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Photo: Everett Collection.
A scene from the French film Jeanne Dielman, voted best of all time at Sight & Sound magazine recently. It’s the first time the best-film honor has come to a female director, Chantal Ackerman.

Do you follow “best of” lists? I find them interesting, and I especially like seeing how judgments change over the years. Today’s story is about voting for the best film of all time. I’ve seen hardly anything on the list, but what caught my attention is that the film that has moved to the top was made by a woman. A first for the poll.

Alex Ritman writes at the Hollywood Reporter, “Almost 50 years after its release, Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles — Chantal Akerman’s groundbreaking 1975 drama following the meticulous daily routine of a middle-aged widow over the course of three days — has become the first film by a female director to top Sight & Sound magazine’s once-a-decade ‘Best Films of All Time’ poll in 70 years.

“More than 1,600 film critics, academics, distributors, writers, curators, archivists and programmers voted in the poll, which the BFI-backed [British Film Institute] publication has been running since 1952, with the results, announced Thursday, seeing Akerman’s feature — which was heralded by Le Monde in January 1976 as ‘the first masterpiece of the feminine in the history of the cinema’ — leapfrog from 36th position in 2022 to No. 1.

“The 2012 winner, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, now sits in second place, with Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (which held the No. 1 spot for 50 years) placed third and Yasujirō Ozu’s Tokyo Story fourth. Three more films are new to the top 10, including Wong Kar Wai’s In The Mood for Love in fifth place (up from 24th in 2012), Claire Denis’ Beau travail at number seven (up from 78th) and David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. in eighth place (up from 28th). Only four new films released since 2012 managed to break into the top 100 of the poll. …

“ ‘Jeanne Dielman challenged the status quo when it was released in 1975 and continues to do so today. It’s a landmark feminist film, and its position at the top of list is emblematic of better representation in the top 100 for women filmmakers,’ said Mike Williams, Sight and Sound editor. ‘While it’s great to see previous winners Vertigo and Citizen Kane complete the top three, Jeanne Dielman’s success reminds us that there is a world of under-seen and under-appreciated gems out there to be discovered, and that the importance of repertory cinemas and home entertainment distributors cannot be overestimated in their continued spotlighting of films that demand to be seen. What currently undervalued masterpieces might emerge in 10 years thanks to this tireless work?’

“Added BFI executive director of public programs and audiences Jason Wood: ‘As well as being a compelling list, one of the most important elements is that it shakes a fist at the established order. Canons should be challenged and interrogated and as part of the BFI’s remit to not only revisit film history but to also reframe it, it’s so satisfying to see a list that feels quite radical in its sense of diversity and inclusion.’

“See the top 20 greatest films of all time, according to Sight & Sound‘s 2022 poll, below

1       Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975)

2       Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)

3       Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)

4       Tokyo Story (Ozu Yasujiro, 1953)

5       In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar Wai, 2001)

6       2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

7       Beau travail (Claire Denis, 1998)

8       Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)

9       Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov,1929)

10     Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly, 1951)

11     Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (F.W. Murnau, 1927)

12     The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)

13     La Règle du jeu (Jean Renoir, 1939)

14     Cléo from 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda, 1962)

15     The Searchers (John Ford, 1956) 

16     Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren & Alexander Hammid, 1943)

17     Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami, 1989)

18     Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)

19     Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)

20     Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954) 

More at the Hollywood Reporter, here, and at the Boston Globe, here. I imagine that the reason several movies jumped higher up the list is that voters who had never heard of them found them and watched.

I am going to research a few and order them through our retro Netflix DVD service. Jeanne Dielman might be a bit dark for me. At least from what I’ve read about it. The selections I’ve already seen are the kinds I like: Vertigo, Citizen Kane, 2001. (How funny to think the the year 2001 is futuristic. Kubrick, you have no idea!)

Do you have any recommendations?

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Photo: Kerry Jones.
Artist Kerry Jones turned her old trailer into one of the smallest cinemas in the UK.

Today we have another idea on taking what you have and turning it into something that can delight others.

“Until fairly recently,” writes the BBC, “Kerry Jones’s caravan lay rotting and forgotten about in her garden in Galashiels in the Scottish Borders — a home for discarded bric-a-brac.

“But during the Covid-19 lockdown, the artist and filmmaker saw new potential in the 1980s Swift Pirouette, and resolved to turn it into a tiny, traveling cinema. With a maximum of eight seats, it could be one of the smallest cinemas in the UK.

” ‘It isn’t the first cinema caravan to exist,’ said Kerry. ‘There was one over in Dumfries and Galloway that a friend of mine made at the beginning of the 2000s, that was really inspiring. I’m really interested in projects that involve people out in your community.’ …

“Over the pandemic, Kerry secured a bursary [grant] from the Alchemy Film and Arts charity based in nearby Hawick as part of a local arts program running between July 2021 and December 2023. She used it to renovate the caravan inside and out, swapping the retro mint paneling for a bright red that could be seen for miles. … Inside, she plans to install between six and eight seats, again in a plush, cinematic red fabric.

“Speaking to Mornings with Stephen Jardine, she said: ‘[I’ve] had it for 12 years — it’s been out and about, it’s been used for people to stay, it’s been a spare room. But over the last few years, but it’s just been one of those spaces that you put things in and forget about.’

“Kerry’s caravan cinema project — named Moving Images — [made] its debut at Hawick’s Alchemy Film Festival on 28 April, screening nine short films all made by people in the south of Scotland.

