Posted tagged ‘Michel Ciment’

Larry Clark’s “Another Day in Paradise,” a Film Sculpted from Outtakes

February 4, 2009

While photographer/director Larry Clark‘s Another Day in Paradise (1997) was shown all around the world uncut, the “Mavericks and Outsiders” series offers New York audiences one more unique chance to see the complete version of Clark’s film this afternoon by presenting a French subtitled print. On Saturday night, Positif editor and series curator Michel Ciment talked with Clark about qualities that distinguished this James Woods/Melanie Griffith Hollywood production from other films Clark has made over his career.


Kids was a NY movie, an indie movie. For this film, I was out there in Hollywood working with a Hollywood crew. The toughest task for me was retraining the crew. ‘Well, we aren’t going to do things that way,” I would have to say. “We are going to do it backwards. Well not backwards, more like sideways.”

It was difficult getting the lighting people not to over-light everything. They’d want to use every light on the truck, like Hollywood movies where people in dark closets have hair lights. On set, I constantly say “There’s too much light, take this light out and take that light out.”


There is more improv in this film than any other film I have made. Kids was scripted. On this film, when the script wasn’t working, I’d see one little thing that was working and say, “Let’s start there and take off.” I would keep the camera rolling.

When I put the film together with an editor, I told him: “Take this, that, put this here, and I’ll be back.” The editor worked a while, but when I returned there was nothing on the screen that I told him to put in. I said, “What happened? I told you I wanted this, this, and this.” And he said, “I thought you were kidding. You can’t do this, this is stuff for the gag-reel that you show to the crew after the film.” And I said, “Pal, that’s the film.”

Many of these scenes were done after the “scene” was over: this film is made up of mostly outtakes, but that was the way I saw the film. The performances feel more immediate because they are actually happening for the first time. When the cast saw the final film, they were very surprised and liked the film a lot, were kind of amazed by it.


“Reunion” director Jerry Schatzberg on “hiring wonderful actors” and what an audience brings to a film

February 3, 2009

Director Jerry Schatzberg speaks with the Film Society's Caroline von Kuhn, photo by Godlis

“[Schatzberg] has a particular gift to restrain the emotions only to make their release more powerful, and to avoid the obvious by suggesting rather than by over-defining. He makes us feel something that is too often missing in contemporary American Cinema: an adult and mature artist, dealing with adult and mature themes and characters,” said Michel Ciment’s in his introduction to director Jerry Schatzberg‘s Reunion (1989), screened last night as a part of the “Mavericks and Outsiders” series.

On getting great performances out of actors, Schatzberg said: “The moment is what matters to me, the truth is what matters to me. If I can find the truth, that’s a little bit unusual. I’d love to find something that is a little bit improbable but possible. I think if you are going to hire actors to do something, then let them do it. We talk about it, we set it up, and surprise each other once in a while, but as long as it stays within the bounds of what we are trying to say …. You know, people tell me, “You are wonderful with actors.” And I say “I hire wonderful actors.””

On what the audience brings to a film, the director said: “There was one critic who was a wonderful supporter of the film Scarecrow (1973). He invited me to do a seminar with him at MoMA about it, and I agreed. As it happened, he had recently come out of the closet and changed his lifestyle — had a partner, and was just living this different life from before. At the seminar, I was in the audience watching, he started analyzing the film, describing the homosexual values in it, what the film was leading to. Afterwards, when I came up to join him, he asked me, “What do you think about what I said?” And I said, “If that’s your experience, than you are right. It’s not what I thought it was, but….” But every time I look back on the film now I see exactly what he was talking about.

It’s really up to the audience, the audience is responsible for a film, too.”

Michel Ciment unlocks the secrets of The Honeymoon Killers (1970) and Wanda (1970)

February 2, 2009

Michel Ciment, photo by Godlis

Before the screening of  The Honeymoon Killers (1970) on Friday night, Michel Ciment, editor of Positif and curator with the Film Society for the Mavericks and Outsiders series, shared several compelling details about the film I hadn’t heard before.

