The dense and austere film melodramas of Douglas Sirk pose a problem of interpretation to their viewers, a problem which strikes me as being founded on cultural paradox and compounded by misleading appearances. Sirk, who began his artistic career as a leftist playwright in pre-Nazi Germany and who finished his career as a studio filmmaker in ‘50s Hollywood, was received by contemporary critics and even by his own producers as a conservative director who churned out commercial entertainments that endorsed conformist values. Later, this reputation was taken to task by countercultural figures like the German enfant terrible Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Sirk’s stylistic protégé, who argued for Sirk as a subversive ironist and a closet intellectual. While Fassbinder’s interpretative tradition carries some validity, I don’t find the subversive viewpoint especially helpful or instructive in approaching Sirk’s art. Much more alluring, from my perspective at least, is this statement that the critic Andrew Sarris makes in his seminal auteurist film studies text The American Cinema: “The essence of Sirkian cinema is the direct confrontation of all material.” (more…)
Guest post by Jeanette Clausen.
Catching up with Cuba presents two films focused on the importance of mentors for children and youth. Conducta (Behavior, 2014) by Cuban filmmaker Ernesto Daranas Serrano shines a critical lens on Cuban education. The film was widely screened in Cuba and prompted discussion of problems in the education system. Ghost Town to Havana (2015) is a documentary by Eugene Corr about two youth baseball teams, one in a poor Havana neighborhood and one in inner-city Oakland, California. Roscoe, the Oakland coach, is a volunteer who wants to offer poor kids an alternative to the city’s rampant gang violence. Nicolas, the coach in Havana, is a professional paid by the state. While both films received favorable attention at international film festivals, the primary audience for Conducta is Cuba, while Ghost Town is primarily addressed to US viewers. (more…)
There are many notable similarities between Alfred Hitchcock’s two films Strangers on a Train (1951) and Rope (1948). For example, Hitchcock scholars and film critics have written repeatedly about the doubling of the male relationships — particularly since Farley Granger appears in both films — and the implication that Brandon and Phillip (Rope), Bruno and even Guy (Strangers) are gay.
However, when I was most recently watching these two films, it was the women characters that struck me. Like the male characters, they are doubled across these two films, exhibiting a sense of wit and flirtation with taboo that makes them great fun to watch. (more…)
The first feature-length anime (slang for Japanese animation) that I saw, as opposed to TV shows such as Dragon Ball Z or Cowboy Bebop, was a Hayao Miyazaki film. He has directed some wonderful anime films which have been primarily aimed at children, such as Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) and My Neighbor Totoro (1988). I expected something light and charming.
The film that I saw was light and charming — but its subject matter was far deeper than I thought it would be. That film, The Wind Rises (2013), is a fictionalized biopic about Jiro Horikoshi. He is the man who designed the Zero fighter plane that Japan used in World War II. The Wind Rises deals with historical issues such as the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the rise of fascism as well as personal issues such as the costs of pursuing your passion and dealing with the illness of a loved one. It’s a rich and moving film which upended my expectations of what an animated film could do. (more…)
Guest post by Evie Munier.
What is reality? Is there only one reality? Can there be several? These are some of the questions that the film series Cinéma Sans Frontières, offered by the French and Italian department in collaboration with IU Cinema, tries to ask. The rationale behind the series was born from the assumption that cinema is always testing our sense of reality, and presents us, the spectators, with a variety of realities that can coexist with and within one another.
In other words, Cinéma Sans Frontières questions the boundaries between genres, explores the mere definition of the real, and challenges our understanding of the cinematographic medium by attempting to comprehend literal and figurative borders. However, as our title suggest, it seems that cinema is, indeed, without frontiers, and goes beyond cinematic realities. (more…)
Yorgos Lanthimos and the Dynamics of Power
At a glance, Yorgos Lanthimos’ films are filled with idiosyncrasies that has made him stand out as one of the freshest voices of the 2010s. His stilted Brechtian dialogue that both distances and engages the audience to the drama unfolding on screen. His penchant to have his stories set in worlds just left of our world and have them act as microcosms for some larger point. And there’s my personal favorite: the act of turning sexual and violent acts into deadpan displays for equal parts laughter and horror. However, glancing at his 2018 film The Favourite, you would see some of those trademarks absent or diminished. The Brechtian dialogue is traded in for period-piece appropriate banter, albeit with the bounciness and ferocity of a screwball comedy and an occasional anachronistic flourish (someone uses the phrase “career suicide ” at some point). The world is technically our world of 18th century Britain but even then Lanthimos is playing “Calvinball” with the historical accuracy of the events and films subjects. Also, it’d be lying to say the deadpan violence and sex isn’t there but there’s life imbued in these carnal acts more often than not this time around. (more…)