We’re as glad to close the book on 2020 as the next magazine, but not without taking stock. This of all years, with its momentous and likely far-reaching impacts on cinema as on all walks of life, needs to be appraised.
Adam Curtis’s compendious new series Can’t Get You out of My Head, subtitled ‘An Emotional History of the Modern World’, offers a steep, giddy ride through how we got here – a time of many crises including, in his telling, a fatalistic mood amongst too many, after all the clashes and calamities of the twentieth century, that radical reform and democratic control are dangerous mirages.
So he tells Nick Bradshaw in an extensive conversation ranging across the role of ideas and emotions in history, his quarrel with erstwhile radicals in the cultural world, and the ways and means of his crazy-quilt film constructions mixing his voiceover assertions, sublime pop music and montages of mad metaphors from the far reaches of the BBC archives.
As well as talking us through a selection of those images, Curtis also offers us his own guide through ten films that capture the mood of their times – from Stalker to Scream 2 to The Souvenir.
Also in this issue, Lee Isaac Chung discusses belief, migrant experience and his new film Minari, a semi-autobiographical portrait of Korean-American farmers in 1980s Arkansas, with Violet Lucca.
Bryan Fogel and Ryan White talk Jonathan Romney through their contemporary docu-thrillers The Dissident and Assassins, about the recent murders of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Kashoggi and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s exiled half-brother Kim Jong-nam.
J. Hoberman essays the history of the film maudit – the ‘cursed film’ – in the context of Richard Kelly’s infamous Donnie Darko follow-up Southland Tales (and we single out 11 key films maudit).
Legendary Studio Ghibli co-founder and producer Suzuki Toshio talks to Alex Dudok de Wit about the studio’s next steps for the world of CGI and streaming distribution – not least Miyazaki Goro’s forthcoming Earwig and the Witch.
And from our archive, Tony Rayns visits the set of Wong Kar-Wai’s Fallen Angels just as his defining 1990s breakthrough Chungking Express was taking the Wong worldview to the world.
“Culture is a smokescreen”
Adam Curtis’s typically discursive, dizzyingly brilliant six-part BBC series Can’t Get You out of My Head: An Emotional History of the Modern World sets out to chart the roots of our contemporary malaise of doubt and dismay. He tells Nick Bradshaw why individualism is a threat to democracy, why art has lost its way and why he loathes being described as a filmmaker.
+ Adam Curtis on eight archive clips in Can’t Get You out of My Head
Curtis comments on some of the weird and wonderful footage included in his series.
+ Ten films that capture the mood of their times
Curtis on ten movies that nailed their zeitgeist, from Jacques Tourneur to the Safdie Bros – by way of a classic Will Ferrell comedy.
Lee Isaac Chung’s gently comic semi-autobiographical drama Minari is an acutely observed portrait of a Korean-American family’s hard-scrabble attempts to live off the land in rural Arkansas. Violet Lucca talks to the director about faith, farming and family ties.
Handling the truth
Two gripping new documentaries about political killings, Assassins and The Dissident, deploy the tension-building techniques of the espionage thriller. Jonathan Romney talks to the directors of both films about pursuing and portraying the truth in an age of misinformation.
+ Setting the pace: six key docu-thrillers
No success like failure: a natural history of the film maudit
A film maudit – literally a ‘cursed film’ – is one that is widely panned even as it is staunchly defended by a devoted minority. As Richard Kelly’s infamous Southland Tales is released on Blu-ray, J. Hoberman traces the history of the term and the critical battles fought over such movies.
+ Fail better: ten great films maudits… and one great meta maudit
Drawing ahead: the future of Studio Ghibli
With Miyazaki Hayao working on a new feature, his son Goro set to release Earwig and the Witch, and big streaming deals on its back catalogue, the animation powerhouse is in rude health. Alex Dudok de Wit talks to key Ghibli producer Suzuki Toshio about remaining relevant in a world of changing tastes.
+ A broad-brush approach: building the Ghibli brand
From the archive: poet of time
In this interview from our September 1995 issue, republished to mark the current Wong Kar Wai retrospective on BFI Player, Sight & Sound caught up with the Hong Kong director on the set of his film Fallen Angels to talk about his career to date, and in particular his hip romance Chungking Express, one of the great, defining works of 90s arthouse cinema.
