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  • New York Film Academy Hosts Screening and Discussion with Film Critic Peter Rainer

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    On Thursday, July 25th, the New York Film Academy hosted a screening and discussion with Film Critic, Peter Rainer on the film, The Conversation, by Francis Ford Coppola. Made in 1974 The Conversation, is about a surveillance wire tap expert, played by Gene Hackman in his finest performance, who believes he may be implicated in a murder plot. The film is especially relevant today because of the issues it raises about how technology invades our privacy, and for film students, it’s a great example of how sound design on a low budget (courtesy of the amazing Walter Murch) can be an essential storytelling ingredient. It’s also a great example of how a thriller/detective story can also serve as the vehicle for profound observations about the human condition.

    Peter Rainer has 30 years of professional experience as a film critic. Rainer is currently the film critic for the Christian Science Monitor and can be heard regularly on NPR’s Film Week on kpcc-fm. He was one of three finalists in 1998 for the Pulitzer Prize in Criticism and is a three-time winner of the Arts and Entertainment Journalism Award for best online film critic. He has also written and co-produced two A&E biographies, on Sidney Poitier and John Huston, as well as co-authoring the film Joyride (1977). He has served on the main juries for the Venice and Montreal film festivals.

     

    Rainer opened up the discussion by asking the students in attendance what feelings they had towards the movie. Responses included one student sharing the difference in the impact of sound quality when watching the film on a television screen at home versus in a theater. Another student inquired on Rainer’s opinion on how the ending of the film should be interpreted. Rainer shared, “Well it’s sort of a poetic metaphor, perfect ending for this movie in a way, that somebody whose job it is to infiltrate other people’s lives, is himself done in by the very tactics that he’s a master of.”

    The dialogue continued with Rainer asking a student if they felt as though the murder dream sequence in the film was necesary to the movie. After agreeing that it was not, Rainer added, “I’ve heard this mentioned, I’ve never been able to pin it down, that the film had certain editing issues, editing problems, and that that dream sequence was originally shot not to be a dream scene. Then they sort of cut it in and put the smoke around it and made it seem like it was a dream. I can’t entirely buy that explanation because of what he says to her and so forth. If it wasn’t a dream, if he tracked her down and was yelling at her, then the whole plot falls apart.”

    Rainer then continued on to discuss the alignment the film had with the political environment at the time of its initial release. “As I said when I started out, when this film came out, it was just before Richard Nixon resigned, after he bugged the democratic national committee, and that’s what started the whole Watergate Scandal,” Rainer stated, continuing, “They immediately drew a line between this film and what was going on in the country, but it turns out he had written this script a good ten years before all of that. But a lot of the tools in the film and a lot of the gizmos and mechanisms that he uses were very similar in many ways to what the actual watergate burners used, which is another reason why people thought he was making a great political statement when in fact it was just one of those things.”

    Rainer concluded with sharing insight on Coppola’s belief in auteurs being the only true artists in the filmmaking world, revealing, “Coppola has always had this notion that to be a true artist, you have to be an auteur and write the movie, a well as direct it.” Rainer contested this idea by saying, “I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with adapting other people’s scripts, or adapting other people’s novels. There are many great directors who can’t write screenplays, but know a good screenplay when they see it.”

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Peter Rainer for sharing his knowledge and critic with students.

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    August 28, 2019 • Film School, Filmmaking, Guest Speakers • Views: 517

  • Q&A with Film Critic Peter Rainer

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    On Thursday, April 25, New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a Q&A with prolific Christian Science Monitor film critic, Bloomberg News columnist, and reviewer for National Public Radio’s FilmWeek, Peter Rainer.

    Peter Rainer

    Rainer started off the Q&A by sharing how he came to love movies; he shared that he grew up in the suburbs of New York in the 1950s and 60s and enjoyed trips to the movie theater from a very young age. Rainer explained that, as a teenager, he could not fully relate to some of the classic films he was watching because he had not yet experienced the deeper emotions explored in them, “…of course, when you see a lot of these films when you’re not even out of high school, it’s hard to look at a[n] ‘adult’ movie like L’Avventura or some of these great European classics … and really, you know, you can say they’re great but what kind of a life have you lived to appreciate a film like that? So even though I’m not a huge fan of seeing films over and over again, I do think that, for great movies, it certainly make sense—just like with great literature—to … see them as you mature because you just get more out of them—that’s the definition of a great film.”

