Author Archives: SR

PH Ticker: Farocki, Bacall and Schrader’s Struggle

The Ticker, Mast After a long silence, we turn our belated attention to events from the rest of the world.

Harun Farocki (1944 – 2014) Harun Farocki ——————

Thomas Elsaessar states,

Cinema has many histories, only some of which belong to the movies. It takes an artist-archaeologist, rather than a mere historian, to detect, document and reconstruct them. Today, perhaps the cinema’s most illustrious artist-archaeologist is Harun Farocki.

Lightcube Film Society screened Farocki’s debut film Inexhaustible Fire among its screenings, to general praise and wide attention. Farocki belonged to part of Germany’s resurgent generation of 1960s-1970s, closer to Alexander Kluge and Straub-Huillet (he documented the production of Class Relations, their adaptation of Kafka’s Amerika). Here’s a collection of worthy links:

1. Margalit Fox – New York Times Obituary:

Mr. Farocki’s films were conspicuous assemblages, comprising found and archival footage including surveillance tapes, home movies and corporate training films. By juxtaposing such images, he sought both to highlight their curious commonalities and to put his finger on the political imperatives that lay beneath their flickering surfaces.

Read more.

2. C S Venkiteswaran – Economic and Political Weekly

If his early films were visual explorations and interrogations that belong to the celluloid period when cinematic image still had “evidence or truth value”, the coming of the digital turned the situation around, and in turn, the challenges before the documentary film-maker. In the digital age, a film-maker is confronted with all kinds of excess – of news, information, images and narratives, all flooding the environment and creating a “hegemony of consensus” that serves the State or Capital. 

Read more.

3. Harun Farocki: ‘Parallel’

The primary attraction, though, is the New York debut of the artist’s final work, Parallel I-IV,  which was begun in 2012 and completed this year and continued his interest in the growth and influence of digital imaging. In an earlier project, “Serious Games” (2009-10), he focused on the United States military’s use of video-game-style technology in combat training. In the four separate videos that make up “Parallel,” he scans the history of computer games, beginning with blocky linear animation, mainly of landscapes, from the 1980s. As the sophistication increases, so does the violence quotient, until it seems that everything is framed in the all-seeing sights of a high-powered gun: war, universal or at street level, is a big-boy game.

Read more.

4. Matt Zoller Seitz Michael Sicinski’s Email

An email explaining Farocki’s importance by Sicinski, who studied with Farocki.

Farocki was a deeply materialist filmmaker who saw the editing process as a site for the physical construction of argument. This meant that, ultimately, a film could and should connect Germany with the world, and also the documentary form with other modes of address. When I indicated above that calling Farocki’s work “documentary” is partly inadequate, it is because the artist so often relied on speculative fiction, re-enactment, or the analytical conjecture constitutive of the essay form, all in the service of achieving truthful arguments. 

Read more.

5. Ignatiy Vishnevetsky – The Onion A. V. Club

Though hardly a household name, Harun Farocki was one of the boldest and most influential film theorists of the last 40 years—a prolific writer and documentary filmmaker whose work focused on creating and deconstructing complex, clear-eyed arguments about society, work, media, and war. From the mid-1980s on, his main focus was on how simulations affect a person’s sense of place in the real world, a topic he explored in projects that ranged from How To Live In The Federal Republic Of Germany—a brilliant documentary composed of scenes from dozens of instructional workshops and training exercises, on topics ranging from driving to striptease—to the recent installation Serious Games, which tackled combat training simulators.

Read more.

6. Srikanth Srinivasan – The Seventh Art

Farocki examined the ever-changing face of industrial production, continuously investigating what exactly constitutes such production and what labour means in an age in which the boundary between productive and not-productive work has become fuzzy. His last, unfinished installation project, Labour in a Single Shot (2011-2014), which consists of a collection of shots showing people at work in 15 different cities simultaneously projected on 15 screens, probes into this shape-shifting nature of labour and its increasingly invisible place in the scheme of things.

Read more.

7. Fandor Keyframe – Obit Roundup



Lauren Bacall (1944 – 2014) Lauren Bacall ——————

The Golden Age recedes further and further away as we move into the 21st Century. Lauren Bacall is fascinating in that in comparison to say, Joan Fontaine (who passed away recently), or Olivia de Havilland, leave alone Greta Garbo(who retired at the height of her fame and withdrew from public life for forty years), she was not content to be a relic. She continued to appear in notable films from the 80s onwards, appearing in films by Robert Altman (H.E.A.L.T.H., Pret-A-Porter) and Lars von Trier (Dogville, Manderlay), and a memorable turn in Paul Schrader’s The Walker (2008). Bacall of course will always be remembered for her films with Humphrey Bogart, a rare love story that the movies chronicled – To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946) and, my favorite, Delmer Daves’ Dark Passage. This film privileges her over Bogart (who for most of the first half is wrapped in bandages and serves as a first-person camera), an angel of calm and rationality, that undermines the destructive Noir tale of vengeance and the destructive past (incarnated by Agnes Moorehead, who serves as the Furies hunting down Bogart). Other great performances include Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind(alongside Dorothy Malone, who also appeared in The Big Sleep) and Vincente Minnelli’s remarkable The Cobweb. 

1. Adrian Curry at MUBI has a collection of old movie posters highlighting Lauren Bacall’s incredibly striking features.

2. A tribute from her fellow stars.

3. Richard Brody has an eloquent observation at her career after Bogart’s death:

To this day, Hollywood has trouble with strong and independent female characters, to the extent that the notion has become a stereotype and a constraint. Bacall beside Bogart was in a tussle; for all the mighty figures who populated the Hollywood studios, almost nobody else could stand up to her. She was meant to play Presidents and C.E.O.s, editors-in-chief and visionary directors. How many such roles existed for actresses—for women in real life—in her heyday? 

Read more.

4. Fandor, Obit Roundup

“Marlene Dietrich came up to Hawks after one screening of To Have and Have Not and said, ‘You know, that’s me about 20 years ago.’”


Peter von Bagh (1943 – 2014)
Peter von Bagh was one of Finland’s greatest critics and a film-maker, the director of the essay film Helsinki Forever. He was also the co-founder and director of Finland’s Midnight Sun Film Festival and since 2001, the director of Bologna’s Il Cinema Ritrovato.

1. From Senses of Cinema – Bagh’s article on Chaplin.

2. Fandor, again.


Jim Hillier (1941 – 2014)
Jim Hillier was a veteran film teacher at BFI. A prolific author who is most famous for his editions of translations of Cahiers du Cinema articles from 1950-1970. BFI’s obituary for Hillier.


Antoine Duhamel (1925 – 2014)
The composer for films by Truffaut (Stolen Kisses, Mississippi Mermaid), Godard (Pierrot le Fou, Week End) and Bertrand Tavernier (Daddy Nostalgie, Laissez-Passer). MUBI on Duhamel.


Nicole Lubtschansky
Nicole Lubitschansky edited every single film by Jacques Rivette from L’amour fou (1969) to Around the Small Mountain (2009). This includes the elusive Out 1, the dazzling Celine and Julie Go Boating, the Jeanne d’Arc diptych, Haut/Bas/Fragile and Ne touchez pas à la hache, Rivette’s greatest commercial success. In addition she edited films by Marguerite Duras (Nathalie Granger), Jacques Doillon (Young Werther) and Daniel Schmid (Hecate) and Straub-Huillet (Antigone). She was the widow of the famous DP, William Lubtschansky who died in 2010. She passed away on 5 September, 2014.


1. Paul Schrader’s Dying of the Light

Dying of the Light

Paul Schrader is the director of The Canyons, which we wrote about here, a film that was as brilliant and intelligent as it was misunderstood. Schrader then went on to produce another film called Dying of the Light starring Nicholas Cage. The film’s release is subject to a controversy, with Schrader being denied his final cut.

Scott Foundas writes in Variety about the controversy:

Paul’s cut of the movie deviated substantially from his own script,” adds Williams, a former Yari Film Group exec whose producing credits include the recent Robin Williams drama “Boulevard” and the forthcoming “Reach Me,” with Sylvester Stallone. “It was a completely different movie from the movie that was greenlit, the movie that was discussed and the movie that was shot.

A Facebook petition has been launched, calling for Schrader’s cut to be restored:

New York Film Festival director Kent Jones, who has seen Schrader’s version, says he was “keenly interested” in the film for this year’s festival, but that when he reached out to Lionsgate, they professed to know nothing about the film. “It’s a movie by a real filmmaker,” says Jones. “Paul’s always been commercially minded, but he’s also a guy with a vision. His films are the definition of movies that operate on two levels at the same time. So this movie’s a thriller, but it’s also an existential inquiry. He’s stretching a low budget in ingenious ways. What I saw a pretty compelling character study and a movie that I was looking forward to seeing in its finished state.



1. Ferrara’s biopic of Pasolini stars Willem Dafoe and also features the beloved star of the late great artist’s films, Ninetto Davoli. The trailer, set to Erbarme dich, Mein Gott by J. S. Bach, is heartbreaking.

Inherent Vice

2. Inherent Vice by Paul Thomas Anderson, a film adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon movie is a real thing. As witness this trailer.

