Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood: Everything I Hoped It Would Be and More

Brad Pitt in “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” | photo: Andrew Cooper, Columbia Pictures

 
Delirious, funny, shocking, exhilarating, beautifully crafted around movie lore and history, blending fiction with reality, brimming with pop culture detail and an idiosyncratic soundtrack that takes you to another time and another Hollywood. You can not remain indifferent to Quentin Tarantino’s black comedy crazy bravura and auteurist excursion. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is ultimately about what it is like to live and die in L.A., by way of Tarantino’s liberal take on history and freeing visionary mind.

“It is probably my most personal. I think of it like my memory piece. Alfonso [Cuarón] had Roma and Mexico City, 1970. I had L.A. and 1969. This is the year that formed me. I was six years old then. This is my world. And this is my love letter to L.A.,” the writer-director said in an interview for Esquire magazine.

Here is what I liked so much about the film.

 

The Hollywood in my mind

The Hollywood I would have loved to see is not the Golden Era Hollywood, nor the modern day Hollywood, but that very Hollywood depicted in this film. A Hollywood trying to make peace with itself and move forward, a Hollywood that reflects the changes taking place in those times, in America and in the film industry, a time of changing identities and manhood perceptions, a time of decline for the old studio system and of rise of the independent cinema. But also a Hollywood that for sure is not just one of reality, but one of Tarantino’s imagination as well. And I find that even more fascinating. Another incredible thing about this Hollywood is that the two main characters, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth, are themselves voyeurs of the glamour of Hollywood. They are like you and me. Even Rick. He may be working there, and even be living there, but he isn’t living the high life. He is mesmerised by it, but keeps it real, he’s there to do his job, and his job is acting, not being a star.

 

The L.A. light

I’ve never been to L.A., but that’s how imagine the L.A. light. The bright, desert light of Los Angeles, considered magical by some directors, unforgiving by others, or both. And that L.A. light is a character in itself in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. Robert Richardson was the cinematographer, a regular collaborator of Tarantino and Martin Scorsese. And that light, at least the way I see it, whatever the story, but even more so in this case, seems to always remind you, even if it’s just in the back of your head, of the most notorious light, the dream-effect and disillusioned limelight of Hollywood.

 

They are still making movies

Quentin Tarantino is one of the last purveyors of movie making. So how about celebrating it? He loves cinema. He shows that artistic freedom is still possible, that you can still think in terms of making movies just for yourself, that he puts every thought and every sense and every emotion into making a film, that, yes, he can do what he likes and say what he likes – it’s his story. And he transports you to another time with the kind of film that requires the luxury of taking the time to watch at the cinema, as one should. That allows you to lose yourself in the story and watch it unfold on the big screen. And just see where it goes. Nothing else matters. Did I mention I’ve seen it three times?
 

Leonardo DiCaprio in “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” | photo: Andrew Cooper, Columbia Pictures

 

Less Is More

Tarantino somehow found a very original, very Tarantino-style way to pay homage to Sharon Tate. In reality, Sharon Tate came to be defined by her tragic death. Quentin stayed away from that by showing her living and enjoying her everyday life – he doesn’t even show her on the set shooting a film, but sends her to the cinema as a spectator to watch a film she had played in (The Wrecking Crew, 1969, co-starring Dean Martin). And it is this way in which he depicts her, through scarce dialogue and infused with optimism, joy and a luminous aura, that conveys an angelic, surreal creature, looming over the entire film.

 

In awe with the details

You always expect the best from the production design of a Tarantino film, but it is exactly because Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is set where it is set and the time it is set in that you become even more aware of every prop and neon sign. Posters-within-the-film, some sourced from the director’s impressive personal collection, some commissioned to the renowned Renato Casaro, vintage cars, the recreation of entire parts of Hollywood Blvd. and other cultural fixtures, bookstores, shops and bars. Production designer was Barbara Ling, and together with supervising art director Richard Johnson, set decorator Nancy Haigh, and supervising location manager Richard Schuler, they recreated a portrait of the 1960s you don’t get to see too often in movies.

