Retro Review: When the Old School Met the New Wave: HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT Makes a Big Splash at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema!

Posted on: Dec 9th, 2015 By:

hitchtrufmainHITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT (2015); Dir. Kent Jones; Starring Alfred Hitchcock, François Truffaut, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Wes Anderson and Peter Bogdanovich. Starts Friday, December 11; Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Tickets and showtimes here; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Landmark Midtown Art Cinema continues to spur discussion of great movies by presenting a great movie about a great book which discusses great movies. That’s a lot of “great,” but it’s hard not to go overboard in the superlatives when you’re talking about Kent JonesHITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT.

In 1962, one of the founders of the French New Wave of cinema turned to his favorite director, one of the old guard, for a week-long series of conversations undertaken to establish the older filmmaker’s legacy as an artist. The resulting book (published in 1966) was one of the most influential documents ever published about filmmaking: HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT. The book worked as intended, as François Truffaut’s examination of Alfred Hitchcock’s ouvre to that point was possibly the first attempt to present the director’s work as a cohesive body of personal expression instead of a simple series of mindless thrillers.

It’s hard to imagine a time in which Alfred Hitchcock wasn’t taken seriously as a filmmaker. But even such a celebrated figure as Hitch was hardly unassailable during his time. Contemporary critics cited unbelievable plots or seeming lapses in logic in Hitchcock’s movies as detriments. He had, during the 1950s, become something of a comic figure. His gag-filled appearances as the host of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, as well as the plethora of products (magazines, books, record albums and board games) bearing his name, led to him becoming a beloved pop culture icon, rather than known as a true artist worthy of serious examination.

François Truffaut was no stranger to the serious examination of classic movies, having been one of the leading critics at CAHIERS DU CINÉMA, the celebrated French film magazine. It was there that he coined the “auteur theory”—the idea that some directors utilize the industrial trappings of filmmaking and the collaborative nature of the process the way a writer uses a pen or a typewriter, or the way a painter uses a brush. And, like a writer or painter, that these directors used the medium to explore their own idiosyncratic visions and psyches, and that much of these filmmakers’ projects contain similar themes, images and other elements that form an interconnected body of work. These directors were the true authors (or, in French, auteurs) of their work, rather than the screenwriters or producers behind the films, overriding the raw materials given to them and transforming their movies into personal testaments. It was this theory that fueled many of the magazine’s own critics (Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Éric Rohmer among them) to film their own movies, thus launching the French New Wave.

Hitch_Truffaut_book_aWhen the book was published, Hitchcock’s reputation was in need of rehabilitation, and Truffaut was riding a wave of acclaim. Truffaut was in a perfect position to draw attention to the solid artistic merit of Hitch’s films, and thankfully had both the writing talent to describe that merit and the intelligence to ask Hitch the right questions. HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT arrived at just the right time, and landed in the hands of a generation of aspiring directors who had grown up loving Hitchcock’s cinema and, like Truffaut, believed it to be worthy of serious consideration. This is where Kent Jones’ loving tribute comes in.

Jones not only offers a look inside the creation of this landmark work of film criticism, utilizing audio recordings of the interviews and never-before-seen photographs from the sessions, but also goes to the directors who have been inspired by this work. Wes Anderson probably best sums up its importance in the lives of the filmmakers involved, describing his copy as having been so frequently used that it has been reduced to a stack of loose papers held together with a rubber band. Also on hand are Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Olivier Assayas, Richard Linklater, Arnaud Desplechin and many others to express just how this book inspired them to look deeper into Hitchcock’s work and his technique. In discussing VERTIGO, for example, the documentary provides a capsule description of how Truffaut’s book led to Hitchcock’s work being reassessed. At the time of the book’s release, VERTIGO was almost impossible to see, having been a critical and commercial failure. Yet the discussion of the movie between the two directors made it one of the most in-demand titles among aspiring filmmakers, who searched out for rare film prints in order to learn from it. As a result, the film’s reputation grew steadily over the years as it began to be more seriously discussed and analyzed.

