquired the rights to Ammonite, the forthcoming film from God’s Own Country director Francis Lee. The film, set in the 1800s, stars Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan as opposites in social class and personality, forced together by circumstances, who eventually find themselves compelled to “determine the true nature of their relationship.” The film, originally expected at Sundance, will now compete for a late-circuit festival release.
9) Two great reads in LARB this week. The first comes in response to Film at Lincoln Center’s Ritwik Ghatak retrospective, which wrapped late last year. Ratik Asokan writes: “Made in response to specific political crises, his movies retain all their urgency four decades on. For the issues Ghatak grappled with—displacement, cultural conflict, state violence—have never really gone away in India.” And the second, on an exhibition still running at Poster House—Baptized By Beefcake: The Golden Age of Hand-Painted Movie Posters from Ghana—from Anakwa Dwamena: “In its brief flowering from 1985 to the late nineties, the ‘Golden Age’ celebrated in this exhibition was a kind of film-poster version of the Italian Renaissance.”
10) Last up this week, FC regular Max Nelson goes long on the career of Agnès Varda (the subject of another just-wrapped FLC retrospective). Tracing the length of her career from La Pointe Courte to Varda par Agnès, Nelson writes on the filmmaker’s many modes, and her fascination with the dissonance between “the I and the we”—“Perhaps she ended up caring less about reconciling ‘the personal mode of thinking and the collective one’ than about finding a style expansive enough to accommodate everything that interested, angered, repelled, saddened, delighted, or moved her. She clearly loved filming people.”
We leave you this week with Kobe Bryant’s Academy Award-winning short film Dear Basketball, a farewell to the game he loved.