“It comes at a time when Scotland has lost one of its smallest cinemas — the Schoolhouse Cinema in Shetland. This 20-seat cinema, run by local magician Chris Harris, was put up for auction in 2020 after he decided to leave the islands.

“Around the same time another tiny theater opened in the Highland village of Cromarty — a 35-seat facility that took two years to come to fruition.

“Kerry aims to cater for an even more intimate experience, and will be using a small portable projector to save on power without sacrificing picture quality.

“The caravan itself is solar powered, but Kerry said she will borrow a high-quality battery as back-up until she can crowdfund her own.

“Any spare cash will then be put towards taking the caravan on the road — possibly for a tour of free screenings and running filmmaking workshops at local primary schools.

“Kerry added: ‘It’s going to be really adaptable. Selkirk’s market square have said they’d be quite interested in having the caravan there. I’d love to take it out to some of the more rural areas like Duns and Gordon.

” ‘We’re also going to work with a group called Connecting Threads and they’re doing lots of projects along the Tweed [river] — I’d love to see it there, that would be quite magical.’ “

There’s more to read at the artist’s website. “As part of The Teviot, the Flag and the Rich, Rich Soil, our programme exploring the pasts, presents and futures of Hawick and the Scottish Borders and investigating the town and wider region’s cultural identities in relation to land, water, industry, territory, place and environment, Alchemy is offering a number of bursaries to Borders-based artists. These bursaries will support a range of community-oriented projects between July 2021 and December 2023.”

More at the BBC, here, and Jones’s website, Alchemy Film and Arts, here.

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Photo: Pebbles.
India’s entry for the Oscars,
Pebbles, focuses on the inequalities that life inflicts on women in Tamil Nadu.

This year’s Oscars are scheduled March 27, and although I haven’t stayed up to watch the whole awards ceremony for years, I like reading about the winners later. I especially like getting ideas for foreign films my husband and I might eventually be able to order from our retro Netflix DVD service.

Hannah Ellis-Petersen, South Asia correspondent for the Guardian, describes one film that looks promising. The story of grinding poverty might be too painful for some potential viewers if they didn’t know that the director himself had lived that life and risen to be a filmmaker.

“As a child laborer working in the flower markets of Madurai, there was nothing more exciting for PS Vinothraj than when the film crews would descend. He would put down his sacks of petals and look up in awe at the camera operators who sat atop cranes to get dramatic sweeping shots. It was, to his nine-year-old mind, intoxicating. ‘I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life,’ he said. …

“The odds were stacked heavily against him. Vinothraj was born into a poverty-stricken family of daily wage laborers in Tamil Nadu. He left school, aged nine, to support his family after his father died and by 14 was working in the sweatshops of Tiruppur.

“This month, his debut film Pebbles [Koozhangal] a Tamil-language movie made on a shoestring budget and set in the arid landscape where he grew up, was unanimously selected as India’s entry to the Oscars. In February this year, it had won the Tiger award for best film at the 50th International Film Festival Rotterdam. In a New Yorker review, Vinothraj was described as an ‘extraordinary observational filmmaker’ whose film presents ‘a gendered vision of rage.’

Pebbles is, as Vinothraj describes it, a ‘snapshot of a life.’ It depicts the journey of an abusive, alcoholic father and his son as they walk back home through the barren, overwhelmingly hot landscape of rural Tamil Nadu, after the father has dragged the boy out of school and taken him to a village where he wants to force his estranged wife to return home.

“It was inspired by true events; as Vinothraj says, ‘the story chose me.’ When his sister married a man from a neighboring village, the family were unable to provide a dowry. In a humiliating march, his sister was sent back to the family home by her new husband through the parched landscape. It was this walk of shame, that so many women are still forced to endure, that Vinothraj wanted to capture.

“ ‘But I wanted to make it so it was the husband who had to make the walk, not the woman,’ he said. ‘It was my small way of taking revenge for this humiliation of my sister.’

He also chose to portray the journey through the eye of a child, the son, to inject ‘hope and humanity’ into their journey.

“The film focuses on the small but devastating tragedies and inequalities that life in rural Tamil Nadu inflicts on women. … Women forced to get off buses in blazing heat when their babies, awoken by men aggressively coming to blows, need to be breast fed. Women forced to patiently scoop water from the ground and into jars as the merciless sun beats down.

“Tamil Nadu’s oppressive environment is omnipresent in Pebbles. ‘The landscape is the third main character in the film,’ Vinothraj said. ‘I wanted to explore it in detail, the role it plays in the plight of the people.’ For authenticity, he filmed during the hottest days of the year in May. Temperatures got so high during the 27-day shoot that cameras began to malfunction.

“Vinothraj’s determination to make films never wavered. While working in garment factories at 14, he enrolled into college between 6am and 10am before back-to-back shifts, realizing he would need education to go into cinema.

“Small things would bring glimmers of joy. In Pebbles a girl, whose family are depicted in such abject poverty that they hunt for rats to eat, is pictured momentarily euphoric as she collects helicopter seeds in her dress and then scatters them into the air. ‘This was how I used to feel when I was a child,’ said Vinothraj. ‘The conditions of my life were bad, but I could still find moments to be happy. I did not feel like I was suffering because I did not know anything else.’

“At 19, after his bosses tried to marry him off – a tactic used to keep child laborers working in factories once they grow up – he decided it was time to leave. He had heard that Chennai, the bustling main metropolis of Tamil Nadu, was where films were made and movie people mingled.