    A member of the audience later asked Rainer what he believes to be the purpose of film criticism. “It’s not the value judgement, per se, that you look for in a critic,” said Rainer. He added, “If somebody says to me, ‘I really love your reviews; I agree with everything you say,’ it’s nice to hear but it’s kind of like saying, ‘Thank you for validating my good taste,’” joked Rainer. Rainer said that he likes critics who challenge his views and force him to look at things in a different way.

    Peter Rainer

    Another audience member shared that they believe film to be a type of art and Rainer agreed, saying, “Because it’s such an accessible medium, because we go there and we eat popcorn and we see films and, you know, talk about [them] with our friends … that somehow, you know, you might think that that’s devalued it as an art form, but it [hasn’t].” Rainer spoke of his belief that a film’s artistic relevance transcends the film’s popularity and is truly about how well the story and the characters’ emotions are conveyed.

    New York Film Academy would like to thank Peter Rainer for sharing his critic’s perspective on film and its place in society.

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    May 9, 2019 • Filmmaking, Guest Speakers • Views: 992

  • Peter Rainer Discusses Film Criticism With New York Film Academy (NYFA)

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    On Friday, December 7, New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a guest lecture by Peter Rainer, noted Christian Science Monitor film critic, Bloomberg News columnist, and reviewer for National Public Radio’s FilmWeek.

    Rainer began by sharing the origin of his interest in movies. When he was a boy, there were not very many movies on television; because of this, he would re-watch the same movies over and over again when they aired, and doing this caused him to examine and question various elements of the films. 

    Once he was older, he started attending screenings of classic movies at revival theaters in New York City and reading film history books and articles by critics. He was inspired by the work of critic James Agee, who he felt elevated film criticism to art by writing with passion and style and not just listing the pros and cons of films.

    “It made me think for the first time that maybe, you know, I could write about movies and be a real writer… and not just a recounter or a reviewer,” said Rainer. Rainer added that Pauline Kael was another film critic that influenced him; her style was “acerbic” and “opinionated” but distinct from other critics of her time because she was unafraid to ruffle Hollywood’s feathers.

    Peter Rainer

    When Rainer attended Brandeis University, he wrote movie reviews for their newspaper, The Brandeis Hoot; in Rainer’s opinion, the late 1960s to early 1970s — when he attended college — were the “Golden Age of American cinema.” During this time, Rainer had the opportunity to review classic films like A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Godfather (1972) and Cabaret (1972), and he built a portfolio of work that he later used to try to get jobs as a professional writer.

    Eventually, Rainer got a job as a film critic for Mademoiselle magazine, but it was not enough to support him financially. He co-wrote a screenplay and it was produced as a film called Joyride (1977) starring Desi Arnaz, Jr. and Melanie Griffith, but Rainer’s heart was still in film criticism more than filmmaking. “I still had this jones to be a critic.” said Rainer.

    Rainer then went on to work for the daily newspaper, The Los Angeles Herald Examiner, where he worked for 10 years as chief critic. When The Herald Examiner ceased publication, Rainer was hired as a film critic for the Los Angeles Times. He struggled at the Times because their editors were hesitant to criticize films made by big Hollywood production companies — they didn’t want to lose the companies’ advertising money. Rainer was frustrated with the Times’ priorities and ultimately moved on to other publications, eventually landing at the Christian Science Monitor, at which he has worked for 13 years. Additionally, he is a reviewer for National Public Radio.

    Rainer shared that, as movies are increasingly distributed through digital streaming networks like Netflix, the experience of a film critic has evolved; now critics are expected to watch and review more and more movies at a time and more and more movies in a digital streaming format rather than at a theater. Rainer feels that this infringes on the critic’s — and ultimately the moviegoer’s — experience because it reduces one’s ability to be absorbed into the world of the film. Additionally, some films have special effects and production design that is better showcased on a big screen.

