Yearly Archives: 2009

Jerry Lewis Film Series in Los Angeles in June

If you’re in Los Angeles in June (I won’t be), you might want to check out The Cinefamily‘s Jerry Lewis retrospective (page down), playing on Saturdays. This culminates in his last feature to date, Cracking Up (the poster for its European version is seen below).

I’m cited in the ad for the latter film in the following way: “In some ways it comes off as so formally brazen that the end result of this Airplane!-style gag-fest was avant-garde enough to appeal to academically inclined critics and Lewis lovers — Jonathan Rosenbaum, for example, sandwiched Cracking Up between Bresson’s L’Argent and Kiarostami’s Fellow Citizen on his list of best films of 1983 (the only English-language pick on the list).” I’m not sure what makes me “academically inclined,” but for the record, the (alphabetical) list of my favorite films of 1983 [in Essential Cinema] also includes, immediately below Fellow Citizen, Potter’s The Gold Diggers, Wenders’ Hammett, Dante’s It’s a Good Life [from  Twilight Zone: The Movie],  Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, Burnett’s My Brother’s Wedding, and, a bit further down the list, Wenders’ The State of Things, Brownlow and Gill’s The Unknown Chaplin, and Cronenberg’s Videodrome — all of them “English-language picks”. Read more

Hoberman in French & in English


It’s very good to have a selection of J. Hoberman’s film criticism finally available in French translation, so Emmanuel Burdeau should be commended for bringing out a French edition of Hoberman’s most recent (2003) collection, moderately priced at 14 Euros and translated by Marie Mathilde Burdeau, in his film book series published by Capricci (which has also published the wonderful Les Aventures de Harry Dickson —one of the first things I wrote about on this website). The only thing that gives me pause is that only 16 of Hoberman’s articles have been included in the French edition, leaving roughly 50 other pieces in the same book untranslated and unacknowledged in any way. (More precisely, this French edition includes only 14 of the 66 separate items in the original, though it adds two others.) This must be a reflection of the ongoing recession on both sides of the Atlantic—even if Hoberman’s given name has been upgraded in French from J. to Jim. [3/31/09] Read more

Correction of Previous Post

Hi Jon,
The photo is mine, provided years ago to Alabama Public Television when they were shooting “Rosenbaum House in Alabama” and to Debbie Wilson, who runs the Florence tourism promotion office. PBS picked it up when they did their FLLW series in 1999. The photo (yes, it is chez Rosenbaum) has been on the web in reverse since October 13, 1999. As in this instance, you can sometimes check the provenance of a website through the Wayback Machine ( http://web.archive.org). I never bothered to write to correct the error of the left to right reversal.

Love,
Alvin

P.S. A much better item on the PBS website is FLW’s rendering of the house. Find it at http://web.archive.org/web/20041229231416/www.pbs.org/flw/buildings/usonia/usonia.html
A

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Stanley Rosenbaum Residence: The Dream Version

Cruising on the Internet, I just accessed on the PBS website a photograph that purports to be an exterior view of the Usonian house that I grew up in, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, in Florence, Alabama. I got there by following a link on the Wikipedia entry for “Stanley Rosenbaum Residence”—an entry that incidentally includes an accurate view of the exterior, reproduced directly below:

I know my memory isn’t playing tricks on me—not only because I know the house by heart, after living there for the first 16 years of my life, but also because I visited it quite recently, earlier this month. The first photograph is clearly the exterior of another, albeit quite similar, Wright house, and I’m sorry that I’m not enough of a Wright expert (as my brother Alvin is) to be able to identify it precisely. If you look closely at the row of glass doors on the left in the second photograph, you can barely see the thin line of a stone terrace just underneath them that is remarkably similar to the one seen much more clearly in the top photograph that juts to the right in a diagonal line and then ends, with three steps just below it. Read more

NATIVE SON (novel and play)

