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“The Flash Frames are Like Magic — You Can Almost Smell Them in the Film”: DP Andrew Dunn on Shooting Lee Daniels’s The United States vs. Billie Holiday

The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Musician Billie Holiday's troubled life has been the inspiration for many films, including the biopic Lady Sings the Blues, starring Diana Ross. In The United States vs. Billie Holiday, director Lee Daniels takes a different tact, tying the singer's troubles to a Federal vendetta against her song "Strange Fruit." Anchored by Andra Day's remarkable performance as Holiday, the movie offers a vivid account of Black culture from WWII to the singer's death in 1959. Holiday's brutal childhood, the pervasive discrimination she experienced, and a milieu that romanticized drugs all contributed to an addiction that landed her in prison. This is cinematographer Andrew Dunn's fourth collaboration with Daniels, after their work on Precious, Lee Daniels' The Butler, and episodes of the Empire series. …  Read more

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Rosebud, Buried Alive and the Women Filmmakers of New World Pictures: Jim Hemphill’s Home Video Recommendations

Slumber Party Massacre

No director of the classical Hollywood studio era capitalized on hot-button social issues or pushed the boundaries of censorship as successfully as Otto Preminger, who scored artistic and commercial triumphs with a number of films (Anatomy of a Murder, The Moon is Blue, Advise and Consent, The Man with the Golden Arm) that addressed rape, homosexuality, drug addiction, and various political and religious controversies at a time when few other filmmakers would dare. By the 1970s, however, Preminger became a victim of his own reputation; when young auteurs of the New Hollywood like Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, and Peter Bogdanovich came along and surpassed Preminger in their provocations, his late films were dismissed as the irrelevant work of an out…  Read more

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“The Strange Beauty of our World, the Strange Disaster of Our World”: Chris Peters on His Slamdance AI Short, 24,483 Dreams of Death

24,483 Dreams of Death

A spectral and hypnotic entry in this year's Slamdance Film Festival is Chris Peters's "film experiment," 24,483 Dreams of Death, which uses a Mario Bava film (Mask of the Demon) as the sole source material for an A.I.'s imagination of our visual world. Over six days, Peters — a filmmaker, painter as well as software engineer — fed the frames of the film into the computer, producing images that represent, he writes, "... the machine's neural network forming in real time, not footage in the traditional sense of photographed scenes, but footage of the internal experience of a new intelligence learning about our world for the first time." The flickering chiaroscuro images are soundtracked by spoken word poetry that is…  Read more

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“… Once a Person’s Voice is Captured, They are Expendable”: Director George C. Wolfe on the Musical Histories of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Black music. White privilege. Chicago. 1927. What could possibly go wrong? Indeed, nearly everything, and it’s chronicled with artful intensity in August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the second in a cycle of ten plays that compassionately detail the 20th-century experiences of African Americans. Ma Rainey’s was brought to the screen this season in a stellar production directed by George Wolfe that stars Viola Davis in the title role and, in his final role, Chadwick Boseman as the upstart young trumpeter and rake in her band. Wolfe, a Tony Award-winning theater director and writer, is gradually building a formidable resume in cinema. In the past six plus years, he’s helmed You’re Not You and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (which…  Read more

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Back to One, Episode 143: Alison Wright

She’s probably best known for her Emmy-Nominated performance as FBI secretary Martha Hanson on FX’s critically acclaimed series The Americans, and now Alison Wright has breathed life into another complex character in yet another hit series—Ruth Wardle on TNT’s Snowpiercer. In this hour, she gives us a peek under the hood of her craft and we get closer to understanding how she’s able to bring such naturalism and depth to all her performances. She talks about her early fascination with “The Method” that led her to the Lee Strasberg Institute, her “thought-linked” approach to the text which she developed over the years (that just might be a big part of the secret to her greatness), and I ask her about…  Read more

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My Job During a Pandemic: Producing 100+ DVDs and Blu-rays in 2020

Silvero Pereira in Bacurau (courtesy of Kino Lorber)

When I left Kino Lorber’s office on Friday, March 13th, I was expecting to return on Monday. I was wrapping up the DVD and Blu-ray of Jia Zhangke’s I Wish I Knew (2010), getting final proofs of Adam Nayman’s booklet essay and waiting for the test molds (the final check disc the replicator sends for approval before the title goes into manufacturing) to come in. But then the lockdown hit, and the scramble to improvise and adapt to the situation. One of my colleagues lives nearby our office, so he shipped the I Wish I Knew test molds to our head of quality control, who was working from home in Brooklyn. All the shipping addresses then had to be changed…  Read more

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“I Had to Use Nine Credit Cards”: Shatara Michelle Ford on Test Pattern

Brittany S. Hall and Drew Fuller in Test Pattern (courtesy of Kino Lorber)

Shatara Michelle Ford’s debut feature Test Pattern addresses sensitive material with clinically painstaking detail. The narrative begins in 2017 at an Austin bar as Renesha (Brittany S. Hall) meets Evan (Will Brill), a thirtysomething white guy whose liquid courage prompts him to ask for Renesha’s phone number. Somewhat surprisingly, the two hit it off and grow to become a loving couple.One evening, Renesha begrudgingly (she has work in the morning) meets up with a friend for drinks at a local bar, where they meet two flirtatious men who proceed to drug them. Nearing unconsciousness, Renesha is taken to an unfamiliar location and is subsequently raped. The second half of the film deals with the immediate aftermath of Renesha’s assault, never shying away…  Read more

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