How The Neon Demon’s “Failure” Reveals a Major Problem in Indie Film

Director Alex Ross Perry, in a piece at The Talkhouse:

Walking home from The Neon Demon, buzzing with the possibilities of what true art cinema is still capable of, I became obsessed with trying to unravel the circumstances of its abysmal failure to earn money, naturally the only kind of failure that matters more than artistic failure (which, of course, is totally subjective). Studying the elements of how a film like The Neon Demon gets made and released – foreign financing (a given for the Copenhagen-born Refn), major Hollywood stars, support from the obscenely wealthy Amazon – I wondered to what extent any of these parties involved care about the box office.

With a fancy Cannes red carpet premiere and the eventuality of splashing the film across the main page of Amazon when its streaming time comes, why would anybody care what a box-office flop it was? And also, why on earth would anybody think this film needed to be on 800 screens in the first place? Perhaps the thinking here is to copy the callous dump-and-grab studio model of quickly throwing product out there before anybody can point out how little audience support it is likely to amass and then move on as quickly as possible. Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, a reasonable point of comparison, never played on more than 250 screens and, I was shocked and amazed to discover, grossed over seven million dollars while playing in theaters from October 2001 through May 2002. There is a sensitivity to the handling of such cinema that, like nearly everything else about the ongoing disastrous spectacle that is independent film distribution, is a lost art.

I mostly agree with Perry about the artistic merit of The Neon Demon, and I think it could have made more money, but there’s nothing really here to back up his suggestion that indie film has a distribution problem in general. Amazon is a streaming platform, and I have my doubts that they care at all about theatrical releasing; that’s why they’ve farmed releases out to partners like Broad Green and Lionsgate. It seems a bit rash (and useless) to blame “the industry” when other distributors, such as A24, continue to have success with films like The Lobster. Maybe the real problem is just that Amazon doesn’t give a damn about theatrical marketing.

Looking For (But Never Really Finding) Anna Karina in New York

Peter Rinaldi, writing at the Notebook:

At mid-afternoon, the Cafe Carlyle was nearly empty, and the dark wood, subdued lighting and secluded tables seemed ideal for an intimate interview. Karina was finishing up another interview as we arrived and were ushered to her table. I heard Anna say to someone “I feel like I have talked more about my life in the past two weeks than ever before.” She greeted Zahedi with genuine warmth. As I placed the microphone on her I said “I played a journalist yesterday just to be with you, and now I'm playing a sound man.” She laughed, thank God.

At the beginning of the interview, Caveh broached the idea of making a film about her relationship to Godard. No. Too personal, she said. She wouldn't want that. A memoir? Maybe, but not a film. He mentioned the announcement, just a day before, of the film going into production about Godard’s relationship after Karina, with Anne Wiazemsky, based on her memoir. “They're making a movie of that?!” she asked. She’d read the book but hadn't heard about the film. “It’s going to star Louis Garrel,” Zahedi informed her. “Louis Garrel? He’s a friend of mine.” She seemed surprised that they were making a movie about that period in his life.

Zahedi got her to the now-famous “Anna and Jean-Luc Rendezvous Story.” During the making of their first film together, Le petit soldat (completed 1960, released 1963), the two spent months eyeing each other but neither made a move. Then, at a dinner party, Godard slipped a note to Anna as her boyfriend sat beside her. It read, “I love you. Rendezvous with me at the Café de la Paix at midnight.” Karina has said that she felt strangely compelled to go there, as if there was no choice. She had to go. So she did. “He was sitting there reading a paper, and I was standing in front of him waiting,” She told Zahedi. “And I thought it was for hours. Of course it was maybe for three minutes. And then suddenly he said, ‘Oh here you are. Let’s go.’”

And that is usually where people seem to be happy with the story ending, at this “the rest is history” moment. But Zahedi asked her something no one else asked: “Where'd you go?”

