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Daily Reads: Alejandro Iñárritu Is Hollywood’s King of Pain, The Compassionate Trans Woman Character on “Twin Peaks,” and More

Daily Reads: Alejandro Iñárritu Is Hollywood's King of Pain, The Compassionate Trans Woman Character on "Twin Peaks," and More

Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.

1. Alejandro G. Iñárritu: Hollywood’s King of Pain.
The Oscars are right around the corner, which means that it’s probably time to accept that Alejandro Iñárritu’s “The Revenant” will probably take home a few awards. The film has garnered a lot of attention for its troubled, harrowing production and the lengths Iñárritu went to to get what he wanted from his actors. Rolling Stone’s Mark Binelli examines “The Revenant’s” production a week before the Oscars and how Iñárritu is Hollywood’s King of Pain.

Late one afternoon in November, only two days after wrapping up final post-production tweaks on his sixth film, “The Revenant,” the director Alejandro González Iñárritu walked into a screening room at the corner of Alfred Hitchcock Drive on the Universal Studios lot in Universal City, California. He was dressed entirely in black, his typical uniform – today, a couture-looking hoodie with extraneous silver zippers, worn over black jeans – and he greeted the assembled audio crew with fist bumps and apologies for his tardiness. He’d driven up from his production office in Santa Monica, where he also lives, and hit traffic, which he normally avoids by zipping around town on a Vespa. Somebody got him a Coke. Iñárritu, 52, moved to Los Angeles from Mexico City, his hometown, after the wholly unexpected global success of his first film, 2000’s “Amores Perros,” which in English roughly translates as “love’s a bitch” – U.S. distributors eventually decided to stick with the Spanish title – and which convinced him to leave the safe confines of the Mexican film community, where he’d spent years as a highly successful director of TV commercials, building a production company with more than 100 employees, and make the move to the big leagues, to Hollywood. When would the timing possibly be better? He landed at LAX with his wife and two children four days before September 11th, 2001. “All the neighborhoods started getting all these flags,” Iñárritu says, speaking in heavily accented English. On two occasions, walking his dog, he was stopped by police officers. The cops told Iñárritu, whose swarthy complexion had earned him the nickname “El Negro” back in Mexico City, they’d received calls about a suspicious character in the area, that he needed to show them exactly where he lived. Today, Iñárritu is listening to audio mixes of “The Revenant” for theaters outfitted with Dolby Atmos surround-sound. “Every time they invent a new fucking system, we have to do a new test,” Iñárritu says with a sigh. “Pretty soon we’ll have sounds coming out of our asses.” The day before, he’d been to a similar test for the IMAX version of the picture. “Sitting too close to the screen, it’s almost disturbing,” he says. “They’ll need to give the audience bags to vomit.” Iñárritu, we should note, utters all of these lines quite cheerily. He still curses in English with the mirth of a non-native speaker testing unfamiliar idioms, all of his “fuckings” pronounced with more care than other words and delivered with an unjaded relish. When Iñárritu smiles – perhaps because his smiles always seem tinged with irony – his face, thin, with pronounced cheekbones, a mustache and a slightly tufted goatee, assumes a sly, devilish cast. With minimal wardrobe and makeup adjustments, he could play the heavy in an after-school special about the dangers of Satanism.

2. “Twin Peaks” Still Has One of the Most Compassionate Trans Woman Characters on TV.
“The X-Files” revival has garnered a generally mixed reception for some of its poor plotting and shoddy dialogue, as well as some unfortunate stereotyping of Muslims and trans women. But another 90s show that’s soon to be revived had a trans character featured 26 years ago, and it still was one of the most compassionate trans characters on TV. For Harlot Magazine, Rani Baker explores how “Twin Peaks” depicted Special Agent Denise Bryson.

Watching Duchovny as Agent Mulder explain this stuff reminded me of another scene from another show also broadcast over network television 25 years ago. A federal agent (the series protagonist) catching up on an old friend/fellow officer asks “what happened?” and listens compassionately as the agent (a trans woman) relates her initial struggles with gender identity that lead towards her life now. This character remained in the series for three episodes, well-liked and treated with respect. The character, of course, being Special Agent Denise Bryson from the show Twin Peaks, also played by David Duchovny. It’s weird how a surrealist detective series from 1991 still contains the most compassionate portrayal of a trans woman (a lesbian trans woman, even!) ever aired on network television. I mean, the portrayal isn’t perfect: she’s still white and wealthy and played by a cis dude. But it was something. From the introduction of the character, Agent Cooper is respectful, politely curious and supportive of Denise’s life and experience. Being that Cooper is essentially the conscience of the series communicates so much with this support.An almost aggressive sense of eccentricity was definitely a large part of Twin Peaks aesthetic. This sparse quaint US/Canadian border town has some surprisingly high demographics in drug-dealers, amnesiacs, mysterious characters and demon possession. Besides occupying a role as a the conscience of the narrative, Agent Cooper also serves as an anchor point of stability and traditional (yet modern) American values. As he compassionately absorbs Denise’s self-narrative, he invites the audience to do so through him. However, not everyone is as accepting. Sheriff Truman and Deputy Hawk are surprisingly intolerant, but also strangely passive aggressive about it. They make sarcastic asides and comments behind her back. This is seemingly at odds with how they’ve behaved through the widely-varied experiences and characters they’ve encountered up to this point, but it does add tension to the story arc. However, the Barney Fife-ish Deputy Andy takes a liking to her, even slow-dancing with her at one point. The scene is actually kind of sweet.

