B. Ruby Rich
From Film Quarterly Spring 2018, Volume 71, Number 3
The news of the day hits hard, below the belt: Harvey Weinstein was last issue’s news, but the torrent of revelations and resignations, the spin control and firings, and the accusations and excuses regarding sexual harassment and assault have continued to escalate beyond anything previously imaginable. That’s true not only in the United States, where the hashtag #MeToo has taken up permanent residence, but also in France, where #BalanceTonPorc (expose your pig) has been just as galvanizing—ever since journalist Sandra Muller launched the campaign with her own revelations. Blame it on the election of the harasser in chief, blame it on a film industry that has flourished with such practices from its very beginnings, blame it on Dominique Strauss Kahn and his reign of impunity, blame it on … the collective will of millions of women who are finally fed up with male predation. According to informal polling, there’s hardly a woman who is surprised by the news, hardly a man who isn’t shocked—or nervous. Never has the gender binarism of power been so starkly on view.
Last November, The Hollywood Reporter published a story by Ilana Bar-Din Giannini about being sexually harassed when a student at the American Film Institute (AFI) in 1980.1 It struck a chord. Twenty years ago, I myself wrote about sexual harassment at the AFI.2 I had interviewed Siew-Hwa Beh, founding editor of the Women & Film journal, about her early experiences with trying (and failing) to become a filmmaker. She described sexual harassment from “an Italian macho” who seems to match Ilana Bar-Din Giannini’s description of Tony Vellani just about perfectly; in Siew-Hwa Beh’s earlier story, he’d transferred her production monies to another female student willing to sleep with him. My point: these stories and acts are not just recent and they certainly were not secrets.
Eighteen years ago, I attended the “Miramar Summit,” a gathering of women summoned to Santa Barbara by filmmaker Alison Anders to discuss the crisis of gender inequity in the film world. In the March issue of Vanity Fair, Cari Beauchamp writes about that long-ago gathering at the fabled Miramar Hotel; she and I and Manohla Dargis had been the critics allowed to sit in. Her point? There is a history to all this, and it should not be forgotten.
There are so very many reports and exposes. I’ll let this one stand in for the rest: Salma Hayek’s op-ed revealing Weinstein’s intrusions into the production of Frida (Julie Taymor, 2002) with constant harassment, ultimatums, and a culminating threat: “I will kill you, don’t think I can’t.”3 What next? Hopefully, what follows will be a transition to true and permanent empowerment that can change forever the landscape of film, television, and online media: those that get produced, and how; the scripts that are greenlit, and by whom; which women can gain acclaim as actors, and for whom; what behavior is no longer acceptable, and by whom. In other words, the only true remedy is a complete shift of values that a new generation can be shaped by and to which existing generations can live long enough to adapt. Try to imagine a cinema for just such a new terrain. That’s a start.
How to imagine such a terrain? In December 2017, Hollywood rose to the occasion to address sexual harassment with the traditional tools of the trade: casting, location scouting, and press releases. First, Anita Hill gave a speech hosted by Fatima Goss Graves (National Women’s Law Center president and CEO) at the offices of the United Talent Agency (UTA) in Beverly Hills.4 Then Kathleen Kennedy, longtime producer and now president of Lucasfilm, teamed up with Maria Eitel, Freada Kapor Klein, and Nina Shaw to announce the formation of a new entity. Exactly one week after Hill’s talk, it was announced that the Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace would take on “the broad culture of abuse and power disparity” in media and entertainment and would be chaired by Anita Hill herself.5 Financing was announced from top industry leaders with a commitment to doing good. All in all, a noble effort, or a start-up launch finessed to get ahead of the next round of disclosures—or both. The press release announced: “The commission will lead the entertainment industry toward alignment in achieving safer, fairer, more equitable and accountable workplaces—particularly for women and marginalized people.” Here’s hoping.
In the Amphitheater
“Dimensions in Black” brings FQ to life in New York.
Continuing its practice of tying live events to special issues whenever possible, Film Quarterly teamed up with the Film Society of Lincoln Center to present a panel with the editors and authors of its recent dossier “Dimensions in Black: Perspectives on Black Film and Media” (FQ 71:2). Held on December 5, 2017, in the Amphitheater of the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, the dialogue attracted a full house, with folks packed onto the stairs and many turned away, all eager to hear more from the panel that Raquel Gates and Michael Boyce Gillespie had gathered. The dossier contributors did not disappoint, fielding questions with verve and profiling their arguments with clips and summaries. Naturally, Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017) was intrinsic to the conversations, well ahead of its appearance on the end-of-year Ten Best lists and, presumably, the Oscar nominations to come. “Find the white man!” exclaimed scholar Kristen J. Warner late in the evening; queried on how black films actually get made, she pointed to Brad Pitt, Plan B, A24, and branching out to Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Productions, which is now backing Barry Jenkins’s new project. Thanks to Film Society of Lincoln Center, a video recording of the panel can now be accessed on this website.