“ ‘I had no idea how I would survive; my only thought was that I had to pursue my passion for cinema,’ he said. On arriving in Chennai he slept in the streets until he convinced a DVD shop to hire him.

“ ‘In the DVD shop, I used to watch three films a day,’ he said. “English films, Korean films, Japanese films, Latin American films.’ … The DVD shop also gave Vinothraj access to film directors, who would borrow or buy films, often on his recommendation. After almost three years, he was hired as an assistant on a short film and began to work his way up. …

“The success of the film has left Vinothraj in a state of disbelief. He thought its only audience would be the villagers whose lives inspired the story.” More at the Guardian, here.

Click here to see 10 other foreign films submitted for this year. Several look like my cup of tea, maybe yours, too.

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Photo: Cinetic.
From the award-winning Korean film Parasite.

Movies can raise consciousness and lead to change, often positive change. Although the wonderful flic we watched last night, The Loins of Punjab, was mostly for laughs, I think some people would take away a heightened awareness of prejudice, and what it can be like to live in a society where too many people see a terrorist behind every brown skin.

Today’s post is about a hopeful side effect of the award-winning Korean movie Parasite, which led the government to look into the plethora of barely habitable basement apartments dividing the country’s haves and have-nots — and begin to make a plan.

As Monica Castillo wrote at Hyperallergic in February 2020, “Weeks after Bong Joon-ho’s historic win at the Oscars, his film Parasite is still making headlines. … Parasite may now pave the way for housing reform in South Korea.

“The country’s government announced it would launch an initiative to help families like the movie’s working-class Kims to improve housing conditions. The Korea Herald reports that the South Korean government, Korea Energy Foundation, and the Seoul Metropolitan Government will offer ‘3.2 million won per household to enhance heating systems, replace floors, and install air conditioners, dehumidifiers, ventilators, windows, and fire alarms’ to 1,500 families in semi-basement apartments who make less than 60 percent of the median income. …

“In Parasite, the Kims live in a cramped, dingy semi-basement apartment that becomes easily flooded when heavy rains fall. They envy the wealthier Park family that lives in an elevated area with a spacious modern mansion, and hatch a plan to get each member of the Kim family in the employment of the Parks. …

“The film’s clear class distinction between the haves and the have nots also inspired many designers. In a look at the fan art and advertising inspired by the movie, Mubi found several instances where artists visually interpreted the movie’s theme on class through metaphors. Parasite’s attention to architecture featured in a number of the pieces, as several artists incorporated both Park and Kim family homes into their designs. The works ranged from digital illustrations both intricate and deceptively simple to photographic composites reimagining the movie’s many twists and turns. 

“Even in the official movie poster, there are hints of a difference between the two families, as the post points out that the Kims have black censor bars over their eyes and the richer Parks have white censor bars. For the French release not long after its Cannes premiere, the Parasite poster featured the Kim family barefoot and the Parks in shoes, a nod to their well-heeled background.”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

At Mubu, you can check out posters the movie inspired and the emphasis on inequality. What an array! Adrian Curry wrote, “All great works of art inspire more great art and Parasite has been a gloriously fecund host for poster designers to feed off, inspiring ingenious commercial campaigns and fan art alike. The original Korean poster — the first glimpse any of us got of this soon-to-be sensation back [in April 2019] — was designed by Kim Sang-man, a film director (Midnight FM), art director (Joint Security Area), and composer. …

“Its placid yet ominous domestic scene, rendered undeniably creepy by the censor bars across the protagonists’ eyes … featured half the major players (not least that boxy, modernist home, the ultimate star of the film) and a number of significant objects (the teepee, that ornamental rock, those legs…) without giving much of the game away. One thing I didn’t register until quite recently is how the bars across the eyes are color-coded by family: black for the Kims, white for the Parks.”

I didn’t see Parasite. Did you? Did you think it made a case for affordable housing? A case against inequality?

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Photo: Kino Lorber.
The film The Village Detective: A Song Cycle, directed by Bill Morrison, is a project that got started after an Icelandic fisherman pulled up an old Soviet movie from the depths.

Remember this post on repurposing 1980s photos of New Orleans street life damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005? Today’s story on waterlogged 35mm film found by a fisherman reminds me that creative people keep discovering ways of working with damaged art to convey deeper messages. It’s as if the lost island of Atlantis wants to break through to our modern world.

Dan Schindel reports at Hyperallergic, “In 2016, a fisherman dredged up a case off the coast of Iceland that contained four reels of decades-old 35mm film. It looked like the beginning of an inspirational story about a precious movie rediscovery. But, anti-climactically, he’d merely found pieces of the 1968 Soviet mystery-comedy Derevenskiy Detektiv (‘Village Detective’) — which was, as filmmaker and historian Bill Morrison puts it, ‘not lost, rare, or even, to my mind … particularly good.’

“But such an unusual event still deserved scrutiny. What circumstances led this particular film to this completely unexpected place? Morrison’s investigation resulted in his new film The Village Detective: A Song Cycle.

“Morrison constructs his films — such as Decasia (2002) and The Great Flood (2013) — from raw, unrestored fragments of celluloid. In 2016’s Dawson City: Frozen Time, he told the story of a much more exciting rediscovery, how hundreds of lost films were dug up from under a skating rink in the Yukon. He showcases the images of these movies with every scratch, fade, and blur included.

