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Daily Reads: Why Theaters Should Recommit to 70mm, The Radical Mind Behind ‘Transparent,’ and More

Daily Reads: Why Theaters Should Recommit to 70mm, The Radical Mind Behind 'Transparent,' and More

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

1. Now’s The Time For Theaters To Recommit to The Glory of 70mm.
Quentin Tarantino’s new film “The Hateful Eight” will be screened in glorious 70mm in 96 theaters across the country. Now, for many, many cinephiles, this is a dream come true, as films projected in 70mm are a rare treat for the eyes and ears, but an even greater number don’t care or don’t know what it even is. The A.V. Club’s Charles Bramesco argues in favor of theaters recommitting to 70mm by explaining what it is and why it’s so important.

Reframing the public perception of what 70mm is and what it means from casual moviegoers could be the key to keeping it alive. The term 70 millimeters refers to the width of the filmstrip run through the projector, which is twice as wide as the usual 35mm stock used for standard theatrical releases. (Prior to the advent of digital videotape, student films and home movies were shot on 16mm or 8mm film.) This translates to a much sharper, richly defined image and crisper, booming sound. To the layman, technical specifics such as these are of little interest — it’s hard to imagine Mom and Dad chatting about film gauges or six-track sound on their way to the theater — leaving 70mm film as the province of the cinephile. When the vast majority of people hear someone speaking about the importance of seeing movies “on film,” it sounds like an audio snob championing the virtues of vinyl over MP3files. “It just feels better” has become the common refrain, and while that is certainly true, 70mm is far from a fetishized obsolescence. It’s a hyper-leap forward in every component of the sensory experience. It shouldn’t be difficult to sell the general public on the simpler notion of brilliant colors, stunning image, and lush sound. Consumers have never put a higher premium on overall technical quality than at the present; customers are willing to drop $200 on a pair of luxury headphones for a more immersive soundscape or shell out dizzying sums for increasingly higher-definition TVs, and the megapixel brinksmanship amped up with every new smartphone release practically resembles an arms race. When you’re sitting in front of General Patton making his flag-backed address, or being overtaken by Leonard Bernstein’s roaring “West Side Story” score, you don’t have to be a diehard film lover to recognize the difference. It’s not coincidental that whoever stitched together the “Hateful Eight” trailer superimposed the 70mm announcement over a sweeping vista of stark trees, frost-capped mountains, and pristine snowfall. It’s intended as a tantalizing taste of what the unparalleled image quality will do to the natural panoramas of Tarantino’s vision. With the public adequately primed, theaters have never had a better chance of making a push for a 70mm revival than at this juncture in film technology’s progression. “The Hateful Eight” represents the most visible use of the 70mm technology in recent memory, but Paul Thomas Anderson and Christopher Nolan, both vocal champions of film preservation, brought considerable fanbases to the table as well with “The Master” and “Interstellar,” respectively. Aside from currently active big-name auteurs, recent blockbusters such as “Gravity,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” and “Jurassic World” have employed 70mm photography for some segments of the finished product to dazzling effect. As America’s neighborhood cineplexes rapidly approach a big-budget saturation point, the scramble to stand out as bigger, better, and more absorptive experience has gotten more urgent. This closely relates to the genesis of 70mm, too; the films originally released when the format came into popular use in the ’50s and ’60s are united only by technical means, and yet they share a number of consistent elements. The likes of “The Agony And The Ecstasy,” “Ben-Hur,” and “Mutiny On The Bounty” all evince an epic sweep in their large-scale ambitions and grandeur. The form followed function, resulting in some of the most breathtaking cinematic spectacles of all time.

2. Dolls and Feelings: The Radical Mind Behind “Transparent.”
Amazon’s original series “Transparent” is created by Jill Soloway, a feminist writer-director who has based the series about a patriarch coming out as transgender on her own family life. The series has garnered widespread critical acclaim for everything from its direction to its performances. The New Yorker’s Ariel Levy profiles Soloway and explores the radical mind behind “Transparent.”