 

“Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”, 2019 | photo: Andrew Cooper, Columbia Pictures

 

The soundtrack

The film is not only a feast for your eyes, but for your ears, too. Of course you expect that from Tarantino, but in this film in particular you just want to stand up and step right into the story (and maybe even start weaving your own storyline in parallel). Every time a car starts, the music starts blasting from the radio. It was the 1960s. Music was very much part of the culture, and there was a car-based culture, and music was mainly listened to on the radio in the car. Remember American Graffitti, how everything seemed to be happening around a car? Tarantino brilliantly captures that feeling, that mood, too. I defy you to resist jumping on your feet and dancing on The Buchanan Brothers’ Son of a Lovin’ Man, or stop thinking “What if? What if Sharon Tate’s fate had been different?” when you hear the “enchanting, fable-ish”, as Quentin himself describes it, ending credits music, Miss Lily Langtry, by Maurice Jarre. But you know what? You’d better listen to Edith Bowman’s Soundtracking podcast where she talks to the filmmaker. Edith said that watching Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood felt like “I had Christmas with Quentin Tarantino and he bought me everything that I wanted for Christmas”. And, yes, you can also listen to our Spotify playlist with the entire movie soundtrack.

 

Leonardo

The way he acts and the way he plays comedy.

 

’60s style made timeless

When it comes to the costumes, there is a lot to take in, from Rick Dalton’s bellbottom-trousers-turtlenecks-golden-chains outfits (slightly out of fashion even for the late 1960s, thus keeping with his washed-up career), to Sharon Tate’s go-go boots, mini skirts and snake skin print coat (inspired by Sharon’s own personal style, but adding a fictitious element to it as well). But it is Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth who takes costume design beyond ‘60s fashion and transforms it into timeless style. He makes the Hawaiian shirt worn over a faded-out Champion logo white t-shirt tucked into his vintage blue jeans and cowboy buckle (and completed with suede moccasins, aviator sunglasses, leather bracelets and a gold Citizen 8110 Bullhead watch) look cool and current. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it also shows that he is keeping with the changing times, something Cliff is far more willing to accept than Rick. It’s both his attitude and clothes that projects this California cool which everybody seems to be eager to emulate after watching the film. He is the stuntman of an actor of the old guard in decline, he lives in a trailer next to a drive-in theatre, and has no perspective whatsoever. Yet, he is content with what life offers him, he lives in the moment, he is optimistic. And that confidence is a mighty powerful and stylish thing.

 

Margot Robbie in “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” | photo: Andrew Cooper, Columbia Pictures

 

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Lubitsch Can’t Wait

What are we waiting for to rewatch or watch Ernst Lubitsch’s films?


 

They don’t make comedies like they used to, and they have never made comedies like Ernst Lubitsch did. His comedies make us laugh by not showing, by not telling the story directly, by working out the plot along with him as we watch the film. But everything we don’t see behind the closed doors while the camera remains outside is essential. The laughs keep coming not because of physical, comical situations, but because of the wit and lightness of touch of a well crafted situation. What appears to be is of more relevance than what it is. That’s the brilliance of it all. “There is no Lubitsch plot on paper, nor does the movie make any sense after we’ve seen it. Everything happens while we are looking at the film,” said François Truffaut. His comedies don’t stay with you long after you’ve watched them. His comedies require constant reviewing, just like Hitchcock’s films. They are a reminder that movies must be experienced, not just looked at and then put aside.

But, even more importantly, Lubitsch’s comedies reinforce my own conviction which I have expressed time and again about how underrated comedy, and especially his comedy, is in the world of film and how underrated its effect is on the world. Once and for all, we should stop underestimating a comedy’s merit and power. There is that famous line in Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels (1941) when Joel McCrea’s character, after he has been mistaken for a tramp, arrested and put to work on a chain gang and he finds himself watching a comedy with the other convicts, every one of them laughing harder than the other, as if they have no worries in the world: “There’s a lot to be said for making people laugh. Did you know that that’s all some people have? It isn’t much, but it’s better than nothing in this cockeyed caravan.”
 

