Monthly Archives: February 2018

Feast From the East [Oshima’s GOHATTO]

This originally appeared in the January 10, 2001 issue of the Chicago Reader. It seems worth reprinting as a kind of adjunct to my overview piece about Oshima, written for Artforum in 2008 and also available on this site. –J.R.

Taboo

****

Directed and written by Nagisa Oshima

With Beat Takeshi (Takeshi Kitano), Ryuhei Matsuda, Shinji Takeda, Tadanobu Asano, and Yoichi Sai.

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

Mark your calendars. Over the next six weeks, the Music Box is offering three eye-popping masterpieces from Asia. This is a welcome sign–-as is the popularity of the breezy Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in the multiplexes–-that American theaters and audiences are finally recognizing that a lot of the best movies come from the other side of the planet and that there’s as much diversity among them as there is among ours.

Yi Yi, which opens March 2, is a three-hour feature set in contemporary Taiwan. It was just voted best picture of the year by the National Society of Film Critics, the first foreign-language picture to receive this honor since Akira Kurosawa’s Ran 15 years ago. Its writer-director, Edward Yang, is one of the two or three undisputed masters of Taiwanese cinema, and the Film Center gave us a full retrospective of his work in 1997.… Read more »

The Way We Weren’t [REBEL HIGHWAY]

From the Chicago Reader (November 18, 1994). — J.R.

 RebelHighway

You can figure out a lot about the differences between our culture and French culture by comparing two current series of low-budget TV features about teenagers. The French series, Tous les garcons et les filles de leur age (“All the Boys and Girls of Their Age”), produced by the French “cultural” channel Arte, has yielded half a dozen features, most of them first-rate. The idea is for the filmmaker to make a fictionalized version of his or her own teenage years set in the appropriate period (different in each film) and to include at least one party scene in which pop songs of that era are used. (The series is financed in part by Polygram, which has furnished the appropriate recordings.) The first of these, Patricia Mazuy’s Travolta and Me, showed at last year’s Chicago International Film Festival; four others were programmed at the festival last month — Olivier Assayas’ Cold Water, André Téchiné’s Wild Reeds, Cedric Kahn’s Too Much Happiness, and Chantal Akerman’s Portrait of a Young Girl From Brussels — but unfortunately the first and best of these was canceled at the last minute. One more, Claire Denis’ Boom Boom [later retitled U.S.Read more »

Global Discoveries on DVD: Awards and Extras

Written for the Fall 2016 issue of Cinema Scope. — J.R.

dvd-papadakis

DVD Awards 2016, Il Cinema Ritrovato

Jurors: Lorenzo Codelli, Alexander Horwath, Lucien Logette, Mark McElhatten, Paolo Mereghetti, and Jonathan Rosenbaum. (Although Mark McElhatten wasn’t able to attend the festival this year, he has continued to function as a very active member of the jury.)

BEST SPECIAL FEATURES

Coffret Nico Papatakis (France, 1963-92) (Gaumont Vidéo, DVD). A comprehensive and cogent presentation of a neglected filmmaker from Ethiopia and a singular cultural figure in postwar France who ran an existentialist cabaret, produced major films by Jean Genet and John Cassavetes, gave the German singer Nico her name, and made many striking films over four decades. (JR)

BEST DVD SERIES

Coffret Collection 120 ans n.1 1885-1929 (France, 1885-1929) (Gaumont Vidéo, DVD). To celebrate its 120 years of activity in the film industry, Gaumont has published a series of nine beautiful box sets that summarize the whole history of cinema. Divided by decades, the box sets consist of 20 to 35 DVDs with the most representative films marked with a daisy symbol. The editions include films made by Alice Guy, Louis Feuillade, Dreville, Duvivier, Gabin, Louis de Funès, Pialat, and Deville, but also masterpieces by Losey, Fellini or Bergman that the French company co-produced.… Read more »

Red Tape [THE STORY OF QIU JU]

From the Chicago Reader (May 28, 1993). — J.R.

