Sight & Sound named Joanna Hogg’s semiautobiographical The Souvenir (2019), introducing Honor Swinton Byrne as a promising young filmmaker who falls for a charismatic (if self-indulgent) heroin addict, as the greatest film of the year, according to IndieWire. The BBC also listed it in the hundred best movies directed by women; in addition, Sight & Sound included Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite (2019), Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman (2019), and Jordan Peele’s Us (2019) in its top twenty. Neither Sight & Sound, nor Time with its top ten, recognized Todd Phillips’s Joker (2019), but both did Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story (2019).
Feminist documentarian releases new anti-Mafia film
Kim Longinotto’s documentary, Shooting the Mafia (2019), biographizes Letizia Battaglia, a Palermo-born eighty-four-year-old woman who left behind her life as an unhappy housewife in her forties to photograph Mafia atrocities for L’Ora, according to the New Statesman. Battaglia was the first female photographer to work at a daily Italian newspaper, and she would go on to take six hundred thousand pictures of the Costa Nostra as well as the devastation they wrought on Sicilian communities, where eighty percent of businesses still pay protection money. The filmmaker, whose other feminist documentaries include Divorce Iranian Style (1998) and The Day I Will Never Forget (2002), hopes her latest release will counterbalance Hollywood’s popular Mafia narrative, which still inspires young Sicilian men to join the Cosa Nostra.
Xfinity reconnects E.T. and Elliot
Lance Acord’s four-minute A Holiday Reunion (2019), a sequel to Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), will reunite E.T. and a now married-with-children Elliot (Henry Thomas) at theater pre-shows over the long holiday weekend, according to Deadline. The Comcast commercial, produced by their advertising agency, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, premiered as a two-minute cut during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC, before the full edit played on Syfy during their airings of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Thursday night. Spielberg never took creative control of the ad, but was consulted throughout the process and responded favorably to the theme of “connection.”
The future of artificial intelligence in the film industry
As part of a screening for her documentary, iHUMAN (2019), at Tallinn’s European Film Forum, Norwegian filmmaker Tonje Hessen Schei says while Artificial Intelligence (AI) changes media consumption, humans should still tell the stories, according to Screen International. With footage of more than eighty interviews shot over five years for her to edit into iHUMAN, Hessen Schei says an AI editor would have been more efficient, but at the price of unpredictability. “The best art in the world is created by error and human madness, and beautiful fantasy that we have,” Hessen Schei says, adding that the United States and China may be leading the AI race, but Europe should develop ethical guidelines for top-one-percent production companies.
Michael Jackson biopic will span singer’s life in all its “complexity”
Graham King, who produced Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), has acquired the rights to make a Michael Jackson biopic spanning his entire life (including the 1994 and 2005 child molestation allegations), as well as access to all his music, according to The Independent. John Logan, who wrote Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000), will be the scriptwriter, having previously collaborated with King on Martin Scorsese’s Howard Hughes biopic, The Aviator (2004). Jackson has been in the headlines this year ever since the release of Dan Reed’s Leaving Neverland (2019), in which Wade Robson and James Safechuck come forward with new allegations against the King of Pop.
Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell” (2019) draws political controversy
Clint Eastwood’s latest film, Richard Jewell (2019), shows The Atlanta Journal-Constitution police reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) trading sex for tips from an FBI agent (Jon Hamm), which editor-in-chief Kevin G. Riley says is untrue, according to The Guardian. Riley says the movie is anti-media and anti-FBI, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has defended their naming of security guard Jewell as a suspect in the 1996 Olympics bombing that killed one and injured more than a hundred others based on the information they had at the time. Scruggs died in 2001, and Jewell in 2007; his libel lawsuit against The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was rejected by the Georgia court of appeals in 2011.
Amazon Prime review: Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960)
The essentiality of this film cannot be understated.
Not only did it popularize the slasher subgenre, the 1950s gimmickry its marketing genius of a filmmaker employed to promote it also changed our theatergoing habits to what we know them as today, coming in at the beginning and taking care not to spoil the end.
It is such an unflawed project, Gus Van Sant had to reshoot it shot for shot when he remade it in 1998.
And it still isn’t the Master of Suspense’s greatest work.
If you don’t know what to watch next, Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) is available on Amazon Prime. Hitchcock himself produced this adaptation of the 1959 novel of the same name by Robert Bloch.
The psychological horror piece was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actress for Janet Leigh, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, and Best Art Direction – Interior Decoration, Black-and-White.
Marion Crane (Leigh) is a real estate secretary in Arizona who wants to marry a divorced California hardware store owner, Sam Loomis (John Gavin), but can’t because of his alimony debts.
When Marion’s boss, George Lowery (Vaughn Taylor), asks her to deposit forty thousand dollars for a client, Tom Cassidy (Frank Albertson), Marion takes the cash and runs.
During a dark and stormy night, she stops at the Bates Motel outside of Sam’s town, where the proprietor, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), lives with his mentally ill mother, Norma (Virginia Gregg, Paul Jasmin, and Jeanette Nolan).
After Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Vertigo (1958), underperformed at the box office, he filmed the far more commercial North by Northwest (1959).
Its success saw him personally bankroll the sexualized, bloody Psycho because the studios were still governed under the waning, puritanical censors of the era.
Hitch is an auteur who authors more with less, and he cut costs by using the television production crew for CBS and NBC’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-1965).
Resultingly, Psycho was released in black and white at a time when Hollywood was photographing its motion pictures with Technicolor CinemaScope to compete against TV, but it snagged the movie its two black-and-white Oscar nods.
Yet another reason why Hitchcock’s Psycho humiliates Van Sant’s is because Van Sant cinematographed it in color, but Psycho is a story which aches to be told in black and white, all looming shadows and German Expressionistic contrasts.
It externalizes for the viewer the antisocial psyche that the Gothic Bates Motel is a metaphor for.
And Hitchcock’s classical training in European art history groomed him to curate the iconic “shower setpiece.” It is to Western montage what Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925) is to the East.
And he did it all without one line of spoken dialogue, harkening back to his studentship in silent, “pure” cinema, visceral sight and sound, conjured through his creative partnerships with editor George Tomansini as well as composer Bernard Herrmann.
The Master’s laissez-faire direction for his actors gets Leigh to deliver a performance which speaks to her acting chops and star power.
Her false protagonist is so devastatingly characterized, so effectively publicized as the star of the show, the shock value behind her exit stage left at the end of the first act humanizes her three-dimensionally.
The bolt of lightning that is Marion Crane courses across generations.
Leigh’s own daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, turns in the prototypical scream queen for John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) because of her mother’s tour de force, and the top-billed Drew Barrymore is killed off in the first scene of Wes Craven’s Scream (1996).
But Leigh’s lungpower is not what develops Marion into a sympathetic antihero.
The most suspenseful moments of the film are the least violent: when Marion is lying to the highway patrol officer (Mort Mills); and when Norman is fibbing to Private Investigator Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam).
They stammer their way along their interrogations while we know what they’re trying to hide and what’s at stake for these audience surrogates if the authorities figure out what we already know.
This communal guilt between character and consumer is a verisimilitude the artist perfected in Rear Window (1954), with James Stewart’s voyeuristic protagonist caught in the act by Raymond Burr’s villain.
We all carry secrets we would die to protect, even the most polite company we would least suspect, and Hitchcock, with his well-documented phobia of authority figures, knows how to manipulate and exploit this universal right of passage for the human condition.
Psycho is even progressive for its time. Its depiction of Marion’s sister, Lila Crane (Vera Miles, who inspired Vertigo after Hitchcock’s muse, Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco, chose marriage over her collaboration with the Master), is proto-feministic.
Lila is an independent, intelligent deuteragonist who doesn’t use her sex appeal to get ahead.
Even according to queer theory, the text holds up more so than some of its genre fellows, like Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill (1980), making it clear the homicidal, perverted Norman is not “trans” just because one of his dissociative identities happens to be his mother.
But for everything Psycho gets right about its Freudian character study, that it subscribes to Freud at all counts against it. Norman’s mother is not to blame for his Oedipus complex, no matter how much she smothered him.
His personality would be much more nuanced and developed if the spoon-fed exposition delivered as dated psychoanalysis by Doctor Fred Richman (Simon Oakland) were more subtextualized.
If anything, though, it goes to show that Freudianism makes for better fiction than it does psychology.
Psycho is a study in the craft and technique that made Hitchcock’s cult of personality among the first to inspire the school of thought known as auteur theory.
The fact that Vertigo bests it is because only he could create something greater than perfection.
“Frozen II” to be a financial juggernaut for Disney
Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee’s Frozen II (2019) is projected to be Disney’s sixth billion-dollar release of 2019; the studio has already earned more than eight billion dollars globally since January, breaking the record it set in 2016, according to CNBC. The film is estimated to make anywhere between a hundred twenty million and a hundred forty million its opening weekend, having already sold the most advance tickets on Atom Tickets of all time for an animated picture. Analysts say the coming-of-age sequel will pick up not long after its parent feature leaves off, with the cast of characters leaving Arendelle to save their kingdom.
US Justice Department strikes down landmark “Paramount Decree” after seventy years
As part of his review of legacy antitrust decisions (up next is a 1941 music royalties decree) since his appointment in 2017, Makan Delrahim, the chief of the United States Department of Justice’s antitrust division, struck down the Paramount Decree, according to the Financial Times. The 1948 competition case began as a 1938 price-fixing and monopolization lawsuit against eight Hollywood film companies; the outcome regulated the divestiture between distribution and theater ownership, as well as the practice of studios dictating minimum ticket prices. Delrahim told an American Bar Association antitrust conference in Washington online streaming services have changed exhibition over the last eighty years, but the Independent Cinema Alliance says this move will hurt smaller theater chains.
Composer discusses film scoring
On Wednesday, Branford College hosted a Residential College Tea with composer Howard Shore, who shared with conductor John Mauceri the technical method as well as the emotional artistry behind cinematic scoring, according to the Yale Daily News. Shore, who scored the likes of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, says one must be disciplined enough to write music bar by bar and page by page, while, at the same time, composing from the heart, rather than analytically or intellectually (which all comes later). Shore’s next project will be featured in François Girard’s The Song of Names (2019), with a Christmas Day release date.