+ In the mood for Wong: The world of Wong Kar Wait retrospective details
+ Shooting gallery: Wong Kar Wai on select scenes in Chungking Express
Mapping calamity in real time
Adam Benzine, the director of a documentary about America’s mishandling of Covid-19, tells all about making a film in the midst of a pandemic.
Sundance report: are you still watching?
This year’s Sundance worked hard to reproduce the sense of being at a festival – but there’s no escaping the streaming giants. By Thomas Flew.
+ Fantastic four: Sundance discoveries.
Rising Star: P.S. Vinothraj
The Indian director of last month’s Rotterdam Best Film winner Pebbles in profile. By Katie McCabe.
Could deepfake films make their way from YouTube novelty and artworld provocation into mainstream cinema? By Dominic Lees.
+ F is for fake: four viral hits.
BFI Flare preview: life in the Fass lane
Actor Oliver Masucci on inhabiting the wild, monstrous personality of director Rainer Werner Fassbinder for a new film. By Ben Walters.
+ Five BFI Flare Highlights. By Chrystel Oloukoi.
+ Private view: Fassbinder on BFI Player.
In production: Earwig
Isabel Stevens speaks to Lucile Hadzihalilovic about her latest project.
#MyDreamPalace: what now for cinemas?
To mark the anniversary of the first lockdown, we surveyed people working in UK cinemas about the future of the big screen. Interviews by Isabel Stevens and Katie McCabe.
Dream Palaces: Gardenia Open-Air Cinema, Hydra, Greece
Documentary maker Nick Broomfield, director of Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love, recalls dogs, donkeys and cinema under the stars.
Obituary: Cicely Tyson: 1924-2021
From Sounder and Roots to The Help and the Tyler Perry universe, Tyson’s performances were as full as they were upstanding. By Alex Ramon.
Obituary: Giuseppe Rotunno: 1923-2021
The great Italian cinematographer worked with directors from Visconti and Fellini in Italy to Altman and Gilliam in America. By Pasquale Iannone.
Archive film: seeing life through a different lens
We think of film history in terms of cinemas and entertainment – but the vast number of films made for other reasons can tell other stories. By Marsha Gordon and Allyson Nadia Field.
Primal screen: alternative comedy
What can the case of Fred Evans – a silent film comic once beloved, swiftly forgotten – tell us about his contemporary Charlie Chaplin? By Bryony Dixon.
Films of the month
Chung Mong-Hong’s piercing drama shows a Taiwanese family tested to near ruin. Reviewed by Tony Rayns.
Christian Petzold’s latest is an uncanny, shapeshifting fable about a haunted woman. Reviewed by Jonathan Romney.
plus reviews of
Television of the month
WandaVision lands a Marvel superhero couple in a series of smartly evoked pastiche suburban sitcoms. Reviewed by Kim Newman.
plus reviews of
Home cinema features
Prince Albert: Films by Albert Brooks
Two reminders that writer-director-star Albert Brooks is one of America’s most acute chroniclers of modern life, and afterlife. Reviewed by Kate Stables.
A Soviet state that disdained horror films somehow ended up sponsoring this gloriously surreal confection of hags and demons. Reviewed by Anne Billson.
Lost and found: Rich and Famous
Though this remake of a 1940s Bette Davis vehicle left critics cold, 40 years on its picture of friendship and frustrations rings true. By Sarah Fensom.
plus reviews of
- The Ascent
- Columbia Noir #2
- Films by Samuel Fuller: House of Bamboo/Hell and High Water
- Films starring Jean Gabin: Un singe en hiver/Melodie en sous-sol
- Geronimo: an American legend
- Augusto Genina: il prezzo della bellezza
- Light Sleeper
- Restless Natives
Mike Nichols: A Life by Mark Harris (Penguin Press) reviewed by Farran Smith Nehme.
V.F. Perkins on Movies: Collected Shorter Film Criticism, edited by Douglas Pye (Wayne State University Press) reviewed by Brad Stevens.
- The Dig: deeper than we thought?
- A request for coverage clarity
- It’s a Sin to dismiss the brilliance of TV
- Cinema and TV in harmony?
- Sean Connery in Sidney Lumet’s The Hill
- Giving credit to James Agee and Alfred Hitchcock
Kurosawa Kiyoshi’s uncannily prescient 2001 cult horror about the evils lurking in the internet closes with a moving vision of hope. By Matt Turner.
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