How Abbas Kiarostami Had Me Thinking in Persian

A. O. Scott:

Mr. Kiarostami seemed sometimes to want to find the essence of cinema by subtracting as many of its effects as possible. “Ten” is made up of 10 unedited shots, each one about 10 minutes long, taken of a Tehran driver and her passengers by a camera mounted on the dashboard of her car. A film without a filmmaker, in a sense. As is “Five,” a video piece dedicated to the Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, which consists of five static shots of landscapes, including a moonlit pond whose serenity is disrupted by the croaking of unseen frogs.

In Cartagena, Mr. Kiarostami invoked those frogs — for a minute I thought he was talking about the ducks that appear in another part of “Five” — as something of a metaphor, an example of the serendipitous irruption of reality into a carefully planned composition. Reality can intrude catastrophically, in the form of natural or political disasters. And the process is reversible: Film also changes reality, injecting new meanings and dimensions into its mute, mundane manifestations. It does this in small ways, as when a child looks directly into the camera or an actor decides to ignore its presence.

In large ways, too. To an extent that we have only begun to grasp, movies invented a new way of thinking, and Abbas Kiarostami’s movies are among the clearest and most challenging applications of cinematic thought. What happened in Cartagena that evening was what will always happen when someone watches a Kiarostami film with the right kind of attention, which is to say an openness to confusion and to the wonder of the ordinary. You don’t speak his language, but you are somehow inside his head. And he is in yours.

True Fakes on Location: World-building, Hollywood-style

Tom Carson, writing at The Baffler:

Needless to say, accuracy wasn’t mandatory. What couldn’t be documented was simply made up, and even what could be documented was mitigated by other factors, from budget requirements to dramatic fancifulness. Griffith had no historical basis for his crowing elephant statues, and he knew it. But the man wanted elephants, so elephants he got. Once Cecil B. DeMille—“a combination Belasco and Barnum,” as he was described by future Gone with the Wind impresario David O. Selznick, who would know—redefined ancient civilization extravaganzas as both his specialty and a Hollywood genre durable enough to outlive him by decades, any illusion of authenticity was bound to play the pimp to showbiz.

So consider how showbiz creates—or else, more tantalizingly, predicts—its own authenticity. As absurd as they often were, the DeMille versions of the Holy Land or Cleopatra’s Alexandria became, in a sense, the most persuasive documentation available. That’s simply because those renditions were what the public knew best. Specialists can grouse about what DeMille got wrong, but he and his imitators are still the ultimate authorities on how the rest of us imagine such places—including, it may be, architects themselves. If they want to quote from ancient Egypt or Jerusalem, they’re probably quoting from Hollywood as much as or more than from any data dug up by hard-working archeologists.

Alissa Wilkinson on ‘Now You See Me 2’

And then they—actually, you know what? The plot of this film is firmly beside the point. If you enjoyed the original film, you'll enjoy this one. It has all the same flaws and recommendations, plus Daniel Radcliffe and Lizzy Caplan. Some of it’s in China! There are some fun card tricks! It's still bent on taking down Evil Capitalists, in a vague way, but they've added People Who Steal Your Private Information, which I'm sure we all agree is horrible while continuing to merrily post on Facebook.

But the “good guys” aren't much better, with their pride, ego, and need to be adored, which the movie reminds us about at every turn. Nobody is good. Everything is cool-smile revenge. And we are complicit in rooting for it.

Now You See Me 2 is a deeply cynical film, almost nihilistic. In its view, you'll root for the guys with the flashiest act. The ultimate triumph is not seeing your enemy brought to justice, but embarrassing him in front of the entire world: the bigger the screen on which his humiliation plays, the better. Root for the smartest. Cheer for the fittest. Support the strongest, especially if they claim it's for your own benefit.

The movie is an empty, awful hackwork.

The Odd Factual Gaps in Michael Grandage’s ‘Genius’

Richard Brody:

From the very beginning of the movie, when Wolfe (Jude Law) visits the office of Perkins (Colin Firth) in 1929, with trepidation and a chip on his shoulder, the bond between the two—and the business of literature as such—is nearly evaporated by the simplifications and condensations of the story that Berg tells with a keen sense of the vitality of detail. In the movie, Wolfe delivers a self-pitying speech on his certainty that his book wouldn’t be published; instead, Perkins tells him that Scribner’s will publish it, and soon thereafter editor and author dive in to edit the unwieldy manuscript. The story that Berg tells is much richer—and much more populated. He describes Perkins’s initial dismissal of the manuscript (the novel, then called “O Lost,” would be retitled “Look Homeward, Angel”) and his change of heart, brought about by the infectious enthusiasm of his colleague Wallace Meyer. “Soon he and Meyer were passing pages back and forth and John Hall Wheelock and the rest of the staff were grabbing whole sections at a time,” Berg writes, and that one sentence offers more of a vision of Perkins working in an office with colleagues who have taste and ideas of their own than there is in the entire film. The choice of the book’s new title, meanwhile, changed at the behest of Perkins and his colleagues, came, Berg writes, not from Wolfe’s “aha” moment (as in the film) but from a list that Wolfe submitted and that Perkins and Wheelock perused.

Why do such things matter? Because they provide a sense of the physicality of rather abstract matters. In the course of a discussion with Berg and the film’s screenwriter, John Logan, published in the Los Angeles Times, Logan says that he was aware from the start that the project wasn’t typical Hollywood: “It’s about editing books,” i.e., undramatic and physically inactive. Of course, Berg’s book is proof to the contrary—depending, of course, on what constitutes drama. In movies, much of the drama is in the accidental, in the illuminating detail, the peculiar diversion of attention from the crucial into the coincidental—the interplay of necessity and contingency, of grandeur and pettiness, of minor actions and major revelations. Thus there’s more of Perkins in the detail offered by his secretary, Irma Wyckoff, to Berg, that the editor dictated letters copiously throughout the working day—“Mr. Perkins even dictated his own punctuation,” she said—than in the banality of shots of Perkins’s red pencil slicing, sometimes surgically and sometimes swashbucklingly, through typescript.

Emphasis mine, because yes.

Bilge Ebiri on ‘De Palma’

Occasionally, he touches on others’ films, and his observations are incisive, as when he notes that the deliberate pacing in Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon establishes a “time sense” of its eighteenth-century setting, immersing you in the rhythms of its era. All too often, directors feign modesty or just-doing-my-job naïveté. De Palma, by contrast, comes off as quick, smart — but never cocky. All throughout, you get the sense of an artist for whom style is a living, breathing thing. He understands that composition, movement, cutting, and pacing lie at the heart of what he does.

As a paid-in-full member of the Brian De Palma Fan Club, I enjoyed the hell out of De Palma, even though very little of it challenged my assumptions and opinions about the films. Like a lot of recent documentaries about artists, it ultimately plays something like a glorified DVD extra: an interview with, a video essay about, and a love letter to a favorite filmmaker.

I’m excited for the Drafthouse’s De Palma retrospective to start next week.

Last Year at Marienbad

Jonathan Rosenbaum:

Part of what might frighten a Fellini fan was Marienbad’s formalism, as well as its mysterious, obsessional mood. But who could even describe what was happening on-screen? Sight and Sound’s Penelope Houston came the closest: “The opening is entirely hypnotic. Like the beginning of a fairy tale, it draws us into an alien world, gives us no chance to get our bearings, hints at clues which may or may not turn out to have meaning. Slowly, through a mosaic of images and fragments of dialogue, flashes of single figures, static groups, conversation pieces, all framed with the heavy theatricality of the setting, the theme of the film begins to crystallize.”

Beautifully shot in black-and-white CinemaScope and set in an opulent rural hotel (or more likely several, dovetailed into a single labyrinthine set of interconnecting spaces), the movie centers on three upper-crust characters in formal or semiformal attire, identified in the script only as X, A, and M. X, the Italian narrator (Giorgio Albertazzi), tries to convince French fashion-plate A (Delphine Seyrig) that they’d met the previous year and had agreed to run away together upon meeting again this year, leaving behind A’s French husband, lover, and/or guardian, M (Sacha Pitoeff). All this could be real or imaginary, as perceived or fantasized by X or A — or us — in some indeterminate past, present, future, or conditional time.

Includes a still with a life-size cut-out of Alfred Hitchcock in the shadowy foreground. I’ve seen Marienbad several times, but I never noticed Hitch there.

Jennifer Garner’s Credit Card Commercials Are the Best Show on TV

Sam Donsky:

I have been thinking a lot lately about reality TV’s first boom. For all of its (ardent) adopters during this period, the dominant reaction to it was always more “sneering dismissal.” This dismissal ranged from moralistic (“it’s trashy”) to pedantic (“it’s not really real”) to apocalyptic-absurd (“it’s killing our culture”). But the message was the same: What’s not understood is not substantial.

Suddenly, though, it’s years later — classic TV move — and that balance has not only shifted but reversed. Those sneers still exist … though as a vocal minority. For the rest, reality TV has functionally come of age: Now it just is. There are high and low, bad and good, terrible and mediocre — and even canon. The default position has become one of acceptance.

What changed? Well, almost nothing: Over time, enough people simply gave it a chance. Those who gave it a chance for long enough became fluent in its language. And from fluency, a heightened meaning soon followed. Viewers grew to know what any good TV-watcher will tell you: If you want to find something to love on television, don’t assume you know where to look.

And now there is talk of TV’s “Golden Age” winding down. Increasingly, I see their point. (And their other point.) (And their point after that.) But in the end … I just don’t buy it. Because to me, a form is peaking for as long as it meets one, major criterion: It keeps surprising you.

It’s 2016 and my favorite TV show is a commercial. What’s more surprising than that?

Donsky is killing it over there.

Hollywood’s New Problem: Sequels Moviegoers Don’t Want

Pamela McClintock at THR:

It's not unusual for franchise installments to dip, but the declines have become massive, both in terms of opening weekend and ultimate global gross. The canary in the coal mine was Universal's Ride Along 2, the January comedy that grossed $90.9 million in North America, down 33 percent from the 2014 original. February saw Paramount’s Zoolander 2 gross 53 percent less domestically, and 32 percent less globally, than the 2001 first film, when accounting for inflation.

Now, sequelitis is damaging the health of the summer box office, but it's too late for studios to inoculate themselves. Over the weekend, Out of the Shadows became the latest follow-up to lag, opening to $35.3 million, compared to $65.6 million for the 2014 reboot.

Meanwhile, a heartening success for Warner Brothers’ imperiled mid-budget slate, with Me Before You opening far above expectations.

A Raving Maniac of the Cinema

At The Paris Review, Dante A. Ciampaglia on Film Culture co-founder Jonas Mekas, whose 1960s Village Voice movie column is collected in a newly reissued volume, Movie Journal: The Rise of a New American Cinema, 1959–1971:

Critics incurred his wrath often as unwitting players in one of the column’s central conflicts: Mekas versus the critical tradition. His aversion to reviewing movies was absolute and predicated, in part, on refusing the “impossible task” of explaining a movie. “What is The End all about? It is not my business to tell you what it’s all about,” he wrote in 1963. “My business is to get you excited about it, to bring it to your attention. I am a raving maniac of the cinema.” It was his task to open minds and senses, destroying biases against underground film while also creating a more active cinematic body politic. And that meant a whole-hog rejection of established critical tenets—especially a measured, clinical disposition that treats film as an inert object rather than a living organism. “I am for exaggerations!” Mekas proclaimed in 1963. “I am surrounded by such a deep layer of mediocrity that I have to shout really loud to succeed in stirring at least somebody to move, one way or another.”

