Weekend 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.
As The Hairpin's Anne Helen Petersen describes in her overview of the career of actor Errol Flynn, the man was, in some ways, an answer to Clark Gable. But circumstances of his own doing prevented Flynn from enjoying the icon status now given to some of his peers. Petersen examines the interplay between his on-screen persona and his troubled off-screen behavior. Rather than look exclusively at Flynn's filmography, Petersen tracks the actor's evolution back through his privileged upbringing and failed early efforts at entrepreneurship. His meteoric rise and precipitous fall is highlighted by his film romances, his questionable published commentary and the trial that destroyed his invicibility.
"It was this combination of on- and off-screen image, of confident womanizer and selfless hero, that truly beguiled. He wasn’t bad the way Jimmy Cagney was bad or Bogart was bad. It was all, it seemed, just a bit of harmless fun. Until it wasn’t anymore, and Flynn was charged with two counts of statutory rape. After a long, highly publicized trial, he was acquitted, but the details remain murky, and Flynn spiraled into deep alcoholism and depression. Today the sordid details of his later life are elided in favor of his jubilant youth, when he was the man in tights of every woman’s dreams."
Two newly available films by the legendary director John Ford aren't from the westerns he's perhaps best known for. But in the New York Times, Dave Kehr argues that the pair make an intriguing double feature of foils. Released over a decade apart, "How Green Was My Valley" and "The Quiet Man" have competing, but equally compelling notions on how communities can either splinter or strengthen as a result of outside catalysts.
"If the natural, overcompensating reaction since the 1970s rediscovery of Ford has been to undervalue the prestige projects in favor of the more idiosyncratic westerns, that is not to say that Ford’s nonwestern films are without interest. They do, in fact, constitute the vast majority of his filmography, and if the landscapes they explore are not necessarily familiar, the subjects they cover and the immense stylistic assurance with which Ford approaches them are as personal as anything else in his work."
Writing at The Eye blog, Anneliese Cooper uses a number of examples as avenues to the idea that women are still underrrepresented in the world of film. Some of them are personal anecdotes, taken from professors' comments in classroom discussions. Others are testimonials from filmmakers taking part in the Athena Film Festival, co-founded by Women and Hollywood's own Melissa Silverstein. Astute podcast-based observations also factor into Cooper's overall argument. The conclusion, as other writers have also argued, if the emphasis is on telling human stories rather than ones specifically germane to females, we'll be one step closer to alleviating the problem.
"At least when it comes to what people will say out loud—essentialist, biological definitions of race have, mostly, gone the way of phrenology. Today, if you publicly claim that certain behaviors are hard-wired according to race, you’ll get called out on it—and rightly so. However, essentialist definitions of gender seem to persist, at least subtly, even in the most liberal of minds, without being tagged as fundamentally sexist. Notions of a “maternal instinct,” a “woman’s intuition”—the lurking, latent sense that, though it’s all well and good that modern convenience has allowed women to develop careers outside the home, were we to strip life down to base animal necessity, the female’s place is, fundamentally, to nurture. It’s encoded in her DNA. Prescribed to her by evolution. Sugar and spice, stretching back to the dawn of time."
"Caesar Must Die" is currently enjoying a theatrical run after making waves on the festival circuit, but there's another story of an Italian prisoner-turned-actor that's worth keeping an eye out for. Ed Vulliamy's profile for the Guardian on Aniello Arena begins with another Shakespearean production, this time a reworked version of "Romeo and Juliet." It's the latest project for Arena, whose involvement with organized crime is still fuzzy in its details. But, serving out a life sentence, he has been allowed to take part in a number of acting pursuits, the latest of which is "Reality," a film that garnered enough positive response at Cannes 2012 to be picked up for wider release. Vulliamy's experience covering the crimes for which Arena was imprisoned is the capper on a fascinating piece.
"Arena is not penitent, however, as he is expected to be. In Italian mafia parlance, there are two different concepts – of a penitente, and of a pentito – the former begs forgiveness, the latter squeals on his former comrades in exchange for leniency in sentencing. Arena – a professed former criminal who denies the murders – is neither of these. This reluctance to exhibit either his criminal past or remorse for public consumption is one of the reasons why Arena's success has attracted remarkably little attention in Italy, considering. For it is not just the press that wants this to be a moral and social fairy tale, but the institutions of society – the church, the political establishment. Society wants a repentant sinner, but Arena's is a story about theatre and ideas, not some prodigal redemption."
It's to its credit that Kristopher Tapley's yearly In Contention countdown of cinema's most memorable images doesn't feature any video. The still images that accompany every entry in the countdown serve as a helpful reminder of the sequences already seared onto the audience's memory. That Tapley is able to speak with many of the men and women behind the camera for those shots is the icing on the cake.
"[Re: "The Queen of Versailles] It's a simple shot. Not much fuss to it. A seemingly mundane instance. The son of the film's subject, Jacqueline Siegel, pushes a merry-go-round round and round until finally tripping up and falling face first into the dirt. There was something so potent about it, this idea of 'keeping up with the Joneses' and a shifting values landscape in the film, leading to a great fall. And all of that is right here in this unassuming real-life moment."
Yes, it's another film production oral history. But, given the film's place in the annals of modern indie filmmaking, "Pulp Fiction" seems the film most ripe for a feature length overview. Vanity Fair's Mark Seal talks with a number of the principal figures in the Tarantino universe, going through tales of casting, filming and awards reception. The "what-if" and "almost didn't happen" factors to these oral histories make them a breeze to both read and recommend.
"Filming wrapped on November 30, 1993, with Christopher Walken delivering a four-minute monologue in which he, as Captain Koons, presents a gold watch to Bruce Willis’s boxer character as a child. 'That speech is like eight pages,' Walken tells me, 'and every time I would get to the part about the watch, it made me laugh. 'We started shooting at about eight in the morning,' Walken continues. 'Everybody had gone home. It was just a small crew in a house out somewhere, with me, the little boy, and his mother.' The speech was so long, he says, that 'the little boy was getting sleepy, and I just did the rest into the lens.' He employed an old theater trick to keep his saliva flowing: 'You get a little dry, and I find that Tabasco or a bite of lemon fixes that.'"
And, even though the holiday has passed, Simon Abrams' Press Play list of the best romantic comedies of the last two decades is still a handy bookmark filled with plenty of potential entries to your Netflix or Hulu Plus queue.