Reel Reads is a regular feature that gathers lengthier stories related to the world of film criticism you may have missed during the week. If there’s anything you think would be ideal for future installments, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Legendary director Billy Wilder passed away ten years ago last Tuesday, an occasion that, while somber, provides an opportunity to reflect on the man’s career. The Playlist ran their own retrospective on the anniversary (which is definitely worth reading), but Noah Isenberg at the Los Angeles Review of Books looked at the man through the prism of an upcoming tome called “Masters of Cinema: Billy Wilder” by Noël Simsolo. Isenberg takes a tour through Wilder’s filmography, but also delves into Simolo’s tales of the director’s youth: Wilder’s first career as a fledgling German-language newspaper reporter, Wilder’s journey from Austria-Hungary to the United States, and his enthusiasm for Ernst Lubitsch. The piece also covers areas of the famed filmmaker’s later career, including the projects that he might have taken on had he lived and worked past his already astonishing 95 years.
This slender, richly illustrated and appropriately entertaining volume was originally released in France in 2007, and is now available in an elegant English translation by Trista Selous under the auspices of Cahiers du Cinéma. Equal parts photo scrapbook, thumbnail production history, and long-form essay, Simsolo’s Billy Wilder gathers its material not only from the standard literature of contemporary Wilder Studies — including Ed Sikov’s definitive biography On Sunset Boulevard, a sprawling work that’s still the leader of the pack, and Cameron Crowe’s animated Conversations with Wilder — but also from a large body of French sources, most of them first published in Cahiers…The story Simsolo tells unfolds along a narrative axis that leads from Wilder’s childhood in Vienna through his distinguished career as a writer and director in Hollywood and abroad, encompassing dozens of screen credits, more than a handful of Oscars, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute. And, of course, since it’s Wilder we’re talking about, there’s an anecdotal surplus unmatched in any history of the motion pictures.
Complete with links to some of his most notable work (“The Pink Panther” theme, “Moon River,” etc.), this excerpt from John Caps’ new book of the same name provides a brief introduction to Mancini’s career. Although different composers achieved notoriety before Mancini, Caps posits that the musician’s jazz stylings and versatile output came at just the right time, amidst changes in the movie industry. As a result, he was the first to give film music a kind of living room appeal.
Mancini never intended to be a self-expressive musician just as, indeed, he usually deflected self-revealing conversation from himself. He was a reactive person who tried to reach people only through background chat or background music. But somehow he had a lot to say, and it stood out in spite of him. Of course, he gloried in the sounds he was able to produce, and he wanted to share that music with people. Even mere pop music, even cool jazz in its 1960s dialect, can be exciting today; even a yearning baby boomer ballad can give poignancy to the New Millennium. What was fresh once can still have pertinence and power if it is personal. The best of Mancini, while no longer new, is thus self-renewing.
Although Emily Nussbaum’s New Yorker profile of polarizing indie ascendor Lena Dunham is tied to the new HBO series “Girls,” no conversation about the actress/writer/producer would be complete without a reference (or ten) to “Tiny Furniture,” the SXSW discovery that helped launch her to her current success. Nussbaum’s set visit yields some insightful talks with not only Dunham, but some of the “Girls” crew that have been present for the transformation, having also been in “Tiny Furniture.” Given Dunham’s background, the new HBO output isn’t a traditional television series. The women behind it (and in front of it) may just be the reason why.
All of the Girls actresses have a deep knowledge of fame: Like Dunham, they are the children of well-known artists. But Kirke, a painter who graduated from RISD, is the most ambivalent about the spotlight, with the privilege, perhaps, of someone who already feels like a movie star. “My friend was saying, ‘I’m so glad I’m not an actress,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, me too!’ ” Kirke says, laughing. She wonders if you can pick up acting and then step away—which might seem flighty, until you think about her family, which includes her rock-star father; her mother, a muse and designer; her singer sister, Domino; and her actress sister, Lola. “Obviously, it’s more lucrative than painting right now. And I can see how people could do one movie and then do a million. It’s easy to just fall asleep on the train, so to speak, and I’d rather get off at some point.”
The “slacker” archetype is one historically inhabited by men. But Hermione Hoby, writing for The Observer, puts forth the idea that a growing number of filmmakers, writers, comedians and more are using a kind of slacker mentality to find artistic success. Yes, Dunham is featured prominently here as well. But the piece also looks at artists like Miranda July (“The Future,” “Me and You and Everyone We Know”) in an attempt to figure out what about these women have led to this new wave of aimless ambition. Whether it’s the characters they portray or their own artistic demeanor, something seems to be working.
Think of popular culture’s great slackers – Bill, Ted, “Dude” Lebowski, the many schlubs of Judd Apatow’s movies – and you realise that what unites them is not just their use of the word “dude”: it’s that they are all dudes. On screen and on page, slackerdom has forever been a curiously male preserve, as if the glorification of idleness and a cheerfully non-aspirational attitude were dependent on an extra chromosome. This might be the year that changes that. Right now, a welter of films, books and TV shows from both sides of the Atlantic is yielding a new cultural archetype: the girl slacker. The version of twentysomething womanhood being reflected back at us in 2012 isn’t dressed in Louboutins, busy ball-breaking in boardrooms: she’s eating cereal, in her pants, in her parents’ basement.