3. And, we have the trailer of Michael Mann’s Blackhat.



4. After struggling for a year in securing funding for his next film, the ageless Manoel de Oliveira has started work on a new short: 

His new film is a short entitled “O Velho do Restelo (The Old Man from the Restelo),” and it “recounts the life and work of Portuguese romantic writer Camilo de Castelo Branco. It is through these literary references, which also incorporate others such as those of Miguel de Cervantes, that the film will create a reflection on Portugal and its history.

Read more.

In addition he directed the trailer for Viennale 2014, it’s quite nice.



1. Adrian Martin on Notorious, perhaps the greatest article ever written about this simple yet elusive film.

The permutational openness of Notorious has much to do with the fact that it is a classic three-hander drama. The potentially very rich and flexible structures of triangular stories in cinema have yet to be fully explored. With three key points in an interpersonal, intersubjective relation, there is always the possibility of suddenly shifting the narrational point of view in a new and surprising way, by taking a hitherto concealed angle on events. 

2. Steven Soderbergh on Staging in Raiders.

3. A new biography by Susan Mizruchi explodes a lot of the misconceptions of America’s most influential and mercurial movie star, especially relating to the production of Apocalypse Now, which rather than serving as a hindrant, featured Brando as a major artistic collaborator.


Sudarshan Ramani

One of the things missing from my childhood was a visit to a circus. My parents took me to fairgrounds, to zoos, to all kinds of odd shows and places, but never a circus, or at least not one that I remember anyway. My understanding of circuses, the fairground freaks, the bearded women, the strongman etc. etc. are essentially derived from the movies.

The most powerful example of course is Tod Browning’s delirious and beautiful Freaks (1932). This film, beloved of Bunuel, Ophuls and Herzog, began as an attempt by MGM studios to cash-in on the horror film craze of the early 30s but they instead got something truly strange and wonderful. Tod Browning cast actual “freaks”, who today would be called all sorts of PC-friendly phrases I imagine, in these roles and the film is fascinating for its documentary quality. It’s a movie not without its problems but the sincere humanism and the way it articulates the notion of “The Other”, the imagined enemy to a perceived idea of normal behavior, makes it one of the most radical films of American Cinema. In Browning’s film, it is the normal people who are the real freaks and they end up becoming “One of Us”, that is a true freak rather than a freak in denial.

The Indian oral tradition and daily life has long held a fascination for freaks, people who can breathe fire, light cigarettes within their jaws, impossible piercings, faces covered in boils, people who eat bricks and so on. The much loathed Western stereotype of India as the “land of snake charmers” undoubtedly has its roots in our native freak tradition. Beggars with disabilities, who roll around in wooden boards with wheels have always garner a specific expression of pity that you have to be from Mumbai to really recognize. And it is this freak-appreciation, in my view, that forms the true source of the half-reluctant, half-pitying giving of petty coins or token notes to beggars. A similar mix of shame/pity/curiosity drives the interactions between urbanites and eunuchs and cross-dressers.

Indian life abounds with a strong attraction-repulsion towards freaks, not usually from the part of the freaks themselves, but among the people who call them freaks to begin with. The presence of freaks and the discussion of what is freaky define our idea of normal behavior. When I say “our” I mean of course, the self of the middle-class, the Brahmin, the Merchant, the young professional, the concerned mother and the domineering father who must always, in our movies, learn the message of tolerance while incurring no social or personal consequence from the realization of the same. In life and the media, this represents the well-meaning politically correct perspective of people who profess tolerance from the height of educated enlightenment and cosmopolitan exposure, a sincerity that regards the freakshow without ever having to accept that theyare freaks themselves.Take for example say, the Punjabi Miss World Beauty Contest Winner, Priyanka Chopra, playing the Manipuri World Amateur Boxing Champion Mary Kom.

As a movie, Mary Kom is expectedly amateurish, lacking in ambition and, this is the bane of the genre of sports movies, not really compelling as a film narrative. Had the film cast a Manipuri or North-Eastern actress, it would not be improved by any great measure. Just as casting a real Sikh to play Milkha Singh would not improve Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.

However, as a freakshow, Mary Kom is fascinating.

To lend poignance to the experience of growing up poor and marginal in North-East India and rising from these circumstances to be a sportsman of international renown, Priyanka Chopra creates a certain spectacle. She dons make-up and slanted eyebrows to look Manipuri. She trains and bulks her muscles to show, yes, women can be just as just as strong as men do. She achieved this, undoubtedly with the best training regimen available at her considerable resources, with a fair bit of personal investment and hard work on her part.

Why do I say it is compelling as a Freakshow? What makes a freakshow a freakshow is the manner in which it invokes a certain living reality, what the writer Roland Barthes would describe as its “structuring absence”.

In the same light in which we commend Priyanka Chopra for her effort in building her muscles, for applying her make-up, for her daring in changing her image from a romantic comedy actress to an action movie star, let us consider the effort it would take for a Manipuri girl to be Miss World or an actress who appears in anything other than ethnic parts in Indian films, say a romantic leading lady opposite Hrithik Roshan in a film by Yash Chopra or his family concern?

Now, that would be the true Freakshow. For one thing it would depict a greater social acceptance of diversity than actually exists in India.

Priyanka, Prosthetics

The best Freakshows are compelling because they ultimately remind us that the real freaks are the people who come to gawk. In that light, Mary Kom with the generally uncritical acceptance by the industry, the lack of insight or dialogue on representation in Hindi films and the middle-class horror of being accused or judged racist makes it pretty entertaining, even if it reinforces that North-East tribal women are not really “one of us”.

Travelling without Papers

Sudarshan Ramani

...of ceremonies.

…of ceremonies.


It’s a fact of life that we always approach the past from a fixed point of departure. We are never truly able to experience it. It’s either a visit to an old ruin, a reverie inspired from a book, a memory of a meeting with an interesting stranger and that stranger’s own memory of his past. Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel is a film about the past, about history that shows this impossible distance, this distances which ultimately becomes the true subject of this film. This notion of distance, of how remote we are from the narrative of past, from memory, is built into an emotional effect that cascades with, as one character puts it, with “a marvelous grace”.

The cascade is a recurring motif in The Grand Budapest Hotel where the hotel is established at the top of a hill accessible from a Funicular Light Railway, the recurring use of staircases, the sloping climb up alpine mountains via mountain trails and finally descent via the best ski sequence in recent memory. The narrative cascades from a girl in a graveyard confronting a statue of a writer and one of his books she reads, from there we move to the writer (Tom Wilkinson) who writes in his domain while dealing with his annoying son, an interruption that becomes part of the storytelling. From there we shift to the younger writer (Jude Law) who arrives in The Grand Budapest Hotel and encounters the hotel at its lowest point and from here time flows back to its glory days via an encounter with the aged Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham, sublime) to his younger self (Tony Revolori).

This narrative structure calls to mind films by Sacha Guitry, especially Le roman d’un tricheur and Les perles de la couronne. The famous French dramatist-comedian-satirist (never certain what to peg him as)  is also a visual inspiration for M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes-awesome) the impeccably elegant dandy, a seducer of old women, a connoisseur of values and professional discipline and unexpectedly, a thoroughly good human being. Like Guitry in his films, Gustave is a participant-observer, a performer who is fully aware that he is performing who likes to entice audiences in his little secrets and who enjoys his game of deceits with someone who knows and recognizes the game and plays along excitedly. While Gustave never quite addresses the camera and audience the way Sacha Guitry did, with that famous extended take of his careful manipulations in minute detail in Faisons d’un rêve, he plays it off with his beloved young charge Zero, who like so many Anderson characters becomes surrogate-brother and surrogate-son but never entirely one or the other.

Gustave, Guitry

The landscape of Zubrowska is a cascade of accumulated references of literary and cinematic references, chiefly that of author Stefan Zweig, who wrote the stories that informed Max Ophuls’ Letter from an Unknown Woman and whose book The World of Yesterday described a Pre-WW1 world where one could travel across Europe without a passport. This becomes a theme when Gustave tries to convince ticket checkers, a tragic echo of The Darjeeling Limited that he doesn’t need papers and can get by because a young police officer (Edward Norton) whose mother was a guest at the Grand Budapest knew Monsieur Gustave well. This is also the world of Lubitsch, always a constant touchstone for Anderson, Renoir and even Resnais (not only Stavisky but also Marienbad) with references to Suspiria and Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers also hovering over the narrative.

This invented landscape created around clustered recreations from films and literature is not as some claim an attempt at hollow nostalgia of a pre-genocide Europe, it is Wes Anderson’s point of departure and how he approaches the distance from his position and the world of Zweig and Ophuls. In creating this world, he acknowledges and celebrates its artifice and construction with loving detail chiefly in the shift in aspect ratios, a coup de cinéma that moves from 1:85 to CinemaScope and then to the much neglected Academy Ratio of 1:33 used in the films of Lubitsch, Stroheim and Guitry – the square so believed of Orson Welles that gave actors height instead of width and made a close-up loom large. This is apparent in our first glimpse of Gustave, first on the back than a cut to the side as he steps forward in his conversation with Tilda Swinton’s Madame D, their faces looming tall.