”To Be or Not to Be”, 1942

 

Ernst Lubitsch would take that further in 1942 with To Be or Not to Be, and Mladen Dolar makes the best argument not only for the importance of comedy in general, but about the greatness and uniqueness of this film in his essay “To Be or Not to Be? No, Thank You” from the book Lubitsch Can’t Wait. He writes about how Lubitsch made a comedy about fascism “blatantly disregarding all political correctness, and, what is more, a comedy about fascism made at the time of its steep and sinister rise, confronting its disastrous historical and political reality at the time, as it happened, rather than from the distanced privilege of hindsight.” In the bleakest moment of Europe’s history, December 1941 (also the time of Lubitsch’s shooting the film), the director gave the world the best comedy. Because he knew that “comedy is the best answer to the hour of greatest despair, the bleakest moment, the biggest catastrophe humanity has ever faced.” What other film (yes, film, because Mladen Dolar regards To Be or Not to Be as the best film ever made) has the same “stance and courage”, that “immediate engagement”, devoid of any outside pressure, political correctness and support of an entire movement of anti-Nazi propaganda movies that started to be made only after the war and not during its darkest hour? “A masterpiece of plotting where everything fits, where all elements are repeated and reused later to produce even new effects, all elements mirrored, echoed, turned upside down, twisted and double-twisted eventually creating a snowball effect.”

If all the arguments in the paragraph above don’t make you want to watch or rewatch To Be or Not to Be, a comedy that has not been and will never be equaled, and Lubitsch’s films, then I don’t know what will. Lubitsch Can’t Wait, the aforementioned book, gathers nine more essays on the films of Ernst Lubitsch by renowned authors and scholars, from Slavoj Žižek, Mladen Dolar and Robert Pfaller, and not only does it firmly establish Lubitsch as one of the most important auteurs in the history of cinema and identify the style of a Lubitsch film with the film itself, but these witty, subversive and thought-provoking writings highlight Lubitsch’s comic invention and singular understanding of love, sex, comedy, politics, and life. Because just like for Lubitsch “it’s not that love is just a game, but rather that love can and ought to be playfully erotic, and becomes a mere shadow if it loses touch with seduction and uncertainty,” tragedy and comedy are both equally part of life, but we couldn’t go through life without the laughs.

Ernst Lubitsch’s comedies should require viewing today, in this sad state of spirit of our times.
 
 

“I was tired of the two established, recognized recipes,
drama with comedy relief, and comedy with dramatic relief.
I made up my mind to make a picture with no attempt
to relieve anybody from anything, at any time…”

Ernst Lubitsch about To Be or Not to Be

 
 

Lubitsch Can’t Wait, edited by Ivana Novak, Jela Krečič and Mladen Dolar,
is published by Columbia University Press

 

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This Summer We’re Channelling: The Safari Style in “Hatari!”

Elsa Martinelli’s Dallas has a front seat to the action in “Hatari!” alongside John Wayne’s Sean Mercer and Red Buttons’ Pockets.
Photo: Malabar, Paramount Pictures

 
 
What drew me to Howard Hawks’ safari film, Hatari!, in the first place was something I had read about one of the female characters, Dallas (Elsa Martinelli), having been inspired by real life wild life photographer Ylla, considered “the best animal photographer in the world”, who was killed while on the job in North India in 1955. A photographer on safari can work up my style inspiration more rapidly than all the street style photography in the world – not just the aesthetics (simple, natural, practical), but the idea that photographers are usually committed to a uniform, which says a lot about them not taking fashion seriously, but which also says a lot about them taking their work very seriously, and that’s something worth channelling.

All sorts of images came rushing into my head, from Karen Blixen’s Africa, whose books unleashed in readers a passion for Africa, to Peter Beard’s Africa, the photographer and multi-faceted artist, whose great inspiration had been Karen herself, which led to his life-long love affair with the African continent and whose life and work is inextricably linked to Africa, having become himself inspiration for other artists. Karen Blixen’s descriptions in Out of Africa are enough to set anyone daydreaming. Peter Beard’s Africa is meant to open your eyes, his longing for the wilderness of Africa serving also as an alarm signal for a disappearing world and a critical observation on the madness of mankind in the name of progress. But what about the Africa of filmmakers? What is it that drew them to Africa? What motion picture of it did they want to seize?
 

