The novel in question, my third and last to date, The Best of Brand X, was written in New York and Paris in the late 1960s and early 70s. My first two novels, also unpublished, written successively in high school (The Manufactured Country, 1961) and college (Away from Here, 1965), were both partially autobiographical family chronicles that mainly juggled with the same characters and materials; the third was more experimental and abstract but no less personal. — J.R.
Mr. Deejay Pays a Visit
Mr. Deejay has a long way to go. Straight through a bumper crop of twenty thousand of his listeners -– all of them senior citizens of the lower and middle income brackets, planted in the hot Texas ground up to their necks, each bearing a set of earphones that enclose their gravestone faces like parentheses. A long, long way to go past nurses with medical carts and trays on the narrow paths dividing the twenty thousand heads into neat rows, carry a hand-mike with him as he chatters compulsively against the midsummer heat: “Hot piece-a weather we’re havin, 96 degrees and cloudless sky here on Havingford Acres, givin these people some cool hot-weather music with lemonade, iced tea and all the best medication to see that they look up at the day and smile, my name’s Mr.… Read more »
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“A movie pours into us. It fills us like milk being poured into a glass.” — John Updike
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||I must confess that the prospect of viewing a recent two-and-a-half-hour documentary (a recent DVD release of Second Run in the U.K.) about P. K. Nair, the fanatically devoted archivist who helped to found India’s National Film Archive in 1964, didn’t fill me with eager anticipation; the whole thing sounded somewhat esoteric and remote. But in fact, Shivendra Singh Dungarpur’s compulsively watchable and consistently entertaining Celluloid Man (2012) kept me enraptured throughout, not least for its evocations of cinema as a whole and not merely Indian cinema. Early on, when we see Nair addressing us in front of a screen showing Citizen Kane with French subtitles, followed a little later by the opening strains of the film’s soundtrack, it becomes obvious that the critical issues and passions informing Nair’s life are very close to those of his principal mentor, Henri Langlois. And even though the film has a lot to say and show us about the history of Indian cinema, personal and anecdotal (e.g., Ritwik Ghatak’s drinking habits and viewing tastes, Nair’s own history) as well as industrial, it’s the cinema as a whole and why it matters that provides its ultimate framework.|
Commissioned by BFI Publishing and published in the November 2014 Sight and Sound. This version is slightly tweaked. — J.R.
In an amusing, satisfying, and highly persuasive rant in Time Out in 1977, J.G. Ballard took on the cultural phenomenon of Star Wars (1977), including some of its historical and ideological consequences. Noting that “two hours of Star Wars must be one of the most efficient means of weaning your preteen child from any fear of, or sensitivity towards, the death of others”, he also reflected on the overall impact of George Lucas’s blockbuster on science-fiction movies:
“The most popular form of s-f — space fiction –- has been the least successful of all cinematically, until 2001 and Star Wars, for the obvious reason that the special effects available were hopelessly inadequate. Surprisingly, s-f is one of the most literary forms of all fiction, and the best s-f films — Them!, Dr. Cyclops, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Alphaville, Last Year at Marienbad (not a capricious choice, its themes are time, space and identity, s-f’s triple pillars), Dr. Strangelove, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Barbarella, and Solaris — and the brave failures, such as The Thing, Seconds, and The Man Who Fell to Earth, have all made use of comparatively modest special effects and relied on strongly imaginative ideas, and on ingenuity, wit, and fantasy.… Read more »
An “En movimiento” column for Caimán Cuadernos de Cine, written in July 2014 for their October 2014 issue. — J.R.
12 June (Chicago): As preparation for serving as a “mentor” to student film critics at the Edinburgh Film Festival, I watch online a film they’re assigned to write about, Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s The Owners from Kazakhstan. This is quite a revelation — at least for me, if not, as I later discover, for most of the students. Three city siblings arrive in the county to claim the ramshackle hut they’ve inherited from their deceased mother, and the tragicomic misadventures and forms of corruption that they encounter oscillate between grim realism, absurdist genre parody, and dreamlike surrealism, culminating in a doom-ridden yet festive dance in which both victims and victimizers participate. Unlike the hyperbolic violence that brutalizes the characters of Jia Zhange’s A Touch of Sin by reducing their humanity, Yerzhanov’s use of genre staples actually expands his expressive and emotional palette without foreshortening our sense of the people involved.
