2 or 3 Things I Know About Her

Medium Cool

Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool is a film whose immediacy and docu-realism was all too fitting for an America that could, for the first time, see its wars on television. Shot during the protests and riots that accompanied the Democratic National Convention in August 1968, Wexler’s film seamlessly mixed narrative storytelling and documentary – Medium Cool is a Hollywood-made document of America in ’68 if there ever was one, a stunning portrait of the chaotic state of politics and its relationship to media in one of the most tumultuous years in American (or, perhaps, world) history. But Criterion’s long-anticipated release of Medium Cool isn’t the only A/V flashback to ’68 occurring this summer. Olivier Assays’s Something in the Air reflects on the student protests surrounding the similarly turbulent demonstrations in France in May of that year, while Season 6 of Mad Men has just entered the sweltering summer that will climax in the events in Chicago that August. Maybe it’s Congress’s seemingly eternal bottleneck, or the government’s paranoia-inducing surveillance of the press, or a general aura of well-justified cynicism, but the simultaneously dark and potentially revolutionary years of ’68 seem to demand contemporary reflection, even if it only results in pop culture nostalgia. That said, here’s The Criterion Collection’s archive of films that captured the spirit of the revolutionary times of the ‘60s around the world, all fitting comrades of the brilliant Medium Cool.

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afilm a symphonie threemovements deathof language The above “sentence” would probably be the most appropriate way to describe French filmmaking legend Jean-Luc Godard’s latest (and possibly his last) film, Film Socialisme. The fragmentary and strangely juxtaposed words above are not only an (unsuccessful) attempt to describe an incredibly abstruse film, but it is also an attempt to do so in the film’s selected stylistic “language”: rather than traditional full-sentence subtitles, these are the type of words we see at the bottom of the screen whenever a character or narrator speaks. I can barely recognize only a few select words in French myself, but from what I can tell the characters, while often speaking esoterically in conversations motivated without typical movie-logic contextualization, rarely actually speak in fragments, but in full sentences. So the subtitles for non-French-speaking audiences are a deliberately obscuring selection of the words actually spoken, and they often arrive late in their juxtaposition of words spoken and occasionally seem to have no direct correspondence whatsoever. This is not to suggest that the unique subtitling in the international release of Film Socialisme somehow “obscures” non-French speakers from understanding the film’s meaning. In one sense, the film is incredibly difficult to follow no matter what language(s) one knows, but in another, the film’s meaning is plainly available in this multilingual wordplay.

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Criterion Files

Much of Jean-Luc Godard’s cinematic output is inaccessible to American audiences. His most prolific period, the 1960s (in which he made 18 feature films) is almost entirely available, due in no small part to the Criterion Collection’s well-justified infatuation with the cineaste’s important and influential work. The output of much of his later career, however, isn’t commercially accessible in the US including much-lauded work like Nouvelle Vague (1990) and the Histoire(s) du Cinema entries (1988-98). In fact, Tout va Bien (1972 – his most recent title included in the Collection) is to my knowledge the only film he made in the 1970s that’s available on Region 1 DVD. This is all to say that here in the US, what we know of Godard we know mostly the first decade of his career. While it’s unfortunate that cinephiles have minimal access to his later work, this complaint is not meant to undervalue the importance of the work he did in the 1960s. Godard made an unbelievable amount of brilliant and challenging work in an astoundingly short amount of time, and by 1970 he had emerged as a different kind of filmmaker altogether. Godard’s 1960s work is, in a sense, the only logical starting point in order to approach an understanding of this later work. Godard’s films are an ongoing exercise in personal growth, aesthetic experimentation, and political criticism. Each work builds off of what came before. With this weekend’s US release of Godard’s most recent work, Film Socialisme, the gaps in […]

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