“Each film print records two stories: the one a crew conjured together however long ago, and the record of everything that’s happened to the strip since its creation. The vagaries of the projection, transportation, and preservation of physical film leave it vulnerable to damage. Many archival projects focus on the first story, but Morrison is interested in both. …

“Finding some reels of Village Detective may not in itself be remarkable, but this specific reel has its own unique story, and Morrison finds value in that. His interrogation of the water-warped images becomes a rumination on mortality.

Village Detective starred Mikhail Zharov. To several 20th-century generations of Russians, he was a vital figure, an acclaimed and popular actor who worked with many of the titans at the forefront of Soviet cinema development, including Sergei Eisenstein. … Morrison was told about the fisherman’s discovery by his friend Jóhann Jóhannsson. …

“Through images of Village Detective and Zharov’s other films, as well as pieces from contemporary Soviet cinema and modern-day interviews with historians and preservationists, Morrison reconstructs the actor’s life and times, tracing the path of his career.

“The discovery of his work entombed at the bottom of the sea precipitates the audience’s own rediscovery of him — through the use of his films, that rediscovery becomes something like a resurrection. He’s dead, he’s gone, and yet there he is again. He may be hard to discern through the haze of distorted colors or the flurry of scratches, but you can appreciate the way he acts. …

“The past is supposed to just be what we remember, and yet in the act of watching a film, we are in communion with it. From what could have merely been a curiosity, Morrison constructs a haunted, haunting meditation.”

Whenever I see an offbeat movie like this (the most recent being Agnes Varda’s The Gleaners and I), I think of my friend Penny, now gone. She used to make offbeat, artsy but messy Super-8 films back in the ’60s, and I helped. Even though we both worked in the mornings, Penny was a great one for dragging me out of my apathy to go to downtown Philadelphia for a Kenneth Anger flic or an Andy Warhol. Sure do miss her.

More at Hyperallergic, here.

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Photo: Timothy Norris
Choreographer Mark Morris is currently learning to make films remotely with his dancers. Above, he leads audience members in a sing-along at California’s Ojai Music Festival in June 2013. The image is from an article in the
Nation.

As we all try to learn new technologies to continue valued activities under social distancing, I’m noticing that some technologies turn out to be pretty hopeless while others will be a good addition to our repertoire. Figuring out why my sound system’s feedback was disrupting an ESL teacher’s online class wasn’t worth repeated failures. I contribute to the teaching other ways. But basic features of Google Classroom, WhatsApp, Skype, and FaceTime have been great. Those are keepers.

In an example from the dance world, choreographer Mark Morris is teaching himself to make films with his quarantined dancers.

Sarah L. Kaufman writes at the Washington Post, “Choreographer Mark Morris says to his dancers. ‘Go as far away as you can in your room.’

“Morris, in a black T-shirt and a string of beads, peers through his reading glasses at his computer screen. Arranged around his own image in rows of little boxes he can see who’s on this recent videoconference call: his rehearsal director, music director and three Mark Morris Dance Group performers.

“Stuck at home like everyone else in New York, the dancers jog backward, past couches, beds and bookshelves, to the rear walls of their apartments. … It’s all he and his performers have to work with.

“Choreography in the age of covid-19 is hardly a graceful undertaking. Morris, the esteemed modern-dance artist whose company has performed to acclaim for more than 40 years, suddenly finds himself out of place in a world of seclusion. His profession depends on working closely with people, getting them to move exactly as he wants. But he’s determined to keep creating. No matter that the city’s quarantine makes gathering in a rehearsal studio impossible.

‘Now, let’s dance a little bit,’ he says. ‘Foot articulation is not important ’cause I don’t see that. What’s more interesting is swooshing’ — he swirls his hand in a serpentine movement — ‘and depth changing.’ …

“The three dancers in their separate squares whirl and glide into view with a smooth, floating quality, winding side to side as if drifting on wind currents. In his chair, Morris echoes their moves with his upper body, lifting his arms as they do. He gasps, he gapes. He sucks in a breath and runs a hand over his hair. Suddenly he waves frantically at the screen.

“ ‘Stop, stop!’ He grabs his head in his hands and pitches backward in his chair. Something has bowled him over — but what? Anguish, despair? Has he been horrified into silence by what he’s seen?

“The dancers wait, breathing hard. Finally the choreographer snaps himself upright.

” ‘That was great!’ he shouts, beaming.

“He adjusts his glasses and adopts a lilting Italian accent: ‘I feel like-a Federico Fellini.’

“That captures this weird, tilted reality perfectly. There is a certain hallucinatory, Fellini-esque quality to this scene, where a giant of the dance world struggles to master the same awkward video technology that remote office workers are using to teleconference. And where top dancers are limited to a few feet of floor space and bad lighting, using bathroom doors as stage wings. …

“Morris has retooled himself as a filmmaker. He began working on this dance last fall, devising the movements in his company’s spacious Brooklyn headquarters with a pianist and 15 dancers. He was nearly finished before shuttering the building last month. …

” ‘My job is irrelevant, if not obsolete,’ Morris says in a phone interview. … ‘The truth is,’ he continues, ‘I’m not making up a dance. I’m making a film. But I’m not an auteur, I don’t understand this technology.’ …

“The dancers have been taking company class every day on Zoom, and having weekly Zoom singing sessions and happy hours. But rehearsing with Morris — even with his tendency to tease them about their unmade beds — fulfills a deep-seated need. Gazing into his virtual studio, Morris appears to be comfortably in his element, scanning each face, each body, picking up every move and gesture, editing freely. No one escapes his focus.