    Rainer inquired about the students in the audience and their filmmaking aspirations. “I think in the end, filmmaking, acting, writing, producing is the same thing as what I do,” said Rainer, “in the sense that you have to sort of find who you are and work out of your own experience.” Rainer emphasized the importance of authenticity in the art of moviemaking but, he added, “I don’t know if it’s that simple.”

    Ultimately, a film’s quality is based on a balance between a basic knowledge of the process and history of filmmaking and how well the story is conveyed by the actors and production team. A film critique’s quality is based on that film knowledge as well as a clear point-of-view about the movie being reviewed. Additionally, Rainer added that serious criticism is about dissecting the various aspects of a film and whether or not they conveyed the story and tone in a clear way, rather than just sharing opinions for the sake of sharing opinions — an activity heavily encouraged by the rise of internet culture.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank film critic Peter Rainer for discussing lessons learned throughout his career, and for his advice for young filmmakers from a critic’s perspective.

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    December 18, 2018 • Filmmaking, Guest Speakers • Views: 612

  • Candy Clark and Peter Rainer Screen American Graffiti at New York Film Academy Los Angeles

    Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailThe Los Angeles Campus of the New York Film Academy welcomed back actress Candy Clark following a screening of the classic film American Graffiti. Previously, Clark had joined us for a Q&A following the classic David Bowie Film, The Man Who Fell to Earth. Prolific Film Critic Peter Rainer moderated the event.

    Candy Clark has worked in the film industry for nearly four and a half decades, with roles in classic films including George Lucas’ American Graffiti, The Man Who Fell to Earth, David Fincher’s Zodiac, Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant!, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Clark has also worked on TV series including Magnum P.I., Criminal Minds, and a few episodes of the 2017 version of Twin Peaks.

    Peter Rainer has been in the industry for over 30 years, and currently writes for NPR, The Los Angeles Times, and the Christian Science Monitor. He’s also the author of Rainer on Film: Thirty Years of Film Writing in a Turbulent and Transformative Era.

    George Lucas’ American Graffiti is a coming-of-age comedy based heavily on Lucas’ own teenage years in Modesto, CA. It was a huge success, and is one of the films that led to the start of the “summer blockbuster.” The film’s success also gave Lucas the funding for a film he’d wanted to do for a long time — a space opera that eventually became Star Wars.

    Rainer and Clark opened the discussion by talking about the doubts studio executives had about American Graffiti, specifically: “they hated the title … nobody knows what graffiti means.”

    Producer Francis Ford Coppola asked everyone on set — actors included — to come up with a new title. Coppola’s suggestion was “Rock Around the Block,” but Clark said they held firm. “American Graffiti has a good rhythm … it just sounds great.”

    One audience member asked if Clark always knew the film would be a success. With a big smile on her face, Clark said that she always thought it would be a hit. Earlier in the Q&A, Clark even talked about how she had a first audition before she’d seen the script, and after reading it, she insisted her agent get her another audition so she could do the writing justice. She really identified with the characters, as she had spent her youth cruising between drive-ins in Fort Worth, Texas.

    Clark talked about her experiences on set, including the fact that “there would not be many takes at all, they had to move on.” Regardless, Clark said she always had confidence in her portrayal of Debbie, who she felt was an easygoing and kind character.

    Clark also reminisced fondly about her castmates and told stories from their time together, including one about Richard Dreyfuss: He was late meeting her for dinner because Harrison Ford and Paul Le Mat threw him in the hotel swimming pool.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Candy Clark for coming back and speaking to our students about this classic film, and Peter Rainer for his insightful moderation.Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

  • Guest Lecture Series with Film Critic Peter Rainer

    Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailFilm Critic and historian Peter Rainer continues his guest lecture series with a thoughtful exploration of the film “Blue Sky” starring Jessica Lange and Tommy Lee Jones and directed by Tony Richardson (“A Taste of Honey” and “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”). “Blue Sky” was shot between 1990 and 1991 but was not released until 1993. It was Richardson’s last film. In fact, he did not live long enough to see it released.