Elsa Martinelli was taken by director Howard Hawks to Brooks Brothers in New York for the wardrobe hunt.
Photo: Malabar, Paramount Pictures

 
 
It depends on the period of cinema we are referring to. In the 1950s and 1960s (the time Hatari! was made, having been preceded by John Ford’s 1953 Mogambo), it was about the adventure, the escape into another world, rugged and rustic, but romantic too. For Howard Hawks, it was about much more than that, and what he accomplished with it was much more than that.

For Hawks, it was about “a film I wanted to make for years and I wanted to make it as it was a vacation.” As Todd McCarthy analyses in his book, Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood, “it was Hawks’ realization of his lifelong urge to merge his fictional ideals with his real life, a boy’s fantasy being played out every day.” He wanted the film to feel authentic, to have everything to be expected from a real life safari adventure. Characters venturing out on perilous missions into an unpredictable and hostile world, albeit one set against an exotic and dreamy backdrop and romantic interiors – Hawks was both an outdoors man and a filmmaker who felt comfortable in highly stylised interiors. Hawks had his actors do their own stunts and their own animal-chasing (while they were filmed from moving vehicles). He didn’t even have a script to start with, but preferred to plot the story along the way, ingeniously setting out the unpredictable filmmaking conditions so that they would parallel those depicted in the animal hunts scenes in the movie. “Watching the film closely, it is easy to see that virtually all the dialogue covered in location was strictly functional and not tied to specific, unalterable dramatic developments, leaving Hawks maximum leeway to play with his plot,” observes McCarthy.

Hawks invented his own universe. He found a way to integrate actual safari footage, the kind of exciting scenes that had never been seen on screen before (offering real interaction between actors and animals), and the narrative composition. A filmed safari with the actors as its participants. “Hatari!” means “Danger!” in Swahili (Hawks would have preferred “Tanganyika”, but this had been used by Universal in 1954). Howard Hawks’ African adventure concerns an international group of freelance adventurers who are capturing animals for a Western zoo and their boss, a young woman, Brandy (Michèle Girardon), led by a hot-tempered Irishman, Sean Mercer (John Wayne), who are thrown into emotional upheaval when a woman photographer, Dallas (Elsa Martinelli), shows up. Many of the actors fell in love with Africa, Hardy Kruger ending up buying a place there, and Red Buttons (whose role provides the comic relief in the movie, in the vein of Thelma Ritter’s roles in Hitchcock’s films), a self-proclaimed city dweller, confessing that that was the location that had had the most profound effect on him.
 

As a wild life photographer, Elsa Martinelli’s Dallas puts herself in danger and the red shirt reinforces that idea.
However, Dallas soon finds out that wearing red is not advisable when you are chasing a rhino,
so she resumes to pops of red only when she’s indoors. | Photo: Malabar, Paramount Pictures

 
 
And just as safari films have always inspired to adventure, the safari clothes have played their role in that as well. Films have been the best arbiters of the safari style. The surplus safari jacket, the camp shirt, the sturdy khakis, the jodhpurs. In natural fabrics, earthy colours and with many pockets, they age well, are functional, comfortable, hard-wearing, and excellent for lightweight, summer wear, but they are inherently rugged, too, symbolic of adventure and travel. And when those clothes were worn by the greatest stars in Hollywood, their enduring appeal was ensured.

In Hatari!, men and women share spaces, professions, friendships, and safari clothes. They are equals. It’s all very natural. And it was 1962. Yes, there are sex jokes and sexist innuendos (and some may argue that John Wayne’s cinematic presence is enough to establish a traditional manly order), but men and women alike take part in it, because, my God, isn’t that part of human nature and of the seduction game? Where would we be without that? Oh, right, on this very day. Because, you see, Hawks’ approach is more effective for the status quo of equality than any modern day all-female cast movie. “Howard Hawks was also one of the first directors to show women as self-confident in a male group, even sexually aggressive,” Elsa Martinelli said in an interview for Cinema Retro magazine. He liked spirited, good-humored give-and-take between men and women and he also liked to play up his female characters’ allure while still pairing them convincingly with their male counterparts.

