I must say that the most exciting thing about today’s National Board of Review announcement for me was the Best Actress honor for Tilda Swinton. Firstly, it’s refreshing when these groups shake things up a bit and keep the competition going. But more than that, I think Swinton is one of those actresses who enrich just about every conversation, Oscar season or otherwise. Her strength isn’t simply that she’s an extraordinarily talented actress, but that she chooses projects and collaborations that dare to enrich and extend art and cinema as a whole. Too many of the leading female performances raved about this awards cycle are in safe and uninteresting movies, which is never a problem for a Swinton picture.
But enough general gushing. Let’s go back to an early point in Swinton’s career, one of her very first film roles. A year after appearing in Caravaggio, her first collaboration with Derek Jarman, the director asked her to star in his contribution to 1987’s Aria (which I covered earlier this week, as a tribute to Ken Russell). The music is the famous Depuis le jour from Gustave Charpentier’s Louise, a sweet ode to young love. It’s a gorgeously simple short from the often provocative director, as earnest in its beauty as the music itself. Continue reading
There’s a bittersweet awkwardness that happens when you discover someone’s work only as a result of their passing. I’ve never been familiar with Ken Russell‘s extraordinary and controversial filmography, despite the many times friends have recommended him. I adore Women in Love but I haven’t seen any of his other features, and from what I hear that’s hardly a representative work. I’ve seen clips of The Devils on YouTube, but have never gotten around to watching the full film. And so, as the film community mourns, I spent some time this morning reading some wonderful obituaries and poking around the web to see if he’d ever directed shorts. I found something entirely unexpected, enigmatic, and hermetical.
Aria, released in 1987, is one of those anthology flicks that opens to great excitement at Cannes and then goes absolutely nowhere. There isn’t much of a market for these things, at least not since the ‘ 60s, and it’s a shame. This particular film tasked 10 celebrated directors to each make a short film around a single opera, giving us a unique opportunity to see how artists like Jean-Luc Godard, Derek Jarman and Robert Altman relate to specific pieces of music. Russell’s contribution is Nessun Dorma, a haunting seven minutes wrapped around one of the most darkly powerful arias in the operatic canon. Continue reading