Wim Wenders: ‘Between Me and the World’

Michael Almereyda, writing at Criterion:

In all three of these films, at any rate, and in nearly all that have followed, Wenders displays a fascination with photographic images, with movies and the way we allow them to buffer and displace direct experience. Most pointedly in Kings of the Road, Germany’s national consciousness is conflated with the state of the movies, by the fates of run-down theaters tended by Vogler’s repairman, who presents Lisa Kreuzer’s ticket taker with an abject token of affection, an eight-second celluloid loop spliced from dismal movie trailers: a self-contained, repeating parade of images that cheerfully encapsulate the degradation of the medium.

Yet Wenders never veers into despair. Grace notes arrive, throughout the journeys traced in these films: stray jokes and gags, perfect blasts of rock and roll, and sustained wordless scenes that allow characters to recognize a look, a spark, a spirit of true connection. Wenders insists—scene by scene, frame by frame—that cinema is by its nature the recorder of vanishing places and lives, the custodian of culture, the rescuer of lost time.

Happy Birthday Marilyn: Death Valley

Kim Morgan:

One would think that this woman — the woman Norman Mailer so eloquently called “more than the silver witch of us all” — had already been represented to death. And yet, she remains, decades after her death, enthralling. Ubiquity may cause some to take Marilyn for granted, or even to become tired of her, but it will never, ever diminish her. Andy Warhol, the first artist to put her in what was, essentially, a comic-book setting, knew it right away. His Marilyn Diptych (1962), created weeks after her death, with its rows of colorful Marilyns juxtaposed with the inkier, moodier black and white Marilyns, is a prescient, powerful work. Placing a picture that already seemed like a relic (a va-va-voom publicity shot from Niagara) into a modern pop art tableau, he exposed her timelessness and her versatility. Each of the 50 duplicate images, on closer inspection, are different.

On X-Men and Movie Stars

Sam Donsky, writing at former Grantland editor-in-chief Bill Simmons’s brand new website, The Ringer:

The more I consider the scope of what Hugh Jackman has done with X-Men, the more I understand my impulse to pity him as misplaced. The more I understand how refreshing it is, at a time when other actors seem forced to choose between “hateful captive” and “patronizing enthusiast,” to see someone treat franchise stardom as kind of routine. And whether he’s joining an ensemble in a team-up, or playing the leading man in a standalone, or even — as with Apocalypse — making a glorified cameo in the bridge to a new chapter, that is always what Jackman’s performances in X-Men films feel like. They all feel the same: like a person, who’s really good at his job, just … going to work.

And I think that’s something to admire. Never as famous as Downey, or as acclaimed as Bale, or as Chris as Evans — Hugh Jackman still feels more important than all of them. He is the first lifer movie star of the superhero generation. And if there is a universe out there for a life like his, I suppose it might as well be X-Men’s. X-Men has never been the most or least successful, or the best or worst received. It’s never dominated the culture, or nurtured an iconography, or gotten Ben Affleck through a divorce. But it’s the original. And now, somewhat miraculously, it has fulfilled its original promise — the promise that every other superhero franchise has long since foregone: It’s become uncool.

Maybe anything worth keeping around eventually does.

Casey Bloys, HBO’s New Programming Chief

Lacey Rose at THR:

Earlier this year, a fight broke out at HBO over a punctuation mark. Should a Veep poster riffing on President Obama's famous “Hope” tagline read “Maybe?” or “Maybe!”?

The network preferred a question mark, but showrunner David Mandel wanted the exclamation point. Weeks later, after hearing Mandel plead his case, then-comedy chief Casey Bloys called him about another issue. “At one point in that conversation, he stops and goes, ‘By the way, you were right about the exclamation point,’” recalls Mandel. “To have an executive who in your lifetime says to you, ‘You were right’ about something, I’d elect him president of the United States, never mind president of HBO programming.”

Owen Gleiberman on Cannes

Movies channel the world, even when they’re not trying to. At a festival like Cannes, the films that win awards — and the ones that are most celebrated, which aren’t necessarily the award winners — have almost always had a heartbeat of relevance. They’re movies that speak to us because they matter, and they matter because they express what’s going on around them.