The Other Awards
Hollywood doesn’t hold the monopoly on awards, although it seems that way every winter when list-mania takes over and awards nominations, announcements, and ceremonies are rolled out. Fall and winter, though, are also the time for awards that have nothing to do with box office: the prizes handed out by DOC NYC to those who lead the documentary field, the ones bestowed by the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) on the outstanding stewards of film’s history, and SFFILM’s “Essential SF” awards that honor those deemed essential to San Francisco’s film culture. As it happens, FQ was involved with all three this year.
FQ‘s own Regina Longo was honored in November 2017 by AMIA with The Alan Stark Award in recognition of her pioneering work as founding director of the Albanian Cinema Project (ACP).6 In her acceptance speech, she emphasized the collaborative nature of film preservation and the importance of professional organizations (like AMIA) that help sustain and connect archivists, as well as her close friendship with the late Stephen Parr (see below), the Oddball Films/San Francisco Media Archive founder and ACP board member. Her rescue work on behalf of Albanian cinema made a significant contribution and established a legacy of restoration there. Bravo, Dr. Longo!
I had the honor of presenting DOC NYC’s Leading Light Award to Cara Mertes, director of the JustFilms initiative at The Ford Foundation. Prior to leading JustFilms, Mertes served for eight years as director of the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program and, before that, another eight years as executive director of the PBS series POV, after starting out as an intern at WNET and going on to lead Independent Lens. Scholars do not often get to look at the processes that lead to the production of the kinds of films that get written about, so Mertes’s career is an eye-opener, from her support in creating the Arab Fund for Art and Culture (AFAC) and the CNEX-Beijing Documentary Workshop to her collaboration on developing the Good Pitch model.
I also got to do the honors at SFFILM, the new moniker of the San Francisco Film Society, where I presented an “Essential SF” award to Marcus Hu, cofounder/president of Strand Releasing. Noting his native-son status, despite a weekly commute to Strand’s office in Los Angeles, I traced Hu’s roots back to his work at the Strand Theater, his coming of age in the heady days of local gay culture, and his first foray into filmmaking, producing Greg Araki’s first film with a $15,000 loan from his own mom. Hu, entrepreneurial to his fingertips, has become as much of a godfather to quality French cinema as he was to Asian film (notably, to director Achipatong Weerasethakul) and queer cinema. His advocacy work on behalf of diversity in the Academy has added a significant political chapter to the arc of his career.
Film studies is such a young field. Nothing quite drives home that truth like the cluster of deaths that marked the past few months, as some of the field’s most beloved and foundational figures succumbed to illness and sudden death. These have been noted—some locally, some more so—but for FQ, it is important to bring them all together here in one place and note their passing.
When Regina Longo paid homage to Stephen Parr, her tears were shared by many. Oddball Films was a beloved archive in San Francisco where Parr had built a veritable emporium of footage that fueled sales to Hollywood movies, on the one hand, and on the other, open-house screenings to remind folks of the golden days of celluloid and the pleasures of discovering films in the dark with strangers. Emerging from early club culture with a love of discovery and events, Parr was notable for his generosity and inventiveness. He died at sixty-three by his own hand while suffering the effects of Parkinson’s disease.7
David Pendleton spent ten years as Programmer of the Harvard Film Archives, making friends and influencing the film world through his curating. He died at age fifty-three after a long struggle with colon cancer. Pendleton earned his PhD from UCLA with a dissertation entitled “‘The Eye of Desire’: Exoticism, Homoeroticism, Cinema,” but his true métier was the cinephilia of the movie theater. “His theoretical interests were intricately bound up with his programming, which he considered an intellectual pursuit on par with pedagogy and writing.”8
Husband of Julia Lesage and her partner in all things, cofounder/editor of JUMP CUT, and Associate Professor Emeritus of Northwestern University, Chuck Kleinhans died of heart failure at the age of seventy-five. His sudden death in December set off a wave of mourning notable for its geographic reach and generational span. Since the founding of JUMP CUT: A Review of Contemporary Media in 1974, Chuck (sorry, but no way was he ever Professor Kleinhans) was known for his spirited, take-no-prisoners activism, his generosity with underdogs and newbies, and an arms-wide-open pedagogy that welcomed those far and wide into the tribe. I was a baby curator at the Film Center in Chicago when he and Julia decided my program notes merited publishing in the journal. Eventually, I joined the editorial board. I left after a few years, but my name never departed the masthead. He was like that. Every tribute pays homage to his generosity and humor. But the last laugh, alas, is on the ones who have to go on without him.
