Weekend Reading: June 17, 2016

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Screening Room: ‘Diary of a Chambermaid’

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MirbeauChambermaidDiaryIn Octave Mirbeau’s scandalous 1900 novel, Diary of a Chambermaid, he uses the exploits of a canny maid unencumbered by bourgeois morality to satirize the hypocrisies and power games of French society. It’s been filmed a couple times, most famously by Luis Bunuel with Jeanne Moreau in the title role.

Benoît Jacquot’s new version stars Léa Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Color) and is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

The loathsomeness of humanity is so thickly painted in this latest adaptation of Octave Mirbeau’s satirical novel that by the time anti-Semitism and murder rear their head, they almost can’t bring the film’s opinion of its characters any lower. That isn’t to say that director BenoîtJacquot doesn’t relish watching his players scheme and plot their way around hard work or simple decency. In this world, fin de siècle French society is a rigged game. Those not born to its few crucial advantages of money or place have to do what they can to survive. Of course, many don’t put as much into that struggle as his manipulative heroine Célestine (Léa Seydoux), who hasn’t met a corner she didn’t cut or an angle she didn’t play…

Here’s the trailer:

Quote of the Day: Virginia Woolf and New Media Distraction

roomofonesownVirginia Woolf reviewed books for years. It was a decent job, and necessary for survival; incredibly one could make a living, albeit a poor one, doing that back then.

But occasionally the whole business of opinionating got to her. In a 1939 essay, she suggested replacing book reviews with a simple stamp of approval or disapproval. In her mind this was better than what she called:

…the present discordant and distracted twitter.

Feel free to draw your own comparisons between her time and now.

Screening Room: ‘Do Not Resist’

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Following the Ferguson riots of 2014, there was a brief moment where the county noticed that all of a sudden, its police departments—stuffed with billions of dollars worth of military surplus and bristling with body armor, assault rifles, and make-my-day attitude—were looking more like a domestic military.

Craig Atkinson’s sober, occasionally terrifying Do Not Resist keeps the spotlight on the militarization of American police forces. It’s screening tomorrow night at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York and should be showing up around the country in more festival dates.

My review is at Eyes Wide Open:

The film starts in the tear gas-fogged streets of Ferguson, Missouri during the riots of August 2014 that followed the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, a black teenager, by a white police officer. As the St. Louis County police department tries to clear the streets of protestors, their body armor and gas masks, plus their hulking dark-green armored transports, turn the scene into something out of a war zone, not a Midwestern suburb…

Writer’s Desk: Don’t Listen to What They Say

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Ben Hecht (Culver Pictures)

Ben Hecht, one of history’s great newspapermen and playwrights (The Front Page) before he became that drollest and most cynical of Hollywood scripters (Scarface), never read like somebody who cared a whit about what somebody thought of his writing.

To wit, Hecht’s advice to writers:

Criticism can never instruct or benefit you. Its chief effect is that of a telegram with dubious news. Praise leaves no glow behind, for it is a writer’s habit to remember nothing good of himself. I have usually forgotten those who have admired my work, and seldom anyone who disliked it. Obviously, this is because praise is never enough and censure always too much.

So, in short, ignore it all and get back to work. Unless the praise/critique comes from your editor, in which case sometimes you may have to listen.

Weekend Reading: June 10, 2016

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Screening Room: ‘De Palma’

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Brian De Palma isn’t the kind of director who usually gets his own appreciative documentary. For one, he’s still alive and making films. For another, those films are usually twisted psychodramas just barely this side of exploitation thrillers.

Directed by filmmakers Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, De Palma opens this week. My review is at Film Journal International:

Baumbach and Paltrow’s approach is simple: Put a camera on De Palma as he walks us through his oeuvre, inserting strategic clips from his work or cinematic references as needed. There’s a brief dash through his autobiographical particulars before getting to the heart of the matter. Afterward the structure is chronological, bracketed by his little-seen college work from the 1960s (Wotan’s Wake) to the smaller independently financed films made since his self-imposed exile in Paris (Redacted, Femme Fatale). In between is one of cinema’s most unique and unlikely careers, swerving from psychological thrillers to horror, camp, gangster and war epics, and back again to psychological thrillers. It’s more than enough for De Palma to discuss…

Here’s the trailer: