Welcome back! Honestly, it’s like you were never gone. We certainly weren’t: we’re already hard at work on the first shows of the new year, and we have some great stuff coming up. Really, you should hit subscribe as soon as possible. If you’ve already subscribed, you should unsubscribe and then immediately resubscribe just for the endorphine rush.
To kick it all off, we’re excited to announce that the first episode for 2018 will feature Dr Eloise Ross!
Eloise is a writer, critic and academic based in Melbourne. She received a PhD in cinema studies from LaTrobe University, and has contributed to Senses of Cinema, Overland, Kill Your Darlings, The Guardian, and many others. She’s a programmer with the Melbourne Cinématèque, she’s talked film on ABC Radio National and Triple R, and is one of the hosts of the Cultural Capital podcast. But, as with all achievements, these were simply a prelude to life’s greatest pinnacle: Hell Is For Hyphenates guest host.
So which filmmaker has Eloise chosen to talk about on the show?
None other than Robert Wise!
Wise began his career as a sound and music editor for RKO in the 1930s. He soon moved on to film editing, and received an Oscar nominated for his work on Citizen Kane (1941). After filling in for Orson Welles on reshoots for The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Wise became a director, and soon gained a reputation as a reliable studio hand with films such as The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945) and the seminal real-time boxing drama The Set-Up (1949).
He was the sort of multi-talented director who could switch between genres without breaking a sweat, working in drama, comedy, science fiction, horror, romance, and war pictures. He is perhaps best known for delivering some of cinema’s most enduring and iconic moments in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), West Side Story (1961), and The Sound of Music (1965).
But what is it about the work of Robert Wise that so appeals to Eloise?
Despite all evidence to the contrary, that was a year. Sure, democracy, the environment, and all societal structures collapsed around us, but across the world there was universal agreement that some good had come out of 2017: Hell Is For Hyphenates and that video of Agnès Varda dancing with Angelina Jolie at the 2017 Governors Awards. And we agree.
At Hyphenates HQ we had our second ever changing of the guard, as Sophie departed and Rochelle joined. We skirted briefly into ripped-from-the-headlines territory as Sophie attended the Asghar Farhadi protest screening of The Salesman in Leicester Square and shared the audio of the speeches after we looked back at Farhadi’s career. We also managed to achieve a long-time goal, finally featuring a guest who had also been a subject, with this one-two hit happening in successive months.
And we don’t mean to brag, but did you check out the lineup of guests this year?
Scott Weinberg runs down his favourite horror films of 2017 at Thrillist.
Paul Anthony Nelson crafts an extensive detailed look back at the films of 2017, featuring his top twenty films, his unearthed treasures, and a whole lot more besides, at his website Cinema Viscera.
Rochelle goes into more detail about her favourite films of the year as she runs down her eleven favourites of 2017 at It’s Always Better in the Dark.
Lee’s rundown of his 15 favourite films of the year, plus an unnecessarily thorough list of every film he watched in 2017, can be found on his website.
And here are some best ofs from filmmakers we’ve discussed on the show: John Waters reveals his typically eclectic and always fascinating top ten of the year; Indiewire features a collation of many directors’ favourite films, with contributions from Guillermo Del Toro and Pedro Almódovar; Steven Soderbergh lists everything he’s seen and read in 2017 at Extension 765.
End of Year Lists: Media/Broadcast
The Triple R film criticism radio show/podcast Plato’s Cave presented the favourite films of 2017 as chosen by Hi4H alum Thomas Caldwell, Cerise Howard, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Emma Westwood.
Garth Franklin made a short video montage of his best films of the year for his website Dark Horizons.
SOPHIE, ROCHELLE AND LEE LOOK BACK ON HYPHENATES IN 2017
Top five Hi4H film discoveries (that you hadn’t seen before)?
Sophie: I want to squeeze in a late 2016 pick, because (weirdly) I lean Lean: The Sound Barrier, a 1952 frippery about airplane manufacture, has really stayed with me, for its perfect encapsulation of the assertion of a post-war Englishness resealing around the disturbance of WWII. Call it Brexit nostalgia goggles for the time that the UK had an industry of any sort, but the verve of what could really have just been an industrial training film has lingered and charmed.