“Martinelli had natural, unaffected looks and a slim figure that were very much in the Hawksian mood,” says McCarthy. Remember Lauren Bacall in “To Have and Have Not”, where Bacall, only 19 at the time and in her first film role, tall, slender and playing a character shaped and named after Hawks’ wife, Slim, measured up to Bogart’s personality and was even “a little more insolent than he was”. Or Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant in His Girl Friday, the second screen adaptation of the popular stage play The Front Page, brilliantly directed by Howard Hawks, who, in a moment of inspiration, decided that the Hildy Johnson character would work better as a woman. Or again Bacall and Bogie in The Big Sleep, or Angie Dickinson and John Wayne in Rio Bravo.

In order to prepare Elsa Martinelli for her role, Hawks took her to Brooks Brothers in New York for the wardrobe hunt. Edith Head was the credited costume designer, but it seems that her contribution to the film was of little importance. Martinelli confessed that Hawks chose all the costumes for the film. “He knew perfectly what he wanted for me”, she says in the book Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood, “but spent hours thinking over what type of ensemble a photographer would wear in the heart of Africa. He went with the saleswoman to choose the clothes I was to wear, then, when I came out of the dressing room, he sat there checking everything… Only towards the evening did Hawks make up his mind”. They left the store with ten pairs of very simple safari clothes. Afterwards, they had dinner and talked and when Hawks left for California he told Martinelli: “I’m going to invent your role. Now that I’ve met you, you’ll come out much nicer than I planned.”
 

Dallas’ dresses and skirt outfits are more functional than Brandy’s, another nod to her profession.
Photo: Malabar, Paramount Pictures

 
 
“To him, the costumes were very important,” Martinelli continues. “He was always dressing the characters accordingly. Think about Montgomery Clift in Red River, he stood out. He dressed Gèrard Blain the same way (in Hatari!). He had something similar in mind for him, dressing him all in black. […] So Hawks not only chose the costumes of the females, but also of the men.” Just as he had dressed Monty Clift in black in Red River, to allow him to cut a stronger profile, Hawks realised he would have to do the same with Blain, whom he had seen in Claude Chabrol’s Les cousins and expressly wanted him for his film. “Unless I dress him up, nobody will believe he’s a big game hunter in the heart of Africa capable of stealing his best buddy’s girlfriend,” the filmmaker said.

The girlfriend is the second female character, Brandy, for whom Hawks again found inspiration in real life, a girl whose father who had been killed by a rhino, but whose African farm she then continued to lease to hunters. And he chose French actress Michèle Girardon for the part. “Attractive, open-looking, and a bit gawky, the twenty-five-year-old Girardon, who had appeared in a handful of films, including Louis Malle’s The Lovers, struck Hawks’s fancy at once, which got her the part but led to problems later on,“ McCarthy writes, referring to Girardon’s refusal to get romantically involved with the director.

But unlike Brandy, whose role among men is well established from the very beginning (she is the boss and has lived there all her life and is considered an equal), Dallas has to earn her place. She has to prove herself. And she does, as she quickly shows her value through her work, by putting herself in danger as a field photographer (her red shirt, although not a practical idea when rhino-chasing, is another way of hers of saying that she’s ready to go where the action is), and by interacting with the baby elephants.

As I was observing earlier, Hawks liked to have strong female characters on screen and to place them on the same field with men. But that didn’t mean he wanted them to be any less attractive. And it is interesting to see how obvious this is throughout the film. Women are always shown side by side with men, perfectly at ease among them, but in some scenes they are casually dressed, for the job, in masculine inspired safari attire (khakis or chinos and safari shirts or classic men’s shirts in white or light pink), whereas in other scenes they are wearing more feminine clothes, but which still elicit simplicity and a sense of adventure (be it an elegant halter neck dress, a safari dress or a skirt paired with a shirt – it is noticeable however that Dallas’ are more utilitarian than Brandy’s, another nod to her active profession). And I think this is a very sensitive touch on the part of Hawks. What he depicts here is a very modern woman, one that wants to be treated equally professionally, but who doesn’t want to forget that she’s a woman, even in the wilderness of Africa.
 

