Yearly Archives: 2010

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 »

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 »

A Forthcoming Novel by Robin Wood

The following is taken from a web site known as Robin Wood’s Blog:

As many of you are aware Robin Wood died on 18 December 2009 at the age of 78 after an exceptionally productive and engaged life. Robin’s creativity and industry were not restricted to film criticism. He also wrote novels and screenplays, which were of a piece with his film criticism, both being centrally concerned with the ways in which the current structures of society are inimical to the full flowering of people’s lives, are inimical to, indeed, Life itself, as Robin (and Dr. Leavis) defined that term in their respective writings.

Robin’s estate will be privately publishing one of Robin’s novels, the one that appears to have been most personal to him and, perhaps for that reason, the one he was proudest of. The novel will be sold by reservation, and publication is tentatively scheduled for September 2010. The novel will be published in quality paperback with an introduction by his life partner and the executor of his estate, Richard Lippe. The price has yet to be determined (although it is expected to be in the vicinity of CDN$30.00 including shipping).

For those who wish to reserve a copy of the novel, please notify either Gary McCallum or Richard Lippe as below.… Read more »

Two Films at the French Film Festival

The first still above comes from writer-director Yves Hanchar’s Sans rancune!, the second from cowriter Sophie Hiet’s and director-cowriter Julie Lopes-Curval’s Mêres et filles, also known as La cuisine and Hidden Diary. Both of these highly involving 2009 features about parents and personal legacies were shown at the French Film Festival held in Richmond, Virginia last month — a sort of pedagogical as well as cultural event presented by Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Richmond that took place over four days (March 25-28), and where I was privileged and delighted to be a guest.

These two films certainly weren’t the only interesting things I saw at the festival. (Among the more notable items were Philippe Lioet’s touching and beautifully acted Welcome, a story about the growing bond between a Calais swimming instructor and a Kurdish teenager trying to reach a girlfriend in England illegally by swimming across the English channel — a very popular film in France that was nominated for ten Césars last year but sadly won none of them; a very eclectic essay film about motorcycle racing, kids, and movies by Pierre-William Glenn, the remarkable cinematographer who shot both Truffaut’s Day for Night and Rivette’s Out 1; and, strangest of all, Le train oú ça va…, an “intimiste” and domestic 3-D short by Jeanne Guillot, whose masters thesis for La Fémis, arguing that 3-D films need not be spectacular, was translated into English and posted on the festival’s website.)… 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 & Twenty Best Lists, 1995-1999

This is third in an ongoing series of five lists of lists. –J.R.

Chicago Reader, 1995:
Latcho Drom (Tony Gatlif)
Crumb (Terry Zwigoff)
A Great Day in Harlem (Jean Bach) + When It Rains (Charles Burnett)
Lamerica (Gianni Amelio)
Good Men, Good Women (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
Safe (Todd Haynes)
Germany Year 90 Nine Zero (Jean-Luc Godard)
Exotica (Atom Egoyan)
Hyenas (Djibril Diop Mambety)
Up Down Fragile (Jacques Rivette)

Chicago Reader, 1996:
Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch)
The Asthenic Syndrome (Mira Kuratova)
The Decalogue (Krzysztof Kieslowski)
Nightjohn (Charles Burnett)
The Neon Bible (Terence Davies)
Regularly or Irregularly (Abbas Kiarostami) + From the Jounals of Jean Seberg (Mark Rappaport)
Thieves (André Téchiné) + My Favorite Season (André Téchiné)
The White Balloon (Jafar Panahi) + Goodbye South, Goodbye (Hou Hsaio-hsien)
Blush (Li Shaohong) + Red Hollywood (Thom Anderson & Noël Burch)
Flirt (Hal Hartley) + Deseret (James Benning)
Sling Blade (Billy Bob Thornton) + Joan the Maid (Jacques Rivette)
Secrets & Lies (Mike Leigh) + Basquiat (Julian Schnabel)
Get on the Bus (Spike Lee) + Chungking Express (Wong Kar-wai)
Mars Attacks! (Tim Burton) + The Cable Guy (Ben Stiller)
When Pigs Fly (Sara Driver) + Desolation Angels (Tim McCann)
Stealing Beauty (Bernardo Bertolucci) + My Life and Times With Antonin Artaud (Gérard Mordillat)
Ectasy (Mariano Barroso) + Vive l’Amour (Tsai Ming-liang)
Cyclo (Tran Anh Hung) + Breaking the Waves (Lars von Trier)
2 X 50 Years of French Cinema (Anne-Marie Mièville & Jean-Luc Godard) + The Crucible (Nicholas Hytner)
A Family Thing (Richard Pearce) + Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud (Claude Sautet)
Yang and Yin: Gender in Chinese Cinema (Stanley Kwan) + Red Lotus Society (Stan Lai)
Foxfire (Annette Haywood-Carter) + Bottle Rocket (Wes Anderson) + Trainspotting (Danny Boyle)

Chicago Reader, 1997:
A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang)
The House Is Black (Forugh Farrokhzad)
Irma Vep (Olivier Assayas)
The Ceremony (Claude Chabrol)
4 Little Girls (Spike Lee) + Fast, Cheap & Out of Control (Errol Morris)
La promesse (Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne)
In the Company of Men (Neil LaBute)
The Sweet Hereafter (Atom Egoyan)
As Good As It Gets (James L.… 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 »