Things Behind the Sun (2001), Allison Anders’ most devastating film. I thought I’d seen all of Anders, being a huge fan, but this one – starring Kim Dickens, whose gallery of TV vulnerable tough gals (Deadwood, Treme) had already endeared her to me – seared my eyelids off. It’s extraordinary. If there were ever a film that should be revived as part of the “#metoo” moment, it’s this drama about truth and reconciliation after rape. Double bill it with Ida Lupino’s Outrage (1950) to realise that women have been telling the truth about sexual violence since long before Taylor Swift…
Loaching for January really set the tone for the Trump/Brexitageddon. One we didn’t talk about too much on the podcast but has really stayed with me is Hidden Agenda (1990), not that this year has made me paranoid or anything. Not only does it have the most raffle-in-a-hat cast of all time (Brad Dourif AND Mai Zetterling?! Cult heaven), but it’s dogged determination to uncover one small truth that stands in for the larger corruption of British imperialism just seems to fit 2017. We need more filmmaking like it. Plus I’d already seen my other fave, the sweeter-natured Carla’s Song, a few times…
Props to brilliant critic Tina Hassannia for introducing us to Asghar Farhadi’s pre-About Elly films, especially the twisty Fireworks Wednesday (2006), with its exquisite glass elevator shot and star-making turn by to-be-regular Farhadi performer Taraneh Alidoosti as impressionistic cleaner Rouhi, who becomes an awkward go-between for a warring couple, while pursuing her own romantic dreams. It was a great precursor screening for The Salesman, in which Farhadi similarly leads us into the intimate spaces of the Tehrani middle-class as they rub up against the lives of workers.
The whole existence of Everett de Roche had not really established itself in my mind, despite having seen Not Quite Hollywood, so June was a generally bewildering deep dive into a whole film culture and practice that reminded me just how little I know about cinema, and how many hidden treats remain in local indie film cultures.
Mad Max (George Miller, 1979) – Believe it or not, I’d never watched this all the way through before.
Knife in the Water (Roman Polanski, 1962)
We Won’t Grow Old Together (Maurice Pialat, 1972)
Rocky (Sylvester Stallone, 1976)
Rambo: First Blood (Ted Kotcheff, 1982)
Lee: I’m going to try to keep to one-film-per-filmmaker, which may be tricky given there were a lot of filmmakers this year whose stuff I was already pretty familiar with. I definitely would have included some Asghar Farhadi, Wes Anderson and Jean-Pierre Jeunet if I wasn’t already a fan. Nonetheless, here are my five best brand-new-for-me discoveries:
Kes (Ken Loach, 1969)
Things Behind the Sun (Allison Anders, 2001)
Road Games (Everett De Roche, 1981)
Rocky (Sylvester Stallone, 1976)
Under the Sun of Satan (Maurice Pialat, 1987)
(And yes, due to the format of the show, I felt like conferring authorship upon the artist whose career we examined, which is not always the director. Don’t @ me.)
These are the titles that stuck with the most this year, the works I couldn’t shake. I don’t think Things Behind the Sun is necessarily my favourite Allison Anders film (what up, Grace of My Heart), but it’s the one that I’ve thought about the most since seeing it. I can’t get it out of my head.
Which new filmmakers to emerge in 2017 are you most excited about?
Sophie: Yance Ford, director of Strong Island, my documentary of the year, and the eight filmmakers who made Waru, my fiction feature of the year. It is incredible that these are (in various, sometimes complex senses) debut films – and testament to how hard it is for filmmakers of colour to reach the screen with a feature project that gets any kind of distribution. Their work, its intensity and its global reach, are all exciting to me.
Ford was a producer at the documentary series POV, and many of the Waru crew had worked as screenwriters (particularly the terrific Briar Grace Smith) or in production (like Ainsley Gardiner and Chelsea Cohen, who both produced for Taika Waititi) or in TV (like Casey Kaa and – for me, the standout – Paula Jones) or theatre (like Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu, also outstanding). These talented filmmakers with tons of experience needed that one opportunity, and did they ever take it.
Strong Island and Waru both speak to the excitement possible when dedicated film funding finds its way to serious new talents with something incredible to say. Watch their films, and support them to make more.
Rochelle: Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut Lady Bird is really impressive. Can’t wait to see what she does next. So too, Jordan Peele’s Get Out was inventive and fun. Macon Blair’s I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore was uneven and weird, but also fresh, thoughtful and surprising.
Lee: Jordan Peele’s encyclopaedic knowledge of genre conventions and clichés was part of what made Key and Peele the best sketch show in living memory, and the feature film Keanu (which he co-wrote and co-starred in alongside Keegan-Michael Key) was an underrated joy. But even knowing all that, were we really prepared for the greatness of his directorial debut Get Out? It confidently riffed on classic horror tropes, boasted an aesthetic that was somehow classical and subversive at once, and had the unfakeable energy that comes when a filmmaker is burning up with something to say.
