Yearly Archives: 2011

Apology

Through a gross blunder on my part, I’ve just deleted all my posts in this section and under Notes over the past six weeks and all the future posts I had set up to go out over the next few weeks! Until or unless I can find a way of recovering some or all of these, the usual “new” content on this site will have to be held in abeyance. If anyone who works with WordPress and knows anything about recovering lost content can help me out with this, I’ll be immensely grateful; please email me at jonathanrosenbaum2002 at yahoo.com.  Update, a few hours later: thanks to cached posts on Google, I’ve recovered most or all of the older posts by now, as users of this site can see. But I haven’t yet found a way to recover any of the future, not-yet-posted texts. I also no longer recall which long reviews from the Reader I had scheduled (which are easily recoverable, but only if I can identify which ones they are), so if any readers happen to notice any of these missing texts from this site, I’d welcome hearing about them. J.R., 10/1/11Read more »

Spanish Master

From Sight and Sound (June 2011). Portabella continues to be the most flagrantly unseen and overlooked of major contemporary filmmakers, for reasons suggested in this sketch.  — J.R.

Jonathan Rosenbaum voyages into the elusive and intriguing worlds created by Spanish filmmaker Pere Portabella

Among the lost continents of cinema — major films and artists that have perpetually eluded our grasp because they fall outside the usual institutional frameworks that we depend upon to ‘keep up’ with cinema — there are few contemporary figures more neglected than Catalan filmmaker Pere Portabella.

Born into a family of industrialists in Barcelona in 1929, Portabella has remained closely tied to that city’s art scene for most of his life, especially as a patron and friend of other Catalan artists. One of these was Joan Miró, the focus of a major retrospective at the Tate Modern this summer and the subject of five of Portabella’s shorter fiIms from the late 1960s and early 70s. (The two I’m most familiar with are Miró L’Altre, chronicling the artist’s painting and subsequent erasing of a mural at the Colegio de Arquitectos de Catalunya, and Miró 37/Aidez L’Espagne, which similarly explores a ‘making’ and ‘unmaking’, this time of Spain itself during the mid-1930s, via newsreel footage.)… Read more »

The Death of a Jazz Saint

I can’t easily find words to express my admiration for Bruce Ricker, whom I just learned from a New York Times obituary died last Friday of pneumonia, at age 68. He wasn’t only a man who distributed jazz documentaries and made a few of his own, all of them terrific (including a wonderful tribute to Brubeck, In His Own Sweet Way, which made my ten-best list last year), and who also played what I’m sure was incalculable role in advising Clint Eastwood in his multiple jazz ventures. He was also a lawyer, the literary executor of Seymour Krim, and an amazing human being. I already miss him, and cherish my memories of him. [5/19/11]



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A Double Standard at the Library of America?

Until recently, it has appeared that the Library of America has completely embraced the contemporary gentrification of “trashy” crime fiction to the highest ranks of literary canonization while it has almost as completely rejected the premise of according this same treatment, or anything that even distantly approaches it, to science fiction or western fiction. (I’ve already posted a little bit about this issue, last month.) But now that Philip K. Dick and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. have recently entered LOA’s Hall of Fame, I wonder how unreasonable it might be to hope that, say, Ray Bradbury (see below), Fredric Brown, Robert Heinlein, Henry Kuttner and/or C.L. Moore (see below), and Theodore Sturgeon (see below), among others, might be among the next in line for consideration. (I wouldn’t presume to list any candidates for canonizing western fiction.)

There will always be differences and disputes regarding LOA’s choices, of course. And the fact that I prefer Philip K. Dick’s Pi in the Sky to most of the 13 other Dick novels selected by Jonathan Letham for LOA, or that I value Charles Willeford’s four Hoke Moseley novels of the 1980s as literature far more than his second novel, Pick-up (1955), doesn’t factor in various other considerations, such as editor Robert Polito selecting Pick-up as one of the five novels included in LOA’s American Noir of the 1950s volume, whereas there isn’t an American Noir of the 1980s volume edited by anyone.… Read more »

Princess Theatre, Florence, Alabama, 1944

One more photo of a family theater, this one taken at a war bond rally and furnished to me by my brother Alvin. My parents, standing on top of the marquee, are just above the letter E; my grandfather, on the ground, can be seen under the second S, in front of the one-sheet advertising the current attraction, Thank Your Lucky Stars. [2/17/11]

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THE SIRENS OF TITAN etc.

It’s more than a little unnerving to discover that the “canonized” Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. collection that Library of America is bringing out on June 11 excludes my favorite work of his — his mind-boggling second novel (1959), The Sirens of Titan, by all counts his wittiest and most profound — as well as Mother Night (his third, 1961), another major work.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that Library of America is planing one or more other Vonnegut volumes, thus theoretically making room for the first three novels (Piano Player in 1952 was his debut effort) as well as more of the late and relatively weak ones, along with his play, Happy Birthday, Wanda June, and other stories. But the weird thing about LOA’s canonizing is that it creates contestable and uncomfortable groupings, even when they’re simply chronological; for me, Cat’s Cradle (1963) belongs squarely with the two novels preceding it, not with the three that came afterwards. This isn’t quite as grotesque as collecting William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury in the same volume as his Soldier’s Pay, Mosquitoes, and Flags in the Dust (the longer version of Sartoris), which the Library of America also did, but it’s still bothersome.… Read more »