What lifts it from this range of references is the force with which it celebrates the family of professional discipline. The hotel staff and the small quarters they inhabit, the chain of master-apprentice of Concierge-Lobby Boy, the hierarchy binds rather than separates. In this the film is much like The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. There’s much attention paid to maintain standards with even temporary replacements dealt with skepticism. The professional ties involves a secret society of concierges that functions as a final resort for Gustave H. The montage showing the Society of Crossed Keys, apparently a real-life secret-society is one of the funniest moments in all of Anderson involving perfect cameos by Bill Murray and Warris Ahluwalia. The film at times is a gallery of perfect cameos – Jeff Goldblum, Mathieu Amalric, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman and Harvey Keitel – all of whom are perfect and wonderful in their presences.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is perhaps the first real Wes Anderson with villains – Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe – and the villains are as funny and ridiculous as they are threatening and absurd. Willem Dafoe is about the only actor who can make the willful and spiteful murder of a cat into a bizarre comic gag. The humour of these vile characters differentiates them from the true villains, the armies that use the Grand Budapest and convert it into an army camp, invading the space of elegance and civility that had been Gustave’s life. They make a final appearance later on, as the more humourless and implacable quasi-Nazis that are ready to march across Europe.

At the centre of the film though is Monsieur Gustave, a character who is an expert dissembler and perhaps the first time Wes Anderson has created a genuine tragic figure. Gustave never tells anyone about his background or his upbringing, he bonds with Zero Moustafa and tells him that he was once a lobby boy but throughout the film he sleeps alone in a small quarter by himself. His vitality, his treasured assignations with elderly women and occasional dalliances with men, hints at a flexibility and an embrace of life’s complexity. The film’s old-fashioned approach to storytelling provides many hints. Namely the fact that Edward Norton’s sympathetic police officer is most likely Gustave’s son with one of his former partners and that given the context of the film and Gustave’s sense of real and imagined persecution, he’s likely an assimilated Jew clinging to a recreation of the trappings of culture that had already passed him by, becoming an embodiment of the Belle Epoque, over long before he arrived on the scene.  In that he embodies Wes Anderson, much as Jude Law and Tom Wilkinson’s writer character embodies other aspects of the artist, the artist not as autobiographer but a gatherer of narratives which they then recreate years after their own memory had failed them.

PH Ticker: Gordon Willis, Godard + Other Links

The Ticker, MastJune is a month of beauty and downpour. It’s monsoon season in India and for us, it lends the air and surroundings a rare and special beauty. Beauty is the heart of all things cinema.

Gordon Willis: 1931 – 2014

Willis, reining light in

Willis, reining light in



Among his many achievements, Gordon Willis is revered for his work as cinematographer for The Godfather trilogy.His work on those epochal films has created a particular palette of lighting that film schools identify as “Godfather lighting”, a broad palette of muted colors, yellow burnish, deep shadows and semi-silhouettes that has defined the look of period films and family dramas for more than forty years. It also earned him the title of “Prince of Darkness”, bestowed by fellow genius Conrad L. Hall.

Gordon Willis was a New Yorker, fitting for the man who defined the city for all time in the prologues of The Godfather Part II and Manhattan. The son of Broadway dancers, the performing arts was a natural inclination. He was initially a fashion photographer, before his stint in the Korean War, where he cut his teeth in a motion picture unit for the Air Force Photographic and Charting Service. After that he moved up the ladder and worked in commercials and documentaries. Documentary techniques inspired Willis to work with less light – “You learn to eliminate, as opposed to adding”. His special approach to realism defined the look of several films from the period known as “New Hollywood” – The Landlord (1970), Klute (1971), The Parallax View (1974) and All the President’s Men (1976).

Willis’ most productive collaboration however was with Woody Allen, a man who shared his minimalism, discreet style and subversive spirit to standard Hollywood shooting practices and techniques. Their collaboration began with Annie Hall (1977) and included the most visible and iconic stretch of his career – Interiors (1978), Manhattan (1979), Stardust Memories (1980), Zelig (1983), Broadway Danny Rose (1984) and The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). Zelig is a special tour-de-force of in-camera special effects matched with bluescreen technology and footage shot on old-fashioned cameras that were strategically damaged to seamlessly insert the titular character into real-life newsreels.

Woody Allen, 2Gordon Willis shot over 19 films that were nominated for the Academy Awards and he won a grand total of two nominations for his work and he has never won an Oscar for his work on either The Godfather films or the many classics of Woody Allen. He did win the inaugural Governor’s Awards at 2009. But Gordon Willis was above and beyond awards.

1) John Bailey A.S.C.(Mishima) writes on “Gordy” at the ASC Magazine’s Blog 

2) Tributes from former collaborators Francis Ford Coppola and Woody Allen, as well as Stephen Pizello who was in the middle of writing a book on Willis at the time of his death:

3) A brief clip from Todd McCarthy’s documentary Visions of Light, where Willis discusses the famous inspiration for The Godfather’s unique look.

4) Steven Soderbergh spearheaded the rediscovery of the Aram Avakian film End of the Road which was Gordon Willis’ first credit as cinematographer. In tribute, he has set up a lengthy transcript of an interview he conducted with him.

Eli Wallach (1915 – 2014)

Eli Wallach

Eli Wallach

Eli Wallach represents the famous adage that defines “character actors”: there are no small parts. With a little screentime, like an old money capitalist in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street 2 :Money Never Sleeps and he steels the film with his very presence, his lovely and hilarious mocking “bird” gestures that is essentially a herald of doom to all who see it. He’s also brilliant in cameos in masterpieces like Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River or Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer. His legend of course long preceded these films. In the 40s and 50s, Wallach formed part of the Actor’s Studio revolution that involved the likes of Elia Kazan, Marlon Brando and Lee Strasberg which completely altered the landscape of American theater and film. His film debut was Elia Kazan’s Baby Doll, an uncanny comedy of bad manners that was especially controversial in its release with Wallach as the scheming and ruthless seducer of the “innocent” Caroll Baker. Other notable roles includes the bad guy in The Magnificent Seven (far more interesting than the heroes), a supporting role in John Huston’s The Misfits, and one half of a gay hitman couple in Don Siegel’s The Lineup. Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly provided Wallach with his most enduring and beloved role as Tuco, the supposed “Ugly” who stole the film from both Lee Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood, though Wallach would later note the lax safety standards on the set of that film often led him to needlessly risk his life. His turn as Don Altobello in Coppola’s underrated The Godfather III is quite graceful as well.

1. Richard Corliss writes a detailed obituary on Wallach.

2. The New York Times obituary includes a touching video link of Wallach in his late 90s being visited by his grand nephew, the critic A. O. Scott.



Nuri Bilge Ceylan, with his Golden Palm

Nuri Bilge Ceylan, with his Golden Palm


1) Nuri Belge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep won the Palme d’Or, the first Turkish film to win since Yilmaz Güney’s Yol (1982). Alice Rohrwacher won the Grand Prix for The Wonders, Bennet Miller won for Foxcatcher. The great and evergreen Julianne Moore won Best Actress for Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars and Timothy Spall won Best Actor for Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner. The Jury Prize is shared by the unlikely duo of Xavier Dolan (Mommy) and Jean-Luc Godard (Adieu au langage). Full list of winners, here.

2) Godard deigned not to attend the festival this year, despite the fact that he considers Adieu au langage, his best film. He did send the next best thing to himself and his new film, another film, a short “Letter in Motion”. Daniel Kasman hosts the video at MUBI along with a transcript and translation.

3) Abel Ferrara stole the scene as it were when his film Welcome to New York, which played out of competition, ended up having a considerable showing in theatres in Cannes and a tent screening. The film has garnered the kind of attention that has eluded him since the mid-90s, tackling as his subject does with front-page headlines and matters of politics. The result has sparked angry letters from DSK’s wife, and threats from  The film was released on VOD in France and Ferrara is happy at the reception of the film, “call it karma…the film is out there”. A fascinating interview on the film is especially interesting.

4) Other worthy titles that played at Cannes include Olivier Assayas’ The Clouds of Sils Maria, Frederick Wiseman’s National Gallery, the Dardenne Brothers Two Days, One Night, Isao Takahata’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya and Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu.


Carax / Allen / Beatty / Varda / Mann


1. Leos Carax has recently completed a short film Gradiva made for the Galleria Gradiva an art museum located across the Louvre in Paris. You can see the short in HD.

2. Woody Allen’s next film, the film after his coming film Magic in the Moonlight (2014) will star Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone and the action is set in Rhode Island. The trailer for Magic in the Moonlight is also up.

3. Warren Beatty was one of the greatest stars of his age, one of the few of his generation that embodied the old fashioned glamour typical of the classic Hollywood star, this despite the fact that his greatest performances in Ishtar, Lilith, McCabe & Mrs. Miller subverted and challenged that image. As a director, he made two masterpieces – Reds (1981) and the fearless and funny Bulworth (1999). After a very long gap of fifteen years, he has returned to direct a biopic on Howard Hughes, a film he had planned to make in the 80s. He will play the legendary eccentric himself, alongside a cast comprised of Alec Baldwin, Aldren Ehrenreich, Martin Sheen, Mathew Broderick, Annete Benning, Candice Bergen and Lily Collins. Principal photography has already been completed.

Agnes Varda

Agnes Varda

4. Agnes Varda’s From Here to There, a video-essay/portrait/meetings is the subject of a fascinating article by Fernando F. Croce.