Michèle Girardon, as Brandy, is always at ease among men, whether she’s dressed in pants or dresses.
Photo: Malabar, Paramount Pictures

 
 

Howard Hawks was one of the filmmakers which the French critics from Cahiers du Cinéma eloquently voiced their support for, and, as Peter Bogdanovich said, Hawks started to receive domestic recognition only after the French discovered him. In one of the scenes in Le meprís (1963), Jean-Luc Godard referred to Hatari! by placing posters of the film in the background of shots. The film had had an ecstatic appreciation in France the previous year, especially at Cahiers du Cinéma, where it finished third in their annual poll of the best films of the year, and number one on Godard’s ballot. François Truffaut considered it to be a disguised film about the filmmaking process and a model for his own La nuit Américaine, McCarthy observes in his book. Howard Hawks was an incredibly versatile filmmaker, one who stood by his artistic vision, one whose main interest was to tell his stories, in his own way, free from social, political or Hollywood pressures, with a complete lack of sentimentality, one who established archetypes of theme and performance which still hold today, and one of the first directors to declare his independence from the major film studios. He was a modern artist, something many present day filmmakers just aren’t.
 

In Hatari!, men and women share professions, friendships, and just about every frame.
photo: Malabar, Paramount Pictures

 

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The World in My Ears

Cindrel Mountains, Romania | photo: Classiq Journal

 
 
Spending time outdoors. No matter how many times I say this and write this, I feel I don’t do it often enough. And if not in the summer, then when? Find the time, regain mindfulness, reconnect with nature, listen to the silence, breath. And in between late summer road trips, do give a listen to these three podcasts. Because culture should always find a place in our lives, it’s one of those things that are not seasonal.
 

Brad Pitt in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, 2019 | Bona Film Group, Heyday Films, Sony Pictures Entertainment

 

Soundtracking with Edith Bowman

I only discovered Edith Bowman’s podcast a little over a month ago (it has recently celebrated its third anniversary) and I’ve been diving into the archive every chance I’ve had since. Edith talks to directors, actors, writers, producers and composers about their relationship with music, both personally and professionally, and so much more. Edith Bowman knows and is passionate about film and music and her interviews are absolutely fantastic. Listening to them feels like you are exploring your favourite films with your best friend. And as if I needed another reason to love Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker and their films, now I do, after listening to the episode with Thelma. Needless to say, I am currently rewatching Scorsese’s films. The latest guest on the podcast? Quentin Tarantino. And all I can say is that it’s been a struggle resisting to listen to it until I’ve watched Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (it was just launched in Europe this weekend).
 

Photography by Racquet magazine

 

The Racquet magazine podcast

I’ve talked about my favourite tennis magazine, Racquet, before (and photographing an issue every now and then, as well as other favourite print publications, is about as personal as I will ever get on Instagram). Why I love it so much? It’s different. You won’t find any ATP and WTA rankings in its pages. No hype, no news, no nonsense. Every issue (it’s published quarterly) is an artistic endeavor, focused on great writing and original illustration (which makes it a great read not only for tennis lovers like myself) to celebrate the style, culture, aesthetic, lifestyle and class surrounding the most beautiful sport in the world. I have talked about their podcast before, too. But season two is here and it’s all good. Billie Jean King, Sam Stosur and Jim Courier have been among the latest guests, and Rennae Stubbs is a great host as usual.
 

