Selective Viewing

An exploration of film, video and other media by Kate Blair

Alessandra Stanley’s big error: A plea for better criticism

A lot of effort has been made to describe exactly what was wrong with Alessandra Stanley’s piece about Shonda Rhimes. The answer: Too much, and a lot of people have already written more eloquently about it than I could. Racist, unresearched and just plain wrong are the first critiques that come to mind. Underneath the racism is another concern: the need for better critics covering the medium that is becoming the locus for the most important cultural conversations today. Read the rest of this entry »

Review – Abuse of Weakness (Dir. Catherine Breillat, 2014)

Catherine Breillat’s newest film, Abuse of Weakness (2014), is pleasantly bizarre, and you never quite know what’s going to happen next. However, if you’re familiar with Breillat’s repertoire, you suspect the worst. This is all especially fascinating given the narrative is based on Breillat’s true life experience. Truth truly is stranger than fiction.

Kool Shen and Isabelle Huppert in Abuse of Weakness

The story is as follows: Filmmaker Maude (Isabelle Huppert) undergoes a stroke that effects the left half of her body. Afterwards, she sets out to resume her life.  Read the rest of this entry »

Review – Dogfight (dir. Nancy Savoca, 1991)

dogfightdance

Dogfight might just be the most heartwarming, feminist leaning movie about young love you’ve never heard of. Despite being a great example of 1990s independent cinema, it seems to have fallen off the radar somewhat. I happened to find it on a surprisingly comprehensive list of feminist films on Flavorwire, which included a few of my favorites, and even had a number of movies I’d never seen or heard of before. Somewhere in the middle of the list was this little gem. It stars Lili Taylor and River Phoenix as a couple of late high school age kids in the early 1960s, when Vietnam had yet to completely take over the public consciousness. It’s one of the most touching coming of age films I’ve ever seen, as well as a tender perspective on early sexual desire. Having a woman behind the camera and two immensely talented performers makes all the difference in transforming both characters into deeply realized human beings rather than tropes. Read the rest of this entry »

Long takes and women

Jeanne_Dielman_Akerman_02_PP

One thing the camera can’t do adequately is represent someone’s interior life – it can just hint that such a life exists. In some cases, this is even more powerful, because cinema evokes psychology through images of what we see every day. Much has been made lately about how novels help teach us to empathize, but I think cinema does the same, even without the arsenal of words and shifting perspectives that allow books to highlight interiority. However, through its ability to purely represent exteriors, cinema also demonstrates how humans react to the world through our bodies, not just our minds, and how interiority isn’t so separate from exteriority after all. Long takes are one of the best ways to bring these themes out.  Read the rest of this entry »

What the McConaissance tells us about acting

dallas buyers club McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallée, 2013)

We all have a great deal to learn from Matthew McConaughey, not just in terms of acting, but how to look at actors in new ways. Along with the rest of America, I’ve become interested in Matthew McConaughey and his recent string of roles, which have showed off a greater depth than anyone would have realized based on his previous work. Happy as I am that Mr. McConaughey has revived his career and taken it in a new direction, this event also gives me a good excuse to talk about some things that interest me about McConaughey and actors in general. Actors bring a certain amount of weight to a movie, and not just in terms of skill. They also bring their unique personas and even carry the ghosts of their other roles with them from film to film.

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Review – Under the Skin (dir. Jonathan Glazer, 2013)

under the skin In my mind, this movie has already earned a place in the canon of science fiction films. Under the Skin does what sci-fi does best: holds up a mirror to humanity and makes it alien. Like the best sci-fi, Under the Skin isn’t about far off worlds or people, but the ones that populate this earth. I don’t mean great sci-fi narratives have to be about Earth at all – far from it. Rather, after watching or reading great sci-fi, you look at our world differently, whether or not what you’ve just experienced had anything to do with this galaxy or another one entirely.  Read the rest of this entry »

Women in the film world

Smiling Madame Beudet (Germaine Dulac)

The Smiling Madame Beudet (Germaine Dulac, 1923)

I was having dinner with some friends the other day, and somehow the topic moved to women in film. I don’t remember how, exactly. Chances are I was responsible, because the lack of women in production roles in the film industry is something I think about frequently. I had just gone on a small tirade about Spike Lee, who last summer released a list of essential viewing for filmmaking students. The list contained exactly one woman, and she just happened to be one part of a collaborative team that included a man. Since Lee’s list was not a short one, the exclusion upset me.

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Review – Le Beau Serge (dir. Claude Chabrol, 1958)

le-beau-sergeOf the Cahiers du Cinema cohort, Chabrol was the first to make a film, which he wrote, shot and produced himself. The result is the startling complex Le Beau Serge, which inaugurated the French New Wave in 1958. In this first attempt, Chabrol introduces many of the themes he will continue to grapple with for the next 50 years or so. While the film has its share of awkward moments, it’s also filled with the kind of visual subtleties and intricate relationships that Chabrol would go on to refine throughout his prolific career.

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Animal behavior: Creatures on film

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Making sense of our animal companions

I’ve been wanting to write something about animals on film for a long time now. I’m not talking about kids-oriented, Air Bud- or Homeward Bound-type fare – not to knock either of those movies, because they’re not un-related to the ones I’m going to discuss, nor are they bad. However, whenever I bring up this topic, these are typically the examples I hear. When you do think of animals on film, it’s striking that they appear most frequently in either children’s movies or documentaries. We either revel in their otherness, or turn them into humanized talking beasts. Not surprisingly, both iterations of the animal are loved by viewers of all ages.

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Revisiting a classic: Grand Hotel

Check out my new piece on CURNBLOG: 

Revisiting a classic: Grand Hotel 

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