Jones weaves HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT together beautifully, using clips from Hitchcock’s movies to illustrate the comments from the documentary’s participants, and winds up being as much a celebration of the director as it is of the book about him. It will make you want to read (or re-read) the book. It will make you want to revisit Hitch’s filmography. And then it will make you want to revisit Hitch’s filmography with a copy of the book at your side. My only argument with the film is that at 80 minutes, it’s far too short for my liking. But, then, as an avowed cinema nerd, I’d gladly spend hours upon hours listening to the world’s top directors discussing this book and the two men responsible for it. For all you normal human beings out there, it’s the perfect length to get you hungry for more. In short, HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT is a delight for anyone even remotely interested in the behind-the-scenes world of movie making.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com.

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Splatter Cinema Brings Italian Cannibal Mania in the Amazonian Jungle to the Cinevision Screening Room With CANNIBAL FEROX!

Posted on: Jul 17th, 2015 By:

canferoxSplatter Cinema presents CANNIBAL FEROX (1981); Dir. Umberto Lenzi; Starring John Morghen (Giovanni Lombardo Radice), Lorraine De Selle and Robert Kerman; Cinevision Screening Room; Saturday, August 15 @ 8:30 p.m.; IndieGoGo campaign w/ advance ticket sales end July 24; Admission at door is cash only; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Splatter Cinema wants to bring you a rare chance to see Umberto Lenzi’s notorious CANNIBAL FEROX, aka MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY on the big screen at Cinevision in all its 35mm glory. Incredibly they’ve scored a fully restored print from Grindhouse Releasing! But the catch is the rental and shipping is expensive, so they are dependent on an INDIEGOGO campaign with advance ticketing. If it doesn’t make its goal, this screening won’t happen. That would be a real shame because Splatter Cinema has really delved into the fetid jungle of grindhouse treasures to unearth this putrescent piece of gut-munching gore. 

As I’ve mentioned here before, the horror genre is, in the eyes of many, disreputable. It’s not hard to see why—its primary purpose is to elicit something negative: fear. Comedy doesn’t get that reaction, because who doesn’t like to laugh? Action films promise thrills and excitement, which generally equals fun. Drama deals with serious topics and explores a wide range of emotion. But horror films conjure up some of our darkest emotions, and thus fall victim to the stigma of being “bad for you.” And some of horror’s subgenres get criticized more harshly than others. The slasher film, for instance, constantly comes under fire for celebrating slaughter. But no subgenre inspires the kind of wholesale, visceral revulsion than does the Italian cannibal film.

600full-cannibal-ferox-posterThe whole craze started in 1972, when Umberto Lenzi helmed THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER. Almost a beat-for-beat remake of 1970’s A MAN CALLED HORSE, Lenzi shifted that movie’s setting from the old west to the Thai rainforest and added a fascination with ritualistic acts, cannibalism, violence and animal cruelty (largely inspired by the worldwide success of exploitative pseudo-documentary Mondo movies such as MONDO CANE and AFRICA ADDIO). Its huge success in Italy and on the US grindhouse circuit led to the subgenre remaining successful for nearly two decades.

Generally speaking, the Italian cannibal film follows a particular pattern: it opens in the “civilized” world—typically New York, though this isn’t written in stone—and some incident occurs that pulls our protagonists into the (again, typically) Asian or South American jungle. There, they encounter some previously unknown, long-lost or much feared native tribe; witness or experience graphic violence, torture and/or rape; and then a bunch of people get eaten and the lone survivors return, battered but wiser. This plot plays out in Lenzi’s CANNIBAL FEROX, which ups the ante on all its predecessors by claiming to be the “most violent movie ever made.” It goes to such extremes that Italian exploitation stalwart John Morghen (aka Giovanni Lombardo Radice) expresses regret that he agreed to act in the movie to this day.

