The Great Gaspy: Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Citizen Kane’

Revered works of art are the ripest for reimagining. Not only because, as Walter Benjamin argued, “recreating the value” of any original is preferable to dogmatic fealty to it, but because a classic text’s very timelessness renders it most invincible to the slings and arrows of outrageous reinterpretation.

Not so the translations themselves, as the calamitous critical (though not popular) response to Baz Luhrmann’s 3D film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby has shown. Taking hyperbolic liberties with a canonical work has not been the prime grievance, nor could it be. Infusing the Roaring ‘20s with Beyonce, rap, and EDM, as Luhrmann does in Gatsby, is child’s play compared to Orson Welles’s staging of a fascist-era Julius Caesar and a voodoo Macbeth set in Haiti. What has called for Luhrmann’s head on a plate, rather, is that while Welles purportedly teased out topical relevance in Shakespeare’s grandiose vision, Luhrmann allegedly has buried the “great American novel” in a dung heap of stylistic pretension. Continue reading “The Great Gaspy: Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Citizen Kane’” »

The Crank: ‘Broken Lullaby’ (aka ‘The Man I Killed’) Program Notes (2/7/13 Screening)

The Crank is a graduate student organization that runs weekly screenings of the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s extensive holdings. The Crank shows films that either are not widely available on video or are such spectacular specimens of nitrate and celluloid that merely to see them on a television set would be a crime both to the student of film and to the canon of film history.

German American actor-screenwriter-producer-director Ernst Lubitsch gained notoriety in Hollywood for his string of sophisticated silent comedies during the mid-1920s with the moderate commercial successes The Marriage Circle (1924), Lady Windermere’s Fan (1925), and So This is Paris (1926). However, the emergence of Lubitsch’s signature visual and thematic design, along with his ability to convey great significance through witty metaphors or tactfully constructed moments, would not solidify until his first foray into sound film with the critically acclaimed box office behemoth The Love Parade (1929). His next two films—Monte Carlo (1930) and The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)—cemented Lubitsch’s lifelong association with the romantic comedy and musical genres and a definitive style that would eventually be dubbed “The Lubitsch Touch.” Continue reading “The Crank: ‘Broken Lullaby’ (aka ‘The Man I Killed’) Program Notes (2/7/13 Screening)” »

‘Sight & Sound’ Poll Writes Screenwriters Out of the Movies

When the latest edition of the Sight & Sound poll was published last year, commentators were abuzz over the results. “Hitchcock knocks Welles off top of ‘greatest film’ poll,”1 announced one headline. “Hitchcock dethrones Welles,”2 proclaimed another. Again and again, the ascendancy of Vertigo to the top spot on the critics’ list was dramatized as one auteur vanquishing another. Taking this rhetoric to the limit, one blogger used the poll to decide on “the greatest auteur in cinema.”3 Even some critics who refused to participate in the Sight & Sound poll, such as Peter Bogdanovich, only did so on the grounds that it was impossible to narrow down the list of movies made by favorite directors to such a manageable number.4

If all the talk about directors and auteurs didn’t make the point clear: screenwriters, once again, were left out in the cold. Indeed, coverage of the results might lead one to assume that Vertigo emerged from the mind of Alfred Hitchcock fully formed, rather than from a screenplay by Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor, itself adapted from a novel (The Living and the Dead) written by Pierre Boileau and Pierre Ayraud. To be fair, this oversight isn’t entirely the fault of bloggers and journalists. Directors are so feted by Sight & Sound that they have been invited by the magazine to vote in their own poll since 1992. Screenwriters aren’t afforded the same opportunity (nor is anyone else involved in the filmmaking process, for that matter). Worse, screenwriters aren’t even credited on the Sight & Sound website, which has an entry for every film to place on both the critics’ and directors’ polls but only indicates the films’ directors and most prominent actors. Continue reading “‘Sight & Sound’ Poll Writes Screenwriters Out of the Movies” »