Portrait of the Artist as a Young Jerk

Alex Ross Perry, NYC, 10/8/14

Alex Ross Perry, NYC, 10/8/14

Philip Lewis Friedman (Jason Schwartzman), an ascendant young novelist, is a furious collection of bad traits.  The protagonist of writer and director Alex Ross Perry’s third feature, the very funny “Listen Up Philip,” is dismissive toward (and jealous of) his photographer girlfriend, Ashley Kane (Elizabeth Moss), arrogant, critical, rude, selfish, angry and impatient (particularly enraged by slow foot traffic in New York, with which I totally–and sheepishly–identify).

His jangly physicality is emphasized by DP Sean Price Williams’ handheld photography and claustrophobic tight shots.  I’m not often drawn to Schwartzman’s performances but here his natural sweetness cuts through Philip’s bilious demeanor just enough to make the character not only watchable but riveting.  And I rarely have patience for prolonged voice-over but the well-written paragraphs, as delivered by narrator Eric Bogosian, fit and enhance the literary atmosphere.

Meeting with his editor shortly before the publication date of his second novel, Philip, although highly ambitious, indulges in a bit of self-sabotage and declares that he won’t be available to do press.  He does, however, express interest in meeting a famous older writer, Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce)–think Philip Roth–who has sent him a laudatory letter.

Philip and Zimmerman are two versions of the same raging artist id–Melanie (Krysten Ritter), the latter’s mistreated daughter calls Philip “a younger surrogate to handle the forlorn moping”–and the men become friends and confidants.  Zimmerman’s offer to let Philip use his secluded upstate New York retreat for the summer, as a place to write without distractions, is readily accepted.  Ashley’s sadness at being easily abandoned registers with Philip as an irritant.

Zimmerman arranges for Philip to teach creative writing for the fall semester at a nearby liberal arts college.  He dislikes teaching, the students and other faculty members (including Yvette, a lovely French writer with whom he has an unsuccessful romance ) and returns to the apartment he shared with Ashley in Brooklyn, hoping to resume their relationship.  She throws him out and the sustained close-up on her face, as she experiences sadness, relief and strength, is beautiful and moving.

The men stay mired in their muck of self-absorption and self-regard and bitterness.  And for Philip, add a lack of self-awareness (“forever remaining a mystery, even to himself”). The three women absorb the body blows, shake free of the pain, and move on.

At the 52nd New York Film Festival’s press conference for “Listen Up Philip,” Perry cited both Maurice Pialat’s “We Won’t Grown Old Together,” a brutal dissection of a crumbling relationship, and Woody Allen’s “Husbands and Wives” as influences.  Asked if Philip is his alter ego, Perry said that while he shared “small similarities” with Philip he also identified with Ashley, adding that Philip Roth’s influence was 100%.

Alex Ross Perry–and Sean Price Williams–famously worked at Kim’s Video.  During our shoot, I told Alex that when I photographed director  Craig Zobel “(Compliance”), he said that he was very happy to have made his third feature because that was the number required to get a dedicated section at Kim’s.  Alex, the insider, replied, “We could give someone their own section if they’d made fewer films, if we wanted to.”

“Listen Up Philip” will open Friday, October at the IFC Center and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.  Alex Ross Perry and Jason Schwartzman will attend select shows on October 17 and October 18.  A national release will follow.

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Is Paris Exploding?

Volker Schlöndorff, NYC, 10/14/14

Volker Schlöndorff, NYC, 10/14/14

Before dawn in Paris on August 25, 1944, a German aristocrat, General Dietrich von Choltitz (Niels Arestrup), prepares to execute an order from Hitler (enraged  by the destruction of Berlin), to replace beauty with rubble in the City of Light, to greet the advancing Allied forces with total devastation.  Von Choltitz’s men have set explosive on 33 bridges (which “will cause the Seine to burst its banks”) and on Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Opera, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Les Invalides, the stations–all the glorious landmarks, represented by chess pieces on von Choltitz’s map.

