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Abraham Polonsky (1910-1999), screenwriter and filmmaker of the mid-twentieth-century Left, recognized his writerly mission to reveal the aspirations of his characters in a material society structured to undermine their hopes. In the process, he ennobled their struggle. His auspicious beginning in Hollywood reached a zenith with his Oscar-nominated screenplay for Robert Rossen's boxing noir, Body and Soul (1947), and his inaugural film as writer and director, Force of Evil (1948), before he was blacklisted during the McCarthy witch hunt.
Polonsky envisioned cinema as a modern artist. His aesthetic appreciation for each technical component of the screen aroused him to create voiceovers of urban cadences--poetic monologues spoken by the city's everyman, embodied by the actor who played his heroes best, John Garfield. His use of David Raksin's score in Force of Evil, against the backdrop of the grandeur of New York City's landscape and the conflict between the brothers Joe and Leo Morse, elevated film noir into classical family tragedy.
Like Garfield, Polonsky faced persecution and an aborted career during the blacklist. But unlike Garfield, Polonsky survived to resume his career in Hollywood during the ferment of the late sixties. Then his vision of a changing society found allegorical expression in Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, his impressive anti-Western showing the destruction of the Paiute rebel outsider, Willie Boy, and cementing Polonsky as a moral voice in cinema.
The Legacy of Krzysztof Kieślowski
Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kie?lowski died unexpectedly in March 1996 at precisely the moment he had reached the height of his career and gained a global audience for his work with the Three Colors trilogy (1993–94). Since his death he has been hailed as one of the greatest and most influential directors of all time, elevated to the elite of world cinema alongside Jean Renoir, Robert Bresson, Federico Fellini, Yasujiro Ozu, Max Ophüls, and Andrei Tarkovsky. In After Kie?lowski, leading contributors diverge from the typical analysis of Kie?lowski’s work to focus on his legacy in films made after his death, including those based on his scripts and ideas and those made entirely by other filmmakers. Kie?lowski’s rich legacy is rooted in not only a very significant body of early work made before his breakthrough films but another trilogy of films that he had been working on prior to his death, several of which have gone on to be produced. Furthermore, actors and assistant directors involved with Kie?lowski also made films that develop his earlier, incomplete projects or that derive thematically and stylistically from his work. After Kie?lowski considers Kie?lowski’s legacy from three broad perspectives—the Polish, the European, and the global. Contributors trace his direct influence on filmmakers in Poland and Europe, including Jerzy Stuhr, Krzysztof Zanussi, Emmanel Finkiel, Julie Bertucelli, and Tom Tykwer, as well as points of thematic coincidence between his work and that of Jean-Luc Godard, P. T. Anderson, David Lynch, Michael Haneke, Abbas Kiarostami, and Paul Haggis. This collection also traces the reemergence of Kie?lowski’s unique visual signature in films by Ridley Scott, Santosh Sivan, John Sayles, and Julian Schnabel, and his highly original use of television serial-narrative form that is echoed in at least two major American television series, HBO’s Six Feet Under and ABC’s Lost. Examining Kie?lowski’s legacy is a way of thinking both about the unique features of Kie?lowski’s work and about issues that are now at the heart of contemporary filmmaking. Film scholars and students will appreciate this groundbreaking volume.
Both a precursor to and a critical member of the French New Wave, Agnès Varda weaves documentary and fiction into tapestries that portray distinctive places and complex human beings. Critics and aficionados have celebrated Varda's independence and originality since the New Wave touchstone Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962) brought her a level of international acclaim she has yet to relinquish. Film historian Kelley Conway traces Varda's works from her 1954 debut La Pointe Courte through a varied career that includes nonfiction and fiction shorts and features, installation art, and the triumphant 2008 documentary The Beaches of Agnès . Drawing on Varda's archives and conversations with the filmmaker, Conway focuses on the concrete details of how Varda makes films: a project's emergence, its development and the shifting forms of its screenplay, the search for financing, and the execution from casting through editing and exhibition. In the process, she explores the artistic consistencies and bold changes in Varda's career and reveals how one woman charted a nontraditional trajectory through independent filmmaking.
Over nearly sixty years, Agnès Varda (b. 1928) has given interviews that are revealing not only of her work, but of her remarkably ambiguous status. She has been called the "Mother of the New Wave" but suffered for many years for never having been completely accepted by the cinematic establishment in France. Varda's first film, La Pointe Courte (1954), displayed many of the characteristics of the two later films that launched the New Wave, Truffaut's 400 Blows and Godard's Breathless. In a low-budget film, using (as yet) unknown actors and working entirely outside the prevailing studio system, Varda completely abandoned the "tradition of quality" that Truffaut was at that very time condemning in the pages of Cahiers du cinema. Her work, however, was not "discovered" until after Truffaut and Godard had broken onto the scene in 1959. Varda's next film, Cleo from 5 to 7, attracted considerably more attention and was selected as France's official entry for the Festival in Cannes. Ultimately, however, this film and her work for the next fifty years continued to be overshadowed by her more famous male friends, many of whom she mentored and advised.
