Thursday, July 16, 2009

"THIS MOVIE IS TRYING TO BREAK YOUR HEART": Seitz and Morgan on In a Lonely Place


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.

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14 comments:

Ryan Kelly said...

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.

Alas, Film Forum only technichally qualifies as "the big screen". It's about the size of the screen at my college, and if you don't sit in the front row, it hardly feels hardly like being in a movie theater. If it weren't for the fact that they, on principle, don't show anything but brand new, stunning 35mm prints of the movies they exhibit, it would hardly be worth the trip.

Meanwhile, NY needs to devote a million of its nicest screens to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Bruno. Sigh. Even The Ziegfeld, by far the nicest theater I've ever been to, hardly ever shows anything worthwhile (though I got to see the likes of 2001, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lawrence of Arabia and Blade Runner there).

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Disappointing to hear that, Ryan. The Bing at LACMA here is a great place to see revival screenings-- huge screen, big auditorium. I saw Carrie and Dressed to Kill there, and I came out thinking they were the greatest movies the world had ever produced. The Nuart is very good too, though they are a premier art house these days and very rarely, except at midnights and on re-release occasions, show any classics. And the New Beverly, which had been pretty run-down in the past, upgraded their screen and sound system in the past few years, and right now it's as good a place to see a great film as anywhere in the city-- I saw La Dolce Vita there last week, and the print was sparkling, as was the presentation.

What is the Ziegfeld showing these days? They're on Transformers or Harry Potter, I suppose. I've always heard about that place, but the three times I've been to New York I never had a chance to go there.

Oh, and by the way, how was Dodgers/Mets last week? I was watching the games, but I didn't see you! :)

Flickhead said...

Another drawback to Film Forum are these huge columns that hold up the ceiling. They can be a real distraction if you're sitting in the wrong place.

I know I'm in the minority here, but aren't these video essays proof positive that copyright has become virtually meaningless?

Dennis Cozzalio said...

"Virtually" meaningless, perhaps, insofar as enforcement of copyright laws may have necessarily become more selective in the face of the proliferation of imagery on the Internet. I'd like to think that authorities could tell the difference between the way Matt and others use these kinds of images and someone simply offering them up for downloading and duplication, but maybe whether they could or couldn't would make no difference.

It would be a good question to throw open to Matt, if he happens along here: What is your approach, legally, to the clips you employ, Matt, and have you encountered much resistance to that usage? I would imagine that the affiliation with the Museum of the Moving Image would mean that the legality of this kind of work would be covered.

Matt Zoller Seitz said...

Dennis: "I'd like to think that authorities could tell the difference between the way Matt and others use these kinds of images and someone simply offering them up for downloading and duplication, but maybe whether they could or couldn't would make no difference."

Actually, they can't tell the difference and aren't interested in telling the difference. According to veteran copyright lawyers I've consulted since beginning to work in this form, the stuff I do is a textbook example of work that falls under the "Fair Use" exemptions of copyright law, which allows the reproduction of passages from copyrighted work (including audio and video) for purposes of commentary, criticism, satire or education. There isn't a court in the United States that would side with somebody who formally sued me over any of my video essays.

Matt Zoller Seitz said...

CONTINUED:


However, the problem is, the big media companies that own these clips (and the music underlying scenes in a film) don't formally sue guys like me because they don't want to set a precedent that could open the floodgates to more of the same. So they take the backdoor route offered by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which states that if a copyright holder complains to a service such as YouTube (or a search engine like Google) that somebody has used their work without permission, that work must automatically be taken down. The person who created the work can appeal -- and I have successfully appealed three takedown notices on YouTube in the past year. When you file a dispute with the service that removed the work, they forward it to the complainant, who has two weeks to file formal legal notice. If no action is taken, the work must be restored.

However, even that provision has now become meaningless. I have a YouTube page, but it represents a pretty small fraction of the video essay output I've done since starting to work in this format last spring (probably 6 hours, total, and dozens of pieces). The reason there isn't more work up there is because, starting in January of this year, there were many instances where I uploaded a video essay published by the Museum of the Moving Image or The L Magazine and got an email from YouTube saying, in effect, "This work can't be published here because it contains copyrighted material." Sometimes it's a clip from a movie, sometimes a piece of music used in a movie.