CanFer-07Now, there are a wide variety of reasons why CANNIBAL FEROX and its kin are viewed so negatively. To start off with, there’s the insinuation that entering into some foreign jungle will pretty much guarantee that you’ll become the next meal of some “savage tribe.” It might stop short of actual racism (and my use of “might” is mighty shaky), but short isn’t where most people would prefer to stop. Then there’s the issue of sexual violence and rape. Sexual violence in these movies is almost always a threat, whether it’s perpetuated against indigenous women by the outsiders or against female outsiders entering hostile territory. Sympathetic critics have defended both elements on the grounds that many of the Italian cannibal films are explicitly anti-colonialist in tone and critical of Western capitalism. The conquering white heroes invade a remote locale, rape its women and kill its men, and are dealt retribution in kind. It’s not particularly subtle, but then, neither are these films when it comes to anything else. They’re blunt instruments, the argument goes, meant to shock a complacent audience into examining itself and the violence inherent in the system.

And then there’s the actual animal cruelty depicted in these movies. For some reason, this is a longstanding element of the subgenre, and is the main focus of most people’s revulsion. Defenders of the cannibal genre argue that the presence of actual animal cruelty works as a technique because it causes you to question the reality of what you’re witnessing—if that is real, what else is? Others argue that some of the depictions reflect actual practices of the people populating the film, so it’s an introduction of documentary realism into a fictional framework. Still others argue that these elements are present in any number of critically celebrated films—from Coppola’s APOCALYPSE NOW and Cimino’s HEAVEN’S GATE to Tarkovsky’s ANDREI RUBLEV and Godard’s WEEK-END—and that singling out these films amounts to bigotry against the horror genre (“sure, I’ll let Coppola show a water buffalo being slaughtered because that’s art, but all horror is pretty much crap, so this cannibal movie is fair game”). All of which are salient points, to which I’ll add that the raison d’être of horror films—to evoke fear and revulsion—draws more attention to these acts than in other, more mainstream films. There’s no shift in tone to relieve the audience. Not that it makes the viewing any easier.

Cannibal-Ferox_bannerThe genre reached what many consider its apex in 1980-81. Ruggero Deodato’s landmark 1980 film CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST touched on all of these elements and not only set aim at the horrors of colonialism, but turned its sights on the fact that an audience even existed to relish in the horrors he was putting on screen. As with Michael Haneke’s FUNNY GAMES, the viewer is made implicit in the crimes depicted as he or she watches. In making HOLOCAUST, Deodato seemed to be saying, “look upon the disgusting nature of this genre’s demands and know that they exist because you fools pay money to see them!”

Then came 1981’s CANNIBAL FEROX, released in the States as MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY. So uncompromising that its marketing brags about having been banned in 31 countries, the movie sees Lenzi largely eschewing the postmodern moralizing of Deodato (while still picking up on the evils of colonialism and Western capitalism) and going straight for the jugular. It’s brutal, it’s ugly, and it represents one of the twin peaks of Italian cannibal cinema. Lenzi is an accomplished filmmaker and knows precisely how to push buttons and fills his movie with energy to spare. That it’s as well-made as it is only makes the bludgeoning savagery of the film that much more affecting. If it were truly a bad movie, then no amount of outrage would sustain the attention paid to the film over the years. I mean, nobody’s talking about Bruno Mattei’s MONDO CANNIBALE, which sports many of the same superficial elements (heck, it’s basically a remake of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST) and it’s only 12 years old. No, CANNIBAL FEROX is a quantifiably good movie—well-paced, intelligently structured, and uniformly follows through on its line of reasoning to an inevitably downbeat conclusion (it’s always hard to judge the acting, because most Italian films were shot without sound and dubbed after the fact even in their home countries, but what is here is perfectly acceptable). It just may be completely reprehensible, depending on your point of view. To paraphrase Walter Sobchak in THE BIG LEBOWSKI, say what you want about the merits of CANNIBAL FEROX, Dude, but at least it’s got an ethos.

But at any rate, it’s a film that demands to be seen, experienced and then talked about. See it with your friends and debate the various controversial aspects of the movie afterward. No matter where you stand on the appropriate nature of the vile events that are depicted in the movie and the philosophical reasoning behind how they’re depicted…well…

It’s definitely something to chew on.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com.