21 & 23 June (Edinburgh): The two high points of my six days here are two very different masterpieces from the first Iranian New Wave, Ebrahim Golestan’s Brick and Mirror (1965) and Parviz Kimiavi’s The Mongols (1973). … Read more »
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The following “messages” were sent to Kevin B. Lee as part of the preparatory work for our video Out 1 Solitaire: Part of the impact of Out 1 derives from the way
mubi.com|By Jonathan Rosenbaum and Kevin B. Lee
My only (minor) quarrel with Scott Simmon’s excellent accompanying essay is his speculation about the reason or reasons why the film wasn’t screened at the Connecticut stage preview. According to the late Richard Wilson, who worked on the editing of the film, the summer theater had an inadequate throw for film projection. (See This is Orson Welles, p. 344 — which also includes the erroneous information that the only copy of the work print was destroyed in a fire at Welles’ Madrid villa in 1970). [8/21/14]
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© 2014 Justin Kingsley Bean, “Outer Edge”
I’ve never met or communicated with Philip Conklin, who turns 24 today. But his girlfriend, Katrina Santos, wrote me about a week ago, telling me about their new online magazine The Periphery and his birthday and proposing that I write him about one of his essays and offer some feedback and advice. I’m not sure if I can offer any advice, because he seems to be doing pretty well on his own without my mentoring, but I would like to call attention to three of his film pieces that I especially like, and to The Periphery more generally, which seems well worth checking out:
I’m sure that there’s more here to discover and enjoy, so consider the above just a sampler. [7/24/14]… Read more »
Written for the Criterion dual format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition of The Young Girls of Rochefort, released in a box set, “The Essential Jacques Demy,” in July 2014. This essay is also posted on Criterion’s web site. — J.R.
Braque, Picasso, Klee, Miro, Matisse . . . C’est ça, la vie.
— Maxence in The Young Girls of Rochefort
Life is disappointing, isn’t it?
— Kyoko in Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story
Broadly speaking, Jacques Demy’s The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) is loved in France but tends to be an acquired taste elsewhere. From a stateside perspective, its launch in the U.S. in April 1968 was relatively inauspicious and uncertain. In the New York Times, Renata Adler began her two-paragraph notice by saying, “The Young Girls of Rochefort, a musical that opened at the Cinema Rendezvous, is another of those strange, offbeat movies produced by Mag Bodard in which a conventional, gay form is structured over what would be, in its terms, a catastrophe.” (The three other Bodard films she had in mind were Agnès Varda’s Le bonheur, Michel Deville’s Benjamin, and Demy’s previous film, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.) And almost a year later, in her famous essay “Trash, Art, and the Movies,” Pauline Kael noted in passing, “A movie like The Young Girls of Rochefort demonstrates how even a gifted Frenchman who adores American musicals misunderstands their conventions.”… Read more »
DVD AWARDS 2014
Jurors: Lorenzo Codelli [absent from photo], Alexander Horwath, Mark McElhatten, Paolo Mereghetti and Jonathan Rosenbaum, chaired by Peter von Bagh
BEST SPECIAL FEATURES ON BLU-RAY:
LATE MIZOGUCHI – EIGHT FILMS, 1951-1956 (Kenji Mizoguchi, Japan) – Eureka Entertainment
The publication of eight indisputable masterpieces in stellar transfers on Blu-Ray is a cause for celebration. If Eureka is not exclusive in offering these individual titles, what makes this collection especially praiseworthy and indispensable is the scholarship, imagination and care that went into the accompanying 344-page booklet. Over 60 rare production stills are included, many featuring Mizoguchi at work. Striking essays by Keiko I. McDonald, Mark Le Fanu, and Nakagawa Masako are anthologized along with extensively annotated translations of some of the key sources of Japanese literature that inspired some of Mizoguchi’s late films. The volume closes with tributes to the great director written by Tarkovsky, Rivette, Godard, Straub, Angelopoulos, Shinoda, and others. Tony Rayns provides spoken essays and some full-length commentaries.