”A Private War”, 2018 | Acacia Filmed Entertainment, Thunder Road Pictures

 

Off Camera with Sam Jones

“The best conversations should be unconventional, surprising and sometimes just downright weird,” says Sam Jones. The kind of conversation that can only happen when you are face to face with someone. Sam Jones, the host of Off Camera, another podcast I’ve arrived late on (I had actually come across it before, but have rediscovered it now when searching for an interview with Dave Grohl) interviews actors, artists, musicians, skateboarders, photographers and writers, and his conversations flow naturally, casually, and they bring the best out of his guests – one of the latest episodes was with Rosamund Pike, and, after having just watched A Private War, it was great having an insight into the development of her character, Marie Colvin. But first and foremost, it’s Sam’s commitment to doing things his own way that I find very inspiring about this podcast. “As much as I have tried to create a multi-platform technologically relevant episodic blogpodzine, I am really just using new tools to do the same thing I have always done; which is follow my interests, and try to get in the room with some really interesting people.” In other words, he is making technology work to his and his public’s benefit. He sticks to doing long form style interviews. I salute that.

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Movies of Summer


 
Maybe it is the way it captures the suspended reality of summer, or how it evokes a special childhood memory, or the way it makes you succumb to chance and to the languid summer magic, or its ability to transport you to another time and world that have nothing to do with a summer escape. It can be more about a mindset than about a place, it can bottle a sense of endless possibility and far-flung adventures as well as hidden depths. A summer movie can have a different meaning for each one of us, but one thing I can say for sure. The films you will find below do not fall in the category of fleeting summer entertainment. They are the kind of films that linger with you long after you’ve watched them and which may even accompany you throughout the years. Eight of my favourite creatives from around the world talk about their favourite summer movie.

 
 

Roma (2018), directed by Alfonso Cuarón

Lisa Bergstrand, founder and creative director A New Sweden

“Roma”, 2018 | Esperanto Filmoj, Participant Media, Netflix

 
My choice is Roma, directed by Alfonso Cuarón. It’s both a tragic and beautiful story about the many faces of love. Set in Mexico City in the 70’s, this black and white film brings you into another time and life. Very touching, and also inspiring architecture and style, with a surprisingly clean touch.

 
 
 

Before Sunrise (1995), directed by Richard Linklater

Gabriel Solomons, founder, editor and designer Beneficial Shock! magazine

“Before Sunrise”, 1995 | Castle Rock Entertainment

 
I rarely cry in life, but films often release the waterworks. I also seem to be more of a romantic in the dark confines of a cinema. It’s the screen, the all enveloping story and my willingness to submit.

Before Sunrise is simple in concept – two young Euro-travellers meet, talk, walk, fall in love and then reluctantly resume their separate onward journeys – but profound in execution, due to the detailed focus on dialogue and heightened emotional build-up that seems so familiar to anyone that has ever experienced a summer romance. All the stages of a blossoming love are witnessed in real time as Jessie (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) glide through the city of Vienna, exploring each other’s identities, exchanging personal philosophies and establishing a foundation for what will become a lasting relationship.

As a standalone film, the ending is left perfectly poised with hope that these two soulmates will indeed meet in 6 months time at the same Viennese train platform as is their plan, but as part of a trilogy (so far?), we know that the journey will be more authentically true to life’s uncertain path – all of which makes this first instalment so bittersweet.

 
 
 

A River Runs Through It (1992), directed by Robert Redford

Francisca Mattéoli, author and travel writer

“A River Runs Through It”, 1992 | Allied Filmmakers, Wildwood Enterprises

 
I’ll say A River Runs Through It, directed by Robert Redford. Norman McLean wrote the book when he was 74 – quite an achievement. Most of the fly fishing scenes were filmed on the wonderful Gallatin River in Southern Montana, in June and July. The scenery is gorgeous, the story extremely touching. It made me want to visit Montana and write about it in my book, “Adventure Hotel Stories”.

 
 
 

Stealing Beauty (1996), directed by Bernardo Bertolucci

Heidi Wellington, writer

“Stealing Beauty”, 1996 | Fiction, France 2 Cinéma

 
The first movie that came to mind when I thought of favourite summer movies was Bernardo Bertolucci’s Stealing Beauty. For me, this movie embodies all the wonderful things about summer. True, there is no beach, but there is the beautiful scenery that is Tuscany, the colours captured in Daruis Khondji’s stunning cinematography. Afternoon siestas, lazing by the pool, the music of Mozart floating over the sound of cicadas, summer nights, art, food, great conversation, an amazing ensemble cast, a hypnotic soundtrack. Perfection.