Like a phantom, a Swedish diplomat, Consul Raoul Nordling (André Dussollier), appears in the elegant blue and gold suite at the grand Hotel Meurice, where the Nazis are headquartered.  Soft-spoken and eloquent, well-dressed in a black three-piece suit, and masquerading behind the neutrality of his country, Nordling begins a conversation, challenging von Choltitz, suffering from war-fatique and asthma, to defy the “absurd order” or be held responsible by history.

The tense (fictionalized) battle in Academy Award-winning director Volker Schlöndorff’s new film, “Diplomacy,” between the diplomat and the general, thrillingly fought by two of the world’s most extraordinary actors, deals with much more than the fate of Paris (which of course is obvious), delving into issues of war (how acceptable are civilian casualties, act of war or war crime, whether combatants are terrorists or patriots), which 70 years later are tragically still relevant.

“Diplomacy” will open on Wednesday, October 15 at Film Forum for a two-week run, with Volker Schlöndorff in person at the 7:00 pm show on October 15 and October 16.  A national release will follow.

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Barks and Recreation

Ryder6-1©robinholland

Our sweet Ryder is a noisy dog, the barkiest of our four Labradors, particularly vocal when we’re in the country.  If he sniffs something, he says something.

Ryder likes to swim, sleep and of course retrieve–sticks, his orange plastic dummy and balls, pretty much in that order.  He also enjoys literally chewing the scenery–ferns, fledgling pine trees and invasive Japanese stiltgrass.

Today he’s six.  Happy birthday, beloved PiePie.

SR 0814_070_©robinholland

IMG_0109_©robinholland

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Ryder6-2©robinholland

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NYFF52: The Films that Bookend the Career of a Master

Alain Resnais, NYC, 12/12/80

Alain Resnais, NYC, 12/12/80

Before the NYFF52 press screening of “Hiroshima Mon Amour” I turned to tell Nora Lee who always sits behind me for the unobstructed view of the screen–I slouch (“in the sports car like in the cinema,” as a Godard heroine said)–that I was really excited, having never seen Alain Resnais’ first feature (and first masterpiece).  She said it was a first for her too and that now she could cross it off her bucket list.  And that’s the type of people we are–while others have sky diving, driving on the salt flats, swimming with sharks, we have dark rooms filled and glowing with masterpieces of world cinema.

In Cahiers du Cinema 97, July 1959, Jaquette Rivette (in a conversation that included other immortals, Rohmer and Godard), said, “Resnais’ great obsession, if I may use that word, is the sense of the splitting of primary unity–the world is broken up, fragmented into a series of tiny pieces, and it has to be put back together again like a jigsaw…”

“Hiroshima Mon Amour” fills the screen with black and white shots of atrocity, mutilated bodies and a ruined city (“iron made vulnerable as flesh”), before framing on two beautiful bodies, entwined in a hotel room bed, heard talking (in startling voice-over) about Hiroshima, where they are.  It is August 1957.   The world has been split into before the bomb and after; the lovers, a French woman, an actress (Emmanuelle Riva), and a Japanese man, an architect (Eiji Okada), unnamed, simply he/Hiroshima and she/Nevers, are split too, into before and after their chance meeting and love affair.

She leaves him in the morning.  But that afternoon, with her return to France imminent (the film she was working on has been completed), he finds her on the set and they spend the day and night, wandering through the city, coming together and splitting apart, talking about their happy lives with spouses and children, and her lost, reviled love for a German soldier at 16, during the war, and 14 years later, their monumental love, that’s being lost as it’s happening.

To create “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” which Eric Rohmer, in the same Cahiers du Cinema conversation, called, “a film about which you can say everything,” Resnais worked with Marguerite Duras, writer (screenplay and dialogue); Sacha Vierny, cinematographer; Georges Delerue, music; and Anatole Dauman, producer.

Alain Resnais died in March at 91.  His final film, the quick and clever, and ultimately joyous “Life of Riley,” completed in 2013, is  included in the Main Slate.  Based on Alan Ackybourn’s play, “Relatively Speaking,” it uses highly stylized sets (with cut-outs of flowers and bushes and flowing fabric) and paintings of the locations (as well as actual footage of the English countryside) as establishing shots.  Close-ups of the actors on cross-hatched background, make them seem like superheroes in comic strips.

