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Eric Kohn

Steven Spielberg On "Russian Ark" And "Intimate Movies"

  • By Eric Kohn
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  • December 12, 2011 1:07 PM
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  • 0 Comments
If the great French critic André Bazin lived long enough to see a few Steven Spielberg movies, he probably would have loved them. A pioneering theorist in the field of realism, Bazin wrote adoringly of the long take as the ultimate realization of cinematic potential. Spielberg also loves the long take, and while in "Tintin" (opening later this month) he departs from the photographic reality at the root of Bazinian realism, the use of motion capture technology means he still has a camera at his disposal, and it does incredible things. A lengthy action sequence that finds Tintin on the lam from some henchman follows his journey across a variety of surfaces on a roadbike, at one point flipping it upside down and riding it along a clothesline before regaining his balance and barreling ahead. The camera never blinks.

Parsing Tablet's Top 100 Jewish Movies.

  • By Eric Kohn
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  • December 9, 2011 7:09 PM
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  • 5 Comments
Today, Tablet magazine published a list of the "100 Greatest Jewish Films," the kind of divisive round-up that will obviously invite scrutiny for its rankings and omissions. So the magazine has the chutzpah to avoid the obvious, giving its number one slot to…"E.T.: The Extra-Terrestial"? Followed by…"Sunset Boulevard"? Wow. Where to begin? Nowhere, really. The list is a terrific read, and definitely includes some viable contenders, especially when you consider the entire idea of Jewishness as an expansive concept. I certainly did when I programmed a weekend film series for Heeb magazine a few years back. It was easy enough to justify "My Mexican Shivah," but "My Mother's Garden" only qualified because its subject, a woman suffering from hoarding disorder, could easily merit description as a nebbish. She wasn't a certifiable member of the tribe. Still, putting "E.T." at the top of the list pushes any kind of boundaries one might impose on a Jewish film list. I love the movie for all the obvious reasons--its magical synthesis of childhood awe, sci-fi creepiness, and suburban iconography. But I'm not totally sold on Jody Rosen's valiant attempt to explain the movie's treatment of "Jewish exilic longing" or that the "unguarded enchantment" of the climax is a particularly Jewish conceit.

In Praise Of Woody Allen: A Personal Ode.

  • By Eric Kohn
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  • November 25, 2011 6:21 PM
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  • 1 Comment
Like many Americans reared on eighties pop culture, I first discovered the potential of cinema by way of Steven Spielberg. The escapism of "Raiders of the Lost Ark," derivative as it may have been to viewers more readily familiar with the matinee serials that inspired it, brought an exotic world of possibilities to life for these relatively sheltered eyes. But I don't want to give Spielberg all the credit for revving up my movie engine; while Spielberg's refined spectacles introduced me to a new world, I was equally excited by the discovery of a familiar one by way of Woody Allen. I've had Allen on the mind a lot this week, having just watched Robert Weide's terrific two-part PBS documentary about the 75-year-old director for the network's "American Masters" series. Weide's refined survey touches on everything you wanted to know about Woody but never had the opportunity to ask, from his lovably arcane insistence on tapping everything out on the same typewriter he's had for 30 or so years to the slight but usually effective approach he brings to coaching performances. While Allen has moved through various "periods," his technique and outlook have remained fairly stable. Even though I haven't been entirely thrilled by his last few movies, the Allen drug--the neuroses that felt like home--retains its vibrancy in his comedies, and takes on a deliciously grim finality in his thrillers. Even when he strikes out, he's still true to himself. I enjoyed "Midnight in Paris" when I saw it at Cannes earlier this year, although compared to the "earlier, funnier" Allen comedies it brings to mind (as Allen memorably calls them in "Stardust Memories"), the movie's status as Allen's highest grossing film to date is mainly a triumph for Sony Pictures Classics. It means nothing to Allen. And for the sake of consistency alone, it shouldn't. As he says in the final seconds of Weide's documentary: "Despite all these lucky breaks, why do I still feel like I got screwed?"

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