Most of our entertainment, of course, has also been formed by people with penises, and Soloway is trying to change that: through her hiring practices, her choice of subject matter, and the way she thinks and acts at work. “We’re taught that the camera is male,” she said, turning to walk uphill, backward, to tone a different part of her legs. “But I’m not forcing everybody to fulfill something in my head and ‘Get it right—now get it more right.'” Directing with “the female gaze,” she asserted, is about creating the conditions for inspiration to flourish, and then “discerning-receiving.” On set, Soloway thinks of her job as akin to being a good mom: “Kids come home from school, want to put on a play in the back yard. You help them build a stage; you make sure they take breaks, have a snack.” (Soloway has two sons, Isaac, nineteen, and Felix, seven.) Jeffrey Tambor told me, “I have never experienced such freedom as an actor before in my life. Often, an actor will walk on a set and do the correct take, the expected take. Then sometimes the director will say, O.K., do one for yourself. That last take, that’s our starting point.” The cast talks about “Transparent” as a “wonderful cult,” but Soloway disputes this. “It’s not a cult,” she says. “It’s feminism.” Women, Soloway said, are naturally suited to being directors: “We all know how to do it. We fucking grew up doing it! It’s dolls. How did men make us think we weren’t good at this? It’s dolls and feelings. And women are fighting to become directors? What the fuck happened?” Soloway describes herself as “seditious.” Her production company is called Topple, as in “topple the patriarchy.” Ultimately, this trait has contributed to her success: while “Transparent” is, at its core, a family drama about California Jews who have a standing order at Canter’s Deli and who bicker about which of the siblings should inherit the house where they grew up, it is also a radical exploration of gender and sexuality, unlike anything that preceded it on television. But for many years Soloway’s insurrectionary tendencies were a career obstacle. In 2011, after almost two decades as a television writer, Soloway was broke, with two kids, trying to recover from the recent writers’ strike and the recession. Then her old friend Jane Lynch, who was starring on “Glee,” told her about a job on the show, and Soloway went to meet with the producers. “Finally, here’s this moment where I’m meeting on ‘Glee,'” Soloway said. “Ryan Murphy wants to hire me. I’ve been best friends with Jane Lynch for about three decades — we’re sisters. It’s happening.” As Soloway drove home from the meeting, her agent called to say, “Pop the champagne — they loved you.” A week later, he called again: Murphy had heard that Soloway was “difficult,” and wasn’t going to give her the job. The agent said he’d send a check to tide her over. That night, Soloway sat in the bathtub, while her husband, Bruce Gilbert, a music supervisor for film and television, brushed his teeth. She remembers telling him, “‘I don’t want to use the money to pay off our debt. I want to be a director, and I want to make a film with it and get into Sundance. I want to double down on me.’ And Bruce was, like, ‘O.K.'” Then, just as Soloway was making the leap to directing her own material, her father called one afternoon and came out as transgender.

3. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Movies Ranked From Worst To Best.
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio stars in Alejandro Inarritu’s new film “The Revenant,” a film that required an arduous amount of work and suffering on his part, including “eating raw bison liver” and “sleeping in animal carcasses on the film’s freezing, remote set up in Calgary.” So in order to pay tribute to such a sacrifice, Rolling Stone’s Bilge Ebiri ranks every one of DiCaprio’s movies from worst to best.

“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”: In this sharply observed but gently told coming-of-age tale, DiCaprio plays Arnie, the mentally handicapped younger brother of Johnny Depp’s titular small-town slacker. The film, based on Peter Hedges’ novel, is an offbeat mix of typically quirky elements, and it could have easily been hard to stomach. But the author and director Lasse Hallstrom’s affection for these characters shines through. Their greatest asset is the young Leo himself, in his first Oscar-nominated role, bringing great sensitivity and complexity to a part that might have come off as cloying or cynical.

“The Beach”:
 Until it goes off the rails in its final act, Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Alex Garland’s thriller about a small colony of folks who’ve settled a remote Southeast Asian island is a moving portrait of generational angst. These Western travelers and backpacking ex-pats are searching for utopia in a highly technologized world, and DiCaprio’s charming cockiness comes in handy as his adventurous tourist goes from looking for connections to desperately trying to survive. This highly anticipated film, which was the first project DiCaprio signed on to following his “Titanic” superstardom, didn’t win much love back when it was first released. It’s worth another look.

“Catch Me If You Can”:
 In this Steven Spielberg hit, DiCaprio plays Frank Abagnale, a real-life con-man who traveled around the country and lived the high life as he impersonated pilots, lawyers, and doctors. It was an inspired bit of casting, capturing the actor right as he was transforming from fresh-faced romantic into a brooding young man — he could still play an innocent. And in the film’s first half, as his character watches his parents’ marriage break up, his heartbreak is palpable. By the end of the film, he’s become a totally different person — a journey from kid to slightly jaded adult that’s charted on Di Caprio’s face.

4. Reverse Shot Symposium: Greta Gerwig’s “Frances Ha.”
The publication Reverse Shot has hosted a symposium on their site for a few weeks now in which their contributors rethink the nature of auteurship. They recontextualize and shift the authorship of films away from directors to writers, editors, and performers, such as Judy Garland’s “A Star Is Born” or Paul Westerberg’s “Adventureland.” This week, Matt Connolly writes about Greta Gerwig’s “Frances Ha.”

