Sight & Sound: the January 2017 issue

Happy holiday! Come kick your cares down the stairs with our Christmas issue, starring Damien Chazelle’s infectiously fanciful modern musical La La Land, a new look at the exemplary tough-guy toe-tapper Gene Kelly – and our monster year-end roundup, with reflections on trends in animation, television and horror and cinema under the sign of Obama, as well as our wide-cast critics’ poll.

Also this month: Krzysztof Kieslowski, Issa Rae, Eugène Green, William Kentridge, David Lynch, Ruth Beckermann, Amy Adams, Mark Leckey, Nell Shipman, Snowden, To Sleep with Anger – and a lot of violins.

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With a spring, a step and a pirouette, our end-of-year issue dances into view, as we celebrate the release of Damien Chazelle’s bewitching new musical La La Land, a loving, consummately realised tribute to that most purely pleasurable of genres, the Hollywood musical. Chazelle’s film stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as two ambitious dreamers in modern-day Los Angeles, one a jazz purist, the other an aspiring actress, and is steeped in the style of its classic Hollywood forebears – above all the pizzazz of the Technicolor MGM spectaculars of the 1950s. As Pamela Hutchinson argues, while this hugely enjoyable crowd-pleaser may be that rare modern-day musical that knows its history, nor does it ever loses sight of where the genre might be headed next.

And with the release of La La Land, what more excuse could we need to take a look back at the life and career of one of the most beloved and magical of all the classic-era musical stars, Gene Kelly? Kelly was athletic, elegant, generous and utterly magnetic to watch – but as Dan Callahan argues, there was also always a little bit of the tough guy about the great star of Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris. After all, unlike his great friend and rival Fred Astaire, and for all his talents, Kelly never quite looked right in a suit…

If it’s our January issue, that also means it’s time for our annual review of the best film and TV of the past 12 months. This year our poll of over 150 critics from around the world drew in a dizzying range of films to prove that, though 2016 was a year marked by political earthquakes and the death of great artists, it was still a great year for film – as long as you looked beyond the Hollywood mainstream. And with German director Maren Ade’s hilarious and poignant comedy Toni Erdmann taking the most votes to claim the top spot, and Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women and Andrea Arnold’s American Honey also in the top five, it was also a banner year for female filmmakers.

A woman who has made waves on small screens this year is Issa Rae, who has followed the toe-curlingly acute comedy of her web series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl with a new series for HBO, Insecure. But, asks Gaylene Gould, has her zany, idiosyncratic brilliance been diluted during the transition from the web to mainstream TV?

We stay with the small screen for a look back at one of the towering achievements of television drama, the late Polish director Krzystof Kieslowski’s ten-part late 1980s masterwork Dekalog, which is released this month in a new Blu-ray edition alongside his earlier TV work. As Michael Brooke argues, Dekalog brought Kieslowski to international prominence, but the earlier work is also brilliant, and gives us a fuller picture of one of world cinema and television’s greatest artists.

Kieslowski drew on the Ten Commandments when conceiving Dekalog, and another director who has turned to religious iconography for inspiration is the American-born Eugène Green, whose satirical new film The Son of Joseph, about a young man’s search for the father who abandoned him, borrows the imagery of the past to examine the spiritual health of the present. “I call on the Judeo-Christian tradition because it’s the European tradition,” Green tells Catherine Wheatley.

Finally amongst this month’s features, Richard Combs explores the fascinating work of the innovative South African artist William Kentridge, whose multimedia installations look back to the experiments of early cinema to create vivid animations exploring time, history, politics, black holes – and megaphones.

We also review all of the month’s new theatrical releases, including Robert Zemeckis’s Allied, Billy O’Brien’s I Am not a Serial Killer and Roger Ross Williams’s Life, Animated. Our Home Cinema reviews take in a landmark collection of early films by African American filmmakers, while our Books pages turn to new volumes on Kurosawa’s Rashomon and the work of the London Film-makers’ Co-operative, as well as new editions of writings by the great Robert Bresson.

All this and much more besides. Glad tidings of the season from all at S&S!