Now jump back a few years to when the films of Noah Baumbach sharply improved, at roughly the same time Greta Gerwig appeared as his key collaborator. As star, as muse, and most importantly as co-writer, she was the noticeable ingredient that made his films click the way they’d always promised to, so it’s hardly surprising that her debut as director should be so assured, confident, and note-perfect. The coming-of-age tale Lady Bird is deceptively complex, consistently funny, and never inauthentic. If we could get a new film from Gerwig each year from now until the end of time, I would be grateful.
A debut that impressed me mightily was Julia Ducournau’s Raw. This French cannibalism drama was intense and unusual, a remarkable opening shot that clearly heralds a career to watch. Maybe from behind steepled fingers.
I’ve also been a big fan of Alice Lowe for years (since long before we somehow nabbed her as a Hi4H guest host!), mildly obsessing over her performances in Hot Fuzz and Snuff Box and Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, as well as her dual roles as co-writer and star of 2012’s massively underrated Sightseers. So I’ve been psyched for her directorial debut Prevenge ever since it the premise was announced: a pregnant woman is compelled to commit murders by her foetus, who whispers instructions to her from the womb. If that premise wasn’t great enough on its face, it was made greater by the fact that she wrote, directed and starred in the film when she was eight months pregnant. Even if the film hadn’t been brilliant, it would still be a feat to marvel at. But it was brilliant, as it was always going to be, and I hope to live in a world where every time Alice has a new idea, someone backs a truck full of cash up to her house.
I was also able to attend the cast and crew screening of a Melbourne-made modern gumshoe film noir called Trench, the first feature by some guy called Paul Anthony Nelson. I don’t know much about him, other than the fact that he’s clearly going places and I can’t wait to see what he makes next. Also keep an eye out for the film’s breakout star, a Security Guard with no lines. That guy has leading man written all over him.
Which five filmmakers would you like to see us cover on the show?
Sophie: See above re: how many talented filmmakers who are not cismale and/or not white have to work exponentially as hard to get to five. So:
Julie Dash – OK, only one of her films (the epic, just restored Daughters of the Dust) so far has had theatrical release, but she has worked solidly for 25 years and inspired a whole new generation of filmmakers. And Beyonce. I’m just saying: Beyonce for Hyphenates guest?
Merata Mita – when is a film not a film? When it’s a documentary. Apparently. Mita would be an ideal first documentarist for the show (she directed a feature, Mauri, as well), as her films deserve global attention. Look: they named a Sundance award after her. Sold.
Mira Nair – her most recent feature, Queen of Katwe, won hearts and minds the world over. 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of Salaam Bombay! Time to celebrate this genre-hopping director who celebrates multiculturalism. Just think about how much Donald Trump would hate that.
Amma Asante – Where Hands Touch, due in 2018, will be her fourth feature, and her third in five years, tackling big themes of intercultural romance amid dystopian politics. She’s got dozens more films to make, no doubt – but why not celebrate her while she’s on a roll!
Lucrecia Martel – because seriously: how has no-one picked her yet?! She’s the most important global auteur of the 21st century, and also ineffably cool. Her ambitious new feature Zama is sure to get everyone talking, so it’s a perfect time to pick up her three previous feature films, as well as her docs and shorts.
Rochelle: I’m going to keep it patriotic and name five Australian directors, the majority of them women:
Rolf de Heer
Lee: I try to change these up every year, but I can’t remember what I’ve said in the past and I can’t be bothered looking it up. So right now, based purely on how I’m feeling in this moment, I would be pretty happy it if our 2018 slate included Martin Scorsese, Nora Ephron, Stanley Kramer, Kenji Mizoguchi, Federico Fellini.
What are your most anticipated films of 2017?
Sophie: Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time, in the hopes that its optimistic portrayal of a vivid, inclusive, hopeful world can literally create a wrinkle in time and take us back to, say, 2016? 2015? Just for a small do-over. Of course, that’s not how the ethics of L’Engle’s story works. But this will be the magical experience that our hearts sorely need, anyway.
Not confirmed for 2018, but fingers crossed: Carol Morley’s Patricia Clarkson-starring astrophysics thriller Out of the Blue. Clarkson plays Det. Mike Hoolihan in a gender-swapping take on a metaphysical investigation that – well. It’s all secret for now. But how can it not be amazing? Jackie Weaver and Yolonda Ross support.
Silas Howard bounces from Transparent to a solo feature, A Kid Like Jake, adapting Daniel Pearle’s play about a child who gets banned from going to McDonald’s. Oh, and is incidentally gender nonconforming. The cast includes Ann Dowd and Octavia Spencer: together at last. Although not as Jake’s parents. Cmon Silas, next film!