Political incorrectness has a lot to do with what still gives this novel much of its shocking power: the fact that Richard Wright refuses to make Bigger Thomas sympathetic or his crimes in any way excusable, even though he understands perfectly and very cogently how and why this character can murder as readily as he does— not only a white philanthropist’s daughter, whom he accidentally smothers, but also Bigger’s own girlfriend, whom he kills with a brick quite deliberately, almost immediately after they have sex. Recently reading this 1940 Chicago novel for the second time, I was reminded of both Dostoevsky and Camus (even though, novelistically speaking, Wright is miles ahead of L’Étranger). There’s something schizophrenic as well as dialectical about the way Wright can  grasp the thought processes of his primitive young hero and then can offer a lengthy intellectual discourse about those processes. Eventually the communist discourse and arguments in the book’s second half drown out Bigger’s identity, but the way Bigger himself is allowed to dominate the discourse in the first half is the book’s unambiguous and terrifying triumph. Read more

NOT ENOUGH AIR (an amazing play)

I urge any Chicagoans reading this post to rush out and see this local stage production (and world premiere), the most exciting piece of theater I’ve ever seen in this city. But I’m sorry to say that the only illustration I can access on the Internet and reproduce here is the above image, which is what’s used in the ads. [Postscript, 2/9: Lara Goetsch, TimeLine’s director of marketing and communications, has subsequently sent me four of her own photos of the production; my two favorites are reproduced below.] This isn’t bad when it comes to dealing thematically with Masha Obolensky’s play (which is about the creative processes involved in playwriting—specifically, about the processes by which real-life playwright Sophie Treadwell turned the 1927 murder case and execution of Ruth Snyder into a very successful expressionist play, Machinal, produced on Broadway with Zita Johann and Clark Gable in 1928), which bears a certain relationship to David Cronenberg’s film of Naked Lunch. (Admittedly, Cronenberg’s politically incorrect and highly idiosyncratic adaptation of William S, Burroughs is a far cry from Obolensky’s feminist play when it comes to comes to sexual politics; but even so, what this play and this film does with typewriters as pivotal props in relation to transformations between real life and fiction does seem comparable.) Read more

My Two Cents Worth on Daves’ BIRD OF PARADISE

I’m glad that Dave Kehr’s recent column in the New York Times about the neglected and underrated Delmer Daves has spurred some interest in Daves on his web site, but disappointed that no one except for me has thought to bring up Daves’ 1951 remake of King Vidor’s 1932 Bird of Paradise. It’s true that I have some personal investment in this kitschy South Sea island tale, having written the first chapter of my autobiographical Moving Places: A Life at the Movies (1980; 2nd ed., 1995) about its significance for me. But the second chapter of the same book, a much longer one, is devoted to that same year’s Doris Day musical On Moonlight Bay, and I’d never dream of making any special case for that movie.

By contrast, what seems memorable about the 1951 Bird of Paradise, apart from its lush Technicolor, is a certain tragic sense of thwarted utopian and liberal multiculturism, similar in some ways to what can be found in Daves’ previous feature, also with Debra Paget and Jeff Chandler (and made at the same studio, Fox), Broken Arrow (1950). I suppose this could be written off as some sort of camp in both movies, but personally I find this less of a hoot than Daves’ penultimate feature, Youngblood Hawke (1964), which Dave describes as “interesting” and, like some of the posters on his site, seems to take relatively seriously. Read more

Vanity Frame Enlargement (FOUR NIGHTS OF A DREAMER)

The reproduction is grainy, but I’m still a novice when it comes to importing film frames to this site, so this will have to do. For friends and acquaintances who want to know when and where I appear as an extra in Robert Bresson’s Quatre Nuits d’un Rêveur (Four Nights of a Dreamer, 1972), here I am. This is right towards the tail end of the penultimate sequence, and that’s me on the left, in the suede jacket and the orange-red sweater, carrying something–I no longer remember what –under my right arm. I had a moustache in those days. It was a fall evening, as I recall, not too far from the Palais de Chaillot, and a bit on the chilly side.

The following night, which was the film’s final night of shooting, I wound up on a bateau mouche with Bresson and the small crew and a small performing bossa nova band and singer who play a major part in the film’s most memorable sequence, but this time it was only as an offscreen spectator. [1/17/09] Read more