It doesn’t seem that long ago that some of us were wringing our hands over Matt Zoller Seitz’s decision to leave the world of print criticism and begin a new phase in his life as a filmmaker a little over a year ago. Well, Matt has been busy not only making films but forging a new path for himself in visually oriented film criticism through a series of video essays created for the Museum of the Moving Image’s online magazine Moving Image Source. He’s done excellent exegeses on the films of Wes Anderson, as well as part five of a soon-to-be completed five-part series on Michael Mann. Part four, created in collaboration with Aaron Aradillas, San Antonio film critic and host of the Internet radio show Back by Midnight, digs into the director’s 1985 adaptation of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon which Mann retitled Manhunter. According to Matt, the essay is “the most ambitious video essay I've done, in terms of visual analysis and filmmaking technique -- the last half plays out the bloody climax of Manhunter" at full-length, with text annotations.” Matt has also done great pieces on David Fincher and Budd Boetticher, and all of his previous work can be found here. If ever a click were well worth it, it is this one.
But, as Ron Popeil was fond of saying, that’s not all. Matt recently collaborated with another old friend of mine, film critic and film noir specialist Kim Morgan, on a video essay adaptation of one of Kim’s pieces on Nicholas Ray’s haunting and haunted romance of desperation and anger, In a Lonely Place (1950), entitled ”This Movie is Trying to Break Your Heart”. If you haven’t seen Ray’s movie in a while you’ll go to it immediately after you see Kim and Matt’s piece and experience it with fresh eyes, and if you just saw it again recently, the essay will make you feel like the movie is embedded in your soul, so vivid and sharp are the observations and contrapuntal images from this great, perhaps under-appreciated movie, which Matt chooses with such understanding and intuitive strength. It is becoming increasingly fascinating and satisfying to watch Matt gain momentum in this relatively new way of looking at movies, as he carves out a perspective and format that is particularly well suited to becoming a central pylon in the bridge that spans the worlds of print and the emerging dominance of online reading and creating of intelligent, multi-layered and challenging film criticism. And it’s very moving to hear Kim’s voice reading her own heartfelt words on the fearful groping of Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame as they navigate the doomed geography of Ray’s bitter, and bitterly romantic movie. I wrote last week of the world that film blogging has opened up to me, and I am very lucky that both of these writers are people I can count among my short list of personal friends—they have enriched my real worlds as much as they continue to enrich my understanding of the delicacies, terrors, joys and contradictions inherent in the true, deep appreciation of the movies. I’m lucky to know them, and we are all lucky to get to see Nicholas Ray through their eyes.
If you’re in New York, “This Movie is Trying to Break Your Heart” is the perfect lead-in or accompaniment to Film Forum’s upcoming series on the cinema of Nicholas Ray, which commences tomorrow, July 17, and carries over the next two weeks through August 6. The series opens with, of course, In a Lonely Place, which plays for one week, and continues with Bigger than Life (1956) (July 24-25); Johnny Guitar (1954) (July 26-27); Born to Be Bad (July 27); On Dangerous Ground (1952) and A Woman’s Secret (1949) (July 28), They Live by Night (1949) and Knock On Any Door (1949) (July 30); Wind Across the Everglades (1958) (July 30); Rebel Without a Cause (1955) (July 31-Aug. 3); Bitter Victory (1957) and Hot Blood (1956) (Aug. 4); The Lusty Men (1952) and The True Story of Jesse James (1957) (Aug. 5); and Cyd Charisse in Party Girl (1958) (Aug. 6).
Would it be too greedy to hope that this series might hit the road and find its way to a few places west of the Mississippi? All of these are unmissable, but to see Johnny Guitar and Party Girl on the big screen, and of course In A Lonely Place, would be movie manna from heaven. (Bigger than Life will, in fact, open a two-week series of the films of James Mason tomorrow night in Los Angeles at the County Museum’s Bing Theater.)
Again, thanks to Matt and Kim for bringing a little taste of the Film Forum to us with your video essay.