Cinema Poet/Provocateur: Dimitri Kirsanoff

Dimitri Kirsanoff

Dimitri Kirsanoff

So intense are the narrative thru-line and emotional arc of Dimitri Kirsanoff’s 1926 film Ménilmontant that it is one of the few silent films without intertitles. The opening and closing scenes of graphic murder remain shocking today. Its sometimes frenetic but often poetic evocation of Parisian streets and the ominous waters of the Seine center it both in the 1920s tradition of urban documentary, as in films of Vertov, Ruttman and Siodmak, and in the mythic-poetic visions of Rene Clair, Man Ray and Buñuel.

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‘A Bloody Ex-Pat’ and ‘The Mona Lisa Curse’

Contemplating De Chirico

Robert Hughes contemplating De Chirico

After critic Robert Hughes leaves art collector Alberto Mugrabi’s apartment at the end of his 2008 BBC documentary The Mona Lisa Curse, Mugrabi, breathing a sigh of relief, whispers, “He’s a tough cookie.” To call Time magazine’s uber-articulate, uber-opinionated former art critic a “tough cookie” is like calling Hurricane Katrina a “storm.”

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Minor White at the Getty

2. cabbage hill, OREGON

Cabbage Hill, Oregon

“All photographs are self-portraits.”

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Windowsill Daydreaming

“The photographer projects himself into everything he sees, identifying himself with everything in order to know it and to feel it better.”

These are just two of Minor White’s famous epigrams. He could easily have published a quotable photographic Little Red Book of Mao, so apt are his thoughts on his art form. It would be an appropriate companion to Robert Bresson’s Notes on the Cinematographer, which I wrote about in May 2011.

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The Unseen Portrait: Reiner Riedler

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A gallery invitation to Riedler’s THE UNSEEN SEEN

An uneasy balance often exists between photojournalism and portraiture. A news photo of a Palestinian youth hurling a bottle rocket at an Israeli tank, or a photo of two Russian Orthodox priests carrying a large icon in the snow, can become a “portrait” once the subject turns and engages the eye of the camera. This engagement of the viewer with the subject, created by a simple head turn to the lens, difficult to parse but powerfully dramatic, lies at the core of many a photographer’s evaluation of his work. Some critics, like Susan Sontag, have even examined the moral issues involved in the subject’s direct confrontation with the photographer/viewer.

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Drones, Drones, Drones (UAVs)

Amazon Prime Air

Amazon Prime Air

According to Natalie Sommer, an associate producer at 60 Minutes, before Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos ushered Charlie Rose into a secret room at Amazon’s corporate headquarters, he offered the reporter half of his fortune, and a trip to Las Vegas to spend it, if Rose could tell him what was in the room. Well, Charlie Rose is still working for CBS and PBS.

On a large, polished, wood table sat two 8-rotor drone helicopters emblazoned with an Amazon Prime Air logo, the vehicles of a futuristic concept to deliver your Amazon order, assuming it isn’t a heavy appliance like a television or toilet, to your home within 30 minutes after you place the order. That’s only half the running time of an episode of the CBS Sunday night news show.

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Bill Bryson’s ‘Little Walk’


The many markers of the Appalachian Trail

Only a writer with a wit as sardonic as Bill Bryson’s would title a book about a more-than-2,1000-mile, five-month wilderness trek on foot through 14 states of the Eastern seaboard— A Walk in the Woods. A “walk”? A person still in touch with the real world would likely title it A Punishing Rite of Passage That Should Be Done Only by Those Under 30. Continue reading ‘Bill Bryson’s ‘Little Walk’’

Butterflies and Buffalo: Dennis Manarchy

Giant "Eye of America" camera in the workshop.

Giant “Eye of America” camera in the workshop.

Today’s Millennials take the “selfie” snapshot and the immediate sharing of it on Instagram for granted. For them to imagine the lengthy, intricate processes of portraiture required at the birth of photography in the mid-nineteenth century—is, well, impossible.