Yet at Cannes this year, that reality was only heightened by a gathering awareness — of a theme that cuts across movies, directors, cultures, nations. Accepting the Palme d’Or for “I, Daniel Blake,” director Ken Loach observed, “We must say that another world is possible, and necessary.” He was speaking of the issue that runs like a current through “I, Daniel Blake,” and that makes it such a trenchant and moving film: not just the bureaucratic perils of the British welfare system, but the fraying social safety net in the world at large — the loss of security, jobs, the whole promise of a room with a view. What once might have seemed a “leftist” or even “Marxist” vision has become, for people across the globe, and for movie audiences everywhere, the new normal. The rich are concentrating their wealth; the sense of stability for almost everyone else is slowly eroding. It’s a brave, scary, threatening new world. And the best films at Cannes this year were about pulling back the curtain on what that looks like.

On the Quality of Current Television

Michelle Dean, writing at The Guardian:

Television drawn this stylized way can still hit those big-pop-art crescendoes, usually at the moment when a character, often one formerly only half-drawn, comes into their own. I refer here to Maisie Williams’ Arya Stark, thin sword drawn, ready to slit the throat of her old captor, muttering. Or Dean Norris’s Hank at the end of Breaking Bad, staring up at the barrel of a gun and saying, “Do what you’re gonna do.”

These moments remind me often of the one, long ago, when Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer sent her true love off to hell, stabbing him in the chest with a magic sword and stepping away from the void. But the comparison there seems telling; the shows people are watching right now at the high end of the spectrum are, in effect, superhero shows, about gods and monsters, about justice and crime. These shows are not really heirs of the Sopranos; they’re heirs of the cop shows of the 80s, of Buffy and the superhero shows.

And while I enjoyed those high pop works too, enjoyed them long before I ever subscribed to HBO, they aren’t the same. They aren’t the works that got television its respectability. They aren’t the ones I rewatch once a year. Even the latter seasons of Mad Men are like this. They often felt hastily taped together, the products of egotism and status rather than stories about egotism and status. The actors strove to make them more. But did the showrunner? I’m not so sure.

Especially framed as shows about superheroes versus what Dean calls shows about “actual people behaving as actual people do in the world,” I’m inclined to agree. That’s not to say that TV shows have ever really approached the kind of realism you see in film, but Tony Soprano and Don Draper, as characters, seem to resemble real people (with attendant, unsolvable problems) more often than Walter White and Arya Stark.

K. Austin Collins on ‘Magic Mike XXL’

At Oscilloscope Musings:

It may as well be considered the film’s thesis. Magic Mike and XXL are, taken together, a treatise on artists and commerce, one half a bit cynical, even sad, in its emphasis on the limits impressed on individuals by economic lack; the other a rapturous spectacle of artistic fulfillment that defies money’s singular ability to mitigate personal expression. When Steven Soderbergh filmed the Kings of Tampa performing in Magic Mike, the acts were as often as not reduced to montages, given a heightened, forward-moving sense of process, of accumulation—of profit. Even when he let the scenes play out, his coverage deliberately alternated between intimacy and distance, slipping back and forth between images of the men up close, often enough seen from backstage and with the audience in full view, and images of the men as they’d have appeared from the very back of the club, living sparks alit amongst so much artifice. Soderbergh allowed our sense of the performers as individuals to be overwhelmed by our impressions of the club itself, as a space: they were figments of one giant, glittering whole, cogs in a spectacle that was always looking ahead to the company’s Next Big Thing.

