Welcome everyone to another issue of Senses of Cinema, our last for 2020. The year has certainly not panned out the way anyone could have predicted 12 months ago. The COVID pandemic is still raging across the world. While many East Asian nations, New Zealand and parts of Australia are returning to some semblance of normality, Europe is presently being struck by a second wave that threatens to be even more widespread than the first, and the ongoing situation in the United States is exacerbated by that country’s political dysfunction. Our own base of Melbourne entered 100 days of lockdown this weekend, and debate is swirling around when the city can loosen its restrictions on social contact. The effects of the virus will surely be with us for a long time to come.
There are plenty of reasons to be depressed. The parlous state of the film industry at present – with cinemas closing down, festivals mostly still operating in digital-mode and the very possibility of making new films in a state of extreme uncertainty – only makes the outlook gloomier. But the cinema is also a source of joy and wonder. It has been ever since the Lumières paraded their devices in the cafés and fairgrounds of France, and it is so now more than ever, even if we are constrained to take in moving images on screens in our homes. One of the chief ways in which a film can instill a pure sense of emotion in the spectator is through music. Cinema has long been recognised as a synthetic art: incorporating elements of other art forms into a brew of sensations. But with music, this synthesis can become something like alchemy. In the hands of a gifted director, the choice to add a certain piece of music to a given scene can turn something whose constituent parts are nothing out of the ordinary into aesthetic gold, resplendent, thrilling, unforgettable. In our main dossier for the present issue, a selection of Senses regulars pen dedications to their own cinematic love songs, pieces of pop music used in films that have struck a personal note with them. Whether it’s old standards like “La Mer” in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and “My Girl” in Father of the Bride, rediscovered gems like “Jaan pehechaan ho” in the Bollywood thriller Gumnaam, or more recent hits like Jay-Z and Linkin Park’s “Numb/Encore” (as featured in Michael Mann’s Miami Vice) or Rihanna’s “Diamonds” (in Céline Sciamma’s Bande de filles), these songs have all resonated with these critics long after they finished watching the film, and we’re sure you’ll have your own playlist to add to them.
Elsewhere in this issue, things get a little less breezy. Zoë Almeida Goodall explores the theme of claustrophobia in American director Alex Ross Perry’s Queen of Earth and Her Smell, while Laleen Jayamanne looks at the legacy of the Stolen Generation and pedagogy in Indigenous communities in two very disparate films: Baz Luhrmann’s big-budget blockbuster Australia and Maya Newell’s observational documentary In My Blood it Runs. The work of feminist auteurs is explored in Catherine Putman’s response to Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff and Luise Mörke’s look back at Barbara Loden’s Wanda. Two fascinating and underseen mid-length films are explored: Andrew Brooks takes a penetrating look at the legacy of Amiri Baraka and the film, The New-Ark, and Steffanie Ling considers the idea of leisure in Tulapop Saenjaroen’s People on Sunday. Mexican filmmaker Salvador Carrasco (La otra conquista) writes a detailed pledge to appreciate the controversial film The Painted Bird (Václav Marhoul, 2019), comparing it to the great Soviet film Come and See, and highlighting the brutal yet powerful way in which the film depicts human complexity and cruelty. In “Criminals Against Decoration: Modernism as a Heist”, Andy Reischling revisits Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1966 film, Le Samouraï, focusing on the minimalist sets and modernist vibe in the narrative and its cinematic spaces.
Filmmaker interviews this issue include prolific Canadian experimentalist Mike Hoolboom (by Dirk De Bruyn), Austrian filmmaker Sandra Wollner (by Alison Taylor), whose film The Trouble with Being Born was the centre of controversy in Australia recently, and American filmmaking duo Paul Felten and Joe DeNardo (by Michelle Carey) on their debut film, Slow Machine.
We have the first in-cinema festival coverage since our March issue: Leonardo Goi on FIDMarseille and Roger Macy on Cinema Ritrovato. While Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (on Toronto), Jake Pitre (on New York) and Maria Giovanna Vagenas (on Locarno’s Open Doors selection) all write on the online experience of those festivals.
In the Great Directors section, Jeremy Carr explores the career of the late Tony Scott. Generally disregarded as a mere Hollywood artisan, Scott created, nevertheless, a complex audiovisual grammar that elated the action film genre into new artistic heights. As well, Brendan Black pays a very timely tribute to the late Jiří Menzel, one of the defining voices of the Czechoslovak New Wave, with a comprehensive overview of his artistic and thematic concerns and a detailed analysis of Menzel’s key films including Closely Observed Trains, winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1967. And book reviews this issue respond to Hermann Kappelhoff’s take on the effects of World War II on Hollywood directors in The Front Lines of Community (in dialogue with the Netflix series Five Came Back), Michael Leonard’s new monograph on Philippe Garrel, and Lee Grieveson’s magisterial Cinema and the Wealth of Nations.
Although the Melbourne Cinémathèque season is currently on hiatus due to COVID, we continue to publish CTEQ Annotations on the films that would have otherwise screened. In this issue, we focus on Kiarostami (continued from last issue), the fascinating “Osterns and Red Westerns” and the ever-gripping and marvellous films of Youssef Chahine.
Lastly, this issue we farewell our wonderful colleague, co-editor and webmaster, Bradley Dixon. Thank you Bradley for everything you have done for Senses over the last few years! We are also excited to welcome to the editorial team Amanda Barbour, who additionally helped out significantly with webmastering this issue.