Best known for his prolific output and ability to work at the intersection of Hollywood and art cinema, Steven Soderbergh makes films that present diverse subject matter and formal styles. His 25 movies include the 1989 independent hit, Sex, Lies, and Videotape, social problem films (Erin Brockovich, 2000; Traffic, 2000; Che, 2008), deconstructions of genre (The Limey, 1999; Solaris, 2002; Haywire, 2011), digital video improvisation (Full Frontal, 2002; Bubble, 2005), and star-studded blockbusters (the Ocean’s trilogy 2001, 2004, 2007; Magic Mike, 2012).
After its screening at the Sundance film festival in January 1995 and its release later that summer, Todd Haynes’ Safe elicited much commentary by critics and film scholars on the film’s cinematographic techniques (few close-ups, many long takes) that distance spectators from the plight of the protagonist, Carol White, as she struggles with the increasingly horrifying symptoms of environmental illness, and thus render difficult, if not altogether impossible, sympathetic identification with her.
Contagion begins with a black screen and a cough; someone somewhere is sick–and spreading it–but we cannot see who. Characters spend much of the rest of the film staring into monitors, feverishly studying computer-generated models of the mysterious virus or digital video of its victims, but however hard they look, their screens reveal only biological explanations for the epidemic. They inevitably exclude macroeconomic and social forces, which are even harder to picture than the microscopic disease but causally every bit as important.
Girish Shambu on how film culture might rethink film evaluation to raise the visibility and value of films made by women.
In Lino Brocka’s Bona (1980), Filipina star Nora Aunor plays the titular character, who grows infatuated with Gardo (Phillip Salvador), a B-movie actor and stuntman. Bona gives up the comfort of her middle-class home, leaving behind her family and boyfriend, to live with Gardo in a Manila slum. She dedicates her life to serving Gardo full-time, in spite of the many abuses to which he subjects her. Illustrating the imbalance of their relationship, Bona bathes her lover every night, ensuring the water is always warm enough for his liking, even after he brings other women home for his sexual adventures. At the end of the film, after being told by Gardo that she should leave his home, Bona gives him one more bath—this time with boiling water. Bona watches her lover scream in agony as she carries out her vengeance with the same serenity with which she had formerly carried out his bidding. Balancing highly emotional scenes with a quasi-documentary depiction of decaying Manila streets, Brocka reconfigures film melodrama into a defiant political act.
Marina Razbezhkina is a well-known Russian documentary filmmaker, educator, and founder of the largest independent documentary school in the country. Her very original approach to documentary, which combines intimate proximity to the protagonist with raw observational aesthetics, revolutionized the Russian film landscape and became the trademark of her school. Her students most often work as a one-person crew with a lightweight hand-held camera shadowing their protagonists up close. This “hunt for reality,” as Razbezhkina terms the practice, usually results in deeply engaging observational documentaries that completely absorb the viewer into an unfamiliar reality. In this interview Razbezhkina talks about the beginnings of her career, explains the origins and the core of her filmmaking method, and discusses the changing role of documentary in the modern world.
Today, there are celebrations taking place across U.S. universities. The creation of Asian American studies centers and departments fifty years ago was the culmination of an effort by students, administrators, and community members to reorient American history, to engage directly in their communities, and to promote Asian American faculty research and hiring. By 1968, there had been at least three generations of Chinese, Filipinos, and Japanese in the United States, many engaged in profound political work, but what was new about the late sixties was the creation and institutionalization of a collective, pan-ethnic voice known as Asian America.
There was a dustup last fall over an op-ed by Martin Scorsese in the New York Times and his earlier interview with Empire magazine.1 Controversy erupted after he compared the movie franchises based on Marvel comic books to theme parks, saying they weren’t cinema, that he’d never go watch them, that they are ruining cinema. Hardly surprising! With the exception of his own delightful Hugo (2011) and his tireless World Cinema Project rescues of global film history, Scorsese is known for his own brand: a cinematic realism of hard streets, hard men, and hard mob battlegrounds, always set in specific pasts (New York, Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Boston) and always etching the DNA of masculinity onto the screen with unfailingly precise craftsmanship.
Special Dossier: Asian American Film at Fifty
Joanna Hogg’s Spatial Emotions
Interview: Marina Razbezhkina
Mar del Plata Film Festival
Romance in End of the Century
Indigeneity in Latin America Films
Reading Musicals, Reviving Lino Brocka
Jason Fox reflects on documentary, inspired by Eileen Myles’ analogy between poems and parties.