Turning Sixty

B. Ruby Rich
From Film Quarterly Summer 2018, Volume 71, Number 4

Turning sixty is a landmark. No, not mine: it is Film Quarterly that this year marks its ripe old age and can reassert its claim as the oldest continuing film journal in the United States. Thanks to its dedicated contributors, staff, editorial boards, and, of course, the University of California Press, its publisher and steward, FQ remains young and vital even today, alive and kicking, and, I’d like to think, better than ever.

Anniversary celebrations kicked off in Toronto in March, where the annual Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) conference offered an occasion for the FQ reception at SoHo House. The gathering was a wonderful mix of Toronto locals, FQ contributors and masthead notables, Criterion moguls, UC Press staff, and a kinship network of FQ friends and family. A slideshow of Film Quarterly through the ages was assembled and presented by FQ editorial assistant, Marc Francis. A first run of postcards drawn from four different editorial eras (Ernest Callenbach, Ann Martin, Rob White, and yours truly) were distributed. Commemorations will continue in 2018, so stay tuned. As the field of cinema, television, and platform studies continues to define and redefine itself in light of both technological and political shifts, FQ hopes to remain a central forum for emergent views and methodologies.

That Said, Change Afoot

Regina Longo has been the associate editor of FQ since I started as editor in 2013. Alas, after this issue, Regina moves on from Film Quarterly to new archival horizons and curatorial challenges. She has been outstanding in the position from the very beginning, utilizing not only the skills she acquired while getting her PhD at UC Santa Barbara but also the very considerable research skills she acquired in her work in the world of archives and restoration, both in the United States and globally. She has done much more than manage the flow of articles, specs, payments, and special events; her knowledge of film, television, and popular culture have made a significant contribution to this journal. Regina established the Page Views column, which lives on online, highlighting some of the most significant scholarship in the years of her service. When it was time to update FQ online, she wrestled that into shape, too, proving key to the structure and functioning of filmquarterly.org. She even donned a new hat as social media impressario. Regina will be greatly missed.

Inclusion Rider

In March, FQ‘s book critic Carrie Rickey penned a piece for the RogerEbert.com web magazine’s special women’s issue, tracing recent efforts to increase women’s representation in film and linking them to a longer tradition, following the already-noted historical piece by Cari Beauchamp in Vanity Fair.1 Among the key women she profiled in the article, she included Maria Giese, who actually brought the case to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) back in 2013; the EEOC supposedly is still pursuing it. Rickey dubbed the women working to change things in the industry “inclusion warriors,” following up on Francis McDormand’s shout-out to the industry audience at the 2018 Academy Awards: “I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider.”2

This underrepresentation of women has been analyzed by Stacy L. Smith, PhD, director of USC Annenberg’s Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiatives, sometimes working in concert with the Sundance Institute, and it has long been highlighted as an issue by Martha Lauzen, founder and director of San Diego State University’s Center for Women in Television and Film. However, the idea and the wording of an “inclusion rider” actually originated with a lawyer. Enter Kalpana Kotagal, a partner at the Washington, DC law firm, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll.3 As Petula Dvorak has written: the Oscar moment was “totally bizarre for Kotagal. Because the battle for inclusion, equity and diversity has been her mission for years as a civil rights attorney. Except most of the people she fights for don’t wear ballgowns and diamonds. … They are banana pickers, chicken pluckers, hourly wage workers, disabled postal carriers, nurses.”4 She has bonafides, too. After all, the civil-rights litigator was introduced to the USC folks by her colleague at Cohen Milstein: one Anita Hill.

Since McDormand won, the message has gone viral. It’s almost enough to make me happy that she won for the year’s worst message film, one that seems unaware it is championing racism and Trump-era values for a hip new audience. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh, 2017) claims to be about a furious mother’s righteous campaign for justice in the case of her daughter’s rape and murder, but soon muddles into other territory entirely: small-town intolerance, racism, and divorce resentments as enacted by stock characters from the quirky-indie playbook. It does for police corruption and race-baiting what that long-ago hip film Juno (Jason Reitman, 2007) did for the antiabortion cause, aided and abetted by the young Ellen Page, who was presumably unaware of such effects. Films like these make unacceptable behavior and attitudes palatable.

Film critic Ann Hornaday at the Washington Post has called Three Billboards “a vigilante comedy,” but it is no laughing matter. This is a revenge narrative played out in Trump country, rife with sentimentality that clouds the judgment, no more, no less. It solicits empathy in defiance of judgment. Why else does McDormand’s Mildred drive off into the sunset with Dixon (Sam Rockwell), the film’s violent racist antihero, except to redeem him? I wish filmmakers and, yes, actresses would think as hard about the scripts they write and the roles they accept as they do about the speeches they deliver after the damage is done.

As for studio heads and green-lighters, the message should be clear by now. All the studies are in, data crunched, seed money spent. And? It’s time to start financing women and people of color who are directors, producers, and screenwriters with big money—and the rest will follow. Decades of talk have not moved the Hollywood gauge. It’s time for action.

A Reckoning

As the Oscars followed up last year’s Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016) moment with an award to Jordan Peele for his script for the brilliant, zeitgeist-capturing Get Out (2017), the media machine was already in full churn over the impending release of a heretofore unimaginable pop-culture product, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther (2018). Response was immediate as social media documented the “rabid” eye movement responses of nationwide audiences, with members of the public dressed to the nines and whole theaters bought up for viewing parties. For anyone lacking in perspective on the phenomenon, take thee to the FQ website for the delicious dialogue between Racquel Gates and Kristen J. Warner, “Wakanda Forever: The Pleasures, The Politics, and The Problems.” Defending themselves against imagined accusations of being joyless, they dare to criticize the film on multiple counts without losing sight of its superhero powers, in terms of both imagination and box office numbers (over $1 billion worldwide at this writing).5


Jacqueline Sassard and Stéphane Audran in Les Biches.

RIP: The Smart Muse of French Cinema

Stéphane Audran is not a household word, at least not in the United States. But for anyone who haunted the movie theaters and arthouses of the 1960s and 1970s, the French actress was a goddess and has remained one ever since. She died at eighty-five on March 27, 2018, and was lauded in the obituaries for her international films, Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Luis Buñuel, 1972) and Babettes gæstebud (Babette’s Feast, Gabriel Axel, 1987) as well as for her early acting-school-days marriage to favorite French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant. However, those references are beside the point.

Audran is much more notable, accomplished, and deservedly renowned for her performances in the films of her then-husband Claude Chabrol, starting with her role in his early haunting thriller Les bonnes femmes (The Good Time Girls, 1960), then her unforgettable star turn as a seductive society lesbian in Les Biches (1968), and as the unexpectedly sympathetic mother—with Isabelle Huppert as her daughter, in a passing of the Chabrolian torch—in Violette Nozière (Violette, 1978). She could play a femme fatale without sacrificing agency or self, for she was always in command. Importantly, she has always been despite her sangfroid as appealing to and popular with women as men. Audran was a sort of anti-Deneuve, an actress who allowed women to enjoy her performances, her roles, and to join in an unimpeded identification with them.

In This Issue

Joan Dupont has lived between Paris and New York for many years; she was in France in time to witness the rise of the New Wave (nouvelle vague) firsthand. When it comes to French cinema, she knows where all the bodies are buried, as the saying goes, and she has met most of the stars in its firmament, broken bread with them at Cannes, or interviewed them for the international press. When we met up in Paris for our annual oyster feast, we found ourselves wondering what had ever happened to the once-celebrated writer/director Nelly Kaplan. We hatched a plan: she would try her best to track her down and I would reserve space in FQ for her findings. The result appears in this issue, happily, complete with photographs through the ages.

Joan is nothing if not persuasive! As it happens, though, I had my own basis for curiosity. On January 1, 1975, I had New Year’s Day dinner with Nelly Kaplan and Claude Makovski in their secret penthouse atop a Champs Elysées building. I had met Kaplan a year earlier when she came to the Film Center (today’s Gene Siskel Film Center) of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to show La fiancée du pirate (A Very Curious Girl, 1969) in the Chicago Festival of Films by Women. When we ran into each other in the Knokke-Heist casino, she issued a welcome dinner invitation. I was in Paris en route from the Knokke-Heist experimental film festival to a holiday in Franco’s Spain, thrilled to escape a long layover in the train station and delighted to enter that charmed chamber and partake of her “rice à la Andre Gide” and excellent cognac. Once Joan Dupont finessed her own invitation to tea, I savored the occasion as Dupont coaxed Kaplan down memory lane to revive a long-disappeared world of French cinema. Kaplan deserves a full revival, not only for the importance of that early work but also for her importance in the narrative of French cinema. After all, it was this young Argentine Jew who brought the already silver-haired Abel Gance back to life, on screen and (ahem) off.

Megan Moodie offers another sort of travel: an interior voyage to a world often erased in cinema, that of the otherwise-abled who find themselves in a medical universe that too often refuses to accept women’s testimonies regarding their own bodies. Moodie brings an anthropological rigor to her analysis of Jennifer Brea’s recent documentary Unrest (2017) about a woman (Brea herself) living with myalgic encephomyalitis (ME), the illness formerly known as chronic fatigue syndrome. Moodie, who deals with chronic illness and pain herself, carefully examines Brea’s chronicle of life in the parallel world that she and her fellow sufferers inhabit and elegantly brings to bear both theories of illness and the documentaries that have treated it.

Lucrecia Martel briefly joined that club when she fell ill during the editing of her historical magnum opus, Zama. The revered Argentine filmmaker was forced out of the editing room for eight months to undergo cancer treatment, then returned with renewed vigor and a revised vision. Remembering the rumors of a curse on Zama, she renewed her determination to finish this eighteenth-century epic, a striking departure from the style and subject of her Salta Trilogy. When Zama finally had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival last August, Gerd Gemünden and Silvia Spitta were there. They were able to interview Martel and even share Cuban cigars with her. As usual, Martel does not disappoint: her flashes of wit are as present as ever, and her cinematic observations and explications of her own process remain acute. “I was never afraid,” she told them.

Linda Williams, doyenne of film melodrama, considers the series focused on her subject at the Film Society of Lincoln Center last winter, curated by the masterful Dennis Lim and his colleagues, “Emotion Pictures: International Melodrama.” Here, she uses the occasion of the FSLC series to interrogate assumptions about melodrama that are long overdue for an overhaul, including its genre status and the limitations regarding where it can be located.

Film festival reports continue apace. In this issue, Jerry White traveled to Eastern Europe in the dead of winter to assay the state of Georgian cinema at the Tbilisi International Film Festival and found a new generation poised to make its mark, as testified by the sold-out shows for Ana Urushadze’s feature debut Sashishi deda (Scary Mother, 2017). I trekked to a relatively balmy Sundance for the #MeToo edition, where documentaries about Ruth Bader Ginsburg and M.I.A. sold out—with both of them in the house. Selina Robertson traveled from London to attend the Berlinale, bringing news of a bleak Berlin winter, a bumper crop of female-helmed films, and the attention paid to Erik Poppe’s Norwegian drama U – July 22 (2018), a reconstruction of right-wing terrorist Anders Breivik’s massacre of sixty-nine teenagers on the island of Utøya in 2011.

FQ columnists are in excellent form in this issue, which finds them all paying attention to how shifts in platforms and politics impact style and meaning. Bilal Qureshi tracks the reception to Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat (2017) and unpacks his transformed feelings for the director’s work in the era of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Caetlin Benson-Allot takes up Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair’s High Maintenance (Vimeo, 2012–2015; HBO, 2016–) and considers how its evolution points to the differences between web series and their television counterparts. Paul Julian Smith introduces readers to the world of Javier Ambrossi and Javier Calvo, the Spanish celebrities known as “los Javis,” arguing that their cross-platform output establishes a new model for auteurship. Nicholas Baer speaks with Jennifer Fay about her new book, Inhospitable World: Cinema in the Time of the Anthropocene, and explores the “prismatic, multidisciplinary approach” that she brings to the subject.

FQ‘s book critic Carrie Rickey peers anew into the past with the help of Thomas Doherty’s Show Trial: Hollywood, HUAC, and the Birth of the Blacklist. She praises Doherty for “breathtaking concision and all the intrigue of a spy novel” and is surprised to have to reconsider Ronald Reagan’s own history by the end of the book. In other reviews, books by Jennifer Frost, Vanda Krefft, Jonas Mekas, Dahlia Schweitzer, Alexander Zahlten, and FQ‘s own Paul Julian Smith explore subjects as diverse and compelling as the history of Japanese cinema, Stanley Kramer and the Cold War, William Fox and early Hollywood, zombies and viruses, and queer Mexican film in the twenty-first century. Thanks, as ever, are due to the tireless FQ book review editor, Noah Isenberg.

1. Carrie Rickey, “It Takes an Army,” RogerEbert.com, March 28, 2018, http://www.rogerebert.com/chazsblog/it-takes-an-army; and Cari Beauchamp, “100 Women, One Hotel, and the Weekend Retreat That Presaged Time’s Up by 18 Years,” Vanity Fair, January 30, 2018, http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2018/01/women-directors-miramar-women/. See, too, the details in my last editorial: “She Can Do It,” FQ 71 no.3, Winter 2018.
2. Michael Schulman, “Frances McDormand Makes the Oscars Weird Again,” The New Yorker, March 5, 2018.
3. Cogan Schneier, “Meet the Cohen Milstein Lawyer Behind the #Inclusion Rider,” The National Law Journal, March 5, 2018, http://www.law.com/nationallawjournal/2018/03/05/qa-cohen-milsteins-kalpana-kotagal-joins-annenberg-inclusion-initiative/.
4. Petula Dvorak, “She wrote Hollywood’s ‘inclusion rider.’ But she fights for women at Walmart, chicken plants and hospitals, too,” Washington Post, March 8, 2018, http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/she-wrote-hollywoods-inclusion-rider-but-she-fights-for-women-at-walmart-chicken-plants-and-hospitals-too/2018/03/07/bafeaa5c-215c-11e8-86f6-54bfff693d2b_story.html/.
5. See https://filmquarterly.org/2018/03/09/wakanda-forever-the-pleasures-the-politics-and-the-problems/.