Scripts on Films (March 2016)

BFI’s script on Peeping Tom‘All this filming isn’t healthy,’ says a character in Peeping Tom; a sentiment echoed by the savage reaction of film critics at the time of the film’s release. Powell dressed his meditation on the seductive power and destructiveness of cinema in the clothes of a horror film, albeit one which shows sympathy for a man who records the act of killing. Much has been written about Peeping Tom, but the film’s mysterious power renews with each viewing and it remains one of the masterpieces of British cinema.

Metrograph’s script on Vivre Sa Vie“He doesn’t analyze. He shows.” —Susan Sontag. An untouchable masterpiece, shot with cool precision and artful solemnity. It features Anna Karina in her most iconic role, as Nana Kleinfrankenheim, and was advertised by JLG himself as “a film on prostitution about a pretty Paris shopgirl who sells her body but keeps her soul while going through a series of adventures that allow her to experience all possible deep human emotions.” The film includes one of the most memorable images of the New Wave: Karina’s teary movie theater commune with The Passion of Joan of Arc’s Maria Falconetti.

Richard Brody (The New Yorker)’s script on A Brighter Summer DayIn the nearly four-hour span of this vast Proustian memory piece, from 1991, Edward Yang meticulously delineates the anguish of young people in Taipei in 1959 and the gang violence that pervades their lives. The story, which begins with young Xiao Si’r, a wayward student who gets caught sneaking into a movie studio, opens out into a dazzling multigenerational array of characters, as well as a panoply of trenchant themes—including the paranoia of the Taiwanese military state, the woes of refugees from the mainland, the bitter memories of wartime Japanese occupation, the encroachment of American popular culture (the plot pivots on concerts by local boys covering doo-wop and Elvis), and the cinema itself, as Ming, the girl with whom Si’r is obsessed, gets herself a screen test at the studio. Yang’s methods bring a melancholy tenderness to his recollections. He films intricately staged action in long takes of a rueful, contemplative reserve. As in Proust, the closely observed objects—an American tape recorder, a radio from China, a Japanese sword, a flashlight stolen from the movie studio—bring the past back to life. In Mandarin, Shanghainese, and Taiwanese.

A.O.Scott (New York Times)’s script on A Brighter Summer DayThe English title of “A Brighter Summer Day,” Edward Yang’s chronicle of disaffected youth in Taiwan in 1960, comes from “Are You Lonesome Tonight?,” which was a hit for Elvis Presley that year. One of the teenagers in this sprawling, melancholy and surpassingly beautiful film sings in a rock ’n’ roll band, and he tries, phonetically and with the help of a friend’s sister who studies English, to decode the song’s haunting, enigmatic lyrics. American pop music is a tendril from the outside world that has penetrated this claustrophobic, hectic island, and it expresses the universal longings and the specific frustrations that dominate the lives of Mr. Yang’s characters. The film, at bottom a true crime story about a murder, seethes with the spirit of confused, ardent rebellion that you also find in Hollywood movies from the 1950s and early ’60s, like “East of Eden” or “Rebel Without a Cause.” Focused mainly on the restlessness of a group of young men, “A Brighter Summer Day” also belongs to a tradition that stretches from “I Vitelloni” to “Mean Streets” and beyond. But this film, completed in 1991 and only now receiving a proper American release (thanks to restoration efforts by Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation and the adventurous programming of the Film Society of Lincoln Center), is much more than the sum of its references and associations. Colored by Mr. Yang’s memories of the world he grew up in, it is one of those movies that, by slow accretion of detail and bold dramatic vision, disclose the structure and feeling of an entire world.

Museum of Moving Images’ script on Nashville: Robert Altman’s crowning achievement is arguably the most innovative American masterpiece since Citizen Kane. It is a teeming, exhilarating, multi-character vision of life in the 1970s that channels the splintered reality of America. It is Owen Gleiberman’s favorite film—because it remains, in his words, “the movie of our time.”

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