Kyle Westphal's Posts

Kyle Westphal is a recent graduate of The L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation, George Eastman House, Rochester, NY.

Trilology of Trilogies

Posted by on May 01 2012 | Motion Pictures

(Trois Couleurs: Rouge, Krzysztof Kieslowski 1994, France/Poland/Switzerland, 99 min., French w/subtitles)

Some film trilogies are deliberate creations: meticulous superproductions with elaborate thematic and narrative designs that aspire to the density of novels. Others occur more organically, with filmmakers gradually improvising after an unexpected breakthrough.

An exemplar of the latter type is Abbas Kiarostami’s informal Koker trilogy. The opening feature, Where Is the Friend’s House?, offers a straightforward but meditative fable about a young boy’s search for a classmate’s home. When an earthquake nearly destroyed the village where Friend’s House was shot, Kiarostami embarked on a quest of his own, returning to Koker to learn the whereabouts of the boys who starred in the film. He fictionalized this search in the faux-documentary Life and Nothing More… and further fictionalized the making of that film in Through the Olive Trees. As described by the Pacific Film Archive, “Expecting to find death, Kiarostami found life, and proceeded to transform it into cinema.” The Koker films garnered an enormous reputation but have remained difficult to see, not least because Through the Olive Trees was acquired and then withheld from release by Miramax. At the time, Miramax was focusing its attention on Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy — a multinational monument to the history of art house cinema and a forward-looking dream of a European Union. Crisscrossing the continent and musing on fate, discipline, and love, Kieslowski’s triptych scales impossible emotional heights. It also looks particularly interesting today as the eurozone that Kieslowski celebrates teeters on the economic brink — a fate also shared by Freedonia, the make-believe country inhabited by the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup, the beloved conclusion to their informal trilogy of anarchic, animal-inflected comedies conceived directly for the screen.

Films and Screenings

— Kyle Westphal, Chief Projectionist

(Leo McCarey, US 1933, 68 min.)

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You Don’t know Jack: Jack Nicholson in the ‘70s

Posted by on Jan 31 2012 | Motion Pictures

Before he screamed “Heeeeeere’s Johnny!,” mugged as The Joker, and co-starred with Adam Sandler in Anger Management, Jack Nicholson made a reputation as an actor of fierce control and subtlety.

After spending a decade in the exploitation trenches with grindhouse compatriots Roger Corman and Monte Hellman, Nicholsonmade a sudden jump to stardom playing washed-up ACLU lawyer George Hanson in Easy Rider at the age of 32. The role set the pattern for the next glorious decade: with an Old Hollywood sense of star power and a scruffy, definitely R-rated attitude, Nicholson straddled generations.

Five Easy Pieces, 1970.

The hippies saw a genteel but like-minded rebel; their parents found a rough-edged, neurotic link to earlier Method luminaries like Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift. Nicholson’s work with some of the foremost New Hollywood directors (Bob Rafelson, Roman Polanski, Hal Ashby) speaks for itself and stands capably for the strengths of the era. Nicholson and the films he made were ferociously adult — angry, righteous, ultimately mellowing out. Our sampling of Nicholson’s ’70s best— Five Easy PiecesThe FortuneThe King of Marvin GardensChinatown, and  The Passenger— documents a radiant personality breaking and re-making the rules of acting.

The King of Marvin Gardens, 1972.

Chinatown, 1974.

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A Look at the Nominees (and who was Snubbed…)

Posted by on Feb 24 2011 | Motion Pictures, Other

Best Picture
In 2010, frequently tasteless and irritating filmmakers like Darren Aronofsky and the Coen Brothers delivered fully-achieved entertainments with Black Swan and True Grit. Toy Story 3 was also unexpectedly, extravagantly moving for a ten-years-coming sequel to a mega-franchise. It’s the best of the nominees. Academy attention has been focused, though, on The Social Network and The King’s Speech. The latter teeters on the edge of being perceived as too small and too stagey (despite being an original screenplay!) to take home the ultimate honor–a problem most certainly not addling The Social Network. King’s chances hinge on whether its stirrings about democracy trumping class destiny sufficiently enlarge its canvas. Network is a fast-paced, suffocatingly relevant film primed to alienate older voters. Recent winners, though, have been edgier and hipper, so don’t be surprised by a narrow win for The Social Network. Snubbed: The Ghost Writer, the best film of the year, an angry, caustic cry of exile and political despair–and an absolutely masterful thriller.

