Weekend Reel Reads: Radio Plays, Complete Works and Malickian Absences

Features
by Steve Greene
May 12, 2013 1:01 PM
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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 critic@indiewire.com.

Exhaustive Proof That ‘The Happening’ Should Have Been a Radio Play

What to do with M. Night Shyamalan, a director that seems to have difficulty marrying visual craft with consistently logical dialogue? Brian Salisbury presents a genius solution: switch up the delivery medium entirely. In a piece for Film School Rejects, Salisbury argues that one of the director’s most maligned creations, “The Happening,” would work best as a purely sonic endeavor. Using the film’s timestamps to illustrate his point, he singles out the recurring Shyamalan tics that would lend themselves far better to radio.

"13:28 — Ah, the news reel. Long utilized as a quick way to deliver pertinent information to the audience when nuance is too time-consuming. In The Happening, the newscasts on TV function like glaring neon signposts telling us exactly how the film’s screenplay looked in skeletal form on that cocktail napkin. Again, the characters get their information secondhand so these newscasts amount to about 90% of the discovery factor in the movie. In this moment, a woman gives a textbook explanation of the brain’s self-preservation mechanism and how the neurotoxin from the rampant attacks shuts that down. We now know definitively, without seeing the woman at the beginning stab herself in the neck or the construction workers leaping to their doom, that the majority of the deaths in this film will be self-inflicted. Thanks, exposition machine!"

Hollywood Bigfoot: Terrence Malick and the Twenty-Year Hiatus That Wasn't

Few filmmakers can inspire the analytical word count that Terrence Malick does. But, as Michael Nordine demonstrates in the LA Review of Books, lengthy investigations can also stem from the projects that Malick never got the chance to see through to completion. Nordine looks at a central trio of works that occupied that two decades in between “Days of Heaven” and “The Thin Red Line,” elements of which have appeared in his output since his return to filmmaking visibility. Nordine also includes thoughts from a trio film writers, each interviewed about their opinion on Malick's (lack of) public persona.

"His filmmaking style is freewheeling, improvisatory; a look at any one of his scripts reveals just how loosely he interprets them. He’s been described more than once as a butterfly-catcher, a truth-seeker who once halted a day-long setup of a fighter jet taking off in The Thin Red Line in order to film a bird that happened to be flying by. Considering his characteristically slow pace, ornithological/celestial preoccupations, and the fact that he combines an auteur’s sensibility with the resources of major studios (the three films preceding To the Wonder cost between $30–$50 million each), the real marvel here may not be that it took him so long to “return” to filmmaking — it’s that he’s made as many movies as he has."


Confessions of a John le Carré Devotee

With the success of 2011’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” we may soon see another onscreen presence of George Smiley in the near future. But even if the return of Gary Oldman to the role doesn’t ever materialize, Ted Scheinman demonstrates that the 22 other of John le Carré’s novels have the power to not only exist as great works of fiction, but to inspire a heartfelt, personal relationship with the author’s entire canon. As a companion piece, he also gives a handy overview of the le Carré adaptations that have already come to pass.

"I was also pricked by my father’s challenge. How little he knew! For I had done my recon—by which I mean that I’d seen all six hours of the BBC version. Squinting my eyes at the Atlantic, I summoned televised ghosts: Ian Richardson as the dashing Bill Haydon; Michael Jayston as the ever-resourceful Peter Guillam; and Alec Guinness as George Smiley himself, once and future majordomo of the Secret Service. There was no use in trying to shake Guinness from my conception of Smiley. I wasn’t the only one. “George Smiley, whether I liked it or not, was from then on Alec Guinness—voice, mannerisms, the whole package,” le Carré wrote in an introduction to Smiley’s People. Imagine that: your prize creation, stolen by an actor! But we were hip to the world, this author and I. Impersonation and identity theft are bywords, in our line of work."

A Cool Story of Youth: The Return of the Coming of Age Film

We’ve already explained on this blog why “Not Fade Away” is worth your time. Calum Marsh takes that film, adds a pair of others (“Ginger and Rosa” and “Something in the Air”) and examines how perspective (both personal and historical) is fostering an uptick in coming-of-age stories. As Marsh explains for Film.com, even though the directors of the three films are within the same general age group, drawing on variations when the time periods of their own youth results in three unique tales.

"Sally Potter, David Chase, and Olivier Assayas are 63, 67, and 58 respectively, and the ages and timelines of their heroes and films align almost perfectly with these slight variations. Though they couldn’t have emerged from less similar backgrounds, the three filmmakers share an approach to telling the stories of their youth: rather than indulge in the romantic fancies of the look and feel of the freewheeling 1960s, as an ordinary period piece might be inclined to do, Potter, Chase and Assayas opt instead to scrutinize their memories of the era from a rare critical distance, rejecting the diary-like format typical of the genre in favor of something smarter and more perceptive. Expected youthful folly becomes, quite refreshingly, mistakes made with some regret, and the solipsism inherent in the form (which all but necessitates navel-gazing) is undermined by the ruthlessness with which each of the three directors take their younger selves to task. It’s the autobiography as autocritique."

Summer of '88: Friday the 13th Part VII: The First Blood

The House Next Door’s Summer of ‘88 series benefits greatly from having a number of talented voices relive the varied offerings of the summer months 25 years ago. The running retrospective features looks at arthouse favorites and foreign titles among more mainstream fare. Normally, the seventh installment in a horror franchise wouldn’t seem like the ripest fodder for in-depth analysis, but Kenji Fujishima explains why “Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood” has a notable placement in the film series mainly for what it doesn’t have: lots of blood-spurting.

"Despite its generally low reputation, the Friday the 13th films aren't entirely mindless affairs. Yes, they're generally vacuums of humanity, mostly content to treat its characters as cannon fodder for a series of increasingly baroque punishments, often after the characters have had sex. But if we take the films on those terms, there are moments throughout the series that achieve the kind of thematic heft that serious critics regularly attribute to, say, John Carpenter's Halloween."

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