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Weekend Reel Reads: Classic Photographers, Female Directors and Cronenberg the Seer

Weekend Reel Reads: Classic Photographers, Female Directors and Cronenberg the Seer

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 critic@indiewire.com.

Clarence Sinclair Bull & His Magic Camera

Over at Movie Morlocks, Kimberly Lindbergs has a brief overview of the career of Clarence Sinclair Bull, perhaps best remembered for his photographs of Greta Garbo in her MGM heyday. Bull’s story as a self-made cameraman is made all the more interesting when looking at how the studio system evolved during his journey from aspiring artist to master portrait-taker. The most satisfying part of the post is the sample of Bull’s work that Lindbergs includes at the end, letting the man’s work speak for itself.

“Garbo had
developed a good working relationship with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer photographer
Ruth Harriet Louise but when she left the studio, Garbo was forced to work with
another photographer. Bull took up the job and much to their surprise, the two
got along famously and Garbo asked him to become her exclusive photographer.
Like Garbo, Bull was a man of few words but he was also a great listener and
very sensitive to the mood and feelings of his subjects. He was easy to get
along with, liked to play music during his shoots and believed in building a
trusting relationship with his subjects so they were able to relax in front of
his camera.”

Only 3 Women Are Directing Blockbuster Movies in 2013, and That’s a Problem

As Matt Patches points out in his piece for Hollywood.com, the knowledge that women directors are underrepresented in the film industry is not a new revelation. Patches discusses the dynamic between animation and live-action filmmaking, also delving into the ways that box office numbers affect potential staying power. Even though this year’s Sundance offered the opportunity for a handful of female directors to see their films picked up for distribution, the title of the article is a damning statement that continues to remain the norm.

“For women
to stake a claim in box office history, they must be given the opportunity to
direct blockbusters, the type of genre filmmaking narrowly aimed at adolescent
boys. A 2011 study released by the Motion Picture Association of America cites
that the gender composition of moviegoers was balanced, about 51 percent women,
49 percent men, with the 25 – 39 age demographic representing the largest
portion of the audience, around 28 percent. Yet most of the major studio tentpoles
are male-driven. Out of 45 movies based on comic books released between 2003
and 2013, only one of them was directed by a woman: Lexi Alexander’s 2008 film
Punisher: War Zone.”

documentaries want to be treated like movies, they need to behave like them

Scott Tobias‘ editorial for the AV Club is a synthesis of a few recent arguments about the relative importance of documentaries, as compared to their narrative cousins. He uses as his case study the new documentary “A Place at the Table,” which although well-meaning, doesn’t push the boundaries of cinema in a way that would elicit an active response. In short, a good story doesn’t necessarily equal a good story told.

“It’s pure
propaganda—well-meaning propaganda, and at times crudely effective propaganda,
but nonetheless a form of cinematic activism where art is of secondary concern.
For the makers of
A Place At The Table, that may not matter: They want to call
attention to an urgent issue, and if it takes the battering ram of statistics
and testimonials to do it, all the better. But for critics, form should matter
in documentaries just as it does in features, or else bad filmmaking gets

Death Tarantino Style

The number of words written about Quentin Tarantino’s relationship with violence has surely reached the 8-digit mark by now, but Kevin Lee‘s spin on the subject focuses on the moments where the character in Tarantino’s films finally reach their end. In a dissection for Sight and Sound, Lee diagrams the conditions under which the many Tarantino character deaths occur, from the (relatively) understated ones in “Jackie Brown” to the all-out bloodbaths of his last few offerings. One of the most insightful of Lee’s observations? Pay attention to how many deaths we see happen to characters who don’t have names.

“At the same
time, his fixation has undergone a range of variations over the course of his
career. A film-by-film statistical compilation reveals certain tendencies and
patterns. Male victims greatly outpace females, with the one exception being
Death Proof, Tarantino’s feature-length exploration of his woman fetish as
objects of sex, death and self-agency, each aspect alluring and threatening in
equal measure. People are overwhelmingly killed indoors; outdoor deaths don’t
proliferate until his last two films. Until his period work in Inglorious
Basterds and Django Unchained, more people are killed in cars than outdoors
(with Death Proof amounting to an apotheosis of the automotive death motif). Do
Tarantino’s fatal fantasies correlate to a sense of spatial containment?”

Videodrome at Thirty

It’s been three decades since the release of David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome,” a warped vision of TV and media influence that has become oddly prescient in the intervening years. Keith Phipps writes in Clarkesworld about some of the film’s intended satirical aspects, bringing in a comparison to the works of scholar Marshall McLuhan. The film is dense with ideas about physical, emotional and intellectual autonomy, and Phipps’ essay is a helpful overview and retrospective.

“Whether by
design or as a consequence of Harry’s monotone performance, Nikki never quite
seems fully human, more like a projection of Max’s psyche as a real woman.
She’s also a herald of the sexual near-future. The Internet has both brought
the underground channels which those whose sexual tastes fall outside the
mainstream closer to the surface (and helped redefined the mainstream in the
process). It’s met the needs of those more interested in watching, too. With a
potentially infinite audience, there seems to be no fetish too obscure and no
fantasy too extreme for someone not to be realizing it somewhere online.
Nikki’s a fantasy seemingly willed into flesh, but she’s also a vision of a
time when such fantasies would be only a few keystrokes away.”

The Pixar Perspective on Competing with Disney

Mousterpiece Cinema host and progenitor Josh Spiegel‘s new column focuses on Pixar-related issues, so naturally for one its first installments, there was some need to address the perceived Disney/Pixar quality split. The prevailing attitude towards sequels may tarnish the Pixar brand in the mind of some, but Spiegel argues that there need not be a ideological or prestige rivalry between Pixar and its parent company.

“As such, it
makes sense that people pit Pixar against Disney, Brave against Wreck-It Ralph,
at least in terms of audience opinion. (This, because the former film grossed
more at the box office than the latter, by a fair bit.) It will make an equal
amount of sense in a couple years, should The Good Dinosaur and Inside Out
vault Pixar back into the pantheon of the present, for people to rave about how
the folks in Emeryville got their groove back. “What a comeback!”, the
blogosphere will declare. And what happens if, this year, all the naysayers
walk into Monsters University and the next Walt Disney Animation Studios
project, Frozen, and exit to find that, hey, guess what? Turns out the story of
a young Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan is more satisfying than a new take
on the tale of the Snow Queen!”

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