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Daily Reads: Women Pioneers in Horror, How ‘The Exorcist’ Messed Us Up and More

Daily Reads: Women Pioneers in Horror, How 'The Exorcist' Messed Us Up and More

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

1. Women Pioneers in Horror Movies. Recent films like Jennifer Kent’s “The Babadook” and Ana Lily Amarpour’s “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” have some surprised and delighted that women are challenging the status quo of horror as a male-dominated genre. But women have been integral to the horror movie behind the scenes from the beginning of cinema, and The Week’s Monica Bartyzel writes about those pioneers. Here she writes about avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren and her film “Meshes of the Afternoon.”

Watching the experimental film, it’s easy to see how her chilling imagery inspired others, particularly the film’s use of shadows, keys, stairs, and even reflections on a shiny knife. The film’s impact on horror cinema is seen far and wide. Her work has been linked to the likes of Roman Polanski, Alfred Hitchcock, and David Lynch. Lynch’s unreliable narration in films like “Lost Highway,” in particular, has been compared to “Meshes,” while others see the parallels between the film and Hitchcock’s classic “Notorious.” Kenneth Anger, of “Lucifer Rising” fame, was even mentored by the filmmaker alongside Curtis Harrington. Read more.

2. The Actor as an Intellectual Artist. From Max Fischer to Philip Louis Friedman of “Listen Up Philip,” Jason Schwartzman excels at playing ambitious intellectuals. Richard Brody of The New Yorker theorizes that it’s because Schwartzman’s characters plays characters who speak “inescapably like himself,” comparing him to frequent Francois Truffaut muse Jean-Pierre Leaud.

Like Léaud, Schwartzman, while being entirely himself, seems to perform for his own benefit, declaiming for his audience of one and thus lending an inescapable air of comedy to his serious actions. This intrinsic joie de parler renders all the more particular the range of filmmakers for whom Schwartzman is a ready fit. That’s why, when the part clicks, Schwartzman almost seems like the director’s co-auteur—the role in question inevitably involves the depiction of creative command and artistic imagination, and the performance inevitably suggests a metaphorical representation of the director’s own role. Read more.

3. How “Nightcrawler” Pulled Off That Car Chase. The new film “Nightcrawler” is many things – a pitch-black comedy, a great showcase for Jake Gyllenhaal, and a tense, moody little thriller. It also has one of the best car chases in recent movie history, and BuzzFeed’s Adam B. Vary spoke with writer-director Dan Gilroy about how he pulled it off.

Gilroy estimated that it took roughly six weeks to plan the sequence. “We got little Hot Wheels cars, and we were moving them around [on] a model. We started working out how to shoot it, which was trying to stay inside the car as much as possible. On a lot of films, they would have gone outside the car and gotten the wide shot, and go, Here comes the car! It’s a spectacle! Let’s get it from a big angle. But we tried to get as much of the car chase as possible through the windshield, from inside the car. I think it makes it more visceral and real in a lot of ways.” Read more.

4. Defining “Religious Cinema.” When most think of “religious cinema,” their minds probably go to the kind of Kirk Cameron-type films meant to pander to the religious right. Alissa Wilkinson of Christianity Today, however, thinks that we need to redefine “religious cinema” as films that try to explore or provoke religious questions.

there is a sense in which we might speak of all movies as religious, of course. But some are more preoccupied with those questions—this year’s “Calvary” certainly presents itself, or some similarly obvious examples, like “Tree of Life.” I’d like to think that a film that explores these questions without answering them—or that forces its viewers into exploring them without giving them answers ahead of time—also might qualify as a “religious film,” just as the fiction of Graham Greene or Evelyn Waugh, for instance, strikes me as wildly religious without the sense of completion we’re used to in particularly religious work. Read more.

5. How “The Exorcist” Messed Us Up. “The Exorcist” is still considered by many to be the scariest film ever made, and Kim Morgan was among the many affected. Morgan writes about her past experiences talking about the film with William Friedkin and about the film’s use of sound, but she also gets into the specific ways the film messed with her as a 12-year-old girl.

I was not prepared. I had to express this since it caused so many months of sleepless nights and likely pubescent powerlessness. Girls who are beginning to feel out of control regarding their bodies and thoughts, their budding sexuality and the realization of how dark the world is, and their curiosity about it, not to mention new fluids emerging from their special places, might possibly respond more to the picture. It did in my case anyway. And all those terrible things you yell at your mother…Read more.

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