5. Michael Mann’s latest film Cyber, his first in six years, is an action thriller starring Chris Hemsworth, the first images have been released. The subject is pure Mann:

With great facility the people in the film move between Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Los Angeles and Chicago. And the film’s story takes you from those places to inside a processor, inside the electron universe, amongst a population of transistors,” he explained. “You have two billion transistors in your cell phone. Bits with either an absence or surplus of electrons, then become ones or zeroes, every two billionth of a second and affect the macro, our lives. That’s the world this film takes place in.

6. The Hubert Bals Fund of the International Film Festival Rotterdam has selected 11 film projects from 11 countries that will receive funding in script and project development. Among the titles is Ashim Ahluwalia’s upcoming project The Boyfriend, Another Trip to the Moon (Ismail Basbeth, Indonesia); The Calm (Song Fang, China); La omisión (Sebastián Schjaer, Argentina); Something Useful (Pelin Esmer, Turkey):


More Godard

1. In the late 70s, Jean-Luc Godard held a course at Montréal’s Concordia University. These lectures are published in Introduction to a True History of Cinema and Television, by Caboose Books. We hope to review the book as soon as we have a copy in our hands.

JLG, Caboose Book


2. Colin MacCabe, author of Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at Seventy (2003), has posted a two-part essay.

3. In addition to this, there’s a mammoth 45 minute interview with JLG for Canon which you can watch online.



The Far Side of Paradise

1. Richard Brody conducted a fascinating interview with Marin Karmitz, legendary producer and founder of MK2, one of the leading labels in French cinema and home video distribution. Karmitz produced films by Godard and Chabrol and remains an auteur’s producer as it were. He touches on the particularities of financing in the France, including a hilarious meeting with the legendary André Malraux, author, adventurer and Minister of Culture to President Charles de Gaulle.

So I saw the Minister, who said this magnificent thing. I explained my problem: “I can’t make the movie under these conditions. I’m compelled to rig the books, I’m compelled to lie, I’m compelled to say that I’m going to lower the budget, to pay people a percentage, etc., all sorts of things—to tell enormous lies. And he said this magnificent thing to me, André Malraux did: “Rig away, young man, rig away.” That was my first dealing with the government. It was my first lesson: “Rig away, young man, rig away.” So you see the idea that I have of the state … I rigged; I made my film.

André Malraux

André Malraux

2. The magazine Cine-Files has posted an interesting exchange between Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore on Film Acting. This is part of a broader feature of their Sixth Issue, which covers performance in cinema in general.

3. David Cairns posted an interesting article by guest blogger Randall William Cook, which also deals with an issue of performance. Namely Motion Capture and its relation to what we understand as conventional acting. Randall Cook was the Direct of Animation on the Lord of the Rings trilogy and he clarifies all sorts of misconceptions concerning mocap,namely if a person supplying expressions to the animators is an actor in any conventional sense. The issues are complicated to say the least.

4. The issue of the dubious nature of Ray Carney’s holdings of Mark Rappaport’s films remains unresolved as far as courts and Mr. Carney is concerned. But for fans who are worried about the visibility of Rappaport’s films, there is a silver lining. Fandor, an exemplary online distributor of films is hosting several titles for live streaming.

5. James Gray’s The Immigrant has released in America and Gray is conducting interviews and press circuit. He recently conducted an interesting podcast with author Bret Easton Ellis (Lunar Park, Glamorama, American Psycho the screenplay for Paul Schrader’s The Canyons).

6. The Austrian Film Museum website has put up for online viewing Dziga Vertov’s work with Kinonedelja (Kino-Week) newsreels, which as the website confirms, is his ‘first contribution to cinema’.

Vertov's 1926 film Šestaja čast' mira

Vertov’s 1926 film Šestaja čast’ mira

6. There are more links to look at here, as always.

7. La Furia Umana, the multi-lingual online magazine of choice, has put out its 20th online issue, featuring articles in English, French and Italian. King Vidor is the subject of several articles, including one by our very own Sudarshan Ramani.

An Ancient Civilisation of Sleaze

Excerpt from an Interview with Ashim Ahluwalia, director of Miss Lovely (2014) and John and Jane (2005), by Sudarshan Ramani. The full interview appears in Ten, the upcoming issue of Projectorhead.

Ahluwalia on the sets of Miss Lovely

Ahluwalia on the sets of Miss Lovely


Miss Lovely is about the transformation of Bombay. You see the 80s Bombay, ten years before the Free Market opens. And the end of it, you get a sense that people have moved on to different careers. I found that very poignant, there’s a sense that it never happened.
I think it’s true. I feel like that. I grew up in Bombay, in the Socialist India of the 1980s. This was a place of rotary phones, trunk calls, black and white doordarshan, a channel that actually went off air after a few hours in the day. They would say goodnight and then your TV just went blank, with no transmission anymore. No incessant, endless media. When I walk down the street now, I sometimes wonder where I am because it doesn’t look or feel like the same place I grew up. It’s quite ghostly actually. This idea of displacement appears a lot in my first film John and Jane (2005). That film is about the desire that we all have to be globalized “fake Americans” and it questions what it means to be “Indian” anymore. Miss Lovely, in a sense, goes back further, to the end of the 1980s and into the early 90s when socialism ended and our “globalization” began. Huge things have shifted in our lives but not many artists or filmmakers seem to be interested in these things.

In John and Jane you reveal your interest in adopting and creating new forms, and also in working with non-actors.
John & Jane was technically a “documentary” because the characters in the film and their spaces were all real. And yet it feels like science fiction. Those are real call centre employees but they are kind of performing themselves. This hybrid mix of documentary and science fiction comes from certain formal choices, like shooting on 35mm rather than video, or having every shot be static and highly composed. That immediately breaks the feeling that it’s a “documentary” which is usually shot on video and is handheld and improvised. It evokes an uncanny sensation; it makes you question what you’re watching. Is this real? Is this all made up?

John and Jane (2005)

John and Jane (2005)


I’m interested in the language of film. For me cinema has become very boring, particularly in the last twenty years or so because the language has become repetitive. So we have our “Bresson of today”, our “Tarkovsky of today” and our “Ozu of today”. It’s a sort of retro-fetishism because you don’t have a language of your own.


I have read a little on the production of the film. Initially it was going to be a documentary and it was intended to be your debut, before John and Jane. So how did that come about?
I came back to Bombay and I was interested in making a space for myself but I found it difficult to fit in because I studied experimental cinema in a small American college called Bard, under filmmakers like Peter Hutton, people who worked outside the American system. When I lived in the US, I almost never watched American films. What I did watch was Asian cinema, because I had been unexposed to anything other than mainstream movies growing up in Bombay. I was very excited by the possibilities of Asian film –particularly the Japanese New Wave of the 1960s.

I decided to make a documentary about the filming of a C grade film called Maut Ka Chehra, spending over a year in the murky back rooms of the industry. I felt like an outsider when I returned from film school, and this cinema was clearly an “outsiders” cinema, made illegally and independently. I could relate to that. Eventually the documentary I wanted to make fell apart – nobody wanted to participate for fear of arrest or a knife-wound from gangster financiers.

I felt that the cheap exploitation film offered me a third space, a space that nobody ever discussed, as opposed to the typical “Art Cinema” versus “Bollywood” dichotomy that everyone from Ray, Ghatak and even Guru Dutt had to struggle with. I felt that one thing I had to do was break that dichotomy because that’s always forcing a certain kind of film to go into production. Maybe Ghatak wanted to make a musical but he would never have done that because this dichotomy existed you see.  Commercial cinema in India tends to mean Heros, songs and dancing, and art cinema tends to mean “serious issues”, oppression and a total lack of humour. So I felt that my first film had to be a redefinition of what an Indian film can be. I wanted to make something that confused and blurred these categories and the C grade film kind of does that accidentally. It felt like the right place to start – to find fresh roots, engage an alternate film history, free myself from having to chose between two simplistic categories. Many of these cheap, sleazy films films are unintentionally experimental and very cinematic, they can also be politically very subversive, and that was exciting.

Were there any films in particular that stood out?
One of my favorite films is Naya Nasha, which is actually more of a B-movie, which means there is no sex in it. It’s apparently directed by someone called Hari but I believe that BR Ishara actually made it. He was kicked off at some point and never given credit. Naya Nashaa is a story about a traditional Indian housewife, played by Nanda, who gets addicted to LSD. So it’s in the format of a melodrama. She has these old college friends who continue to provide her with her fix. The whole thing is so gloriously twisted. It’s like she’s getting her fix yet she’s married to an orthodox doctor who is this beacon of citizenry and all that. She has a child but she’s tripping through the day. 

Nanda in Naya Nasha (1973)

Nanda in Naya Nasha (1973)


And there’s a miraculous scene when she gets married to the good doctor and she’s taken a ton of drugs on her wedding day. It’s a proper Indian marriage scene but with the bride on acid, sweating and twitching, with close-ups of the pandits shot through fractal lenses. Insanely tense filmmaking. It’s also very radical in terms of the female protagonist, and the way it subverts the weepie narrative until things get so out of hand that she accidentally kills her child. It’s like Fassbinder meets Sam Fuller but with an RD Burman-style soundtrack composed by Sapan Chakraborty. You know, there are others too. Private Life by BK Adarsh and Honey by Sheetal are top of the list as well.