” ‘Can you exit stage left or stage right?’ Morris asks the group. Christina Sahaida and Laurel Lynch slip out of view through nearby doorways, then simultaneously strut back in like Ziegfeld showgirls.

“ ‘Oh, my God,’ he exclaims, delighted. He leans in, like a scientist studying specimens under glass. …

“ ‘There will be more dance products coming from me,’ Morris says later. … ‘When I’m done with this I’ll start something else. Even though it’s not my medium.’ ”

More here. (There’s a firewall at the Post, but you can get a free subscription for a short period of time.)

Photo: Mark Morris Dance Group

DANCE-MORRIS

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janes_closeup

Art: Bradshaw Crandell
Jane Hall, a screenwriter at Hollywood’s most glamorous studio, would be lost to us but for her daughter’s painstakingly researched biography. Here she is on the cover of the October 1939 edition of
Cosmopolitan magazine.

I’ve been thinking about the unacknowledged accomplishments of women.

Having just finished a great biography on Frances Perkins, a trailblazer in FDR’s administration, I find myself not at all surprised that she is almost unknown today. Perkins is just one more example of accomplished women throughout history who have failed to get their just due. It’s complicated.

Being dismissed by men is not the only reason, Dear. Sometimes you were dismissed by women, too. Sometimes you didn’t sign your poem or your art and so became known as “Anonymous.” Sometimes, like Perkins, you were determined to do the most possible good for the most people in need by the most effective means.

Thinking about this led me to a New Yorker article on women in the early days of Hollywood.

Margaret Talbot writes, “One of the stranger things about the history of moviemaking is that women have been there all along, periodically exercising real power behind the camera, yet their names and contributions keep disappearing, as though security had been called, again and again, to escort them from the set.

“In the early years of the twentieth century, women worked in virtually every aspect of silent-film-making, as directors, writers, producers, editors, and even camera operators. The industry — new, ad hoc, making up its own rules as it went along — had not yet locked in a strict division of labor by gender. Women came to Los Angeles from all over the country, impelled not so much by dreams of stardom as by the prospect of interesting work in a freewheeling enterprise that valued them. …

“Some scholars estimate that half of all film scenarios in the silent era were written by women, and contemporaries made the case, sometimes with old stereotypes, sometimes with fresh and canny arguments, that women were especially suited to motion-picture storytelling.

“In a 1925 essay, a screenwriter named Marion Fairfax argued that since women predominated in movie audiences — one reason that domestic melodramas, adventure serials featuring acts of female derring-do, and sexy sheikh movies all did well — female screenwriters enjoyed an advantage over their male counterparts. They were more imaginatively attuned to the vagaries of romantic and family life, yet they could write for and about men, too.

“After all, men ‘habitually confide in women when in need either of encouragement or comfort,’ Fairfax wrote. ‘For countless ages woman’s very existence — certainly her safety and comfort — hinged upon her ability to please or influence men. Naturally, she has almost unconsciously made an intensive study of them.’

“Alice Blaché, the French-born director behind some six hundred short films, including ‘The Cabbage Fairy’ (1896), one of the first movies to tell a fictional story, … wrote in 1914, ‘There is nothing connected with the staging of a motion picture that a woman cannot do as easily as a man, and there is no reason why she cannot completely master every technicality of the art.’

In a way, the early women filmmakers became victims of the economic success that they had done so much to create.

“As the film industry became an increasingly modern, capitalist enterprise, consolidated around a small number of leading studios, each with specialized departments, it grew harder for women, especially newcomers, to slip into nascent cinematic ventures, find something that needed doing, and do it.

“ ‘By the 1930s,’  Antonia Lant, who has co-edited a book of women’s writing in early cinema, observes, ‘we find a powerful case of forgetting, forgetting that so many women had even held the posts of director and producer.’ …

“Trying to figure out who actually worked on films is not as easy as you might think. Credits were assigned haphazardly in the early days of filmmaking. …

“In the tendentious but mostly persuasive book ‘Nobody’s Girl Friday: The Women Who Ran Hollywood’ (Oxford), J. E. Smyth … tots up an impressive array of women film editors, costume designers, talent agents, screenwriters, producers, Hollywood union heads, and behind-the-scenes machers. … It’s little wonder that studios of the era catered to female audiences, with scripts built around the commanding presence of such actresses as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, and with stories thought to reflect women’s prevailing concerns.

“Smyth quotes Davis, who pulled enough weight in Hollywood to have been dubbed the Fourth Warner: ‘Women owned Hollywood for twenty years,’ she said in a 1977 interview, so ‘we must not be bitter.’…

“Smyth burrows enthusiastically into humble sources that, she suggests, other scholars have looked down on: studio phone directories, in-house newsletters. Researchers on similar quests have come upon evidence in still more unlikely forms and places. Reels of film forgotten or lost sometimes turn up randomly — interred in an archive in New Zealand, or sealed into a swimming pool in a remote town in the Yukon.” The search goes on.

It’s a long article. Read it here. And while we’re on the subject, be sure to read Robin Cutler‘s wonderful book, Such Mad Fun, about her mother’s role as a writer in Hollywood.

 

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Photo:
In a Brazilian favela, Rocywood actors pose with their screenwriter and their director.