Leonard Kastle is a career composer and librettist for opera, but he has also written a number of screenplays. He was so taken with a news clipping about the real life: “The Lonely Hearts Killers” that he wrote the screenplay for The Honeymoon Killers with particular attention to accuracy and details of the real life models of his characters (and used their real names). Veteran television producer Warren Steibel worked to put the project together, and hired a young promising director … the pre-Mean Streets (1973) Martin Scorsese! … to direct. But by the sixth day of production, after Steibel had argued with Scorsese over every decision, Scorsese turned on him, saying that if Steibel didn’t want his vision as a director, he ought to make the writer direct it. And so starting day seven, Kastle, with no previous experience as a director, took the helm. Scorsese’s material was scrapped, and Kastle extended his passionate exploration of the material into this  accomplished, idiosyncratic film.

As one explanation of the film’s stronger reputation in Europe, Ciment told the story of its premiere at the Pesaro film festival. After the screening, the audience was struck completely silent by the effect of the film. Journalists, not sure how to cover such a film given anti-American sentiment associated with the Vietnam War started drifting out of the theater. Writer and key cultural bellwether Marguerite Duras stood up and shouted into the silence that this was an incredible film, the strongest indictment of American culture ever created. Immediately, journalists began drifting back into the theater, many of them wanting interviews with Kastle….

Talking also about Wanda (1970) from the same night, Ciment pointed out experiences you can create with a “criminals-on-the-run” genre film that you can’t transmit as easily to audiences without those conventions to keep them attentive to the film, experiences such as having a character looking out into the street for a minute or two, and moments of waiting. These glimpses offer the audience an opportunity to uncouple itself from narrative rails to be positioned in the world of the film in a more ambiguous, observational position. A number of films programmed in Mavericks and Outsiders series offer this experience: Keane (2002) deputizing the viewer to investigate New York’s Port Authority neighborhood along side Keane, Schatzberg’s invocation of disjointed past and present history through place in Reunion, and even Duvall’s Detective Spellacy walking us wordlessly through the Black Dahlia murder site in True Confessions (1981). That the editor of Positif should be picking up on this is no surprise, the magazine’s willingness to approach genre films with the critical attention peer magazines restrict to “serious cinema” helps encourage audiences to catch these hidden glimpses.

From Positif: A Chance to See Reunion (1989)

February 2, 2009

Having not yet had a chance to see Reunion (1989) myself, I wanted to make sure to highlight how hard it is in fact to get a chance to see this film.

Reunion (1989) has not, to-date, been released on DVD and received too little attention during its theatrical release. (And I was out of town during Anthology’s Schatzberg retrospective in early September.) But with an impressive lineup of talents contributing to the film — script by Harold Pinter, noted performance by Jason Robards, and  chance for director/photographer Schatzberg to explore different territory from Scarecrow (1973) and  The Panic in Needle Park (1971)– I’m very eager to see this film and attend the Schatzberg’s Q&A afterwards (Monday night screening only).

This week, many cinemaphiles are hoping to catch the new 35mm print of The Panic in Needle Park (1971) at the Film Forum, but that film is at least in higher circulation on DVD. It would be a terrible opportunity to miss this rare screening.

“American films teach you not to bore people” and more from Positif editor Michel Ciment

February 2, 2009

A revealing interview with Michel Ciment  from friend of the filmlinc blog Kevin Lee. In it, Ciment explains why American films are in the greatest need of reappraisal, the “mythic poetic foundations of the nation” and why he likes Clint Eastwood’s new movies.

Check it out and then come and see the Positif series.

More web trivia treasures for Mavericks and Outsiders (Saturday Edition)

January 31, 2009

More hunting on the Inter-webs to add a few more details for Saturday screenings Michel Ciment’s Mavericks and Outsiders series on now with the Film Society that I didn’t cover in my trivia Friday Edition. Ah, unattributed IMDB trivia notes, how I love and disbelieve you. Decide for yourself. Or better yet, ask for confirmation/refutation during Q&As.

A number of sources cite True Confession (1981) as the still-reigning champion of the Black Dahlia features from the past several decades. Adapted by John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion, directed by Ulu Grosbard. I’m looking forward to seeing Robert Duvall with Robert DeNiro in a film with a reputation for compelling performances. Robert DeNiro came to True Confessions right after Raging Bull (1980), keeping some of the Jake La Motta weight for the new role. In fact, the theatrical release of True Confessions was pushed into 1981 to avoid competing against the Scorsese’s Oscar contender. A quote from DeNiro: “If we get through one shot before lunch or one day of shooting we considered ourselves lucky.”