Best Actor
Colin Firth’s stammering, staccato performance in The King’s Speech will easily best the deliberately inscrutable efforts of Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network, not least because the British film is about the art of acting and floats the flattering idea that radio (and, by extension, all modern media) can humble kings. An unbeatable tangle of self-congratulation. It’s a shame that Jeff Bridges won last year, because his grizzly, unpretentious performance in True Grit is both better than it should be and better than his competition. Bardem should receive some sort of consolation prize for his Biutiful suffering, though. Snubbed: Stephen Dorff (Somewhere), Jim Carrey (I Love You Phillip Morris)

Best Actress
Once again, Julianne Moore is the most unappreciated actress in Hollywood. Despite her performance being altogether more complex, shaded, and demanding than Annette Benning’s, the less-than-better-half of The Kids Are All Right received Academy plaudits for a mediocre retread of her American Beauty harpy. By contrast, Natalie Portman totally inhabits her Black Swan character in every respect–resolve, vapidity, terror, technical perfection over reckless emotion. I mean the foregoing as a compliment. Plus, the Academy always prefers a pretty young body to a soulful performance. Snubbed: Moore, Elle Fanning (Somewhere)

Best Supporting Actor
Mark Ruffalo’s affable performance in The Kids Are All Right was a dead-on rendition of Southern California aimlessness. It should win, but Ruffalo’s recessive accuracy works against him here. Christian Bale’s embarrassing and hateful showboating in The Fighter is a more Academy-friendly performance but wide support for The King’s Speech will give the win to Geoffrey Rush for his altogether more effortless and enjoyable turn. Snubbed: Andrew Garfield (The Social Network), Justin Timberlake (The Social Network)

Best Supporting Actress
Melissa Leo seemed a sure thing before Hollywood declared her attempt at self promotion in the trades gauche and desperate. That, combined with vote-splitting with The Fighter’s altogether more talented Amy Adams and the fact that her performance is a horrific, one-note white trash caricature, militates against Leo’s chances. For once, the Academy will award the best performance, Hailee Steinfeld, whose turn is transparently central (despite being shunted to the Supporting category) to the power of the genuinely popular True Grit. Snubbed: Rosario Dawson (Unstoppable), Rooney Mara (The Social Network)

Best Foreign Language Film
As usual, only two entries have received theatrical distribution in the US as yet, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that either Biutiful or Dogtooth (which had a one-night run at the Dryden last summer) is favored to win. Unlike all the other categories, voters in this contest must certify that they’ve seen all five nominees at special Academy screenings, which means the winner usually skews closer to the fuzzy taste of retirees than the the broader zeitgeist. Honoring the absurd and beguiling Dogtooth (replete with graphic incest scenes) would be the most radical act in the history of the Academy Awards. Better bet: the Canadian Incendies, which has the backing of juggernaut Sony Pictures Classics and heart-rending themes of transcontinental, panreligious understanding. Snubbed: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Thailand)

Best Documentary
If Dogtooth is this year’s most heartening nomination, then the absence of the pro-privatization, anti-union Waiting for “Superman” from the Best Documentary Feature category is the year’s most unexpected and satisfying exclusion. Without “Superman” in the running, Charles Ferguson’s financial implosion éxposé Inside Job emerges as the heavy favorite. It’s timely and tackles a big subject–more than enough when there isn’t a Holocaust docu in competition. Snubbed: Last Train Home (Lixin Fan)

Best Costume Design
The omission of Black Swan in this category on a technicality has been one of the minor scandals of the season. Without the ballerinas in competition, this contest is something of a toss-up. I haven’t seen The Tempest and neither, I’d wager, have most of the Academy membership–a fact that in no way diminishes its chances. Voters tend toward the film that sounds like it has the most elaborate, exotic, and expensive costumes–and in that respect, the latest Taymor project must be a shoo-in.

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NARA and MoMA

Posted by on Jun 25 2009 | Student Work

Spring, the season of lilacs, sunshine, and general renewal, means something else for students of The L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation: marathon road trips to points south for a crash course in archival practices at some of the country’s finest institutions. This annual extended field trip offers two complementary rewards: an opportunity to work with equipment that the Eastman House Motion Picture Department does not have; and insight into procedures, work flows, and best practices in the real world. (One Selznick alum has likened Eastman House to NASA in its cleanliness and precision.)

Our first stop was the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in College Park, Maryland. The film department, managed by Selznick alumna Criss Kovac, is charged with preserving and making accessible the motion pictures created by the Executive Branch of the US Government. This encompasses far more than the duck-and-cover curios of the 1950s—everything from the IRS instructional films and US Information Agency propaganda shorts to documentary classics of the New Deal and all manner of military footage. Miles of it. The US Military is, by far, the most prolific “studio” of the Executive Branch. (In fact, NARA’s film archive is the only one I know of where one sometimes needs high-level security clearances for the rather prosaic task of sprocket repair.)

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