The headlines from the slums of Brazil are hardly ever good. Between the gang violence and the police violence, there is frequent loss of life among innocent bystanders. So anytime I see something upbeat about these places — say, colorfully painted houses or musical instruments created from dump discards — I want to share the news.

This story is about the joy of making movies, even when the movies are about the harshness of life. It’s about the feeling of rising above it all.

Mariana Simões writes at Hyperallergic, ” Stacks of houses that showcase raw, exposed brick frame the rooftop view where I meet screenwriter Fabiana Escobar, or Bibi Danger, as she is known in Rio de Janeiro’s Rocinha, the largest favela in Brazil.

“With around 70,000 inhabitants, Rocinha is a vibrant community made up of low-income improvised homes built atop rolling hills that tower over Rio de Janeiro like a city within a city. Rocinha is also where, since 2015, Escobar and four other filmmakers have championed a budding film scene they call ‘Rocywood,’ combining Rocinha with Hollywood. Their Rocywood production company has one award-winning short under its belt and another short and two features in the making.

The films portray local realities, from the joys of growing up in a tight-knit neighborhood to the difficulties residents face living among drug traffickers and gun violence.

“ ‘When I was a kid, I stayed home to watch the Oscars on TV and I would marvel at every little detail. Hollywood creates that kind of magic that envelops us, even though it’s something that is so distant from our reality,’ Escobar says. …  ‘I grew up with that magic, but the industry doesn’t embrace Rocinha. We have to create our own magic. We are going to make it happen for ourselves.’

“The 38-year-old screenwriter used to own a salon and clothing store, but now rents out her shop while she dedicates her life to making Hollywood magic. But most of the people involved can’t afford to make movies full-time.

“ ‘The actors, the producers, the whole team has a second job. I am a manager at a clothing store, and I make films up here on the hill on the side,’ says Sergio Dias, Rocywood’s 31-year-old director. Dias was born and raised in Rocinha where he is known by his stage name, Sergio Mib. His one-bedroom apartment functions as a dressing room and houses Rocywood’s equipment and props, including three toy assault rifles that look impressively real.

“Rocywood’s productions cost $50 dollars (USD) on average. The filmmakers often take the budget out of their own pockets to cover transportation fees and snacks. With no dedicated financing, everyone in the community pitches in to make the films come to life, from lending filming equipment to styling hair and makeup for free at the local salon. Dias explains that Rocywood makes a conscious effort to include only people from favelas in its productions. The films, made for locals by locals, are screened on the streets of Rocinha using a projector and an improvised tarp as a screen, but are also available on YouTube for a worldwide audience to see. …

“I went in search of Rocinha’s low-budget Hollywood scene after meeting American filmmaker Alan Hofmanis by chance at a traditional Rio de Janeiro fast-food style chicken restaurant in the bustling tourist neighborhood of Copacabana. I struck up a conversation with him about his dessert and ended up learning about Wakaliwood, Uganda’s version of Hollywood, named after Wakaliga, the slum in Uganda’s capital of Kampala where the films are made.

“Eight years ago, after Hofmanis saw a trailer for a feature by Ugandan director Isaac Nabwana that mixed mafia gangs, kung fu, and gun fighting, he hopped on a plane to meet Nabwana. In 2013, Hofmanis sold everything he owned in New York and moved to Wakaliga, where he has been making movies with Nabwana ever since. Nabwana founded Uganda’s first action-film company, has produced about 45 films, and just had his feature Crazy World premiere at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

“Fascinated by Nabwana and his ability to make kitschy action films with budgets around 65 dollars that still draw in millions of online viewers, Hofmanis searched the world for others like him. He found people in Ghana, India, Afghanistan, Peru, and even Siberia who are also making low-budget, Hollywood-inspired productions. He came to Brazil in the hopes of discovering the same scene in Rio de Janeiro. …

“The American filmmaker believes low-budget, Hollywood-inspired films are a growing phenomenon. … ‘They are taking something that is outside their reality and spinning it and making it their own,’ he says. ‘So maybe this [new movement] can be called the Micro Wave because it’s a New Wave movement, but it’s based on these micro-economies.’ …

“Escobar summarizes, ‘I decided our next feature will be a horror film to break free from that stigma that because I live in a favela, I can only make films about drug trafficking and violence. If we want to write about drug trafficking it will be a great film, but we can rock other narratives, too, and we want to break that barrier.’ ”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

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Photo: Magnolia Pictures 
In the film Skate Kitchen, the introverted Camille (played by Rachelle Vinberg, left) finds her tribe of skaters in New York City. The filmmaker found her subjects almost the same way — instinctively.

What I especially loved about this article on making a female-skateboarder movie was the director’s sixth sense. She hears girls on the subway talking in a wildly creative way and experiences vibes that direct her to pursue a new path of possibility.

Lakshmi Singh reports at National Public Radio, “Director Crystal Moselle made waves three years ago when her documentary The Wolfpack won the grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival. The film told the true story of six brothers growing up in confinement in Manhattan’s Lower East Side — and it all began from a chance encounter Moselle had with the brothers on the street.

“Her new film comes from a similar place. Skate Kitchen follows a group of teenage girl skateboarders and activists rolling their way through the streets of New York. This time, she met them on the subway.