“Frances Ha” is defined by a sense of drift, but one that acknowledges its double-edged potential: perennial uncertainty and boundless possibility. The heart of Gerwig and Baumbach’s script lies in Frances and Sophie’s gradually deteriorating friendship as the latter moves out, becomes more involved with her boyfriend (Patrick Heusinger), and generally pulls away from the cocoon of affectionate stasis that both protected and contained the duo throughout their early-to-mid twenties. Frances’s emotional unmooring is manifest in her ever-shifting living arrangements, which shift from a cushy sublet in the apartment of slumming rich kids Lev and Benji (Michael Zegen) to a shaky temporary set-up with chilly fellow dancer Rachel (Grace Gummer) to a return to her alma mater and a Vassar dorm as an RA. (These shifts are wryly noted throughout via intertitles, each stating Frances’s current mailing address.) This downward trajectory leads Frances into an increasingly introspective space, but Gerwig never lets us forget the possibility for surprise and connection at every turn. The montage of Frances sprinting and dancing through the streets of Manhattan as she races toward her new apartment proves the much-remarked-upon instance of this infectious spirit. The combination of Gerwig’s ebullient movement, the graceful leftward tracking shots that follow her, and the sardonic vitality of David Bowie’s “Modern Love” on the soundtrack prove a particularly notable instance of Baumbach’s contribution to this feeling (along with cinematographer Sam Levy and editor Jennifer Lame). Even here, though, there’s the sense of Baumbach following Gerwig’s lead. The film’s vibrant black-and-white cinematography and cribbing of musical cues from François Truffaut’s “A Gorgeous Girl Like Me” connect the film to the electricity of the French New Wave, yet it’s the singularity of Gerwig’s vision of early adulthood in the 21st century that gives these references their buoyancy. One can plausibly question how far a claim for Gerwig’s authorship can travel. Can we say that her other collaborations with Baumbach — “Greenberg” (2010), in which she costarred with Ben Stiller; and “Mistress America” (2015), which she co-wrote and stars in — are also Gerwig-authored? What about her films with Swanberg? It’s always been difficult to put forth claims of authorship for actors, given the premium placed on adaptability and range within our critical discourse around performance. (You arguably can only be an actor-auteur if you stress your essential sameness across your performances — with examples being great screen personalities like Greta Garbo or James Dean — or make your ability to adapt to a wide range of roles a defining and self-conscious feature of your persona, like Meryl Streep.) You’d be hard-pressed to claim “Greenberg” as a Greta Gerwig film, given how much it depends upon her performance as a kind of stand-in for millennial possibility in the face of Gen-X ennui (as embodied by Ben Stiller’s morose fortysomething carpenter). All caveats aside, the film’s spiky protagonist and thematic concerns of aging and authenticity feel very much within the Baumbach universe. “Mistress America,” on the other hand, continues the ideas and emotions seen in “Frances Ha.” Playing Brooke — a 30-ish would-be restaurateur and all-around outsized personality who befriends adrift college freshman Tracy (Lola Kirke) — Gerwig keeps some of Frances’s wide-eyed perceptiveness, but darkens it a bit. The up-for-anything ethos has begun to harden into a shtick, and you can feel the notes of anxiety and bitterness seep through the cracks. There’s something about Brooke that feels of a piece with Frances: a growing body of characters that examine the vicissitudes of late-20-early-30s white urban womanhood in all its possibilities and pitfalls.

5. Kent Jones on “Hitchcock/Truffaut.”
Critic and programmer Kent Jones recently directed a documentary “Hitchcock/Truffaut” which explores director Francois Truffaut’s 1966 book about Alfred Hitchcock which reinvigorated interest in his work and raised his profile to high esteem. The film features many reflections from present day directors including Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, and James Gray. Filmmaker Magazine’s Vadim Rizov sits down with Kent Jones to discuss the film.

It’s often said that Hitchcock was very eager to go along with the interviewer and that his story could change from one to the next.

I think that’s true of almost everyone from that generation. They followed the lead. In Hitchcock’s case, most of the interviews I know with him are of the “When I was three years old I was locked up in the police station” variety, and “actors are cattle,” and “I received a letter from a woman who said that she stopped taking showers after ‘Psycho.'” That kind of stuff. With Truffaut, because he was a filmmaker, it was different. But when he’s asked about dreams, his voice gets very, very quiet. [lowers and slows voice] “Daydreams are probably me within myself,” that’s a very short, clipped statement that’s meant to shut down the conversation. At the same time, it’s a fascinating choice of words, “me within myself.” Or when he’s talking about “Vertigo” — [slowly] “It’s from the point of view of an emotional man” — then, when he’s asked if he liked it, [brightly] “Yes, I enjoyed it.” Then he gets sparkly and into the Vera Miles narrative. That kind of game-playing, working around and through emotions, I find really interesting.

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