Peter Labuza is the host of The Cinephiliacs and the author of Approaching The End: Imagining Apocalypse in American Film. He has contributed to Variety, Reverse Shot,Little White Lies, Indiewire, The Playlist, In Review Online, and Press Play. He serves as an editor for To Be (Cont'd), a columnist for The Film Stage, and a booklet editor for the UK Blu-Ray distributor Masters of Cinema. He is a PhD candidate at the University of Southern California in the Critical Studies department where he is focusing on the late studio period of Hollywood between 1959-1966. Previously, Peter earned both a BA and an MA in Film Studies from Columbia University in New York City.
A Trip Down Market Street (1906): Directionless cinema. A simple short commissioned by the Miles Brothers where they simply put a camera at the front of the trolley on Market Street in San Francisco. But the ballet of people, animals, and early automobiles that it captures is astonishing. Hard to describe the immense pleasure of seeing a totally unorchestrated city symphony, but this actualité—shot days before the great Earthquake of 1906—captures the beautiful aesthetic that city life could create.
Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994): a Dorothy Parker biopic that avoids the trappings of the genre simply through its constant tempo. Alan Rudolph takes a cue from his mentor, Robert Altman, and turns constant action into a flowing of people, dialogue, and movement. Every moment seems to naturally turn into the next, capturing some of the spirit of Parker’s poetry through the film’s rhythmic turns.
Blind Husbands (1919): By 1919, most American filmmaking had perfected continuity editing into a schematic formula based around elements of the European tableaux staging. Erich Von Stroheim’s mountain set melodrama thus upends the system by turning 180 degree spaces into fully lived in worlds. The result is a camera free from certain basic rules that pushes the camera to capture emotional pulls through depth staging and cutting on expected rhythms that turn this tale of possible infidelity into an immensely complex one.
Matinee (1993): Perhaps the best movie about the pleasures of the movies—or how they both harmonize and exploit our ability to be transported. Joe Dante’s Cold War set throwback to the William Castle era of moviemaking stages a fear-induced vision of vulgar capitalism, all with eye-winking humor as it breaks down the worlds in front and behind the screen. That it ends on a truly ominous note—a military helicopter that would become an icon of the Vietnam war—demonstrates the filmmaker as one of the most prescient filmmakers exploring the role of Hollywood in America’s military industrial complex.
La Petite Lise (1930): The first sound film from French filmmaker Jean Gremillon, whose work has slowly gained a reputation over the last few years, follows a prisoner released once again to the free world, happy to make amends to the daughter he lost in the preceding years. She, however, has fallen on hard times herself, and the ensuing melodrama weights moral complexity with astonishing filmmaking. Gremillon chooses shots for not what they are but what they become—small camera arcs, certain movements in staging, are minimized to account for the recording of direct sound, but the intimacy of these gestures reverberates with acute honesty. The film still finds interludes within this fallen woman’s story for moving tracking shots and a mysterious dance hall, a true hallmark of French poetic realism.