THE STORY OF QIU JU

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Zhang Yimou

Written by Liu Heng

With Gong Li, Lei Lao Sheng, Liu Pei Qi, Ge Zhi Jun, and Yang Liu Chun.

For a comedy that takes bureaucratic negotiation as one of its overriding themes, Zhang Yimou’s The Story of Qiu Ju has negotiated quite a bit for its director from the Chinese government, bureaucracy and all. This is only one of the film’s many ironies. Another is that in the course of showing us much more of China’s particularity than ever before Zhang has realized his most universal and accessible film to date, offering a virtual reproach to the artiness of its predecessors.

Until this feature was made, Zhang’s previous two films, Ju Dou (1990) and Raise the Red Lantern (1991), both huge international successes, were banned in China. Zhang was widely regarded as both a dissident and a scandalous figure, thanks to his adulterous relationship with his leading lady, Gong Li (who has played in all five of his features), which was given much publicity in abusive newspaper articles under the byline of his estranged wife. At least one semireliable commentator thinks it may have been this scandal more than the political meanings of Ju Dou and Raise the Red Lantern (dramas about the persistence of Chinese feudalism set in the early part of this century) that led to their suppression.… Read more »

To Live

From the Chicago Reader (December 9, 1994). — J.R.

ToLive3

With this epic account of a Chinese family from the 40s to the 70s, Zhang Yimou seems to have abandoned the high aestheticism of his Red Sorghum, Ju Dou, and Raise the Red Lantern for a more popular and didactic kind of filmmaking (The Story of Qiu Ju can be seen as a transitional work). To Live (1994, 125 min.) is masterful in its own right, and filled with so many barbs at the Cultural Revolution and its immediate aftermath that Zhang was forbidden to make any films in China with foreign financing for two years (though the stated charge against him was illegal distribution of this film). Adapted by Yu Hua and Lu Wei from Yu’s novel Lifetimes, the film focuses on a wealthy gambling addict (comic actor Ge You) with a pregnant wife (Gong Li) and young daughter who loses his family’s fortune and becomes a shadow puppeteer shortly before civil war erupts; ironically, it’s his recklessness as a gambler that eventually saves him from execution, the first of many sociopolitical paradoxes the movie has to offer. Some of the story’s details recall Farewell My Concubine and The Blue Kite, but Zhang has his own story to tell and his own points to make.… Read more »

Total Eclipse

From the Chicago Reader (October 31, 1995). — J.R.

003 Romane Bohringer as Mathilde Maute

A lot of talented people are involved in this atrocity in one way or another — not only French poets Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine, whose doomed relationship forms the core of the plot, but writer Christopher Hampton, director Agnieszka Holland, and lead actors Leonardo DiCaprio (Rimbaud), David Thewlis (Verlaine), and Romane Bohringer — so it’s hard to know who to blame. I suspect that Hampton is the guiltiest party: piling on the lurid, middlebrow, middle-class shock values inherent in the material, and jettisoning practically all the poetry of both writers, he comes up with a script that’s well-nigh impossible to transcend. This isn’t exactly boring, but for anybody who cares about these actors and much of the earlier work of Holland, it’s a painful lesson in how far gifted people can go in deluding themselves. (JR)

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Dogmatic Subterfuge [THE CELEBRATION]

From the Chicago Reader (November 13, 1998). It seems like there are some cinephiles around who still regard Dogme 95 as an honest-to-Pete aesthetic position and not as a lucrative business, ignoring that as far back as 2000, official Dogme Certificates were being sold in Denmark for roughly $1,000 apiece — apparently as a adjunct to von Trier’s main form of income, his ongoing porn-film business (which has also been widely ignored). — J.R.

/wp-content/uploads/1998/11/festen.jpg

The Celebration

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Thomas Vinterberg

Written by Vinterberg and Mogens Rukov

With Ulrich Thomsen, Henning Moritzen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Paprika Steen, Birthe Neuman, Trine Dyrholm, and Helle Dolleris.

