Film Studies

The history of cinema began twice. All art forms are shaped by technological change, but the advent of the talkie in the late 1920s – only a few decades after the first silent films – did not so much develop the medium as kill it and replace it with something new. So abrupt was the change that the strange visual operas of cinema’s earliest years became imbued with a certain innocence, now almost impossible to replicate. To this day, silent film has an aura of mystery, a quality that cultural critic Peter Conrad addresses in his erudite new book.

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In recent years, Hollywood has been forced to take a long hard look at itself. Since Alyssa Milano popularised the hashtag #MeToo in 2017, and the Time’s Up movement was launched in 2018, women in the film industry have been sharing their stories of sexism, discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. Film critic Helen O’Hara’s Women vs Hollywood is not the first attempt at a revisionist history of the Hollywood film industry. Several books have appeared that reread Hollywood through a feminist lens: Laura L.S. Bauer’s Hollywood Heroines: The most influential women in film history (2018), Jill Tietjen and Barbara Bridges’ Hollywood: Her story, an illustrated history of women and the movies (2019), and Naomi McDougall Jones’s The Wrong Kind of Women: Inside our revolution to dismantle the gods of Hollywood (2020).

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As Victoria emerges from its long lockdown, cinemas, among the last businesses to reopen under the roadmap to recovery, are finally open to the public again. But how will they operate in a Covid-normal world? Have we learnt to live without them?

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Reviewing Oliver Stone’s film Salvador for The New Yorker in 1986, Pauline Kael detected a ‘right-wing macho fantasy joined to a left-wing polemic’. That same compound, a politically unstable one, bubbles under the surface of Stone’s autobiography, Chasing the Light. Generally speaking, it is hard to separate judgement about an autobiography from that about its subject, since reading an autobiography is like a long stay at someone’s home, listening to them detail their life story around the dinner table, night after night. The problem is twofold when its author is so politically conflicted. As distinct from a film review, to review Oliver Stone’s autobiography is undeniably to review ‘Oliver Stone’.

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The Social Dilemma 

Netflix
by
21 September 2020

If you watch one film about technology this year, make it this one. The Social Dilemma (Netflix) features almost every tech insider turned outsider. There’s Tristan Harris, Google’s former chief design ethicist who famously dissented over the company’s attention/addiction business model. There’s Justin Rosenstein, the inventor of the Facebook ‘like’ button, who now regrets his invention. There’s Guillaume Chaslot, inventor of the YouTube recommendations system, who now regrets his invention. There’s Jaron Lanier, founder of virtual reality, who now wants people to delete their social media accounts. There’s Shoshana Zuboff, author of last year’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, who blew the lid on the whole game. And that’s just in the first few minutes.

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Ratched 

Netflix
by
21 September 2020

How, precisely, does a character unmoor itself from its source material? And how concerned should we be to track its progress – or should that be retrace its steps? These questions bugged me as I admittedly devoured Ryan Murphy’s new Netflix series, Ratched. Ostensibly a prequel, it re-contextualises and re-packages the unforgettable villain Nurse Ratched from Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962) for entirely different aims, so much so that the original feels hopelessly far away. In fact, there’s little evidence of Kesey at all.

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Adrian Martin’s Mysteries of Cinema is, above all, an impassioned love letter to film, a written record of a life defined and driven by the pleasures, ambiguities, and indeed mysteries inherent in what André Bazin, co-founder of Cahiers du Cinéma, called the ‘seventh art’. In the author’s own words, the book ‘covers 34 years of a writing life’. It charts both his ephemeral and enduring fixations and obsessions, many of which converge on cinema, film form, the role of the critic, pockets of film culture, and the psychological, emotional, and intellectual responses that cinema elicits. Mirroring much of Martin’s oeuvre, Mysteries of Cinema is not easily classifiable; it cuts across different strands of film theory and thought by employing ‘a mode of synthetic film analysis attuned to … the mysteries of cinema’. Martin’s devotees will devour Mysteries of Cinema, savouring its details, imagery, and linguistic flourishes. At more than 430 pages in length, it might prove a formidable undertaking for the more casual reader.

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In his long poem The Bridge (1930), Hart Crane balances the breadth of his epic vision against a compressive energy, a ballistic sort of expression: ‘So the 20th Century – so / whizzed the Limited – roared by and left.’ Since Crane worked in an American tradition of poet–prophets that includes Walt Whitman and the undersung H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), it is tempting to grant him that. The twentieth century did roar by and go. And the 20th Century Limited, the luxurious passenger train connecting New York to Chicago, furnished it (and him) with an expression of the century’s quarrelsome momentum, its loud, emblematic modernity.

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Peterloo ★★★★

by
20 November 2018

What I’ve come to expect of a new Mike Leigh film is, above all, the unexpected. His first feature, Bleak Moments (1971), of which there were quite a few in that contemporary study of urban, lower-middle class life, made him a potent force in British film. Think of Naked (1993) and Secrets & Lies (1996) ...

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History is written by the Oscar winners in our time, which makes the responsibilities of serious historical scholarship never more important. Despite its realist pretensions – it looks as real as life – film is a dreamy, poetic medium, too often prone to simplicity, conspiracy theory, sucking up to the Zeitgeist ...

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