Writer & Director: Sandi Tan
In 1992, at age 19, novelist Sandi Tan wrote and starred in Shirkers, a feature-length road movie shot on the streets of Singapore. The title was inspired by Tan’s idea that in life, there were people who were neither movers nor shakers, but shirkers—those who evade responsibility and duty, escaping the confines of society. It starred Tan as S., a murderer and kidnapper on a mysterious mission to save children. One of Tan’s points of inspiration was J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. The plot didn’t matter as much as the mood, which Tan cultivated through carefully chosen locations, props, costumes, and music. Tan hired a friend to compose a soundtrack on his electric guitar, and hand-made many of her props, including a colorful board game that S. uses to plot her kidnappings. S.’s costume was a pink sailor shirt and blue knee-length shorts; she carried an old-fashioned camera on a strap, as well as a leather suitcase. “When I was eighteen,” Tan explains, “I thought you found freedom by building worlds inside your head.”
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I spent the weekend watching two new movies that star the Gyllenhaal siblings: The Kindergarten Teacher, starring Maggie and Wildlife, with Jake. In both films, I thought the Gyllenhaals were especially well cast. I know they aren’t to everyone’s taste — and when I got home my husband and I got into a debate about whether or not Jake Gyllenhaal is actually a good actor — but I found them both to be pretty magnetic and appealingly odd. Neither really melt into a role and both have a way of throwing things off-kilter. So, they need the right movies for their talent.
Continue reading “My Weekend with the Gyllenhaals”
The other day I discovered, quite by accident, that Alice Guy Blaché’s short film, “Falling Leaves” is based on the O. Henry story “The Last Leaf.” I was reading Meg Wolitzer’s editor’s introduction to 2017’s Best American Short Stories, and she mentioned that her favorite O. Henry story was about an artist who convinces a girl suffering from pneumonia that she will survive. The girl believes that she will die when the last leaf falls, so the artists paints an incredibly life-like leaf outside her window. It never falls, and the girl survives through sheer belief. But — and here’s the O. Henry twist — the artist dies from standing out in the cold and taking all the time to paint the leaf.
Initially I thought, hmm, did O. Henry see the Blaché film about the girl who ties leaves to a tree in a vain effort to save her sister, who is dying of tuberculosis? But I checked the dates and O. Henry’s story was published in 1907 while Blaché’s film was released in 1912:
Then I did some googling and sure enough, Wikipedia already has it covered:
The plot of Falling Leaves owes elements to the O. Henry short story “The Last Leaf” (1907). The child hero is a recurring theme in Guy-Blaché films; the first film produced by Solax, A Child’s Sacrifice (1910), which also starred Magda Foy, is another example.
It’s just a little thing, but I thought it was a fascinating glimpse into Blaché’s creative process. By the way, you can watch the original film, “Falling Leaves” for free on Kanopy as part of the program, “Three Films by Alice Guy Blaché.”
Writer & Director: Nicole Holofcener
If you’re thinking about moving to the suburbs but would like to be convinced otherwise, I recommend streaming The Land of Steady Habits immediately. With the exception of a divorcee played by Connie Britton, the characters in this movie are all low-key unhappy as they try to make the best of their affluence. Adapted from Ted Thompson’s novel by the same name, it follows the midlife crisis of Anders, a fifty-something guy who is attempting to forge a new life for himself after divorcing his wife and quitting his lucrative job. The film opens with the screenshot above: Anders trying to choose towels for his new single-guy condo. It’s a striking image that shows both the state of Anders emotional life (bewildered, overwhelmed) and the soul-numbing indecision brought on by big box stores. Maybe it also hints at the extraordinary class divide, where a small percentage of Americans have an endless array of meaningless choices while a huge percentage have no choice but to get by. Continue reading “Review: Land of Steady Habits”
Writer & Director: Tamara Jenkins
One of the downsides of being an amateur reviewer with small children at home is that I usually see movies after they’ve been released. Though I try to avoid reviews of movies that I know I’m going to see, it was hard to avoid the buzz on Private Life, Tamara Jenkin’s first feature in eleven years about a couple dealing with infertility. It seemed like every podcast I listened to had something positive to say about it, extolling the quality of the writing and the storytelling and the splendid characterization and the wonderful acting. I second all that, but in the end, I had trouble getting into this movie. My attention wandered. A half-hour in, my husband and I both remarked that it seemed like a lot more time had passed, but not because it was slowly paced. Instead we felt like we had already been dragged through so much pain and indecision. The screenplay of Private Life is very carefully constructed, and I wondered if Jenkins was trying to create in the viewer some of the feelings of frustration and detachment that her characters are experiencing. Continue reading “Review: Private Life”
Director: Marielle Heller
Writers: Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
This has to be one of the best movies about writing that I’ve seen, one shows, in a realistic way, the difficulty of making a living as a writer, and the special cruelty of the New York publishing world. Based on Lee Israel’s memoir of the same title, it’s about a down-on-her-luck biographer (Melissa McCarthy) who turns to literary forgery as a way to pay her bills. Israel, who died in 2014, found plenty of work as a journalist and author in the 1970s and 80s, but had a dry spell after her biography of Estee Lauder was panned by critics and sold poorly. Can You Ever Forgive Me? takes place in the early 1990s, when Lee begins to forge letters by famous writers like Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward to sell to collectors. Continue reading “Review: Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
On Sunday I went to the New York Film Festival to catch a screening of Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy Blaché. This is a new documentary by Pamela B. Green about the first female film director, a young Parisian woman who began making films in 1897, just as film cameras were being invented and refined. Not only was she the first female director, it’s possible that she was the first narrative director, period. And yet, her contributions have been lost to history, while the achievements of the men she worked with have been lionized.
Co-written by Joan Simon, who curated an exhibition of Blaché’s films at the Whitney Museum, this is a documentary that aims to be accessible to someone who knows nothing or very little about Blaché — so, perfect for me. Although I’ve now seen a few of her films, I discovered her when I was looking for a title for this blog and wanted to find another female film pioneer to go with Thelma — preferably someone with a two-syllable name. Yes, my search was exactly that superficial, but sometimes the best bits of research are happy accidents. Discovering Blaché has brought me back to the birth of cinema, something I’d never given much thought to — and it’s been a delight to find that someone like Alice was there at the beginning. Continue reading “Review: Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy Blaché”