In 1961 we wrote this manifesto of the New American Cinema. Eugene Archer was working for the New York Times then, and I showed it to him and asked him if they could print it. He said, ‘No, we couldn’t — maybe the Village Voice could run it.’ Then I understood, of course, that the only kind of manifesto that the New York Times would print would be a press release, not a manifesto at all. In the same way, for an idea to get into the Village Voice today, it has to become not an idea but something else.Read more »

Sampling in Rotterdam

Written for Trafic no. 26, Summer 1998, and published there in French translation; it has also appeared in English in the collection I coedited with Adrian Martin, Movie Mutations: The Changing Face of World Cinephilia. – J.R.

 

This year [1998] the Rotterdam Film Festival ran for twelve days in late January and early February. But I could only attend the first half — five days apart from opening  night. And thanks to a vidéothèque at the festival with copies of most of the films being shown -– including many that were scheduled for the festival’s second half -– l found myself alternating most days between screenings at the Pathé and the Lantaren, the festival’s two multiplexes, where I was always watching something with an audience (between twenty and several hundred people), and solitary sessions with earphones at the vidéothèque  (located on the ground floor of the Hotel Central, which served as Gestapo headquarters during the war).

HotelCentral

A few other facts: I managed to see about forty films and videos, but only ten of these were full features; I also, for one reason or another, walked out of or only sampled five other features at the multiplexes and wound up fast-forwarding my way through one other feature at the Central – Gunnar Bergdahl’s documentary The Voice of Bergman (1997), where I went looking for Bergman’s dismissal of Dreyer as a filmmaker who made only two films of value, The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) and Day of Wrath (1943).… Read more »

Chungking Express

From the Chicago Reader (October 28, 1994), subsequently updated a little. — J.R.

yinji_chungking_088

An immensely charming and energetic comedy (1994, 97 min.) by Wong Kar-wai, one of the most exciting and original contemporary Hong Kong filmmakers. Though less ambitious than Days of Being Wild (1990) or Ashes of Time (1994) and less hyperbolic than Fallen Angel (1995), this provides an ideal introduction to his work. Both of its two stories are set in present-day Hong Kong and deal poignantly with young policemen striving to get over unsuccessful romantic relationships and having unconventional encounters with women (a mob assassin and an infatuated fast-food waitress respectively). Wong’s singular frenetic visual style and his special feeling for lonely romantics may remind you of certain French New Wave directors, but this movie isn’t a trip down memory lane; it’s a vibrant commentary on young love today, packed with punch and personality. In Cantonese and Mandarin with subtitles. (JR)

ChunkingExpress-adRead more »

11 Treasures of Jazz Performance on DVD

 From DVD Beaver, April 2007. — J.R.

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of jazz films —documentary records of particular jazz performances and narrative films that incorporate jazz in some fashion, in their soundtrack scores and/or in their stories. But in some cases, identifying which films belong in which category is simply a matter of personal taste. Consider, for instance, Black and Tan and St. Louis Blues, two landmark jazz shorts directed in 1929 by Dudley Murphy—-a fascinating figure who straddled the avant-garde and the mainstream, having both collaborated with Fernand Léger on Ballet mécanique and Paul Robeson on The Emperor Jones and directed several Hollywood pictures, and who’s been receiving some belated recognition lately thanks to Susan B. Delson’s excellent biography, Dudley Murphy: Hollywood’s Wild Card (University of Minnesota Press, 2006). I would argue that Black and Tan, which stars Duke Ellington, is important chiefly as a narrative film, whereas St. Louis Blues is mainly important because it features the only appearance and performance on film by the great blues singer Bessie Smith. (Both are available, incidentally, on Hollywood Rhythm Vol. 1: The Best of Jazz and Blues, along with ten other shorts, most of them from the 30s and most of them released by Paramount.
Read more »

DVD AWARDS 2016 XIII edition (Il Cinema Ritrovato)

DVD AWARDS 2016

XIII edition (Il Cinema Ritrovato)

 

Jurors: Lorenzo Codelli, Alexander Horwath, Lucien Logette, Mark McElhatten, Paolo Mereghetti (chairman), and Jonathan Rosenbaum. (Although Mark McElhatten wasn’t able to attend the festival this year, he has continued to function as a very active member of the jury.)

