Film Studies

Cosmopolis

by
28 August 2012

Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel Cosmopolis could be described as a rarefied CBD road movie, and the same might be said of David Cronenberg’s new film adaptation, an unnervingly faithful, uncomfortable, and elusive version of the book. Cronenberg, a consistently absorbing and provocative director, is still probably best known for early, visceral works such as Videodrome (1983) and The Brood (1979). His biggest hit is a remake of The Fly (1986). He has made some fine literary adaptations: an elegant, disturbing engagement with J.G. Ballard’s Crash (1973); an intelligently claustrophobic take on Patrick McGrath’s Spider (1990). His version of William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch (1959) is odd, flawed, and inventive. He has not made a film from an original screenplay since eXistenZ in 1999.

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Antonioni: Centenary Essays edited by Laura Rascaroli and John David Rhodes

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June 2012, no. 342

Five years after Michelangelo Antonioni’s death, the ground-breaking Italian director’s films occupy an increasingly important but odd position. Exemplifying serious ‘art cinema’ at the peak of its European expression, his most famous work continues to compel yet also cause problems for critical reception. How to write about such demanding and endlessly rewarding films without falling back on what we are often told are the old clichés of ‘alienation’ and chilly formalism? A welcome addition to the slowly percolating appreciations of the film-maker in English, Antonioni: Centenary Essays quite visibly, if not perhaps intentionally, struggles with and exemplifies this challenge.

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Choosing to set a screen adaptation of Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) in contemporary India might seem like an almost perverse shift, or an over-determining decision. But for British film-maker Michael Winterbottom, there is consistency and history of a sort. It is his third Thomas Hardy adaptation, and his fourth feature shot on the subcontinent. In re ...

Is there anything left to say about Hollywood? Thomas Elsaesser’s monumental compilation of twenty-three densely argued essays written during the last four decades, The Persistence of Hollywood, provides a straightforward, at times overwhelming answer: Yes. Elsaesser’s summary work also makes a strong argument for a lifelong engagement with Hollywood that stretches from the development and ‘genius’ of what is now commonly called the classical studio era to the contemporary blockbuster and its attendant practices of truly globalised film-making. Elsaesser’s pithy title refers to both his own continuing interest in Hollywood past and present and the remarkable ‘persistence’ and longevity of this profoundly dominant film-making system. The range of Elsaesser’s enquiry and his command of the various strands of film theory that have emerged since the 1960s are often breathtaking, and clearly illustrate the author’s importance to the field, particularly as a barometer or synthesiser of dominant and fashionable ideas and critical approaches.

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Pauline Kael did not shy away from big statements. She said that the release date of Last Tango in Paris would be as historically resonant as the night The Rite of Spring had its première, and she described Fiddler On the Roof as a movie of operatic power. As a film reviewer at the New Yorker from 1967 to 1991, she was a significant cultural figure, particularly in the 1970s, when her influence was at its height. It is for her extremes that Kael was celebrated and feared, for her exuberantly adversarial prose, and for the ferocious expression of her cinematic loves and hates.

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Wolf Creek, released in 2005, was always smarter than your average slasher. Anchored by a brilliant performance by John Jarratt, the film was harrowing enough to strike the unobservant as another Saw or Hostel, but far more lurked there for those who bothered to look. In acclaimed novelist Sonya Hartnett’s brief but vivid critical study, the film has found the analysis it deserves. In the book’s arresting autobiographical opening, Hartnett, describing the fear and deprivation of childhood, coins the term ‘two-bit antipodean horror’, which she claims to prefer to the more familiar ‘Australian Gothic’. It evokes a ‘sullen blandness’ at the heart of the country, and it’s this pinched meanness, this horror, that she describes so well in her study.

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Whenever I have found myself in disagreement with Philip French’s film reviews in London’s Observer, I have always felt worried, assuming I had missed a crucial point or misread a plot move. He may well be the longest-serving film reviewer in the English-speaking world; he is certainly the most honoured.

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It is easy, too easy, to feel familiar with Clint Eastwood. However fully we realise that he is just another actor playing a role, part of us wants to believe that he speaks to colleagues in terse catchphrases and squints at friends and family with profound contempt. Almost invariably, his tough-guy image sets the terms for assessments of his work as a director – whether he’s seen as the Last Classicist or merely as a hardened old pro who gets the job done. To be sure, in conversation with journalists Eastwood has often been willing to play up to his laconic reputation. My favourite example came when he was asked how he approached the adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County: ‘I took all the drivel out.’

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One morning in 2004, an Aboriginal man named Cameron Doomadgee was arrested for swearing at a police officer; forty-five minutes later he lay dead on the floor of his cell. Something had gone badly wrong, though the white senior sergeant on duty, the towering Chris Hurley, denied he was in any way at fault.

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As the dust settles on twentieth-century acting giants, and reputations are appraised, it is at least arguable that John Gielgud emerges as the greatest. Certainly his was the longest and most varied career, spanning nearly eighty years, only death itself, when he was ninety-six, causing him to slow down. Since then his pre-eminence has seemed confirmed as one reads about him and his distinguished contemporaries.

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