Idris Elba’s Yardie. Is directed by Idris Elba. What more do you need? OK, it looks set to revive the 1970s British-Caribbean cinema that energised a moribund UK film culture. Plus, total snap with the revival of 1970s British racism and anti-immigrant sentiment.
Razzie: It must be a mistake that Lizzie, a film about Lizzie Borden starring Chloë Sevigny and Kristen Stewart, is not directed by Lizzie Borden, of the legendary Born In Flames. Or it’s a criminally missed opportunity. So I’ll be skipping that one.
Rochelle: I’ve already seen and adored Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson), The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro) and Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig). I’m very much looking forward to finally seeing Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country, and I’m intrigued by the sound of Garth (Lion) Davis’s biblical drama Mary Magdalene, starring Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus.
Lee: Not to turn this month into an unrelenting Luca Guadagnino love-in, but his remake of Suspiria is damn high on my list. I was incredibly psyched for Gary Ross’s Ocean’s Eight, and that excitement has increased exponentially since that first trailer was released. I’m also hopping from foot to foot in anticipation of Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs, Haifaa al-Mansour’s Mary Shelley, Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time, and Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane.
And yeah, okay, I’m pretty psyched for Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. I dig these films. Whatevs.
Also: in 2014, I listed Martin Scorsese’s Silence as one of my most anticipated films of 2015, because I thought 2015 was when we were getting it. But I’d jumped the gun and the film clearly wasn’t finished yet, so I listed it for 2016 as well. Except that the release date was delayed in Australia, so I ended up listing it for 2017. And yes, the film has come out, and I have seen it, but I can’t bring myself to break with tradition. So my most anticipated film of 2018 is, for the fourth year running, Martin Scorsese’s Silence.
“What I am absolutely stunned by is that [Pialat’s] cinema is absolutely disconnected [to] the idea of an artificial fabricated idea of reality, but it’s actually soaked into reality.”
This probably goes without saying, but if you ever get the chance to chat with Luca Guadagnino about film and philosophy and gaze into his eyes for 20 minutes, do not pass it up.
Having Luca on the show to talk about his love for the films of Maurice Pialat is incredible enough in and of itself, but as you will have heard by now (we hope), there’s also a moment where he talks about the Instagramification of memory. We live in an age where we can access every film, every image, in an instant. Thanks to home video and streaming services, we can watch the complete works of, say, Maurice Pialat, should the urge take us. Once upon a time, we’d have had to live near a repertory cinema, and been at the mercy of both the programmers’ whims and the libraries they had access to.
This may sound like hell to younger film fans, but there was an additional value to works when they were rarer and harder to find. This is the point that Luca makes, and it’s an observation that we agree with despite the fact that our show would not actually be possible in a pre-streaming, pre-DVD age. So that’s something to chew on.
But hey, this episode isn’t exclusively about Luca Guadagnino, Maurice Pialat, and the double-edged sword of instant access: we also talk about some of this month’s new releases, including Woody Allen’s period melodrama Wonder Wheel, Alexander Payne’s shrinking fantasy Downsizing, Luca Guadagnino’s Italian romance Call Me By Your Name, and Rian Johnson’s franchise-busting Star Wars – Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.
And then, because it’s the last show of the year, we take stock of the year of cinema and compare our top five lists. Which five films impressed us the most? Which title made both lists? Which choice will make you, the listener, most angry?
There’s a metric ton of content in this month’s episode, and we think you’ll agree that we’ve ended the year with a bang!
In this show, we look at Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel and Alexander Payne’s Downsizing. If you’d like to hear us talk about their filmographies in more detail, listen back to our Woody Allen episode here, and Alexander Payne episode here.
We also talk about the new Star Wars, and if you want to compare our reactions, we looked at The Force Awakenshere, and talked Rogue Onehere. No prequels, though. Podcasts weren’t that big back in 1999.
Luca briefly mentions that he was into Fassbinder films prior to discovering Pialat. For his enjoyment and yours, here’s our episode devoted to the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
Luca talks about watching Pialat getting booed at Cannes for Under the Sun of Satan. You can find this vision on the DVD (or, at least, the DVD that we watched), but if you want to see him being booed at his moment of triumph, click here. (No English subtitles, sadly, but boos are universal.)
We talk about how Maurice Pialat’s Van Gogh makes him one of many notable directors to have made a film about the famous painter. He joins the pantheon of Vincent Van Gogh filmmakers we’ve discussed on the show, including Vincente Minnelli who made Lust For Life (1956), Robert Altman who made Vincent and Theo (1990), and Akira Kurosawa, who cast Martin Scorsese as Van Gogh in his film Dreams (1990). Now if a future guest could pick Paul Cox or Alain Resnais, we’d be close to the full set.