BEST SPECIAL FEATURES ON DVD:
PINTILIE, CINEAST (Lucian Pintilie, Romania) – Transilvania Films
An impeccable collection devoted to eleven films by an important and neglected maverick Romanian filmmaker, masterful and acerbic, with invaluable contextualizing extras concerning his life, work, and career drawn from ten separate sources.… Read more »
From Cinema Scope issue 39, Summer 2014. — J.R.
I shelled out $56.19 in US dollars (including postage) to acquire the definitive and restored, director-approved DVD of Providence (1977) from French Amazon, and I hasten to add that this was money well spent. Notwithstanding the passion and brilliance of Alain Resnais’ first two features, Providence is in many ways my favourite of his longer works, quite apart from the fact that it’s the only one in English. And I can’t ascribe this preference simply to the contribution of David Mercer (1928-1980). I recently resaw the only other Mercer-scripted film I’m familiar with, Karel Reisz’s Morgan!, and aside from the wit of its own sarcastic dialogue I mainly found it just as flat and tiresome as I did in 1966, for reasons that are well expounded in Dwight Macdonald’s contemporary review (reprinted in his collection On Movies).
I haven’t yet been able to see The Life of Riley (Aimer, boire et chanter), Resnais’ swan song, but clearly part of what gives Providence even more resonance now, writing less than a month after Resnais’ death, is the theme it shares with his penultimate feature, You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (2013): an old writer facing his own death, and trying to create some form of art in relation to it.… Read more »
Whoever said that cinema and film criticism aren’t international languages?
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A forthcoming column for the Spanish magazine Caimán Cuadernos de Cine. — J.R.
En movimiento: Welles in Woodstock
I’ve recently returned from Woodstock Celebrates Orson Welles, a delightful two-day event in Illinois (16-17 May) organized by Kathleen Spaltro and commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Todd Theatre Festival held at the Woodstock Opera House in 1934, orchestrated by Welles at the age of 19 and sponsored by his mentor and one of his lifelong best friends, Roger Hill — headmaster of the Todd School for Boys, which Welles attended from 1926 to 1930.
When Welles graduated from Todd, Hill wanted him to attend Harvard while Welles’ guardian, Dr. Maurice Bernstein (whom Everett Sloane’s character in Citizen Kane was named after), hoped he would go to Cornell. But Welles, still under the spell of an article published by one of Chicago’s leading drama critics, Ashton Stevens (who wrote for the Chicago Herald-American, a Hearst newspaper, and was the model for Jed Leland in Kane), predicting that the young genius was destined to become a major actor, didn’t want to go to college. So a compromise was struck: Welles would travel to Scotland, Ireland, and England on a sketching tour before embarking on any formal education, writing letters home to chart his progress and his adventures.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (March 7, 1996). — J.R.
It’s a contradiction in terms to speak of a classic avant-garde film — especially one that aims at both extreme provocation and innovation — but this rarely screened masterpiece (1951) by Jean-Isidore Isou, poet and founder of the French Lettrist movement, qualifies if anything does. Beginning, like a book, with a catalog of all the previous works by the same author, it proceeds with a lengthy account of an impassioned theoretical debate following a Paris cine-club screening, then with a love story of sorts, but the film’s narrative and dialogue are recounted almost entirely offscreen, in voice-overs; what we see is the hero walking in Paris’s Left Bank in the early 50s, eventually followed by other kinds of shots that are sometimes viewed upside down and often scratched over in various ways, making this partially an animated film. Though some of the rhetoric is dated (mainly a misogynistic rant or two, and some anti-jazz invective as objectionable as Theodor Adorno’s), the direct address to the audience via titles and commentary couldn’t be more pointed, and the passion of the whole enterprise is often breathtaking. As an indication of how influential this movie was and is in France, the last sequence of Olivier Assayas’s Irma Vep (see separate listing) would be unthinkable without its example.… Read more »
The following is Mark Rappaport’s Introduction to his new collection, The Secret Life of Moving Shadows, available now from Amazon as an e-book (in two parts, available here and here — a necessary division made in order to keep the book’s illustrations the proper size), reprinted here at my suggestion and with Mark’s permission.
I was delighted to learn, shortly after posting this, that the Criterion Blu-Ray of All That Heaven Allows, coming out in three weeks, will include Mark’s 1992 feature Rock Hudson’s Home Movies as one of the extras. — J.R.