3. “The Revenant” Reimagines The Look of the Western By Squeezing the Wild Frontier.
The A.V. Club is publishing a piece a day on the major Oscar contenders leading up to the official ceremony. Speaking of “The Revenant,” veteran critic Noel Murray writes about how Emmanuel Lubezki and Iñárritu reimagine the entire Western genre through its framing.

After a brief flashback, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Best Picture Oscar nominee “The Revenant” opens with a 10-minute scene that sets the stage both for the kind of story the movie is going to tell, and how Iñárritu’s going to tell it. The director and his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki move the camera slowly through a flooded patch of woodland, where water rushes around tall trees. There, tracker Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) hunts for big game. Nearby, Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) supervises a party of trappers as they load up their pelts and prepare to decamp to the fur company’s distant Dakota outpost, Fort Kiowa. The gliding shots, the mumbly conversations, and the lack of any real set-up makes “The Revenant” at first feel like an art film…something like Terrence Malick’s “The New World” or “The Tree Of Life,” both of which were shot by Lubezki. But then Henry’s men are ambushed by raiders from a tribe of Ree, and what ensues is a Western battle scene like no other. Arrows and hatchet-wielding natives come rushing onto the screen, unseen until they strike. The closeness of the framing — focusing mainly on one or two people at a time — heightens the sense of being dropped into a melee, with no time to acclimate. The movie continues like this all the way to the end, breaking up otherwise placid Western tableaus with sudden, graphic violence, made all the more disorienting by how Iñárritu and Lubezki nearly always stay in close on their characters. “The Revenant” was shot partially in Alberta, doubling for the northern territories of Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase. This is beautiful country, vast and unspoiled, with views that stretch on for miles when the weather’s clear. But the filmmakers resist the temptation to keep cutting to long shots of majestic scenery. For the most part, if people want to see the mountains and rivers in “The Revenant,” they’ll have to crane their necks and peer around the hairy men in heavy coats. Lubezki — or “Chivo,” as he’s known to Iñárritu, Alfonso Cuarón, and Guillermo Del Toro, his friends from the Mexican movie industry since the 1990s — won an Oscar two years ago for Cuarón’s “Gravity,” and then won again last year for Iñárritu’s “Birdman.” He’s long been one of the best cinematographers in the business, and his awards were overdue. But while it would be nice if someone else won the Oscar this year (like maybe Roger Deakins, who’s been nominated 13 times and shut out 13 times), Lubezki’s work on “The Revenant” is his best from the past three years. The marathon takes and flashy effects of “Gravity” and “Birdman” stand out more. But in its own dogged way, “The Revenant” reimagines the look of an entire movie genre. It’s not that close-ups have been rare in Westerns through the decades, or even that Iñárritu and Lubezki’s “you are there” approach is wholly original. Hollywood movies about men and women braving dangerous frontiers have been regularly reinvented and revised over the past century-plus, evolving dramatically from the original simple stories of good guys and bad guys. Filmmakers have used the Western to comment on history, society, and what “good” and “bad” really mean. And they’ve done it by making the Western dirtier, weirder, funnier, artier, or more psychologically complex. There’s really not much in “The Revenant” that hasn’t been done before.

4. Marcia Clark Is Redeemed on “The People Vs. O.J. Simpson.”
On the new FX series, “The People Vs. O.J. Simpson,” Sarah Paulson plays Marcia Clark, the lead prosecutor against O.J. Simpson, and someone whom the press derided as “hysterical” and mocking her clothes and hair. But the series has redeemed her by adopting a feminist reexamination of her persona. New York Magazine’s Rebecca Traister examines Clark’s redemption in the series.