    Lange won her second Oscar for her role as the Bipolar, hyper-sexualized wife of an army nuclear inspector. In her acceptance speech, Lange said, “This is such an honor, especially for a film that seemed to have no future.”

    peter Rainer

    Rainer began the evening’s conversation with a reading of his initial review published in the Los Angeles Times from his book “Rainer on Film.” This review was sent to Oscar voters along with the VHS of the film for Ms. Lange’s nomination run. Rainer divulged that Lange herself said that if it hadn’t been for his essay she wouldn’t have won her second Oscar.

    “Jessica Lange’s acting in ‘Blue Sky’ leaves you awestruck. It is a great performance. Because the film is just now being released, it is yet another foundling from the pre-bankrupt Orion picture era —its appearance is like a gift,” Rainer began. “It’s an especially welcome gift because Lange hasn’t been acting much in the movies lately. You have to wonder how it is that Lange could give such a performance. It’s even better than her Francis in ‘Francis’ or her Patsy Klein in the ‘Sweet Dreams’ and keeps away from the camera for so long. The lack of roles for women is no excuse. Lange is the kind of actress artists write parts for.”

    From here the floor was open to students to discuss what they liked, what they didn’t understand, where they were moved, and how they might have addressed these performances. The most prevailing subject of conversation was the lead actress.

    Lange has also played deranged southern belle, Blanche DuBois on Broadway. Her character in “Blue Sky,” Carly Marshall inhabits touches of Blanche but also Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot. During the open discussion, one student wondered aloud, “What is the relevance of Blanche. Why does she keep coming back over and over again in American cinema?”

    Rainer gave a brief background on the character of Blanche and then said, “I think there are certain archetypes that repeat and the southern belle is one of them. The poles are Scarlett O’Hara in ‘Gone With the Wind’ and Blanche from ‘A Street Car Named Desire.’ It relates to the fragility and the strength of women in the context of a very male dominated society. Putting it in a southern context exaggerates that paradigm. In the South, you are expected to be prim and ladylike and sip Mint Julep, if you are a white woman.”

    peter Rainer

    Speaking to the enduring legacy of the role, Rainer continued, “Also, the role is just that damn good. Tennessee Williams wrote one of the greatest roles of all time. It’s natural for dramatist and actors to try to play that out and try to recapture the magic. In the case of ‘Blue Sky,’ she’s not just DuBois she’s very much trying to capture the stars of that time — Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. The very first shot of the film is her leafing through star magazines.”

    Another student chimed in that they didn’t think a film with a woman over 40 — acting sexy and leading a character driven film — could hope for funding in today’s film world.

    “It’s kind of depressing to think about the number of great films that couldn’t get made today,” Rainer said. “This film got made because Jessica Lange at that time was big box office. Orion was one of the few film companies at this time willing to take risks. A film like ‘Blue Sky’ would do much better on television than film nowadays.”

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Peter Rainer for his continued support and informative lecture series. If you’d like to read more of Rainer’s reviews pick up his book “Rainer on Film” or his page on Rotten Tomatoes.Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

    May 16, 2017 • Guest Speakers • Views: 2607

  • Film Critic Peter Rainer to Teach at NYFA Los Angeles

    Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailPart of what makes up a successful filmmaker is a having a vast knowledge of cinema history. Look no further than Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, who are both well known for having an encyclopedic memory of films over the last century.

    peter rainer

    Peter Rainer with NYFA President Michael Young

    Given the importance of film and cinema studies, the New York Film Academy is delighted to welcome its newest faculty member, Peter Rainer, who has thirty years of professional experience as a film critic. “There is still nothing like seeing a movie in a theater on a big screen and being awed by the whole experience — that communal feeling,” says Rainer.

    Rainer is currently the film critic for the Christian Science Monitor, a columnist for Bloomberg News, the president of the National Society of Film Critics, and a regular reviewer for FilmWeek on NPR. He’s also written for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles magazine, New York magazine, and New Times Los Angeles, where he was a finalist in 1998 for the Pulitzer Prize in Criticism. He is also a three-time winner of the Arts and Entertainment Journalism Award for best online film critic.