A group of friends with a long history are rehearsing a play for an amateur theater production when they find out that George, another member of their circle, is terminally ill.  The news upsets the emotional balance within and among the couples.  The nimble cast including Resnais regulars, the always wonderful Sabine Azéma (his wife) and the equally fine André Dussollier, moves briskly though the plot complications and emotional melt-downs caused by George (much talked about but unseen throughout). His situation and behavior (both during rehearsals and the women’s visits to help with the housekeeping), shake up the relationships, until lost equilibrium is restored to the couples. The great director’s career ends with a story of renewed love.

“Hiroshima Mon Amour,” unseen theatrically for decades, will screen in a gorgeous new 4K  restoration on Friday, October 10, 6:00 pm, at the Walter Reade Theater and will open on Friday, October 17 in New York at Film Forum and at Film Society’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, and in Los Angeles.

“Life of Riley,” will screen on Friday, October 10, 9:00 pm, at the Walter Reade Theater and on Saturday, October 11, 2:00 pm, at the Francesca Beale Theater in the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center and will open on Friday, October 24 in New York at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, followed by a release to select cities.

“Alain Resnais: Time, Memory and Imagination,” the French Institute/Alliance Français’ new CinéSalon series, continues through October 28.

Sabine Azéma, NYC, 10/2/87

Sabine Azéma, NYC, 10/2/87

 

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NYFF52: Special Events (A Semi-Sequel)

John Boorman

John Boorman

“Hope and Glory,” John Boorman’s most personal film, a revisiting of his childhood in World War II London during the blitz, had its U.S. premiere at the  New York Film Festival in 1987.  His latest (and reportedly his last), “Queen and Country,” Film Comment presents, a Special Event of NYFF52, screens on Tuesday, October 7 at 9:15 pm.

The great (and versatile) director’s new film catches up with his alter ego, Bill Rohan (Callum Turner), now 18 and beginning his mandatory service in the British army.  It’s 1952 and Bill’s coming of age–coinciding with the decline of the empire–is a series of firsts: cigarette (inadvertently strawberry-flavored), love (unrequited), independence.

I photographed John Boorman for the first time when he was in New York for NYFF25. We shot in the early evening in a suite at the Sherry Netherland.  As we were getting started, a producer arrived in a whirl with an early edition of the next day’s New York Times (hard to remember the pre-internet world when news wasn’t 24/7) and read aloud Janet Maslin’s rave review of “Hope and Glory.”

John Boorman, Sherry Netherland, NYC, 10/8/87

John Boorman, Sherry Netherland, NYC, 10/8/87

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NYFF52: Retrospective, Revivals (and Backstage Back Then)

Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Berlin, 3/1/83

Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Berlin, 3/1/83

I’m sure it was obvious to Joseph L. Mankiewicz that the pipsqueak with a Hasselblad around her neck was having an out-of-body experience “directing” him and another of cinema’s giants, Jeanne Moreau, “Please stand closer and angle toward each other, and please look directly at the lens.”

We were backstage, pre-awards ceremony at the 1983 Berlin Film Festival.  They were jury members.  After a few frames, Moreau dashed away and I asked Mankiewicz if I could shoot him alone.  He agreed.  I wanted him to go up a few stairs (so that I could shoot him from below, making him look as monumental as his reputation).  In position, he looked at me and asked, “Kid, what are a couple Jews like us doing in a town like this?”  I knew he had worked for Paramount in Berlin in the late 1920s as a translator of intertitles, knew he was (sort of) kidding, but couldn’t begin to wrap my head around how I’d gotten to be part of his first person plural.

New York Film Festival’s Retrospective, “Joseph L. Mankiewicz: The Essential Iconoclast,” (October 1 through October 14) will screen the great writer/director’s 20 theatrical features and his one made-for-TV film (“A Christmas Carol”).  Mankiewicz won both the Best Directing and Best Writing Screenplay Oscars two years in a row: for “A Letter to Three Wives” in 1950; and for “All About Eve” (which also won Best Picture) in 1951.  But even if you’re anticipating every one of the famous lines, watching “All About Eve” on Alice Tully’s giant, shimmering screen (Wednesday, October 1, 9:00 pm) will be an unforgettable moviegoing experience, and is the way it was ideally meant to be seen.