Marcia Clark’s crucible came smack in the middle of the 1990s, when it is indeed fair to say that very few people wanted to talk about sexism. It is being revived for the screen today, during a period when lots of people want to talk about sexism and perhaps especially want to talk about the sexism of the 1990s. In 2013, filmmakers examined the egregious treatment of Anita Hill — she who accused then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment — at the hands of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the documentary “Anita,” and another film about the hearings, “Confirmation,” will be aired on HBO later this year. This election cycle has seen a contemporary reconsideration of Bill Clinton’s sexual misdeeds, beginning with Monica Lewinsky’s 2014 “Vanity Fair” essay reflecting on what she felt to be a lack of support from feminists, and extending to more recent pieces by political columnists about reexamining the charges leveled at the former president by Paula Jones and Juanita Broaddrick. And now there is “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” which reopens a chapter in America’s judicial (and entertainment) history that highlighted a laundry list of America’s systemic weaknesses: racism, domestic abuse, the special treatment of celebrity, the dismal treatment of African-Americans by law enforcement and the press. And, yes, sexism, too. It’s tough to know what exactly is motivating our collective need to go back and sift through the sexist sins of that crucial decade. Perhaps it’s that women (and men) of a certain age who have lived to see a new generation of feminist engagement need to process what transpired in an era when feminism was largely on pause. Perhaps it’s some kind of collective guilt about a time that is still within the scope of many memories but is now distant enough to dissect more coolly. Toobin, who also wrote a book about Bill Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky, offered this theory: “Suddenly the mid-’90s seem like a long time ago, and one reason I think they do is that the media environment is almost unrecognizably different from 1994 and 1995. There was no internet, no Fox News, no MSNBC, no social media. So you had a kind of crude, broad focus without the compensations of alternative voices on Twitter and Facebook. So when the ‘National Enquirer’ decided to make fun of Marcia Clark’s hairdo, there was no article in Slate or Salon or posts on Twitter saying ‘Stop this sexist bullshit.'” Maybe, though of course it’s not as if the swift judgments of social media have banished sexist bullshit from the land. In fact, I suspect that it’s an unconscious awareness of our contemporary hang-ups that prompts us to chew on the past. The comparison of Marcia Clark to Hillary Clinton remains apt, though the difference is that while Clark can be safely examined from a distance of 20 years, Hillary cannot. The conversation about the double standards and biases she faces remains contemporary, and therefore practically impossible. With less present-day figure like Clark, we can more easily pick apart the threads of bias; we can take a hard look at the limits we put on female self-presentation and the higher bars we set for women, and acknowledge them as unfair without making Clark — and others who have failed to easily clear them — into perfect martyrs. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that when we look back at the O.J. case and Clark’s treatment during it, some of the misogyny is so flagrant by our slightly improved contemporary standards — topless photos? “hysterical?” short skirts? her hair? — that we can pat ourselves on the back for having come such a long way.

5. Approximately 64 Films Released In 2015 Were Shot on 35mm.
Though it may seem to the untrained eye that digital has completely killed film in the industry, the realities are much more complicated. Filmmaker Magazine’s Vadim Rizov tallies the approximately 64 films released in 2015 that were shot on 35mm.

The tally of ~64 doesn’t reflect the total number of productions being shot on celluloid, period: 16mm is still semi-common, and 2015’s highest-profile release on film, “The Hateful Eight,” drew attention for its opening week, 70mm-only wide-ish release. Not so long ago, 70mm blow-ups of big titles were not uncommon; 20 years ago, even an unexceptional film like the live-action “101 Dalmatians” got a 70mm print. “The Hateful Eight’s” release unwillingly served as an expensive experiment to see whether the switch to digital projectors — with its attendant decimation of projection as a specialized profession — means that the knowledge base to project 70mm widely has disappeared entirely. Tarantino upped the ante by shooting in the super-rare Ultra Panavision 70 format, whose ultra-wide ratio most multiplex theaters simply can’t mask for, and for which special lenses (heavy, and causing some projectors to tip or wobble) were necessary. Anecdotal evidence suggests The Weinstein Company did, more or less successfully, manage to show the film on 96 screens — that this was a formidable achievement demonstrated how much projection knowledge has eroded over the last 20 years. A famed celluloid fetishist for whom having his work projected from film is a must, Tarantino chose 70mm because he reasoned (correctly, I think) that “The Hateful Eight” would be more widely seen on film from that format. 35mm, once a default, is still not “spectacular” enough to roll out as a release. (This year’s 35mm-only release of “Too Late” will test that.) Tarantino had a 35mm print struck, and it’s been playing for two solid months at his New Beverly Theater. If he’s heard, I suspect DP Jody Lee Lipes might be jealous. He shot Judd Apatow’s “Trainwreck” on 35mm, but “it’s almost impossible to watch something that was shot on film projected on film,” Lipes said. “I was sort of saddened by the fact that the theatrical premiere of ‘Trainwreck’ was at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, one of the most important film centers in the world, but it wasn’t shown on film.” Lipes also shot “Bluebird” on 35mm, making him one of several DPs on this list to have two 35mm credits on it: Oliver Stapleton (“Hot Pursuit,” “Unfinished Business”), Andrij Parikh (“Mississippi Grind,” “Madame Bovary”) and Masanobu Takayanagi (“Black Mass,” “True Story”) all join him in this club. I’d love to know what kind of contract negotiations meant that Apatow couldn’t get a print, but that the first-time director of a lowish-budget Holocaust drama was able to ensure that his debut be released on 35mm wherever practically possible. In interviews to promote “Son of Saul,” László Nemes has been very clear on both his love of 35mm, and the importance of making sure that both the negative and projection be in that format. “The fact that the chemical image is unstable, also that the contours are much less precise, gives it a shroud of uncertainty, whereas the digital image is crystal clear and has no depth,” he insisted. “We didn’t project our film digitally, either. I think this is a disaster, a disaster and a betrayal.” His care shows: the oddest thought I had during “Son of Saul” (which ducked a digital intermediate) was that there were particular shades of green I hadn’t seen in a new release in a long time. (Which is probably not what I should be principally thinking when contemplating the Holocaust, but there you have it.)

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