    The first film Rainer reviewed professionally was “Chinatown,” which is considered a must-see for any aspiring screenwriter or director.

    “I really had this jones to be a critic ever since my dad gave me this book called ‘Agee on Film: Criticism and Comment on the Movies,'” says Rainer. “I learned you could be a real writer and still be a critic.”There is still nothing like seeing a movie in a theatre on a big screen and being awed by the whole experience, that communal feeling.

    rainer and calderon

    NYFA Dean of the College Sonny Calderon with Peter Rainer

    Beginning this spring, Rainer will begin teaching a special topics seminar at NYFA’s Los Angeles campus, which will consist of eight courses. His love for Robert Altman’s career will be an integral part of his course as he intends to screen and discuss much of his work.

    In addition to his seminars, Rainer has been a guest speaker at NYFA LA and intends on speaking at its New York campus in 2017.Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

    January 4, 2017 • Faculty Highlights, Filmmaking • Views: 3597

  • Pulitzer Prize Nominee Peter Rainer Discusses Film Critique

    Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailrainerThis past week, Pulitzer Prize nominee Peter Rainer stopped by New York Film Academy – Los Angeles to discuss what makes a good critic, what he sees as the next wave of filmmaking, and, of course, his years and development as a cinematic journalist. Dean of the College, Sonny Calderon, hosted the event.

    Rainer began his career as a film critic for his college newspaper. In fact, he eventually became the managing editor of the paper, so he could give himself more space for his film reviews. “I really had this jones to be a critic ever since my dad gave me this book called Agee on Film: Criticism and Comment on the Movies. I learned you could be a real writer and still be a critic.”

    He continued, “When I graduated, I went to the library and wrote out a list of 50 publications that I could work for. Not knowing anybody. And I just sent my best work. I think I got two responses. One was from William F. Buckley. John Ford had died around that time so they asked me to do a piece on Ford. That was my first published piece as a writer. “

    Rainer’s first permanent job was with Mademoiselle Magazine. Rainer said of his time there, “The first film I ever reviewed professionally was Chinatown. And I also did an interview with Robert Towne. He let it slip for the first time anywhere that he did an uncredited rewrite of Bonnie and Clyde.” This scoop became a huge Hollywood controversy and put Rainer on the map as a serious journalist.

    paul rainer

    From there, Rainer moved onto the L.A. Times. I had six years at the times. It was an interesting time. I think then the publishing industry had a very cozy relationship with Hollywood.”

    Rainer went on to describe the difficulties critics have faced balancing thoughtful journalism with the demands of their publications’ advertising departments. When the studios keep your paper afloat it’s best not to upset them. “I thought being a critic was this refined thing. It’s connected to the dynamo of journalism, which means you’re connected to advertising. Critics were considered to be antagonistic to the advertisers.”

    Speaking on the state of the pictures today Rainer said, ”I’m always amazed that films that are remade are always the ones that worked the first time. What you should do is remake a film that had a great idea but failed. I see 300 movies a year. I’d say 280 of them are – ugh. I wish I had more time to watch TV. A lot of what’s going on in television, right now, is more exciting than the movies. When I started in the mid 70’s maybe five or eight movies were released a week. Now…it’s more like 25. I never walk out of a film I’m going to review. I still have this ridiculous notion that at some point the film is going to get good or there’ll be some breakthrough performance…”

    Paul Rainer

    To end the evening Rainer read his eulogy to the person he considers the greatest actor of all time, Marlon Brando. A sincere hush fell over the students as they listened to the ups and downs of Brando’s career and how, through it all, he remained the best at his craft.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Peter Rainer for his time and insight. Calderon highly suggests reading Rainer’s book, Rainer on Film: Thirty Years of Film Writing in Turbulent and Transformative Era. This is a great book for film lovers and creators and gives a broad history of one of the medium’s best critics. You can catch reviews from Rainer at the Christian Science Monitor and on NPR’s FilmWeek.Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

    August 8, 2016 • Filmmaking, Guest Speakers • Views: 4343