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Features

Dancing with the Stars

Dancing with the Stars

Damien Chazelle’s bewitching musical La La Land, exploring the romance between two ambitious dreamers in modern-day Los Angeles, might be saturated in the style of its classic Hollywood forebears, but it never loses sight of where the genre might be headed next. By Pamela Hutchinson.

+ Motion slickness

There was always a little bit of the gangster about Gene Kelly, but it was precisely this tough guy persona that grabbed our attention, delighting us with just what a male body could do. By Dan Callahan.

 

Films of the Year

Films of the Year

Our annual poll confirms that a year marked by political earthquakes and the death of great artists was still a great year for film – as long as you looked outside the Hollywood mainstream. And in a small triumph for diversity, three of our top five films this year are by female directors. By Nick James.

+ The year in… Animation

Films of the Year

US animation has had a great run over the past 12 months, both in terms of critical acclaim and box-office success, but to get a true sense of the form’s potential one has to look at the work emerging in Europe and Japan. By Leigh Singer.

+ The year in… television

Films of the Year

The growth of quality programming shows no sign of abating, but as viewing fractures across an array of devices, it’s no longer clear precisely what television means any more. By Lisa Kerrigan.

+ The year in… horror

Films of the Year

In a year in which minorities have come under increasing attack, have horror films tried merely to reflect cultural concerns or do they share some culpability for encouraging the demonisation of ‘the other’? By Kim Newman.

+ The year in… Obama-era cinema

Films of the Year

The closing stages of Barack Obama’s tenure have witnessed a new confidence within black film culture, both in the range of subjects being tackled and in a growing refusal to compromise on behalf of white sensibilities. By Ashley Clark.

 

A Lesson in Awkward

Following the toe-curlingly acute comedy of The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, Issa Rae is back with Insecure, but has her zany, idiosyncratic brilliance been diluted during the transition from web series to mainstream TV? By Gaylene Gould.

 

Moral Tales

Moral Tales

The late, great Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski rose to international prominence on the back of Dekalog, his epic cycle of television dramas loosely themed around the Ten Commandments, but for far too long his earlier, brilliant TV work has been unjustly neglected. By Michael Brooke.

+ Stardust memories

There was certainly a Victor Meldrew side to Krzysztof Kieslowski, and there is no doubting his moral seriousness, but he was also a humorous man with a sharp sense of comic absurdity. By Tony Rayns.

 

Father of Invention

Father of Invention

Rich in biblical references and religious iconography, Eugène Green’s The Son of Joseph borrows the imagery of the past to examine the spiritual health of the present, in a satirical, often very funny tale that follows a young man’s search for the father who abandoned him. By Catherine Wheatley.

 

Time After Time

Time After Time

A fascination with the innovative experiments of early cinema fuels the work of South African artist William Kentridge, whose multimedia installations employ a distinctive stop-motion process to create vivid animations exploring time, history, politics, black holes – and megaphones. By Richard Combs.

 

Regulars

Editorial

Credits, credit and Sally Wainwright’s Wellcome Screenwriting Fellowship

 

Rushes

Our Rushes section

Our Rushes section

In the frame: The fabric of dreams

To mark the 30th anniversary rerelease of Blue Velvet, we reprint a 1987 interview in which David Lynch explained the roots of the film’s dark fantasies.

 

Object lesson: Cue the violins

As a symbol of craft and artistry, the violin can hold out the promise of a better life or represent a classical prison from which to escape. By Hannah McGill.

 

Interview: A lover’s discourse

The amorous correspondence between poets Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan lies at the heart of the intriguing The Dreamed Ones. By Thirza Wakefield.

 

Dispatches: Bonjour tristesse

Amy Adams radiates sadness on screen, defining the colour and tones of the films she graces with her mesmerising presence. By Mark Cousins.

 

The Industry

Our Industry section

Our Industry section

Development tale: Snowden

The politics of a film about Edward Snowden and the NSA were complicated enough even before Hollywood studios got involved. By Charles Gant.

 

The numbers

I, Daniel Blake and Ken Loach at the UK/Ireland box office. By Charles Gant.