Luca recommends that we watch interviews with Pialat, so here’s a good one to get you started: in a 1972 TV interview, Pialat looks back at 1968’s L’enfance nue with a French host who is sporting some truly impressive hair.
Rochelle’s 2016 interview with Luca when he was out for A Bigger Splash can be read on SBS Movies.
The Washington Post review that Rochelle refers to – the one that suggests a favourable alternative to watching Pialat’s Under the Sun of Satan would be to “stay at home and hit yourself over the head with a hammer” – can be read here.
We were considering putting an image of that moment from Vertigo alongside that moment from I Am Love, but given what Luca says about the Instagram generation, that would entirely miss the point, wouldn’t it? So instead we recommend that you remember them both. Right now! Pretty good, eh?
Huge thanks to Sony Pictures Australia, the Melbourne International Film Festival, and Asha Holmes Publicity for making the interview with Luca possible.
Outro music: Human Behaviour by Björk from Le Garçu (1995)
And don’t forget to check out our 2017 Year In Review, featuring our rundown of the year that was, plus a collection of our alumni’s best-of-the-year lists!
The latest episode of Hell Is For Hyphenates, featuring Luca Guadagnino talking the films of Maurice Pialat, can be heard on Stitcher Smart Radio, subscribed to on iTunes, or downloaded/streamed directly from our website.
Luca Guadagnino joins us to talk the films of Maurice Pialat!
Rochelle and Lee kick off the show by debating some of the key films of this month, including Woody Allen’s period melodrama Wonder Wheel (00:57), Alexander Payne’s shrinking fantasy Downsizing (03:44), Luca Guadagnino’s Italian romance Call Me By Your Name (08:55), and Rian Johnson’s franchise-busting Star Wars – Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (13:05).
It’s the last show for the year, and that means it’s time to for everyone to be bold and announce their picks for the best films of 2017. Rochelle and Lee compare their lists of top five new releases. (19:41)
Then, acclaimed writer/director Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash, Call Me By Your Name) joins us to talk the films of Maurice Pialat! The late filmmaker is not as widely known as many of his contemporaries, but was an important figure in France’s cinema from the 1960s through to the 1990s. His films were huge box office hits, were critically celebrated, and won numerous international awards, yet he is not a household name, even among many cinephiles. So what is it about Pialat’s films that so appeal to Luca? And how has the ease with which we can now locate and watch Pialat’s films affected our enjoyment of them? (24:52)
Want to become an instant expert in our filmmaker of the month without committing yourself to an entire filmography? Then you need the Hell Is For Hyphenates Cheat Sheet: we program you a double feature that will not only make for a great evening’s viewing, but will bring you suitably up-to-speed before our next episode lands…
NAKED CHILDHOOD (1968) and UNDER THE SUN OF SATAN (1987)
Maurice Pialat’s first feature film, Naked Childhood, was released in 1968. It was considered by critics to be a social commentary, but Pialat disagreed. His beautiful debut about foster children trying to fit in with their adopted families deliberately avoided the fraught political arguments of late 1960s France, and instead concentrated on the real lives of the French working class. It showcases the stunning naturalistic performances that would become a hallmark of Pialat’s work, and immediately cemented him as one of France’s best emerging auteurs. The film was nominated for a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and was awarded the Prix Jean Vigo in France. At a pacey 83 minutes, it’s the perfect film to kick off this double, which continues with his 1987 film Under the Sun of Satan. Gerard Depardieu stars as a zealous rural priest determined to save the soul of a young woman, played by the extraordinary Sandrine Bonnaire, who has shot dead her lover. It is a deeply religious film clearly made by a self-professed atheist, and is a starkly beautiful and chilling masterpiece. It was the first French film in 21 years to win the Palm d’Or at Cannes, a decision that was met with some controversy, as you’ll hear on the show. Watch these films back-to-back and you’ll not only have a perfect evening of film viewing, but you’ll come away with a firm grasp on the filmmaker Pialat was and the filmmaker he became.
Substitutions: If you can’t get or have already seen Naked Childhood, seek out To Our Loves (1983). The screen debut of frequent Pialat collaborator Sandrine Bonnaire, the story of a family threatened by the bourgeoning sexuality of their daughter is unforgettable and intense, and even features Pialat on screen as the family’s patriarch. And he’s a damn good actor. If you can’t get or have already seen Under the Sun of Satan, get your hands on Van Gogh (1991). Vincent Van Gogh is a passion subject for so many filmmakers, and Pialat had been preoccupied with the artist his whole life. The film covers the final 67 days of Van Gogh’s life, and is unsentimental and beautiful at once, concentrating more closely on his personal life than his work. Most of Pialat’s films ran close to the 90 minute mark, but Van Gogh comes to an epic 158 minutes, and every second of it is earned.
