The Last Shot in Detour and Some Earlier Moments

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The following article, written by filmmaker and artist Morgan Fisher, was originally published in Cinema Scope 38, Spring 2009. Thank you to Morgan Fisher and Mark Peranson for allowing me to republish it here. Criterion’s Detour Blu-ray is available on March 19, 2019.

In the narration of a short film I finished in 1984, I talked about the last shot in Detour (1945), directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. My commentary was brief, and I knew even then that there was more to be said. The film in which I talk about Detour is Standard Gauge. It’s one continuous extreme close-up that shows one after another pieces of 35mm film that I had gathered in the course of my employment as an editor in Hollywood, while on the track I talk about each in turn. Apart from the titles, the film consists of this one shot, which is 32 minutes long. 

One of the pieces was from the leader of a reel of The Naked Dawn (1955), another film by Ulmer. In the leader was a frame with the title, The Naked Dawn. I had seen The Naked Dawn and liked it well enough, but the reason I included the piece of leader was because it gave me a chance to talk about the last shot in Detour. I love Detour, but the last shot is truly astonishing.  Continue reading

Era Extraña: Lewis Klahr on Sixty Six

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Originally published in Cinema Scope 66, Spring 2016

“I’ve been listening to all the dissension/ I’ve been listening to all the pain/ And I feel that no matter what I do for you/ It’s going to come back again”—Leonard Cohen, “Minute Prologue”

An anthology film in 12 chapters, Lewis Klahr’s animated mosaic Sixty Six is both greater than the sum of its parts and grander than the scope of its one-dimensional decoupage. Any attempt to describe the film leads to a maze of contradictions. Largely a work of stop-motion collage (a term the filmmaker favours to distinguish his practice from traditional animation), it is at once Klahr’s latest feature and a compendium compiled from years of short-form experimentation. Beginning in 2013 as the attempted reimagining of an unreleased 16mm film, the project soon expanded to encompass a multitude of digital miniatures ranging from three to 20-plus minutes in length. Combining outré visual sources—comic books, newsprint ads, pulp literature, and all manner of Pop-Art ephemera—with classical music cues and allusions to Greek mythology, this composite feature is the strangest of hybrids: a personal work of universal provenance. Continue reading

Neither/Nor 2016: Mondo Cinema and Beyond

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Originally published by Filmmaker Magazine, March 23, 2016

Throughout this year’s Neither/Neither program at the 13th annual True/False Film Festival, I found myself frequently calling to mind storied Los Angeles film curator John Fles’ concept of “analytic programming.” Far less pedantic than the label suggests, Fles’ directive calls, quite simply, for the curatorial consideration of films with “subjects usually tabooed” — works of artistic merit that, when investigated at all, are generally “dealt with a kind of academic-aesthetic paternalism which robs these often wild films of their real content: as blasters of the traditional mores.” Continue reading

In Conversation: Shambhavi Kaul with Jordan Cronk

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Originally published in The Brooklyn Rail, May 2016

The work of the India-born, Durham-based filmmaker Shambhavi Kaul has a unique relationship with not only the world of contemporary experimental cinema, but also the lineage from which it draws both its inspiration and, quite often, its materials. Slyly spurning the strained, self-serious demeanor of much of the avant-garde, Kaul’s playful and inquisitive films unite histories of personal, cultural, and cinematic intrigue while maintaining an integrity borne of a deep engagement with the natural world. At the inaugural edition of the Big Ears film festival—to the revered experimental music celebration of the same name, which this year took place from March 31 – April 2 in Knoxville, Tennessee—Kaul premiered Modes of Faltering, a new six-channel installation, along with the five-film program, “Planet,” featuring a selection of spoken reflections capped with a reading of a manuscript adapted from a variety of in-flight magazines. Continue reading

Cannes Film Festival 2016: Part Two

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Originally published by Reverse Shot, June 6, 2016

Whether it was the result of an unusually strong and diverse Competition or sheer coincidence, the number of quality films spread throughout the rest of the various sidebars at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival was noticeably few. Even accounting for a pair of pleasing, if very different, features by established veterans in Directors’ Fortnight (Marco Bellocchio’s Sweet Dreams and Paul Schrader’s Dog Eat Dog), and a typically agreeable work by Hirokazu Kore-eda in a curiously depleted Un Certain Regard (After the Storm), there wasn’t much on offer in the festival’s two most prominent sidebars that simply met expectations—let alone turned heads in a manner comparable to that of other recent Fortnight or UCR highlights (such as Miguel Gomes’s Arabian Nights or Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja). Instead the best of this year’s parallel selections came largely from the Critics’ Week and Special Screenings sections of the festival. Between the two strands this ran the age gamut from 86-year-old Paul Vecchiali’s death’s doorstep mediation Le Cancre, to 33-year-old Julia Ducournau’s well-received coming-of-age horror chronicle Raw—as well as across a formal spectrum broad enough to include Alessandro Comodin’s fractured lovers-on-the-lam fable Happy Times Will Come Soon to Cambodian director Rithy Panh’s latest nonfiction memoir, Exile. Continue reading

Cannes Film Festival 2016: Part One

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Originally published by Reverse Shot, May 18, 2016

With its programmers’ predilection for marquee auteurs and icons of international renown, the annual Cannes Competition lineup isn’t traditionally given to touting young or emerging filmmakers beyond a single token selection. After all, the Critics’ Week and Un Certain Regard sections of the festivals are ostensibly designed to provide platforms for directors of such cachet, who may be too green or, more often, too willfully difficult to represent the world’s most famous film festival. Which is all to say that the 2016 Competition stands out amongst recent iterations for its refreshingly youthful complexion. Save for a few requisite standbys (Ken Loach, Pedro Almodóvar, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, among them), this year’s selection features a number of burgeoning talents as well as notable critical darlings, resulting in an uncommonly stimulating first week. Continue reading

Cannes Interview: Bruno Dumont

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Originally published by Film Comment, May 16, 2016

French filmmaker Bruno Dumont’s follow-up to his acclaimed four-part 2014 television film Li’l Quinquin, is a work of madcap inspiration—the second in a fresh comedically minded phase of the notoriously austere director’s career. Starring a roll call of seasoned actors—Juliette Binoche, Fabrice Luchini, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Jean-Luc Vincent—alongside a Dumontian clutch of amateurs, Slack Bay pits the upper-class Van Peteghems, vacationing for the summer on the coast of Northern France, against the working-class Bruforts, a lowly clan of fishermen. The Bruforts’ strange traditions and macabre rituals peg them as prime suspects in an ongoing series of unsolved disappearances. Investigating the crimes are a pair of detectives, Machin (Didier Desprès) and Malfoy (Cyril Rigaux), a Laurel and Hardy–type duo as prone to pratfalls as they are to misreading clues. Together these characters descend upon the Channel Coast for a carnivalesque romp inspired as much by the comedy stylings of cinema’s earliest stars as by detective yarns and the grotesquerie of early-20th-century expressionist painting.

Dumont sat for an interview soon after Slack Bay premiered in Competition at the Cannes Film Festival. Continue reading