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David N. Meyer

David N. Meyer's Spring Semester cinema studies course at The New School begins January 26, The Desperate Horizon: Road Movies, Westerns, and the American Landscape.

The Thing Itself: The Gram Parsons Project

About 35 years ago, Gram Parsons, the man who invented country-rock, abandoned his girlfriend Nancy and their infant daughter Polly.

Fun With Adolf, Uplift With Spike

It’s my fate to see Tarantino premieres in the boondocks. On the Friday night of Jackie Brown’s national release, I sat in the back row of a mall megaplex in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City.

Gillo Pontecorvo’s Burn!

Gillo Pontecorvo’s best known film, Battle of Algiers, may be set in French-occupied Algeria, and the characters sure enough speak French (and Arabic), but the film remains the absolute apotheosis of Italian Neo-Realism.

New York Asian Film Festival

Summer means Asian Films Are Go. The New York Asian Film Festival will present its wild selection of the most recent and most curious films culled from the current crop of Asian pop cinema.

Travelogue, Poot Style

There’s no two ways about it: Werner Herzog has become an old poot. A Wagnerian, Nietzschian old poot, but an old poot nonetheless. Werner rails—old poot-like—against ‘tree-huggers and whale huggers’ and describes as ‘an abomination’ the fact that workers living in the no nighttime summer of the McMurdo Center in Anarctica practice yoga and aerobics. He sounds like Grandpa on The Simpsons.

The Ennobling Embittering Struggle

The Human Condition: No Greater Love (1959) The Road to Eternity (1959) A Soldier’s Prayer (1961)

(Native) American Neo-Realism

From 1958–61, director Kent Mackenzie filmed a community of Southwestern Native Americans—who are never identified by tribe—living a hardscrabble life in the Bunker Hill tenements of down and out Los Angeles.

Classes tous risques (1960)

After fighting in the Resistance during WWII, Jose Giovanni became a small-time French hood. He helped pull a small-time robbery, somebody died, and Giovanni got death row. After months awaiting the guillotine, he gained clemency and spent eight years in prison.

Help Me, Eros (Bang Bang Wo Ai Shen)

At first this strikes as madhouse, Taiwanese Fassbinder on steroids: lurid, hallucinatory colors; post-modernly over-composed, photographic frames; and post-verbal characters overwhelmed by existential paralysis or sexual ennui/compulsion.

DVD Culture

Melville, Assayas and a Box of Classics

Le Deuxieme Souffle (1966), Dir: Jean-Pierre Melville, Criterion; 10 Years of Rialto Pictures, Criterion; Irma Vep (1996) Dir. Olivier Assayas, Zeitgeist Films

Got My Vans On But They Look Like Sneakers

In his debut mega-low-budget two-person romantic comedy, director Barry Jenkins presents the most delicate, far-reaching, and least muddled-headed version of the enduring hipster/indie identity question: If I can’t find community among those who like what I love and dislike what I despise, where can I ever find it?

Taking The Blame

A fat man with bulging eyes—in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s universe of visual metaphors, clearly a corrupt soul—drives down a deserted highway lined tightly with arrow-straight pines.

“You Sin in Thinking Bad About People—But, Often, You Guess Right”

"It is not always easy to explain our country to foreigners. In Italy the slowest trains are called “fast” and the evening news comes out in the morning,”

DVD Culture

Terence Stamp provides his singular, incomparable combo of beatific calm and smarmy menace.

Heaviosity vs. Fun

The 2009 Festival took a lot of flak for succumbing to “festivalism.” This affliction supposedly drove the Festival to choose films of a certain rigor, films lacking in fun, films that would edify us all with their high-end film-iness.

"They'll Get Better At It As They Go Along:" The 11 Best Films of 2009

Someone gave me a hard time the other day, demanding to know why I don’t write more about movies everyone has seen—and this was another Rail film reviewer!

IRKSOME BUT COMPELLING

Noah Baumbach makes films that feel like indies, but feelings can be deceiving.

TO EVISCERATE, FROM THE LATIN

Character is fate, thought the Greeks, and the creators of the sublimity that is the finale of Spartacus Blood and Sand agree.

HURTS SO GOOD, ITALIAN STYLE

Jules Dassin has a gift for depicting highly ritualized violence, both physical and psychological. Well, and psycho-sexual, too. The Code made sure the rough stuff in his American films was implied, never depicted—our loss.

