Yearly Archives: 2010

Recommended Reading: n + 1, Fall 2010

They call it their “Self-Improvement” issue, and while flying today from Richmond to Chicago, I read three especially good articles about the sorry state of our nation, each one a pretty good substitute for the sort of news and editorials that we’re no longer getting. Here are teasers from each one:

From “Revolt of the Elites” (unsigned) in The Intellectual Situation (p. 15):

“Who…is guility of elitism, if not the elitely educated in general? The main culprits turn out to be people for whom a monied and therefore educated background lies behind the adoption of aesthetic, intellectual, or political values that demur from the money-making mandate that otherwise dominates society.”

From “Caucasian Nation” by Marco Roth in Politics (p. 14):

“The robust case for dominating other people sounds awful to most American ears today. So the contemporary idea of ethnocracy relies instead on an opposite rhetoric of victimization. The simple-minded mantra we’re taught in grade school goes like this: blacks good because oppressed, whites bad because oppressors. So if whites suddenly became oppressed, even while remaining the majority, they would magically become good again. Many Americans are now being taught to think this way.”

From “The Two Cultures of Life” by Kristin Dombek in Essays (p.… Read more »

Recommended Pre-Election Reading (and Brief Post-Election Lament)

www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/oct/24/obama-never-room-for-radical-change

This piece by Gary Younge appeared a little over a week ago but is still relevant. Here are two particularly salient passages:

It is not unrealistic to believe that a country as wealthy as the US should be able to provide healthcare for all, a dignified life for its elderly, an infant mortality rate better than Cuba’s, a life expectancy higher than Bosnia’s, a foreign policy that does not hinge on military aggression, and an economy where fewer than one in seven live in poverty. What is unrealistic is to believe that any of those things can be achieved, or even seriously tackled, with just a single vote.

Republicans will head to the polls to elect people who will actually cut jobs and support bankers. Democrats may well stay at home because their candidate has not made things better, and in so doing make things worse. Neither disaffection nor rage are electoral strategies. But in the absence of an alternative, frustration has political consequences.

November 3: American voters have spoken, and the message appears to be to leave Tomorrowland for Frontierland while remaining in the same Disney theme park, albeit this time without any tickets.… Read more »

Early Silents in Oberhausen (2010) (upgraded, 5/23/10)

The first two stills below come from a couple of French films dating from 1907 and 1909, respectively, which were shown in the tenth and final program in “From the Deep,” a wonderful program at Oberhausen International Short Film Festival that’s briefly described here. The first, Le Cochon danseur (“The Dancing Pig”) is, according to Luis Buñuel, the first film he ever saw, when he was about eight years old; the second, a wild and hilarious farce largely staged on the streets of Paris, is Un Monsieur qui a mangé du taureau (“A Man Who Ate Bull Meat”).  Such is the scarcity of all these films that practically none of the stills shown here, with the possible exception of the first, can do them any sort of justice. [5/23: This article has appeared in the Turkish film monthly Altyazi, and my thanks to Gözde Onaran, my fellow juror at Oberhausen, who translated it into Turkish, for furnishing me with the still below from Médor au téléphone.] — J.R.

The time is circa noon on May 2, outside the Lichtberg Cinema at the Oberhausen Short Film Festival. Olaf Möller, one of the programmers, and an old friend — a critic who tends to favor the critically overlooked in relation to the critically overexposed, preferring Verhoven to Hitchcock, Kuleshov to Sternberg, and Saless to Kiarostami — is explaining to me why he also tends to prefer Raoul  Walsh to Howard Hawks For him, the terrain of Hawks is more limited, having more to do with the cinema itself than with the world.… Read more »

HIPSTERS

This comes from my Spring 2010 DVD column in Cinema Scope. — J.R.