Princess Theater, Florence, Alabama in the 1930s

Another priceless photograph from the Facebook page Remembering Florence. Rajah Raboid (1896-1962), advertised above the marquee, was a vaudeville magician born with the name Maurice Kitchen who toured with Johnny Eck (the “half-man” from Freaks) as well as Eck’s normal-sized twin in a show called Mysteries of 1937. I don’t know the precise or even approximate date of this photograph. — J.R. (2/5/11)
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Stanley Rosenbaum House, Florence, Alabama, November 1943

    I recently discovered this photograph, for the first time, on a Facebook page called Remembering Florence that has lately been growing to astronomical proportions. I estimate that I must have been somewhere between eight and nine months old when it was taken. I don’t even remember the tree in the right foreground, but I love the way the glass doors visible on the left reflect another part of the house’s exterior. According to normal terminology, this is the “back” of the house, but I believe that Frank Lloyd Wright, who designed it in the late 1930s, would have called it the “front”. Below is a photo taken (I think) on the same occasion, which we would call the “front” of the house and Wright would have called the “back”. (The house’s extension, built after my two younger brothers were born, in 1948, changed the overall shape. For more details, go here, or check the more contemporary color photos I’ve just added, shot from different angles.) (2/1/11)

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/dd/Rosenbaum_House_Rear_Pano.jpg
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cc/Rosenbaum_House_Front_Pano.jpg

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Thomas Frank on the government

“The government fails the people of New Orleans when they are hit by a hurricane, fails to notice the cadmium paint in the marketplace, does a lousy job educating our kids, can’t keep the libraries open or the park lawns mowed, overlooks the catastrophic shortcuts taken by its pals in the oil-drilling industry — and all we can do to express sour frustration is elect candidates who promise to hack it down even more.”

–“Servile Disobedience,” Harper’s magazine, February 2011, p. 7 [1/23/2011]… Read more »

Why I Can’t Write about THE ILLUSIONIST

I’ve been asked more than once to comment on Sylvain Chomet’s recent animated feature based on a Jacques Tati screenplay — something I’ve frankly been avoiding, for reasons that I’ll try to explain.

Last February 16, I received a very lengthy email from Richard Tatischeff Schiel McDonald, identifying himself as the middle grandson of Tati, and expressing his upset and anger about this film, which I was hearing about for the first time from him, and requesting that I make some of the information  he was conveying to me better known if I planned to write about the film. I wrote him back the next day, and a week later he wrote me again: “I must admit to finding myself in a slightly uncomfortable position in making public the origins of my grandfather’s original l’Illusionniste script which until recently had been a very private family matter. My intentions are not to discredit my grandfather but hopefully by telling what is a very sad story I can shine a light onto a neglected chapter of his life that in part led to the creation of his professional body of work. My grandmother and all his stage acquaintances during the 1930’s/40’s always maintained that he was a great colleague as a friend and artist; he unfortunately just made a massive mistake that because of the time and circumstances he was never able to correctly address.… Read more »

CHEF-D’OEUVRE?

Written for the January/February 2011 Film Comment. — J.R.

Chef-d’oeuvre?
(Luc Moullet, France)

Although ostensibly a short essay inquiring how masterpieces are identified and proclaimed in several art forms (with various apt comparisons and wry asides), this is ultimately a 13-minute defense of the short film itself—the form in which Moullet himself has created the greatest number of masterpieces (and about which he has written often as a critic, most recently in the French magazine Bref). The finale is a presentation of Méliès’ most famous short, Le Voyage dans la lune (1902), with Moullet’s own brilliant audio commentary.—Jonathan Rosenbaum

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DAVE BRUBECK: IN HIS OWN SWEET WAY

Written for the January/February 2011 Film Comment. — J.R.

Dave Brubeck: In His Own Sweet Way
(Bruce Ricker, U.S.) 

Ironically, the most popular American jazz musician is also one of the most undervalued among the cognoscenti. As the leading distributor of jazz documentaries (and Clint Eastwood’s jazz consultant), Bruce Ricker may be the ideal filmmaker to re-introduce Brubeck to a wider public. Although he regrettably doesn’t include a full performance of any song before the final credits, Ricker conveys what a wonderful person Brubeck is and gives a fine notion of some of the richness of his music.—Jonathan Rosenbaum
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O’Neill’s Next-to-Last Testament: THE ICEMAN COMETH

Published by the web site Fandor on January 4, 2011. — J.R.

It’s widely and justly believed that the two greatest plays of Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953) were both written near the tail end of his career — The Iceman Cometh, completed in 1939 and first staged in 1946, and Long Day’s Journey into Night, completed in 1941 and produced only posthumously, in 1956. What’s less widely known is that the action of both plays unfolds during the same summer, 1912, when O’Neill was 24, after having attempted to commit suicide the previous spring. As his biographers Arthur and Barbara Gelb note in their 2000 O’Neill: Life with Monte Cristo (New York: Applause), “the plays follow almost literally the chronology of O’Neill’s youthful years, with Iceman (written first) set in ‘summer 1912’ and Long Day’s Journey (which can be regarded as its sequel) set on ‘a day in August, 1912’.”

Both late masterpieces are obsessive distillations of a lifetime of brooding, with the three-hour 1962 film version of Long Day’s Journey into Night directed by Sidney Lumet and the four-hour 1973 film version of The Iceman Cometh directed by John Frankenheimer having served, for many filmgoers, as the versions of reference.… Read more »