Sergei Parajanov’s heart-grabbingly beautiful 1968 film, “The Color of Pomegranates,” tells the story of the inner and outer lives of Sayat Nova, the 18th century Armenian/Georgian poet.  A meticulously restored print will be shown in the New York Film Festival’s Revivals section on Thursday, October 2.

With a seemingly endless series of stunning images–still lives with fish, books, flowers, thorns; an exquisite woman in extravagant costumes and headdresses looking through lace; rows of black-clad monks eating pomegranates as if they were apples; a sheep mob surrounding a recently deceased religious figure; the poet’s cloak on paving stones, mimicking his shadow–an entire, incomparable world is created.

I also photographed Parajanov backstage–this time at Lincoln Center, during NYFF26.  I don’t know who gave him the bouquet but it was the perfect prop.

Sergei Parajanov, NYC, 10/88

Sergei Parajanov, NYC, 10/88

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NYFF52: “The Sheer Breadth of Cinema”

NYFF 2014 4up©robinhollandThe 52nd New York Film Festival, opening tomorrow and running thorough October 12, has a glorious main slate of 30 features.  Kent Jones, the Festival’s Director and Selection Committee Chair expressed his amazement at the vast range of cinematic achievement represented by the films, “We have great big films alongside films made on the most intimate scale, personal epics and intricately constructed chamber pieces, films of great serenity and films that leave you dazed, first films and last films, all equally vivid, alive, and essential.”

Opening night, David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” (starring  Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, and Tyler Perry) is a world premiere, as is the Centerpiece selection, “Inherent Vice,” directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (with a cast that includes Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon and Benicio Del Toro).

Several films, New York premieres, arrive with glittering laurels from other festivals, including: Jean-Luc Godard’s dazzling 3-D “Goodbye to Language” (Prix du Jury at Cannes), featuring his beloved dog Roxy, some menacing  poison ivy, warring couples and shots of a large-screen TV (non-3D, of course, and because of that, a very funny sight gag); David Cronenberg’s Hollywood nightmare, “Maps to the Stars,” for which Julianne Moore was named Best Actress at Cannes; and “Mr. Turner,” directed by Mike Leigh and starring Timothy Spall (Best Actor in Cannes) as the painter J.M.W. Turner.

Many NYFF alumni are returning with new films: the incomparable Manoel de Oliveira (106 this December), with “The Old Man of Belem,” a short; Alain Resnais’ riveting and visually experimental final feature, “Life of Riley,” adapted from Alan Ayckbourn’s play, “Relatively Speaking;” Abel Ferrara’s portrait of “Pasolini,” starring a very well-cast Willem Dafoe; Mia Hansen-Løve offers another story of longing, “Eden,” which follows a famous garage DJ in Paris for 20 years; Olivier Assayas with “Clouds of Sils Maria,” “a close meditation on the passage of time,” featuring Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloë Grace Moretz; and “Two Days, One Night,” a very moving story of financial desperation, compassion and ethical choices, directed by Jean Pierre & Luc Dardenne with Marion Cotillard playing a factory worker faced with the loss of her job.

Another team of filmmaking brothers, Josh and Benny Safdie, are making their NYFF debut this year with “Heaven Knows What,” a film about Harley (Arielle Holmes) and Ilya (Caleb Landry Jones), mad love and heroin.  Shot cinema-verité style and based on Holmes’ life, the film is totally immersive, no easy feat–junkies, by definition, with their lives of repetition, are boring.

NYFF 2014 6up©robinhollandUpper panel, clockwise from top left: Mia Hansen-Løve, Manoel de Oliveira, Josh & Benny Safdie, Julianne Moore.  All images © Robin Holland.

Lower panel, clockwise from top left: Willem Dafoe, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, Mike Leigh, Gaspard Ulliel, David Cronenberg, Olivier Assayas.  All images © Robin Holland.

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