Producers’ Film Picks for February 2018
The theme for this month – Tangled Webs and Woven Obsession
Theatrical Release
Phantom Thread (2017)
Written, shot and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights.)
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, Richard Graham, Camilla Rutherford and Jane Perry.
Phantom Thread dressing
“For over 20 years now, Anderson seems to have been obsessed with the eternal conflict between order and chaos. His films are about people struggling within, and against, the confines of their culture, their industry, their expectations, and either busting through those walls or watching as the walls close in on them.
“Dirk Diggler strives for greatness within an ailing pornographic industry. Barry Egan desperately flails against the oppression of his overbearing family circle. Daniel Plainview balances the demands of religious leaders to ensure his capitalistic success. The list goes on and on and now it continues with Phantom Thread, a fussy control freak fashion designer named Reynolds Woodcock, and a model named Alma.
“Reynolds Woodcock, played by Day-Lewis, is a world-renowned dressmaker living in London in the 1950s. His life is rigidly structured. No loud noises. No confrontations of any kind until after breakfast. His employees and, indeed, the world at large give him every concession because he needs the widest berth possible to produce his fineries.” William Bibbiani, IGN
“Most of the action takes place in Woodcock’s London home. It has the uncanny appearance of a wedding cake, with Anderson’s camera tilting the camera up the stairs so we can see all its layers. An untouched wedding cake is a good metaphor for Phantom Thread, since Woodcock prefers immaculate beauty over the implied trust or actual intimacy. Most scenes, especially the film’s many dress fittings, are an opportunity for Woodcock to assert his sly, dominant masculinity.
“Anderson is keenly aware of his hero’s faults, so his moments of discomfort are where the film finds its humor. Still, I would not go so far as to say Phantom Thread is a comedy.” Alan Zilberman, Brightest Young Things
“While Reynolds’ need to have everything just-so at all times creates a great deal of stress, however, the film is funny and kinky and sensually overwhelming — not the work of an incorrigible fuddy-duddy. Anderson views love as a productive tension between two people who push and pull and challenge each other to bend a little in their direction. It’s not a punch-drunk love between Reynolds and Alma, but something more like the rope-a-dope strategy Muhammad Ali used to fell George Foreman in Zaire. Alma parries and dodges against the stronger puncher before she can get the upper hand.” Scott Tobias, NPR
“The eroticism is all in the fittings of fabric and the power plays of a couple who make Mr. and Mrs. de Winters in Rebecca seem like Ward and June Cleaver from ‘Leave It to Beaver.’ Day-Lewis’s Reynolds Woodcock is the imperious impresario of the House of Woodcock, with its Georgian London townhouse and its armada of seamstresses. His exclusive clientele includes socialites, celebrities, and royalty, but he disdains the trappings of high society. He cares only that his moneyed clients are worthy of his creations. (The film’s costume designer is Mark Bridges.)” Peter Rainer, Christian Science Monitor
“What even is fashion? I’m talking about high fashion here — as Anderson is in Phantom Thread — not the everyday ideas about, say, what sort of sneaker is cool at the moment, but the world of haute couture, of catwalks, of rail-thin models who serve as hangers for the clothing they wear. Is it art? Is it power? Is it manipulation? Is it abandon? Is it control? It’s all of those things in this conundrum of a film, and the mystery of the strangeness of the people at the heart of it could be the phantom thread that binds all those notions together, and all of them together.” MaryAnn Johanson, Flick Filosopher
“This is not as easy as it may sound. The variables, in a performance or an entire film, are immense and notably intractable. The sort of icy control evinced in Phantom Thread calls to mind that other master of sub-zero cinema, Stanley Kubrick.” Eleanor Ringel Cater, Saporta Report
Archival films
Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948)
Written by Howard Koch and Stefan Zwieg. Directed by Max Ophuls (The Earrings of Madame de…, Lola Montes.) Cinematography by Franz Planer (Roman Holiday, Holiday.)
Starring Joan Fontaine, Louis Jourdan, Mady Christians, Marcel Journet, Art Smith and Carol Yorke.
“Letter From an Unknown Woman is Ophuls’ first personal project in Hollywood and he injects this exquisitely stylish romantic melodrama (based on a novel by Zweig) with his continental sensibility. ‘By the time you read this letter, I may be dead,’ reads aging bon vivant Jourdan from a letter found in his tiny hotel room. Hair tousled and tux tired from yet another night of meaningless flirtation, he’s startled by these opening lines and suspends his preparations to flee a duel to read the history of a love affair that he can’t remember. For the rest of the film we’re transported to the life of Joan Fontaine’s awkward young Viennese woman, hopelessly enthralled by the dashing pianist from adolescence and momentarily his lover, the emotional pinnacle of her life but for the philandering rogue simply another fling in a blur of women passing through his bedroom. Fontaine delivers one of the best performances of her career, vulnerable and yearning without lapsing into sentimentality and ultimately showing a hidden strength as she risks all for one more moment with the love of her life. Jordan is genial and callow, an empty figure faced with the meaningless of his life and shamed with self discovery.” Sean Axmaker, Parallax View
Lolita (1962)
Written by Vladimir Nabokov, James B. Harris and Stanley Kubrick. Directed by Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey, Paths of Glory.) Cinematography by Oswald Morris (The Hill, Sleuth.)
Starring James Mason, Sue Lyon, Shelley Winters, Peter Sellers, Lois Maxwell and John Harrison.
Of all of Kubrick’s films, Lolita typically gets the lowest marks. While in many respects that’s a fair assessment, it sells short the accomplishment of making a workable film of Nabokov’s novel within the restrictions of the early ’60s, or any era, really. Working from a Nabokov script, Kubrick places his emphasis squarely on the novel’s dark comedy. Strip the difference in age and Humbert Humbert’s attitude toward Lolita becomes simply a portrait of the male psyche at its ugliest: obsessive in his idealization before Lolita reciprocates his affections, he becomes possessive and patronizing once their relationship gets underway. Capable of seeming charming and self-effacing even while he’s destroying the lives of those around him, Mason’s performance holds the film together, but virtually every key role has been smartly cast.” Keith Phipps, AllMovie
Phantom Thread is at The Grand Cinema.
Letter from an Unknown Woman will screen at 7:15 p.m. on Friday, February 2 in the Center for Spiritual Living (206 N. J St).
Lolita will screen at 7:15 p.m. on Friday, February 9 in the CSL.
The TFC Discussion Night for these three films is Wednesday, February 21 in the CSL.


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