Monthly Archives: February 2018

To Live

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


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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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).


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.


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)

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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.
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DVD AWARDS 2016 XIII edition (Il Cinema Ritrovato)


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.)





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)





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 »


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.




Directed by Giles Walker

Written by Joe Wiesenfeld

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



Directed by Jonathan Demme

Written by Ted Tally

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