 

 

1. BEST SPECIAL FEATURES:

PAPATAKIS

NICO PAPATAKIS BOX SET  (France, 1963-1992) (Gaumont Vidéo, DVD)

 

A comprehensive and cogent presentation of a neglected filmmaker from Ethiopia and a singular cultural figure in postwar France who ran an existentialist cabaret, produced major films by Jean Genet and John Cassavetes, gave the German singer Nico her name, and made many striking films over four decades. (JR)

 

 

2. BEST DVD SERIES:

gaumont

COLLECTION 120 ANS N.1 1885-1929 (France, 1885-1929) (Gaumont Vidéo, DVD)

To celebrate its 120 years of activity in the film industry, Gaumont has published a series of nine beautiful box sets that summarize the whole history of cinema. Divided by decades, the box sets consist of twenty to thirty-five DVDs with the most representative films marked with a daisy symbol. The editions include films made by Alice Guy, Louis Feuillade, Dreville, Duvivier, Gabin, Louis de Funès, Pialat and Deville but also masterpieces made by Losey, Fellini or Bergman that the French company co-produced.… Read more »

From “Film Criticism in the Age of the Internet: A Critical Symposium” [2008]

From Cineaste, Vol. XXXIII, No. 4, 2008. -– J.R.

1) Has Internet criticism made a significant contribution to film culture? Does it tend to supplement print criticism or can it actually carve out critical terrain that is distinctive from traditional print criticism? Which Internet critics and bloggers do you read on a regular basis?

1) a. Significant and profound. Because the changes it has wrought are ongoing and unfolding, it’s still hard to have a comprehensive fix on them.

1) b. It can and does do both. By broadening the playing field in terms of players, methodologies, audiences, social formations, and outlets, it certainly expands the options. The interactivity of almost immediate feedback, the strengths and limitations of being able to post almost as quickly as one can think (or type), the relative ease of making screen grabs — these and many other aspects of Internet discourse are bringing about changes in content as well as in style and form, shape and size.

1) c. Here’s just a sample: To varying degrees (some much more regularly than others), I like to read Acquarello, David Bordwell, Zach Campbell, Fred Camper, Roger Ebert, Flavia de la Fuente, Filipe Furtado, Michael E.Read more »

The Ill and the Sick [on PRINCES IN EXILE and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS]

This article appeared in the February 22, 1991 issue of the Chicago Reader, about three months after  the UN Security Council authorized the use of “all means necessary” to eject Iraq from Kuwait and roughly a month after the U.S. Congress cheerfully authorized our going to war, with all flags waving. I’ve rarely felt as alienated from the taste and desires of the mass audience as I did when I reviewed The Silence of the Lambs — an experience made all the more painful by my admiration for much of Jonathan Demme’s previous work — at least until the release of No Country for Old Men during a second and (ultimately, but not initially) much less popular Gulf war. And it wasn’t until I saw John Gianvito’s The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein that I found my own emotions about the war reflected in an American feature. —J.R.

 

 

PRINCES IN EXILE

Directed by Giles Walker

Written by Joe Wiesenfeld

With Zachary Ansley, Nicholas Shields, Stacie Mistysyn, Andrea Roth, Gordon Woolvett, Chuck Shamata, and Alexander Chapman.

 

THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

Directed by Jonathan Demme

Written by Ted Tally

With Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Anthony Heald, Brooke Smith, and Ted Levine.… Read more »