Friday, April 1, 2022

Movie Artists: The Worst Person in the World & Cyrano

Renate Reinsve in The Worst Person in the World.

Socialists are quick to point out that we’ll still have problems after the revolution – they’ll just be more interesting. With our material conditions satisfied, we’ll have the time and means to engage more passions, take more adventures, and pursue more lovers. Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s latest film, The Worst Person in the World, gives us a tantalizing window into this world. Its vision is a society where young people can afford sleek, modernist flats, pursue fulfilling avocations, and indulge the varieties of self-expression – all while holding jobs in the service sector. Who needs heaven when you can have social democracy? With this picture, Trier brings his Oslo Trilogy to a poignant close. The series began in 2006 when he and co-writer Eskil Vogt released Reprise, a Joycean exploration of artistic ambitions between friends that introduced audiences to Anders Danielsen Lie. Lie’s become something like Trier’s muse: the actor’s appeared in each of the Oslo pictures – devastatingly so in the second, Oslo, August 31st (2011). There he portrays a heroin addict who journeys from rehab to fatal relapse in the course of a day. Along the way, Trier folded in elements of existentialism and phenomenology that created a haunting mood of angst. He deepened that philosophical exploration with Louder Than Bombs (2015), an American film that explored the death of a photojournalist through the fragmented consciousness of her kin.

Monday, March 28, 2022

New on Criterion: The Last Waltz (1978)

The Band on stage in The Last Waltz (1978)

In the forty-four years since Martin Scorsese released The Last Waltz, his film of The Band’s final concert, at San Francisco’s Winterland Arena on Thanksgiving Day in 1976, the movie hasn’t lost any of its visceral excitement, both as a piece of filmmaking and as a keepsake of one of the signal events in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s the greatest concert movie ever made. (The other contenders, in my view, would be Bert Stern’s 1959 Jazz on a Summer’s Day, a chronicle of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, which inspired Scorsese; Jonathan Demme’s 1984 Talking Heads film Stop Making Sense; and Scorsese’s one-of-a-kind 2019 Rolling Thunder Revue, which casts a backward glance at the all-star show, headed by Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, that circled the continent in 1975 and 1976.) The new Criterion disc of The Last Waltz is as beautiful to look at as the film was in theatres in 1978. The veteran Hollywood production designer Boris Leven, borrowing the San Francisco Opera’s set for La Traviata and framing it with a trio of chandeliers, transformed Winterland into something that looks like a remnant of the Romantic era, and Michael Chapman, who had worked with Scorsese on Taxi Driver, lit it, while some of the most talented cinematographers in America (Vilmos Zsigmond, Laszlo Kovacs, David Myers, Bobby Byrne, Michael Watkins and Hiro Narita) manned the other six cameras covering the spectacle. It was the first concert film with a shooting script, which Scorsese had drawn up; the stories about the filming, where his meticulous planning met the inevitable challenges and accidents of a once-in-a-lifetime event that had to be captured spontaneously, are sometimes funny and always thrilling. (You won’t want to skip the extras on the Criterion disc, which include two audio commentaries, a 1978 Canadian television interview with Scorsese and The Band’s Robbie Robertson, a twenty-fifth-anniversary doc about the making of the movie, and a supremely articulate new interview with Scorsese conducted by film critic David Fear. There’s also a single outtake, a twelve-minute jam session that occurred at the end of the concert and is the only surviving piece of archival footage.)