From the NPR interview:

“I learned to understand my instinct. There’s this thing that happens to me. …  I’m like: Oh, this is something. This is interesting. I just — I have to explore it. …

“I was on the train in New York City. I was on the G train. And I heard this voice that just — you know, sometimes there’s a voice that’s so charismatic, you just have to figure out who’s talking and what’s happening. I mean, that’s how I am. And I look over, and there’s these three teenage girls, and they have skateboards. And Nina [Moran] — she’s telling a story. I can’t remember what the story was about. I think maybe it was about a party she went to or something that happened in the park that day. And she has that kind of voice that almost silences a room where you want to — just everybody stops what they’re doing and they want to see who’s talking.

“And so I — just out of curiosity and out of this instinct that I’ve kind of gained from my past project, I just — I feel like there’s this moment where I sort of know that there’s something there and I have to figure it out. And I went up to them and asked them — I just said, hey, you know, introduced myself. I said, my name’s Crystal. I’m a filmmaker, and I’d love to talk to you guys. Maybe you guys would be interested in doing some sort of video project at some point. [And] — I don’t remember saying this — I said, is there more of you? …

“They’ve found all these really interesting pockets [of the city], and they go to these skate parks, and they have these, like, spots that they skateboard and they just use the architecture of buildings. And you know, people chase them away. And it’s just, like, this kind of really riveting scene. And I would just start hanging out with them and experiencing it myself. They’d even, like, make me jump on the skateboard. They’re like, if you’re going to hang out with us, you have to skateboard. Here’s the board. Skate down the block. …

“The girls actually met through YouTube. They would be commenting on each other’s videos and, you know, that’s how they would create these communities because it’s difficult. Like, if you’re a girl living on Long Island and there’s no other girls around that skateboard, you can go to, you know, a social media platform to find other women that also do the same thing that you do that’s, like, something specific. …

“I think that it’s actually a really positive thing to be able to find people that are, I guess, your tribe. …

“When I was with Rachelle one day — Rachelle Vinberg, who plays Camille. She was skating with all these boys. And they all rolled by, and the little girl [watching the film crew] didn’t notice them at all. And then Rachelle rode by with her hair just like in the wind. It was just an epic moment — she’s, like, carving down this hill. And this little girl, like, stopped in her tracks and just watched her and, like, saw the future.”

More here. I love how this director is drawn by curiosity to pursue things that are unfamiliar and interesting. Having something interesting to think about is apparently as essential to her as food.

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One of the many reasons I’m grateful to WordPress is that, as the largest self-hosted blogging tool in the world, it gives me some visibility among other bloggers.

One day recently I garnered a “like” from the Girl Scouts of South Carolina Mountains to Midlands. I decided to check out their blog, and I found a good story to share.

Michelle Taylor writes, “Zainab Bhagat has always reached out to the hurting, even when she didn’t realize she was practicing philanthropy. As a child in elementary school, she noticed one of her friends often went without. Her friend never seemed to have school supplies or a complete lunch. Without a second thought, Zainab shared everything she had to offer. …

“When Zainab had the opportunity to earn the Gold Award in high school, she never questioned if she should pursue it or not. She felt it a moral obligation to share her time, talent, and treasure with the world. …

“She knew the project would take her full devotion. She would have to spend at least 80 hours researching, planning, and working her project. She would have to present her concept before a committee, and her project would have to address a real issue in her community. But anything worth doing is rarely easy.

“Zainab created a documentary about homelessness in her hometown of Irmo, South Carolina. She interviewed and became fast friends with a local teen who had endured incredible hardship. Watch her hard-hitting and inspirational documentary [here].”

More at the Girl Scouts of South Carolina blog, here. How reassuring it is to see young people like this readying to enter the world of adulthood. They will make that world better.

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Although Ginia Desmond had been writing scripts for 12 years, she had never made a movie. Now at 74, she has risen to the challenge.

Johanna Willett writes at the Arizona Daily Star, “Ginia Desmond had a decision to make. Buy a house. Make a movie. Buy a house. Make a movie. She made a movie.

“The 74-year-old has been writing scripts for a dozen years, but ‘Lucky U Ranch’ is her first feature-length film to make it to the big screen.

“That’s because she funded it.

” ‘I consider myself the writer,’ she says of the low-budget film, which so far isn’t readily available for viewing. ‘I wrote the script, and I wrote the checks.’

“Writing screenplays is not Desmond’s first career — or even her second. This act follows others that starred Desmond as a mother and wife, professional artist and businesswoman. …

“For almost 30 years, she imported goods such as furniture and baskets to sell in her Tucson store Sangin Trading Co. on Sixth Avenue. She sold the business in 2003. …

“ ‘Ginia is an interesting combination of very creative and very practical,’ says Victoria Lucas, a Tucson screenplay consultant with a 20-year career in Los Angeles.

” ‘She has that sense of the big picture and how a business is run, and with her writing skills and talent, she has the ability to understand characters. … Very few writers write visually so that when you read the script, it’s like you have seen the movie. … Ginia writes like that. She has a real gift for getting under the skin of characters and making the reader or audience understand them. … She is a treasure for Tucson.” Read more here.

Thank you, Cousin Claire for posting the story on Facebook. Like Desmond, Cousin Claire lives in Tucson, and she has at least one script stored away somewhere about an adventurous female ancestor. I read it. And I know for a fact she is under 74, so …

Photo: Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star
Ginia Desmond, 74, is reflected in her movie poster’s glass.

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I added Ello to my social media a while ago but am only now beginning to explore it. A kind of Facebook without ads, it seems to be preferred by people in the arts. Lately, Ello has been publishing interviews with particularly interesting users.