The Hidden Gem: Want to see something off the beaten path, a title rarely mentioned when people talk about the films of Maurice Pialat? Then you should track down The House in the Woods (1971). Long before renowned auteurs like Jane Campion, David Fincher, Susanne Bier and David Lynch moved from cinema to short-form TV, Pialat directed this seven-part TV series for French television. Written by Rififi co-screenwriter René Wheeler, the series follows the citizens of a small village during World War One. It ranks alongside Pialat’s best work, with some surprisingly funny moments and unexpected diversions. The extra room suited him well, and he doesn’t waste a moment of the extended running time as he takes us deep into the lives of his characters.
The next episode of Hell Is For Hyphenates, featuring Luca Guadagnino talking the films of Maurice Pialat, will be released on 31 December 2017.
Just to be clear, Luca Guadagnino will not be the subject of our next episode: he will be our guest. He’s gonna be on the show. Guadagnino. Hyphenates. It’s happening.
The Italian filmmaker behind 2009’s I Am Love, 2015’s A Bigger Splash, and this year’s Call Me By Your Name has become one of cinema’s most revered contemporary auteurs, and 2017 appears to be Luca’s most significant year to date: his latest film has been topping out half the best-of-the-year lists, he’s just directed a remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria with Dakota Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz and Tilda Swinton, and he’s gearing up to make a new adaptation of Swan Lake.
But, of course, all of this will pale in comparison when he closes out the year with his most thrilling role to date: Hell Is For Hyphenates guest host.
So which filmmaker has he chosen to talk about on the show?
French writer and director Maurice Pialat!
Pialat is not a name that comes up often. He is a relatively obscure figure compared to many of the names we’ve covered on the show, which is a little strange given the not-insubstantial success Pialat enjoyed during his career.
His first film, L’Enfance Nue (The Naked Childhood) (1969) won the Prix Jean Vigo at Cannes, and his Sous le soleil de Satan (Under the Sun of Satan) (1987) later picked up the Palme d’Or. His romantic crime thriller Police (1985), which was co-written by Catherine Breillat, was a smash hit, with over 1.8 million admissions in France alone.
Pialat won numerous awards, his films made piles of money, his debut was produced by French New Wave icon François Truffaut, he enjoyed a close collaboration with Gérard Depardieu during the height of Depardieu’s fame, and critics favourably compared his work to that of Cassavetes and Renoir.
Yet in an unscientific, anecdotal survey we conducted amongst the film nerds we happen to run into after Luca told us his filmmaker choice, at least 80% of them did not even recognise Pialat’s name, let alone his films.
How does a filmmaker this influential just disappear? If his films are so great, why do we no longer talk about them? And, most importantly, why does one of the world’s most exciting working filmmakers adore him so much?
It was over a year ago when we first asked Emma if she’d like to join us on Hell Is For Hyphenates. She was interested, and immediately flagged Polanski as her filmmaker of choice. After that it was simply a matter of finding a time when our schedules aligned.
What a difference a year makes. It’s not like Polanski was a less controversial figure in 2016, but the conversation around abusers in the film industry has certainly changed. 2017 will be remembered as the year of #MeToo, and we’ve already seen a few of the biggest names in cinema experience swift and immediate ostracism after allegations of wrongdoing surfaced.
Did this mean it was the worst time to talk about the films of Roman Polanski, or the best? Ours is a show that enthusiastically embraces auteur theory, approaching film through the prism of the author (who is often, but not always, the director). The whole point of Hyphenates is to celebrate the artists that we discuss… could we still do that?
We do our best to answer that question in the show. Our middle segment is entirely devoted to the question of whether we can separate the art from the artist, a concept that has been memed into parody, but is clearly an important issue that we’re yet to collectively come to grips with.
And hey, we also talk about the actual films a bit too. Whether we struck the right tone of not will be in the eye of the beholder – or the ear of the belistener – so leave a comment or get in touch with your own thoughts. Either way, we do look at an undeniably impressive body of work, one that includes all-timers such as Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown and The Pianist. There is more than one canonised classic in this oeuvre, and there’s plenty of gold there to be unearthed.
We also find time amongst all that to look back at some of the new releases of this month. So if you’ve seen, or if you plan to see, Kathryn Bigelow’s historical thriller Detroit, Kenneth Branagh’s Agatha Christie adaptation Murder on the Orient Express, Yorgos Lanthimos’s modern Greek tragedy The Killing of a Sacred Deer, or DC superhero team-up Justice League, you’ll find even more in this episode with which to agree or disagree.
