If I Had Left It Up to You — Merle Haggard

The Toddle House was a small diner off the main drag in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, a block or two either way from the train station and the bus terminal. Open all night, it was the only place within miles for coffee and cheeseburgers after all the fast-food joints had closed. It was not for kids, which made it all the more appealing to us kids making our first tentative steps to adulthood. Inside: harsh fluorescent lighting, white-tiled walls, a counter with swivel stools, a grille that sizzled and clanged. Plastic glasses, worn-out silverware, thick ceramic cups and plates. Soups, hamburgers, sandwiches, milk shakes, deserts, not much more. Smoke from the grille, but also from the customers and the waitress, clouds hanging … More

Bill Morrison on ‘Decasia’

For the past twenty years, Bill Morrison has been mining film archives, resurrecting decaying nitrate that would otherwise have been discarded and then editing it into new narratives. Released in 2002, Decasia helped Morrison reach a wide audience. Tied to a hypnotic score by Michael Gordon, the 67-minute feature explores many levels and meanings of decay, from the physical aspects of nitrate decomposition to the ruminations on nostalgia and memory. Decasia started out as a commission by the Europaischer Musikmonat for a symphony by composer Michael Gordon, a co-founder of Bang On A Can. Along with artistic director Bob McGrath and visual designer Laurie Olinder, Morrison was a member of Ridge Theatre, which had been staging Bang On A Can … More

Unknown Orson Welles at MoMA

Has any great filmmaker left as chaotic a legacy as Orson Welles? The director of Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons and Touch of Evil spent the last years of his life working on several projects, none of which he finished to his satisfaction. On the day of his death on October 10, 1985, he was preparing scenes for a television special, Orson Welles’ Magic Show. Welles bequeathed his unfinished materials to his companion Oja Kodar, who in turn donated most of them to the Munich Film Museum. Stefan Drößler, an archivist and the current director of the museum, will be introducing some of Welles’ work as part of the Museum of Modern Art’s “To Save and Project” festival. Drößler’s program … More

53rd New York Film Festival: Don’t Miss These Revivals

The 53rd New York Film Festival, running from September 25 to October 11, showcases several high-profile features that will be opening in the coming weeks, including The Walk, Carol, Bridge of Sighs, and a sneak screening of The Martian. Concurrent with the big-ticket Main Slate screenings are the Festival’s more idiosyncratic series. Convergence (September 26 and 27) spotlights interactive and virtual reality titles. Projections (October 2 – 4) covers abstract and experimental movies. And Spotlight on Documentary offers a dozen examples of the genre. Along with Special Events, the 53rd NYFF offers an intriguing series of eleven revivals, seven of them honoring the twenty-fifth anniversary of The Film Foundation. Founded by director Martin Scorsese as a means to develops more … More

CGI: Find another scapegoat

  Some writers love compiling lists about “Why movies are so terrible today”—as opposed to back when they were great, before digital or widescreen or color or sound or whatever other technological development. CGI, or computer-generated imagery, is the villain in two widely circulated posts. A month ago on the Cracked website David Christopher Bell gave 6 Reasons Modern Movie CGI Looks Surprisingly Crappy, which basically boiled down to how Bell liked movies better when they used a lot of animatronics. On Rocketstock, Michael James has 10 Reasons Why CGI is Getting Worse, Not Better. After bemoaning the death of 35mm, I’m as surprised as you are to find myself defending CGI. But both Bell and James are complaining about … More

Early Cartoon Masterpieces Screen in New York City

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences continues its five-part series on animation with The History of Silent and Early Sound New York Animation on Tuesday, May 19, at The Academy Theater on East 59th Street in Manhattan. Historian and collector Tommy Stathes, a specialist in early animation, hosts the program, which features cartoons from as early as 1900. The evening’s final film, 1928′s Steamboat Willie, introduced Mickey Mouse to the world. Movies like J. Stuart Blackton’s Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906) were made in New York City because that’s where the motion picture industry was concentrated. A vaudeville performer, Blackton would go on to head Brooklyn’s Vitagraph Studios, one of the most successful of the early production … More

Tribeca Docs Fight for Justice

The Fourteenth Tribeca Film Festival ended April 26 after handing out awards for both narrative and documentary films.  Winning for Best Documentary Feature was Democrats, a step-by-step account of politicians in Zimbabwe trying to draft a constitution from Danish director Camilla Nielsson.  The audience award went to TransFatty Lives, Patrick O’Brien’s firsthand look at his struggles with ALS.   Other noteworthy documentaries included the intensely bizarre family study The Wolfpack, opening June 12 from Magnolia Pictures; Uncertain, set in a Texas border town and winner of the Albert Maysles New Documentary Director Award for Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands; and Gored, discussed in depth here by FJI writer Rebecca Pahle. Tribeca also spotlighted strong examples of advocacy journalism, efforts by … More

Celebrating Animation from Its Beginnings

For the next five weeks the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will be spotlighting animation in a series that stretches from the form’s early beginnings to one of this summer’s most eagerly awaited releases. An Animation Showcase: From Celluloid to CGI will take viewers from trick films made at the turn of the twentieth century by J. Stuart Blackton to a sneak-peek screening of Inside Out. “This celebration of animation is really just the beginning of what I hope will be an ongoing series on filmmaking crafts,” according to Patrick Harrison, the Academy’s Director of New York Programs and Membership. “The Academy gives out awards in 24 categories of filmmaking. We have an opportunity to educate both the … More

Patrick Osborne talks about ‘Feast’

One of five animated shorts nominated for an Academy Award, Feast is the first film directed by Patrick Osborne. An animator who has worked on Disney features like Bolt and Tangled, Osborne received approval for Feast on the basis of a pitch he gave to the shorts program at Walt Disney Animation Studio. Last week Osborne was in New York City to promote Feast. We talked at a midtown Manhattan Disney office. The bulk of the interview appears on the Film Journal website. Osborne is soft-spoken and very articulate, and given the chance he’s also pretty funny. I’ve included some extra material here. On first seeing the finished Feast I wasn’t too like “crazy theater experience person” before this, but … More

NY Times to Selma Filmmakers: Wait Your Turn

Media attention has shifted from Selma to American Sniper, largely because the former movie is struggling at the box office while the latter is breaking records. Selma and its director Ava DuVernay are still drawing attention, but not really for the movie itself. Opinions about the veracity of Selma have subsided into asides about Oscars snubs and DuVernay’s future plans. Scott Mendelson’s recent piece for Forbes — Why I’m Glad ‘Selma’ Director’s Next Film Is Not A Marvel Movie — is typical.  Mendelson writes about DuVernay’s Hurricane Katrina project with actor and producer David Oyelowo; cites two other pieces on the director; and weighs in on whether or not she should direct a Marvel superhero movie. In a sense the … More