Here are excerpts from Ello Chief Marketing Officer Mark Gelband’s interview with Ben Staley.

“Ben Staley is an Emmy award-winning filmmaker, storyteller, photographer, and professional adventure-haver. His striking portraits and nature photography are a constant source of inspiration to the Ello team. …

“Mark: I started paying really close attention to your work when you were documenting the film you’re making about ships and welders. Could you tell us more about that project?

“Ben: The project is called ‘Starbound’ and it’s about a boat of the same name. The boat is a catch processor that fishes on the Bering Sea. It’s a top performer but the factory was outdated and inefficient and they were losing money. The construction project would lengthen the boat, making it as environmentally friendly as possible and saving the jobs of the 100+ crew members. The owners are doing it for the best reasons. They could have taken the easy way out and and saved a lot of money up front and had no risk, but they undertook this incredible challenge because they care about the environment and their employees and their families. …

“For me as a storyteller it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capture this process and tell their story. The family that owns the boat are incredibly committed and hardworking people and they will willingly spend more money and take on this risk to do things the right way. …

“Picking a 240 foot-long boat up out of the water, cutting it in half and sticking 60 foot section in the middle, welding it back together and putting it back in the water. All in the space of a couple months. The hard work, skill and craftsmanship are incredible. …  I’ll be making the first trip to sea with the boat later this summer and hope to have the doc done by end of year. …

(more…)

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I  noticed the Eric Carle picture book Mister Seahorse at Suzanne and Erik’s house today, and it got me thinking about seahorses as fathers.

Did you know seahorse fathers carry the babies from conception to birth, not the mothers?

According to Wikipedia, “The male seahorse is equipped with a pouch on the ventral, or front-facing, side of the tail. When mating, the female seahorse deposits up to 1,500 eggs in the male’s pouch. The male carries the eggs for 9 to 45 days until the seahorses emerge fully developed, but very small. Once the young are released into the water, the male’s role is done and he offers no further care.”

It’s kind of the reverse of today’s devoted fathers. With no direct role in giving birth to babies, they sure do get involved in the daily care and feeding. Grandfathers, too. My husband babysits regularly, and can handle most anything, including diapers.

For more on seahorses, and how to protect them, check out the Sea Horse Trust, here. And if you’re up for a refresher on how increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is endangering sea creatures with spines, including the pygmy seahorse, reread my review of the climate-change movie Revolution, here.

Art: Eric Carle

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Here is my latest photo roundup, but the picture I’d hope to start with will not appear.

I thought I was in the 1960s film Blowup. I spent ages (well, at least 30 minutes) zooming in on a photo I took of what I’m pretty sure was a bluebird. When I finally found the bird in the background of woodland twigs and leaves, he was so blurry I couldn’t use the picture to confirm the identification. So no photo of a bluebird for this post.

I have two other photos from walking in the town forest, one of Fairyland Pond and one of trail markers, including the Emerson-Thoreau Amble.

Next is my youngest granddaughter chasing a squirrel up a tree on Easter (love the shot my husband got). My oldest granddaughter is captured mid-Easter-egg hunt. The robin stayed stock-still for his portrait that afternoon.

The window fish was painted by my younger grandson at his Montessori nursery school. As usual, I couldn’t resist shooting shadows.

Now, about the shadows on brick. For nearly three months, until the moment when the sun shone through the alley (like the sun that shone on the keyhole to Smaug’s back door in The Hobbit), I thought the window in the renovated building was smack up against a wall and there was nothing to see there. What a lovely surprise!

I’m wrapping up today’s collection with a license plate from the Pawnee Nation. Since the Pawnee Nation is in Oklahoma and the car was in Providence, I’m intrigued and hope to learn more. Here’s the tribe’s website.

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I checked Gwarlingo not long ago to catch up on Michelle Aldredge’s thorough, sensitive meditations on art and literature.

What caught my attention was her review of a movie about restoring an old house in Japan.

“It is rare to find a film that is pitch-perfect in its cinematography, story, pacing, and length,” Aldredge writes, “but Davina Pardo’s short film Minka is such a gem. (I owe writer Craig Mod a thank you for turning me onto this quiet masterpiece.)

“Based on journalist John Roderick’s book Minka: My Farmhouse in Japan, the film is a moving meditation on place, memory, friendship, family, and the meaning of home. Most remarkable, this haunting story plays out in a mere 15 minutes.

Minka is the Japanese name for the dwellings of 18th-century farmers, merchants, and artisans (i.e., the three non samurai-castes), but as Wikipedia explains, this caste-connotation no longer exists in the modern Japanese language, and any traditional Japanese style residence of an appropriate age could be referred to as minka. The word minka literally means ‘a house of the people.’

“The story of how AP foreign correspondent John Roderick and his adopted Japanese son Yoshihiro Takishita met, and then rescued a massive, timber minka by moving it from the Japanese Alps to the Tokyo suburb of Kamakura is full of small surprises and revelations (the biggest one comes at the end of the film).

Minka is a film that celebrates stillness. Pardo’s camera lovingly lingers on sun, shadows, and dust. But the peaceful home is not just a restored space full of beautiful, personal objects, it is also an expression of the deep connection between Roderick and Takishita and of familial love.”

Read about that at Gwarlingo, where the filmmaker will let you watch the entire 15-minute movie.

Photo: Davina Pardo & Birdlings LLC
A still from the film
Minka

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