I grew up in the 90s so I sort of remember that landscape, early 90s where you still saw posters of these C-Movies cluttering the streets. I didn’t see them, my family was middle class but I was aware that it was there and there were people seeing them. How widely were they seen?
They were seen very widely in villages, small towns and working class cinemas in the cities. I was recently asked to write an extended piece on the history of sex films in India. It goes way back, like Maharaja and colonial stag films from the 1920s – mostly shooting their domestic staff in the nude on 16mm – and then later in the 50s and 60s where you have more hardcore domestic pornography shot in secret. By the 1940s, stag films were already being shown in circus tents across small town India. It finally all ended in the late 1990s with the mass availability of VCDs, and eventually the Internet.

In C grade cinema, producers would bypass the censors by never including explicit material in the main film, and even if cuts were demanded, there would be no real effect on the outcome. Because the forbidden reels, know in Bombay as “bits”, would make it directly to the projection booth of the cinema, at night, carried by hand or on a bicycle. Here these sex reels would be spliced back into the main film, often in a random spot. So in the middle of a tragic death scene, it wouldn’t be unusual to suddenly have an 11-minute female masturbation sequence.

Some of the inserts were quite jarring; at times it was like watching something by Stan Brakhage. The porn reels were sometimes so scratched that they looked like hand-painted experimental films. There’s a whole secret history of Indian cinema buried in there.

Miss Lovely (2014)

Miss Lovely (2014)


The film we see at the beginning, in the context we see here is quite beautiful (HOUSE NUMBER 13) is ugly but beautiful, here it’s beautiful yet ugly. Was it difficult getting the rights and the clip of that film, because of the conditions of the print. The colours looked quite good.
We restored all the old films that we used in Miss Lovely. The negatives were badly damaged – many were dug out of basements or back rooms after decades and had fungus all over them. It was quite a long haul, to track the filmmakers who were mostly dead, then find their families, find the rights holders; it became like an archeology project, digging up an ancient civilization of sleaze.  But there was no other way to get access.

The Power of the Text: Tavianis’ ‘Caesar Must Die’

Sudarshan Ramani

SEVERAL LITERARY CRITICS over the years have wrestled with the opposition between Shakespeare the Writer and Shakespeare the Dramatist for the Stage. Without quite getting into this long debate, which has included the likes of G. B. Shaw and T. S. Eliot as well as Harold Bloom and Peter Brook, the point is that some Shakespeare plays read better on page than when they are performed. The reverse is true also; plays which are weak to read have proven effective on the stage. Pericles, Prince of Tyre for instance, a central part of Jacques Rivette’s Paris Belongs to Us. Then there’s Titus Andronicus, an underrated masterpiece of which Peter Brook mounted a landmark production with Laurence Olivier but which is lowly ranked and dismissed by several critics, for lacking, on page, the same power as King Lear or Hamlet.

Everyone from Elia Kazan to Brook note that there has never been a universally acknowledged masterpiece of a theatrical production of Hamlet that fully contains the vision of the text, leave alone on screen. In terms of economy, focus and writing, Julius Caesar is able to combine the two aspects, powerful as text and powerful as a dramatic work. The power of the text is indeed the subject of Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s Caesar Must Die which is, to say the least, one of the most unusual adaptations of Shakespeare to ever be put on screen.

The Taviani brothers have made films that are singular for its strong anthropological current. Their films are never about stories, plots and characters, but about places and cultures and classes. Their breakthrough film, Padre Padrone depicted the inner fortitude and personal resistance that led an illiterate Sardinian shepherd suffering under a fierce father to learn to read, write and become a published author, a process that is shown and depicted on screen. The digressive element in their films bears out strongly in Caesar Must Die.

Julius Caesar/Giovanni Arcuri(17 Years, Drug Trafficking)

Julius Caesar/Giovanni Arcuri(17 Years, Drug Trafficking)

Brutus/Salvatore Striano (14 Years and 8 Months, Organized Crime)

Brutus/Salvatore Striano (14 Years and 8 Months, Organized Crime)

Cassius/Cosimo Rega (Life Sentence, Homicide)

Cassius/Cosimo Rega (Life Sentence, Homicide)


The basic conceit of Caesar Must Die superficially resembles that of Marat/Sade, that is inmates putting on a show. The actors are all actual inmates, some of them prisoners, others of them ex-cons from the Rebibbia Prison in Rome. During the astonishing audition sequence at the beginning of the film, their rap-sheet and involvement in several crimes are read out loud, in a kind of parody of the Police Line-Up scene. The audition sequence is conducted by an ambitious artistic director called Fabio (who like the reporter in Citizen Kane, is mostly seen with his back to the camera) who seeks to test the dramatic potential of his non-actors. He asks each them to introduce themselves, their real name and family background, under the fictional condition of being at a station while acknowledging their off-screen wife. The final round up is Salvatore Striano, who was involved in organized crime, cast as Brutus. Giovanni Arcuri, who is in prison for trafficking narcotics, is Caesar. Cassius is played by Cosimo Rega, who is in prison for homicide.

The rest of the film charts out lengthy sequences of the non-actors reading out their lines and rehearsing several scenes with each other. These sequences which start out as naturalistic eventually become abstract. The Tavianis manage to show the in-between moments of rehearsal, the little moments where the actors become the characters. In this case, we see inmates with secondary education, from poor upbringings become representations of their famous Roman ancestors. Striano becomes Brutus, a figure from Shakespeare’s text. The blurring of lines between their real selves, their character roles and the space of rehearsal is never delineated by the Tavianis as a display of arch-self consciousness.



One moment is especially soft-pedalled. It’s the scene from Act 1, Scene II, where Brutus and Cassius overlook Caesar and Mark Anthony arriving in parade, where the Dictator is seemingly tempted to take the Crown and makes a show of protest and humility. Cassius laments that,

Rome has become a city without shame…Naples too has become a city without shame…Forgive me, Fabio, it seems to be sometimes that Shakespeare lived on the streets of my city

The delivery of this line is simple and without affectation. A more comical moment is Giovanni Arcuri reading his school textbook of Julius Caesar’s account on his campaign in Gaul. These scenes which can be described as “rehearsal” are essayistic, digressive but they also contain abstraction, they work in cinema as the real things itself.

The extended sequence of Caesar’s assassination and the aftermath goes into full abstraction. The large prisoner yard is the location for Caesar’s arrival, this includes the Caesar ignoring the prophecy of the “ides of march” and a letter of warning given by a conflicted senator. Caesar/Arcuri walks through the same prison yard that must be part of his daily routine, only now he walks like Caesar, with towel around him forming a toga. He walks with authority and honor. The manner in which text allows the actors to transform themselves and changes their relation to space achieves special poignancy here.

The assassination of Caesar at the End of Act III of the play is staged in a small confined room that becomes the Roman Senate. The sequence has Caesar being asked to free a relation of Metellus(“Is there no voice more worthy than my own/To sound more sweetly in Caesar’s ear/for the repealing of my banish’d brother?”). Caesar, balked at being asked to fulfill demands by one as low as he stresses his authority over his former comrades (“Caesar, thou dost me wrong”). His rejection of this final offer for saving face triggers the assassination as the conspirators kill him to preserve Rome’s dying Republic. First Casca(“Speak, hands, for me!”) then the others, Metellus, Decius, Cassius and at last Brutus, Caesar’s closest friend who chooses duty over friendship.

Et tu brute

Et tu brute


The center of Shakespeare’s Tragedy is Brutus, a honorable man who commits assassination to preserve the Roman State from tyranny and whose very actions creates the thing he opposes, the rise of Octavian, Rome’s First Emperor. In Orson Welles’ hands, the Mercury Theatre production made it a play about the rise of fascism and resisting tyranny. The Tavianis broaden the social vision, a circle of prisoners cast away from the state playing characters who are themselves trapped by older codes.

It also sidesteps the trappings of this conceit, the promise of redemption and higher calling through art. The actual theatrical production which frames the action is shot in colour, unlike the black-and-white of the majority of the film. Black and white represents abstraction and the freedom of the mind, one which exists only in the in-between moments of rehearsal. The actual production only shows us the scenes of Brutus’ death and the curtain call, where the actors arrive on stage, namely Arcuri/Caesar and Rega/Cassius lift up the prostate Brutus and join hands with their cast in a happy cheer. After that its back to their lonely, small cells.

The Taviani’s use of these actors, prisoners and penitents, lends them a poignancy and bearing that society does not accord them, their only freedom being found in the words of a text written several hundred years ago.

The text is rigid but it offers freedom to find yourself.

PH Ticker: Early Summer, Cannes, The Bard, Links

The Ticker, Mast
It’s been a dry summer so far. Theatrical releases of proper measure are in short supply and unless I misread the charts I think the summer blockbusters despite the vaunted figures are actually commanding even less respect than they used to, though technically it’s still early days.


It’s a matter of debate whether Cannes is, in Kazuo Ishiguro’s words, a “trade fair” for people to buy and sell films, a glorified fashion parade, or the “Mecca of Cinema” as producer G. K. Desai once told me. Some years it’s more one aspect than the other. But anyone hoping to navigate its legendarily long lines can find little to complain with the lineup for May.

