The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents The Green Fog.
Commissioned by the San Francisco Film Society to close the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, The Green Fog is the latest from Canadian iconoclast Guy Maddin and is an unusually evocative homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo assembled from Bay Area footage taken from a diverse array of sources including studio classics, ’50s noir, experimental films, and ’70s prime-time TV. With the help of co-directors Evan and Galen Johnson, composer Jacob Garchik, and musicians Kronos Quartet, this San Francisco fantasia celebrates the city through a century’s worth of assembled film and television, while also capturing the obsessive pull of Hitchcock’s spellbinding classic. The result is inventive, invigorating, and hilariously quirky, offering a “parallel-universe version” of a canonical cinema masterpiece, an unlikely city symphony, and a refreshing document of film history.
Let’s take a look at another city symphony while we wait for the next MMC! proposal, specifically Francis Thompson’s wonderfully distorted tribute to life in New York City! Thompson’s short film celebrates the rhythms, geometries, and absurdities of city life through a variety of fanciful lenses, prisms, reflectors, and editing techniques (all of which Thompson was quite secretive about). Originally a painter and an art teacher, Thompson began his filmmaking career with The Evolution of the Skyscraper in 1939 and later won an Academy Award for To Be Alive! (1964). In a frequently quoted comment on the film, Aldous Huxley remarked on Thompson’s ability to escape colour photography’s tyrannical claim to verisimilitude and use the medium to further the voice of non-representational art. Huxley observed:
And then there is what may be called the Distorted Documentary a new form of visionary art, admirably exemplified by Mr. Francis Thompson’s film, NY, NY. In this very strange and beautiful picture we see the city of New York as it appears when photographed through multiplying prisms, or reflected in the backs of spoons, polished hub caps, spherical and parabolic mirrors. We still recognize houses, people, shop fronts, taxicabs, but recognize them as elements in one of those living geometries which are so characteristic of the visionary experience. The invention of this new cinematographic art seems to presage (thank heaven!) the supersession and early demise of non-representational painting. It used to be said by the non-representationalists that colored photography had reduced the old-fashioned portrait and the old-fashioned landscape to the rank of otiose absurdities. This, of course, is completely untrue. Colored photography merely records and preserves, in an easily reproducible form, the raw materials with which portraitists and landscape painters work. Used as Mr. Thompson has used it, colored cinematography does much more than merely record and preserve the raw materials of non-representational art; it actually turns out the finished product. Looking at NY, NY, I was amazed to see that virtually every pictorial device invented by the old masters of non-representational art and reproduced ad nauseam by the academicians and mannerists of the school, for the last forty years or more, makes its appearance, alive, glowing, intensely significant, in the sequences of Mr. Thompson’s film.
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Elegant Beast.
In this contemporary melodrama scripted by Kaneto Shindo, director Yuzo Kawashima creates a scathing depiction of greed and hypocrisy in a society facing rapid modernization and Westernization. The small apartment of the Maeda family is transformed by inventive and meticulous cinematography into a claustrophobic battleground where cheating, embezzlement, and corruption are natural occurrences and where the Maedas are turned from swindlers to swindled by a beautiful but mercenary accountant played by Ayako Wakao in a virtuoso performance. Little know outside of Japan, Yuzo Kawashima’s Elegant Beast is an underappreciated masterpiece in filmmaking and a bitter statement on what it took to get ahead in post-war Japan.
- New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- New interview with critic, filmmaker, and festival programmer Tony Rayns
- New program with Eric Nyari on the film and its restoration
- New English subtitle translation
- PLUS: An essay by Japanese film scholar Tomoyuki Sasaki
I recently watched Redes (Emilio Gómez Mariel and Fred Zinnemann, 1936), from the first Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project box set, and Kent Jones’s visual essay which makes reference to Manhatta (1921), a documentary short made by photographer and Redes-cinematographer Paul Strand and painter Charles Sheeler. The short is not included in the WCP set (although it was included on the now OOP DVD set, Unseen Cinema), and so I thought I would share it here at MMC! The short is inspired by Walt Whitman’s poem “Mannahatta” and is considered the USA’s first experimental film. Strand and Sheeler link their respective art forms (painting and photography) to cinema by preferring dynamic angles and compositions over movement, using editing and intertitles to express a monumental day in Lower Manhattan. The result is a visually engaging and invaluable document of the time.
I like asking – if your life required narration, who would you want to provide it? No one has ever chosen Tom Waits, which is too bad because he does have a great voice. I like the idea that Tom Waits’s voice is a natural starting point for this micro-portrait of artist John Baldessari. It’s an entertaining short, full of wry humour and clever edits and Looney Tunes momentum thanks to its classical score. This is me enjoying A Brief History of John Baldessari (Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, 2012).
Very much in the same vein is Ed Ruscha: Building and Words (Felipe Lima, 2016), another micro-portrait of another California artist narrated by another celebrity. This time it’s Owen Wilson, and while he’s no Tom Waits, he has pretty good voice for this too. I wouldn’t second guess anyone choosing him to narrate their life. Lima’s short takes a similarly machine gun approach to surveying the artist’s vast catalogue, and expands the talking head count along the way. It’s all enough to make you move to California and start exploring the artistic possibilities of label makers, road paint, or portraits of diner specials.
More recently, the National Film Board of Canada has found success in the face of dwindling government funding by refocusing its resources on its streaming site and on interactive web documentaries. One of the most successful of these multimedia film projects is Katerina Cizek’s Highrise (2009), an interrogation into the life of residential highrises that includes various web-based documentaries and a number of derivative works. Presented below are 4 short films that serve as the centrepiece to A Short History of the Highrise (2013), an interactive documentary examining the global history of vertical living. The first 3 films are constructed from the archives of The New York Times, while the last film is made from photos submitted by Times readers. A Short History of the Highrise alone counts a Peabody Award and an Emmy amongst it decorations, while the larger Highrise project has won various other prizes including 2 Webby awards, multiple Canadian Screen Awards, and another Emmy.
As per the NYT:
In the first episode of a four-part series, “Mud” traces the roots of the residential highrise, from the Biblical Tower of Babel to New York’s tenement buildings.
As per the NYT:
In the second episode of a four-part series, “Concrete” explores how, in New York City and globally, residential high-rises and public housing attempted to foster social equality in the 20th century.
As per the NYT:
In the third episode of a four-part series, “Glass” examines the recent proliferation of luxury condos and the growing segregation between the rich and poor.
As per the NYT:
In the final episode of a four-part series, “Home” comprises images submitted by New York Times readers, who show their lives in high-rises around the world.