Hipsters/Stilyagi. I include the Russian as well as the English title of this big-budget, post-modernist 2008 Russian musical about teenagers, directed by Valery Todorovsky, because as far as I know, the Russian DVD, sans subtitles, is the only version available, at least on Amazon. This movie was the opening night attraction at the Tromsø International Film Festival in the northernmost reaches of Norway, which was celebrating its 20th anniversary in January, and I must confess that I didn’t expect to enjoy it nearly as much as I did, especially because it could be described with fair accuracy as the Russian equivalent of Rob Marshall at his cheesiest, set in 1950s Moscow, and is full of preposterous plot developments. But then again, shame on me, I also enjoyed watching Daniel Day-Lewis in Nine, even after loathing every minute of Chicago, so maybe you shouldn’t trust me. All I can say is that I sufficiently enjoyed Hipsters, partly for its curiosity value and partly for its sheer pizzazz — without ever imagining that it had anything to do with Russian history or the history of the musical, Russian or otherwise — to order the unsubtitled version of it from Amazon.… Read more »

Theatrical Invention (THE FARNSWORTH INVENTION)

The Chicago production of the Aaron Sorkin play, The Farnsworth Invention, directed by Nick Bowling and playing through June 13, has the lively sort of staging, acting, and pacing that I’ve come to expect from the TimeLine Theatre Company, which presents “stories inspired by history that connect with today’s social and political issues” at their 615 W. Wellington headquarters. I discovered this company a little over year ago with the world premiere of Masha Obolensky’s Not Enough Air, also directed by Bowling, and have subsequently seen his production of Alan Bennett’s The History Boys as well, which was my first encounter with TimeLine’s remodeled, almost-in-the-round playing space. (In between these events, I also showed up for a reading of  Sophie Treadwell’s 1920s expressionist play Machinal, done as a sort of adjunct to Not Enough Air.) Neither of these follow-ups has quite equaled the sheer Wellesian bravura of the Not Enough Air production, but I can’t say that either one has ever bored me for an instant — even if the sheer energy required in the new playing space, with the actors moving their various props onstage and off with lightning-fast cues, can occasionally (if only momentarily) overwhelm certain aspects of the stories being told.… Read more »

Keith Jarrett, Symphony Center (Chicago), February 12, 2010

Why did I book a ticket to this solo concert long in advance, even though I have yet to shell out for Paris/ London: Testament, the three-disc album he released last October, which the concert was meant to promote? I guess it’s basically a matter of not getting too many chances lately to see Jarrett live — meaning that I’m even willing to put up with an evening of his playing that’s mainly devoted to his relatively dull and uninspiring impromptu originals.

There’s always been a certain solipsistic side to some of Jarrett’s predilections as a performer. If memory serves, the last time I saw him live was at a Left Bank cave in Paris called La caméléon circa the early 70s, less than a block from my flat, and I can still remember how infuriated I was when he insisted on playing the flute — not especially well — during a large portion of his set. His stabs at performing classical music, no matter how “competent,” often seem comparably misguided.  Similarly, when he chooses to go “free-form” nowadays and play some version of what used to be regarded as avant-garde jazz, I’d much rather hear Cecil Taylor than Jarrett’s much inferior version of that style.… Read more »

Introduction to an Index compiled for this web site

It’s taken a lot of work, but I’ve finally managed to compile an index of all, or almost all, of my long reviews that were published in the Chicago Reader between the fall of 1987 and the fall of 2009, nearly all of which are on this site. This index can be accessed here, or else below this post, under Notes (dated 6 February 2010), and I hope it makes some of the contents of this site more user-friendly and accessible. It’s basically organized alphabetically by film titles, or, in a few cases, by subjects or book titles. I haven’t provided links, but these reviews can be searched out by either film title or (which may be easier) by dates in the right-hand column.

I doubt that I’ll ever compile a similar list of all my capsule (i.e., one-paragraph) reviews for the Reader on this site, which would be much, much longer, but I should add that a separate index of all my longer non-Reader pieces, chronologically rather than alphabetically ordered, can already be found at “About This Site”, and at some future date I may index those pieces alphabetically as well. [2/7/10]… Read more »

J.D. Salinger (1919-2010): A Minor Memoir

Originally posted on January 29, 2010. — J.R.