Cannes 2014


1. Two of Canada’s finest, Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg, are in competition with new films. Their careers are a delicate inverse contrast. Cronenberg began working in low-budget genre films to literate arthouse films like A Dangerous Method and Cosmopolis. Egoyan made his name with formalist autobiographical films like Calendar and Ararat has become something of an Anglo-American Claude Chabrol in his recent, underrated, thrillers Where the Truth Lies and Chloe with The Captive, starring Ryan Reynolds, despite its Proustian title, another outing in the same. Maps to the Stars is, remarkably, Cronenberg’s first film to be shot in the United States, reminding us that the old provocateur has always been an independent(rejecting like David Lynch, a chance to direct the third part of the first Star Wars trilogy) despite working for a long time in his self-made genre of body horror.

2. Mike Leigh and Ken Loach are also in competition. After the success of The Wind That Shakes The Barley, Ken Loach has returned to Ireland with Jimmy’s Hall dealing with Ireland’s little known “red scare”. Mike Leigh’s long-in-gestation Mr. Turner starring Timothy Spall as England’s greatest painter is finally ready and geared for competition.

3. The French or rather the Francophone, has a strong showing this year. Olivier Assayas’ Sils Maria featuring an all-star cast of Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloë Grace Moretz (from Hugo) is in competition. As is Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent and Oscar winner Michael Hazanavicius with his latest film The SearchXavier Dolan, French Canadian, is also in competition with his new film, Mommy. While from Belgium, we have the Dardennes with Deux jours, une nuit.

Marion Cotillard in the new Dardenne Brothers'.

Marion Cotillard in the new Dardenne Brothers’.


4. First among his very few equals, Jean-Luc Godard, created a storm of frenzy when his masterpiece, Film Socialism, played at Cannes two years ago.  His long in gestation 3D film Adieu au langage is in competition. Made like most of his films for the last three decades, near his childhood landscapes of Switzerland, his latest film is the event of Cannes. His 3D short, Les trois désastres, (a pun that only he can pull off) was filled with desolation and cold, but his wit and bite was as sharp as ever. Godard is also a contributor to the anthology film Les Ponts de Sarajevo which is part of a special screening that includes contributions from Islid le Besco, Ursula Meier, Cristi Puiu and Teresa Villaverde.

5. Rounding out the list are new films from Abderrahmane Sissako (Timbuktu). The Homesman,Tommy Lee Jones’ follow-up to his well-regarded debut(The Three Burials at Melquiades Estrada), Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Kis Uykusu and films by Naomi Kawase, Bennett Miller, Alice Rohrwacher and others.

6. In Un Certain Regard, we have films directed by actors (Asia Argento, Mathieu Amalric, Ryan Gosling), new films by Lisandro Alonso and Pascale Ferran; The Salt of the Earth, a collaboration between Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado.

7. Quinzaine des Réalisateurs which has prized itself as the venue of picking ripe cherries overlooked by the main competition of Cannes includes a promising showcase of 2013-2014 releases from directors like Celine Sciamma, Fabrice du Welz, Daniel and Mathew Wolfe and Kim Seong-Hun and several short films. It also includes Isao Takahata’s anime film from Studio Ghibli, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, John Boorman’s Queen and Country and Frederick Wiseman’s National Gallery. A retrospective screening of Tobe Hooper’s A Texas Chainsaw Massacre is also scheduled.


Jane Campion heads the director-actor jury comprising Carole Bouquet (Luis Bunuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire), Leila Hatami (Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation), Jeon Do-yeon (Im Sang Soo’s The Housemaid), Willem Dafoe, Gael Garcia Bernal, Jia Zhangke and Nicolas Winding Refn. The Cannes Film Festival begins on May 14 and ends on May 25.


William Shakespeare was born on 26th of April 1564 and died on 23rd of April 1616 as far as agreed upon academic facts are concerned. There has been much coverage online on great Shakespeare movies and the like.

1. Richard Brody writes eloquently on Orson Welles’ The Tragedy of Othello, one of the most baroque and awesome films ever made. Nobody has answered the challenge of carving a mise-en-scene and montage worthy of the Bard better than Welles and as Brody writes,

Welles invested even the simplest of cinematic devices with a subtle but vastly affecting complexity. He filmed one of the play’s most dramatic confrontations, Othello’s direct accusation of Desdemona (played by Suzanne Cloutier) in a castle chamber, mainly with the classical and straightforward schema of shot and reverse shot, cutting back and forth to each character speaking in isolation in a frame. But with his choice of lenses and angles, the lighting and the rhythm of editing, the disposition of the actors in each composition and his control and direction of gestures and gazes, Welles suggests that two characters who are within arm’s reach of each other are calling and crying to each other across a desolate and unbridgeable chasm. Man and woman could hardly be closer, or further apart.

Rest, here.

Welles’ The Tragedy of Othello is released in a new restoration that is based on the controversial 1992 restoration which apparently damaged Welles’ soundtrack. The Cannes 1952 version with Welles’ soundtrack was released on Criterion Laserdisc but is unlikely to resurface any time soon.

2. Adrian Curry at MUBI puts up a nice list of various posters from Shakespeare films, here’s Jean-Luc Godard’s King Lear.

3. Related to Shakespeare, is our own piece on Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s Caesar Must Die, one of the most striking adaptations of Shakespeare in cinema in recent times.

4. Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive  is about a host of things, its about simplicity and the pleasures of enjoying a lifetime’s company with the person you love. One of its conceits is Jarmusch’s contribution to the Shakespearean Authorship Debate, which posits that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon much like many of the screenwriters during the Hollywood blacklist was a front for persecuted or secret authors. Jarmusch believes, in John Hurt’s words that “Marlowe wrote Shakespeare and that Marlowe is alive and that I am Christopher Marlowe”. Of all the alternative theories this makes the most sense, it’s a lot easier to believe another genius wrote the works of a genius. Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive released in April to limited theatres.


You can never keep a good auteur down. Or not all the time anyway.

1. Abel Ferrara’s Welcome to New York, his long awaited film-de-clef on the downfall of IMF Boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn is to be released straight on VOD in France. The film was supposed to play at Cannes this year but Vincent Maraval of Wild Bunch has believed that this will be a better approach. Meanwhile, Ferrara has already moved on to his long-in-gestation biopic of Pier Paolo Pasolini, starring the perfectly cast Willem Dafoe.

Welcome to New York

Abel Ferrara’s ‘Welcome to New York’


2. Clint Eastwood makes his first film in three years with Jersey Boys, an adaptation of a popular Broadway musical. Eastwood who composes many of his films has made several films documenting musicians including Bird and Honkytonk Man.

The trailer could be cut to not resemble Scorsese-esque but it’s fine.

3. James Gray’s The Immigrant, which we wrote about here, is set to be released in America. Here is a trailer cut by the director himself.

4. Terence Davies’ adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibson’s Sunset Song was another long-in-gestation project. It’s finally begun filming.


1. Steven Soderbergh is currently retired from mainstream narrative film-making as he defines it. His new TV series, a period drama about early medicine, The Knick is currently in production. He has also developed a nice website Extension 765 and has recently released his personal edit of Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate:

As a dedicated cinema fan, I was obsessed with HEAVEN’S GATE from the moment it was announced in early 1979, and unfortunately history has show that on occasion a fan can become so obsessed they turn violent toward the object of their obsession, which is what happened to me during the holiday break of 2006. This is the result.

2. Adrian Martin and Cristina Álvarez López have released a video essay on Scorsese’s After Hours:

3. Les Inrocks have compiled a list of 100 Best French Films with Jean Eustache’s La Maman et la putain at Number 1. The full list is below. It heavily favors films from the New Wave to Post-New Wave over the classic era. There’s far too little Sacha Guitry for my tastes and Bertrand Tavernier, director of L.627, Laissez-Passer and several other worthy films aren’t there either. Nor is Joseph Losey’s M. Klein. But it’s a pretty good list on the whole and I am pleased that Truffaut’s underrated The Woman Next Door is so high up. The full list, here.

4. Alexander Keefe‘s wonderful ongoing super-project of creating a digital archive of ancient and more recent Films Division titles here, on his wonderful tumbler blog.

5. At (Serge Daney in English)this Adrian Martin translation of Raymond Bellour’s 2009 talk at Jeonju about Daney’s founding principles for Trafic.

6. British Pathe‘s put up 80 years of archival videos on Youtube.

The Ongoing Saga of Welles’ Legacy

Sudarshan Ramani

‘I think all movies are better than we think they are…’


IN HIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY, Luis Buñuel noted that while he didn’t fear death and had no great belief or need for an afterlife, he did nurture a desire to return from the grave every ten years or so, read the papers, and then go back to his eternal slumber satisfied that there was nothing he was missing. If Orson Welles was granted this ability, he would undoubtedly arrive at the same conclusion. The same tired dead arguments are thrown around periodically as and when Welles is exhumed. Either a saint or martyr for united auteurs of the world or a cautionary story with the same pro/con arguments repeated ad infinitum.


Citizen Kane formerly occupied top spot for four decades on both critics and director’s lists on the Sight and Sound poll. In 2012, it was eclipsed in favor of Tokyo Story on the director’s list and Vertigo on the Critic’s list. One possible result of Citizen Kane losing some of the dust it gathered from being placed on a pedestal is an opportunity to look at Welles outside the shadow of that epochal film debut. Escaping that shadow, however, leads us to confront an even larger one. With Welles this is the shadow of success. Success is the main narrative that revolves around the celebrity gossip industry. The desire to bask in reflected glory and the urge to feed that to several generations of readers. It is not for nothing that Joseph McBride titled his seminal biography on Frank Capra, The Catastrophe of Success; a critical look at another supremely talented film-maker who proved, finally, to be far more self-destructive than Orson Welles.

