Daily Archives: June 9, 2021

Ten Skies

From the April 20, 2005 Chicago Reader. More recently, 16 years later, Erika Balsom, a Canadian film critic and teacher based in London, has just published a brilliant short book about this film, a sort of tour de force that I’ve liked enough to blurb. — J..R.

This 16-millimeter experimental feature (2004) by James Benning consists of ten upward views from a stationary camera, each ten minutes long and filmed with sync sound from his backyard in southern California. I expected something minimalist, but in fact this is remarkably full — a mesmerizing study in time, light, movement, and moisture that traces the shifting relations between clouds and earth, nature and people. Benning is so attentive that he teaches us how to look and listen, and once we adjust our plot-driven expectations, things that might have seemed static at first are revealed as constantly changing. If you’re expecting a test or an ordeal, you could be as surprised by this masterpiece, and as grateful for it, as I was. 101 min. Presented by Chicago Filmmakers. Sat 4/30, 8 PM, Cinema Borealis.

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Review of THE WRITERS: A HISTORY OF AMERICAN SCREENWRITERS AND THEIR GUILD

Written for the Fall 2015 issue of Film Quarterly. — J.R.

The Writers jacket

The Writers: A History of American Screenwriters and

Their Guild by Miranda J. Banks

This is clearly a creditable, conscientious, intelligent, and

useful book, but I feel obliged to confess at the outset that

I don’t feel like I’m one of its ideal or intended readers. The

subtitle loosely describes its contents, but “A Business

History of Hollywood Screenwriters and Their Guild

would come much closer to the mark, even if it might make

the book less marketable to me and some others. And the

unexceptional simplification of the title and subtitle is part of

what gives me some trouble: it’s the business of Hollywood,

after all, to convince the public that “American screenwriters”

and “Hollywood screenwriters” amount to the same

thing. And the moment that any meaningful distinction

between the two collapses, then the studios, one might argue,

have already won the battle.

I don’t expect my own bias about this matter to be shared

by many of Film Quarterly’s readers. Writers who blithely

and uncritically toss about terms like “Indiewood” designed

to further mystify the differences between studio work and

independent work probably don’t think they’re working for

the fat cats, but from my vantage point as a journalist who

thinks that these distinctions deeply matter, they’re the worst

kind of unpaid publicists.… Read more »

THE HOUSE IS BLACK

The following was commissioned by and written for Asia’s 100 Films, a volume edited for the 20th Busan International Film Festival (1-10 October 2015). — J.R.

thehouseisblack-mirror

The House is Black is the most acclaimed of all Iranian documentaries. It was directed by Forough Farrokhzad (1935-1967), widely regarded as the greatest of all Iranian women poets and the greatest Iranian poet of the 20th century, who died in a car accident when she was only 32. It was Farokhzad’s only film, produced in 1962 by her lover Ebrahim Golestan (an important filmmaker in his own right, for whom she also worked as an editor, and who serves as one of the film’s narrators). The film observes the tragic life of lepers in an isolated leprosy hospital (a hell on earth and a nest of suffering and death) near Tabriz in northwestern Iran. The Society for Assisting Lepers commissioned the film, and the director’s intention was “to wipe out this ugliness and to relieve the victims.”

thehouseisblack2

Farrokhzad avoids infringement by creating a close relationship with the lepers, and by searching for the seeds of joy and vitality within the hopelessness. She depicts the inhabitants in their daily occupations, having meals, praying, the children playing ball and attending school.… Read more »