After watching Ken Park (2002) at the Lake Placid Film Forum seated next to my sister, I don’t have to limit myself to abstract conjecture regarding the difficulty and cinematic punch of  Larry Clark’s work. (My sister admitted she, too, admired the film and was happy the festival presented Clark with an award for valor for pursuing these subjects, but there endeth discussion.) Here’s some fine work from the IMDB trivia poster brigade for Another Day in Paradise (1998):

  • The word “f*ck” is used 327 times in this 101 minute film.
  • The scene in the woods with James Woods and Vincent Kartheiser was completely improvised and involved Woods hitting Kartheiser repeatedly with his fingers. The gestures are so rough and sudden that you can hear each hit and see Kartheiser’s genuine surprise, respectively. Afterwards, Kartheiser went up to director Larry Clark and said, simply, “I didn’t know that motherfucker was going to hit me.”
  • Director Larry Clark didn’t believe that Vincent Kartheiser, then 18, was of a legal age for his role (involving nudity, sexual situations, and drug use) and wouldn’t cast him until he was able to prove his age. Kartheiser was cast once he produced his driver’s license.
  • This was the final movie to receive the famous “Two Thumbs Up” from film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel.

Positif cheatsheet: why French film criticism still matters

January 30, 2009


First things first, before exploring the Mavericks and Outsiders series currently on at the Film Society I needed to learn a little more about Positif. I was aware of its reputation as a crucial, longstanding French film magazine. I knew the publication to be kissing/fighting cousins with Cahiers du cinema. That I knew more about the latter is simply because Cahiers and Bazin are forced on university students in 101 courses as the lone artifact from that ancient time film viewers talked about “Film” rather than “Film Industry”: these days, I’m hungry for other examples.

I called the film programmer who introduced me to The Honeymoon Killers in 2000, Dylan Skolnick. He pointed out that Positif‘s willingness to engage films out of step with the mainstream politically and aesthetically — championing the surreal and the ineffable alongside genre films overlooked in other “serious” film magazines — meant the magazine can be trusted as a place of discovery for authentic voices in cinema. The editorial policy of similar-aged publications reveals shifts in the fashions of critical sentiment over the years, while a similar analysis of Positif — governed by an evolving editorial committee of past contributors rather than an editor-in-chief — reveals a surprisingly evergreen list of cinema worthy of engagement, argument, and preservation. (I’ve grabbed him watch some of the films in this series with me.)

I am reading Positif 50 Years: Selected Writings from the French Film Journal from the MoMA/Positif series a few years ago. Snips I found interesting below. First, from Michel Ciment, Positif‘s public face and responsible for selecting this series:

“Labels give people a feeling of security. Positif was upsetting to those who liked neat categories, and was distasteful to some because of its extreme freedom. Depending on whom one spoke to, it was either too theoretical or not theoretical enough. And then they were the intellectuals, the hair-splitters, who loved the labyrinths of Last Year at Marienbad and the speculations of Raúl Ruiz or the traps set by Peter Greenaway, but who just as readily defended the horror films produced by Hammer Films or Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, unanimously rejected when it was released by the “serious” press, as well as the golden age of Italian comedy neglected on both sides of the Alps! … It is always dangerous to be out of sync with fashion, to explore the contours of future cinema, at the risk of being called elitist or for basking too readily in the pleasures of old films and being labeled retro.” (Michael Ciment, “For Your Pleasure: A Brief Overview of Fifty Years of Positif“)

And finally, from the 1952 Positif issue 1 editorial by Bernard Chardère, who at twenty-two founded the magazine in Lyon with friends:

You like the movies: you also know that film is an art. It took fifty years for the professors to admit it; in another half-century students will be writing theses that attempt to reconstruct lost masterpieces. But whose fault was it that they disappeared? It is up to us to do something against the merchants of the mediocre.

— Discoveries rather than rehashes, even subtle ones. Shedding light on the unknown John Huston is far more useful than trotting out the usual clichés about The Devil’s Envoy (Les Visiteurs du soir) for the nth time.
— Interesting contributions, in particular from those who do not often get opportunity to express themselves: the makers of films that we admire. Doesn’t a single sentence from Jean Renoir have more resonance than a hundred books of exegesis?” (Bernard Chadère, “Why We Are Going to Fight”)

I’ll continue to be exploring selections from Positif parrallel to the series….