Archive for November, 2018

Apollo’s Girl

November 9, 2018

apollo-and-lyreFilm

Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable
Beautiful Boy
Maria by Callas

Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable (Dir.: Sasha Waters Freyer)
(Pasadena, Miami, national release)

If you were plying the mean streets of New York in the 60s, or the scene  in Los Angeles in the 70s, you might have noticed a guy with a camera watching you. Perhaps he took your picture before you knew what had happened.
garry winogrand

So you might even find yourself onscreen in this film about a tough, sensitive, romantic, belligerent photojournalist who never stopped looking and snapping. He liked legs and was famous for capturing a laughing Marilyn Monroe standing over a vent with her skirt blown up. But this Bronx-born tough guy who was steeped in black-and-white magazine culture for years decided to become an artist and an activist, and had the grit and the genius to make it happen

The film is filled with movement, with images that snatch the moment and yet (as one colleague puts it) “…have a Hopper-like quality” of stillness at their core. A score of other photographers and critics are unanimous in their judgment of his gifts and his quirks, his unerring eye and his hair-trigger temperament (he was no stranger to fistfights). But with the kind of lucky timing that makes relationships and careers, MoMA’s curator of photography, John Szarkowski, was planning MoMA’s first-ever exhibition of photographs reflecting the disruptive culture of the 1960s. In a New York that had not one gallery featuring photography, with MoMA’s “New Documents”, he put Winogrand (now hungry to expand his visions beyond magazine work) directly on a permanently redrawn map.

As he sailed into the possibilities of street photography, Winogrand’s lust for immediacy remains timeless, compatible with current tastes; not so much drawing viewers toward the frame as yanking them — with power and wit – right through it and into the other side.

Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable has a lot of information about photography and about Winogrand’s era; that, and its ferocious energy make it a must for repeat viewings. Make sure you leave time for them.

Beautiful Boy (Dir.: Felix van Groeningen) (national release)
beautiful boy

This film, buoyed by two wrenching performances from Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carrell is ultimately both one of the most compelling and most frustrating films of the year. Either way, it’s also ripped from daily headlines and television scrutiny as it exposes the consequences of the opioid addiction that tears a family apart. One of its strengths is its fidelity to the struggles of that family to retain its balance, to remain supportive and connected despite the repeated assaults of the crises that become cumulative. However well-meaning and concerned the father is, how can he counter his son’s description of addiction: “I felt better than I ever had, so I just kept on doing it.”

Yet this fidelity is also the source of frustration. Based on dual memoirs of father and son authors, David and Nic Sheff, the separate sources often pull at each other, so their shifting points of view divide but don’t always conquer. The script credits include the director, writer Luke Davies, and “based on” for both Sheffs. This must have posed challenges as the screenplay was developed; not only for its based-on origins, but because both authors are very much alive.

In the end, the actors surmount any challenges, and create Oscar-worthy portraits that are hard to tear yourself away from. Chalamet is already on the fast track after some wins and nominations for his earlier work (especially for Call My by Your Name), and has a future crowded with Shakespeare, Luisa May Alcott, Woody Allen and Denis Villeneuve’s remake of Dune. Carrell, on the other hand has (lucky for us) finally been recognized as the brilliant actor he is (remember Foxcatcher? I do.) and deserves to be rewarded with some meaty roles to keep him stretching beyond his comedy portfolio. So see this for its honesty and the searing music of its cast. And for the cinematography of DP Ruben Impens.

Maria by Callas (Dir.: Tom Volf) (Angelika; City Cinemas Paris)

Here is the woman who lived and defined the word diva. In her words, and in her voice. It’s a wild ride, and it’s complicated. How do you account for a Brooklyn-born, Greek-descended, world traveler, ferociously hard worker and painfully romantic singer with a voice and presence like no other?

Because Volf has decided to forgo an omniscient narrator, or any narrator at all, he rewards us with Callas herself. And yes, it is a feast.

callas

All the essential details of her roller-coaster life are here, but Volf chooses to draw a veil over the most excessive or painful without shortchanging our need to know more about the woman behind the arias and recitatives. Her marriage to Giovanni Meninghini lasted ten years while he supported her and made her opera career possible. For another twelve years after that, he refused to give her a divorce, and she became profoundly involved with Aristotle Onassis.

Veil or no, it’s impossible to remain unmoved when the film touches on Onassis’ marriage to Jackie Kennedy (which he managed not to mention to the lovestruck Callas, who found out about it in the newspapers). Yet the two had a powerful bond, and reconnected when Jackie began spending time away from home base. But I digress.

What Volf also accomplishes with Maria by Callas is much more important than gossip or even the complex operatic drama that was Callas’ real life. It’s the revelation of her supreme gifts, which he allows us enough time to savor. His decision to let us hear (and see) entire segments of her storied roles (Tosca, Carmen, La Boheme) without reducing them to snippets and sound bites. It’s in these segments that her fabled artistry is on view; her phrasing, her acting (always bigger than life, but extraordinarily seductive) and the radiance with which she commanded every stage. Alas, during the worst periods of her life, Callas coped by overeating and taking on too many roles when her voice was in need of rest and nurturing. To be honest, I saw her at the Met and in her master class at Juilliard when her singing had already lost much of its luster.

And, as a perennial diva, she had no idea of how to make her students dig into themselves to begin to fathom the intellectual and physical resources they would have to command to pursue vocal careers. In exasperation she simply ordered them to “do it like I do”, illustrating her commands with a voice that had ceased responding to her will.

Watching Volf’s film, with its generous archival riches, was a revelation. For the first time I truly understood how she was sui generis, even among the greatest singers of her day; a force and an artist like no other. Go see Maria by Callas and keep your eyes and your ears open.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xmsGzhhDGE

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