About twenty years ago, the long-awaited adaptation of Toni Morrison's shattering novel Beloved finally made it to theaters and was greeted with a generally lukewarm response. The uncredited critic for The Guardian flippantly titled their review, "Beloved? Not likely," before describing the movie as "stillborn," astonishingly bad, cheesy, sanctimonious, and rife with stereotypes. (To compare a long-suffering matriarch, a "sturdy mother with a tree of scars whipped into her back," to a Blaxploitation heroine, as this critic does, is truly insulting.) One wonders if the writer of the Guardian review is male or female, since the bulk of their disdain arises from Oprah Winfrey's ambition and dedication to the project—she had bought the rights in 1987, shortly after the novel was released—and their vitriolic pan has the whiff of outraged sexism (how dare Winfrey use her clout to support a project that she thought was culturally significant?! and would this critic have been similarly miffed if that producer-star had been a man?). The Guardian review is only the most acerbic example of the film's critical response, which ranged from negative to indifferent: the Washington Post called it "remorseless and relentless," "tragedy degraded to pulp"; Entertainment Weekly said it is "weighted down by...crushing ponderousness" and described it as "a labor"; CNN outright called it one of the worst movies of the year.
Mother of Sighs
In discussing the impetus for the 2018 "reimagining" of Suspiria, screenwriter David Kajganich hardly conceals his disdain for Dario Argento's 1977 original. Admitting he's not as enamored with that film as Luca Guadagnino, the director of the new version, Kajganich reveals that he wasn't sold on revisiting Suspiria until Guadagnino suggested a political undercurrent, digging into the setting of 1977 West Berlin, a city plagued by anarchist terrorism and the bloodstained ghosts of the past. "Suddenly, it seemed like the scope of it could be quite a bit more, dramatically, instead of the sort of hermetically sealed kind of fever dream of the original," Kajganich said. "We can really have a much grander scale, in terms of understanding the politics of the day.”
The creation of art is an act of cartography: it charts unknown territory, creating living, breathing atlases of worlds that can only be accessed by their singular authors. So if artistry is an act of genesis, it must have its counterforce--erasure, destruction, silence, suppression—which takes shape under the guise of censorship. Every artist’s nemesis, censorship—whether political, social, or even self-inflicted—amounts to an unnatural death inflicted upon a creature thriving in its infancy. So it seems contradictory at first glance to ponder the (non-)production circumstances of This Is Not a Film, the 2011 pseudo-documentary from Iran. Officially directed by Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and unofficially by Jafar Panahi, This Is Not a Film “turns censorship into great art,” according to IndieWire. Following a harsh legislative decision in 2010 that banned Panahi from filmmaking for 20 years after he was nebulously convicted of "conspiring against the state," he and Mirtahmasb set out to turn Panahi’s sentence inside out, obeying the letter of the law in order to implicitly denounce its spirit.