I never met J. D. Salinger, but I may be one of the few people who can say that I saw him in the flesh when he attended my high school graduation in the spring of 1961, seated a few rows behind me — an event that came about because Wally Shawn, the son of the New Yorker editor William Shawn, was a classmate.

I can also report that I was visiting Wally in the Shawns’ Upper East Side apartment the day that Time magazine’s cover story on Salinger appeared, the following fall, around the same time that Franny and Zooey was published in book form. (The cover date was September 15, 1961.) Paradoxically, although Wally was the only one of my classmates at Putney who read my first (and never published) novel, Away From Here, written during my senior year, it would be incorrect to claim that I was a friend of his, at least in his mind, because he never gave me his unlisted phone number. He did, however, invite me to stop by his family homestead from time to time, on the chance that he might be in, and this was one of the times I did, most likely the last time.… Read more »

Ten Best Lists, 1980s

A list of lists, the second in a series of six. –J.R.

Chicago Reader, Best Films of the 1980s (chronological):


Out of the Blue (1980, Dennis Hopper)

Sans soleil (1981, Chris Marker)

Blade Runner (1981, Ridley Scott)

Passion (1982, Jean-Luc Godard)

The King of Comedy (1983, Martin Scorsese)

Love Streams (1984, John Cassavetes)

Manuel on the Island of Wonders (1984, Raul Ruiz)

Shoah (1985, Claude Lanzmann)

The Horse Thief (1985, Tian Zhuangzhuang)

Mix-Up (1985, Francoise Romand)

Mélo (1986, Alain Resnais)

Brightness (1987, Souleymane Cisse)

Housekeeping (1987, Bill Forsyth)

A Story of the Wind (1988, Joris Ivens/Marceline Loridan)

Distant Voices/Still Lives (1988, Terence Davies)

Film Comment, 1981 (alphabetical):
Amor de Perdição (Manoel de Oliveira)
Cutter’s Way (Ivan Passer)
Gal Young ‘Un (Victor Nunez)
Hardly Working (Jerry Lewis)
India Song (Marguerite Duras)
Mommie Dearest (Frank Perry)
Numéro Deux (Jean-Luc Godard)
Reds (Warren Beatty)
Shock Treatment (Jim Sharman)
Taxi Zum Klo (Frank Ripploh)

Chicago Reader, 1987 (ranked):
The Horse Thief (Tian Zhuangzhuang)
Mammame (Raúl Ruiz)
Full Metal Jacket (Stanley Kubrick)
Mélo (Alain Resnais)
The Last Emperor (Bernardo Bertolucci)
Ishtar (Elaine May)
Landscape Suicide (James Benning)
Tough Guys Don’t Dance (Norman Mailer)
From the Pole to the Equator(Yervant Gianikian/Angela Ricci Lucchi)
Black Widow (Bob Rafelson)

Chicago Reader, 1988 (ranked):
Mix-Up (Françoise Romand)
Yeelen (Brightness) (Souleymane Cissé)
Housekeeping (Bill Forsyth)
Repentance (Tengiz Abuladze)
Wings of Desire (Wim Wenders)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Robert Zemeckis)
King Lear (Jean-Luc Godard)
Talking to Strangers (Rob Tregenza)
Uncommon Senses: Plain Talk & Common Sense (Jon Jost)
Hairspray (John Waters)

Chicago Reader, 1989 (ranked):
Distant Voices/Still Lives (Terence Davies)
A Short Film About Love (Krzysztof Kieslowski)
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (Terry Gilliam)
Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee)
High Hopes
(Mike Leigh)
Golub (Jerry Blumenthal/Gordon Quinn)
Rembrandt Laughing (Jon Jost)
sex, lies, and videotape (Steven Soderbergh)
Forevermore: Biography of Leach Lord (Eric Saks)
Say Anything… (Cameron Crowe)

[1/6/10]… Read more »