Detroit is Kathryn Bigelow’s first film since Zero Dark Thirty. To hear us talk about her films in more depth, listen back to our Bigelow show from December 2013.
We also refer to other recent controversies in the show, and you can read about the allegations against Louis CK here in the New York Times, and the initial Kevin Spacey accusation that opened the floodgates here on BuzzFeed.
There was a very interesting Twitter thread from Moon director Duncan Jones. Kevin Spacey appears in Moon, and Jones discusses why he is reluctant to distance himself from the film as a whole in this chat.
There was a fascinating interview with Jerry Seinfeld on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Seinfeld and Colbert discuss whether they can still listen to Bill Cosby’s old stand-up routines, and it’s definitely worth watching both parts, as Seinfeld appears to have had a revelation in the commercial break. Watch the first segment here, and the second segment here.
There’s some great analysis from Sarah Lyall and Dave Itzkoff writing for the New York Times. Their piece “Charlie Rose, Louis CK, Kevin Spacey: Rebuked. Now What Do We Do With Their Work?” can be read here.
Arguably the best piece written on the subject of art-from-the-artist is “What Do We Do With the Art of Monstrous Men?” by Claire Dederer writing in The Paris Review. If you only read one piece, make it this one.
If you have a spare hour, watch legendary Australian broadcaster Clive James talking to Roman Polanski back in 1983. This one hour documentary, recorded after Polanski’s self-imposed European exile, is definitely worth a watch.
Emma mentions Karina Longworth’s popular You Must Remember This She covered Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate and Charles Manson back in 2015 in a series of 12 shows that begun with this one.
In her blog It’s Better in the Dark, Rochelle discusses what it was like to engage with Polanski’s works in preparation for this episode. Read it here!
On her website The Westwood Digest, Emma blogs about preparing for and recording this episode. Read it here!
Roman Polanski is, of course, of French Polish descent. If you’re unfamiliar with how to use French polish, check out this handy DIY video from Woodworkers Journal.
Special thanks to Stephen Baker for his help with the recording.
Outro music: score from Chinatown (1974), composed by Jerry Goldsmith
Emma Westwood joins us to talk the films of Roman Polanski!
Author, journalist and film historian Emma Westwood is our guest this month, joining Rochelle and Lee to talk about some of the key films of November, including Kathryn Bigelow’s historical thriller Detroit (01:20), Kenneth Branagh’s Agatha Christie adaptation Murder on the Orient Express (05:26), Yorgos Lanthimos’s modern Greek tragedy The Killing of a Sacred Deer (08:05), and DC superhero team-up Justice League (13:20).
Then, in the wake of 2017’s massive revelations about sexual assault and harassment in the film industry, Emma, Rochelle and Lee discuss whether it is actually possible to separate the art from the artist, and whether it is permissible to enjoy the product of makers who turn out to be monsters (16:14).
Emma then introduces us to her filmmaker of the month, the French-Polish director Roman Polanski (28:46). From his early years in western Europe making short films and black-and-white features like Knife in the Water (1962), Repulsion (1965) and Cul-De-Sac (1966), Polanski soon found himself snapped up by Hollywood, where he made the game-changing horror Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and the classic film noir Chinatown (1974). After Chinatown, he famously and controversially fled the US, returning to Europe where he continued to direct. His subsequent films included titles such as Tess (1979), Frantic (1988), Bitter Moon (1992), The Pianist (2002), Carnage (2011) and more. Few filmmakers are as controversial or divisive as Polanski, and in addition to discussing the films themselves, we also examine how his personal life influenced his work, and how it influences our engagement with it.
Want to become an instant expert in our filmmaker of the month without committing yourself to an entire filmography? Then you need the Hell Is For Hyphenates Cheat Sheet: we program you a double feature that will not only make for a great evening’s viewing, but will bring you suitably up-to-speed before our next episode lands…
ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) and THE PIANIST(2002)
We demand autobiography from auteurs. As soon as we grant adjective status to an artist – Hitchcockian, Bergmanesque, Spielbergy – we begin combing obsessively through their work in order to cunningly infer insight into their personal lives. Few filmmakers have met this requirement as forcefully as Roman Polanski. His horror film Rosemary’s Baby is either an all-time classic or an embarrassing clunker depending on who you ask, with the film dividing cinephiles like few other canonised works. The story of a pregnant woman who comes to believe that she is the subject of occultist manipulations made s aplsh on its release, but took on a whole new meaning when, the following year, Polanski’s pregnant wife Sharon Tate was murdered by the Manson Family cult. Once you’ve watched that, continue your evening of biographical tourism with The Pianist, Polanski’s 2002 Holocaust drama. Although it is a biography of Polish-Jewish pianist Władysław Szpilman, it is set in a time and place that Polanski himself experience as a child, and so there is a palpable verisimilitude to the aesthetics and detail and drama. Details from Polanski’s childhood colour the film, details from his life repurposed and merged with Szpilman’s. Both Rosemary’s Baby and The Pianist are two essential stories, not just because they adaptively relate key parts of Polanski’s life, but because they are enduring works in their own rite that bookend a career, presenting the filmmaker he was in the 20th century, and the one he became in the 21st.