That I never use video or audio from anything that's not directly related to the subject being discussed or explained doesn't matter, because the identification is done automatically by Internet-scouring software looking for copyrighted work, and the emails from YouTube are issued automatically in response to notifications generated by that same software. There is no human judgment at any point in the process. And YouTube now makes it impossible to even dispute a takedown: if you send them an email saying the work is protected under fair use, they send an automatically generated email back directing you to a page of YouTube saying you can't upload copyrighted material. Ironically and maddeningly, YouTube still has a section up on their site explaining Fair Use and telling you how to dispute a takedown notice, but now that, for all intents and purposes, disputes are tossed in the virtual garbage without being read, filing a dispute is a waste of time.

I'm not particularly concerned about any of this, though. The Museum of the Moving Image hosts its own videos and has told me they consider the work that I (and my friend Kevin Lee) do for them to be protected speech. Nobody can force them to take down anything.

As for The L, they upload my work (and other L-commissioned videos produced by freelancers) through BlipTV, a smaller rival of YouTube that isn't as indiscriminate and strict as YouTube. It's entirely possible that if BlipTV (or other similar services) get as big as YouTube and as cozy with big media companies, they'll adopt a similar zero tolerance approach, in which case The L (and guys like me) will have to either pick a newer, smaller service to host the videos or else host them on our own server (like the Museum).

I'm going to have to cross that bridge when I come to it, because right now the video essay has become the central aspect of my life as a filmmaker and journalist, and I've got to hit those deadlines before I can worry about larger legal/philosophical issues.

Flickhead said...

Hey, my bad: I'm just going by the words at the beginning of the DVD where it says you can't copy it in whole or in part.

Matt Zoller Seitz said...

Flickhead: The warning's supposed to make people think it's absolute, but there are legal exemptions -- and of course the copyright owners would love for people not to know that.

I get asked to explain this a lot, as you can probably tell.

Ryan Kelly said...

Oh, that series stank to high heaven, Dennis. I did want to go, because I wanted to see The Dodgers,but I didn't want to pay 50 dollars for my seats and 20 dollars for parking to see The Mets B-Squad, who seem to be content with being passive losers and then turning around and blaming it on their injuries. And fine, they've been plagued with injuries... but when you don't make anything happen at the plate, when the pitching is bad, and when they make mistakes in the field... something's gotta give. I'll go if/when the start to tighten up their game and/or when they get some of their guys back. Plus, I'm waiting on my 21st birthday so I can have a lot of fun at the game!

As for Ray, even though I somewhat disparaged Film Forum I'll probably go. I saw Bigger than Life there earlier in the year, and it's not something I've been able to shake (and, for whatever un-Godly reason, it's not on R1) and I would love to see it again.

And, as for the copyright thing--- has anyone pushed the criticism medium forward in the same way Matt has? Our copyright laws are ass-backwards and archaic in so many ways, and the fact that there is plenty of copyrighted material on YouTube as we speak, yet Matt's critical appreciations of films gets the boot from YouTube, is proof positive of how this indiscriminate enforcement of archaic laws doesn't work.

Ryan Kelly said...

Oh, and with respect to The Ziegfeld, last time I was there they said they were looking to do their classics series again. That would be great, as there isn't anything of note playing there until Inglorious Basterds in August. On the plus side, a local theatre here in New Jersey runs a "Big Screen Classics" series--- and I got to see North by Northwest and the '33 King Kong because of it. It's not all a bust, but the NY revival scene is pretty damn dismal, especially considering this city is allegedly (read: pretends to be) the cultural apex of America. Whenever you talk about all the movies you get to see over in LA, Dennis, I admit I get extremely jealous.

Bob Westal said...

I wonder how what Matt is saying here applies to something like "Los Angeles Plays Itself" which apparently is only legal to show in non-profit venues, if I understand correctly.

And I did see "Party Girl" on the big screen at the Egyptian a while back. I'm a big N. Ray fan (can't wait to have a moment to watch Matt's video essay) but this one is a not a favorite. Still, a movie you want to see once if you're fan, and for what's there, the big screen is definitely best.

Matt Zoller Seitz said...

Bob: "I wonder how what Matt is saying here applies to something like "Los Angeles Plays Itself" which apparently is only legal to show in non-profit venues, if I understand correctly."

Same thing. The clips weren't cleared, and in theory the distributors could go after the filmmaker, but because he's small potatoes (and has only played nonprofit venues) apparently nobody has felt strongly enough to call lawyers.

Michael Rappaport's half-documentary, half-dramatic features (excellent and fascinating, by the way) have found themselves in the same boat.

Matt Zoller Seitz said...

I meant to say Mark Rappaport, duh. Somehow I can't picture Michael Rappaport directing "Rock Hudson's Home Movies."

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