One of the first photographers to move out of the studio confines and take his camera out into the world was Roger Fenton, who along with his assistant Marcus Sparling was commissioned by Queen Victoria to document the Crimean War of 1853-1856. Fenton’s mobile darkroom was a converted wine delivery wagon. The demanding wet collodion process he employed was, however, a major advance over the metal plate, direct positive monotype of Daguerre and the paper negative/positive print technique of Fox Talbot, the Calotype. Fenton worked in the Crimea only a few months– but returned to Queen Victoria in June 1854 with over 350 14”x18” glass plates. Continue reading ‘Butterflies and Buffalo: Dennis Manarchy’


Gordon Willis, ASC, in 1994.

Gordon Willis, ASC, “On Film,” 1994. (Photo by Douglas Kirkland.)


It is an irony worthy of the cinematographer who was dubbed “The Prince of Darkness” by Conrad Hall that one of his most controversial lighting schemes was for a set bathed in bright, shadowless, fluorescent light. Since Gordon Willis’ death from cancer on May 18 in his home in North Falmouth, Mass., critics and filmmakers have evoked his lighting of Marlon Brando and the many murky interiors in The Godfather as his signature style, and this technique has certainly been influential on several generations of younger cinematographers. But it was his lighting of the Washington Post newsroom set in All the President’s Men that was, in 1975, just as large a gauntlet thrown down in front of the Hollywood cinematography establishment.

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Michelle Stafford: From Network ‘Soap’ to Webisode Comedy



When Phyllis Summers fell down a flight of stairs on August 2, 2013, her millions of fans at first were shocked, and then lost in grief. She went into a coma and has remained so since. Family visitors to her Georgia Island bedside, including her husband, her lover, her son, and her rival, Sharon Newman, never see her face, except when Sharon does so in a fevered dream. There are some who feel that the highly sexualized Phyllis finally has gotten her due.

On October 17, 1994, then 29 year old actress Michelle Stafford debuted in the role of Phyllis Summers on the daytime television soap opera The Young and the Restless, a show that had already been airing for over twenty years on CBS. Originally conceived as a short time new character, Stafford’s Phyllis became unexpectedly popular; Stafford remained with the program for fifteen years, though she took a two-year hiatus in the late 1990s.  She was nominated for daytime Emmys ten times and has won twice. Continue reading ‘Michelle Stafford: From Network ‘Soap’ to Webisode Comedy’

Willard Van Dyke and His Mentor Edward Weston


This low angle portrait of photographer Edward Weston was taken by filmmaker/photographer Willard Van Dyke in 1932. Weston was in the full flush of his creative years. A few years earlier, Van Dyke, a young photographer, had met Weston at the opening of an exhibition of Weston’s work at San Francisco’s Palace of the Legion of Honor; shortly after, Van Dyke became his apprentice. He introduced Weston to Ansel Adams and in 1932 the three and four other local photographers formed Group f.64. Van Dyke opened a small gallery in his home, calling it “683,” his street address on Brockhurst in Oakland, a backhand reference to the famous Alfred Stieglitz Manhattan gallery “291.” In November of 1932, the De Young Museum gave the group its first show. For the next decade Weston traveled widely through California and the Southwest, part of the time under a Guggenheim Grant. He also received a commission to illustrate an edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

Weston had many lovers and models during the 1920s and 1930s, especially Marguerite Mather and Tina Modotti, but when he met Charis Wilson at a concert in 1934, he knew right off that he had found the love of his life. He was still living with fellow Group f.64 founding member Sonia Noskowiak but they soon parted. He and Wilson spent the next decade traveling and working together. She was also his muse and model. Shortly after they began their relationship, Weston photographed her in a series of nude studies on the coastal dunes of Oceano near Santa Barbara. Continue reading ‘Willard Van Dyke and His Mentor Edward Weston’