 

Festivals

Our Festivals section

Our Festivals section

A cultural desert: FiSahara

At a remote festival in southern Algeria, cinema is being put to use as a weapon of resistance – but can it really save the Sahrawis? By Alex Dudok de Wit.

 

Wide Angle

Our Wide Angle section

Our Wide Angle section

Artists’ moving image: Devotion to euphoria

Club nostalgist, digital visionary, prophet of transcendence – Birkenhead-born Mark Leckey burns with a hard, gem-like flame. By Nick Pinkerton.

 

Soundings: Popping the bubble

In the movies of Todd Solondz, banal pop music becomes a powerful antidote to delusions of hope and happiness. By Zakia Uddin.

 

Primal screen: The world of silent cinema

After decades of neglect, a documentary has brought silent cinema heroine Nell Shipman in from the wilderness. By Pamela Hutchinson.

 

Festival: Embrace the apocalypse

A resistance to fashion, glitz and compromise make Vienna one of the most rewarding stops on the festival circuit. By Giovanni Marchini Camia.

 

Our Reviews section

Our Reviews section

Reviews

Films of the month

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
I Am Not a Serial Killer
Krisha

plus reviews of

Allied
Almost Christmas
The Ardennes
Bad Santa 2
Ballerina
The Birth of a Nation
The Black Hen
Bleed for This
Chocolat
The Coming War on China
The Eagle Huntress
Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words
Endless Poetry
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Generation Revolution
Half Way
The Heritage of Love
I Am Bolt
The Incident
Jet Trash
Kalinka
Keeping Up with the Joneses
The Last Family
Let’s Be Evil
Life, Animated
Mum’s List
The Music of Strangers: Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble
Operation Chromite
Panic
The Pass
Reset
Snowden
The Son of Joseph
Trolls
Uncle Howard
The White Knights
You’ve Been Trumped Too

 

Home Cinema features

Our Home Cinema section

Our Home Cinema section

The human condition: Pioneers of African American Cinema

Ninety-nine year-old Earl Cameron, British cinema’s first black screen star, recalls his debut in Basil Dearden’s Pool of London. By Philip Kemp.

 

Of men and monsters: The Human Condition

Anthony Newley gives a persuasive performance as a petty crook in 60s gangland – but the streets of Soho are this film’s true stars. By Andrew Male.

 

Lost and found: Jenny

Together, Marcel Carné and Jacques Prévert made masterpieces. This flawed but fascinating drama is where their partnership began. By Philip Kemp.

 

plus reviews of

Burroughs: The Movie
Cat People
The Chase
Doc
Dreams
The Executioner
Jamaica Inn
Kes
Napoleon
Punch-Drunk Love
Roxanne
To Live and Die in LA 

 

Television

Q Vol 1
Alec Clifton-Taylor’s Six English Towns
Francis Durbridge Presents… Bat Out of Hell

 

Books

Notes on the Cinematograph by Robert Bresson, with an introduction by J.M.G. Le Clézio (New York Review Books Classics)
+ Bresson on Bresson: Interviews 1943-1983 by Robert Bresson (New York Review Books) reviewed by Nick Pinkerton

Kurosawa’s Rashomon: A Vanished City, a Lost Brother, and the Voice Inside His Iconic Films by Paul Anderer (Pegasus Books) reviewed by Philip Kemp

Shoot Shoot Shoot: The First Decade of the London Film-Makers’ Co-operative, 1966-76 edited by Mark Webber (LUX) reviewed by Henry K. Miller

 

Letters

Further thoughts on The Small World of Sammy Lee (or, The Loneliness of the Strip-Club Compère)

Deeper interrogation of I, Daniel Blake required

De-identification of an Irish thief in Pool of London

Kirk Douglas’s primary power and command

A postscript on Edward Dmytryk in Britain

Our Endings section

Our Endings section

 

Endings

To Sleep with Anger

The spine-tingling coda of Charles Burnett’s majestic, enigmatic film has its origins in the director’s own past. By Ashley Clark.

 

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