Judy Stone lived long enough to outlive her own fame, at least outside of her beloved San Francisco where she died at ninety-three. I met her on the first US critics’ tour of Cuba in 1978, so I was delighted to discover, reading her obituary, that she was born on May Day, perfectly fitting for a lifelong activist and rabble-rouser (and sister of I. F. Stone). Stone was a film critic down in the mines of daily journalism, writing reviews for the San Francisco Chronicle for more than thirty years. Her book Eye on the World: Conversations with International Filmmakers (1997) was a giant compendium of interviews with 240 filmmakers that was impossible to avoid: she always had a few copies in her trunk to sell to anyone she could corner. She also published The Mystery of B. Traven (1981), on the 1970s cult figure. The celebration of her life at the Castro Theatre in December, “Not Quite a Memorial,” was a raucous gathering of stories, memories, and good-natured ribbing. She would have loved it.
And finally, not all that dies is human. A flurry of articles alerted the public that the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, “a Manhattan film landmark since 1981,” would close in January 2018.9 A mainstay of Upper West Side filmgoing, it was operated by Dan and Toby Talbot (of New Yorker Films fame) in a partnership with Gaumont, which retroactively explains its affection for French cinema. With awful timing, Dan Talbot then died on Dec. 29 at the age of 91, RIP.
In This Issue
Thanks to his residency at Cambridge University, Emma Wilson was able to immerse herself in the oeuvre of celebrated documentarian Gianfranco Rosi. Wilson pairs Rosi’s Fire at Sea (2016), about life in Lampedusa, with his earlier Below Sea Level (2008), limning forgotten lives in the California desert. The pairing allows her to trace the underlying ethos that governs his filmmaking, works which “resist the pressures of teleology and explanation” through a practice that “pushes into the margins, to material borders and limit experiences.”
Claudia Gorbman finds crucial meanings in the soundtrack to Bong Joon-ho’s OKJA (2017), parsing John Denver’s “Annie’s Song” as a prelapsarian ode to nature that Bong employs, sentiment be damned, to counteract the ravages of capitalism.
Juan Llamas-Rodriguez analyzes Amat Escalante’s controversial Heli (2013) as an exemplar of a “cinema of slow violence,” drawing on earlier work by both Rob Nixon and Lauren Berlant to build a case for its stylistic choices. He connects Heli‘s scenes of violence to their siting in quotidian Mexican life and urges the mobilization of affect for a “spectatorial disposition” and a critical practice more alert to specificity despite globalized film networks.
James Schamus, alert to the never-ending calls of crisis attending theatrical exhibition, devised a performance strategy in 2017 to tie today’s discourses to the panics of one hundred years ago. Here he adapts his roadshow to the page, with illustrations, of course, to alert FQ readers to the never-ending loop of film’s once-again-imminent demise.
Two interviews in this issue explore very different film/television careers devoted to exploring US black lives and culture and the black imaginary, in equally successful but opposite modes. Christine Acham’s look at how television is representing blackness at the time of Black Lives Matter leads her into a conversation with Black-ish showrunner/executive producer Kenya Barris. Through the lens of the show, Barris discusses the specificity of black storytelling and, with Acham, considers the contemporary “Black Television Renaissance.” Megan Ratner’s conversation with Kevin Jerome Everson reveals a fiercely independent artist/filmmaker. Everson discusses his early beginnings in art school, retraces his working methods, explicates his approach to representing the daily life of his family and communities in Ohio and Virginia, and admits his affection for Richard Pryor.
Reports from the film-festival front this season are twofold. Ana Grgic reports from the fifty-eighth Thessaloniki International Film Festival, choosing to focus on the Balkan section that is a constant feature of the festival, in keeping with its city’s centuries-long reputation for welcoming all peoples. This year’s focus on adaptation offered an opportunity to consider a sweep of history, prying unseen works from archives and presenting 35mm prints in a veritable “museum of Balkan cinema memory.” Sally Berger reports on the biennial Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, founded in 1989 as an outgrowth of legendary documentarian Shinsuke Ogawa’s relocation of his production company to a nearby village. Among its many offerings, Yamagata screened A Filmless Festival (Wo Wang, 2015), which documented the shutdown of the Beijing Independent Film Festival in 2014, and The Power of Expression: The Minamata Producer Speaks (Minori Inoue and Nozomi Kataoka, 2016) on Ryutaro Takagi’s dedicated support of Tsuchimoto Noriaki’s films on Minamata disease—with Noriaki’s widow in attendance.
