Some of you may have noticed a slowdown in the output of video essays for the SDP project this month – now you get to watch part of the reason. Happy to report that the Moving Image Source posted the first two entries of a five part series of video essays that Matt Zoller Seitz, Andrew Dignan and I produced titled “The Wire and the Art of the Credits Sequence.” Each video examines the credits sequence from each of the five seasons of HBO’s The Wire.
One of the seminal works of 20th century musical theatre gets a lavish cinematic reworking by G.W. Pabst (Pandora’s Box). Perhaps more than Bertolt Brecht’s infamous libretto or Kurt Weill’s song score, the standouts of this production are Andrej Andrejew’s lush, atmospheric Victorian production design and Fritz Arlo Wagner’s masterful camerawork, featuring some of the most elaborate and expressive tracking shots attempted in early sound cinema. But the majority of Weill’s music is regrettably omitted to accommodate expository scenes whose poorly recorded sound deadens the proceedings, despite Pabst and Wagner’s envelope-pushing efforts to add cinematic movement to dialogue. Pabst’s blending of naturalistic period detail with expressionist shadows creates a seductive subterranean reality, lays the groundwork for film noir, but its allure runs counter to the disconcerting, confrontational unreality of the Brecthian aesthetic. The one element that runs counter to the proceedings is Lotte Lenya as Jenny, whose aloof presence injects a disruptive counterrythm to the Pabst’s clockwork choreography of the frame. She singlehandedly offers a Brechtian rebuttal to the impeccable prestige picture trappings that surround her.
I’ve been corresponding with the editor of a film magazine about my project, leading him to go through the list to see how many he had seen. His tally: 994. The only six films he hasn’t seen: Pakeeezah, My Neighbor Tortroro, Hart of London, the Iranian Still Life by Salesss, Ghatak’s Subarnareka, and Kaagaz ke Phool. As far as I know this is the closest anyone on record has come to seeing all 1000 films on the list. (Though I’m in no hurry to ask Richard Pena).
The film magazine editor prefers to go unnamed because he doesn’t want to be quizzed on the 994 films he claims to have seen. He writes, “Seeing them doesn’t mean you have photographic recall of scenes and details…I recently chatted with Glenn Kenny at a friend’s birthday party and he was going on about crane shots at the end of “The Gang’s All Here.” Although I saw that film about 20 years ago, I certainly didn’t remember the crane shots.”
My video essay on The Hour of the Star will be screening Sunday night at 9PM at the New York Asian American International Film Festival, as part of the program “I Heart WKW” (funny, as I was dumping on WKW to a colleague just the other day):
“If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then these films are pure adoration. All they’re missing are the doe-eyed popstars, which are as much Wong Kar-Wai’s cinematic signature as his visually saturated films about unrequited love. In the mix are nods to other influential films and filmmakers, such as MOMMY DEAREST and the Coen brothers. LONG DISTANCE, PASSAGE, SHOOTING DOWN PICTURES #902 (43): HOUR OF THE STAR, HULAHOOP SOUNDINGS, RICH TRADITIONS, MY BROTHER’S KEEPER, and THE POSTCARD.”