GET SOME

The great war correspondents are understaters. Ernest Hemingway, Bernard Fall, Jonathan Schell, and even hoary old Ernie Pyle dealt with war by applying the rules of daily journalism: a distanced, supposedly objective voice, describing events in a remote third person voice.

“I’m sorry, the screening starts when?” The 2010 New York Film Festival

This year the New York Film Festival did something barbaric. Something unthinkable. Something that flies in the face of logic.

THE 11 BEST FILMS OF 2O1O +1

Polanski understands structure. Few directors remain whose poetry and narrative depend on knowing why one line demands a close-up or how a tiny gesture changes the universe or how to dramatize moments that bear no inherent drama, but prove later to be crucial notes in the symphony.

DVD Culture

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE ROLLING STONES

If “everybody got to go,” where are they? Jagger’s the only Stone I see going. A little Keith, Jagger, Charlie’s profile, Jagger, Mick Taylor’s hands, Jagger Jagger Jagger, a glimmer of Bill Wyman’s silhouette, repeat.

DVD Culture

THE THIN RED LINE

For Terrence Malick (Badlands, Days of Heaven), the world is a cathedral. Even the most venal acts of man take place in sanctified space because it’s all sanctified. Malick hears celestial music emanating from the sky and trees, sunlight piercing a forest, water running over rocks.

French Noir and Flying Swordsmen

In the view of first-time director Gela Babluani, a life is not worth much—it can be bought or sold on a whim. Sometimes that whim originates with the owner of said life, sometimes it arrives on the wings of market forces. Either way, when the bill comes due, it’s instant karma time.

The Brutal Futurism of Godard’s Past

A 1966 Godard classic returns to the big screen and reminds viewers that — in the hands of a master — post–modern alienation and ravishing beauty don’t have to be mutually exclusive

!Filmed In Lugubrivision!

Sean Connery was cool and sadistic. Roger Moore was a smirking impotent alcoholic in a hairpiece. Moore’s casting function was to reassure the producers—who were in Moore’s demographic—that smirking impotent alcoholics in hairpieces could still get laid.

LESS PRO FORMA THAN YOU THINK

Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line, was a $70 million dollar art-film, a war movie edited not for action, but to reveal each character’s emotional state, moment to moment. In other words, Malick makes dreams. Time and geography have little meaning in his films.

PERVERSE AUTEURS VS THE SELF-AGGRANDIZING WANK The 10 Best Films of 2006

Noir as high school, high school as noir. The life or death impenetrable social horror of the hierarchies of jocks, babes, geeks and one cool loner get inverted through a prism of classic noir tropes: the femme fatale, the mysterious boss, the thug with a heart of gold and, of course, the letterman bully who rules the parking lot after study hall.

Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate

It’s all Sergio Leone’s fault, really. Only he had the audacity to rain graveyard hipster humor and existential irony all over the sacred Western.

Anomie, Italian Style

No one connects to anyone; most can neither understand nor feel a union with their own emotions, impulses or actions. We are either blind or powerless before our faults; petty selfishness and fear of social rejection undermines any noble thinking; effort comes to naught…

FANCY FRENCH SCREWING

Lenny Bruce said that as near as he could tell, what the Supreme Court regarded as obscene or not obscene came down to the “difference between dirty screwing and fancy screwing.” Exterminating Angels, a piquantly post-modern French meditation on the mystery (to men) of the psychology of feminine arousal, features supremely fancy screwing indeed. Not screwing qua screwing: le sex is girl-on-girl. The male lead gets totally screwed himself, but he never gets laid.

The East(ern) and the Western

Years ago author V.S Naipaul was sitting roadside at some desolate pass on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border and this tribal kid crested the trail.

That’s Great, That Sucks*
The Best Films of 2004

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 was the most expensive, intelligent, graceful, bemusing, thoughtful, loving, referential, thematic, and fully realized music video ever made.

A Sublime So Familiar

Jean-Luc Godard—like Andrei Tarkovsky—makes you peer more intently at the screen. Their films seldom wash over you; they contain you, sweep you along (or lose you entirely), demand that you watch more closely, pay more attention.

Japan Cuts

A Festival of Premieres at the Japan Society

Into the Darkness

There’s no in-room cable porn at my usual hotel in Idaho’s capital, the Boise Statehouse Inn.