 
 
 

Le temps des gitans (1988), directed by Emir Kusturica

Delphine Jouandeau, photographer

“Les temps de gitans”, 1988 | Forum Sarajevo, Ljubavny Film, Lowndes Productions Limited

 
Le temps des gitans from Emir Kusturica is my favorite summer movie. It transports you through its visual and sound power. Everything is there, the sad, the burlesque poetry, the abjection. This film exults a particular energy, magic… It’s a summer movie from the light it transmits.

 
 
 

Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953), directed by Jacques Tati

Tony Stella, illustrator

“Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot”, 1953 | Discina Film, Cady Films, Specta Films

 
From the opening notes of Alain Romans’ score, I am immediately transported to a blissful childhood nostalgia. Summer, Sun, Sea and Tati’s timeless observation of the human character. In 1953, it was Tati’s second film and the first introduction of “Monsieur Hulot” – also my first Tati film. It is forever linked to the time it was shown to me by my Parents – laughing together recognising others and ourselves on summer vacation – rushing to the wrong platform mislead by the unintelligible station information. The world of Monsieur Hulot was still visible in my childhood; I am afraid it is now gone forever, but, because of his genius, I’ve become a Monsieur Hulot myself refusing to let go – always trying to put the fallen brick back on the crumbled wall… I am forever indebted to Jacques Tati and Pierre Étaix whose posters and illustrations shaped my work even beyond the film.

 
 
 

The Before trilogy, directed by Richard Linklater

Nadya Zim, photographer

“Before Midnight”, 2013 | Faliro House Productions, Venture Forth, Castle Rock Entertainment

 
My summer movie or actually movies are Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), Before Midnight (2013). All three movies are one big amazing story of love and relationship through time and outside of technology. Something that nobody has a luxury to experience in modern day. The movie was also shot through time with the same actors, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. Richard Linklater is a genius director because he knows what real is. The story is about love, real love, complicated love. Plus, the location is romantic Europe. What else do we need during summertime?

 
 
 

The Knick, Seasons 1 and 2, directed by Steven Soderbergh

Mary Jo Matsumoto, painter and sculptor

“The Knick”, 2014 | Anonymous Content

 
I don’t have a go-to summer movie, but I can’t recommend Steven Soderbergh’s The Knick (Season 1 and Season 2) enough! It’s better than any film I’ve seen in years and somehow I missed it when it came out in 2014-2015. The story tackles the violent, backward corrupt world of racial segregation, bigotry, elitism, poverty and sexual mores of 1900. The religious and racial issues are sadly still very relevant and modern. Soderbergh shot and directed season 1 – 20 hours of lavish costume drama – in less time than it would take to shoot one big movie. And Season 2 is even better!

It’s a bow to Orson Welles with up-close (he’s wheeled on a small platform so he can move in and out among his actors) hand-held takes that go on forever and capture expressions in a way that’s haunting. Soderbergh had his sets pre-lit so the actors didn’t have to wait around and could power through whole scenes at full boil. Plus, film nerds like myself can appreciate the low-light capacity of the digital camera he used to pay homage to candlelight scenes in the vein of Barry Lyndon. All that aside, it’s the character development that hooked me. I’ve loved Clive Owen since Croupier, and his cocaine-shooting brilliant Dr. Thackery anti-hero is as good as it gets. Eve Hewson as nurse Lucy Elkins had a character arc that blew me away. Andre Holland as the African-American surgeon, Dr. Algernon Edwards, brought me to tears almost every episode. Even the smaller characters are great – a nun who performs abortions, a beautiful woman who lost part of her face to Syphilis, a doctor whose theories foreshadow Nazi propaganda. It will definitely take you to another world, so it’s my vote for good summer late-night entertainment.

Posted by classiq in Film | | 1 Comment