A bracing set of inquiries are offered by FQ’s columnists in this issue. Pursuing her investigations into “the vulnerable spectator,” Amelie Hastie reconsiders the era of the seventies, inspired by Joan Didion, Billie Jean King, and two new films dedicated to their stories: Griffin Dunne’s documentary on his aunt, The Center Will Not Hold (2017), and the very fictional Battle of the Sexes (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, 2017). Bilal Qureshi continues his own explorations of “elsewhere” through the example of Kogonada’s debut feature, Columbus (2017), which places John Cho in his first leading-man role amidst Saarinen’s buildings in this Indiana town, and offers it as an antidote to a cruel era. Paul Julian Smith summons Italian scholar Milly Buonanno’s recent book on the depiction of female criminals in film and television as an occasion to consider two new women-in-prison series, Mexico’s Capadocia (HBO Latin America, 2008–12) and Spain’s Vis a vis (Antena 3/Fox, 2015).
Also in this issue, FQ welcomes its new Page Views editor, Nicholas Baer. Taking over from Page Views founder Regina Longo, Baer continues the tradition of looking far and wide at the field to bring the best new scholarship to FQ readers and, through special chapter downloads online, to readers far and wide. Here, he talks to scholar Catherine Russell about her investigation into “archiveology,” the term she employs in her book to denote the collection, reconfiguration, and resignification of preexisting material at a time “the once-traditional divisions between creation and reception, artist and audience” have collapsed, “facilitating a more engaged, critical, and even collaborative mode of spectatorship.”
Carrie Rickey considers a new volume by Carina Chocano, which has arrived at a particularly opportune time in terms of cultural events in terms of gender and film. Noting that You Play the Girl is “like listening to a smart friend think out loud,” Rickey tracks Chocano’s reconsideration of a few decades of female representation in light of raising a daughter, and points to her analysis of Frozen (Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, 2013) as an example of the “mixed messages and double binds frequently found in movies inspired by fairy tales.”
Other reviews take up new volumes from Pooja Rangan, Chris Holmlund, Elena Gorfinkel, and Rob King, as well as new collections edited by Mark Webber, Nora M. Alter and Timothy Corrigan, and Elizabeth A. Papazian and Caroline Eades.
1. Ilana Bar-Din Giannini, “I Was Harassed by a Director at the AFI and Kicked Out When I Reported It (Guest Column),” Hollywood Reporter, November 3, 2017.
2. B. Ruby Rich, Chick Flicks: Theories and Memories of the Feminist Film Movement (Durham: Duke University Press, 1998), 385–87.
3. Salma Hayek, “Harvey Weinstein Is My Monster Too,” New York Times, December 12, 2017.
4. Rebecca Sun, “Anita Hill on Current Sexual Harassment Reckoning: ‘We Cannot Let This Moment Pass,’” Hollywood Reporter, December 8, 2017, www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/anita-hill-current-sexual-harassment-reckoning-we-cannot-let-moment-pass-1066002.
5. Rebecca Sun, “Top Hollywood Execs Unveil Anti-Sexual Harassment Commission Chaired by Anita Hill,” Hollywood Reporter, December 15, 2017, www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/top-hollywood-execs-unveil-anti-sexual-harassment-commission-chaired-by-anita-hill-1068646.
6. Hear an interview with Regina Longo on the “Into The Archives” podcast at: https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/intothearchives/episodes/2017-11-23T23_14_21-08_00.
7. Carla Meyer, “Stephen Parr, Entrepreneur, Film Archivist, Dies at 63,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 3, 2017, www.sfchronicle.com/movies/article/Stephen-Parr-entrepreneur-film-archivist-dies-12330702.php.
8. See Peter Limbrick, Marc Siegel, and Bhaskar Sarkar, “Tribute to David Pendleton,” Society for Cinema and Media Studies Newsletter, December 2017.
9. Talya Zax, “Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, Landmark Manhattan Art House Theater, Will Close,” Forward, December 18, 2017, https://forward.com/culture/390348/lincoln-plaza-cinemas-closes-january-2018-dan-toby-talbot/. See, too: Anita Gates, “Dan Talbot, Impresario of Art Films, Is Dead at 91,” New York Times, December 31, 2017.
Header Image: Inside the Castro Theatre at Judy Stone’s memorial. Photo © Amy Osborne
With this issue, Film Quarterly initiates a celebration of its 60th anniversary year. As it happens, 1958 was a remarkably good year for cinema. Movies released then included Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil, Andre Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds, Claude Chabrol’s Le Beau Serge, Vincente Minnelli’s Gigi and Some Came Running, Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle, Nicholas Ray’s Party Girl, Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones, Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible Part 2, Douglas Sirk’s The Tarnished Angels, Louis Malle’s The Lovers, Richard Brooks’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tony Richardson’s Look Back in Anger, Otto Preminger’s Bonjour Tristesse, Arthur Penn’s The Left-Handed Gun, Yasujiro Ozu’s Equinox Flower, and more. An entire classic cinema retrospective in one year! FQ could not have picked a better time to launch. Humbly, then, FQ recommits itself to continuing its tradition of brilliant timing, savvy vision, good taste, and sober assessment. Please continue to follow along as 2018 unfolds–and after.
—B. Ruby Rich, Editor
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