Not Much Middle Ground

2007 offered arty seriousness or genre kicks and little in between. Deep or stupid, the best films vested passionately in formal concerns (well, except for Superbad).

Sheep Head Noir From The Frozen North

There’s much to be learned about Iceland from the bleak new noir Jar City.

Omnibus 08: The 2008 New York Film Festival

Last year’s Festival marked an inspirational return to its original purpose: showcasing the best films from around the world with no pandering and no worrying about what NY audiences might be ready for. The middle of the roading and compromised choices of previous years were gone.

Genre Triumphant: The 11 Best Films Of 2008

he best films this year were genre pictures: vampire, policier, art film, gangster, war movie…all using genre conventions to keep us anchored as they shattered every genre convention we know. The sensation of being on familiar ground and utterly unmoored made the usual fare seem even more schematic, yesterday’s news.

When You Lose All Hope, You Live For The Present

Hard-boiled is hard. One slip in tone, a moment of sentimentality, any break in story or character credibility and the tough, spare, merciless universe crumbles, usually into kitsch. Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly (1955), Jules Dassin’s Rififi (1955), Claude Sautet’s Classe tous risques (1960), John Boorman’s Point Blank (1967), John McKenzie’s The Long Good Friday (1980), and Matthew Vaughn’s Layer Cake (2004) never waver.

But For What You Are Not

It’s impossible to watch Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests without comment.

DEPTH IN A DECADE OF DISTRACTION: The Twenty Best Films

The best films of the last ten years resisted the distraction or distractedness which seems to be the decade’s signature.

DVD Culture

Color As Emotion, Emotion As Color

“For this will to deceive that is in things luminous may manifest itself likewise in retrospect and so by sleight of some fixed part of a journey already accomplished may also post men to fraudulent destinies.”

Suspend My Disbelief, Please

Edward Norton usually looks pissed off, or as if he regards everyone else as a fool. Where Meryl Streep has a gift for crying while appearing to be trying hard not to cry, Norton’s rare moments of affection are leavened by a touching wariness, a disbelief that someone has penetrated his armor of pessimism and contempt.

Werner Herzog & the CMV

Anyone who makes nature films for a living will tell you that it’s impossible to get funding without a CMV.

“It’s Okay With Me”

In Robert Altman’s 1973 revisionist film noir masterpiece, The Long Goodbye, his private detective hero Phillip Marlowe inverts classic noir alienation. Faced with the greed, insanity, lust, vanity, self-delusion, lies, drunkenness, tripped-out-ed-ness, ineffectuality, ambition, murder, larceny and social climbing of others, Marlowe’s mantra is: “It’s okay with me.”

His Master's Voice

Saraband and The Beautiful Country

Transgression a’Go-Go

Nicholas Roeg’s directorial debut is a Borgesian, Britnoir, rock and roll fable on the uncertainty of self and the uneasy friendship between madness and art. Why it took all this time to get to DVD has been one of the great frustrating questions of the age.

Down by the Old Mainstream

Even with the most scathing dismissal from every mainstream publication, Constantine continues to rake in the dollars, week after week. David Denby so ran out of pejoratives in The New Yorker that in the end he was reduced to lamenting that Catholic religious imagery was being tragically plundered for superficial purposes. Has he never seen a horror film?

Bresson on the Bayou

Back in the day, Firesign Theatre had a film promo parody that went: "the lives of honest working people as told by rich Hollywood stars." And that’s the problem with the most well-meaning and even well-executed examples of the phenomenon (Valley of Elah, A Civil Action, North Country); all that damn sincerity.

DVD Culture

Ride With The Devil

Ang Lee’s such a consistent, frustrating mediocrity. His films are all very almost. It’s tricky to pinpoint what makes each second-rate, but invariably, when the closing credits roll, the predominant emotion is dissatisfaction. Teamed as he is with uber-scholar and producer James Schamus, Lee’s non-blockbusters feature scholarly but misguided attention to period detail of clothing, transportation, mise-en-scène.

Da Vinci, Sedaris, Middlesex, Deleuze

I haven’t read The Da Vinci Code, but I have read a lot of Nerve.com/Salon.com profiles of women who have. Apparently they liked it a lot. It’s curious how consistently the curve of reading material ascends among the Last Great Book You Read on these profiles.