XXL, by contrast, emphasizes the intimacy between performer and performed-upon. Even our sense of the sizable crowd, in the final performance, is mitigated by those vast swathes of women being anonymized by darkness. We’re here to see our heroes consummate their desires. The critical consensus has been that XXL is an unabashed appreciation of adult desire, which is true, and of women’s desires in particular, which is almost false. When the mens’ acts change—from firefighters, ranch hands, and construction guys in the first film to acts reflecting some specific aspects of their own personalities—they swerve, literally, from depictions of work to depictions of pleasure, with pleasure, in this instance, being the joy of self-love and invention. XXL is not so much a film about what women want, even as the men at its center take an interest in pleasuring women, as it is an odyssey with artists at its center, a series of expressive challenges disguised as a linear journey. The challenge set before its heroes, whether in the form of making a woman smile or of making long-overdue amends with past lovers and friends, is this: express yourself. Express your self.

What I haven’t quite figured it out, what I’ve teased at all along, is what it means for a character like Magic Mike to express the particular self that’s manifest when “Pony” comes on the radio—a self that inescapably owes much to black culture, and black sexuality, specifically, down to style of dress, choice of music, and every sly pivot of Mike’s hips. This is no unthinking racial essentialism on my end: the entire movie seems to be in on this question, going out of its way to make Mike and the other Kings of Tampa confront the possibility that what they think of as their expressive selves, their libidinal selves, are actually borrowed—studied imitations of a form of sexual expression originating in black culture.

I’ve been a Magic Mike skeptic, but this just about convinced me. Great writing.

Nicolas Ray’s ‘In a Lonely Place’: An Epitaph for Love

Imogen Sara Smith for Criterion:

In a Lonely Place is both a meditation on screenwriting and an example of the craft at its finest. (As was often the case with Hollywood films of this era, the writing credits are somewhat misleading: Edmund H. North receives one for his adaptation of the Hughes novel, but that was almost entirely abandoned by Andrew Solt in his original script, which in turn was heavily revised during shooting by an uncredited Ray—a history that forms an intriguing parallel with Dix’s own refusal to follow the book in his screenplay for Althea Bruce.) Dix constantly views life as though it were a script he was writing—one wonders if he notices the echoes of Althea Bruce’s silly plot in his own relationship with Laurel—and Ray uses the character’s shoptalk as a scalpel with which to probe the gap between movies and reality. Fixing breakfast for Laurel after they have become lovers, Dix explains that “a good love scene should be about something else besides love.” To illustrate this, he uses the scene at hand: he clumsily hacking away at a grapefruit, she half-asleep in her negligee: “Anyone looking at us could tell we were in love,” he says, but doubt edges into his voice. Laurel is not dopey with sleep, she’s paralyzed by fear of this unpredictably violent man. The scene is indeed about something besides love: it’s about love strained to the breaking point by lack of trust.

When he proposes to her, in the same scene, the exchange might belong to a deft romantic comedy. Dix says offhandedly that the housekeeper thinks they should get married so she has a chance to vacuum the apartment, and Laurel quips, “Isn’t there a simpler way?” But her expression, under the sly eyebrow and the dry twinkle of a smile, is stricken. He is nervous, clenching and unclenching his hands, awkwardly pressing her for an answer. She says yes but means no, and as they kiss her eyes stay open, planning her escape. Dix is right that the scene, sad and funny and unsettling all at once, is a lesson in good screenwriting.

Sight & Sound: Film’s Gender Bias Laid Bare

Nikki Baughan on the results of several recent reports examining gender bias in the film industry:

Despite the fact the awareness of gender equality has been widespread, and much discussed, for well over a decade, the status quo has remained resolutely unchanging. The Directors UK report attributes this to the industry’s ‘unconscious systemic bias’ towards men, which is subscribed to by its primary gatekeepers and decision-makers and results in a perpetual skewing towards male filmmakers behind the camera and male stories in front of it.

That report is bold in its claim that only institutional change can make a difference, suggesting a target of 50 per cent gender parity for all public funding of film by 2020 and the development of UK tax relief to establish formalised diversity requirements. These recommendations have been met with widespread support, with many pointing to the success of the Swedish Film Institute which achieved its target gender parity in public funding in 2014 and have been reaping the rewards at festivals and the box office ever since.