Her films have finally earned recognition as deeply probing and fundamental to the growing awareness in France of women's issues and the role of women in the cinema. "I'm not philosophical," she says, "not metaphysical. Feelings are the ground on which people can be led to think about things. I try to show everything that happens in such a way and ask questions so as to leave the viewers free to make their own judgments." The panoply of interviews here emphasize her core belief that "we never stop learning" and reveal the wealth of ways to answer her questions.
Alan Ball: Conversations features interviews that span Alan Ball's entire career and include detailed observations and insights into his Academy Award-winning film American Beauty and Emmy Award-winning television shows Six Feet Under and True Blood. Ball began his career as a playwright in New York, and his work soon caught the attention of Hollywood television producers. After writing for the sitcoms Grace Under Fire and Cybill, Ball turned his attention to the screenplay that would become American Beauty. The critical success of this film opened up exciting possibilities for him in the realm of television. He created the critically acclaimed show Six Feet Under, and after the series finale, he decided to explore the issue of American bigotry toward the Middle East in his 2007 play All That I Will Ever Be and the film Towelhead, which he adapted and directed in the same year. Ball returned to television once again with the series True Blood--an adaptation of the humorous, entertaining, and erotic world of Charlaine Harris's vampire novels. In 2012 Ball announced that he would step down as executive producer of True Blood, in part, to produce both a new television series and his latest screenplay, What's the Matter with Margie?
The Vision of a Native Filmmaker
Pioneer of the Silent Screen
In recent years, technology has given films of the silent era and their creators a second life as new processes have eased their restoration and distribution. Among the films benefitting from these developments are the works of director Albert Capellani (1874--1931), whose oeuvre was instrumental in the development of cinema in the early 1900s and whose contributions rival those of D. W. Griffith.
For the first time in English, Christine Leteux's essential biography of Capellani offers a detailed assessment of the groundbreaking director. Capellani began his career in France at what was, at the time, the biggest film company in the world: Pathé. There, he directed the first multireel version of Les Miserables in 1912 as well as his masterpiece, Germinal (1913). After immigrating to the United States, Capellani worked at a number of production houses, including Metro Pictures Corporation, where he produced his two best-known films, The House of Mirth (1918) and The Red Lantern (1919). He was well known for making stage actors into movie stars, and Mistinguett, Stacia Napierkowska, and Alla Nazimova all rose to prominence under his direction.
The ups and downs of Capellani's career paralleled the evolution of the film industry and demonstrated the fickle nature of success. His technical and aesthetic achievements, however, paved the way for future filmmakers. Featuring a foreword by Academy Award--winning film historian Kevin Brownlow, Leteux's intimate biography paints a fascinating portrait of one of the leading pioneers of early cinema and provides a new window into the origins of the moving picture.
Albert Maysles has created some of the most influential documentaries of the postwar period. Such films as Salesman, Gimme Shelter, and Grey Gardens continue to generate intense debate about the ethics and aesthetics of the documentary form. In this in-depth study, Joe McElhaney offers a novel understanding of the historical relevance of Maysles. By closely focusing on Maysles's expressive use of his camera, particularly in relation to the filming of the human figure, this book situates Maysles's films within not only documentary film history but film history in general, arguing for their broad-ranging importance to both narrative film and documentary cinema. Complete with an engaging interview with Maysles and a detailed comparison of the variant releases of his documentary on the Beatles (What's Happening: The Beatles in the U.S.A. and The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit), this work is a pivotal study of a significant filmmaker.
This in-depth study of Mexican film director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu explores his role in moving Mexican filmmaking from a traditional nationalist agenda toward a more global focus. Working in the United States and in Mexico, Inarritu crosses national borders while his movies break the barriers of distribution, production, narration, and style. His features also experiment with transnational identity as characters emigrate and settings change. In studying the international scope of Inarritu's influential films Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel, Celestino Deleyto and Maria del Mar Azcona trace common themes such as human suffering and redemption, chance, and accidental encounters. The authors also analyze the director's powerful visual style and his consistent use of multiple characters and a fragmented narrative structure. The book concludes with a new interview of Inarritu that touches on the themes and subject matter of his chief works.
Since 1996, Alexander Payne has made six feature films and a short segment of an omnibus movie. Although his body of work is quantitatively small, it is qualitatively impressive. His movies have garnered numerous accolades and awards, including two Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay. As more than one interviewer in this volume points out, he maintains an impressive and unbroken winning streak. Payne’s stories of human strivings and follies, alongside his mastery of the craft of filmmaking, mark him as a contemporary auteur of uncommon accomplishment.
In this first compilation of his interviews, Payne reveals himself as a captivating conversationalist as well. The discussions collected here range from 1996, shortly after the release of his first film, Citizen Ruth, to the debut of Nebraska at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013. Over his career, he muses on many subjects including his own creative processes, his commitment to telling character-centered stories, and his abiding admiration for movies and directors from across decades of film history.
Critics describe Payne as one of the few contemporary filmmakers who consistently manages to buck the current trend toward bombastic blockbusters. Like the 1970s director-driven cinema that he cherishes, his films are small-scale character studies that manage to maintain a delicate balance between sharp satire and genuine poignancy.