It is not enough, not for Peter Biskind, editor of My Lunches With Orson, that he made an immortal film at the age of 25 and changed film-making forever, Welles must be a success to. This defines how Biskind in his introduction frames the discussion of Welles’ career which is the lazy and standard rise and fall of the Great Man, the usual cliché of Welles-as-Kane(when Welles-as-Falstaff is more apropos). He also makes some dubious critical observations about Touch of Evil. Peter Biskind had previously established his infamy as the hatchet man for the New Hollywood with his gossip-ridden chronicle of a generation – Easy Riders Raging Bulls which is both the most famous and the most useless work of film history on the 70s generation, marred as it is with the fixation of “success” and reflected glory. If the choice of Biskind is dubious enough, Henry Jaglom’s a better than average interviewer if not as skillful as Bogdanovich in penetrating Welles’ armor as he did in This is Orson Welles (Edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum).

Bogdanovich had worked as a critic and programmer specializing in interviews with Golden Age film-makers, the likes of Raoul Walsh, Howard Hawks, Fritz Lang, Josef von Sternberg and the monosyllabic John Ford. This afforded him enough experience in handling Welles’ teasing evasions and discomfort in discussing his work. The charming way he corners Welles into admitting his fondness for Kenji Mizoguchi (“You can’t praise him enough, really”) is one of the sweetest moments in that book. Jaglom had no such training, being a film-maker and a friend of Welles, having encouraged him to develop and write The Big Brass Ring, the script of which was complete and is described by Jaglom as the “Kane for the second half of the 20th Century” with the first film dealing with America in the first 50 years of the same. The resulting film would have been an agreeable bookend to Welles’ career, he notes and his discussions with Welles on the same subject are fascinating especially his observations on various political figures.

In Bogdanovich’s book Welles made some interesting observations on his stylistic preferences. He refers to the structure of Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls with its endless digressions and asides. This digressive aspect of Welles is on full view in Jaglom’s book, where conservations tend to wander around several different tangents and curves. Welles is especially reluctant to discuss his films in detail and Jaglom skims that to go on a more wide-ranging yet uneven look at Welles’ varied interests in art, history and culture, his tales of associations with famous actors and, what is obviously the money-spinner of this book, his cutting, rude, descriptions of several major figures in the performing arts from Laurence Olivier to Woody Allen, Charlie Chaplin to Spencer Tracy, you can count on one hand the list of people Welles has a kind word to say about, in this book at least.

There  are a couple of stray moments of interest when Welles describes his craft, such as his feeling that F For Fake is “the only really original movie I’ve made since Kane” and that he feels that in terms of expanding the grammar of film, “the movies—I’ll say a terrible thing—have never gone beyond Kane”, further noting that “Every artistic form—the blank-verse drama, the Greek plays, the novel—has only so many possibilities and only so long a life. And I have a feeling that in movies, until we break completely, we are only increasing the library of good works.”

More interesting is Welles’ description of his approach to editing,


I hate those great huge rolls of film in stacks of cans. And I have a system, which is, I always make what I call a source, for every scene. Which is another reel that includes every fragment of what I’ve picked out that might be good. Because in a bad take, there may be something I like, so I put all of them on one reel. And before I’m finished with a scene, I always run the source, to be sure I’ve squeezed everything I can out of it. But I have to run through the whole reel to find that one bit, so it takes forever. I spend all my time handling film.

•  •  •

Such observations are interesting in light of how Welles worked in his European films, especially the production of The Tragedy of Othello, described in his film-essay Filming Othello. In F For Fake, Welles used the Moviola which he lovingly depicted. In Jaglom’s book, he has started using a Flatbed and extols its virtues for allowing him more freedom to think and act and the excitement in his descriptions at less intensive equipment anticipates some of the issues with digital film-making.

Not mentioned in the interviews is that around the same time Jaglom was conducting his interviews, Welles was already exploring Sony Betacam technology and the Montage non-linear video editing equipment, which he discussed with Frank Beacham, at the very same restaurant these interviews are conducted in fact, Ma Maison[1]. This omission, or perhaps restraint, ought to clue us in on the fact that the Welles in this book is fairly guarded and theatrical rather than confessional. There have been some concerns raised by cinematographer and Welles associate Gary Graver whether he was aware that Jaglom was recording the conversations on tape. Jaglom insists that Welles was aware and considering that this book is published nearly thirty years later when more than a few targets of Welles’ attacks are dead, I am inclined to believe him.

A lot of Welles’ comments on the likes of Laurence Olivier and others are probably the kind of backstage “taking the mickey” indulged in by all kinds of professionals.  Artists are naturally competitive and Welles is little exception disliking almost all films that came after him, and except for Erich von Stroheim, finding some caveat or the other even among film-makers he admires. Even his rudest dismissal, of the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, leads to a self-critical qualification


 I see movies through such a mist of years, I am incapable of feeling the thrill of them, even the greatest ones, because I cannot erase those years of experience. I’m jaded. Before I started making movies, I’d get into them, lose myself. I can’t do that now. That’s why I don’t think my opinions about movies are as good as somebody’s who doesn’t have to look through all those filters. I think all films are better than we think they are.

•  •  •

The most interesting section in terms of insight is the penultimate chapter of the book where one by one Welles lashes out at various people who had wounded him, either actively or passive-aggressively. My personal favorite is his attack on Charlton Heston. Despite starring in Touch of Evil and even suggesting that Welles direct the film, Heston had always qualified their collaboration as a “B movie” and regarded it as one of his lesser films, this despite it being one of his few good performances as an actor. Welles unceremoniously describes him as a “horse’s ass, because he’s in a film of mine that other people think is important, so why doesn’t he shut up and pretend it’s important?”

The part where the book gets problematic in allowing readers to hear Welles give vent is the lack of editorial context. From reading Welles’ accounts, we get a sense that John Houseman, his former Mercury Theatre collaborator is a kind of slimy individual, an opinion that Jaglom as Welles’ friend doesn’t challenge. Houseman was in fact a highly respected producer who collaborated on major films with Vincente Minnelli and Nicholas Ray, with the latter, no friend of producers in general, describing him as the best he worked with. If Biskind was more scrupulous he would have tried to qualify this and warn readers not to allow Welles’ opinion to inform our own, especially since today Welles’ profile far exceeds that of John Houseman. Whatever animosity that happened between Welles and him, it does no one any favor at this extremely late stage to take sides in this grudge.

Welles’ description of Robert Carringer is also redolent of that self-righteousness which underlies a lot of his statements. Carringer is generally considered the leading scholar on the production of Citizen Kane and he had thoroughly debunked Pauline Kael’s poorly researched contention that Herman Mankiewicz and not Welles had written the whole of Kane. But Carringer’s book on Kane in fact emphasizes, with sufficient documentation that Welles had made radical use of RKO’s production facilities, giving weight to Welles’ famous description of the film set as “the biggest electric train set a boy ever had” and that the film was a “collaborative” work rather than a one-man show. Welles resents this seeming blemish on his genius, when Carringer’s book merely provides a deeper sense of appreciation at how his great talent actually worked.  One can only wonder what Welles would have made of Carringer’s introduction in The Magnificent Ambersons’ Shooting Script, which is one of the most critical yet compelling accounts of the production of that film. One which highlights Welles’ erratic behavior, as outlined in contemporary documents and his own evasions on the true nature of that extremely personal film.

Biskind and Jaglom are tragedians who in this book try to portray Welles in a state of decay. They don’t succeed because Welles even in dire straits is filled with an all-conquering vitality. Welles’ life is too rich to measure in terms of middle class success. Described by Jean Renoir as the only true aristocrat among film-makers, Welles comes of more like Prospero; the exiled Duke of Milan in Shakespeare’s final work, trapped in an island yet whose magic and cunning is as powerful as ever. In F for Fake, he disarmingly notes that he “started from the top and worked my way to the bottom” but his career is picaresque rather than tragic, filled with asides, digressions and anecdotes, one which is strangely ongoing even several years after his death.

The radical aspect of Welles’ career is that he lacks a definite final film, since so many of them were incomplete or near-complete at the time of his death. The Other Side of the Wind seems to have the best chance to resurface from the legal quagmire, so we have at least one new Orson Welles film to anticipate in the coming century.


