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Episode 016: Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Recorded on Saturday, August 22, 2020

Writer-director Céline Sciamma’s 2019 feature Portrait of a Lady on Fire stars Noémie Merlant as Marianne, who’s been hired to surreptitiously paint the portrait of the soon-to-be-married Héloïse, played by Adèle Haenel. Set at the end of the 18th century, the film is itself a study in portraiture, a haunting ghost story, and so much more—including, in the director’s own words, a “manifesto about the female gaze.” Join the Film Club as Debby leads the conversation and we trace the contours of our own appreciation for this recent masterpiece.

Technical note: The pitfalls of socially distant recording reared their head this episode, and the audio ended up with more than the usual amount of snaps, crackles and pops. Apologies!

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Episode 015: My Own Private Idaho

Recorded on Saturday, August 8, 2020

Director Gus Van Sant’s 1991 feature My Own Private Idaho is a story of unrequited love set against a backdrop of duplicitous fathers, absent mothers, and the homes and families we make for ourselves when wherever it is we came from is nothing more than a dream. Mixing Shakespeare, street hustlers, and the influence of the French New Wave, the film stars River Phoenix as Mike Waters and Keanu Reeves as the object of his affection, Scott Favor, the son of the mayor of Portland — not to mention William Richert as the Falstaffian Bob Pigeon, Flea as his right-hand man Budd, and the inimitable Udo Kier, who delivers perhaps the best cabaret performance ever committed to the screen. Hop aboard, enjoy the ride, and have a nice day. “This road will never end. It probably goes all around the world.”

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Episode 013: Sorry to Bother You

Recorded on Saturday, July 11, 2020

Set in an alternate-reality version of modern-day Oakland, Calif., director Boots Riley’s 2018 comedy Sorry to Bother You stars LaKeith Stanfield as Cassius Green, who goes from rags to riches after he becomes a high-powered telemarketer through the use of what’s known in the movie as his “white voice.” The movie’s biting in its social commentary and wildly surprising in its sci-fi twist, which is equal parts shocking, terrifying and hilarious. Get ready for a mindf—, and for some low-key talk about social revolution that just might earn this humble pod a few listeners from certain federal agencies.

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Episode 012: Malcolm X + Da 5 Bloods

Recorded on Saturday, June 27, 2020

Why talk about only one Spike Lee Joint when you can talk about two? This episode, the Film Club goes both back in time for Lee’s epic 1992 biopic Malcolm X and back to Vietnam for the director’s recently released Da 5 Bloods, a saga of brotherhood and of treasures both true and false. We touch on many of Lee’s other films, discuss the director’s choice to eschew de-aging effects in Da 5 Bloods, and marvel at the inimitable Denzel Washington’s towering performance as Malcolm X. We also chart the surprising structural similarities between the two films, and even manage to work in some last-minute references to Dune (again!) and Floor Is Lava. As always, there’s something for everyone!

Note: This episode was recorded two months before the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman, who owns the screen as Stormin’ Norman in Da 5 Bloods, and who left us with a transcendent body of work for which all of us who love movies owe him a tremendous debt. Let’s make sure we’re good for it.

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Minisode 001: Dune (2020) – Trailer Breakdown

Recorded Saturday, September 12, 2020

It’s the first-ever Viewfinder Film Club minisode! Warner Bros. dropped the trailer for Denis Villeneuve’s much-anticipated Dune adaptation last week, and, spice addicts that we are, the full FC gathered for a shot-by-shot analysis of the costumes, the casting, the cinematography and, of course, the sandworms. We offer our best guesses at what might be happening from one scene to the next, and we submit our prayers to Muad’Dib about cameos we’d love to see. Steel yourselves for the gom jabbar. It’s time to go back to Arrakis — the weirding way continues!

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Episode 010: From Here to Eternity

Recorded on Saturday, June 6, 2020

At last, it’s the episode you’ve all been waiting for! Burt Lancaster takes center stage as we examine director Fred Zinnemann’s 1953 classic From Here to Eternity. Based on the novel by James Jones, the story follows a group of U.S. Army soldiers in the lead-up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. In charting the nation’s evolution from prewar naivete to postwar cynicism, the movie also presents what could be read as an origin story for film noir. But it’s not all bleak! Join us as we marvel at Lancaster’s glorious coif, reveal the significance of his standing in the rain, and laud the film’s magnificent circumvention of the erstwhile Hays Code. 

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Episode 009: A Story From Chikamatsu

Recorded on Saturday, May 30, 2020

Set in 17th-century feudal Japan, director Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1954 feature A Story From Chikamatsu — also known as The Crucified Lovers or Chikamatsu Monogatari — is a tale of star-crossed love that’s rich with unexpected twists and revelations. Involving a grand scroll master, his wife, and his best employee, the story unfolds in deep focus and long takes, with expert cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa. Inspired by Mizoguchi’s ability to illuminate the present through the lens of the past, the Film Club’s conversation springboards into cloud technology as well as the pleasures and pitfalls of modern cinephilia. As the scroll master’s wife, Osan (Kyôko Kagawa), reminds us, “Nothing is more unpredictable than a person’s fate.”

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Episode 008: Dune

Recorded on Saturday, May 23, 2020

“You are about to enter a world where the unexpected, the unknown, and the unbelievable meet. A world where the mighty, the mad, and the magical will have their final battle. A world beyond your experience, beyond your imagination.” Those words, from the trailer to David Lynch’s 1984 feature adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, equally describe the conversation you are about to hear. Join the FC as we venture into the desert of Lynch’s compromised vision, worship at the holy mountain of Alan Splet’s sound design, and question whether the whole movie might just be a dream plucked from the world of Eraserhead. Along the way, we also confront the heretical visions of director Frank Pavich’s 2013 documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, and debate a film adaptation’s responsibility to its source material. Not even The Lord of the Rings, Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, or Denis Villeneuve’s yet-to-be-released (at the time of this recording) Dune are spared. It’s psychomagic in space!

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Episode 007: Stalag 17

Recorded on Saturday, May 16, 2020

Director Billy Wilder’s 1953 comedy-drama Stalag 17 tells the story of a group of American airmen held in a German WWII POW camp who come to suspect that one of their number is an informant. Adapted by Wilder and Edwin Blum from the Broadway play of the same name, the film left the FC marveling at its director’s mastery of blocking, and questioning the logistics of shooting chronologically. Tommy, who leads this episode’s discussion, ties in an on-point reference to Paul Schrader, and Jon makes a brief but impassioned appeal on behalf of Burt Lancaster’s nomination for the 1954 Best Actor Oscar — the award that ultimately went to William Holden for his portrayal of Stalag 17‘s Sgt. J.J. Sefton.

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Episode 006: Cosmopolis

Recorded on Saturday, May 2, 2020

Based on the novel by Don DeLillo, writer-director David Cronenberg’s 2012 feature Cosmopolis follows 28-year-old billionaire Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) through a single day as he takes a limo across Manhattan in order to get a haircut. It proves to be a bad day for a car ride, as the President of the United States is in town, a water-main bursts, an anti-capitalist riot erupts in the streets, and Eric’s gamble on the Chinese yuan drains his fortune. Over the course of his journey, Eric will essentially live all facets of his life inside this limo while being joined by a string of characters, each of whom serves as a dark, fun-house mirror for the main character.

Buckle up for a wild ride—and some strong, conflicting opinions among the Film Club.