The Relentless Sublimity of Bertolucci’s Il Conformista

Expanding their extraordinary list of refurbished, impossible-to-see masterpieces, Film Forum will show Il Conformista, Bernard Bertolucci’s opera of Italian Fascism and sexual repression, from July 29th through August 11th.

Two Lone Swordsmen: Hero by Zhang Yi Mou and Zatoichi by Takeshi "Beat" Kitano

"Always leave ’em wanting less," Warhol famously said, and American epic filmmakers have taken his words to heart. What the later editions of The Matrix or Troy—or the bloated 2 1/2 hour $10.25 nightmare of your choice—lack in ideas, drama, or emotional credibility, they make up for in sheer waste of time.

Less Talk, More Smoke

Happily, in the ‘60s, during Godard’s incomprehensibly creative ferment, during his pre-Maoist, pre-I’m-going-to-stand-in-a-French-corner-and-hold-my-breath-until-the-revolution-comes-or-I-turn-blue phase, Godard had damn few of them. Bad ideas, I mean. And if the relentless modernity of his pictures might argue that JLG thought too much and felt not enough, his characters usually suffer the opposite dilemma.

Blood In The Sun

Ido Mizrahy’s first film, Things That Hang From Trees, is a meditative, rigorous, moving character study set in a dead-end Florida town at the end of the ‘60s.

DVD Culture

July/August 2006

Director Maurice Paliat, with his bear-like frame, passive-aggressive mumbly voice and glittery impassive eyes, makes for a convincing Bad Daddy. Few of those who work with him once come back for more.

It’s, Like, Canonical

his was the best Film Festival in years. The schedulers showcased filmmakers that embody the Festival canon, a notion of undeniable art meeting viable commerce that the Festival helped create and codify.

DVD Culture

DVD Culture

As I sat through all ten hours of The Human Condition at the Film Forum (shown in three three-hour complete stand-alone films: The Human Condition: No Greater Love (1959),
 The Road to Eternity (1959), and 
A Soldier’s Prayer (1961) ), my jaw hanging open and my ass not in the least tired, I wondered how it was possible that I had never seen or heard of this film.

Noir At the Film Forum

As if the best days of New York film repertory theatre never went away, the Film Forum will present a celebration of B-Noir, films even more nasty, brutish and short than the slightly higher end classic titles of Noir.

Pointless Pyrotechnics & Shomin Geki

Just before the closing credits, after about seventeen minutes of mind-numbing, soul-rotting, pointless, boring, badly-rendered, unending kaleidoscopic ultraviolence (over really bad screaming guitar {or was it really bad mock gangsta?}), our heroine Domino tells us, via voice-over: “How much is true? Fuck you! I’ll never tell.” The preceding two hours have been a memoir, sort of. With her ‘fuck you’, Domino avoids clarifying any of the conflicting story-lines. She claims that memoir and fantasy have been artistically blurred and that the sacred truth of her on-screen life is privileged.

DVD Culture

The Furies (1950)

Winchester ’73, Mann’s revenge saga starring Jimmy Stewart (and featuring Rock Hudson in his screen debut as an Indian chief), seems closer to naturalism than any prior Mann film. Characters walked, talked, stood, shot and rode much as human beings actually might.

Blast of Silence

Blast’s key redeeming feature, a shockingly bleak – even for noir – view of life and fate, emerges not from the plot, but instead from the non-stop voice-over narration of gravel-voiced character actor Lionel Stander.

Lashings of the Old Ultra-Violence

The Baader Meinhof gang—as the press called them - did not play around. In the early 1970s, the Red Army Faction—the name they preferred—set off bombs in US Army barracks, German newspaper offices and various police headquarters.

Good Times Today, Stupor Tomorrow

Threatening to throw someone off a yet to-be-completed skyscraper in a British gangster movie is to indulge in British noir neoclassicism at its finest. Like everything else in Britain, Brit noir has traditions to be observed, touchstones to be honored.

Sophistication, Perversity & Technicolor

There’s little point in citing all the different genres, plots, or wildly varying locations of Michael Powell’s films. His subject matter—whether B/W depictions of WWII pilots or bomb disposal experts or the sweetest adult love story you’ll ever see, or saturated 3-strip Technicolor depictions of Arabian Nights fairy tales, nuns in the Himalayas, English comic characters come to life, ballerinas casting love and life aside for art, or a serial killer murdering with a movie camera—actually remains constant.

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