Friday, 27 July 2012

To Rome With Love

Designing Media
To Rome With Love, this year's Woody Allen film, is the latest in his European odyssey, after his recent excursions to London (Match Point, Scoop, Cassandra's Dream), Barcelona (Vicky Christina Barcelona), and Paris (Midnight In Paris). After the unexpected success of Midnight In Paris, there were unusually high expectations for To Rome With Love, and the result is certainly above average for a late-period Allen comedy.

The film contains four separate stories, though they have little in common except that they are all set in Rome. The effect is a concise alternative to Paris, Je T'Aime, Sawasdee Bangkok, or New York Stories. The four narratives are intercut, though their timeframes aren't parallel.

In one of the strands, Roberto Benigni plays a clerk who suddenly becomes a 'reality TV' star, chased by paparazzi (first seen in La Dolce Vita, also set in Rome), in a satire on contemporary celebrity culture. There is also a one-joke segment featuring a mortician who performs operas from a shower cubicle (inspired by Rolando Villazon). Another story concerns a man who becomes involved with a prostitute (a recurring theme: there were also prostitutes in Allen's Mighty Aphrodite, Deconstructing Harry, and You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger).

The most intriguing and ambitious strand stars Alec Baldwin as an architect who meets an architecture student played by Jesse Eisenberg. Baldwin becomes an ever-present mentor to Eisenberg, though he is apparently not visible to other characters. At first, it seems that Allen is repeating the ontological device of Play It Again, Sam, in which an apparition of Sam Spade (from Casablanca) gives relationship advice. However, in this case the trick is reversed: Eisenberg exists only in Baldwin's imagination, as Baldwin is remembering the experiences of his own youth. (This interpretation is suggested by the repeated phrase "ozymandias melancholia", which comes from Allen's Stardust Memories; it recalls Owen Wilson as a back-street time-traveller in Midnight In Paris, and Allen and Diane Keaton as spectators of their memories in Annie Hall.)

The film has an impressive cast, including Penelope Cruz (who also starred in Vicky Christina Barcelona) and Judy Davis (wonderful in Deconstructing Harry). Allen himself makes a welcome return to acting, in his first role since Scoop. In the film's funniest sequence, Allen over-reacts on an aeroplane ("I can't unclench when there's turbulence, I'm an atheist"). He also returns to his favourite themes: death (which he says is a natural consequence of retirement) and analysis ("Don't psychoanalyse me", he insists. "Many have tried, all have failed").

To Rome With Love is enhanced by Allen's schtick and the excellent ensemble cast. Most of the action is rather frivolous, though Baldwin's scenes are more substantial. It's too much to ask for a return to form (more than thirty years after Annie Hall and Manhattan), but this is the next best thing.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Designing Media

Designing Media
Designing Media, by Bill Moggridge, is a collection of interviews with leading figures in print and online design. Interviewees include the publisher of the New York Times (Arthur Salzberger), the editor-in-chief of Wired (Chris Anderson, also the author of The Long Tail), and International Herald Tribune columnist Alice Rawsthorn.

Moggridge has also interviewed the founders of Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg), YouTube (Chad Hurley), Blogger and Twitter (Evan Williams), and Wikipedia (Jimmy Wales). Extracts from the interviews are featured on an appropriately well-designed DVD which accompanies the book.

オールタイム・ベスト 映画遺産200

オールタイム・ベスト 映画遺産200
オールタイム・ベスト 映画遺産200 外国映画篇, published in 2009, is a guide to the 200 greatest films ever made. The book includes two lists, arranged chronologically and ranked in order of preference (with The Third Man at #1). Japanese films were excluded from the selection. The Japanese edition of Newsweek compiled a similar list this year, and renowned Japanese film critic Nagaharu Yodogawa compiled lists of his top 100 (淀川長治 究極の映画ベスト100) and top 1000 (淀川長治映画ベスト1000) films.

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Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Art, Politics, & Censorship

Bangkok's FCCT will host a seminar tomorrow, Art, Politics, & Censorship. Ing K (director of Shakespeare Must Die) and Tanwarin Sukkhapisit (director of Insects In The Backyard) will take part, and the event will be moderated by Bangkok Post film critic Kong Rithdee.

Monday, 2 July 2012

39 Steps To The Genius Of Hitchcock

39 Steps To The Genius Of Hitchcock
39 Steps To The Genius Of Hitchcock, edited by James Bell, is a collection of thirty-nine thematic essays on Alfred Hitchcock to accompany the BFI's Genius Of Hitchcock film season. Arguably the most authoritative Hitchcock anthology, it includes contributions from Camille Paglia (a chronological analysis of the female roles in Hitchcock's Hollywood films), Sidney Gottlieb (a study of Hitchcock's PR strategies, illustrated with rare publicity materials), Bill Krohn (a brief essay on guilt), and David Thomson (an extensive account of Hitchcock's position within the studio system [a subject also discussed by Thomas Schatz in The Genius Of The System]).

Paglia is most famous for her collections of post-feminist essays (Sexual Personae; Sex, Art, & American Culture; Vamps & Tramps), though she also wrote a BFI Film Classics study of The Birds. Gottlieb edited Hitchock On Hitchcock. Krohn wrote a Masters Of Cinema study of Hitchcock, and the superb Hitchcock At Work. Thomson's Biographical Dictionary Of Film has been highly praised (though not by me); he has also written Have You Seen...? and The Moment Of Psycho.

Hitchcock has been analysed and written about more than perhaps any other director. Paul Duncan's Hitchcock: Architect Of Anxiety is an illustrated summary of Hitchcock's career. Francois Truffaut's book-length interview Hitchcock, and Donald Spoto's filmography The Art Of Alfred Hitchcock, are both indispensable. There are shorter interviews in Who The Devil Made It (Peter Bogdanovich) and The Men Who Made The Movies (Richard Schickel). The standard Hitchcock biography is Spoto's The Dark Side Of Genius, and John Russell Taylor wrote Hitch, an authorised biography. Laurent Bouzereau's Hitchcock: Piece By Piece and Dan Auiler's Hitchcock's Notebooks both delve into the Hitchcock archives.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

The Best 100 Movies

The Best 100 Movies
The 2nd May issue of Newsweek Japan features a list titled The Best 100 Movies. The list was selected by a group of actors and directors, including Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen, who each chose a handful of their favourite films. Previously, renowned Japanese film critic Nagaharu Yodogawa compiled lists of his top 100 (淀川長治 究極の映画ベスト100) and top 1000 (淀川長治映画ベスト1000) films.

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