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Vive la France! Emory Cinematheque: Dousing Atlanta in Art-House Films & Cinema of the French-Persuasion during Their Spring 2014 ‘Global French Cinema’ Series

Posted on: Mar 4th, 2014 By:

by Melanie Crew
Contributing Writer

Emory Cinematheque offers art-house films to the masses! They’re available to the critics, film-students and all film-lovers alike! Their retro-tastic line-up of critically-acclaimed films, all screened in 35mm, is available free to the public every Wednesday night during each semester’s series.  Their Spring 2014 ‘Global French Cinema’ series runs through April 23 with all films being screened in room 208 of Emory’s White Hall at 7:30 pm, almost every Wednesday.  ATLRetro caught up with Dr. Matthew Bernstein, Chair of Emory’s Film and Media Department as well as Dr. Charlie Michael, Professor in the French and Italian Language Department at Emory and curator of the series, to discuss their love of French cinema and its profound international influence on filmmakers worldwide throughout the history of cinema.  Let Emory Cinematheque quench your thirst for all things retro, French and cinema-tastic!  

“The reach of (Jean) Renoir’s films was enormous,” Bernstein explains and was one of the reasons why Jean Renoir’s LA GRANDE ILLUSION/GRAND ILLUSION (1937) was the screening that kicked off the series. Given that the focus is French films in a global setting, it made absolute sense. Bernstein further went on to share a tidbit of film trivia: “Twentieth Century-Fox wanted to remake it with John Ford directing. Ford rightly demurred, saying it could not be replicated.” And rightly so! Renoir’s anti-war masterpiece, dubbed by Nazi Propaganda Minister Goebbels as “Cinematic Public Enemy No.1” was released on the eve of World War II, not only showcasing Renoir’s humanity but also touching on the harsh realities of nationalism, classism and anti-Semitism. The epic was one of the first prison escape movies, leading the way for a plethora of replicas attempting to reach the same peak, visually and emotionally.  The film proved so inspirational that even Orson Welles said that it would be one of two he would take with him, “on the ark” (Dick Cavett interviews Orson Welles, July 27, 1970).  American film lovers and critics alike agreed with the enormity and significance of Renoir’s work of art, when it became the first foreign-language film nominated for Best Film at the 1938 Academy Awards. 

“I think the 1960s New Wave probably still holds the mantle as the most influential movement in French filmmaking history,” notes Michael. Thus their next choice was an easy one, as Jean-Luc Godard is one of the most prominent members of the movement.  Godard’s PIERROT LE FOU/PIERROT THE MADMAN (1965) was touted as an apex in the French New Wave and considered Godard’s last ‘frolic’ before delving into his more radically political cinema. Godard dubs his protagonists as “the last romantic couple,” their love being the last shard of humanness left among the clouds of chaos that surrounds them. This tactic has been replicated time and time again in many modern films. Renata Adler, of the New York Times, described Godard’s chaotic and drastic hero as one whom, “ultimately wraps his head in dynamite and blows himself to bits,” but added that, “it is in part a delicate, sentimental love story.” (New York Times, January 1969)

Renior, Truffaut and Godard seem to be the usual suspects at most French cinematic events.  Michael notes, “The insertion of the word ‘global’ in front of the word ‘French’ in the title of the series is meant as a gentle push back against the sorts of common assumptions we have about foreign films.”  His goal was to redirect assumptions that French filmmakers only created their art in France. That couldn’t be more true when thinking about Ousmane Sembene’s first feature-length film, LA NOIRE DE/THE BLACK GIRL (1966).  Senbene has been dubbed the “Father of African Film” and this film in particular was the first Sub-Saharan African film made by an African filmmaker to receive international attention.  It’s the tale of a young Senegalese woman who abandons her home in Senegal to work for a wealthy French couple in France.  This film gracefully touches on history at its most repulsive – colonialism, racism and post-colonial identity – through the eyes of its heroine.