Without Luck & Money: Woody Allen’s ‘Blue Jasmine’

Sudarshan Ramani

Blue Jasmine (2013)

In Woody Allen’s recent post-Match Point cycle, there is very little of the deliberate affectations of European cinema that is a feature of his 70s and 80s films. Films like Manhattan, Interiors, Annie Hall, and Stardust Memories wore its influences proudly and discussed them openly, which left Allen open to charges of being a mere imitator of Bergman, Fellini and the New Wave. It’s a terrific irony that now that he’s making films that are unmistakably his own, audiences use his great early films to put down his more original contemporary films. What makes movies like Match Point, Cassandra’s Dreams, You’ll Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, Midnight in Paris, Whatever Works and (I’d argue) To Rome With Love, amazing is its very casual mastery. The simplicity in plot and general theme, luck in Match Point for instance, allows wide scope for digression and multiple shifts in tone. Where Hannah and Her Sisters allowed for a Duck Soup inspired revelation as a safety hatch for conflict resolution, You’ll Meet A Tall Dark Stranger dispenses with that altogether. It’s also an ensemble film about relationships and romantic disappointment but it’s more punishing and painful in its observations and it deliberately leaves its characters suspended at the end, resting at a stopping point more than a clear ending. This lyricism achieved its apex with Midnight in Paris, his happiest film in thirty years. The non-narrative opening of Paris life accompanied to Sidney Bechet is an incredible tour-de-force, achieving a kind of rapture that has little to compare it to. To Rome With Love mines repeated material and invocations of 60s Italian cinema but with enough freshness for it to feel new and fresh, especially in the Alec Baldwin-Jesse Eisenberg segment, both of whom are separate characters as well as their respective older/younger counterparts at the same time.

The ironies aren’t merely verbal or literal, they are also visual. Indeed in terms of mise-en-scene, Allen’s films recent films are among his most inventive. Cassandra’s Dream’s central moment involves a conversation between Tom Wilkinson’s evil uncle deputizing his two lower middle-class nephews into his scheme. Just when he’s letting them into a secret, he takes over, stage whisper style, to the shadow of a tree and the camera circles them through its branches. In a single extended take, the film shifts in style from middle-class fraternal drama to the gothic world of melodrama, with thunder and rain as accompaniment and Tom Wilkinson slowly incarnating Mephistopheles as he growls, “Family is family, and blood is blood”. This abrupt shift in register and mood is the central feature of Allen’s recent films. His ability to inflect a single backwards glance with years of longing and pain, as in You’ll Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, where the camera follows Anthony Hopkins long backwards gaze at his young wife dancing in a nightclub, with the pitiless self-awareness that’s been eluding him coming to him in a rush.

This lyricism and shift in tone continues in Blue Jasmine, a film which on close observation combines Woody Allen’s comic and serious strains, his Groucho Marx and Arthur Miller sides. In the early parts of the film, when Jasmine is crying for a “Stoli martini with a lemon twist” she wouldn’t be out of place in My Man Godfrey, a Carole Lombard comedy about a wealthy heiress who is innocently offensive to the plight of the poor during the Depression. Indeed what is remarkable is how deftly Allen and Cate Blanchett shift tones from that register to the O’Neill/Miller/Williams extreme.

Some aspects of the film’s plot and Cate Blanchett’s powerful performance has drawn comparisons with A Streetcar Named Desire with the plot of a déclassé snob imposing her class values on her sister but the structure of the film, in terms of the segues between past and present has more in common with Death of a Salesmen. Jasmine is a character who perceives her surroundings and relatives as supporting characters to her story with herself as the heroine around which everyone orbits. Her character is essentially comical and ridiculous, lacking the rich sense of self and genuine refinement which makes Blanche DuBois an affecting tragic figure. Much like Scorsese and DiCaprio did in The Wolf of Wall Street, Allen and Blanchett approach Jasmine on her own, difficult terms. The film explores Jasmine in a series of flashbacks that are suffused with the air of the sinister, a gradual unearthing of the truth buried in delusion and bad faith.

The subject of Jasmine is money and what it does to people. Its real predecessor to Blue Jasmine is Erich von Stroheim’s Greed, also set in San Francisco and featuring a creepy dentist (Gibson Gowland in the original, Michael Stuhlbarg here, albeit a brief cameo). In Stroheim’s film, unexpected earnings in the lottery destroy a working class couple and drive all its characters into various states of insanity. The sour point between Jasmine and her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) is the fact that she and her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) coaxed her and her first husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) to invest their lottery earnings in Hal’s brokerage firm, only for that to collapse when Hal gets exposed as a Madoff-esque fraud during the financial crisis. The result of that setback is the end of both sisters marriages though Jasmine, déclassé and suddenly impoverished loses her entire lifestyle and a great deal of her sanity.

A lot has been noted of the film’s anachronistic sense of detail, the fact that Jasmine in the age of smartphones and tablets has to take a computer class to be a receptionist, but this sense of disconnect with reality anchors the film in its exploration of the character’s subjectivity. It’s especially apparent when the film cuts between the present and the flashbacks. The landscape of San Francisco (where most of the film is shot in) is very distinct but the film shows its most generic features, so when it cuts between New York (Past) and the present it’s not always clear. The film occasionally steps outside the confines of Jasmine into asides on other characters, all of whom are ably played by a terrific cast.

Sally Hawkins’ Ginger in many ways is more of a hero than Jasmine, being a divorced single mother who is compassionate and free of justified grudge-bearing. Andrew Dice Clay is especially poignant and compelling as the voice of the average 99%. Alec Baldwin projects an impressive coldness and restraint in his shady financier as a man who doesn’t seem to take real pleasure in his power and privilege except in the fact that he can exercise it. The venom hidden in his glib likability and poise makes him far more sinister than Alan Alda’s more buffoonish embodiment of corporate greed in Crimes and Misdemeanors.

The idea of all of Woody Allen’s films is what Percy Shelley expressed as The Triumph of Life. Time, exhaustion and disappointment ages every great shining philosophy, ideology and erodes all sense of possibility and achievement. Jasmine lives in dread of this withering of self and in the personal way she experiences humiliation and her self-inflicted isolation, Allen finds a kindred spirit and a clear expression of existence in all its awful reality.

PH Ticker: Alain Resnais, Berlinale 2014, the Oscars

The Ticker, Mast

The Berlinale, the first “grand slam” in the festival circuit, ended on February 16, 2014.

1) Dao Yinan’s Black Coal, Thin Ice won the Golden Bear with actor Liao Fan collecting he Silver Bear for Best Actor.

2) The films that played in competition included titles from Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Richard Linklater’s decade-in-the-making Boyhood, Yoji Yamada’s The Little House, and new titles from Lou Ye, Dominick Graf, and the film that is now Alain Resnais’ final work, Aimer, boire et chanter (Life of Riley).

3) Outside of competition, the current favorite little-film-that-could from India, Imtiaz Ali’s Highway played in the Panorama section. Other titles in that section was Tsai Ming-liang’s Journey to the West, and Michel Gondry’s animated conversation with Noam Chomsky, Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?




Alain Resnais’ passing on March 2nd has brought out a series of tributes around the net. Including one from our own website.

1) MUBI has started its own round-up, featuring links of old articles it has online. I especially recommend, Ehsan Khoshbakht’s study of photographs from Resnais’ collection Repérages, if only for bringing into light Resnais’ less well known career as a photograph and illustrator.

2) Glenn Kenny has reposted a recent 2007 interview conducted with Resnais on phone, capturing the master’s charm and kindness.

3) Jonathan Rosenbaum has also started rounding up earlier articles on Resnais, including a piece on Resnais’ recent films, which has the revelation that the screenwriter, “Alex Reval”, on Resnais’ Les herbes folles and Vous n’avez rien encore vu are no one but Resnais himself.


1) Within France, President François Hollande acknowledges the loss of a cultural treasure. “He constantly renewed genres. Each of his films was an innovation. He constantly broke codes, rules and patterns while appealing to a wide audience. He also helped generations of actors and technicians with whom he worked to give their best. He has always been loved by them.”

2)  Gilles Jacob, outgoing director of the Cannes Film Festival, insisted that France declare a National Funeral, comparable to the public mourning of Fellini in Italy, neglecting to do so, he says, would be “an abandonment of glory”. Thierry Fremaux, present Cannes Director, notes “As Billy Wilder said of Lubitsch’s death, ‘No More Resnais.’ But beyond that, ‘No More Resnais Films.” Fremaux also noted that Resnais, “talked a lot about others’ films. He would say, ‘Making films is fine, but seeing films is even better.’”

3) Resnais edited Agnes Varda’s very first feature, La Pointe courte. Varda remembers him: “I’ll never forget his punctuality, his patience and respect for my clumsy film. It’s his generosity that impressed me the most in this film adventure, where money was lacking. Alain Resnais meant a lot to me at an age where we’re still struggling to define ourselves. We shared a taste for surrealism, Italian painting and wordplay.”

4) The last two years has seen the passing of several luminaries, Chris Marker and Theo Angelopoulos (2012), Patrice Chéreau (2013) and in 2014 so far, both Resnais and Miklós Jancsó, who died on January 31, 2014. Jancsó’s long takes prefigures the style of Béla Tarr who once noted his mentor planned to cast him in the role of Jesus Christ. Jancsó’s epochal films of the 60s and 70s, The Red and the White, Silence and Cry, The Round-Up, Red Psalm are ripe for rediscovery.

Miklos Jancsó (1921 - 2014)

Miklos Jancsó (1921 – 2014)

5) Early February usually features the Oscar ceremony once again making a pitch for its relevance; this year the Winter Olympics in Sochi moved the ceremony to early March. Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave won awards for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay while Alfonso Cuaron collected Best Director and alongside Mark Sanger, won another Oscar for Best Editing, with Gravity winning 5 other technical awards. Paolo Sorrentino won Best Foreign Film for La grande bellezza. In a slight upset, Morgan Neville’s 20 Feet from Stardom won Best Documentary over Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing. Spike Jonze won Best Original Screenplay for Her.