Tag: film

A 21st Century moviegoer

If I were to sit down and actively mine which magazine stories or longform reporting of 2018 stayed with me (I sorta did but the results are very East Coast-heavy and I’m ashamed of that; although last year’s was just as bad, it turns out), critic A.S. Hamrah’s Bookforum essay on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and a new chronology of the film would’ve made the cut.

As part of their print issue retrospective on 1968, Hamrah front-loads his review of Michael Benson’s Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece with an assessment of American cinema fifty years ago, when the Hollywood’s stale condition was overturned by a work starring “a deadly computer, a trippy acid freak-out, and an intergalactic hotel room.” From Bookforum:

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was not a flop when it came out. It was a big hit and ended up the highest-grossing film of 1968. It was especially popular with acidheads and pot smokers, science geeks, budding filmmakers, and people under forty in general. The critics in New York, however, all hated it (except for Penelope Gilliatt in the New Yorker), and it had not done well in preview screenings with studio execs and celebrities, who found it boring and confusing. Those preview screenings and early reviews have become part of the film’s legend. People love to remember how the snobs got it wrong.

At Guernica, writer Kyle Paoletta reviews The Earth Dies Streaming: Film Writing, 2002-2018, a new collection of Hamrah’s essays on film, “columns (that) stand alone in their ability to evoke what it feels like to go to the movies in the 21st Century.”

A homecoming for the Queen of Soul

At 4 Columns, film critic Melissa Anderson writes about the release of Amazing Grace, a “long-delayed” documentary concert film chronicling two widely revered 1972-era Aretha Franklin performances that comprise a live album of the same name. From Anderson:

All the emotions of the world: that’s one way to characterize what is evoked while watching Amazing Grace, the long-delayed documentary of Aretha Franklin’s two performances, on January 13 and 14, 1972, of (mostly) gospel standards at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. Those live recordings were assembled as the double album Amazing Grace, still the highest-selling disc of Aretha’s career and the most successful live gospel record of all time. Released in June ’72, roughly midway through Aretha’s 1967–79 tenure at Atlantic Records, the label where she reached her artistic and commercial apogee, the album was billed as a homecoming of sorts for the Queen of Soul, returning to the music she sang as a child as a star attraction at her father’s sermons in Detroit and beyond.

To document these two extraordinary nights, Jerry Wexler, Aretha’s longtime producer at Atlantic, arranged for director Sydney Pollack to film the performances; Warner Bros., the parent company of Atlantic, had planned to release the movie, rather incongruously, on a double bill with Super Fly in the summer of ’72. But Pollack didn’t synch sound and image properly, so the project languished for decades. With the blessing of Pollack (who died in 2008), Alan Elliott, a former associate of Wexler’s, oversaw the completion of the documentary, which was originally set to premiere at the Telluride Film Festival in September 2015—until legal action by Aretha scuttled those plans.

Elliott heard about the decades-old film when he was an Atlantic Records employee in 1990, and nearly bankrupted himself over the years to “buy the existing footage, edit the film, and pay for insurance and lawyers” in order to stave off Franklin’s legal efforts to prevent Amazing Grace from seeing theatrical release.

“The reasons why Aretha, notoriously litigious, didn’t want audiences to see Amazing Grace—which shows her, then twenty-nine, fully in ‘the zone,’ performing perhaps her most beautiful, transporting music—will forever remain unknown,” writes Anderson at 4 Columns.

Amazing Grace is at Film Forum this week in New York City and will head to theaters in 2019.

Catastrophe within catastrophe

j hoberman night living dead romero metrograph

At The New York Review of Books, critic J. Hoberman writes about Night of the Living Dead and its “apocalyptic vision of societal collapse.” The film, based on an in-process script and shot in black and white due to budgetary constraints, earned millions upon its release in 1968. From J. Hoberman:

As the marauding ghouls provide a grimly hilarious cross-section of ordinary Americans, so Night of the Living Dead offered the most literal possible image of the nation devouring itself, as it brought the Vietnam War home, importing the destructive violence of Watts, Newark, and Detroit to bucolic Middle America. Not for nothing is one dazed character, traumatized by the attack of a cannibal ghoul in an American flag-bedecked cemetery, forever mumbling, “What’s happening?” It was the question of the hour.

Read J. Hoberman’s piece, and see Night of the Living Dead on the big screen at Metrograph in NYC.

Image © 2017 Sean Phillips. Buy his poster at Criterion.