“French cinema and American cinema have a long, long, love-hate relationship,” says Michael, with regards to film as art and film as entertainment.  “Ever since the Lumieres and Edison, the two traditions have been inspiring each other and measuring themselves against one another,” he adds.  This dynamic can be seen clearly during their screening of  LA NUIT AMERICAINE (AMERICAN NIGHT)/DAY FOR NIGHT (1973), French New Wave alum Francois Truffaut’s dark comedy about filmmaking and his slight jab at the artificiality of American-style studio films. The film’s title speaks volumes regarding the director’s disregard for the artificial and the manufactured. Truffaut’s film within a film, not only spotlights the personal and chaotic lives of filmmakers over a short period of time and all the mishaps that go along with creating a film, but he also brings into question whether films, the end products, are more important than the lives of those who create them. 

“France’s youngest, flashiest and most visually-inventive of Jean-Luc Godard’s heirs”, Leos Carax,  makes his appearance with his second film, MAUVAIS SANG (“Bad Blood”)/THE NIGHT IS YOUNG (1986). Michael’s post-modern pick for the series, it will take you on the darkly-tinged 1980s journey of a French bad boy who falls for a beautifully tragic and very unavailable American girl. The film aims to “re-incorporates the post-modern slickness of US advertising,” while exposing the cinematic game of ping-pong that has been played between the US and France since the beginning of the art form. Carax’s film screams modern ’80s melodrama and has a film score including music from David Bowie. Still at the same time, the director pulls from his cinematic forefathers’ influence, as Richard Brody of the New Yorker explains, “with an emotional world akin to that of Godard’s early films, a visual vocabulary that pays tribute to his later ones, and a magical sensibility that owes much to Jean Cocteau, Carax allegorizes the burden of young genius in a world of mighty patriarchs who aren’t budging.” (Richard Brody, New Yorker, December 2013)

As much as French filmmakers enjoy taking a cunning jab at their American counterparts, from time-to-time they also enjoy a nice, swift kick to the rear with regards to their own industry. This can be seen in Olivier Assayas’ satire, IRMA VEP (1996) and his pictorial view of the contemporary French film industry.  Assayas’ film-within-a film technique, previously used by Truffaut and his other filmmaking forefathers, lays the framework that unfolds the beautifully tragic life of a filmmaker, well past his prime,, attempting to revive his career in an industry that has blown past him, by remaking and  modernizing Louis Feuillade’s classic silent film, LES VAMPIRES (1915).  Assayas, through his satire of the current French industry, was able to get back to his roots, or as Manohla Dargis of LA Weekly puts it beautifully, “There’s not a false note in IRMA VEP, not one wasted image, nor one superfluous move of the camera. [Assayas discovered] a native cinema as querulous, alive and magical as [French cinema] was, once upon a time.” 

The series then sends the viewer on a journey to Tunisia with the screening of Abdel Kechiche’s LA GRAINE ET LE MULET/THE SECRET OF THE GRAIN (COUS-COUS) (2007).  From the director of 2013’s BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR, this film follows an aging and displaced immigrant and his family trying to begin life anew by opening a family-run restaurant.  Kechiche touches on the universal theme of what to do next when life throws you a curve ball.  In this case, Kechiche’s hero takes that curve ball and attempts to turn it into a thriving restaurant and new life for him and his family. 

Directed by Agnes Varda, lifetime filmmaker and French New Wave alum, LES GLANEURS ET LA GLANEUSE/THE GLEANERS AND I (2000) was included in this series because it, “speaks out against our global problem with consumption and waste,” Michael says. The documentary is shot completely with her hand-held digital camera in a  total abandonment of the usual high-end equipment. That personal element, she said, took her back to the early short films she shot in 1957 and 1958. She told Melissa Anderson of Cineaste Magazine during a 2001 interview: “I felt free at that time. With the new digital camera, I felt I could film myself, get involved as a filmmaker.” Varda’s documentary follows the lives of various kinds of gleaners throughout the French countryside. (M. Anderson, Cineaste Magazine, 2001)

The series then crosses the Atlantic to Canada and Denis Villeneuve’s film adaptation of Wajdi Mouawad’s play by the same name, INCENDIES (2010). This movie takes the viewer on a nonlinear trek through time, using a dead mother’s flashbacks between present-day Quebec and 1970’s Lebanon as a pair of twins try to untangle the mystery of their mother’s life and the lack of their father in their own.  M. O’Sullivan of the Washington Post describes Villeneuve’s film as, “A horror movie, a love story and a mystery, each thread of which is so expertly interwoven into the larger narrative that it is impossible to separate any one strand from the other.” (M. O’Sullivan Film Review, May 2011)

The French aren’t always so sophisticated, artsy and stuck-up, as proven with the series’ next film. Michel Hazanaviciusparody, OSS 117: CAIRE LE NID D’ESPIONS/OSS 117: CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES (2006), represents a layer of French cinema rarely seen when offering up such a series.  Kudos to Michael for throwing this one in! OSS 117 spoofs ’50s and ’60s spy films, following the exploits of a French secret agent in 1955 Cairo. Curt Holman, Creative Loafing noted that, “CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES looks like a perfect artifact from half a century ago, but its political satire smells brand new.” (Curt Holman, Film Review, June 2008)  Hazanavicius is better known for his throwback to the ’20s retro-style film, THE ARTIST (2011), which won five Academy Awards.

Finally, Emory Cinematheque screens Marcel Carne’s celebrated three-hour, two-part epic, LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS/CHILDREN OF PARADISE (1945), set in the 1820s and 1830s Parisian theatre scene and filmed during Germany’s occupation of France during World War II.  Follow the mime, the actor, the criminal and the aristocrat as they pine over the gloriously beautiful courtesan.  During a 1990 interview with Brian Stonehill for Criterion, Carne responded to his question about the New Wave Critics’ aversion to studio films, stating that Francois Truffaut once told him, “I would give up all my films to have directed CHILDREN OF PARADISE.” (Exerpt from 1990 Criterion Audio Interview). In the original American trailer for the film, it was described as, “The French answer to GONE WITH THE WIND.

Both Michael and Bernstein have enjoyed and continue to express gratitude for the opportunity to share their love of cinema and in particular, during this semester’s series, their love of French-language cinema.  “Frankly, it was difficult not to show more films from that period [French New Wave] in this series – but I really think there are other great stories to be told and films to be seen.  French-language filmmaking is so deep, rich and varied,” explains Michael.  Bernstein notes that, “Truffaut and Godard and their cohorts (of the French New Wave movement) reinvented film language and influenced filmmakers the world over, while inspiring the greats [Coppola, Scorsese, Paul Schrader, et al] and continuing to have a hand in the production of modern films.”

See below for a full screening schedule and make sure you make it out to Emory Cinematheque for the remainder of their Spring 2014 ‘Global French Cinema’ series!

Full Screening Schedule:

1/22/14 – ‘La Grande Illusion’ (1937) – Jean Renoir
2/05/14 – ‘Pierrot le fou’ (1965) – Jean-Luc Godard
2/12/14 – ‘La Noire de…’ (1966) – Ousmane Sembene
2/19/14 – ‘La nuit americaine’ (1973) – Francois Truffaut
2/26/14 – ‘Mauvais Sang’ (1986) – Leos Carax
3/19/14 – ‘Irma Vep’ (1996) – Olivier Assayas
3/26/14 – ‘La graine et le mulet’ (2007) – Abdel Kechiche
4/02/14 – ‘Les enfants du paradis’ – (1945) – Marcel Carne
4/09/14 – ‘Les glaneurs et la glaneuse’ (2001) – Agnes Varda
4/16/14 – ‘Incendies’ (2010) – Denis Villeneuve
4/23/14 – ‘OSS 117: Caire, le nid d’espions’ (2006) – Michel Hazanavicius

Category: Features, Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

© 2019 ATLRetro. All Rights Reserved. This blog is powered by Wordpress