Weekend Reel Reads is a regular feature that gathers lengthier stories related to the world of film criticism you may have missed during the week. If there's anything you think would be ideal for future installments, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The upcoming BBC production of “The Girl,” a portrayal of the tumultuous professional and personal relationships between director Alfred Hitchcock and actress Tippi Hedren, will likely spawn a number of pieces related to each person’s cinematic achievements. Rosie Millard’s profile of Hedren for Financial Times follows the actress’ career through her work in commercials all the way through her role in Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” the time period that will provide much of the material for the upcoming biopic dramatization. Hedren discusses both the tormenting production aspects of the film shoot and the resultant effects on her Hollywood career.
"It started at the end of The Birds. To depict the notorious final sequence, when Melanie is attacked by dozens of birds on her own in an upstairs bedroom, Hedren was reassured that mechanical birds would be used. Yet Hitchcock had always planned otherwise. She arrived on set to discover cages of live birds were being put in position for the terrifying denouement. The reality was as horrific as the film. 'I just kind of did it,' says Hedren, with her eyes shut. 'It was hardly even acting. They put bands around my waist and these bands had elastics pulled in different places through my dress. And the bird trainers tied the elastics to the feet of the birds, so they were all around me. One was even tied to my shoulder. At one point, it jumped up and almost clawed my eye.'"
Using Twitter to make money has been a challenging prospect for anyone, much less a giant, multi-billion dollar industry. But, using Seth McFarlane’s "Ted" as a case study, Rachel Dodes shows in her piece for the Wall Street Journal that certain developments are helping studios better track word of mouth and engineer support for a film. Whether it’s dedicating specific Twitter accounts for individual characters or hiring data analysis firms to chart positive reaction to first trailers, social media is becoming a vital asset for movie marketing.
"To get reactions to 'Ted' on Facebook, the studio posted questions like 'Do you think Ted is the new Citizen Kane?' and offered apps like 'My Wild Nights With Ted,' that enabled people to import an image of the bear into their own photos, and post them on their personal Facebook pages. The studio even found itself embroiled in a social-media smackdown with Warner Bros., which was opening 'Magic Mike,' a Steven- Soderbergh-directed movie about male strippers, on the same date. After seeing an e-card posted on the 'Ted' Facebook wall showing the teddy bear grasping a stripper pole and exhorting fans to 'spend time with Tantalizing Ted' instead of 'Magic Mike,' Warners fired back, using the "My Wild Nights With Ted" app to insert "Ted" into a photo of their film's shirtless ensemble cast, writing 'Even 'Ted' wants to see 'Magic Mike.'' In the comments section of the official 'Magic Mike' Facebook page, 'Ted' wrote—using unprintable language—that he had no interest in looking at naked men."
Geoffrey O’Brien’s piece on “Beasts of the Southern Wild” for the NY Review of Books latches onto a specific thematic element: that of cinema’s relationship to water. While the film has the obvious inclusion of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and a boatlike vehicle as the preferred mode of transportation, O’Brien theorizes that the setting allows the viewer to seep through the filmmaking facade and embrace the art as it’s presented.
"I wonder if anyone has undertaken a study of Water and Movies. It is a subject of almost infinite application, starting from the earliest registering of the movement of waves and rivulets by cinematic pioneers. It is the most privileged element in film because it exercises cinematic power merely by being filmed. The bodies of water that have served as crucial staging grounds would make a catalog of the most intense moments in cinema, from the waterfall with which Buster Keaton contended in Our Hospitality to the lotus pool where June Duprez caught sight of John Justin’s reflection in Alexander Korda’s The Thief of Bagdad, from the misty lake across which Kinuyo Tanaka and her children were unwittingly ferried toward misfortune in Mizoguchi’s Sansho the Bailiff to the bay from which James Stewart rescued Kim Novak in Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and on out to the ocean where the doomed hero of Murnau’s Tabu sank beneath the waves. In all that profusion there are some few films where the watery element so predominates as to create a kind of pool for the mind: Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante was one such, Beasts of the Southern Wild is another."
After the media barrage that was the "Prometheus" premiere, we might finally have enough intervening weeks to consider Ridley Scott’s filmography. Writing at Cinespect, Matt Cohen frames his analysis of the director’s career as a visual innovator, but one who has never involved himself explicitly in the screenwriting process. Instead, he has used his various projects as a way to hone and adapt his visual skill. Cohen also addresses Scott’s tendency to return to material related to paternity.
"It’s easy to write Scott off as a director-for-hire, and in a way, he is one. Of the twenty features he’s directed, not one includes a screenwriting credit to his name (and what’s more, he’s only collaborated on more than one occasion with two screenwriters, Steve Zaillian and William Monohan). But the truth is that he’s an auteur-for-hire—a perfectionist so concerned with attaining his quintessential vision for whatever project to which he’s attached that he’s famously battled the very studios that hired him (it seems as though a week doesn’t go by during which a new 'director’s cut' of one of his films pops up on my Amazon recommendations list). Perhaps the most well-documented account of such a battle is the one that ensued over 'Blade Runner,' which has seven (known) versions, four of which are still circulating: the workprint version, the San Diego sneak preview, the U.S. theatrical version, the international cut, the U.S. broadcast cut, Scott’s approved director’s cut, and—finally—his final cut. It’s an exhaustive list but a prime example of Scott’s commitment to his art."
Anthony Kaufman (Indiewire contributor and curator of the ReelPolitik blog) is wrestling with an issue that’s no stranger to Criticwire’s space. In a piece for Sundance Now, Kaufman examines the possible reasons for why documentaries still seem to exist in a limited capacity, despite widespread critical acclaim. In looking at why some distributors show hesitation to push docs to the forefront, Kaufman also argues for the necessity of the genre.
"Documentaries have always been saddled with the notion that they are out to teach the audience something. While this, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, what makes Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry and Searching for Sugarman—and a host of other recent docs—so terrific is that they tell us something about the world without being didactic. They do educate us, in this case, about the injustices of oppressive regimes, about possibilities for effective protest and resistance, about the power of art and music. But they do so in consistently enjoyable and captivating ways."
Finally, for all faithful Netflix subscribers, Scott Weinberg has assembled for Movies.com a quick-but-helpful guide to the new films added to the Instant Watch catalogue at the beginning of this month. It’s a significantly meaty list, so you may want to dig in sooner rather than later.