Substitutions: If you can’t get or have already seen Rosemary’s Baby, check out Chinatown (1974). Arguably the best film in his canon, Chinatown is an enduring exemplar of the gumshoe genre, grittier and darker than its Hayes Code-curbed antecedents could ever afford to be. If you can’t get or have already seen The Pianist, check out Carnage (2011). Latter-day Polanski has displayed a repeated interest in adapting single-location stageplays to the screen, irising in on the human drama of people bottled in a confined space. Carnage is arguably the best of the lot, as two couples (Jodie Foster & John C Reilly and Kate Winslet & Christoph Waltz) poke and prod at one another over the course of an afternoon.
The Hidden Gem: Want to see something off the beaten path, a title rarely mentioned when people talk about the films of Roman Polanski? Then you should seek out Knife in the Water (1962). It’s strange to suggest a renowned filmmaker’s debut film is somehow “hidden”, but with so much of the conversation around Polanski’s filmography beginning with his arrival in the United States, the early work is often pushed to the background. His first feature, shot on location in Poland, tells the story of a wealthy couple who invite a hitchhiker to join them on their yacht. Tensions, as they often do, escalate. It’s a remarkable entrance, skilled and confident, and leaves little doubt as to why his career took off with such sudden force.
The next episode of Hell Is For Hyphenates, featuring Emma Westwood talking the films of Roman Polanski, will be released on 30 November 2017.
Get off the edge of your collective seat, because we’re ready to announce our next guest! This month we will be joined by Melbourne writer, journalist, film historian and screenwriter Emma Westwood.
Emma’s enjoyed a rich and varied career in the arts, writing for outlets such as Empire, Fangoria, FilmInk, Senses of Cinema, Metro, and many others. She was the arts editor for street press publication The Music (formerly Inpress), she penned a weekly performing arts column for The Age, and she worked as researcher on the ABC’s arts panel show Vulture.
Her first book, Monster Movies, was published by Pocket Essentials in 2008, and her second, all about David Cronenberg’s The Fly, is due out this month from Columbia University Press. She is one of the founders of Bakewood, and you’ve probably heard her on the Triple R film show Plato’s Cave alongside numerous other Hi4H alumni.
So which filmmaker has Emma chosen to talk with us about?
None other than writer and director Roman Polanski.
Polanski was born in Paris to Polish-Jewish parents. The family moved back to Poland in 1937, and the young Roman spent most of his childhood trying to survive the Holocaust. As a young man, he rose to prominence thanks to his early work, with films such as Knife in the Water (1962), Repulsion (1965) and Cul-De-Sac (1966). In America, he made groundbreaking, enduring works like Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and Chinatown (1974). He went on to directed popular thrillers and award-winning dramas such as Frantic (1988), The Pianist (2002), The Ghost Writer (2010) and Carnage (2011), working in everything from comedy to horror, farce to suspense, and has proven himself a master at nearly every genre and filmmaking style.
But let’s not beat around the bush: fundamental to any discussion of Polanski is the fact that in 1978 he was convicted of raping a minor. Polanski fled the US after a very controversial trial, and has not returned to the country in almost four decades. The charges are still pending.
Due to this, as well as other accusations that have come to light over the years, he is a very difficult filmmaker to discuss. It is impossible to talk about his career without acknowledging his past – or, for that matter, his present – and nor would we want to.
And so this episode will be at least partly devoted to examining whether we can embrace, or even just watch, works authored by people who have committed heinous crimes. Is discussing a body of work the same as celebrating it? Forget separating the art from the artist, can we separate the artist from the person?
It might seem like the worst possible time to discuss someone like Polanski, and maybe it is. But as we witness the toppling of Harvey Weinstein, Brett Ratner and Kevin Spacey, and the beginnings of what we can hope is real progressive change in the film industry, perhaps it’s the ideal time to wrestle with this topic.
So join us on November 30 for what we’re fairly confident will be a very lively and interesting show.